It is an honor for us to spotlight the winner of the 2007 U GO! Travel Writer of the Year Award. Boasting all Top-Rated honors, SeenThat is closing in on 100 journals and nearly 2,000 photos. He has shared his experiences from Arizona to Argentina and from Southeast Asia to the center of the earth. Now, he shares his ever-humble thoughts on what makes great writing and, of course, what it’s like to be voted numero uno.
IgoUgo: You list Tel Aviv as your hometown. Were you born in Israel? Where would you live if you didn't live there?
SeenThat: My grandparents left Europe and reached South America in the last century; my parents took me to Israel when I was a little kid. I spent my childhood in a Jordan Valley kibbutz and afterwards studied and lived in Tel Aviv. I am still in love with its promenade along the Mediterranean Sea, despite the several years since I’ve seen it. My Christian-political writing drove me out of my country into political exile; in the long run—following the publication of my next book—I would probably settle down in one of my two favorite metropolises: London or Bangkok.
IgoUgo: By looking at your journals, it seems you like to head to a region and explore a country, or even a continent, fully. When researching destinations, what do you look for? What usually is the deciding factor?
SeenThat: The reason for that impression is that my journals do not cover most of my European trips; if so, a completely different picture would have been created. My trips to Asia, South America, and the US were long ones and aimed to create the distance I needed for my other writing; consequently they created optimal conditions for in-depth visits.
I do not have a proper visits protocol determining an order and method. If trying to generalize, the first step would be settling down for a while in a central spot while absorbing the local culture. Following that, there would be a geographical exploration period in which "cultural-dialects" of the surrounding areas would be explored. Technically it means drawing growing circles in a map; this is when serendipity begins playing a role and plans change—this is exactly what created my continental detour to Urumqi.
IgoUgo: This year alone, you've written over 57 journals from 14 countries. How did you come to be such a prolific traveler and how do you maintain your wanderlust?
SeenThat: Actually, this year I wrote only 35 new journals; the others were just old journals written again; as a refreshing break from the writing of new material, I enjoy improving old ones.
Yet, over the years I have visited 38 countries (and territories) and well over 300 cities (I do not have a complete list of those); I have published only little bits of my travels. An old secret of mine is that I used to write such entries years before finding IgoUgo; they allow me to revisit places at will.
In my childhood I grew up in a suffocating communist community and barely was able to resist the indoctrination there. I left as soon as I could legally do so, and since then the freedom of traveling and especially of meeting people of completely different cultures became my biggest joy. The joy of being human is nowhere more palpable than in our right to keep our own opinions and customs; witnessing the differences and sharing those with fellow humans may be the most important experience awaiting each one of us.
IgoUgo: You succeed in covering a lot of ground and writing about a wide variety of places. In particular, we loved your journal about Urumqi; it seems truly unique, but as you say, there is not much going on there. What drew you to such an isolated—and cold—destination?
SeenThat: Urumqi has a lot of people: people who consider it a worthy place to be called home. I may not agree with them on that, but I made an effort to understand them once there.
However, I reached it due to a fast twist in my plans. My first visit of China was during the winter; I entered through Laos and soon I found myself freezing atop the Great Wall. It was so cold that I got pictures of the Wall without any people on it; the wind was so strong I found myself stoutly—and almost sacrilegiously—holding the wall while aiming the camera.
Having spent most of my life above 30 Celsius, at that moment I began having doubts about climbing further north to see the Ice Festival; instead I moved west and reached Urumqi. As the Silk Road is an old interest of mine, the decision made sense and was a worthy prelude for a visit to Kashgar. I never thought Urumqi would be so cold.
Once there, I discovered a new world. I saw black ice—and people professionally walking/sliding on it—for the first time and was captivated by beautiful ice crystals floating in the air. Despite the pneumonia I got, the continental-sized detour to Urumqi was worth every single mile.
IgoUgo: Finally, your fellow IgoUgo members just voted you as Travel Writer of the Year. How does it feel? Also, you are one of a select few members who can boast all Top-Rated journals; what do you think it takes to be a successful traveler and travel writer?
SeenThat: I would like to thank all the members who voted for any candidate—and thus showed care for the IgoUgo idea. Special thanks should be added to all the readers; the IgoUgo enterprise would not exist without them. There is no Travel Writer of the Year without the many Travel Readers of the Year. In that sense, this is a shared prize with each one of them.
Regarding the writing, as in any other thing we do, the key is asking "Is that my best?" before publishing. I shyly admit the definite answer to that question is usually "no," but in asking the question we make a silent promise to try harder the next time.