(All photos courtesy of Allan Karl)
Quitting your job so you can ride around the world alone on a motorcycle and be held at gunpoint by Colombian rebels may seem like an unusual career path, but for Allan Karl, it was the journey of a lifetime.
Karl’s self-published book about the experience, titled “Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection,” is being released today. It documents his three-year, 60,000-mile, five-continent world ride with 700 photos. After returning home, he also decided to include 40 recipes from the 35 countries he visited — the bonds he’d built with locals over food made it too important to leave out.
An example of this came in Syria, a country he had to beg to enter. While filling up his BMW GS bike at a creaky gas station, he as invited inside for an impromptu meal.
“Three men sat around an old steel desk. In the middle of it was a large platter brimming with a fresh salad — fattoush,” Karl told Yahoo Travel.
“They handed me a fork and pushed the platter toward me. ‘Eat, Mr. Allan, eat. You need fuel for your body, not just your motorcycle.’ The other men spoke no English. We all dug our forks into the salad, smiled and laughed. I never thought that I’d find the freshest, crispest and fulfilling salad of my journey behind the doors of a greasy, smelly gas station in the middle of Syria.”
Karl said he quit his job at the marketing company he founded to explore and connect with people in the most unlikely of places. He had his challenges along the way, including a broken leg in Bolivia when his motorcycle slipped in the mud. And oh yeah, those Colombian rebels.
Although he was warned not to stop while riding through a jungle in the most dangerous part of the country, he was compelled to pull over for photos of a beautiful waterfall. And that’s when he found some machine-gun-toting company.
“After I told them I wanted to take a picture of the waterfall, they led me into the jungle at gunpoint, telling me there was a better waterfall to photograph,” Karl said. “I left my motorcycle and everything I owned at the edge of a cliff. I thought this was the end. I’m getting kidnapped or killed.
“With each step of a nearly hour walk, my heart beat faster. I could hardly breathe. Then to my amazement, we came to a clearing where a three-tiered waterfall tumbled into a crystal clear pool of water. We took photos and laughed. They even let me hold one of their guns.”
Here’s a sampling of photos from the book, including captions Karl wrote for us:
In a country where only 20% of the roads are paved, when you are lucky enough to find a good road, it’s amazing what you might see. Check the back of the Toyota: there are more llamas crammed in there!
Namib-Nankluft National Park — the dunes change by the minute as the coastal winds shift the sands and carve them into geometric shapes that would baffle Dali and Escher.
Exploring the area where Moses is said to have heard the word of God and received in tables of stone the 10 commandments, I find that locals feel the same way I do about riding camels, it’s more comfortable to walk along and use the camel to carry your things.
White Desert, Egypt
A wacky and weird collection of mushroom-shaped formations, I wandered and camped here.
I stop to ask directions from locals — looking for the way to the Omo Valley.
Torres del Paines, Chile
A rickety bridge takes me deep into one of Chile’s most fascinating and popular national parks.
The road is sand as I head north from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa in Eastern Sudan, along the route of the Nile River. Thankfully Nubian locals on camels appear out of nowhere and help me pick up my bike — I hate riding in sand.
The Natchez Trace Parkway has been used for thousands of years by American Indians, Civil War troops, presidents and modern adventurers — a treasured piece of U.S. history.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Riding the largest salt flat in the world — about 4,000 square miles, it’s roughly the size of the state of Delaware. Sitting at 14,000 feet high in the Andes, it’s also the highest salt flat in the world. It’s so large and so high, it’s visible from space.
Sometimes I felt that tourism is out of control. While these lions didn’t seem to be bothered by the camera-doting tourists, I was.
I wandered hours and hours and got lost in the historic Souk of Aleppo. I thought I found home when I spotted this little Yamaha decked out with all the local motorcycle accessories and in grand color.
Alabama Hills, California
Famous for classic setting for Hollywood television and film projects, this odd grouping of hills contrasted against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains is must-see natural phenomena along the eastern Sierras.
Lake Titicaca, Peru
The ferry system to take travelers across Lake Titicaca in Peru to Bolivia is primitive. Here I must prop my bike’s side-stand with a brittle piece of wood and balance it as we sail across the lake. (Photo by Miah)
Bab Alhawa, Syria
Twisting their own cigarettes while tending to their herd and as the kids fiddle with my motorcycle. Friendly, curious, and funny — I loved the Syrian people.
Lake Malawi, Malawi
The children in Africa were the most friendly, eager to learn and full of smiles. They loved the motorcycle and having their pictures taken.