When my brother met Vladimír Váchal in Oman and then I heard about his lectures on Iran from my flatmate, I told myself this cannot be a coincidence. We met at the Festival of Travelers in Prague and I had the opportunity to peek into the life of a courageous adventurer. Vladimír is not a typical Law student. He is a man who created a profession from his hobby of traveling (he has visited 66 countries). He interprets from Farsi, he organizes expeditions to this fairytale country and he tries to confront the stereotypes about Islamic countries.
It seems that out of all countries you love Iran the most.
When I was 18, I went to Iran and I fell in love with this country so much that I learnt Farsi. I traveled the whole country, studied there twice and lived there, too. Until today Iran remains half of my life as I go there for expeditions and I interpret for Embassy and companies in trade fairs.
Iran opened up last year to the world, yet it is still stigmatized. Why?
From 1979 Iran has been an example of the only perfectly working theocracy in the world, which instills negative connotation at a time when anti-islam feelings are on rise. I always try to present Iran as a state with an Islam government but a place where 99% of the time you will not encounter any unfriendliness. People are the treasure of the nation.
How does Iran differ from Arabic countries?
The difference lies in the language, history, culture and approach to things. When you go to a bazaar, an Arab will grab your hand, while a Persian will smile at you, beck and let you enter. The Persians approach life with deliberation and elegance and they are proud, while Arabs are less proud and solve things fiercely, quickly and in a hot-headed manner. However, I like both groups.
What made you so interested in the Iranian culture?
History-wise the country is incredibly rich. When considering contemporary Iran, I admire the hospitality of local people who are often stigmatized by the world. The Persian language is wonderful. The architecture which has been mixed by the Islamic influences since the 8th century is ravishing. In general the country is diverse and in any season it has something to offer to you. It is simply a combination of everything. There is nothing that I would downright not like about it.
Are you not considering living in Iran?
No, I go there often but I like to come back to the Czech Republic. It would be useful to be there to practice language but I take energy from coming back home and seeing my family and friends. These month visits are good enough. In the future, I would like to live somewhere abroad, but I would go to a different destination.
You have a very interesting profession. Have you dreamt of it since you were young?
It arose step by step. I did not tell myself when I was 18 that one day I will interpret and do expeditions to Iran. See, it’s like you are walking and at the end of the tunnel you see light, so you walk out and are met with a beautiful landscape. And then you see a waterfall, so you go to the waterfall and you see a lake. You swim in the lake and then you catch sight of a cave, so you go inside it because it seems interesting. Interpreting gives you adrenaline. You are standing next to a person, he is saying something and you need to transcribe it in your head and start speaking in 2 seconds. It’s a game and I like playing it.
Vincent van Gogh said: “Your profession is not what brings home your weekly paycheck, your profession is what you’re put here on earth to do, with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling.” What is your mission?
I am now living such a fast life that I have no idea what my mission is. I only know I want to do what I like and what people around me like and what gives me purpose. When I get positive feedback, I tell myself that what I am doing is right. Through interpretation I help connect Czech and foreign companies and I advise people about a destination which they would like to visit but are afraid to go there on their own. I don’t have any mission but I am currently doing a job that I like. When I stop liking it, I will search for something else. God knows how it will be.
When you have so many adrenaline experiences, how does it feel to live a common life?
There is not much space left for the classic personal life when I am always on the go and at the same time I am finishing a Ph.D. at the Law Faculty, writing a book, painting, organizing guiding tours, creating expedition programs, giving advice to people, doing lectures, going for trips and other things. It has been gaining upon me and it is painful. I sometimes get into these sad moods where I am telling myself that I would like to stop. That is why I will be in the Czech Republic from April till August and enjoy summer here. I will go swim in a pond and take rest.
It’s easy to get caught up with work, right?
Well, yeah. But one needs to know when to stop so that he does not hitch his wagon to a star. Many people are telling me that my pace is crazy and I realize that. I am making it but I am on the edge where a little is left and I won’t be able to cope anymore. But that’s a life experience. When you do or want to do something, you try to eliminate errors. I made a mistake of taking too much. I know now that after the break I will do it more at ease. I would not like to dislike traveling just because of the frenzy work style (which I of course try to break with my own travels). It could suddenly happen that you will feel uncomfortable sitting in a plane and speaking with strangers.
How does it feel to be traveling on your own all the time and meeting new people?
Well, it ends up with me not remembering what we spoke about and what we agreed on. But I usually travel with friends, not on my own. It’s mostly for security purposes because I came across a few situations where my life was at stake. When I got such a bad stomach flu in India, that I could not get out of my bed and get a glass of water, my stay was suddenly much worse. Or when I was in Island and my foot got inside a gulch under rocks, it would have been very hard to get it out on my own.
Yet solo traveling has become so popular nowadays.
I also like to travel on my own, but I have many friends who want to travel with me, so I don’t need to do it on my own. People who travel on their own are people who live in a closed cycle, want to get out of it, meet new people and speak about new stuff. People who travel with friends are people who live a hectic life and do something different all the time. Their life is not a stereotype.
I have never thought about it this way.
You know, I don’t want to get to know anything new because at work I always meet someone new, so when I travel, I want to be with someone who knows me and explain the first evening what I am doing and stuff. When I travel and somebody asks me, I don’t tell them “I am a guide, I speak Farsi, this and that…”, I say I am a lawyer because I don’t want to speak about my life. When you meet a new group of people every two weeks, you don’t feel like talking about yourself anymore.
I get it, it becomes tiresome. I am wondering now do you know what you are always traveling?
I travel because I really like it. I think it is the only meaningful activity because you develop interpersonally, you gain experience and adventures. You live your life fully. Travel allows you to get out of the cycle of going to work, answering phones calls, you know what I mean. When I went to North Korea, there was no signal or Internet, so I did’t use it for a week. It was beautiful.
I can imagine that. I think that attitude to travelling changes with time and age. I used to be critical towards the Czech Republic whenever I returned, but in the past years I have realized that I am happy where I am and what we have here. But still I have an impression that traveling is kind of addictive.
When you don’t know something, you don’t miss it. When you start traveling, after some time you start missing exploring. On the other side thanks to traveling I have started to appreciate many things. I am not speaking of clichés about Africa but ordinary things which we often don’t notice. The fact that we have pavements and sewer systems. You live a happier life when you realize you were lucky to be born here in the Czech Republic.
You are right. It is very enriching. When you go to many muslim countries, are you influenced spiritually? Are you a believer?
I would say I am not an atheist and that’s poignant. I sometimes say that God is the moral features of a human being. When I know that I am doing something wrong, then I get the feeling that it was wrong, is the God part. The reflection of God in feelings of guilt and innocence. The fact that there is something or someone higher above calms me down.
What plans for future do you have?
I want to learn many languages because I really like them. I want to travel, have a family one day and travel with kids. I definitely want to study somewhere abroad. I would be interested in South Korea or Kazachstan.
Thank you very much for sharing your adventures and experience with me. I wish that your plans and dreams come true.
Website of Vladimír Váchal: http://vachalvladimir.cz/
Copyright: Vladimír Váchal