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Leucadia Man Documents Global Adventure In New Book

Author Allan Karl stares at a camel while in Egypt
Allan Karl
Author Allan Karl stares at a camel while in Egypt
Leucadia Man Documents Global Adventure In New Book
Leucadia Man Documents Global Adventure In New Book GUESTAllan Karl, author, FORKS: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection

Maureen Cavanaugh: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh. Ever get the urge to just change your life and hit the road? It’s a pretty common fantasy, but practically no one ever really does it. However, if you do, you should be prepared for good times, bad times, close calls, once-in-a-lifetime adventures, and some really interesting food. That’s what my next guest found on his three-year motorcycle trip around the world. Allan Karl lives in Leucadia. He’s written a book about his journey filled with photographs and recipes. It’s called Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection. Allan, welcome to the program. Allan Karl: Good to be here, Maureen. Thanks for having me. Maureen Cavanaugh: Now how did this adventure begin for you? Allan Karl: Well, you know, my dream has always been to travel around the world and my passion has always been photography, writing, and certainly motorcycles, I think, as you mentioned, a lot of us put those on the backseat pursuing life and career. So I woke up one day at a fork in the road. My marriage had recently ended in divorce, and I was out of a job unemployed. So I thought, rather than just jump back into the same old same old to chase that dream and pursue those passions. Maureen Cavanaugh: Now, where did you want to go, did you have something in mind? Allan Karl: There’s a lot of fantasy and dreams for many motorcycle adventure motorcycle riders who want to go from pole to pole from the top of the world in Alaska to the Arctic Ocean, and to the very bottom of South America Tierra del Fuego place called Ushuaia. So that was first on my list to really do that. But because I wanted just a journey not to be just an adventure, but to be one of discoveries as well, one of my goals was to visit as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as I possibly could. That way, I can learn about the history, the natural significance, the ecological beauty of our world, the geography, the topography, and certainly the history. Maureen Cavanaugh: So, let me see if I’ve got this right. You went from Canada down through United States, Mexico, Central America, down into South America, then you sort of went to – flipped over the Atlantic Ocean, and you went to Southern Africa, came up Africa, went to the Middle East, and sort of ended your journey in the area of around Turkey. Is that right? Allan Karl: Exactly, yeah, Eastern Europe, yup. Maureen Cavanaugh: Wow! How did you prepare for that? Allan Karl: You know, it took a long time, I spent two years reading, researching, certainly using internet, looking at all of the various guidebooks, spending a lot of time looking for other travelers whether they’d be on motorcycle or backpackers or just people with experience in a lot of these places. And after two years, you know, I was, I tell people, the hardest part is actually deciding. Doing it is a lot easier. Maureen Cavanaugh: Yeah, did people tell you, you were crazy when you’re in that time of decision making? Allan Karl: A lot of people thought why not you just go on a cruise Allan… Maureen Cavanaugh: [laughter]. Allan Karl: Is this extreme route through a midlife crisis, may be go out and buy a convertible. You know, definitely they thought that this was crazy, and especially when I shared with them the list of countries I wanted to see. This was not a luxury trip to go explore, you know, historical Western Europe, this was the developing world, and places like Colombia, Sudan, Syria were all on my list. Maureen Cavanaugh: Tell us about the philosophy you took with you on the road, because I think that’s a vital part of this trip, and it’s actually part of the title of your book, the connection part, what did you want to do? Allan Karl: You know, at the time I took this trip, of course, a lot of the world, a lot of Americans felt that the world was against us. So it was part of my mind actually, go out and prove to myself and to others that people are interested and curious regardless of their race. We share more in common than that we do differently. So my goal in this trip, my philosophy was to be open, open to new experiences, open to meeting people, open to learning new languages, and of course, open to trying new food. Maureen Cavanaugh: Right, I’m going to get to that in a minute, but it’s the people that fascinate me because everywhere you went you seemed to have been able to find people who will help you, who will, you know, tell you the best place to go and help if you have a problem, and you don’t even speak a lot of these languages. Allan Karl: Yeah, I tried to learn at least something like icebreaker phrases and things and these things, but one of the things that a lot of people may have a hard time with is traveling alone. But when you travel alone, you travel, you’re forced to actually ask for directions, ask people, and when you’re sitting eating somewhere, you’re going to have to engage, not with who you’re traveling with, but with the other people there, and that was I think what really brought this experience very rich for me. The very early parts in my book, and there is a spread of all these phases, there are probably 30 phases of people that I met, and they’re all smiling and they all have this open look in their eyes to get the ability to take that pictures to earn trust in each of those people. And the way you do that is obviously sitting down and talking with them, not just whipping out the camera right away and snapping as a cultural oddity. No, this is about connecting with them, learning about who they are, and as I said before, often these people were more curious about me than even I was about them. Maureen Cavanaugh: I’m speaking with Allan Karl and we’re talking about his book of his motorcycle trip around the world, it’s called Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection. Let’s talk about the cuisine part, because I think it’s really different from a lot of travel books you see, it’s these recipes. Every country you go to has a recipe at the end of the chapter. Was that part of your plan from the start including these local recipes? Allan Karl: I never thought… Maureen Cavanaugh: [laughter]. Allan Karl: …that I would write a book that included food other than a narrative that might suggest here’s what I’m eating here something weird. But when I got home – and I had always remembered this dish I had in the Northern Brazil on the Bahia province called moqueca. It’s like a fisherman stew. Its fish and shellfish, you know, stewed in this beautiful coconut milk with lots of fresh herbs. And I cooked it for my friends Bonnie and Doug, and in the middle of that after a couple bottles of wine talking about my upcoming book, they suggested, you need to put recipes in your book. The light went on, Maureen, and I said that’s really is – this book is not about me, it’s about the people I connected, their culture and that window to the culture is not only those faces we see, but the food and the flavors of that culture. So I retroactively went back through all my notes and photography and reached out to those people I connected with and gathered recipes, and there is – it's almost like the signature dish I think in each of these, you know, you go to South Africa, we have barbeques here, but there they have potjiekos, they will actually stew on an outside fire and like what would be a Dutch oven with legs on it, and there is a potjie with oxtail there, very, very traditional dish there. Certainly, if you go into Honduras, you know, on the Caribbean there, of course, they’ve got the conch. Everyone usually has conch fritters there, but really the dish that’s so unique to me is the conch soup. Maureen Cavanaugh: What is that? What is conch? Allan Karl: Conch is a mollusc, you know, and it’s – you know, you’ve seen those shells that you’ll use for horns and things like that, that’s a conch shell. Maureen Cavanaugh: Okay. Yes, yes. Allan Karl: Yeah, but, you know, sometimes that can be hard to find in certain places. So I in the book of course include some substitutes, you could use scallops in that for example. Maureen Cavanaugh: You know, I think most people are pretty familiar with travel writer, Anthony Bourdain. He combines travel and food too. He winds up eating some really strange things. Did that happen to you? Allan Karl: Definitely, there are some unique things I tried and sometimes, you know, had to swallow… Maureen Cavanaugh: Really fast... Allan Karl: But in Zambia I remember particularly meeting the village headman in the middle of nowhere, outside is round [indiscernible] [00:08:04], you know, round hut built of sticks and dung, and he had all these baskets out in the sun drying caterpillars. And he said, you know, as an offering, have some caterpillar, and they were salty… Maureen Cavanaugh: [laughter]. Allan Karl: …they’ve been dried. That was unique. I was in Jordan, and their signature dish, which is used in festivals that is called mansaf, it’s a lamb stewed in a yogurt sauce. Now, in the very big high end of Jordanian society, when they serve this, it’s served on a plate of rice with almonds, shaved almonds on there, but – and I never saw this, but I was worried because sometimes they’ll serve it to you with the head of the lamb in the middle of the dish... Maureen Cavanaugh: Oh, yeah [chuckle]. Allan Karl: And it’s a really honor to be offered the eyeball. I was warned of this before going to the event and, you know, when I got there it's like sigh relief, I’m not going to be eating an eyeball. Maureen Cavanaugh: You have that dish in your book Sam's eyeball [laughter]. Allan Karl: Sam's eyeball, yes I do. And it is awesome. Maureen Cavanaugh: Now, Allan, what was your worst experience? Allan Karl: Well, you know, it’s really – it’s a very tough question because I had some challenging experiences. I certainly had – in a situation where I was walked into the jungle at gunpoint by Colombian Guerrillas that turned out fantastic. Probably breaking my leg in the middle of nowhere in Bolivia, I was on this dirt road I'd been traveling for several hours, left from Potosi the highest city in the world to the Salar de Uyuni, which is the largest salt flat. That was a goal to go and ride and see this amazing salt flat, which is about as big as the entire county of Los Angeles. And on that muddy road at a little settlement, the only one in between those two stops, it was all rutted and slippery red mud and my rear tire flew out from under me, I crashed in the mud and my motorcycle about 400 pounds, and I’m carrying about 200 pounds of what I own falls on top of my leg and crushes it, and I had to return home for recovery, surgery. So, that interruption certainly while it was difficult, most, I think people thought, well, Allan’s done… Maureen Cavanaugh: That’s over, yeah. Allan Karl: He’s not going back. Maureen Cavanaugh: Yeah, yeah. Allan Karl: But I left my motorcycle in Bolivia, and went back. Many months later, and despite what most people thought, it was still there. Maureen Cavanaugh: It’s an [indiscernible] [00:10:29] right? Allan Karl: Yeah. Maureen Cavanaugh: What it’s been like coming home after this adventure? Allan Karl: You know, there was definitely an acclamation period where I didn’t even want to get in a car, and frankly getting on a motorcycle here in Southern California on these freeways was even a second thought, despite all the places I’d been in the world, and what was really odd to me, because I’d been in places like a Zambia, Malawi, and Africa and impoverish places, and Ecuador and certainly Bolivia, is walking into a supermarket and looking at how many choices we have. After traveling for three years on the road, I would be in a market somewhere, and they would have long aisles of shelves like we do have in our supermarkets, except there those shelves would be naked, maybe 10 or 11 products. And I'm not talking 10 and 11 of each product, but 10 or 11 that's it. One can of soup maybe, you know, couple of packages of crackers and things like that, and soap, you know, one bar soap, but here you walk in and we've got, you know, 30 different choices of toothpaste. We've got every possible kind of laundry detergent for every possible thing. So this was really odd to me because thinking the rest of the world how – I remember in Malawi staying with this family and went to the market, they wanted butter, and they said we're not going to get butter for at least nine more days. And you know, we've got choices of butter here, we've got butter with olive oil, we've got butter with, margarines, and I think that was the tough part, and certainly thinking about how I was going to share this experience, because I've had this amazing connection with all of these cultures with all of these people, and you know, really trying to figure out what's the best way to do that in this book, and that's why this book started out as a narrative traditional travel memoir to full on coffee table book with rich color photographs and the recipes. Maureen Cavanaugh: And lots of recipes. Are you planning any other adventures now, I mean, you know, you went down South America, you came up Africa, and you sort of stopped in Turkey, are you going to the Far East? Allan Karl: Yeah, you know, one of my fails I think in this whole journey was to convince the Iranian government to give me a visa to let me ride my motorcycle through Iran. I'd tried at three different consulates and embassies and each time was turned down, the last one in Ankara in Turkey. So I really would love to return to Turkey and get through Iran and Pakistan and ride on the Karakoram Highway, which is a beautiful mountain range, kind of an offshoot of the Himalayas where the Chinese and the Pakistanis had collaborated and this built road that ends up at the border of China. That's definitely on my list. But I may, as soon as this year, actually get to China, so talking with some people about doing a journey across the entire country. Maureen Cavanaugh: Wow! Well, good luck. I want to let everyone know that I've been speaking with Allan Karl. His book is called Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection. Thank you for coming and speaking with us. I appreciate it. Allan Karl: This has been fine. Thank you, Maureen. [Music plays…] Maureen Cavanaugh: Be sure to watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5:00, again at 6:30 tonight on KPBS Television, and join us again tomorrow for discussions on Midday Edition on KPBS FM. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Thank you for listening. [Music plays…]

Do you ever get the urge to just change your life and hit the road? If you ever decide to take that chance, be prepared for good times, bad times, close calls, once-in-a lifetime adventures and some really interesting food.

It's the type of experience Allan Karl of Leucadia found on a three-year trip around the world, which is documented in his new book, "FORKS: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine and Connection."

The book cover of Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connections.
Allan Karl
The book cover of Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connections.

Karl told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday that he began his journey when he came across a fork in the road. He divorced his wife and lost his job.

After two years of researching countries and reading guide books, Karl hit the road on his motorcycle and visited 35 countries on five continents. His travels are shared using photographs and recipes of native dishes from countries he visited.

"The best way to experience the world is to see it through photographs, to feel it through stories of connection and culture, and to taste it in the real local food," Karl said. "Though I set off on this journey alone, I quickly learned I was never alone. If I was ever lost, lonely or hungry, I would turn around and always find someone there. It's easy to connect with people even in the most challenging and dangerous circumstances."

For those who have dreamed about traveling the world, Karl said: "The hard part is actually deciding to do it. Doing it is easier."