Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Cargo Ship Diaries

The Cargo Ship Diaries: 44 months, 37 countries, 0 flights 
© 2014 Niall Doherty
133 pages

A few years ago while looking for information on minimalism, I encountered the YouTube presence of one Niall Doherty, an Irishman traveling the world, living and working out of a backpack. Doherty left a comfortable but unfulfilling life in the nine-to-five world to live an adventure, instead. His throwing of himself into the world wasn't merely physical, as he also used new environments to experiment with his life, to impose new challenges on himself.  This is where I encountered him, as every week he seemed to be in a different place, invariably a cafe or club surrounded by laughing people (often women), and posing serious questions to the viewer, like "What would it take for you to change your most fundamental beliefs?"   As it turns out, he was in the middle of a purposeful quest: to travel the world without flying.   In The Cargo Ship Diaries, aboard a commercial freighter traveling from Yokohama to Peru, he shares both his experiences aboard the ship, and reminiscences on his Eurasian journey.  The book ends with his arrival in the Americas, though an epilogue shares diary entries about his time in South America, New Orleans, and later the return to Ireland.

Although his first book, Disrupting the Rabblement, captured his philosophy of life much better, some of it still comes through in this travel diary. As mentioned, it's a two-part book;  the framing narrative tells about life aboard the cargo ship, where for a month he explored, danced, wrote, and studied.   The 'writing' bit is this actual book, recounting his time in Eurasia. Landing in Amsterdam, he bused, biked, and ferried his way across the continent. He was not a 'tourist', and preferred to spend most of his time trying to interact with locals.  Much of that, he admits, was 'chasing tail'; in Amsterdam he challenged himself to flirt with 100 girls in a week, and the book is filled with one-night liaisons and brief relationships. Only when he found a friend to join him did he go on touristy adventures like visiting the Taj Mahal.  (His adventures tended to not be the usual kind: once, for instance, he climbed an abandoned skyscraper. Although reading about his sex life grew tiresome quickly,  I am always astonished at the amount of human goodwill global travelers run into. Doherty entered Iran despite being warned his bank cards wouldn't work, and found himself with the local equivalent of $10 to his name. Yet, through goodwill, local connections, and the internet, he was able to make his way through and out of the country, departing it with fond memories for the Iranian people -- who, he says, live double lives, defying the outside authoritarianism within the privacy of their homes.

Although I was sorely tempted to skim through the many dating episodes, I find Doherty's willingness to throw himself into the unknown admirable -- and of course, as someone who has read books on commercial shipping, this account of life aboard a cargo ship had a distinct attraction for me.

Doherty maintained a web presence throughout his travels, and produced a video about life aboard the ship below.

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