This interview series features interviews with travel bloggers and writers. If you are a travel blogger and a writer and have something to share with your readers, please get in touch with me at [email protected] I look forward to hearing from you!
In this travel blogger interview, let us meet travel blogger Joan Torres from Against the Compass. Joan has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and Pakistan, and has visited uncommon destinations such as Iraqi Kurdistan, Sudan, and Palestine non-stop. He writes inspirational travel stories and extremely comprehensive travel guides. I love reading his blog because he delves deeper into the local culture and brings insights into destinations we hardly get to visit. And some of his experiences, like being accused of being an Islamic State spy, are unbelievable and absolutely crazy.
Welcome Joan! Tell us about yourself, your blog, and your upcoming travels.
My name is Joan Torres and I am from Spain. My blog Against the Compass is about destinations off the beaten track, specializing in the Middle East, Pakistan, and Central Asia. My main goal is to promote destinations that I believe have big potential; yet, they don’t tend to be on the ordinary traveler’s bucket list.
Currently, I am in Spain, where I just came from an 8-month journey through Pakistan and Central Asia. I’ll be resting here for a few months and, at the end of February, I will go back to the Middle East to visit some countries and places where I haven’t been yet. I plan to stay in that area for several months.
I love that you share your adventure and passion for traveling to weird and crazy countries that most people do not dare to visit. What inspires you to explore these countries?
I 2013, I moved to Dubai for work, where I lived for the last there years of my corporate career. Dubai is a city composed of 90% expats, the vast majority of them being from South Asia and the Middle East. I met all kinds of people coming from all over these countries: from Lebanon to Pakistan. They were my colleagues, party mates, and some of them became really close friends. They were continuously showing me pictures and talking about their home countries, so it triggered my curiosity immensely. The first place I visited was Beirut and I really got fascinated by its culture and history, miles away from how the media portraits it. I just think that, if you want to have a real, authentic experience, you need to travel to these countries.
You have been to Iraqi Kurdistan. Could you please tell us more about that region?
Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region that has nothing to do with the rest of Iraq. Kurdistan is safe and, surprisingly, it’s a quite prosperous region. Why?
Basically, Kurdish people are not Arab but Kurds, which means that there’s a lower religious fanaticism. Furthermore, it is an oil-rich region and ruled by people who knew how to manage its resources, making Erbil (its capital) become a regional, international business hub. You will find loads of expats in Erbil. This originated the creation of a relatively modern middle class, something difficult to see in the rest of the Middle-Eastern countries.
In addition, Kurdistan counts with a large Christian minority, so people are used to living, for example, among independent and liberal women.
These were my first observations when I traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan.
You have walked through the glacier between the Rakaposhi and Diran peaks where you described that there are cracks and fractures, and the survival rate is low if one falls through. What was it like to walk through that glacier and reach the campsite?
Well, I was with an experienced local Pakistani guide, so the risk was very low. Basically, he was telling us, continuously, where we should step. We were following him as if we were kids, very slowly. It feels good to get at the base camp but very tiring. It took us several hours to cross less than three kilometers of ice.
Which country is your favorite so far?
It really depends. When it comes to adventure travel, I would say that Pakistan is my favorite. If I think about history and culture, I would say Lebanon, Palestine, or Israel. If you are asking me about the landscape, Kyrgyzstan would, definitely, compete with Pakistan.
Do you have any travel bloggers you would like to meet in person?
I would like to have beers with Joao Leitao from Nomad Revelations, Alex from Lost with Purpose, Cynthia and Niko from Journal of Nomads, and Miguel from Travelsauro. We all blog in the same niche and we are good online friends, but I have never met them.
Journal of Nomads is my favorite travel blog and I would love to meet Cynthia and Niko one day. What has been your favorite travel experience so far?
It’s hard to say as I’ve had plenty of experiences where I’ve met incredible local people, with whom I could really embrace the local culture. However, the ones I explain back home, tend to happen when I visit places that are off limits.
You know, we need to push our limits in order to know where they actually are.
One of the most recent ones happened when I sneaked into a forbidden Afghan village, in Pakistan. I had so much fun there and I was blessed by the locals’ hospitality but, at the end of the day, the military, who was really pissed off, came to take me… It is a long story but you can read it here.
I love that story and the Italian accent part made me laugh. What other countries are you planning to travel to for the next few years?
When I finish visiting everywhere in the Middle East and Central Asia, I really want to start discovering the off – the – beaten – track Africa: from Eritrea to Angola, Congo, and a very large etcetera.
Do you have any tips you would love to share with your fellow travelers?
I would say that don’t trust what the general media says. You need to bear something in mind: dangerous countries don’t exist. Instead, you have countries that have some specific regions where there could be some potential danger. Think about it. It’s completely true.
Thanks Joan for a wonderful interview. Enjoy your travels in Middle East and look forward to reading more of your travel stories.
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