My name is Ben Viatte and I'm just like you: I'm not quite sure how I got here.
Issyk-Kul in Winter
Here I am in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, for a total of 5 months, before hitting the Himalayan mountain passes when the relaxed April weather will allow it. I love life’s the twists and turns. This temporary sedentariness balances the fervor of my walk through Kazakhstan, and besides, who said sedentary can’t rhyme with crazy?
Crazy is the best way for me to describe the New Year’s retreat organized by my mom and Phillip Guruji, towards whom I cannot possibly express enough gratitude. Choosing the coldest time of the year to plunge into the coldest conditions – a nearly frozen high-altitude lake named Issyk Kul, surrounded by the Tian Shan mountains – the beginning of the Himalayas. On top of the everyday Yoga practice from dawn to dusk, we would cross the snow to take gradually increasing dips into the lake, starting at 5 minutes, then 7, 9, 11, 14, 17, and finally 20. The states this would put us in are hard to describe – psychedelic to say the least – and the deepest bonds formed between us as we sing, laugh, shiver and shake uncontrollably in a slightly worrying state that we come to appreciate.
And Midnight of New Year’s was spent neck-deep in the lake, with a bottle of champagne (don’t tell the other yogis), a heart full of joy and a sky full of light. All that to say, happy new year to all, may this cycle start freshly, brightly, full of awareness and love, of appreciation, of love, of sacredness, of breathing, of love. May you be happy. I love you all!
The Place in Between
To my close friends, far relatives, those who have brought me water on the road and allowed me to live, those who have kept me well fed, warm at night, dry in times of storm, those who follow my story from near or afar, providing encouragement and good vibes to keep me going… Hallelujah! Habdulilah! I bless you all.
I joyfully managed to avoid the scorching heat of the Kazakh plains, only to find myself, before I knew it, in fluffly white wonderland. After this beautiful 5-month relationship I wave goodbye to my friend Kazakhstan, now finding myself at the junction between the world’s flattest plains and its gnarliest peaks. At the foot of the Tian Shan mountain range, the beginning of the Himalayas. Seeing both extremes, it’s… nice. I like it. I think it can lead to seeing the middle.
As of now my home is Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where I will spend 5 wintery months before tackling the Himalayas when the season lets me, a high path that will lead me from China to Pakistan, and finally, yes, India. Not many countries left, I must say I’m scared!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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
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.