William Jans curled up in a cow skin on the ground just outside a boma (home) in Tanzania owned by a Maasai family. His bed was a wooden plank, surrounded by a thorn fence, which acted as the family’s protection against hyenas. For several days, Jans lived with the African tribe, dressing like them and learning phrases like “there are no bedbugs in my bed,” the Maasai equivalent of “no problem.” His interest in their way of life was met with equal fascination by the villagers, who even sacrificed a goat during his visit, a huge honour rarely experienced by visitors.
When Jans travels, he goes solo and fully immerses himself into a culture – as a result, he understands nine languages, he’s slept on the Great Wall of China, scaled volcanoes, attended a crucifixion festival in the Philippines and hiked one of the most treacherous paths in the world, China’s Huashan Trail, consisting of three narrow planks attached to the side of a mountain.
He lives in Vancouver and works as a photographer – he’s taken shots for corporations, events and was even one of the official photographers during the Dalai Lama’s visit. But he leaves every few years to literally take the road less travelled.
And when he returns home, rather than showing a slideshow of tourist stops to glassy-eyed friends, he puts on a large scale, entertaining and fast-paced multi-media presentation about his trips. The most recent ones are about his trips to China and Tanzania, which he’ll be showing in Edmonton at NAIT on March 2 and 6, respectively.
Jans says he goes on these trips for the people he meets and the connections with groups like the Maasai. “People at the end of these difficult roads believe anyone working that hard to get there are worth talking to,” says Jans. It took six years, but he even received a letter and Polaroid picture from a man he’d visited near Mount Kailash in Tibet – it’s only accessible by overland vehicles, and even then takes weeks of difficult travel. “I found the more remote [the place] I go, the more friendly the people are,” says Jans.