Interview with Vago Damitio

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I met trav­el writer Vago Dami­tio online ear­li­er this year when we were both entrants in an online nov­el writ­ing com­pe­ti­tion where he was show­cas­ing his bril­liant  Douchebags, Fags, and Hags.  The nov­el, which deals with the cross-coun­try mis­ad­ven­tures of a man named Pigrone, has just been released as an ebook.  To mark the occa­sion I caught up with Vago Dami­tio, to talk about trav­el, spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, and writ­ing.

I’m sure you get this all the time, but I have to ask: how were you blessed with the name Vago?

Peo­ple always ask me this- actu­al­ly, they ask me ‘What’s your eth­nic back­ground? Is that Ital­ian?’ I like to tell them that it’s not an Ital­ian name, it’s actu­al­ly Fan­ci­ful. The fun­ny part is when I see that look as they try to place where the coun­try of Fance is. In truth, it is fan­ci­ful. Unlike the pro­ta­gan­ist in my lat­est nov­el, Pigrone or Pig, I wasn’t lucky enough to be giv­en the name by a hot Ital­ian woman look­ing for a one night stand — but, we do have some­thing in com­mon, Pigrone means lazy in Ital­ian and Vago means lazy in Span­ish.  My Span­ish friends often have a hard time intro­duc­ing me because mi ami­go Vago actu­al­ly comes out sound­ing about like ‘my no-good, lazy friend’.  Still, I haven’t answered your ques­tion.  I wasn’t giv­en the name Vago by my par­ents even though my mom, my wife and just about every­one calls me Vago. Instead, I was named Vago by a bar­tender who start­ed call­ing me that after weeks of me ped­dling my first book “Rough Liv­ing: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond” in his bar. First it was, “Hey, it’s the Vagabond,” after a bit it just became “Hey, Vago” sort of like Norm from Cheers. Friends start­ed call­ing me that and when I went trav­el­ing, it was always how I intro­duced myself.  Now, it’s my name. So you see, it is Fan­ci­ful, but I’m not from Fance.

The first book of yours that I read was Rough Liv­ing: Tips and Tales of a VagabondDescribe the vagabond lifestyle.

This is a tough one. At one point, back when there weren’t a hun­dred thou­sand blogs that include the word vagabond and Rolf Potts and I were pret­ty much the only two writ­ers who thought it was fun to use such an obscure term to describe our­selves, it was pret­ty easy. The vagabond­ing lifestyle was all about long term trav­el and giv­ing up home, job, pos­ses­sions, and seden­tary life to do it.  Today, it’s a much broad­er cat­e­go­ry because you have tech­no-vagabonds who trav­el with the lat­est gad­gets and have full time, online careers. You have vagabond fam­i­lies who sail and dri­ve while liv­ing in their vehi­cles, and you still have pen­ni­less, vacant eyed, long term vagabonds too. Essen­tial­ly, I would say the vagabond lifestyle is about adjust­ing your­self to a life of long term or per­pet­u­al trav­el.  For me, this means I have a home base in coun­try where I can afford one and I wan­der around as much as I can while try­ing to fig­ure out how to get my pay­checks from all my wan­der­ing.

Your book Lim­i­nal Trav­el: How to Trav­el on Almost Noth­ing also deals with wan­der­lust and the appeal of head­ing out and see­ing the globe.  What are some of your favorite places and why?

I haven’t even been close to every­where yet, but out of the places I’ve been, a few stand out.  I adore Turkey.  I mean, I love it. Every­thing about Turkey just clicks with me. It’s an image con­scious coun­try where peo­ple like to look good but they will give you the shirts off their back. It’s a place where you can ride in an air con­di­tioned bus, using onboard wifi, drink­ing tea and being hand­ed lemon cologne by the bus atten­dant (every bus has one or two) and then you can look out the win­dow and see ancient Greek, Roman, and Ottoman ruins. I can go on and on about Turkey — I con­tin­ue to be a legal res­i­dent there even though I live most­ly in Moroc­co.

I also love the Hawai­ian Islands and the Philip­pines. While it might sound fun­ny, both places are sim­i­lar because they have aquat­ic cul­tures, heavy Asian influ­ences, beau­ti­ful water, and laid back peo­ple.  The Philip­pines is more afford­able but the sense of Alo­ha in Hawaii can’t real­ly be matched any­where else. I’m kama’aina, I grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawai’i, I’ve worked in Taro patch­es and I’ve hiked and kayaked about as much as any­one I know of on most of the islands.

Final­ly, there’s Europe. It’s hard to break it down into tiny lit­tle bits but there are some gems. The French coun­try­side, Paris, the lakes region of Italy, Barcelona, Grena­da — there’s some­thing to be said for the grand tour. I feel very for­tu­nate that I’ve been able to explore Europe over the course of years. From sail­ing in the Greek islands to hik­ing on the Isle of Skye — there’s no part of Europe that I haven’t found some won­der in.

And then of course there is Indone­sia, Malaysia, Thai­land, Sin­ga­pore, the Balka­ns, and I can go on. I’ve nev­er been able to real­ly make dis­tinc­tions because every coun­try has it’s charms and won­ders and most­ly, these come from the won­der­ful human beings who live in them.

So you’re cur­rent­ly liv­ing in Moroc­co. What brought you there? 

Oh, it’s a tricky ques­tion for me. I live in Moroc­co. My wife is Moroc­can, my daugh­ter is half Moroc­can. I have a lot of friends and fam­i­ly here. In fact though, they all entered my life after I came here.  I came here on a whim when I was explor­ing Spain, I got stuck in a flood when I was couch surf­ing, I fell for the girl and then, despite try­ing to leave again and again, I kept com­ing back for her. I final­ly mar­ried her and dragged her to live in Turkey, but when our daugh­ter came, it was impor­tant for my wife to be around fam­i­ly — so back we came. The truth is, I don’t like liv­ing here.  It’s a beau­ti­ful coun­try filled with won­der­ful peo­ple — it’s scenic, exot­ic, and fas­ci­nat­ing — but for me, it’s a bit like liv­ing in hell. As soon as I can get my wife’s immi­grant visa to the USA cleared, I’m going to drag my fam­i­ly away again and this time, hope­ful­ly far enough that we won’t be able to eas­i­ly come back.

As a search­ing believ­er one of the more inter­est­ing sec­tions of Lim­i­nal Trav­el to me was the part on spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. How would you describe your spir­i­tu­al­i­ty?  Do you iden­ti­fy with a par­tic­u­lar faith?

I believe in the Invent­ed God. In fact, I am the lat­est prophet of the Invent­ed God. I’m cur­rent­ly writ­ing a book called The Invent­ed God in which I am delv­ing into all of the major reli­gions to find truth. I believe that God is revealed to dif­fer­ent peo­ples and cul­tures in dif­fer­ent ways — I also believe that pow­er hun­gry peo­ple soon sub­vert the truth with lies, so find­ing the true Invent­ed God is a huge chal­lenge. This is my life’s work. It’s one rea­son I want to leave Moroc­co, this work could get me killed here. Seri­ous­ly, I can nev­er pub­lish while I live here. This is actu­al­ly the first time I’m dis­cussing it in print. It’s incred­i­bly dan­ger­ous.

That books sounds amaz­ing, I hope you are able to pub­lish it.  Late­ly I’ve been tak­ing a more exper­i­men­tal approach to spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. In Lim­i­nal Trav­el you talk about expe­ri­ences with the hal­lu­cino­gen salvia.  How has that affect­ed your spir­i­tu­al beliefs?     

I believe that my expe­ri­ences with salvia showed me the true nature of God.  Recent­ly, I’ve been read­ing a lot about the God Par­ti­cle they’ve dis­cov­ered with the Hadron Col­lid­er in Switzer­land — the fun­ny thing is, that idea was revealed to me years ago as I was seek­ing and using salvia.  Salvia is the most intense sub­stance I’ve encoun­tered. It’s not recre­ation­al, it’s only for the most sto­ic of seek­ers.

If you had the pow­er to change one thing about the world, what would it be?

I would elim­i­nate com­plete­ly the idea of fiat cur­ren­cy, cash, mon­ey, inter­est, and bank­ing. Erase them com­plete­ly. Human­i­ty exist­ed for mil­len­nia with­out them and in fact, would be bet­ter off if they dis­ap­peared com­plete­ly. There would still be pow­er, there would still be trade, but it would be very dif­fer­ent.

So let’s talk about your writ­ing, start­ing with how long you have been at it.

I’ve been writ­ing since I was about six. I used to make lit­tle sta­pled books.  I was first pub­lished in a school paper when I was fif­teen. My first mag­a­zine arti­cle hap­pened when I was twen­ty-five, my first news­pa­per col­umn when I was twen­ty-six, and my first book when I was twen­ty-nine. I’m forty now.

You write both non-fic­tion and fic­tion.  Do you have a pref­er­ence?

I pre­fer to write fic­tion. I love the way that the char­ac­ters take over and take my out­lined plot in com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent direc­tions than I’d intend­ed. If there is any­thing close to play­ing God, writ­ing a nov­el is it.  For me, giv­ing my char­ac­ters free-will to make their own deci­sions based on who they have become, what they have expe­ri­enced, who they are — that is beau­ti­ful. What I love is that short­ly after I cre­ate them, they begin to sur­prise me by doing things I would nev­er think of.

Still, writ­ing non-fic­tion is incred­i­bly reward­ing. I think what I real­ly love about non-fic­tion is the research. It’s all about stand­ing on the backs of giants and putting pieces togeth­er. I would love to be a researcher and just be able to tell some­one else how to put the pieces togeth­er, how to ref­er­ence pre­vi­ous sources, and all that tedious stuff. Maybe some­day, one of my books will hit and I can hire an assis­tant or two.

Who are your favorite writ­ers and why do you love them?

I love Paul Ther­oux and V.S. Naipaul. I can see why they were friends and why they fell out. They are keen observers, detail obsessed, nar­cis­sists. Per­fect.  I’m also a huge fan of Neil Stephen­son — I love that he cre­ates these fan­tas­tic nov­els around actu­al details and his­tor­i­cal facts in such a way that the line between the real and the imag­i­nary is very blurred.  And then of course, there are all those clas­sic vagabonds — Jack Ker­ouac, Mark Twain, John Stein­beck, Ernest Hem­ing­way, Jack Lon­don, Robert Louis Steven­son, Her­man Melville, and many more.

Tell me about your new nov­el Douchebags, Fags, and Hags.

This was one of those books that took me to places I nev­er meant to go. I meant to write a snarky cri­tique of the expat com­mu­ni­ty in Moroc­co but as soon as I cre­at­ed the char­ac­ter Pigrone, he refused to coop­er­ate with me. I kept try­ing to get him to go to the Sul­tanate of Baboob where I imag­ined the sto­ry would take place and I’d cre­at­ed a whole slew of sec­ondary char­ac­ters, but he refused to go! First he went to Spain, then to Italy, he decid­ed to go wan­der­ing in Tunisia, and final­ly when he got to where I want­ed him to be in the first place, the sto­ry was already over! It changed from a snarky expat expose to the jour­ney of a very aver­age guy on his way to find out who he real­ly is. I became so frus­trat­ed with Pig, that at times I thought of throw­ing out the whole project and start­ing over, but at the end of the day, peo­ple read it and love it. They love Pig and the expe­ri­ences he has. Some­one told me today that he was amazed at how much he learned from Pig! To be hon­est, I learned a lot from him too.

When I rec­om­mend­ed the book online a gay man asked me if he should be offend­ed.  Is the title meant to be inflam­ma­to­ry?

Well, of course it is.  I could have called it ‘An Unlike­ly Jour­ney to the Sul­tanate of Baboob’ but the truth is, Pig is con­stant­ly meet­ing these odd char­ac­ters — a Tunisian cross dress­er is actu­al­ly the clos­est thing to a gay man he meets, fags actu­al­ly refers to cig­a­rettes, which I think is pret­ty fun­ny.  I’ve had sev­er­al gay friends read it and they all loved it and didn’t find it offen­sive — though I admit, there are some laughs involv­ing gay innu­en­dos.

On your trav­el web­site vagobond.com you recent­ly wrote a trav­el­ogue about the Sul­tanate of Baboob.   I under­stand that the fact that Baboob doesn’t actu­al­ly exist was lost on some read­ers. How did that turn out?  

I’m not too pop­u­lar with ‘Trav­el Blog­gers’ these days. I’ve recent­ly spear­head­ed cre­ation of the Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sion­al Online Trav­el Jour­nal­ists (IAPOTJ.org) and I’ve called for peo­ple to stop using the terms trav­el blog and trav­el blog­ger.  Still, a lot of trav­el blog­gers still read my arti­cles so when I post­ed a sto­ry about my trip to the Sul­tanate of Baboob and how I was one of the first trav­el jour­nal­ists invit­ed there — I expect­ed that there would be an imme­di­ate cry of foul and peo­ple would point out that there is no such place.  Instead, after more than a thou­sand page views — the only reac­tion has been peo­ple shar­ing it and say­ing it sounds like an amaz­ing jour­ney. Lone­ly Plan­et actu­al­ly syn­di­cat­ed the sto­ry which I find incred­i­bly fun­ny.  48 hours lat­er and you are the first one to call me on it. Nice work!

Vago Dami­tio runs and writes for the web­site vagobond.com. You can pick up ‘Douchebags, Fags, and Hags’, as well his oth­er ebooks on Ama­zon

¶ Despatched on Thursday, July 12th, 2012 at 8:49 pm and sorted in Interviews. ¶ { ReTweet }

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