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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Interviewing Jay Kannaiyan of “”

Jay pointing at Ushuaia, Distance 87 kms
Jay on his way to Ushuaia, Argentina
Almost a month ago, I happened to be in the right place at the right time to be able to run into Jay Kannaiyan, a friend and former schoolmate of mine from a very long time ago. While our lives have taken very different paths, I'm most happy to announce that his seems to have been one hell of an adventure, literally! So, long story short, one fine day, Jay got on his Suzuki DR650 and set out from Chicago where he happened to be living and working at the time, headed down south, through Central America, then South America, the he put his bike and himself on a ship and got to Europe, from where he drove down to the Mediterranean, before crossing into Egypt, then through the Great Rift Valley, all the way down to South Africa, before putting his bike on a ship again, but himself on a plane, and heading to his hometown of Chennai, India. I'll let you go back and read the last sentence again, because the sequence of events, as well as their insipid description of them in a limited number of words just now, are all true. It's a journey that's taken him three years, but its not yet over according to Jay. Now, as April 2013 draws to a close, he is all set to travel around his "Motherland", India, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Not only do I wish him all the best on his journey, but I wish him all the best on his mission!

I consider myself most fortunate, not only for such a chance meeting, but also for getting the chance to do a little interview of Jay for my blog! He was most gracious to grant me the time to sit and fill this out himself, and apart from being thrilled to post this up here, I hope that you enjoy reading about such a great guy on such a noble mission!
  1. Jay, can you tell the readers about the spark, that single moment in your life, if it was such a thing, when you knew in your heart that you would be traversing the globe, all on your own?

Well, Rohin, I don't think there was a single spark but it was definitely a growing fire inside. I got into motorcycles while in college in the States and then started touring a little bit with new biker friends that I made when I moved to Chicago. Having traveled a lot already before then via various other means, traveling on a motorcycle seemed to be a much more involved experience of travel. I made ten day solo trips on the bike and then a two week trip to Mexico and then a three week trip to Alaska and with each trip, I felt more at home on the bike than at home. This told me that perhaps a solo, long duration motorcycle journey was in my near future, but I had to make it happen, so I slowly planned, saved and waited until the moment was right to set off on this journey.

  1. You must get this a lot, but wasn't it scary to travel through more than half of these countries, let alone try and cross a couple of continents? What would you say to someone who was embarking on a similar journey to help them overcome, among other things, having to deal with all manner of new situations and people, all alone?

Gelabiyya - Traditional costume of Northern Sudanese men
Jay sporting a traditional  'gelabiyya' of Northern Sudan
Actually, it wasn't any scarier than going to the grocery store. If one embarks on such a journey with fear and trepidation about all the strangers along the way, then I think those people will meet strangers and feel unsafe. I knew from my previous travels that in general, most people are good, especially when treated with dignity and respect. I haven't had even one untoward incident on this trip. I haven't been mugged or threatened or hardly paid a bribe (only one for $3 in Honduras).

  1. Very well said, and it's like they say about if you think something's going to go wrong, then it most definitely will. Moving on to another potential all-the-time question, and that is about being all by yourself. How did you cope with it? I mean, you did pass through some sections of countries where, I'm sure there weren't too many people about, right?

Meditative pose by Jay, in front of World Heritage Site - The Pyramids of Giza
Meditating in front of The Pyramids in Egypt
Truth is, I love my solitude and I love the moments when I am the only human around for hundreds of kilometers. I have with me whatever I need to survive and then go. It drives home the message of self-reliance. Here's a piece I wrote on Why I Travel Solo

  1. Which was stronger for you, a sense of purpose, or a sense of adventure?

A sense of purpose, because adventure is just a matter of perspective. I felt I wasn't doing with my life all that I could do when I was just a corporate cog and then getting on the bike, it all made sense. Life is about connections and realizations and actions. This played out on my trip and at moments the sense of adventure was in my face and then at others, I was just cruising along, in the moment.

  1. Can you tell us a little bit more about that special someone who was your companion and “vehicle” as it turns out, on this inter-continental voyage – sanDRina? Come on, let the readers know what an awesome little bike she is.

Jay's Suzuki DR650 (a.k.a. "sanDRina") being loaded onto a boat
sanDRina about to cross from Panama to Colombia
Yeah, sanDRina is my partner in this journey. She's a 1998 Suzuki DR650 and she's just a bike but what fun is there in that perspective? It's more interesting to think that this machine has a soul and it's only the two of us out there, riding the world. Being a human, it's only natural to seek connection to everything else out there and I let it develop with this motorcycle. It's fun and keeps things light-hearted. Simple people on the street get it when I say that she takes care of me and I take care of her. She's never let me down but we've had our fair share of breakdowns and I can always trace it back to something I, her mechanic and doctor, neglected to anticipate and replace before it failed. She's an old motorcycle but comes with a strong frame and good, simple mechanics, which means that I could understand all her various systems and learn to maintain her myself, which gives me peace of mind when traveling through so many foreign lands.

  1. I can only imagine the challenges you have faced together, and rather successfully, at that. While on the subject of “hardy equipment” though, can you tell us what your kit consisted of? I mean, and as strangely personal as this sounds, but what constituted the “luggage” that you carried with you, quite literally, on your back?

I sold everything I had in the US except what would fit on the bike and that means I thought long and hard about everything that I was going to be carrying with me. It's about getting back to basics. I only traveled with one pair of cargo pants that zipped off into shorts, a few t-shirts, thermals, base layers for under my riding suit and then a toiletry kit, chargers for all my electronics and a range of devices to document this journey: a laptop, SLR camera, compact cameras, GoPro helmet camera, external hard drives, etc. For the bike, I carried enough spares to get me to the next big city and all the tools I would need to work on her in the middle of nowhere. Then some camping equipment: a one-man tent, mini sleeping mat, thin sleeping bag, petrol-powered stove and a small cooking set. And then some medical supplies and various odds and ends, like safety wire, duct tape and lots of passport photos. Here's my full packing list:

  1. If there was a single place, no, let's say the top three. What were the top three locations you encountered on your journey through North, Central and South America, and Africa? How spectacular were these places, and what did it mean for you to be there, witnessing it all unfold before you, literally?

sanDRina on vast salt lake in Boivia - The Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni salt flats, Bolivia
Even picking just three amazing places is quite difficult, but here we go. In Bolivia, there is a place called the Salar de Uyuni, which is a vast salt lake, 100 kms by 100 kms, situated at 3,600 m in the Andes. It is a surreal location and the most amazing thing about riding a bike there is the ability to close your eyes while riding at a 100 km/h. The lack of any reference points on the horizon really messes with your mind.

Jay's shot of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
Next, the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. This site is like a natural cathedral. It is one of the few glaciers that is still advancing and you can take a boat right up to the face of glacier and within 10 minutes, the glacier groans and then a chunk of ice breaks free and comes crashing into the water below. It is a sight to behold Nature's greatness. 

Mushroom-like limestone structure in the White Desert in Egypt
Wind-carved limestone formation, White Desert, Egypt
Lastly, in Egypt, I had a wonderful   experience of camping in the White Desert. This is a place out in the Sahara where limestone pillars have been carved by the sand-infused winds  into mind-blowing sculptures and I camped there all by myself for a night. The stars were brilliant and instead of feeling lonely with no other humans   around, I felt connected to the cosmos, knowing that all the elements in our bodies originated deep inside the stars that light up our night sky.

  1. What fabulous scenery you have come across during your adventures! But more than just beautiful places, you've been involved with quite a bit more of helping the wonderful people as you've been riding through these countries, if I'm not mistaken. Can you tell us about the other activities that you have been involved with?

Yes, I've been volunteering at two locations for the Muskoka Foundation, whose tagline is Do Good As You Go. They're trying to get overland travelers to visit remote communities that could use the skills that travelers have. It's a brilliant idea and I spent some time on Mozambique Island at an after-school community project and then led a photography workshop for orphans in northern South Africa.

Find out more here:

Besides that, I've been sponsoring a child through Children International in Zambia, the country where I spent a majority of my childhood and this charity is doing good work there. I was finally albe to meet my sponsored child and it was a special experience. 

Find out more here:

  1. Can you explain what you mean by the word “Eudaimonia”, and perhaps more interestingly for the folks at home, what your little tagline “Spreading Eudaimonia Thru Curry Diplomacy” is really all about?

Eudaimonia is this old philosophical term from the Greeks that is slowly making a comeback into modern day thought. I came across it when I was reading up on the meaning of life. One idea out there is that the meaning of life is to be happy. But just being happy didn't seem meaningful enough for me and then I came across Eudaimonia, which is a deeper meaning of happy that can be read as the pursuit of human flourishing. If I had to explain it in one line, it would be that Eudaimonia is something that is found at the intersection of what's true, good and beautiful. Those are all subjective terms but we know it when we see it and I say we need more eudaimonia in this world!

Jay makes his inimitable "Authentic Indian Chicken Curry" as part of his "Curry Diplomacy" and spreading "Eudaimonia"
Authentic Indian Chicken Curry over a traditional Argentinian Oven - Curry Diplomacy in Action

Now, what's its relation to curry? I started cooking my chicken curry for all the hosts that I was staying with and I saw that at each curry night, a beautiful feeling would overcome the guests when they had this tasty meal prepared by this bald biker from India. I cooked for many people who were quite skeptical about my cooking methods but then a change would come over them after eating my curry and it created a real sense of bonhomie and I realized that perhaps a purpose of my journey could be one of 'spreading eudaimonia thru curry diplomacy.' [Here's Jay's Chicken Curry recipe again, in case you missed it...]

  1. And what a purpose it is turning out to be. Well, that brings me to my last question, but before I thank you for your time and let you go, would you care to share an interesting incident or interaction that you had on your voyage thus far, one that made you sit back and reassured you that you were doing what you were meant to do? And, what, if any, advice can you offer to the readers about “achieving their purpose” in their lives?

I was wild camping on the shores of the Nile in northern Sudan and I happened to set up next to a small fishermen's camp. They invited me to join them for dinner and then breakfast the next morning and then told me to stay. I had plans to keep moving that day but something told me to just stay and let things play out. Soon I met the head of the fishing camp and was invited to stay in his grand mud house for a few days. It was a beautiful experience and I got a deep insight into the life of fishermen along Sudan's Nile. I exchanged what knowledge I could convey and I learned from them about life in the desert and the beauty of the simple pleasures in life.

Jay catches men readying a fishing boat on the shores of Watamu in Kenya
Sunrise at Watamu, Kenya

I don't believe I'm achieving any purpose besides living my life. I believe there's only one life and this is it, so live it!


Jay, thank you so much for your time and for gracing this blog with your presence. I hope that the readers were able to not just take a little something away from the exhilirating adventure you've been on, but mostly, I hope that they've been inspired to pursue a noble mission in their own lives. Here's wishing that your message of “Eudaimonia” becomes less of a concept, and more of a tangible reality.

Take care, and all the best on your upcoming journey Jay! We look forward to your updates from your South-to-North India trip! Have an excellent adventure!!! :-)


If you want to follow Jay's journey, be sure to go to and sign up for his email updates, or drop him a line. You can also find Jay and JamminGlobal on Facebook and Google+, as well as Twitter. Become a part of a global adventure in seeking out the common thread that ties all humanity together!

Official Website:
Google+: Jay Kannaiyan

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