Neither of us packed properly for early Spring in Marrakech, me in shorts and a thin American Apparel t-shirt and Elton in joggers and a tank on the shaded rooftop of Souk Café with a cool breeze flowing through our clothes. Having successfully avoided winter for years via first class (Elton) and economy seats (Me), this is not the life either of us are about. The endless Moroccan mint tea pots I managed to get out of Marwan, the manager, in exchange for return business during my 3 day stay managed to keep us semi warm. “All my warm clothes are for the photos,” Elton says, referring to the iconic images he plans to capture over the coming days to join the mantles with the other iconic images he’s been spotted in all across the innerwebs.
Elton Anderson is a photographer, and while I rarely focus on what folks do for a living, it’s important here because it’s what keeps the light in his heart, and because photography is as much a part of his travels as his passport. It was just two years ago when he loaded several large campers with friends, and hit the road for Joshua Tree and Sequoia National Park, and started a tradition (affectionately known as #CampConrad) that will span many more passports and visas. Yeah, you’ve seen him and his chums, spread across the photos, across the deserts, across the roads, all appearing to have shown up early for a Tom Ford casting call.
Although I’ve known Elton for years, having once saved a life together while cliff diving in some strange corner of the world, our worlds finally collide and since the sun is seconds away from disappearing and we’re semi lost in the middle of the souks inside the medina, sipping tea, spilling a little, and eating grilled veggies and mixed fish, now is as good a time as any to share my friend with the world just a little more.
We order a hookah, Elton chooses some mysterious flavor he claims to have tried and loved in a Silverlake dive bar back home in Los Angeles, we ignore the cool breeze and stares from those jealous of our endless tea, and we talk.
PASSPORT REQUIRED: How do you get that many people to commit to a trip?
ELTON ANDERSON: It’s surprisingly easy and I actually have to turn dozens of people away. The attendees are my authentic friends, some for years and other for decades, so they look forward to celebrating my birthday with me. I also try to pick locations that will be exciting and new for everyone and we take advantage of flight deals. If I announce the location and flight deal people typically will purchase their tickets within 24 hours.
PR: What inspired the idea to start this birthday travel tradition and the photos, and what was the very first trip?
EA: I’ve always thrown parties on the milestone birthdays (16, 21, 30, etc.) but the travel tradition actually started at 33. I wanted to do something I had never done before — go camping in an RV. To be honest, I didn’t think anyone would want to go, but before I knew it, 29 people had committed. It was kind of touching that so many of my friends would travel across the country to go camping for a weekend. The photo idea came pretty naturally because I’m a professional photographer. I have always been a huge fan of the fashion campaigns that we see in the magazines, so I drew my inspiration from there. Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger were the fashion inspirations for the camping trip and surprisingly all of my friends came camera ready!
PR: Tell me about the most interesting person you met out there in the world and tell me about the place you met them.
EA: I met a young filmmaker/photographer from Spain named Irene. She was doing 6 months of solo travel and I actually met her when I was doing some solo travel in Iceland. It was so interesting that someone so young, especially a young woman, would just pick up and travel the world alone. She had such an amazing spirit and actually convinced me to go skinny-dipping in glacier water! I’m crazy but that was the craziest thing I’ve ever done.
PR: Imagine this: You have one trip left to take and you can only take one person, immediate family not eligible. Where are you going? Why? Who are you going with? Why?
EA: I’m headed to the Philippines with my friend Jessica. The Philippines is #1 on my list of places to go in the world because of the beautiful islands, tropical weather and food. I’m taking Jessica because she was the person who inspired me to travel and she would kill me if I went to the Philippines without her.
PR: If home is that place where we are able to exile from ourselves and be most free while alone, Where is “home?”
EA: Home is Bali. Home is Tanzania. Home is Senegal. Home is Bahia. Home is Chile. These are all some of my favorite places where I’ve felt connected to as soon as I landed. I think everyone owes it to himself or herself to travel alone at least once.
PR: Have you ever fallen in love or close to it on the other side of the world? What happened?
Elton laughs a loudly, turning heads on the other side the restaurant, knowing that’s more my story than his.
EA: Nope. I’m not a hopeless romantic like that but I have been blessed to meet people with amazing energy when I travel. Some of them are lifelong Facebook friends. I have tasted some amazing food while abroad and fell in love with my plates at that moment.
(Salvador de Bahia, Brasil)
PR: What did you learn about yourself in Morocco?
EA: I learned that the power of connecting people and connecting with people is one of my greatest strengths. Navigating such a large country with such a big group was no easy task and I had to rely on my instincts to make everything run smoothly.
PR: What kind of person can no longer travel with you?
EA: Someone who is afraid to travel off the beaten path. If you want to stay in an all-inclusive resort all week then I’m not the person you need to travel with.
PR: What travel quote hits close to home?
EA: Ankit Mishra says, “Collect moments, not things.” Ain’t no souvenirs bih.
We nod in agreement, knowing we both bring nothing back but stories and inspiration
PR: What is your purpose in life?
EA: My purpose is to connect people. I get no greater joy than introducing two people and they become lifelong friends. I also love connecting with people, the camera is the instrument I use to do so.
We sit back a bit longer at souk Café, Elton teaching me to blow O’s in my hookah smoke, me teaching him the proper sweetness for Moroccan mint tea while he snaps passersby on the street below with the camera he never leaves at home or hotel or hostel, and the breeze coming to a tolerable calm.
And these are the photos taken in the days that followed in Morocco:
*To reach Elton Anderson, visit his website by clicking here*
Darnell Lamont Walker, a self-professed traveling foodie, has been found sitting at tables eating baby goat sweetbreads, drinking tequila, and laughing loudly with strangers. The writer, filmmaker, artist, and sometimes photographer puts happiness above all.