caravan vibes, creative pursuits
Written By Kelley Mullarkey
Criss-crossing the vast open roads in their VW Westfalia van while re-examining the American Dream with family in tow, Adam and Emily Harteau of Our Open Road have traded conventional living for unknown pure pursuits. What started as a one year adventure to produce new artwork, quickly spiralled into a freefalling destination with no end point in sight.
The Harteaus comprise the new breed of expressive expatriates who challenge the constraints of society. We chat with them about life on the road, spirituality and their beloved 24 Hour Bazaar — a curated assortment of fair-trade, hand-crafted items such as rugs, textiles, blankets, jewelry and clothing produced directly by the artisans.
The two of you met at art school. When did you make the decision to travel the world together?
We have always traveled together, first on shorter trips around California and Baja Mexico, then further away and for longer periods of time. Our first international trip together was in 2003 to Thailand (and accidentally into Burma). That beauty and adventure lit a fire that still burns to see the world and open our hearts to other cultures.
You sacrificed modern comforts for greater autonomy and freedom. How has living on the road changed your perspective of living? How do you think it’s affected your children?
The further away from modern comforts you are, the easier it is to distance yourself from things that distract, not enhance your life. Our perspective continues to grow as we seek to learn more about the world in which we live, through interaction and experience with the people and places we encounter. We hope our choice to raise the girls in this manner as the core of their upbringing will foster kind, intelligent, inquisitive global citizens. In my totally biased opinion, they are pretty great so far.
Tell me a bit about some of the extraordinary people you’ve met on your travels.
In Chile, Monica and her husband were forced to leave during the Pinochet regime because they were from the ‘upperclass,’ working as professors, but supported the rights of all, and after 25 years abroad, finally returned to their homeland. JP, a tattooed ex-con (who still had a little crazy in his eye), changed his life and created a program to teach underprivileged kids the chance to surf if they did well in school. Outside the Sacred Valley of Peru, near a waterfall, a stoic old woman gathered a pile of wood larger than herself balanced, and precariously on top of her head in a passing mist for the long hike to her home. The list goes on…
You launched the 24-hour Bazaar about two years ago. What has that journey been like?
It is incredibly liberating to have decided not to return to the safety of normal life in California, and to see our brainstorming session turned into a viable business. 24 Hour Bazaar has created a circle, which connects the artisans, an international audience, and us. All the craftspeople we work with are stoked to share their goods with a wider audience and make a fair wage doing so; to support tradition and process in the arts is infinitely rewarding to us as artists. This flow of finance, art and inspiration is a pairing that we could only have dreamed of before our departure, and are thrilled to now call our work reality.
Where are some of your favorite off the beaten path places that you’ve camped out at?
Caleta Vitor, in the far north of Chile, is a rare coastal access in this scarcely populated region of the Atacama desert. Mompiche, Ecuador has metallic sand, warm water and the most luscious tropical fruits. The 1,000-mile stretch of Baja California remains a favored zone, as does the Carretera Austral, which links the southern main body of Chile to the remote southern region of Patagonia.
Emily, you’re a fashion designer. How has nomadic living/travel influenced your own personal self-expression through clothing? Has it changed?
I have a closet smaller than the suitcase I used to take for a weekend wedding, which indicates the radical shift in options I have on the daily. Living in a van and traveling full time requires each piece in my wardrobe to be completely multi-functional to warrant its weight and space. I still adore beautiful things and sketch dream pieces.
How has documenting and experiencing travel this way changed you spiritually?
Editing and writing requires reflection on the experience, which is a wonderful devotion. Adam & I each have time to reflect on our experiences in our own time and process them in our own manner. For both of us, the heart of the matter is the experience: to feel it, to taste it, to smell it, to hear it, to touch it- these five gifts are irreplaceable through word or two-dimensional image. We try our best to capture the right essence of it, but it is still not it. We cannot make a fleeting moment stand still in all its glory, and that is the gift. Living in and amongst the world as we do in this nomadic voyage has set our roots deeper into connection with ourselves, each other and the world around us.
Do you think people are traveling differently nowadays? How do you see this evolving over the next few years?
With the growing popularity and glorification of van-life (which we certainly contribute to), there continues to be a huge influx of people seeking to change the way they travel and live. We are asked regularly how we can afford to be on permanent vacation, which is hilarious to us, as many of us overlanders consider ourselves ‘glorified homeless’. The photos we share are indeed beautiful (Adam can make a lump of coal look engaging) but the daily reality differs vastly from the pintrest dream that most people envision our lives to be. We do not stay at the cutest hotels, eat at the best-reviewed restaurants or even shower regularly; we live in our van, mostly free camp, eat simple home cooked meals, and have very low overhead.
Tell me a bit about the body of creative work you’ve been able to create while traveling?
In October, 2014, Adam had a solo show, “Terra Incognita” at Slow Culture in Highland Park. Inspired by our 2 years on the road Central and South America, this new body of work exhibited photography, collage, painting, drawing and mixed media. Latin for ‘unknown land’, terra incognita is a term used in cartography for regions that had not been explored or documented. Drawing inspiration from geology, geography, cartography, and the rich cultural heritages of lands visited, Adam’s experiences inspired a modern body of work uniquely his own. During our travel, he catalogs visual data that he brings to life. Neon colors pulled from urban walls sit in company with the rich tones of natural lands; deconstructed cartography appears alongside classic portraiture. Adam’s creations include studies in geometry, explorations of nautical charts, ocean currents, and topographic forms. A by-product of camping for most of the journey, Adam’s work has been forged from the close connection he has experienced living with the land, sea, and sky.
You can see the collection at here.
As Americans, has your idea of “The American Dream” shifted?
Yes, immensely. When we departed in 2012, we knew part of our journey would be to reexamine this ‘dream.’ Our reexamination is like an onion; we keep peeling back layers. Modern culture pushes for an unattainable dream that focuses on commodities, not experiences. That is not how the American Dream was born- it started as a search for freedom; ironically this search for freedom was at the expense of the Native Americans, so from the beginning it was a flawed story. How can one person’s liberty be more important than another? One must look at the cost of our freedom. We reject the carrot dangled before our eyes, a model of unsustainable consumption and reckless growth. The collective focus is rising, and we have joined in spreading the power of simple living; by having less, we find the pleasures in more. We continue to invest in sharing our experiences with a global audience, and in return learn from those who share this common goal of stripping away false hopes sold as dreams, of putting dreams into action.
All images c/o Our Open Road