My longtime Chicago friend Pawel Skrabacz of The Culture Ride is a 28 year-old Polish travel photographer, doing a motorcycle trip around the world. He spent the last year traveling through the Americas: from the western USA through Mexico, Panama, Peru and Chile, all the way to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. He then shipped the motorcycle to Europe and came to Paris. On this occasion, I asked him a few questions about the trip.
How did your journey come about?
I want to live my life in a way to later avoid a midlife crisis. [laughs] I don’t want to be 40 and think of all the things I should have done. Instead, I want to look back and reflect on all the amazing things I have done. It was a way to finish my careless youth before I settle down and start a family.
How did you choose the itinerary?
I don’t have one. The idea of this trip is freedom. Deadlines, due dates, “I have to be here and there at a certain time” are very restraining. While I might want to arrive in a certain destination in 2-3 months’ time, the idea of where I’m going or wish to be next weekend can change. It can be influenced by a conversation with a local.
What’s the most memorable place you’ve seen on the trip so far?
Definitely Mexico. It was the first country out of the US, in the beginning stages of exploring, my first culture shock. With all due respect to Argentina – it was at the end, I was tired, it was hard to see new things. In Mexico, everything was new.
Also, having the experience of the other 13 Spanish-speaking countries in the region, Mexico seemed to have the best colonial architecture and food. It’s very diverse, it seems like you’re traveling through different countries within the country, people identify with the state.
What’s the reaction of people you’ve encountered?
With my bike being much bigger than the average motorcycle and given that I was a strong advocate in the US of “if you can’t be seen, be heard,” my fairly large motorcycle, in addition to a loud custom exhaust and a full-face helmet, makes me look like an alien.
In Panama, you’re one of many motorcycle travelers on the main road connecting the ends of the country, just another gringo. In bigger countries, where you can choose your route, you may be the only traveler of this kind that people will see. In a village in Mexico, they might think of me as a Louis Armstrong or Marco Polo.
During my months of preparation, many people asked about my choice of weapon for personal defense. Instead, this time should have been spent considering what token of appreciation I’d have for those who selflessly stopped whatever they were doing and committed their time to helping me, be it changing the tire or finding a place to stay..
Now you’re in Europe. What’s next for The Culture Ride?
I’ve been excited about the Balkans for awhile. I have many sentimental memories from the Adriatic coast, many friends from that region. When I travel, I like culture shock: different food, ideas, lifestyle. There’s a comfort in finding something that’s common. Given that we were on the same side of the iron curtain, I find more in common with people in the Balkans than in Western Europe.
And given my history background, I take great interest in Yugo-nostalgia. In 2018, WWII is still very present in Europe, but in the Balkans the effects of the Balkan War are much more recent. You can still talk to people who experienced in. You can still walk through a city and see building facades that were hit by gunfire. I’m not trying to get a kick of our the war, but the ability to study a topic and immerse myself in the physical spaces is that much more special.
Being active on social media while on the road takes away from my experience, but a focal aspect of this trip is photography, primarily people and diversity. I hope to one day bring together my travels in the form of a print publication. Until then, take a look at some of my work on Instagram.