Where in the World Are You, Carl Hoffman?

Travel Blog  •  World Hum  •  04.10.08 | 6:07 PM ET


The subject of our latest nearly up-to-the-minute interview with a traveler somewhere in the world: writer Carl Hoffman, a contributing editor to Wired and National Geographic Traveler. His response landed in our inbox minutes ago.

Where in the world are you?

I’m sitting in a red plastic barbershop chair getting shaved with a straight razor in the Jo barbershop in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil. It feels great: I’ve just finished a grueling two weeks on the road over the Andes and through the Amazon from Peru to Brazil and I was looking kinda rough. The barber was horrified; he’s been working on me for almost an hour—shampoo, conditioner, haircut and shave for $8.

What are you doing there?

I’m halfway through the first leg of traveling around the world on the world’s slowest, most crowded and most dangerous buses, boats, trains and planes for “The Lunatic Express,” to be published by Broadway Books next year. I’m blogging about the trip, too. Three days ago I was on a wooden riverboat on the Rio Madeira, a tributary of the Amazon, and I arrived in Sao Paulo on the same TAM flight that crashed here last July, killing 199. Strange contrasts. 

What do you see around you?

There’s a guy with three stars tattooed on his neck getting shaved in the chair next to mine, Woody Woodpecker cartoons are on the tube overhead, and a woman wearing a skin-tight leopard print camisole and platform wedges is getting ready to paint a customer’s nails. Jo is small and works on anybody who walks through the glass door, and in Sao Paulo that really could be anybody.

Got a pic?


What did you have last night for dinner, and where?

Just stepped into one of the churrasceria joints around the corner from my hotel. They’re great and on almost every block of every street in Brazil. You grab a plate, scoop up great heaps of beans and rice and farina and chunks of beef floating in rich gravy and place it on a scale, and then the barbecue maestro brings over a selection of ribs and sausage, chicken and steak. Brazilians are serious carnivores. 

What are you listening to these days?

Whatever is in the background of wherever I’m traveling. On the boat, it was samba from 6 in the morning until 10 at night. In my Sao Paulo hotel room, it’s traffic and motorcycles and last night the sound of horse hooves clip-clopping along the very urban street, as five mounted policemen rode by. I’m carrying an iPod but I’ve only listened to it once; I prefer to keep my ears open to the world around me. 

What are you reading?

When I travel, I like to read other travel books, and I’m almost finished Lawrence Osborne’s The Naked Tourist: In Search of Adventure and Beauty in the Age of the Airport Mall. It’s about a six-month journey from the uber-tourist excesses of Dubai to the deepest jungles of Indonesian Papua, where Osborne joined a “tour” to meet uncontacted tribes. It was a great contrast to my own journey and made me think a lot: Osborne talks about the deep urge to escape from the world, and my trip, in a way, is about the opposite—an attempt to engage with it, to travel as the rest of the world must. 

What did you experience in the last 24 hours that you’d recommend?

Sao Paulo for me is a pause, so I’ve been doing all the little things that I haven’t had a chance to do on muddy back roads and rivers: getting my hair cut, my laundry done at a funky lavandaria, buying a few new shirts, looking for a few new books to buy. I often think that doing all those little mundane chores is when you see a city best; you stop self-consciously searching for a sense of place and just become one with everyone else, interacting with regular people. Getting a shave and haircut is a perfect example. It’s such a routine yet intimate thing, and for the last hour in this little corner barbershop, I’ve been less tourist than Paulista, which feels nice. 

Where in the world are you headed next?

Tomorrow I’m flying to Johannesburg, there to head north through Africa for a month. Air Zimbabwe to Harare and Air Malawi to Dar es Salaam; an old train line from Bamako, Mali to Dakar, Senegal; the original Lunatic Express—the train from Mombassa to Kenya; the ferry from Dakar to Ziguinchor, which sank in 2002, killing 1,863 in Africa’s worst maritime disaster. And who knows where else on the continent. I like to keep things open. Which reminds me: I still don’t have a map of Africa.

3 Comments for Where in the World Are You, Carl Hoffman?

Scott Wallace 04.12.08 | 9:50 AM ET

Go, Carl, go!!

Lucy Wang 04.12.08 | 12:31 PM ET

Great interview. Really loved the bit about how you really experience the city through the mundane little things as opposed to hopping on a tour bus and snapping away at everything…

SJJahn 06.27.08 | 12:29 PM ET

Great experience of having shave with straight razor

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