CLOWN TOM BOLTON
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Clown Tom Bolton’s world travels.
Here is just an overview with stories and some of my favorite photos of a dozen or so of the over 50 countries I have traveled in. Many of my journeys were in third world countries where I often made shows on the street or in schools. The purpose was to meet and interact with the people rather than to make money. At the bottom one will find a link to my website www.world-traveler.eu which has a much more complete coverage of my adventures including thousands of original photos and text!
World traveler Tom in Europe.
Clown Tom Bolton relocated from USA to Europe in 1983. Since then I’ve traveled and worked throughout Western Europe. I spent my summers from 1983 to 1995 in Scandinavia. In 1984 a performer from the Kansalis Finnish circus who I had met in Spain invited me to do some shows which in those days were strictly juggling. It took me a week to track down the circus which had changed its tour dates. I only stayed some days but it was a fun experience. I had done some circus work in the States, poorly paid and literally made to shovel elephant shit 5 minutes after having done a show. If you are not a big name act in the circus, it sucks big time.
Tom with the Finnish National circus.
On my way to Scandinavia, I use to always stop in Kiel in the north of Germany. The city doesnt look like much but I always met a lot of really cool people there and the “Kieler Woche” festival in the harbor area was great, back before they gave all the playable areas to more bratwurst stands. The ship docked across from this pitch use to send their waiters down to serve us free drinks and ice-cream which made us feel like kings. Those were the good old days!
Tom in Kiel, northern Germany
Tom in Thailand.
I spent many winters traveling in third world countries where the weather was warmer and the cost of living cheaper than staying in Europe. I first went to Thailand around 1988. In this photo, I was on a trekking tour of the hill-tribes in northern Thailand. The kids loved to see the juggling or some sleight of hand magic tricks, all of which could be done without special props. Here I simply used stones and clumps of dirt!
Tom with Thai hill-tribes.
Thailand has many islands and plenty of great beaches. It was so hot that I would wait until close to sunset before training. Typically, a spectator would want to learn to juggle. When others saw that it could be learned in one lesson, they would want to try as well. A week at the beach and I would have 30 or more people all coming to train. This was back before the big raves and when juggling wasn’t so popular so it was a special experience. First time to Thailand I just enjoyed it. Second time, a year later, I started to look behind the smiling faces and recognize the distress the locals often felt by tourists breaking their taboos. This was often unintended and simply a lack of cultural knowledge rather than mere insensitivity. Still, the flood of tourism that has washed over Thailand has probably impacted their traditions as profoundly as the Tsunami which later washed over this beach.
Tom on Thai beach.
Tom in the Philippines.
The Philippines were not quite as culturally exotic as most other asian countries fora world traveler like myself but English is used everywhere so it has it’s practical aspects. 99% of Filipinos seemed to think that all of their problems were somehow the fault of America yet they would give thier left testicle to get a greencard to reach the land of plenty where money just grows on trees. I often made small shows in the market places or in the evenings at the typical village disco, which would be some christmas lights strung up at the local school’s basketball court.
Suprisingly, the Filippinos are CRAZY about basketball. People always asked me where I was born and when I mentioned Puerto Rico, they ALL knew that the Philippines beat Puerto Rico in Mens Basketball at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. The other thing always asked in the Philippines was to “sing us a song from your country”. I never met a people so amazingly musical as the Filippinos and they strongly disliked it when I said I REALLY cannot sing. Like…how about this juggling trick?!…yeah, but NOW sing us a song! Oh F**k!
Tom doing a street performance in the Philippines.
Tom in Papua New Guinea.
PNG is simply a crazy place! Wildly beautiful but a dangerous mixture of beliefs and customs out of the Stone Age, thrown into the modern world. Here I made a show in the market at Rabaul. I also did shows for the kids of the workers at a prison. Yeah, they lived and grew up within the prison compound surrounded by barbed-wire. I guess that’s what they call a “captured audience”.
Tom making show in Rabaul, New Britain, PNG.
PNG is simply a crazy place!!! Few world travelers make it this far off of the beaten tourists’ routes. I passed through one area where tribal warfare with bows and arrows was still being fought. But then warfare was the basis of highland tribal culture until they made contact to the outside world less a century ago. You still see plenty of guys like this in the highlands. Having entertained people first, I dared to make some pictures but typically people would demand hundreds of dollars to take their photo because they’ve heard that professional photographers sometimes get that for a good shot. My shows were also a kind of insurance. Make a show and impress the village headman and you were a lot less likely to be a target for any stress.
Papua New Guinea highlands.
I visited some missionaries in this village. I made a show by the market place and promised to return in a few hours. When I came back there were about 2000 people waiting for me. People totally freaked out when I vanished a small red handkerchief. I stopped doing any magic there since any bad occurrences would be blamed on sorcery and the disaffected party would look to get revenge. I heard that if an employee from any of the Australian mining companies there so much as ran over somebody’s chicken, their whole family might be quickly airlifted out before they literally lost their heads.
Tom “great white god of juggling”.
I met these girls in the highlands of PNG and taught them to juggle with some small fruits within a matter of minutes! Most of the hundreds of people I have taught to juggle were not this clever. Of course some tips and feedback help but determination and practice are the key.
Teaching kids in Papua New Guinea.
Occasionally, I would meet women in PNG who could already juggle 3 objects in the circular “shower” pattern which is actually more difficult than the standard crisscross “cascade” pattern. I guess sitting in an open market for hours, selling lemons like these women, gets boring…
Women juggling in PNG.
Tom in Nepal.
Nepal was a fantastic place. Jungle in the south, highest mountains in the world in the north. The people were truly friendly, honest and gentle who maintained many traditions of their culture yet accepted that we tourists had other ways. Even the hash dealers were respectful. When I told them I was not interested they smiled and went their way. This was a relief having come straight from Bali where the beach vendors were like flies on shit, persistent and annoying. But the seeds of discontent that have plagued Nepal the last decade or so were already to be seen in 1990. Many young guys who worked in the larger villages impacted by the constant stream of trekkers were getting aggressive. They seemed to long for the material wealth of the foreigners and seeing the extreme poverty, who can really blame them. Here I made shows by the temples on Durbar square in Katmandu, alone and accompanied by my good friend Steve Goetz who I just happened to run into.
street show in Katmandu.
Tom in Indonesia.
Here I was mobbed by curious kids near a temple on Bali. It’s a beautiful, fertile island and while not everyone is rich, people sure aren’t starving. As I arrived on a boat from Java, a woman approached a group of us disembarking tourists, holding up her baby as proof that we should give her something; as if 2 billion other people on Earth don’t also have kids. Someone gave her a loaf of freshly baked brown bread which she threw in the dirt, screaming that she wanted money. Seemed everyone on Bali wanted to beg or cheat you or at least sell you something you had no interest in. To actually take a vacation, which westerners may take for granted, is a luxury many people on earth will never know. Yet in light of the extreme poverty I saw in India and Bangladesh, most people in Bali are living in paradise.
Tom at Bali Temple.
Much of Indonesia was once Hindu. With the exception of Bali, Java and most of the rest of the country became Muslim. Hence the Hindu temple ruins still remaining in eastern Java. This area has a lot of geothermal activity. I went on to climb mount Marapi which was smoking cinders at the top. I got a late start and had no food. On the way down I keep losing the trail but found my way to the village below directed by the sound of the prayers being called out from the mosque. By the time I got down to where the first farms were, I fell to my knees and ate about a kilo of carrots pulled fresh from the earth. A decade later Marapi exploded again as did the smoldering volcano I later visited outside of Rebaul in PNG. Beaches I visited in Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka were destroyed by the tsunami. I guess avoiding such natural disaster is just a matter of timing determined by destiny.
Java temple ruins.
Tom in Guatemala.
Guatemala was my favorite Central American country. There is still a large Indian population many of whom still wear their colorful traditional dress which is unique to each village. The Indians were generally very shy with outsiders. In this highland village people told me they felt safer with tourists around who could be witness to the military oppression. I made a small show on the plaza in front of the church. Someone started ringing the church bells, bringing much of the village to see the spectacle. The day after I left this town there was a firefight with bullets flying in the street between soldiers and rebels.
Babaj, Guatemala highlands.
Although generally shy in Guatemala, the kids were the most open. Without looking at them directly, I would start to make some silly expressions. Then throw a fruit up and catch it like I was just trying it for the first time. Slowly I would build up to wilder and wilder tricks. By then any kids would be captivated and laughing. Then their mothers would start to pay attention. Finally, even the most off-standish guy would be interested in seeing what the gringo might be doing to get everyone so hysterical.
In many countries it seems the woman often still wear some kind of traditional dress but most men just basic pants and shirts. In the mid 1990’s, many men in Guatemala were still wearing traditional cloths, often as colorful as the womens’. In subtle ways, I had the feeling that there was more equality between the sexes there than amongst the Latinos of European decent and definitely more than in much of Asia.
Guatemalan man in traditional dress.
In Guatemala I did a day-trip walking from Lanquin, which is known for its spectacular cave, to the Cahabón gorge where the river mostly disappears underground at a point called Semuc Champey and comes back out some hundred meters further on. I went with a Canadian woman and her 3 year old daughter, thinking I could also help carry the child if she got tired on the app. 18 kilometer round trip. It was a beautiful day but as we started back, the air got much cooler and the stress of walking and the dust from the road aggravated my asthma.
Then I realized I had forgotten my asthma spray. I was really struggling and it started to get dark and we still had some kilometers to go. I was against it but followed this woman as she tried to follow apparent short cuts to the winding road. The way got steeper and steeper and I thought I would collapse. Suddenly, I felt a burning sensation all over my legs. I switched on my flashlight, which I had left off until then to conserve the batteries.
A trail of thousands of red ants was using the same path as us. I freaked out a bit and ran back down the path, stuck to the road and we eventually made it back. The release of adrenaline due to the ant bites possibly saved my life. Somehow this made me think of a fellow asthmatic American juggler who had also recently been working in Germany. Strangely, what I didn’t know then, Marcus had tragically died from asthma on the streets on Munich around the same time as my episode but that’s another story.
Tom in Peru.
One of the highlights of my extensive travels in Peru was seeing Machu Pichu. One takes the train from the old city of Cusco. So many thieves and bag snatchers worked this train, watching their attempts was entertainment in its own right. Then a bus up a long winding road. It’s breath taking but such a hard to reach place, you wonder how it was found again none-the-less ever built. Some hardy tourists trek a section of the old Inca trail in or out of Machu Pichu. When I asked one such adventurer what I missed, he said it was ten days of cold torrential rain and mud. Sorry I was on too tight of a schedule to enjoy that. In Lima, I stumbled onto the circus school and theater group “La Tarumba”. They teach circus skills to kids and bring messages of hope and fairness to an impoverished country which was emerging from years of civil unrest. They inspired me that a clown can actually impact society as a whole.
Tom at Machu Pichu.
Tom in Bolivia.
Bolivia was my favorite country in South America. There are the beautiful Andes which in the east drop into the Amazon basin. A bus wreck in these regions means you go off the side of a mountain and fall a loooong way down like something out of an old road runner cartoon. The high plateaus toward the border with Chile contain the Atacama Desert. Suppose to be the driest place on Earth but it drizzled one afternoon I was there. The nights are so clear; it is worth camping out under the stars but take a warm sleeping bag. Trips across the salt flats are popular and this high altitude lake is much saltier than the ocean yet it supports microscopic life which thousands of flamingos there thrive on.
There were public strikes throughout the country while I was there, stopping all public transportation. I and a bunch of other tourists got tired of being stuck in a small village. A travel agency paid a private bus to pick us up outside of town and bribed the local strikers to let us leave peacefully. But some locals didn’t go along with the plan. They chased the bus, throwing stones for kilometers, with us running across the desert with our heavy backpacks trying to catch up. Half of the tourists were young Israelis fresh from the military. A good run through the desert with a heavy load and stones flying was probably just routine for them but it was ball breaking for me.
In Atacama Desert
Tom in India.
Yeah, another disaster but this one man made. In India I often traveled in buses which were poorly maintained. They let the tires go bald till they burst. Like why take precautions since everything is determined by karma anyway. Buses and trucks would break down and be abandoned in the middle of the road. As we started this long night journey, I took the precaution of putting my backback on my lap, uncomfortable but a measure of protection in a crash. Sure enough, the driver, most likely half asleep, ran right into a vehicle broken down in the road. Nobody was seriously hurt but then everyone disappeared. With no place to go, the only other foreigner on the bus, an American Indian from Canada and I locked the door and slept in the disabled bus. In the morning there were kids climbing all over the bus like monkeys but they were looking at us strange foreigners like we were a zoo exhibit ourselves.
Bus crash in India.
The Taj Mahal, deservingly one of the man-made wonders of the world. It’s not just majestic from a distance but intricately inlayed with precious stones and fine details. Yet the banks of the river behind it are used as a garbage dump and communal toilet. But then everywhere in India is used as a toilet since there are so many people and a lack of public facilities. If you leave your seat on a long bus or train ride to take a leak, you risk losing it. Indian woman didn’t have this problem since females pissing by the side of the road would be socially inacceptable. They just have to hold it in. The bladder control of Indian woman is probably more amazing than the physical feats of most Indian yoga masters.
Tom at the Taj Mahal.
There is a huge slum along the train tracks in Delhi. In 1990 there were estimated to be 300,000 people living in these huts made of scape. Sad but then at least an equal number of people were living on the streets of Delhi. Whole families, destitute with no roof over their head. I made some shows right in the middle of this slum. Like all over India, I felt basically safe but the people got so excited that performing nearly lead to riots. There were always new people arriving who insisted that I do another show that it was difficult to leave. The poverty overwhelms many visitors to India. My feeling is that even though I occasionally bought someone a meal, they would be hungry again the next day. But the memory of seeing a crazy foreigner show up in their neighborhood and make a free show might stay with people a lifetime.
There are caves in Ajanta and Ellora which were intricately carved as temples over hundreds of years. Like many Indians temples, there are many erotic motifs. Supposedly the modern prudishness in India was influenced by the English. These kids came from a village near one of the caves to see the tourists. They were amused by me juggling with stones. Then one of them noticed metal in my mouth. I have a few missing teeth and use to wear partial dentures. As I pulled the “teeth” out of my mouth they were even more amazed, as if I were a cyborg removing my own head or something.
Kids by Ajanta caves.
I took this picture in Cochin in the south of India on my second extensive trip to India, running to catch the men as they turned the corner with their overladen cart. I couldn’t help but think that Michael Jackson probably earned more money in a few minutes than all of these men together over a decade. In 1990, the Indian market was just re-opening to international companies. Pepsi and 7-up were just being introduced. I kind of doubt any of these men even knew who Michael Jackson was.
Cochin, Kerala – Michael Jackson.
This young Muslim boy was selling leaves which are used to wrap up betel nut which is mixed with a lime paste and often spices. Then it is stuck in the mouth producing a mild buzz. Users are constantly spitting out the dark red juice. Many Indian kids must work or sell things to help their poor families survive. As a kid, I earned pocket money by doing garden work in the summers and shoveling snow in the winters and later had a paper route. But child labor, where kids must work full time rather than go to school is still a sad reality for many.
Boy selling betel nut leafs.
One sees so many beautiful smiling kids in India. Such a contrast to the “Indians” of Central and South America who are very camera shy. In India, you take out your camera to make a photo and you get people jumping in front of you demanding you take their picture. Foreigners are constantly approached in India, not so much by beggars as one would expect but out of sheer curiosity. And the most popular subject is sex. If you are a western female, if you wouldn’t like to “have some”, if you are a western male, have you “had some already”. It’s all rather naive and annoying but the Indian society is curious and very sexually repressed. Then again, the USA is so overly prudish that people have been arrested for having openly changed their baby’s diaper on a public beach. Even in Muslim Indonesia, small boys publicly swim naked.
I took this photo in the Bombay zoo (back when it was called Bombay rather than Mumbai). Respect for animals’ lives is instituted in Hindu culture. Even snakes and rats are somehow holy. But as the population increases, the wildness that shelters many of India’s amazing animals is disappearing. The zoo seemed a rather sad replacement. Amazingly, there is a temple in Rajasthan devoted to rats. I saw wealthy people there pass crippled beggars, without so much as a glance, on their way to feed good food to the rats. Any human’s level of reincarnation should still be above any animals’ in my understanding of Hinduism but India’s a land of paradoxes! But India was also one of the only countries where people didn’t question my vegetarianism. I’m no strict vegan but to all the people who claim it “isn’t possible”, I say, “go to India where at least half a billion people can tell you otherwise!”
These girls were filling jugs with water. The pride this girl had to present her little sister was touching. Marriages are still arranged in India yet the strong love between family members is often clear to see. This made me reflect a lot on the contrast to our western concept of love including its high incidence of divorce. When I returned to Germany after this trip to India, the woman I had hoped to marry broke up with me.
Girls with water jugs.
Tom in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
I didn’t actually travel around Bangladesh but was in Dhaka for 2 days on a stopover. From the air it looked like half of the country was under water. I bought some oranges and made a little street show. I wondered if the people were not more curious as to who might get to eat the oranges than they were about my juggling. The markets were actually full of food. Like in India, hunger there is usually not due to a lack of food but not enough money to buy it. I arrived from Europe hungry myself as the Bangladesh Airlines didn’t have my ordered veggie meal and I only got a little white rice. Taking the cheapest flights often lead to interesting situations, like when I flew on Aeroflot with a half day stopover in Moscow airport during the Soviet times. Soldiers marching about and banners to the revolution, stewardesses who looked like weigh-lifters who scowled and gave you just half a cup of coffee. It seemed like a parody out of a cold war era “anti-commie” film.
Doing street show in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Tom in Morocco
Morocco was the first third-world country I visited. The people dressed in robes and one saw lots of goats and donkeys around. It reminded me of the old biblical movies one use to see on Sunday tv in the states during my childhood. It was very colorful and intense. I had driven there, via Spain and a ferry with my girlfriend from France. When we got to the French border upon returning, they torn our car apart looking for drugs. Because of sinus problems, there were numerous wadded up pieces of snot filled tissue in the car. I had to smirk as the police would open yet another tissue thinking they would find contraband inside, only to find something slimy.
Store in Morocco.
Marrakesh was a beautiful and wild place. I had to think of the popular song about “going to Marrakesh” and of some of the hippy road trip novels set there. We had met up with some Moroccan friends of friends from France. They were very hospitable and showed us around. I would wander through the souvenir markets, disguised in my Jalaba pretending disinterest. Then our Moroccan friends would go back alone to buy what I wanted for a much better price. Everything in Morocco costed at least double for tourists.
Tom in New Zealand.
Here I am climbing on a glacier in the south of New Zealand. I had tried to hitchhike without much success but as an exprienced world traveler I was not ready to give up easily. Then I found there was a price war going on between the bus companies and I got a month long pass to travel both Islands for around a hundred US dollars. Rather than old ruins or traditional dress, NZ offered lots of nice nature. I wanted to go paragliding but by before it was my turn to take off, the winds had gotten too strong. One more missed chance at possibly killing myself, so I can’t say if I had good luck or bad that day.
Climbing glacier in New Zealand.
So, those were just a few tales from my many travels over the last thirty and something years through North, Central and South America, Europe, Asia, Morocco, Tanzania, Australia, Hawaii, PNG and New Zealand. I hope you’ve enjoyed another side of a traveling clown! If you want, write me an email or better yet, book my show or set a link to this website or just state me as the beneficiary of your will!
I also have another website with over 2000 original photos and text that more completely covers my world travels:
firstname.lastname@example.org Gutenbergstr. 73, 70196 Stuttgart, Germany Tel. +49 (0)711 6741600