A Nomad on a Bike
A nomad on a bicycle, Justin Vorel is riding around the world. He began his trip from Luther, Oklahoma, on May 5, 2007, and in three months he has biked through Oklahoma, Texas, Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador, all the way down to Honduras.
“My bicycle is a GT Mountain bike a friend bought for me at a pawn shop for seventy-seven dollars,” Vorel said. “I chose to travel by bike because I can meet people easier. I raise a lot of interest when I ride into a village.” He carries clothes, camping gear and a few extra bike parts. “I camp anywhere I can find a flat piece of ground. I always have green tea with me and buy food locally to carry on my bike, spending about ten dollars a day.” But his favorite place to stay is with friends and families he meets along the way.
Vorel always has his digital camera. “I take pictures of in-between places no one else sees,” he said. “I like finding the unfound, the faces, villages, houses, flowers or a sunset. I go back to the simple elements and let my eyes be that of a child, seeing things for the first time.”
Vorel graduated from high school at Edmond Memorial High School in 1999, then went to the University of Central Oklahoma and majored in Journalism with a Photography emphasis.
“That degree gave me a lot of opportunity for electives,” he said. “I took political science, geography and languages like Arabic.”
He took a year and a half from his schooling in the States to do his own independent study program in Taiwan and China. “I took a lot of photos and traveled through China on breaks doing ethnographic research,” said Vorel.
In the spring of 2005, Vorel went to Afghanistan for two years. The first year he lived in western Afghanistan and helped a friend start a business.
“Then I went to central Afghanistan for a year, where I worked in agriculture research, a reforestation project and agriculture training programs” he said. “I liked getting out of the office and working on a farm with the locals.”
Vorel has no trouble making friends with locals and feels safe almost anywhere he goes. “In Afghanistan there were a hundred people’s houses I could go to,” he said. “They would sneak me out of the country if necessary. Wherever I go, I try to build friendships with people and listen to local advice. If someone says ‘That area is dangerous’ then I don’t go down that road!”
“I was not sure I was making a difference in Afghanistan,” said Vorel, “but when some Chinese agriculture workers came to Afghanistan, I helped them adjust. It was a perfect fit. How many people speak English, Farsi and Chinese?”
Vorel explained that his trip is not about a bicycle, but about people and learning. “To really love people, you have to walk in their shoes. I get to see how people live. Don’t get me wrong, if I could live in Oklahoma comfortably and be satisfied, I would. That’s not the way I was created. I’m a nomad. I don’t desire a car, house or fancy clothes. I’m created to move, just like the nomads and disciples of old. I don’t understand all the ‘whys.’ What the Lord has placed in me to do doesn’t make logical sense.”
Vorel plans to ride his bike through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. From there, he will sail across the Panama Canal, down to Columbia, a six-day sailboat trip. There are only two choices of travel over the Darien Gap between Panama and Columbia—by boat or by plane.
“Then I plan to ride down the western coast of South America and go through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil,” he said. “Venezuela is not on my route, but I hope to add it.” It will take at least six months before Vorel reaches Sao Paulo, Brazil.
“After South America, I plan on going to Africa,” he said.
What motivates Vorel to explore the world? “When I read the Bible I can’t help but be changed. Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. There were no church buildings, no denominations. The gospel was simple, pure and not limited by money. There’s a lot of power in that for me. I’ve learned a big lesson by traveling. Church does not fit into the four walls of a building. It doesn’t have to be scheduled. We can have church anywhere.”
When Vorel finally arrives back in the U.S., he hopes to use technical tools to make artwork out of his photography. “I want to create stories about the faces no one cares for and the flowers no one notices. Pictures of the children that are unloved by anyone. Things the Lord sees every day. Pictures completely missed in our age. We’re in such a rush to see everything that we don’t see anything. We definitely don’t see the people.
“If I could say one thing, I would tell believers not to limit God,” he said. “Slow down and take a deep breath and simplify life. Get back to God’s original law to love others, the basics of life.”
Vorel enjoys his travel and believes other countries give us a different perspective. “I wouldn’t trade my life for the world,” he said.
Justin Vorel’s travels can be followed through his blog at www.thenomadlive.blogspot.com