FOLKS ON THE ROAD: ANDREA ZAGHI
Folks On The Road No. 1
a blog anthology dedicated to all the fine folks we meet on the road
Any lasting impressions I've made exploring new places are almost always rooted in meeting new faces, and India has been no exception. When two travelers cross paths, an instant connection often forms over the simple fact that you’ve wandered to the very same place. And when backpackers meet, it's as if a bridge has already been crossed. There is an unspoken awareness that your time together may be fleeting—a few days or a few hours—but that becomes all the more reason to dive in, open up, and explore together.
Thinking of the many people I’ve encountered on the road, I fondly remember a speed-walk race around the Roman coliseum with my sister and a couple of Brits; the Danish crew who invited me to join their Myanmar motorcycle gang, which they aptly called trekkfugler (‘migratory birds’); the German hitchhiker I picked up on my way to Alaska; and the solo traveler we adopted in Prague (the same one who road-tripped Bali with me four years later)—it was because of these folks that those places resonated so deeply.
These on-the-road and spur-of-the-moment relationships aren't always kept up, but that’s okay. Simply connecting and sharing an experience can create a lasting fondness for that time and place. But when we’re truly lucky, these run-ins are the beginnings of a deep friendship, one that holds up when stretched the width of seas and continents; I met Andrea this past March and knew it was just one of those things.
I was curled up in a hammock recovering from Hampi belly when Andrea, from Italy, and her American travel partner Tyler moved into the room next door. Our travel plans merged when we realized we were all heading to an off-the-beaten-path climbing spot called Badami. Between our first conversation on a long bus journey, mid-belay words of encouragement, and long-winded meals at our favorite local eatery, I connected with this genuinely beautiful human. We eventually parted ways in Bangalore, after a few days spent watching Netflix and making home-made lassi (sheer comforts after long stints on the road). She is one of the people I feel most up-to-date with even though she's currently in a remote part of China, overcoming the absence of wifi to keep in touch and share her story.
What inspires me most about Andrea is the way she is in tune with herself and with nature. She is a giving and nurturing soul, yet she puts time and love into her own well-being through yoga, meditation, and climbing; she is someone who has found her centre. Andrea also magnifies the beauty in things, whether she is pointing out a delicate flower, mourning the loss of a friend, or bravely launching herself into a new adventure.
Andrea has generously opened up about some of her travel experiences; I hope it spreads a little insight and inspiration, as knowing her has done for me.
ANDREA MARTINA ZAGHI
Yoga teacher, climber, globetrotter.
HOME NOW: Yangshuo (climbing haven in southern China)
When did you first start to travel?
I’ve been on the road all my life; when I was six months old, my parents brought me on a long journey to Mexico. At the age of six I had my first hitchhiking experience in Madagascar with my parents; at the age of 18 I went to South America with my best friends; when I came back I decided to leave my hometown Bologna to move to London. Since then, I’ve never felt like growing roots anywhere.
After a couple of years in London, it was time for me to enrol at University and I moved to Breda, a small town in the province of Brabant, in the Netherlands. During my studies, I had the opportunity to do my internship abroad and I chose to work for an NGO based in Port Elisabeth in South Africa, which became my home for nine months. When I went back, I had one year of university left to graduate and for the following two years I lived in the Netherlands. I had a clear plan in mind to certificate as Yoga instructor, save money, and then start traveling.
In two years I had lost my compass sometimes but in June 2017, I choose to either buy a car or leave everything and begin to travel again. Three months later, I left. Now, I have no permanent abode and I move seasonally following working opportunities and climbing crags. I am a wanderer with a backpack always full of gear… I’m writing this article on a bus from Guangzhou to Yangshuo in China, to work as a climbing guide and outdoor educator for adolescents and school groups with Asia Outdoors.
What kind of traveler are you? How do your passions influence the way you explore?
I move with my mat from crag to crag around the globe. I love being minimalistic and living out of my backpack. I also love inspiring people I meet to find their calling and start living a happy life. I search for meaning, and traveling makes my life meaningful. Yoga and climbing too. Those are my passions and I build my days around them.
To me, traveling generates very strong emotions that make me feel alive. Everyone should find what makes their life meaningful and just go for it!
SHARE your recent travels.
I spent the last nine months traveling in Asia. I began my journey in Vietnam. I traveled between Mai Chau, a little village located in the province of Hoa Ban, in the north of Vietnam and Catba Island, and Ha Long Bay, a much more touristy and developed but awfully beautiful location. I worked as yoga teacher and adventure guide for an outdoor company. Besides having waterfalls and climbing crags as my office, I taught yoga in a cave used to store ammunition during the Vietnam war. It felt very special. From Vietnam, I made it through to Thailand where I spent the majority of my time in Tonsai, a top-world-climbing-destination in the province of Krabi. It is a beautiful village, accessible only by boat.
Tonsai is a little climbing paradise with cliff-views on the ocean, awesome multi-pitch and holiday-grading, delicious smoothies, and the “Flower of Life” yoga studio. I found a beautiful community that practiced yoga, acro and climbing! My daily routine was waking up, grabbing my harness and gear, and walking to Sawadee to have banana pancakes, check who was there and with the guidebook and handpick the wall of the day. Around 5 PM I would come back to practice or teach yoga, have noodles at the Boatman for dinner, and get to bed early.
After a month or so, I went to India, where I traveled from South to the North with Tyler, an American guy I met in Tonsai. We landed in Chennai and after a day we rushed out towards Pondicherry. We bussed around to Hampi and Badami, other legit climbing spots. Here is where I was blessed to meet Trixie and Luke. Afterwards, we visited the Golden Temple, the Sikh’s Mecca in the city of Amritsar. Seventy thousand people are fed and sheltered every day. Everything is volunteer-based and every act is selfless. I found myself rolling chapatti, a local flatbread, together with sweet Indian ladies to be thankful towards the community that welcomed Tyler and me. I meditated while listening to their music and walked around the temple at night. After, it was time for us to begin Vipassana at Dhamma Dhaja Vipassana Meditation Centre in Hoshiarpur. The reason why we actually went to India in the first place: a 10 days silence meditation course. I cannot put in words this experience. We left the Dhamma with a new member of the crew Esther, a Dutch girl, and the three of us went to Rishikhesh to practice at Swasti Yoga, dip in the freezing Ganga and listen to inspiring stories from fellow travelers.
The day our visa expired, the 16th of April we walked across the western border of Nepal. After 4 endless days on the Nepalese highway with loud Bollywood music and chairs that didn’t fit Tyler’s knees, we reached our destination: Pokhara. We concluded our shared journey with an astonishing nine-day hike to Annapurna Base Camp and we felt on the top of the world at 4,134 meters. In tears, we said goodbye in Kathmandu when he made his way home and me too. On the 18th of May, after 230 days, I hugged my family once again.
How did you manage the financial logistics of such a long trip?
I saved some money from my previous job and I worked from time to time. While I was in Vietnam I didn’t have any income, which was great because in those months I learned how to live cheaply in South-East Asia. I started spending my savings from January onwards. During my journey, I found some work, like teaching yoga in Thailand, which covered some of my expenses and allowed me to attend the other yoga classes for free. I also did some translating work. The trick was definitely lowering the costs where I could: bussing over flights, shared accommodations, traveling during the night, and good food but only two times a day (although food in Asia is pretty cheap). I traveled for a long time and although I made it very cheap, I spent almost all my savings. I went home and I had just enough fuel to find a job. Maybe it's luck but I found out that to do what I truly love, I have always had just enough money in my bank account!
What was the hardest day you've had on the road?
I think my hardest day was the 16th of August 2018. I was actually back home spending time on the seaside with my family before flying to China, where I am at the moment. My dad had a bad accident paragliding a few hours away from us, I rushed to the hospital without knowing the entity of the trauma. After checking in and finding out that his life was not in danger but only a bad fall, a friend told me that a dear friend of ours passed away. For the following days, I had no one I could share the pain with because no one knew him and I felt lonely. I had to postpone the mourning until after my dad came home. A few days later I could finally let go and I cried every drop I held.
That was one of the hardest moment of my life. The treasures you collected all over the world becomes pain when something bad happens and you cannot do anything about it but get your pieces together and go on. Nomadic life has this dark side that sooner or later we have to cope with.
A different story was my welcoming to China, tragic but definitely funny. When I landed in Guangzhou I had the pleasure to find out that my luggage was delayed and still in Moscow. In finding this out I spent a good hour to complete all the paperwork right. The train to my final destination Yangshuo at 1:23 PM and I got to the station at 12:50. Let me tell you straight and clear, Chinese train station are complicated and Chinese people are not known to speak well English. I was pretty fast to figure out where to collect my ticket and run to the platform but it wasn’t enough time. I arrived at 1:25 PM and the train had just left. Tired after a 20 hours journey, I sat on the floor a bit out of hope.
That is when an angel named Jasmine that could speak good English, tapped me on the shoulder and told me that she lost the same train too, while she went to get three coffees at Starbucks for her friends. They left. She told me we could try to exchange our ticket and hop on the following train. Unfortunately, it was full and the next two days no spaces available (China has a lot of people and it was holiday season here). I was with no luggage. While she tried to figure out what to do, I could at least enjoy a sugary mocha. We opted for the bus: she could book it online on the phone and I couldn’t because I didn’t have a Chinese ID. The website showed that there were still 27 seats left so we rushed to the bus station only to discover that there were no seats available. At that point I started sobbing, Jasmine hugged me and told me that everything would be fine and tomorrow would be a new day. We found a nice cheap hotel where I could spend the night close to the station and the day after (today as I write this) I got my luggage delivered to the hotel and now I’m finally going to Yangshuo.
Most essential travel item: Headlamp
If you could teleport anywhere for a meal: Mum’s home
Something you didn't know about until you discovered it traveling: Amritsar
Where will you be in five years: New Zealand
Best book for the road: The Power of Now
Is it possible to travel sustainably? What CAN people do to achieve this?
I don’t think that is possible to fully travel in a sustainable way, because we always leave traces. But we can definitely lower the impact and improve it! On a macro level, tourism institutions need to find a balance between promoting an area and enhancing the industry with adequate infrastructures and at the same time, maintaining the nature for the inhabitants to still have a normal life without the overflow of tourism. On a microlevel, we as travelers should make the best to lower our impact: avoid plastic and disposable materials by carrying Tupperware and water bottles in our bags, bring trash home if we find it in nature. It is good for the karma! If you see anyone leaving traces kindly ask him or her not to! As a climber and Yogi I carry universal good values with me; sharing these with the people I meet is always a good thing!
Is there one place that has changed you most? why?
South Africa is definitely a place that changed me. I did my internship in Port Elizabeth for an NGO and I had the chance to stay there for nine months. I started experiencing traveling as a backpacker, without worrying too much about the day after and taking things how they unfolded in front of me. I began realizing the nature of life: everything perishes, so I learned to enjoy the moment without worrying about the future. South Africa has been harsh and kind like only mother nature can do. Its beauty is overwhelming and it shines behind the contrasting poverty, ignorance, and trash. South Africa let me get in touch with raw nature, and India with my soul.
“You think you need a map, but what you really want is a compass." Make every day meaningful and be happy!