Joe Baur – Travel Writer Interview
As soon as Joe Baur and I first chatted about his book, Talking Tico: (MIS)Adventures of a Gringo in and Around Costa Rica, I knew I had to interview him for my Travel Writer series. Oh, and read his book! I mean, Costa Rica has been one of my Dream Destinations for awhile now and I was eager to hear Joe’s thoughts on this dreamy locale and more about him and his travels.
Meet Joe Baur
Please tell us a little about yourself.
Well… My name’s Joe. Is that too little? In general my spiel is that I travel, preferably off the tourist trek, and then I write.
What was it about Costa Rica that drew you there?
My brother did a semester abroad there, so when the urge to live abroad became overwhelming, I went with the foreign language-speaking country that someone I trusted – at least as much as a little brother can trust an older brother – could vouch for.
What’s your top tip for first time travellers to Costa Rica?
Give San José a chance. So many travelers blow right by it. Even a good number of Costa Ricans are guilty of it. Hook up with Chepe Cletas for a bike tour of the city, walk around the pedestrian street in the central area, pop into the market and eat at one of the vendors, check out the theater, dip into the organic farmer’s market, and have a fancy dinner on Calle 33. The rainforests and beaches will still be there when you’re done.
Now you’ve moved to Dϋsseldorf, Germany. What brings you there?
I’m working with trivago and, much like my reasoning for moving to Costa Rica, expanding my travel and storytelling map.
I see you love hiking. So do I! What is your favourite hike?
A number in Central America come to mind. I think hiking to the crater of Santa Ana in El Salvador might top the list, though. There were so many uncertainties surrounding that trip. People told us not to go, our plans fell through a day before our flight to San Salvador, and our area guide seemed to lose track of when we had to meet up with our hiking guide, so there were a couple of hours of standing around, trying to figure out when to start the hike. Eventually we figured it out, the trail was diverse with a mix of dense forest and barren rock by the time we reached the top. We met other Salvadorans telling us stories about the country and their experiences living there. That hike gets bonus points, because it was something different. Not many North Americans are doing that trail than, say, the many we did in Costa Rica.
Have you ever travelled solo?
I’ve never traveled truly solo in that I knew nobody where I was going and had absolutely no plans. Now that I’m thinking of it, I’d like to do that sometime. I generally am always traveling either with my wife or for work in which case I have plans on the ground. Thanks for the idea!
How many countries have you visited?
I think I’m in the mid-twenties. I don’t worry about counting countries, especially being from the U.S. where states are the size of some countries. Suffice it to say I’ve been plenty fortunate to see most of the U.S. and a good number of foreign countries and cultures.
What is your favourite place and why?
I love Switzerland and Japan for not letting car culture run crazy. You can still get around completely by foot, bike or public transit in those countries without people thinking you’re poor or insane. Car culture is what I liked least about living in the States where people, indeed, would think I was poor and/or crazy for living without a car. That said, I also loved the tranquilo culture of Costa Rica. If I could blend Costa Rican mentality and its Central Valley climate – except for the rainy season – with Swiss or Japanese infrastructure, that would be my Utopia.
What destination has surprised you the most?
Places like El Salvador and Jordan, because they’re in regions with very harsh, negative images in international media, yet they were two of my favorite travel experiences in my life. I can’t say I’m surprised, necessarily, though. I suppose I was truly surprised by western North Dakota where they have Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I always thought the whole state was flat, but that region is one of the most beautiful corners of the country.
If you could describe your method of travel in one word, what would it be?
Can I hyphenate? If so, anti-tourist.
What is your must have travel accessory?
What is your most memorable travel moment?
Either hiking to that crater in El Salvador or having dinner with a Jordanian family in Petra because they tweeted me.
Do you have a dream destination you’ve yet to visit?
I’m itching to get to southern and/or east Africa. Iran in general has been at the top of my wish list for a very long time. Other than that, I’d love to live in a future where interstellar travel is possible and explore uncharted territory. Unfortunately I think that’ll be beyond my years.
Do you have any upcoming trips?
Next up is Tenerife, one of the Spanish Canary Islands.
How has travel changed you?
It’s made me more open-minded, a more critical thinker, and more willing to accept that I don’t know very much.
How long did it take for your book, Talking Tico, to come to fruition?
Well, I had the idea to do that kind of book before moving there. I took notes all throughout my time living there and then it was probably another year or so of writing when I found spare time. Then I had to get it edited, make changes, and finally publish the damn thing. Not sure what it all adds up to in the end, but it wasn’t something I pushed out on a whim.
What do you hope your readers will take away from your book?
I hope they’ll have a more complete picture of Costa Rica and Central America. Perhaps “complete” isn’t the right word, because even I still have much to learn about Central America. But I hope they at least see it as more than a one-dimensional destination. More than just some Gringo paradise, if you will.
I see that part of the proceeds of your book go to a particular organization. What is the organization, and why did you choose to do this?
They go to two organizations, actually. Centro Arte para la Paz and el niño y la bola. I choose them because they contributed to my book indirectly in that they helped give me stories to tell. That and so often we travel writers mine stories from a destination without necessarily giving anything back. Now I have no delusions of grandeur that I’ll be able to have a press conference and hand them a comically oversized check, but it’s my small way of giving back in a manner I think is appropriate. Maybe it’ll encourage other travel writers or artists who profit off the material gained from a destination to think about giving back some of the proceeds.
Do you have any new books on the horizon?
My third guidebook with Falcon Guides is coming out in the spring. Besides that, I’m toying between a couple of ideas – one being a travelogue covering my two weeks in Japan and another being my experiences inside the travel industry. The travelogue stuff is where my heart is, but I know this Kitchen Confidential-esque insider stuff is usually more popular.
Where is your favourite place to write?
Someplace away from people, surrounded by nature and a nice view with a coffee or beer by my side depending on the time of day.
What is your favourite travel book?
Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods introduced me to the kind of travel writing I now most enjoy creating and reading. That will always remain one of my favorites, but literature is like music for me. What’s currently my “favorite” depends on my mood.
What is your favourite travel quote?
Funny you should ask this. I’ve been asked this question several times in other interviews and I’d always kinda roll my eyes. I’d think of all these Instagram photos people post of different quotes meant to inspire and other travel bloggers who come up with their own cliché-riddled quotes that are all basically the same. “Life’s too short for a 9-5, so join me on my adventure and get inspired!”
Then it happened out of the blue. I saw a quote that really did resonate with me and with what I believe in. It’s at the crux of what guided my travel work before I saw it and it’s a way for me to intelligently articulate what I do. The quote comes from Alexander von Humboldt, who was a Prussian scientist and explorer in the 19th century. He said, “The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.”
Everyone who told me not to go to El Salvador had not been to El Salvador. Everyone who told me not to go to Jordan had never been to Jordan, let alone the Middle East. If you think about the people trying to pass laws to ban a specific religion or to build a wall, it’s people who have a very limited worldview. The more you can expand that worldview, no matter who you are, the better we’ll all be. I realize not everyone can pop over to the Middle East for 10 days or even get down to Central America. I even understand that an unfortunately large number of my countrymen and women won’t go to the city and meet different people. My job, as I see it, and passion is to go to these places and be the mechanism in which people can expand their worldview.
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