Candace Rose Rardon is an American travel writer and sketch artist. At 22 years of age, she fell in love with the diversity of what the world has to offer, and started traveling ever since. After completing her Masters in Travel Writing from London’s Kingston University, she celebrated by driving an auto-rickshaw 3500 kms across India. Emaho spoke to Candace, about her experience in India, and her love towards travelling and sketching.
Emaho : You believe in travelling for the sake of travel and not travelling to go somewhere. Explain to us a little bit about this and how your blog ‘The Great Affair‘ has been a consequence of this belief.
The name for my blog actually comes from a quote by Robert Louis Stevenson: “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” I remember first coming across it before I’d ever really left the country, but it still strongly resonated with me and has since become a big part of my travel philosophy.
As much as I definitely love to explore places, I suppose travel has taught me to love the journey itself, too – whether that’s an overnight bus journey in Thailand or a 42-hour train ride through India. Often times the conversations and encounters that take place before I’ve even reached my destination are ones that I remember just as much.
© Candace Rose Rardon
Emaho : In 2011 you won a trip to India in a raffle drawing, to be a part of an event organized by The Adventurists – The Rickshaw Run. What was your reaction to this?
I hardly ever win anything, so to have my card pulled out of a hat and my name announced was a definite shock. India wasn’t anywhere on my travel radar at that time, as I was living in London and finishing up my masters degree. To find out that I would not only be heading to India, but going there to drive an auto-rickshaw across the country, was quite the surprise.
Emaho : During The Rickshaw Run, you travelled 3,000 km across India, from Shillong to Jaisalmer, driving a rickshaw. One can only imagine the experiences and stories you must have accumulated. Tell us about your experience.
The Rickshaw Run could not have been a more perfect introduction to such a massive, overwhelming country as India. The chance to explore it on the ground level, literally watching it pass by kilometre by kilometre, is one I am now incredibly grateful for. I loved seeing the country change as we passed through it – its landscapes, the food, even the way houses were built in different states.
But what I will always remember most about the Rickshaw Run was the extraordinary kindness and warmth we experienced from everyone we met along the way. My favourite part of the adventure was simply getting to stop, drink chai and chat with people in countless little villages we would never have discovered had we not been driving across the country.
Video Courtesy : the Adventurists
Emaho : The Rickshaw Run took you to various cities and places in India. Driving a foreign vehicle through a foreign country, what have you learnt or unlearnt?
You definitely have to unlearn your need for control and your need to stick to a plan – at least I had to. For instance, you may start out driving one morning with little idea where you’ll end up that night, let alone whether there will be a place to sleep once you get there. On the flip side, I also quickly learned that most everything will be taken care of in its time…so you might as well enjoy the ride!
Rickshaw Run organizer Mr. Matt and I with one of the first teams to finish the January Run in Cochin © Candace Rose Rardon
Emaho : What kind of physical or mental preparations are required for an adventure such as The Rickshaw Run?
Physically, I’d say just be prepared to rough it for a couple of weeks, as you might find yourself sleeping in some pretty unconventional places and the open frames of the rickshaws don’t exactly keep the dust and dirt of India at bay. Otherwise, you’re driving a vehicle, so it shouldn’t require too much physical exertion on your part.
Mentally? Be prepared for anything to come your way, be it a camel, cow, monsoon, or monster-sized lorry. That’s what I love about India – it never ceases to surprise you.
© Candace Rose Rardon
Emaho : During the run, you ran out of petrol, encountered tormenting rains, drove through rough roads filled with potholes, made your way through traffic jams while also experiencing the cultural and scenic beauty of the country. Tell us about an event that was either fascinating or dreadful in your journey.
There was one morning where we were trying to avoid heading through the capital of Bihar – a big, dusty city named Patna – but ended up getting caught in a 3-hour traffic jam, on a so-called “national highway” that was really just a narrow two-lane road, packed with lorries on both sides. Dodging them for hours was intense, and at one point, I pulled off the side of the road for a break.
As my teammate, Citlalli, and I caught our breath, an older chai-wallah walked over to us with two steaming cups of tea. I tried to explain that we didn’t have any small change to pay him with at the time, but he handed them to us anyways, saying, “I may be poor, but I still have a heart.” That level of humility and kindness really blew me away, and has remained with me ever since the Rickshaw Run.
My teammate Citlalli and I thrilled to still be alive on the finish line in Jaisalmer © Candace Rose Rardon
Emaho : You have expressed many times your love for India, Mumbai being one of your favourite cities in the world. You felt a strange sense of unfinished business with India and returned to the country. Tell us about the connection you feel with India.
India really hooked me in from the start – I love the immensity of it, the fact that you can travel for days and still not reach the other side of the country; I love the diversity, how so much can change by simply visiting another state; and as I’ve written about on my blog, I love the simplicity of it, the way it draws my attention to small but significant moments and almost gives me permission to lead a simpler life.
Most of all, I love that I’ll never know all there is to know about India – there will always be mysteries to discover, and I find that a thrilling thought.
© Candace Rose Rardon
Emaho : During your current stay in India, you spontaneously planned a trip to Dharamsala and co-incidentally ended up there on the Tibetan Uprising Day and took part in the ceremony that marked the 54th anniversary of the rebellion. How was this experience?
It was indeed a spontaneous trip – it just so happened that two friends were heading to Dharamsala (home to the 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile) and invited me to come with them last minute. But as it turned out, we also just so happened to be there for Tibetan Uprising Day, a day commemorating their rebellion against China in Lhasa in 1959.
We started the day at a ceremony at the Dalai Lama’s home and temple complex, and then spent the next couple of hours taking part in a march that worked its way downhill to Lower Dharamsala. Getting caught up in the protest, hearing everyone’s chants and cries for freedom from China, and witnessing their passion for their homeland was one of the most moving experiences I’ve been a part of.
© Candace Rose Rardon
Emaho : You have some very interesting sketches of various places and you say that you want to make your niche through sketching. How did sketching become a part of your travels? And, why sketching in particular?
My journey with travel sketching has been quite a natural process. I’ve always loved art – having grown up under the creative eye of my father, a trained artist, and having taken art lessons at various times while growing up – but hadn’t really touched it since high school. Then I was headed to Porto, Portugal, for a weekend trip about two and a half years ago, and decided to bring a sketchbook and watercolors with me.
Ever since then, sketching has been changing the way I travel – it has slowed me down and really opened up my mind and my senses. I’m also a photographer, but I find that with my camera, it can be all too easy to snap a picture and move on. With sketching, I’m usually in a single location for at least 2-3 hours, so not only are my senses given more time to absorb a place, but I love the encounters that unfold as well.
Emaho : Tell us more about your recent project, “Sketching Southeast Asia: Six weeks. Seven countries. One adventure with a sketchbook.” What are the places that you loved sketching?
When I was figuring out what my last six weeks in Asia were going to look like, I thought it might be fun to put together a trip where sketches were the main focus. As I mentioned above, sketching has become a big part of the way I travel now, so it felt right to end this latest stint in Asia with my sketchbook in hand.
There weren’t many places on the trip that I didn’t enjoy sketching – Laos for its stunning natural beauty, Japan and Thailand for their architecture, and Cambodia for its history. But I have to say Vietnam won my heart – not only because of how much I enjoyed sketching Saigon, but for the chance to meet so many other sketch artists.
Specifically, spending a day sketching with a fashion design student named Hà Mã was proof of how art pushes past all language barriers.
© Candace Rose Rardon
Emaho : You are currently working on a book called ‘The Only Courage”, a travel memoir based on your journey from Virginia, to London, to New Zealand to India. What inspired you to write the book and how is it turning out?
I’ve actually been working on this book for about three years, as it has been a long process of figuring out where the story should begin and end. That’s the tricky part about writing from life – you never quite know when the story is done!
Just like the name of my blog, my book’s title also comes from a quote, this one by Rainer Maria Rilke. In Letters to a Young Poet, he writes: “That is fundamentally the only courage which is demanded of us: to be brave in the face of the strangest, most singular and most inexplicable things that can befall us.”
I’ve loved this quote for a while now, and I really believe the only courage asked of us is the courage to make decisions for our dreams. The journey of finding my own courage and navigating the uncertainty that comes with being a 20-something inspired me to share my story in the hopes that other 20-somethings (and people of all ages!) will find their courage, too.
I’m now finished with the first two parts of the book – which focus on my first six months in London, and then a month I spent on a black pearl farm in French Polynesia – and will be working on the third part (about a week I spent living with a village of Moken sea gypsies in Thailand) for the rest of this summer.
© Candace Rose Rardon
Emaho : Where is “The Great Affair” going to take you next?
In the immediate future, I’ll be heading to the West Coast of the US this July and August, and then it’s on to Prague in September. Other than that, I’m not quite sure where the rest of this year will take me – but I kind of like it that way!
Art & Culture Interviewed by Fatema Diwan