Why did Allan Karl sell nearly everything he owned, pack up, and travel the world for three years – alone – on a motorcycle?
Allan Karl worked for as a business owner, marketer, entrepreneur. He was married. Chasing the success expected of him.
He also had maps, travel guides, white boards, traveler stories, and a dream…to ride his motorcycle around the world.
A series of life-changing events set the wheels in motion and Allan found himself at a fork in his life’s road, with the opportunity to make this dream happen.
The result is the gorgeous, thought-provoking, adventurous book Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine and Connection, documenting three years, five continents, and one motorcycle.
Forks is part travelogue, part photo essay, and part cookbook. But those words don’t do it justice. In “Columbia”, Karl talks about having to drive through-straight through-dangerous police checkpoints, then two hours later being escorted to pristine jungle waterfalls by two heavily armed soldiers who put down their guns so they can all take pictures. In Zambia, he has to hunt down a new tire (spoiler: he finds one), learns the politics of the charcoal the people rely on for energy, and snacks on fuzzy, dried caterpillers. In Jordan, an “off-the-beaten-path” side trip leads him to misbehaving children and peace made over a cup of tea. These are adventures the average traveler will never have, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Of his choice of transportation, Karl says,
“…on a motorcycle I could stop freely, and when I came to a fork in the road, I could choose to go with the wind…or against it. Along the way, I would be able to connect with anyone, especially those living way off the beaten track and with no history of exposure to tourists. Real people.”
And not only did he meet them, he ate their food. Local food, the food of the region, not white tableloth food, but what people feed their families. In Honduras, Conch Soup. In Zanzibar, Samaki Wa Kupaka*. In Ethiopia, Zilzil Alecha^. In Peru, Lomo Saltado°. In Bolivia, Quinoa and Black Bean Salad with Grilled Corn, Cherry Tomato, and Avocado.
No place, no food, no people are off limits.
If you’re familiar with the food travelogues of Anthony Bourdain, you know how special it is to experience a culture through their cooking. Forks has a decidedly different feel. You truly get the sense of a man travelling solo, telling you what he found along the road, good and bad, no particular agenda or schedule.
At BookExpoAmerica in New York in May 2014, I had the good fortune to spend a few minutes with Allan and ask him about his journey. I wanted to know what his most memorable event was, what he hoped people would take away from reading his book, and how he, an American on a motorcycle, was received in other countries, given the stereotype of everyone hating Americans.
He said that his most memorable event, one that was an obstacle that became an opportunity, was in Bolivia. He slipped in some mud and his bike landed on him and broke his leg in three places. He returned the the US and there were months of healing, but he returned to the road. The takeaway? Stuff happens. Keep going.
He wants to remind people to remain curious, to encourage them to be open to new experiences, to try new foods when they travel and learn about the foods that are a part of the culture and history of wherever they are, to pursue their passions, whatever they are…choose it and do it.
And (this was the most interesting part to me) he said that where he went, he was received with mutual curiousity and interest – people wanted to learn about him as much as he wanted to learn about them. He was a white guy, alone on a motorcycle, in helmet and leathers, riding on the backroads of their country. He related the story of entering Syria¨ when, after waiting for 24 hours to cross the border, he was ordered to park his bike and follow the guards. Their destination was a bench, among shrubbery, where the Chief Inspector invited Karl to drink tea with him. After asking about his family, his life in America, and his travels, the Chief Inspector sketched a map of the country and offered a list of off-the-beaten path places Karl shouldn’t miss.
You should not skip a single page of this book. Every one has a story (Allan Karl is a brilliant story teller, and I dare you to not want to immediately tell someone the story you just read), images (there are dozens of rich, full-color, finely-detailed candid and posed pictures), trivia, or a recipe or two. It’s a documentary of a man who ignored everyone who told him he was crazy, traded in the life he was supposed to have, and saw the world in a way few do. It’s even more precious now because many of the places he visited – Syria, Sudan, Israel, Egypt, Ethiopia – are now at war, or on the verge.
Forks aren’t just something we eat with. They are points at which we make decisions, and his have given us a rich, vibrant portrait of the world, its residents, and their foods.
*(Grilled Whole Fish with Tamarind and Coconut Curry Sauce)
^(Steak Strips Simmered in Spicy Green Pepper Sauce)
°(Beef Tenderloin Stir Fry Fusion)
¨This trip took place several years ago, before the Arab Spring and subsequent changes in North Africa and the Middle East.
Purchase your copy of Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine and Connection.
All images used by permission of the author. More information available at www.forksthebook.com.
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