Since quitting his job in 2011, Juan Alberto Casado has barley spent any time at home in Spain. With some 80 countries worth of travel under his belt, including 2 years living in China and 6 months in Central America, he has used his Instagram account, ‘The Road Provides’, not only to document his journeys and the people he has met along the way, but also he says, “to challenge stereotypes and xenophobia.”
When asked about his professional background, his answer wasn’t typical: (former) paratrooper in the Spanish army, international purchaser for India and Pakistan, English teacher in China, security analyst in Panama for the United Nations, and now, International Relations Phd student in Taiwan.
Juan credits a business trip to India in his mid-twenties as a turning-point in his life, “(it was) such a cultural shock that I immediately knew I needed more, wanted to know more.” A year later, he quit his job and went on his first solo road trip, first to Iceland and then on to the United States.
Sacred Footsteps spoke to Juan about his work.
What is the story behind the name of your Instagram page?
“The Road Provides” is a motto that came to my mind back when I didn’t have much experience in travelling, and even less as a solo traveller. I wasn’t looking for a name or anything like that. It happened in 2011 when I started my first solo trip in Iceland and the US. I faced many difficulties, like getting lost and not having a place to sleep for the night. But in the end, there was always something happening, somebody always helped and the problems were all solved. Since then, I always say that the road provides. Maybe it is just holding onto hope for things to work out in the end, but for that to happen you need to stay on the road, walking further and never giving up.
You set up your Instagram page to “challenge stereotypes and xenophobia”– why did you decide to do this?
One of the most important lessons I have learned while travelling is that we know almost nothing about the rest of the world. That is the case in the West, but also in the rest of the world regarding the West. I realised that the similarities among all us, human beings, are much more than the differences, and I felt that if everybody could experience that in person, this world would be a much more peaceful and better place to live.
But then there are all these people believing that all Muslims are dangerous and violent, just to offer you an example. Challenging those stereotypes and facilitating people around the world to empathise with each other, and find aspects in common, is a key to prevent dehumanisation, so I try to transmit the knowledge I have gained while travelling and interacting with people from different cultures, telling my personal experiences through photos and stories. I try to depict normal people doing normal things, like old people playing cards or a mother taking care of her baby, things that we all see in our own countries.
On one of your photos you said that you wanted to “get to know Muslims societies beyond the propaganda of Western media”– do you think you have achieved this? What are your views of Muslim societies now, after travelling?
To begin with, there are very different social situations in the very diverse Muslim societies I have been to. It is not possible to generalise about Muslim societies as it is not possible to talk about Africa as a single entity. Around 23% of the population of the world is Muslim, so you get an idea of how hard it is to generalise about them. All societies have problems and things to improve; also Western countries are still far awar from being perfect. Religious fanatism is not something exclusive to Islam, you only need to search a bit on Internet to notice it.
If you only listen to the media these days, mainly after a terrorist attack, people can get the idea that Muslim people are not trustworthy and most individuals would not dare to visit Muslim countries. Hence the reduction in tourism in countries like Egypt or Turkey. This is a very wrong stereotype. I can tell you that I have felt extremely welcome in Muslim countries as a non Muslim person; I have never felt threatened and they respected me at all times. Not only that, I would state that they have treated me with more kindness than in other societies, as they are traditionally very welcoming to visitors.
How has travelling changed you as a person?
One of the biggest things I have learnt travelling is to leave my fears behind. I have visited many places associated with fear and prejudice, but I realised that those sentiments were unfounded. Television and movies had filled my head with a lot of misinformation, and I learned I needed to leave it aside. There are good and bad people everywhere, but most are good. Travelling sets you free, makes you grow as a person and makes you more aware of the world as it really is. Sometimes when people ask me why I travel, my answer is ‘because I want to learn.’
Another thing that has changed since I’ve been travelling is how much more I now enjoy all the small things that life offers: from a good dinner with friends to a shower with hot water! I also find that I am perfectly happy without having the lastest smartphone, designer clothes, an amazing car or fancy home. I don’t even wish to have the best photo camera on the market! All the above, in the end, brings a huge improvement in my quality of life.