People often ask me
- 1) How do you get the money? Is a university or the National Geographic sponsoring you?
- - I wish, but nothing like that, nobody and nothing sponsors me (unfortunately). I earn all the money I need by working hard and long, the last few years in England, before that also in Germany, America and Australia. I have done just about everything imaginable, from being a street musician to working in a banana plantation, restaurants, coffee shops, delivering and assembling furniture and caring for a disabled person. I often work 80 - 90 hours a week, almost no days or weekends off, and usually don't spend almost anything (well, buying a computer and a scanner in order to build this website was an exception). On average, lately, a year and half of work gives me about two years on the road.
- 2) How do you communicate in those remote places?
- - Apart from Czech (my mother tongue) I speak English, some Indonesian and a few words in Spanish. In addition,
I know some eight words from each of another about 15 languages. You would be surprised how much you can say with just eight words,
hands, and drawing in the dust with a finger ... But usually I try to find someone with whom I can communicate, and who also speaks the local language.
In Papua, for example, almost nobody speaks English so it is really necessary to speak some Indonesian. Then the expedition to, say Korowai,
looks like this: we usually have
with us someone from one of the mountain tribes (the Dani or, more often, Lani) who already speak Indonesian. In Korowai then, we need to find local porters, and if we are lucky they will know some Indonesian too. In the end we are talking to our porters - friends from the mountains using broken Indonesian, they talk to the Korowai porters using differently broken and twisted Indonesian mixed with many Papuan expressions from many languages ...
- - About the most difficult place to communicate at all was China. The most common gestures did not work there and people could not understand me even the names of the towns. In countries like this I often resort to find a person who speaks some English (e.g. in a posh hotel), have them write a few essential phrases in Chinese and then I just show those in the hope the person I am dealing with can read and speaks the same dialect ...
- 3) What camera equipment do you photograph with?
- - Even nowadays, in the age of digital photography, I still photograph on film only, mostly slides. There are several reasons for this: I really do like film, and when I look at a slide with a magnifying glass, then what I see on the screen can't compare with it at all. Also, I am often in remote jungles for months at a time so there would be nowhere to charge the batteries and empty the memory cards. And also, digital cameras are so packed with electronics and vulnerable they wouldn't last very long in the extremely humid conditions of New Guinea's rain-forest, or in the heat and dust of Africa. Another, for me very important, reason is the documentary value of film. Digital photos have nearly none, they are all easily manipulated, while slides are not. What you see is how it was. I use a Nikon F100, which has never let me down so far, and a variety of Nikkor and Sigma EX lenses.
- - All the photos on this website I have scanned from film, with minimal adjustments made only in order to match the original slide as closely as possible. The scanning is a lengthy, slow process, so the galleries will gradually grow over time.
- 4) You say tourists..... but you are also a tourist, aren't you?
- - Not really, it depends how you look at it. A typical tourist usually wants to stay in a hotel with hot water and electricity and in the afternoon go (by car) to take photos of some untouched ’primitive’ tribe. Be back in the evening and drinking beer. How, why and from where the beer arrived, is not something they care about. Fortunately this scenario is mostly not possible, but in some places, sadly, it is (e.g. the Mursi from Jinka). Just for comparison, we trekked to the Korowai for a month and half, yet we have only succeeded on our third attempt. We go to the remote places to learn from those people about their culture, life, and also about the changes these people are inevitably facing. An interesting observation is - at least for me - that the tourists these days don't need any information or advice. They already know it all, because they have seen it all on a TV programme (not kidding ...), or at least they know someone who ’has been there too’ ..... I am talking about people heading to the Mursi or to the Papuan mountains!
- 5) But then, is it ethical to visit the remote tribes at all? Will you not influence them too?
- - This is a difficult question. I am convinced it all depends on your approach and respect. Also very important is to get the best interpreter you can find. Also, it is really a huge difference weather you jump out of your car at the Mursi village, or you arrive there after a week of hard walking ... Also, we don't usually give any hand-outs, but according to the local customs we usually share our food with the local people as they do with us. If they already know the money we generally pay something for the permission to spend the night and to photograph them; it is good to give something in return for their welcome. But yes, we probably do have some influence, although we always try our best to keep it as small as possible, or at least positive. More about this can be also found in the introduction to my article The Korowai.
- 6) How many countries have you been to already?
- - Quite a few – I don't really count them exactly, but probably around 60 countries. In some of them I have spent more than a year (Indonesia, India, Australia, Germany, USA, England), elsewhere just a few weeks or months.
- 7) Which place do you like the most? And the least? Where are the best or worst people?
- - For this I don't have a simple or straight forward answer. But when I search in my memory and in my heart, then I felt the best in the Solomon Islands, Nepal, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Burma, Turkey, Germany, Australia ... it would be a long list. And also there I often met the best people in my life. For example, in the Solomon Islands, if you have nowhere to sleep, you just need to hang around with your backpack for a while and someone will often invite you to his/her home. Not around the tourist centres though, there you can wait as long as you want...
- - Probably the worst place of for me was Ethiopia. There, the foreigner cannot buy even a bread roll without being ripped off. People are often quite unfriendly and in the rural areas it is not uncommon that the kids throw stones at foreigners. I don't want to say that there are no good people in Ethiopia, on the contrary, I have got a few real friends there. Also, it's a relatively safe country, assaults and muggings are almost unheard of
- - The saddest place on earth for me is Wamena in the Baliem Valley, west Papua – the Indonesian town built in the middle of the Baliem Valley inhabited by Dani, who until recently lived in the stone age and in the span of just a few decades they were forced into 21st century (but Indonesian style). It's downright depressing to see how the last few traditionally (un)dressed Dani, once proud warriors, look in dismay all the motorbikes, loud-speakers and piles of rubbish. They did not ask for any of it, but are totally helpless against it. What can they do with their bows and arrows against the modern Indonesian army?
- 8) Which place was the most dangerous?
- - I was in some of the war zones (Kashmir and north-east Sri Lanka), but the least safe I felt in Nottingham, England.
- 9) Is there something you really hate?
- - Stupid, bad, arrogant and greedy people ...
- - And also ’development’, which almost always results in destroyed environment and uprooted tribesmen without cultural identity, living on the edge of society in poverty.