>>>“I wanted to be part of the landscape”
Photo: Walter Astrada
We interview photographer Walter Astrada

“I wanted to be part of the landscape”

The Argentinian photographer has been touring the world on Atenea (his Royal Enfield) for more than ten months. He has already travelled through 23 countries and, for the time being, has no return date.
The Argentinian photographer has been touring the world on Atenea (his Royal Enfield) for more than ten months. He has already travelled through 23 countries and, for the time being, has no return date.

It’s been nearly a year since you began your journey. What made you leave everything to travel around the world?

In reality, I didn’t have much to leave. I’ve never been the type to accumulate material things. Everything I had fit into eight small boxes. Also, I’d stopped covering the news. I’d been travelling to give classes and do the odd report. The big difference is that before, my base was Barcelona, and now, it’s my motorbike. What I wanted was to keep moving, but without rushing and with the option to stop or go on, depending on how I feel.

The shores of Lake Tulpar-Kul, Kyrgyzstan, play host to the National Horse Games Festival.
Photo: Walter Astrada

And why did you decide to travel by motorbike? You scarcely knew how to ride one before this journey.

It’s true. I used to travel around by motorbike a lot, but I always rode on the back when I was covering the news. I had no idea how to handle one and so while I was in Haiti in 2010, I asked Fednel, my driver, to teach me. In 2012, I got my licence and began saving up for the trip. I chose to go by motorbike so I would have more independence and be able to move around more easily. When you travel in a four-wheeled vehicle you isolate yourself to a certain extent. I wanted to be part of the landscape and feel the air on my face.

Varanasi, also known as Benares, is often referred to as the city of temples. It sits on the shores of the Ganges and is one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism.
Photo: Walter Astrada

What has been the most difficult thing about these 39,576 kilometres?

The motorbike has broken down on me a couple of times, but, putting this into perspective, I’ve been travelling for nearly ten months, and these problems have represented, how much? Fifteen days? It’s nothing. People say they want adventure and that they like surprises, but only when they expect them. For me, a problem is an experience. I’m not going to say I had a good time and that I want the bike to break down, but they weren’t moments I wouldn’t want to relive.

A group of pilgrims arriving at the temple at Lalita Ghat, built in the 19th century by the King of Nepal.
Photo: Walter Astrada

And what had the greatest impact? A moment that’ll always be engraved on your retina.

Everything. Just going on a journey with no particular destination or end date has an impact. It’s very difficult for me to single something out. I really enjoy trying different foods and, although some people might find them disgusting, in South Korea I tried silkworms and live octopus. But landscapes, roads, gestures, lights, smiles and glances are all very important. The fact that even though they don’t speak your language, they help you; they stop to help you. They invite you to eat or have a cup of tea, simply because you came to their village or town. Confirming that most people are good and we have a great deal in common, even though we have our differences.

All photos from his journey are in black and white and can be purchased in different sizes via his website.
Photo: Walter Astrada
"There are days when I don’t take any photos, but I’m observing all the time."

Of all of the places you’ve visited on Atenea, which is the one we shouldn’t miss?

I liked Turkey very much. I was there for about a month and they could employ me as an ambassador because it’s one of the countries I always mention. I spent several days in Istanbul and, at night, I would go to the port to eat fried fish. Also, the underground cities of Cappadocia are must-visits. One spectacular route was going into Russia from Tbilisi, along the Georgian Military Road. Mongolia is all vastness and landscapes. People normally use 4x4s to travel there. Rajasthan in India is also spectacular, as is the northeast of the country, largely unknown by tourists.

Besides your motorbike, you have another inseparable travelling companion: your camera. What does the world look like through its lens?

I don’t travel as a photographer. Before, when I was working and travelling on holiday, I took it with me, but didn’t take photos. It was more about experimenting and enjoying the moment. I’m doing the same thing now. There are days when I don’t take any photos, but I’m observing all the time. The photos I take are a sort of visual diary that I use to complement what I observe and want to share.

You say the Internet and aeroplanes have “shrunk” the planet. Why’s that?

You can journey around the world without moving. Everything is on our computers. It took five and a half months for me to travel from Barcelona to Vladivostok in Russia. By plane it takes ten hours. I think of it as a tube that teleports you. You move, but don’t experience the sensation of travelling. Within ten hours there may be a temperature change of 40 degrees. When travelling over land, the change is much more gradual. For instance, on this journey, I’ve never had jet lag and I’ve changed time zones several times.

Precisely because the world is smaller and thanks to the Internet, many of us can follow and accompany you through your website.

Journeys are for sharing. My website is a sort of visual diary. I used to tell stories through images; nowadays I also write. It’s sometimes difficult to share certain things through a photograph. For instance, what India smells like. That’s why I wrote a post. I’m also selling the photos I take. It’s a type of crowdfunding. If people like what I’m doing, they can collaborate, so I can continue on my journey.

Biography

Walter Astrada is an Argentinian photographer and winner of three World Press Photo awards. He has been travelling for work all his life. He has covered news, including countries in conflict, and produced reports about human rights throughout the world in places like Guatemala, Belarus and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now he travels for pleasure. And to learn.

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