As we each travel our own path, we stumble upon inspirational characters from time to time. My advice is to get to know these people, attach yourselves to them and discover something new about yourself. Janis, a Latvian/Australian/Sea Farer is one such character. We met each other in my old hostel in Penang as we visited friends from years gone by. We connected instantly through our love of adventure and alcohol, bonding in one evening over a bottle of Tequila and life stories. He told me about his “Own personal paradise” in Nias, Indonesia, and invited me to come visit sometime when his hostel is built.
My counter offer was for us to come and work for free and sleep wherever was possible. He accepted with open arms and two months later we arrived at Boloho bay, the world of sunsets and sustainability. Spending time building Salty Dog Hostel was one of the highlights of our three years of travel (click on salty dog link for video), but the things we learn’t from this man cannot be summed up in words, although i will try. Janis grew up in rather unique circumstances. His father was a sea farer, traveling the world delivering goods. Janis grew up on boats or in ports around the globe, as he said “If its connected to water, i have probably been there”. He ventured naked in the jungles of Papa New Guinea, playing with the local village children and his brother. He worked on the ships from a very young age, learning his trade and “toughening up”, as his father would say. They schooled in different places and he spent time on land with his mother before fleeting off somewhere for months at a time. This taught Janis a few things. Firstly it taught him self-reliance, which he takes with him everywhere he goes, constantly looking at the world in a spectacular way. Janis sees things differently, where we see dead wood, he sees fire, where we see dirt, he sees planting opportunity, touching the soil and inspecting its vitality and nutrients. Secondly he learn’t how to hunt, fish and swim, to a degree that far surpasses the norm. He spear fishes on a daily basis, marching to the sea and indulging himself for hours on end, diving deep under water and creeping his way between coral and sand, carefully stalking his prey. Thirdly he learn’t about wastefulness. Nothing goes to waste.
He does not kill unless it will be ingested, he does not pick what will go uneaten, he does not burn what is not already dead. After leaving the shipping life he found his fortune in real-estate in Australia, building business and family. I overheard a conversation with his daughter and him as she asked if he remembered when she was a child and he randomly brought home a goat. His reply was “Yes, of course”, she replied with a giggle “why”. His simple answer defines Janis, “It was for sale and we didn’t have a goat”. He used it for milk and a lawnmower and when the time came, the goat will have been put to good use in an ethical way. Janis loves mother earth and all she has to offer, intrigued by her wonders and knowledgeable of all species that live there. “You eat what you catch, nothing more, nothing less”, you only take what you need to survive. Janis taught me a lot, but most of all he helped me to discover a life that requires nothing but a little “Elbow grease, determination and respect for your environment”. I found myself mirroring him in his lifestyle and enjoying every second doing it. He thought of the little things, using rainwater for drinking instead of electricity for pumps. Washing in the sea instead of the shower and allowing the water to cleanse you instead of products. He showed me how to naturally heal my wounds, which came in handy more than once, and how to harden my feet to save on purchasing rubber soles (probably cant use that one in Europe). I gained comfort and intrigue under water and i appreciated all the little things we built together from bamboo and drift wood. The main thing i will take from Janis is this, i can survive anywhere using common sense, wit and determination.