Karl, the hippie minimalist (Travellers I can’t stand, Partie 2)

20 Aug

I did promise to do the profile of TWO types of travellers that I can’t stand.  The first was more about the misuse, and the overuse of the word “authentic”. I thought I’d met the worst type of traveller there was – the entitled one! – when I met Don. The second, and thankfully the last, is part of a greater problem: the traveller who thinks that by giving up everything at home you’ll find peace and truth elsewhere. I’m not sure I agree with this. I’m one of the few that couldn’t finish Eat, Pray, Love. Leaving everything behind with the goal of having a life changing adventure is an excellent one. But isn’t it misguided to leave your problems behind and think you’ve solved everything by going away? Don’t you achieve more – and grow more as a person – by confronting your problems and then (maybe!) leaving?

2. The short sighted extreme minimalist hippie

On my last evening in the Galapagos, I was by myself in a budget hotel in Puerto Ayora. My three week adventure had come to an end and I was tired but thrilled by everything I had done so that I couldn’t quite fall asleep, because it meant I would have to go home the next day. There was only one other person sitting by themselves in the lobby, he introduced himself as Karl and asked where I had been and where I was headed – a standard but kind gesture from one traveller to another. I gave him a quick outline of where I’d been and that I was actually going home the next day. I asked him the same thing. Turns out Karl was a long term traveller. Gone more than 4 months. I’m always interested as to why people decide to leave their lives behind and head off. So many people say a break up (men too!) but the best I’d heard was a girl in Quito who had felt trapped in a job that she hated for two years and decided to leave for a chunk of time in an effort to cleanse herself of the toxic work environment. But Karl’s reason was the most perplexing : “I was inspired by a hula hoop”.   

Of course I had to know more! How could he be inspired by a hula hoop?! What kind of weird hula hooping experiences or encounters had he experienced? Turns out he’d been at a hula hoop dancing conference and then crashed his car on the way home. He’d felt so free when he was dancing with the hula hoop and he wanted that feeling to continue. He claimed that when he crashed his car he heard a voice “You are going to get rid of everything that you own and go on a journey to discover your truth”.

Okay. I asked him if it was actually the radio. Karl gave me a weak laugh and told me he’s convinced it was a greater power. I wondered if he was actually listening to motivational tapes, but I kept that idea to myself. You don’t want to question someone who hears voices, because if you upset the voices what might they say should be done to you? Instead I asked what he decided to get rid of. Minimalism in en vogue – and for good reason! Most of us just have too much damn stuff. Clutter is bad for our mind… and our pocketbook. But isn’t having absolutely nothing is just as bad? Karl told me he realized that all you really needed was “one bowl, one cup and one spoon”. That’s great for a monk, but what if you like to have company come over? What do you do then? According to Karl, having things to fulfill the needs of others was a burden. This is so fucking stupid that I didn’t even bother to get into it. I wonder if his mother had a bed for him when he was born, and clothes! Or if that was a burden too? I kept these other ideas to myself because I really didn’t want to upset the voices. Instead I asked him about his baby pictures, where were they? Karl said they existed somewhere, and in some form, but they were not in his possession. At this, I didn’t bite my tongue fast enough and asked him if he was actually a monk. Monks have to give up everything and shed themselves of material possessions and distance themselves from their loved ones. Some very famous ones have even found “truth” that he himself was searching for in the wilderness. Karl didn’t like this idea, but his only real defence was that he had had sex since getting rid of his things. Just like I didn’t like his idea of getting rid of “absolutely all” his possessions if he wasn’t actually on some spiritual quest, or “journey” as he put it. (Am I the only one who associates the word “journey” with the Bachelor/Bachelorette series?)

Perhaps it is my profession that has made me think this way, but objects represent memories and are evidence of events. Without any personal material objects, what is a person’s past but a series of memories with no evidence or objects to remind them of memories? We most revere civilizations that have left us with monumental material objects – with nothing left behind, there is no story to tell. It’s also why we keep stupid things that might be junky to anyone else but are super special to who we believe ourselves to be. When my wallet was stolen two years ago I cried not because of the lost money and inconvenience, I cried because it contained my grandfather’s Laura Secord ice cream card. He died in 1996, but every time I looked at that stupid Laura Second ice cream card, one away from getting a free one!, I’d smile. A little bit of him had travelled with me, and moved with me everywhere. And suddenly, he couldn’t anymore. Suddenly the possibility of getting a free ice cream cone from my long dead grandfather was taken away from me. I would give away half of my clothes to get that stupid card back.

You know who has all their stuff taken away, forcefully!, never to get it back? Refugees. Karl had made himself a refugee from his own life. He willingly rid himself of objects that others have had stolen, taken or burnt and “freed” himself. He was suddenly a man with no evidence of a past. If it wasn’t for the internet and the fact that he decided to keep his passport, we would all think he was a criminal.

Here’s the best part that I’ve been saving for the end: I met Karl when we were both using the internet. Now… you need something to use the internet that isn’t a cup, a bowl or a spoon, right? Of course. Karl had an iPad. Mr. Minimalist got rid of all his “useless stuff” and got himself an iPad. (And an iPhone too, naturally.) I asked him why he felt the need to have electronic devices if he enjoyed being free. He fancied himself a photographer. I didn’t ask to look at his photographs. I’d already had enough just listening to him.


And here’s a video from the awesome band Kobo Town that sums up in a much more poetic and lyrical way, my feelings about travellers like Karl and Don! I urge you to check them out.


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