While I have met most of the Wanderers of the Week on the road, Darren Ornitz and I met in New York City at an event I was speaking at for Fluent City. Darren, of Darren Ornitz Photography, was hired to photograph the event, and we became fast friends sharing a love of travel, different cultures, and the world.
Darren, a Contemplative Photojournalist, has traveled extensively though Africa and Asia to more than forty countries, including Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Yemen, Nepal and Oman. Currently, he is documenting a long-term story on a gang intervention and reintegration program in Panama. Not only is he a talented photographer, but he’s easily one of the most interesting people I’ve met; I know you’ll enjoy his stories as much as I did.
If you could take one epic journey in the next year, what would it be and why?
I’ve never traveled to South America but I’ve always wanted to do a trip down the Amazon River. I’ve always been interested in the indigenous communities that live along the Amazon and especially the herbs and plants that can be found there and used for a variety of reasons. I’d be really interested to spend time in this area and learn about the land and all it has to offer.
I know it’s hard to narrow down, but what are your three favorite places in the world?
Vermont, USA – I don’t need to go far to spend a weekend in the woods, hiking, skiing, and enjoying fresh organic locally grown food and local VT hospitality.
Ethiopia – the food, the varying climates, the kind people, the history and culture. There is so much adventure there, whether it’s visiting the historical sites of Lalibela or hiking in the Simien Mountains. It’s a truly enchanting country.
South Africa – The Adventure. Modernity. Off the beaten path. Urban. Beaches. Mountains. The climate. The Food. One of my favorite experiences ever traveling was hiking the Wild Coast. Cape Town is one of my favorite cities in the world.
What was the first trip you remember?
The first important trip I remember was a trip I took with my dad when I was 12 to the Arctic. We traveled by sled for 14 days with the Cree Indians, slept in shelter we made from pine trees, hunted for some of our food, ice fished, and met so many wonderful people live completely off the land. It was -45 degrees some nights, the coldest I have experienced, but the northern lights were unbelievable.
If you could only explore one continent for the rest of your life, which one would you pick and why?
Asia. I haven’t spent much time there but there is such a diversity of places to explore. I’d love to spend more time in the Middle East and in places like Tibet and Mongolia, China, Japan and Southeast Asia.
2nd choice: Antarctica. It’s disappearing and I can avoid the crowds.
What’s your travel style?
A day of adventure & roughing it followed by a day of a little luxury. I like to mix it up.
Tell us about your most memorable travel experience.
Diving with Whale Sharks in Mozambique and Djibouti has to be one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. It’s impossible to even explain and each location was very different. In Mozambique the Whale Sharks were migrating so they were swimming in a straight line. You would drop in the water a few feet before they reached the boat and then swim alongside them as long as you could keep up. In Djibouti it was very different. They were about 15 of them feeding on plankton in a very small area. Every which direction I turned there was a gapping mouth or tail within a few feet. One of the more exhilarating experiences of my life.
What advice would you give to people who want to travel solo but are too afraid?
You’re going to die one day.
How do you make friends while traveling?
I try to be involved with local events as much as possible, go out at night to bars, ask people questions, engage locals, just have a general curiosity about where I am. You just gotta get out there and take risks approaching people.
Have you ever been sick or hurt abroad? Tell us what happened.
I was in Egypt a few years ago and did an overnight trip to the White Desert. On our way to the campgrounds we stopped and got some chicken from the local butcher. We roasted it around a campfire later that night. It was one of the best tasting meals I’ve ever had. Fast forward 24 hours and I was so sick I could barely move. I was bedridden in a hotel in Cairo, so sick and weak that a Dr. had to come to the hotel to give me intravenous and medication. Long story short, I went all the way to Egypt and didn’t even see the Pyramids.
Favorite mode of transportation. Why?
Boat. I’m most content when on the water. Horse is a close 2nd. Hovercraft 3rd.
What’s the scariest moment you’ve had while traveling?
I’m a photojournalist so I’ve been to a lot of unstable regions of the world. One of the scariest moments traveling was when I encountered a drunk Presidential Guard soldier in Guinea during the coup in 2009. He was harassing me, wielding his gun, and finally an old woman walking by intervened and it allowed me to get away. The most frightening experience though I would say was last year in Panama. I have been traveling back and forth to do a long-term story on a gang intervention and reintegration program and I got caught in a police raid.
The media tells of a world that is scary and dangerous, what’s a travel moment that has proved to you that this isn’t true?
Pretty much all of them. Certainly there are areas you want to avoid but generally speaking if you are aware and respectful of the places you are you will be fine. There are so many stereotypes out there as to what a place is and we forget a country has millions of people going about their days just like people everywhere. Most people you meet, even in the most unlikely of places, will be a lot kinder and hospitable than you could ever image. For example, when things were just starting to get bad in Yemen I was there for a week. If I had listened to the State Department and pretty much everyone else who was telling me not to go I’d have never gone. Some of my best memories from my time abroad were in Sanaa. The people could not have been kinder or most hospitable, even as an American. Things have unfortunately deteriorated and I wouldn’t recommend the general tourist going to Yemen now, but generally speaking we need to see through the solidified views and stigmas and stereotypes countries can have and its not until we go that we are able to see that the realities on the ground are usually much different.
Interested in following more of Darren’s adventures around the world? You can follow him here: