Posted by: standing_baba | December 7, 2009

Video: Interview with Ed Buryn

Ed Buryn's 1971 Bookcover

This morning while crossing things off from my to-do list before a long bus ride to Chile, I found this interview amongst the many online travel zine updates I receive via e-mail. Though it seems Ed Buryn has made quite a name for himself in the independent travel world, I had never heard of the famous vagabond author. A distracted peek at Wikipedia confirmed nothing: no one has bothered to document his travel and poetry books in the great digital black hole.

However, a quick Google search pulled up the following bio from his very own blog:

“An explorer of diversity and philosopher of possibility, Ed Buryn (that’s me!) has worked as a newspaper delivery boy, aircraft radar operator, electronics technical writer, corporate manager, free-lance photographer; written several vagabonding guidebooks; and designed a major Tarot deck.

My personal mottos are: “I’ve you in eye-view” (as a photographer) and “Ed’d edited it” (as a writer). My books and photographs are explorations of the nature of human experience viewed through the lens of my own. My pics and words have been published in hundreds of books, magazines, and newspapers; and I am a two-time prizewinner in the Nikon International Photo Contest. Writing and performing poetry is a main interest of mine, and I was co-producer of the Nevada City Poets Playhouse for 8 years. Currently I am a full-time, online bookseller working from my home.”

My knowledge of the man, his writings, his travel credentials, is limited to say the least. But his response to the questions in the following YouTube interview struck me in the most serendipitous way, as if he had taken my recent thoughts and said them more eloquently, with a swear word for emphasis in case you weren’t listening.

Cusco from above

Two days ago: a cellphone-sponsored official sign welcomed me to the Incan capital: Bienvenidos a Cusco spanned the highway, the little red bubbles floating the cellphone brand name above semi-trucks and mobile ice cream vendors. My first thought within city limits was: “This town has sold itself.” Not a good start.

Shortly afterward, atop the minor mountain encircling the valley, the city opened up before me, it’s colonial architecture noticeable even from my eagle-eye position. I coasted down the windy road toward downtown, my view of the entire city’s seemingly one connected adobe roof interrupted only by the speed bumps placed at the most illogical bends. It was coast, brake squeak, stop, coast, brake squeak, stop, until wide avenues and swerving taxis swallowed me whole.

By habit, I asked directions to the main plaza and soon found myself in the umbilicus of the universe (according to local folklore), on the steps of a dry fountain surrounded by two enormous, red-rock cathedrals. Bob and Surly leaned against the same steps, attracting quite a bit of attention as I rummaged through bags to find some mangos and cheese I’d been saving to celebrate my arrival.

The park’s grass was green, manicured, a truly luxurious sight in Peru. Everyone knew laying in it was trouble, prohibited by some force higher than us mere beings, perhaps even more powerful than the Incan gods. Tourist police and trash bins maintained the order. Kids were officially whistled at by uniformed security if they got too close to foreigners, if they asked too many questions. (I called back a group of three I’d been talking with who ran away when “La Mala” blew her referee whistle in our direction, explaining to her sternly that we were having a conversation). The sky was blue with a few cotton-ball clouds devoid of moisture. Peruvians and foreigners alike basked in the sun with nothing much on the agenda, just happy to be part the midday bustle.

Likewise with zero agenda, I peopled watched while breaking chunks of Andean cheese a gentleman gave me that morning in the countryside to share with the three curious boys who now felt more self-confident since I stood up for them against La Mala. The day was bright, the location like a movie set, and I felt happily accomplished with the exhaustion of my last few bike days.

Cusco was my Mecca—my bike journey’s halfway point—and my expectations were heavy. The city itself was everything I had hoped for, clean, medium-sized, with an overpowering indigenous presence that could not be wiped away by the Spaniards’ desire to conquer, no matter how many layers of Barroco and Renaissance architecture were piled atop the large, grey pillars of the Incan Empire. Everything fascinated me. I was observing colors with wide eyes. It would never rain again. I would live forever. Cheese never tasted so good; the mango stuck between my teeth was just an insignificant consequence of being alive.

Then I began to notice the other international travelers in the plaza. Negative thoughts began to creep, no matter how hard I tried to hold them back. It wasn’t any one thing that began to bring me down, but the combination of many starkly contrasting against everything I had seen during my last four bike days in the rural Andes.

It was the expensive designer clothes, the big trendy glasses. The park benches piled high with McDonald hamburger wrappers. The unbroken-in hiking boots heavy on the cobblestone. Many foreigners marched by with oversized, brand-new backpacks, purposefully not making eye contact with their fellow travelers, purposefully ignoring their presence as if ashamed because they themselves were not more local than the locals, or angry that those lounging in the plaza were not either.

All this made me uncomfortable after biking through the mountains where strangers are eager to make friends with handshakes and a few courteous words. The majority of these travelers were Americans, my people, yet they kept to themselves. Worse, they ignored the Peruvians at the other end of the bench. Many travelers had been observing Bob and Surly, making comments to each other from afar, yet they never introduced themselves, never offered a friendly gesture, or even lofted a neutral smile in my direction—despite my, in hindsight, pathetic mini-waves I hoped would be conversation starters. (Was I starved for conversation?).

Peruvians, on the other hand, since my arrival to the plaza had waved, announced themselves with big friendly eyes, said hello in passing, sat down beside me to tell me their names—every single one of them with genuine intentions. In the tourist heart of a tourist town not one tried to sell me anything.

Why all the negativity from my countrymen? I wondered, not discarding culture shock, lack of language skills, or the fact that this harsh social environment could be entirely a figment of my imagination as valid explanations.

Then it clicked: the foreign travelers wanted Cusco to themselves. Everyone wanted an authentic experience but felt slightly deceived when comparing their guidebook notes with the reality around them that included, gasp, others just like them. They were disappointed to find they were not the first to arrive to this town, that their search for adventure had also been found by many before them.

I have many thoughts on tourism and travel—both positive and negative—I’d like to connect to this short description of my arrival to Cusco, but I’m rambling. This post is supposed to be about that mystery man Ed Buryn. Remember that interview? What is my point exactly?

In the very same plaza in Cusco, before hearing Mr. Buryn’s words, while trying to make sense of the strange ex-pat social scene I concluded that we all want to be authentic, hence the designer clothes, hence the attention-grabbing shades, hence the effort to arrive to foreign locales to have unique experiences. But these are external factors that have nothing to do with authenticity, originality, whatever you want to call it. As more foreign backpackers filed by Bob, Surly, and I with unexplainable looks of dread and annoyance, I ended my imagined thesis with a neatly-packaged concluding thought that cleared all negativity from my mind: authenticity is being true to yourself, true to your heart, then acting accordingly no matter the circumstances.

I had nothing to smock at; my path was true.

Authenticity doesn’t come from putting your physical self in a new location. You don’t need to travel necessarily to discover your authentic self, but a foreign environment free of all your normal comforts does strip away distraction and force you to evaluate who you are and what you believe. All this can be realized, home or abroad, but only with the right attitude.

Now full circle….

Without further ado, some supposedly famous guy who reaffirms what I already believe and inspires me as I continue with the second-half of my journey:



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