All posts by Vago Damitio

Vago Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. He jumped ship from a sinking dotcom in 2000 and decided to reclaim his most valuable commodity, time. He bought a VW bus for $100, moved into it and set out on a journey to show the world that it was possible to live life on your own terms. That journey took him from waking up under icy blankets in  the Pacific Northwest to waking up under palm tress in Southeast Asia. Three years later, his first book, Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond was published. After diving into the Anthropology of Tourism and Electronic Anthropology at the University of Hawaii (with undeclared minors in film and surf) he hit the road again in 2008. Since that time,he's lived primarily in Morocco and Turkey, married a Moroccan girl he couchsurfed with, and become a proud father. He's been to more than 40 countries, founded a successful online travel magazine (this one!), and still doesn't have a boss. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

Extraordinary Marseille Vagobond – Pytheas of the Midnight Sun – Namer of Britain

Marseille, Pytheas the NavigatorWhile I was in Marseille, France last week, I passed upon what looked like a Greek statue – I was surprised to see it was a Greek man name Pytheas – now, this goes to show you that we all have our ingnorant spots – my first thought was to mistakenly wonder why the inventor of the Pythagorean Theorem was famous  in Marseille – and then my mental stabilizer kicked in and I realized it wasn’t a statue of Pythagoras, but Pytheas and that I knew nothing about him.

How fitting that I should discover his statue just prior to going to Britain. Many people don’t realize that Marseille was the ancient Greek colony of Massalia – and Pytheas was a native of that town. So, that statue of a Greek – was actually a voyage of a Frenchman before there was ever a France. And here’s the real interesting part – Pytheas was the first sailor to record a trip to Britain, where I am now. We could say that he ‘discovered’ Britain, though like saying Columbus discovered America, that is pretty much ignoring the fact that the people living there, discovered the respective countries long before Pytheas or Columbus ever lived and breathed.

Pytheas was one of the great geographers and explorers of the ancient Earth. He left Marseille  in 325 B.C. and set off to explore the great unknown seas and lands of Northern Europe. Along the way, he became the first documented source to describe the phenomenon of the Midnight Sun – that is where the day does not get dark in the Northern lands.  As if that wasn’t enough – Pytheas was the first person to discern that the moon was responsible for the tides of the Ocean and the first to encounter and write about the Germanic tribes.

Sadly, the complete work of Pytheas is lost to history and his writings only survive as excerpts in the writings of later explorers. I find it astounding that work of such importance can be lost to history, but there it is. History does not discriminate in the fading of memory.

Even the title is gone though some different authors later said it was similar to “My Trip Around the Earth” or “Of the Ocean” – but really, we just don’t know.  With no reason to it, I like the title “Of the Ocean and My Trip Around the Earth” 

Scholars suggest that another mariner from Marseille reached Britain first, but his name is completely lost to history.

In fact, it was Pytheas who named Britain and the British. Britanniae meaning all the islands easily became Britain and BritishMany scholars however, are quite certain that the word began with a P until the time of Julius Ceasar when it changed to the present ” form.

Pytheas described his Britains as a people who baked bread, stored grain, and lived in thatched huts. Like hobbits.  He reported “they are of simple manners and happy with plain fare..” – like hobbits.  After leaving Middle Earth, Pytheas went North seeking Elves and Thunder Gods – okay, wait, let me get back to history.

From Britain, Pytheas sailed North to the land of Thule where he encountered ice sheets and the midnight sun.  The explorer, Richard Francis Burton wrote a detailed study of Thule much later. We can reasonably know that Pytheas went through Scotland and the Orkneys and straight on until Morning when the sun stopped setting.

All of this was done with hat modern sailors and navigators would consider very primitive equipment.  An astounding accomplishment which ceratinly has more than earned him a simple statue in his hometown of Marseille – which I’m certainly happy to have come across.


Ibn Battuta – Moroccan Vagabond

The greatest adventurer of all time for me is the Moroccan vagabond, Ibn Battuta. He not only traveled everywhere in his known world, but he wrote about it in ways that no one before him had. Ibn Battuta’s journey lasted 29 years, so by Moroccan standards, my wife should be understanding of this current journey I’m on.

Ibn Battuta was the only world traveler in Middle Ages and he achieved fame because of he visited every Muslim ruler’s land of his time. He also traveled in China, Sri Lanka, Byzantium (which included huge amounts of Europe, Turkey, and Central Asia) and Russia. He traveled over 75,000 miles in his lifetime. And keep in mind most of this was by foot, camel, or horse. There were no frequent flyer programs then. He traveled like a nomad throughout the world and in the process, he introduced (and is still introducing) the cultures of the world to one another.
ibn battuta
Ibn Battuta was a well known traveler who lived according to the slogan ‘never, if possible, cover any road a second time’. He traveled on camel, horse, by boat and on foot. He went as far as he could through every means of land transport. He also traveled to West Africa and visited Timbuktu, Niger, and Mali. He distinctly described the existing political, social and economic conditions, religious matters, and position of women in the nations and regions he visited.

Ibn Battuta Resources
The Adventures of Ibn Battuta
The Travels of Ibn Battuta in the Near East, Asia, and Africa
Traveling Man: The Journeys of Ibn Battuta

He was elected Chief judge of Delhi, and he spent his life as Qadi (chief judge) of Morocco in the city of Fes for twenty three years, meanwhile he also wrote of his travels which at the time included almost everything that was known about the world.

At the age of 21, Ibn Battuta started his travels from Morocco. The main reason for his journey was to go on the Hajj, the long journey to Mecca, like all other Muslims who are required to do the same during their lives if possible. travels of ibn battuta

He traveled for 29 years and covered almost 75,000 miles where he visited 44 modern countries. He faced many dangers and adventures on his way. Bandits attacked him and he nearly drowned in a sinking ship during his travels.

ibn battuta on camelIbn Battuta was born in Morocco in a Muslim family in 1304. He studied Muslim law and in 1325 he left the place to make the journey to Mecca. He was very interested in adventure and world travel. Traveling to Mecca through land and by sea was dangerous. He traveled on land with a donkey at first. Later he joined a caravan with other travelers.

Ibn Battuta was asked to dictate the story of his travels to a scholar by the Sultan of Morocco. Today we are able to read that story in English and the story is called “Rihla-My Travels”.

Extraordinary Travelers – Cosmas the Flat Earther

Sorry Seinfeld fans, I’m not talking about Cosmo Kramer. Cosmas Indicopuleustes was a far more fascinating figure though, although probably not as delightful at opening doors and making witty comments.

Cosmas was a writer, merchant, traveler, monk who is most famous for his 6th century tome Christian Topography in which he provided some of the earliest world maps on record for the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

cosmas indian ocean explorerBefore becoming a monk and a hermit, Cosmas was a very successful voyager and trader who visited Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, and most famously, India. Cosmas seemingly difficult last name was easy for Byzantines and Greeks – it was Indicopleustes and essentially means  “Voyager of the Indian Ocean” – which was helpful when you were trying to remember which Cosmas to invite to your Christmas party – you wouldn’t want to accidentally invite the one who explored the Aegean – Cosmas Aegeapleustes…that guy is impossible to deal with…

Of course, you might not have wanted to invite Cosmas Indicopleustes either since one of his most famous conventions was that the world was flat. It was he who introduced that idea to the early Christian Church. He spent considerable time in his book and in his life trying to prove that Ptolemy’s view that the Earth was a sphere was laughable.  He was of the much more (to him) reasonable opinion that it was flat and had a treasure chest type lid  on it.

flat earth photo by John O'Sullivan

He was not the person that ‘cosmology’ was named after, though it was one of his passions.  Mostly, it was the fact that he covered some serious ground and drew maps about it, that he is remembered for, though, like Donald Trump, his ridiculous views about some things eclipse his true accomplishments.