Justin Vela

Changing the pace…A Book…25 months Around the World…

with 2 comments

Helsinki, Finland. Winter 2008.

Helsinki, Finland. Winter 2008.

New Delhi-Two years ago, having fallen in love with Colombia, I reread books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Marquez had always been one of those authors I knew was good, but having his novels forced upon me in high school, he was difficult to absorb. Being in Bogota changed all of that. He captured the exact feeling of what Colombia was. All that magic, all that melancholy, all that rolling lust for life. Reading his autobiography Living to Tell the Tale pushed me into a place where there was no choice, no alternative option, other than to try for something similar to the vagabonding, helter-skelter life in journalism that was Marquez’s youth. In Living to Tell the Tale he writes…

“The following month I would turn twenty-three, I had passed the age of military service and was a veteran of two bouts of gonorrhea, and everyday I smoked, with no foreboding, sixty cigarettes made from the most barbaric tobacco. I divided my leisure between Barranquilla and Cartagena de Indias, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast living like a king on what I was paid for my daily commentaries in the newspaper El Heraldo, which amounted to almost less than nothing, and sleeping in the best company possible wherever I happened to be at night.”

Helsinki, Finland. Winter 2008.

Helsinki, Finland. Winter 2008.

Now, the generational and cultural gap between Marquez and I is somewhat vast. But, inspiration is inspiration.

In November 2006, having convinced my university I didn’t need to be on campus, I jumped a flight for Caracas and spent seven months traveling and photographing news events in Venezuela and Colombia, filing images with the World Picture News photo agency.  An unexpected offer allowed me to make promotional images in the Dominican Republic and then stay an extra month driving at manic speeds around Santo Domingo doing stories with the Dominican journalist Jose Rafael Sosa. Except for a four month period spent recovering from some injuries, I’ve since been on the go. The Balkans. The Middle East. Ukraine and the Baltic’s. China, Nepal, and India.

While there was the necessary degree of academia and the travels revolved around where I thought I could do a story, university ended up being a twenty-five month journey that allowed me to explore and interact in some kind of wide eyed or innocent way. I was reading about the world as I experienced it for the first time. After getting a grounding in the issues of each region, I traveled them, finding the people and situations to begin to grasp what was between the lines of books, articles, and the mass of assorted punditry, and staying long enough that the places became familiar.

There was of course also the adventure. The motorcycles and the passing landscape. The sneering soldiers and the riots. And the smaller things. Like having lunch with a Serbian monk at the Monastery of Pec in Kosovo. Drinking brandy with a Nepalese social worker who was receiving an increasing number of threats from members of a different ethnic group. Attempting to walk on water in Galilee.

Last May I retrieved my notebooks from the US. Now, having spent the last eight weeks doing four stories for The Caravan Magazine in New Delhi, I’m going to take most the rest of the year to focus almost exclusively on finishing the book that propelled and unified the past years of travel.

The existing manuscript of the travel book to be finished in Finland.

The existing manuscript of the travel book to be finished in Finland.

Finland may seem like an odd place to write a book. I’ve found it sufficiently free from distractions to focus on writing however. While I’m there I will also be researching human trafficking and sending proposals to various organizations that might be willing to help fund the long term story I am doing on trafficking. http://www.thetrafficked.com

I’ll also be doing a few articles and hope to find some images that express my admiration for Finland, which oddly enough grows on me more and more with every visit.

Helsinki, Finland. Winter 2008.

Helsinki, Finland. Winter 2008.

So for the next few months I’ll be focused on my deepest interests. That’s a privilege I’m looking forward to immensely. Next year, after covering the December Copenhagen Climate Conference and, hopefully, the January 2010 Ukrainian election, I’ll most likely be back in India. While Marquez had his own kind of adventures in Living to Tell the Tale I hope to express the same kind of curiosity and desire to experience as he did. My own book will also endeavor to include the commitment to history and journalistic standards of writers Ryzard Kapukinski and Jon Lee Anderson. Of course I was young when I made this journey. It was an adventure. And that is the aspect that ties together and gives the greatest narrative to this global story. -JV

Helsinki, Finland. Winter 2008.

Helsinki, Finland. Winter 2008.

Helsinki, Finland. Winter 2008.

Helsinki, Finland. Winter 2008.


Written by Justin Vela

August 30, 2009 at 10:01 am

Posted in Europe

Tagged with , , ,

2 Responses

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  1. hello justin,

    I have been following your blog for some time now and am impressed by your enthusiasm and determination. you seem to find things to write everywhere. It’s amazing. you inspire me a lot. Keep up the good job and i look forward to your book as much you do writing it.



    August 30, 2009 at 11:20 am

  2. Hey Justin,
    I am excited to read this book someday, and happy to hear you are enjoying Finland again, 🙂


    September 20, 2009 at 5:07 pm

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