Tales of a Global Pilgrim Stars Stars

My name is Ben Viatte and I'm just like you: I'm not quite sure how I got here.

My search started eight years ago, when I opened my eyes for the first time: I saw that I was free. So I started travelling the world in search of a new mindset. My current pilgrimage is bringing me on foot from Europe, through Northern asia, to holy India.

This blog describes my search for truth: my life travels since the start of my global pilgrimage in my 18's, and what I learnt from them.

kazakhstan with dad

A Piece of Kazakhstan with Dad

After embracing this nomadic way, I’m sharing richer things with my family than I ever would, had I stayed unwillingly in the box of a routinely sedentary lifestyle. In this instance, they came to see me in Kazakhstan, my Dad even deciding to join me for some of the way, getting a taste of life as a walker through the immeasurable spaciousness of the Kazakh barren lands.

kazakhstan-camel-land

North-West Kazakhstan, June 2018
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Kazakhstan

Having crossed the bit of Russia that I needed, I am now in the largest country ever that no one knows a thing about. Land of mixed faces, camel milk, wild horses, desert wolves, and barren untouched plains that go on for thousands of miles… Land of extremes where scorching sun and deathly cold peak at +50 and -50 Celsius. Land of extreme hospitality too, where 9 year-old boys invite me to their parent’s humble homes for dinner, a bucket shower, and a night’s sleep on the family rug. Land where Borat has never set foot.

However enchanting the desert may be, and however meditative it is to walk for days without seeing a house, I’d rather avoid the dryest part of the country at the hottest time of the year. I’d rather live all the way through Kazakhstan! That means during the next 2 months, I am settling down, teaching English in a Kazakh school, working in web design, and recovering my feet. After which I will complete my walk from Kandyagash, a humble town with loving people, headed south-east towards Kyrgyzstan and China.

muslim russia

Muslim Яussia

Ever since the plan started taking shape, people told me to avoid this part of Russia. Most overland travelers go from Georgia to Kazakhstan by ferry through the Caspian sea, specifically to avoid Chechnya and Dagestan. These two Muslim states of Russia have been recommended against by dear Russian friends themselves! However, as far as the walk is concerned, I had no choice. Russia’s strict 30-day visa prevented me from taking any other route. So the choice was made for me by the world, and how grateful am I! Thank you world, just in case you’re reading this!

I am grateful because these regions that hardly ever see a tourist have been more generous to me than any country in my travels. Not only was I fed and cared for, but people also stopped to give me money. Every day. More than you’d think, more than I could even spend!

Not that money is important. Remember kids, it’s not! What’s important is the intention of helping people. And how could such an immeasurable amount of people – police officers, soldiers, supermarket clerks, 9-year old children, gypsies, and poor shepherds – give the little bit that they have to a total stranger they see walking on the road? I’m not sure, but I bet God is involved.

The Funeral

The Funeral

My Russian Visa in hand, I’m counting my last days in Tbilisi, Georgia, after nearly 4 months of sedentary lifestyle with a humble Georgian income. I have made genuine family, my time here has been blessed with the most beautiful people, I am overwhelmed. I cannot be thankful enough to the world, to love, to everyone who makes my life so holy.

But life has its ways, and every end must be celebrated as a new beginning.

walk with mom

A 20-day walk with Mom

Some people think you need to be an orphan or an outcast in order to quit your home and take life to the road. No you don’t. I’ve been away for almost 2 years, yet relations with my family are stronger than ever, we still love each other, we still see each other. Not that I come “home” to see them, no, they come to see my life on the road, and it makes for the most beautiful experiences.

Here is the story of my mom who joined me on my walking trip from Sevan, Armenia to Tbilisi, Georgia.

armenia

Sevan, Northern Armenia. November 2017
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Armenia. Land where everything is normal.

And that’s what I love about it. Some people frown. Some people laugh. Some invite you in for the night. Some ask questions, some just don’t care. Little by little, I’m picking up this mindset – no obligations, no constraint, just being how you are without a care. I met this bull who decided that the countryside isn’t for him, and here he is, living in the city of Sevan. Just standing on the road. Nobody cares, cars just go around him without even a horn. This is normal here, because it’s normal here to do what you want.

The Armenian economy has been going downhill since the fall of the Soviet Union. People shrug it off and just live their normal lives. If they can’t buy what they want because there’s no store, they just make it themselves. Their food, their houses, their vehicles, everything they need. Take 3 wrecked cars and make one that runs. I am amazed by this simple-mindedness.

Let me share this common greeting with you – it really makes me laugh. Instead of asking you if you’re doing good, they ask you “You feeling normal, or what?” “Yeah, comrade, more normal than ever”

paolo the guy

Goris, Armenia. October 2017

Paolo the guy

It was a joy to come across this guy. Paolo also walks across countries, but with a 16 kilo backpack instead of my 90 kilo cart. Simplicity is his way to life. Most travelers take photos: Paolo doesn’t. Instead, he has two eyes, and he sees. Most outdoor junkies carry a water filter and cooking gear: again, Paolo doesn’t. Instead, he has a mouth, and he eats. Most men shave: obviously, Paolo doesn’t. Instead, he just looks like Sasquatch. But above all, most people care, whereas Paolo doesn’t. Instead, he laughs, fools around, and enjoys life.

We met for 10 minutes, but it was enough to find out he is not a guy, he is a mirror for truth. I see in him the boy I used to be when I first discovered the Tao, 7 years ago, and was living it with every step. Ever since, I have to admit I accumulated things: not only possessions, but a personality, an ambition, an image of myself. I am someone now, someone on a mission, and being someone adds layers of ego. But this simple guy reminds me of the real path to happiness. In the pursuit of knowledge, everyday something is added. In the pursuit of freedom, everyday something is dropped.

iran

North-West Iran, October 2017
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Iran

Getting into Iran by your own means is a funny story. I struggled for days in the barren mountains of eastern Turkey, slowly climbing my way up to the 2200m pass, fighting against the wind, the cold, and a stomach parasite that loved me so much that it decided to join me on my road. When I finally made it to the border, my sigh of relief wass greeted by raised Kalashnikovs and voices shouting. Yes, I was one hour late. The border crossing closes at 5 pm. They tell me if I would have arrived yet another hour later, on foot, I would have been shot. So after ages of negotiation with the army under an absolutely stunning full moon, they let me camp at the border crossing, in the middle of the road where we’re standing: there was nowhere else I could go. I was told not to leave my tent until morning.

This all sounds really negative. But to tell you the truth, that full moon was really stunning. Another truth is that the next day was paradise. The officer that let me sleep here greeted me in the morning with a gleaming smile, so happy that I turned out to just be a camper and not a terrorist. And by some divine intervention, the borderline was a clean cut between a dusty barren nowhere-land and a leafy warm paradise. I was expecting a much harsher Iran, but no, this part here was fluffy and green, warm soft lushious and juicy. One thing I did expect: the people are just as friendly, helping, trustworthy and warm-hearted as I had been told by the countless travellers who have come to name Iran the country of hospitality.

a buddhist story

South-East Turkey, September 2017

A buddhist story

Four days ago I left the Turkish city of Van, headed north, hoping to make my way up to Iran, followed by Armenia. After 49 kilometers on the road, a discussion with a local man radically changed my hopes. We had spent a wonderful evening together, I had slept in his mosque, and we were now casually discussing over breakfast.

– Actually friend, what’s your route?
– I’m headed towards Dogubeyazit, through Muradiye. I should get there in 4 days. Then I turn right and make it to Iran
– Nope, impossible. That road is closed. It used to be safe, but it’s now a war zone. Even local transports take the long way around, adding hundreds of kilometers.
– Seriously? What can I do?
– I’m sorry, but your best bet is to turn back exactly where you came from. You have to do 40 km back towards Van, and then turn left. You will then get into Iran through a smaller road that is still open. I wouldn’t call it safe but it’s definitely better. Please do it. You are my friend. I don’t want you to die!

So I did those 40 km back, I turned left, and now I’m actually headed towards Iran. This means I spent 2 days of walking one way and 2 days walking back, with apparently no result. It sounds like an utter failure, but it was actually quite meditative. Have you heard the buddhist story of a monk asking his diciple to build a stone house on a hill? After endless effort, when the house is finally complete, he tells his disciple “I like your work. The house is very fine… but to tell you the truth, I’d like you to take it apart, and bring it to that hill over there. I just realized it would be nicer over there.”