Last year I decided that I wanted to leave the States and try to travel around the world. I sold pretty much everything I owned and I have been traveling in South America for 11 months now. In the beginning I was traveling with a girl and was not as focused on tattooing as I am now, tattooing was always meant to be a huge part of the trip (the main focus) to see if I could make it around the world, working as I went. But pussy has a strong pull on a man...
I had no idea at all what a huge fucking impact this [traveling] would have on me and my work or what it would do for my outlook on tattooing, the craft, the industry and the community.
I started on Jan. 17, 2010 in Costa Rica and traveled to Panama. Then I sailed from there to Colombia and started to make my way south by bus, through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. I have taken three planes in that time, the rest of the travel time was spent with the road under my feet, the landscape zipping by. Sleeping in hostels and new friends' houses (on floors) and when I was working I would sleep in the cheapest hotels I could find.
I've been tattooed now in Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile.
It’s an honor to be able to share with you guys (through TAM) my experiences along the way. I am writing this now while in La Paz, Bolivia. Just sitting in this cafe I can feel a shortness of breath, my heart races faster, this is the highest capital city in the world, a city that touches the clouds.
There are natives everywhere, what we once had in North American Indians they still have here, the women dress in tall bowler hats and huge golden dresses that fit sort of like an umbrella. Tough skin, brown brown brown, rough hands. The sidewalks are big enough for about two people, its a constant traffic jam of people, stopping, turning, stalling. There are crooked police everywhere with automatic rifles, the traffic directors are dressed as zebras and jackasses, the shoe shiners dress in all blue and wear ski masks to hide their identity, they look like Crips. This is the craziest city I have ever been to. There is a prison that is one of the largest manufacturers of cocaine, it is possible to take a tour and buy coke while there. Coke is everywhere and somehow it finds its way up my nose often.
There are protests constantly, everyone chews coca leaves, there are giant holes in the middle of the sidewalks, horns blare without end, you can’t flush toilet paper, up in the hills they have scarecrows hanging by nooses symbolizing the fact that they have no police and if you step out of line, they take matters into their own hands and its hard to breathe. Ahh... this is the life.
Tattooing continues to blow my mind, last night while trying to fall asleep my mind was reeling with thoughts about designs and techniques and the opportunities it has given me over the past 11 months. After 12 years of this it can still keep me up at night, I am so thankful for that.
The average traveler either meets other travelers along the way or spends a good amount of time on their own. Traveling as a tattooer, I am allowed behind the curtain, it provides an instant community instead of spending time with other travelers I get to spend time with local people that I have a connection with through the craft. They take me to the cool spots, they show me the crazy shit. As everyone in the industry knows, there is a lot of trouble to get into; I like trouble and trouble likes me. Working south of the equator is a whole other deal, a fancy North American, who is used to having access to whatever I want, a thermofax, reference books, a photocopier… it’s just not available here. This shit has stretched me, took away my crutches and made me a better craftsman.
I leave Bolivia next Thursday and head to Three Kings in NYC, then back to Idle Hand in SF and then off to Australia in January to work at Dynamic and explore the other side of the world. The passport is filling up.
So here goes, a blog for other tattooers… do you guys read?
JTG La Paz, Bolivia Dec. 2010
(Jason Tyler Grace is a contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. He can currently be found traveling the world and sometimes at Idle Hand Tattoo in San Fransisco, CA.)