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“What’s Wrong With You?” by Ana Bakran

 

“What’s wrong with you?” was perhaps not an unusual question for friends to ask a women about to embark on a hitchhiking odyssey from her home in Croatia to the Polynesian island of Bora Bora.

But Ana Bakran was not an ordinary person and certainly not an aimless ne’er-do -well. A tall and striking woman, she already could claim significant personal achievements: a full athletic scholarship (tennis) to a university in the United States, a business degree and several years managing her own successful enterprise in digital marketing. But she was restless and driven to explore the world in an unconventional, cost-effective way.

Taking care of her mother came first. Since Ana’s father died, her mother had been paying off a bank loan.  So, before Ana departed, she used her savings to pay off her mother’s loan and send her on a short trip.

Ana on her way to Tehran in 2013. Courtesy Ana Bakran

Then, at age 31, she turned her attention to fulfilling her greatest dream. She writes: “I was ready to do what I had always wanted to do for a long time. Hitchhike the earth and face its reality instead of staring at the screen of my laptop.”

She had significant life experiences as well as savings which she planned to spend wisely.   “If I ran out,” she writes, “I’d find myself a job, work, and continue my journey when ready.”

The pages that follow read like a thrilling, adventure story—one serendipitous and often positive experience after another through many countries:  Croatia, Montenegro, Turkey, Albania, Iran, China, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and more—all en route to Polynesia.

Hitchhiking a fishing boat from Maupiti to Bora Bora. Courtesy Ana Bakran
Hitchhiking on a fishing boat from Maupiti to Bora Bora. Courtesy Ana Bakran

But challenges inevitably occurred, sometimes without warning: searching longer than usual for places to stay, delays in finding rides (in vehicles or on fishing boats), hold ups at border crossings, and so forth. However, Ana was never daunted. She explains: “Determination was the internal force that kept me going, not bravery.”

Furthermore, she learned to read people. “After a year and a half of hitchhiking every day,” she says, “I was used to judging people quickly and harshly during our first encounter and figuring out their life story based on their car, clothes, the way they were looking at me, their behavior, as well as the items in their cars.”

Ana with Cambodian children. Courtesy Ana Bakran

What’s especially inspiring is what Ana learns about human nature during her journey.  She concludes that human beings around the world have similar needs and that, by helping others without discrimination, she’s helping herself “become a better Ana.” She continues by sharing many suggestions for “small acts of kindness.”

Throughout the book, she offers practical travel tips and words of wisdom. She advises school-age girls who contact her from around the world: “Wait until you have more skills or more life experience before you undertake your journey. Remember you are not too old, and you’ll never be too old to travel. You might be too sick, too lazy, too scared, or too comfortable, but not too old to travel.”

Ana believed she’d be back home in a year or year and a half at the latest. But things turned out quite differently. After traveling for five years through 25 countries, her journey ended on the remote island of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, a place where she felt at peace.

One day, at the end of an arduous 7-mile hike in the mountains of Nuku Hiva, she came to the remote village of Hakaui and decided to settle down and finish her book. There she met Tanguy, a villager who advised her on the safest place to pitch her tent. They gradually became acquainted. She writes: “There was something so special in his simplicity…he was unlike any other man I’d ever met.”

Ana Bakran and Tanguy on Nuku Hiva.
Ana and Tanguy at a market. Courtesy Ana Bakran

They spoke different languages yet taught each other how to communicate in a mix of English, French, Croatian and Marquesan. She learned he was a master craftsman and descended from the last king of Nuku Hiva. She explains: “We didn’t need each other. Our lives were good just as they were, yet we started lifting each other up spiritually… I fell in love with the man and the simplicity of it all.” They are together to this day and living happily on the island.

She concludes: ” If I had learned anything, anything at all in the last five years of my journey, it was the fact that every time I was roughing it, or was having a tough time but managed to pull through it with a positive heart, something good would be waiting for me just around the corner. Every. Single. Time.”

Hitchhiking a fishing boat from Maupiti to Bora Bora. Courtesy Ana Bakran
Ana and Tanguy’s family fruit bowl made by Tanguy. Courtesy Ana Bakran

Her book is a tale of adventure— and so much more. She’s both unique and Every Woman. Her journey is a metaphor for life. It’s an unconventional and exciting travel narrative for sure— but it’s also about following your heart and self-reliance. It’s about the importance of knowing yourself, pursuing your dreams relentlessly, believing in serendipity, and persevering regardless of what other people say and what obstacles you face. And it’s about learning the importance of being open and gracious to other people from all walks of life, wherever you may find yourself and whatever your circumstances.

To learn more, go to the couple’s website, cannibal-art.com, where you can order her book, arrange a visit to the beautiful Hakaui Valley and see unique Marquesan crafts available for sale.

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Postscript  Tanguy also helps young craftsmen learn the art of wood carving. In the pictures below, you see him assisting his young nephew, Teiki, in making a beautiful totoko, or walking stick.

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