All the greed and consumption of the modern world was just a substitute. People bought junk because they were, to varying degrees, unhappy, bored and insecure. News and advertising existed to confirm and increase those fears, desires and feelings of inadequacy.
Only by dropping out did the truth appear: How little one need consume to survive.
The most extreme geographical locations always seem to attract two nationalities, and two alone: the British and the French. Disparate personalities in almost every way, yet united in their own separate concepts of romantic travel.
In Tibet, for instance, the only westerner I encountered in a month-long trek was, unsurprisingly, French. And a year later – the summer of 1988 – in the shimmering far east of the Indonesian archipelago, I stumbled upon a bunch of explorers from Normandy, engaged in buying a perahu wooden spice ship off the local Bugis people. Destination: Singapore – 3,000 kilometers away. After that, back to France in time to celebrate the bicentennial of the storming of the Bastille. They needed an extra crew member to help raise the sail, and I needed to get to the Lion City for cheap. What could well have been a deal with the devil turned out to be a match made in heaven.
That extraordinary voyage taught me, through daily mounting emergencies, how to splice ropes, prepare chickens for the pot, weather storms and navigate by the stars. Arrival in Singapore was miraculous, given the sparsity of our charts and navigational equipment. Nowadays, all vessels are tracked by built-in automated information system (AIS) transponders: We did not even have an engine. It was three days before we remembered to head to Finger Pier and let immigration know we had arrived.
The photos I shot evolved into the first story I ever sold. Finally, I could think about giving up English teaching.