Wanders Miles World Adventurers Series welcomes Joan Torres, a 30-year-old Spanish travel writer and photographer. He used to have a corporate job, working the last 3 years of my career in the United Arab Emirates. However, he decided to leave everything behind to create Against the Compass, a travel blog about destinations off the beaten track, where he writes travel guides, tips and inspirational articles about the most unvisited destinations. I caught up with him on the road to get his share some stories about his adventures…
What does your perfect adventure consist of?
For me, the perfect adventure needs to meet 3 key elements: remoteness, uniqueness and, above all, local human interactions. It has to be a real off the beaten track destination where not many people have been but it also must involve getting deep into the local culture. No matter how remote a stunning Himalayan mountain is, if I don’t meet local people who are not used to see foreigners, I won’t be 100% satisfied.
Name your top 3 adventures? And why were they so special?
Visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq: For me, a real adventure doesn’t necessarily involve trekking awesome mountains or going on an awesome road trip. Visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq was one of my best traveling experiences ever, as I was able to help, personally, those people suffering the biggest human crisis in our history.
Trekking in the Astore Valley (Pakistan): Very few tourists travel to Pakistan but even fewer go to the Astore Valley, located in the north of Pakistan which, for centuries, used to serve as a connection between the Indian subcontinent and western China. I spent 5 days trekking around the valley by myself, sleeping with shepherds who had never seen a foreigner before. The Astore Valley is also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
Karakoram Highway: A journey from Pakistan to China: The best road trip I’ve ever done and not only because it goes through the three highest mountain ranges in the world (the Himalayas, Karakoram and the Hindu Kush) but also, because you pass through an endless number of regions, where a large number of ethnic and religious groups live: from the Punjabis in the center of Pakistan to the Ismailis in Hunza, the Tajiks in Tashgurkan and, of course, the Uyghurs in Xinjiang
Do have you had any scary moments or funny stories to tell?
There’s one story that every time I tell, people find it pretty scary but, in my opinion, it just turned out to be a funny story. While traveling in Lebanon, one day I decided to go the Lebanese-Israeli border, a Hezbollah-controlled area. I got into this place by hitchhiking and, when I arrived, I started to walk around the border, which is basically a tall, concrete wall with some very cool graffiti. I took pictures of some of those paintings and, as soon as the Hezbollah Army saw me, I got arrested and accused of being a spy. It’s a long story. You can read it all here: The day I was accused of being an Islamic State spy.
What are the most important things have your travels taught you?
When I go back home or meet anyone (anywhere) who hasn’t really traveled, I realize that my vision of the world is slightly different than this person. At the beginning, this situation surprised me, as I didn’t know why that person could not understand some very basic things which were so obvious to me. However, later on, I found out that I just have this perspective because I am lucky enough to travel, see and learn. These are the most important things that traveling has taught me, those things or situations which you will never understand unless you travel.
For example, over the years, I learnt that dangerous countries don’t exist. Instead, you find countries which have some specific regions where there could be some potential danger. All countries in the world, including Syria and Afghanistan, have areas which are completely free of danger. No matter how much I try, most people seem not to understand that.
What are your favourite travel apps?
What are your travel essentials?
When it comes to devices, I travel with a Nikon 7500, a 24-120mm lens, a 50mm lens and a Macbook Pro 13’’. When it comes to gear, I travel with an ultra-light backpacking tent and an incredibly warm and relatively light sleeping bag. That’s it.
What is your favourite travel quote you live by?
I never thought about that!
What advice could you give to aspiring adventurers?
Don’t follow the crowds. Travel to unique and rare countries or, if you go to a touristic destination such as Nepal, try to find some less popular treks or destinations. Bear in mind that 99% of the tourists visit 1% of the country and I can make sure that each and every country has some stunning gems which are yet to be discovered. It’s only in these places where you will find the real adventure.
Have you got any places on your bucket list? If so, where?
I really want to explore Africa. I’ve only been to Sudan, Kenya and Egypt but I would really like to travel to Eritrea, Somaliland, Djibouti, South Sudan, Chad and all the Western Africa. Not many people have visited these countries and I don’t really know anything about them, which makes them even more appealing.
What is the next planned adventure for Against The Compass?
Not sure. Currently, I am on an 8-month overland trip through Central Asia. In November, I will travel back to Spain to rest for a couple of months. In February or March, I want to start another long-term trip, which will be an overland journey through Africa or traveling from Ukraine to China through Russia. Let’s see.
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