Amazing Nomads: Dave Seminara – Collecting Travel Stories

With an interest in small countries few people write about, author Dave Seminara captures travel stories that are hard to believe.

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Amazing Nomads: Dave Seminara

Dave Seminara is an award-winning travel writer who has a fascinating story from every place he's visited, from a missing person case in Costa Rica to traveling in the footsteps of singer Kurt Cobain.

What’s in the Episode

01:15 Creating a diplomatic incident in Malta

03:53 Conspiracy theories

06:20 Being a bestselling author in Liechtenstein

08:55 Finding sights between the sights

11:18 Getting nude

14:12 Muffins for polygamists

17:50 The Rockland Ranch community

18:03 Win a copy of Dave’s book

Quotes from the episode

“I should say, Kim, in fairness, you only have to sell two copies of your book to be a best seller in Liechtenstein. Which is precisely the number that I sold there, and that did bolt me to number one on their charts.” – Dave

“I do let my curiosity guide me, and what I do before I go to places is, I try to think about few different passions that I'm interested in regardless of where I travel.” - Dave

Journalists rely upon fixers to hook them up with different connections in different places, and I had heard from another journalist there's a woman in Salt Lake City named Anne Wild who's sort of a polygamy fixer.” - Dave

Who is in the Episode

Dave Seminara is a writer and former diplomat based in St. Petersburg, Florida. He is the author of; Bed, Breakfast & Drunken Threats: Dispatches from the Margins of Europe, a collection of 27 travel stories that unfold across 20 European countries. The book was a number one bestseller in Liechtenstein and was hailed as a ‘masterpiece of contemporary travel writing,’ by a guy named Mario in Malta.

Navajo Medicine Man
Herman Chee Navajo Medicine Man. Photo credit: Dave Seminara

Dave is also the author of Breakfast with Polygamists: Dispatches from the Margins of The Americas. You can win a copy of this book by joining the World Nomads Podcast Facebook group and telling us your wackiest travel story. The two judged the best by Kim and Phil will win.

He says ...following in the footsteps of Pablo Escobar, the Hatfields & McCoys, Kurt Cobain, and Justin Bieber. Visiting with swamis, witches and medicine men in Belize, Nicaragua, Chile and the Navajo Nation. Even getting deported from Argentina is better than staying home.”

Resources & links

The World Nomads Footprints program is now supporting Save the Children’s Journey of Hope project in the wake of the Australian bushfires.

Scholarships Newsletter: Sign up for scholarship news and see what opportunities are live here.

Want to make money while you travel? Check out World Nomads Partner Program.

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Next Episode: Bulgaria

About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.

The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.

You can get in touch with us by emailing [email protected].

We use the Rodecaster Pro to record our episodes and interviews when in the studio, made possible with the kind support of Rode.

Speaker 1: The World Nomads Podcast, [inaudible] episode. Hear amazing nomads sharing their knowledge, stories, and experience of world travel.

Kim: Hi, it's Kim and Phil with you, and thanks for tuning into this episode from wherever you get your favorite pods. As we introduce you to Dave Seminara, a journalist and an award-winning travel writer who has a story to tell from every place that he's visited. And his topics are as varied as a missing person case in Costa Rica, competitive eating, and traveling in the footsteps of Kurt Cobain.

Phil: And we are about to hear a few of his stories from his latest book, which is called Breakfast with Polygamists: Dispatches from the Margins of America. But it was his first book, Bed, Breakfast, and Drunken Threat: Dispatches from the Margins of Europe, which became a number one best-seller in, of all places, Lichtenstein.

Dave Seminara: I think I'm the only person who has ever claimed to be a best seller in Lichtenstein.

Kim: And Malta, too.

Dave Seminara: Yep. I like to include unverifiable facts and boasts in my author profiles and bios.

Kim: Love it.

Dave Seminara: And I have a fetish for very small countries that no one else has written about, or very few people write about. Although Malta actually has gotten a lot of press, but not the kind of stories that I wrote. Mine was about creating a diplomatic incident with Malta when I was 12-years-old and then going back there 25 years later to try to find the person that I offended.

Phil: What was the near diplomatic incident then?

Dave Seminara: Yes. So what happened was I was 12-years-old and we had a model UN exercise at our school. I don't know if you do those in Australia, but each student is assigned a country and you're supposed to learn about that country and then dress up like someone, a typical costume of the way that person would dress, in model UN. And I guess I was a bit of a smart ass when I was a kid because everyone else in the class got major countries that were easy to research, and my teacher gave me Malta. I was the only kid, and there was only about 30 of this in the class, so there was really no need to assign countries like that.

Dave Seminara: But all I had to really work with, and I grew up in Buffalo, New York, was an encyclopedia. And the encyclopedia didn't say much about Malta, it was probably a couple of paragraphs, the one that I had access to, and it didn't say anything about how people in Malta dressed. So I went onto my trusty atlas and I saw, "Well, it's close to Libya. Wouldn't it be interesting to dress up like Muammar Gaddafi?" And this was back in the mid-1980s when Gaddafi was the big international boogie man.

Dave Seminara: So I thought, okay well I don't know how Maltese people dress up. Why don't I just dress up in an Arab headdress with very dark sunglasses? I'll wear dark sunglasses and an Arab headdress and give my speech like that. So what happened was I caught the attention of a local photographer from our daily newspaper, The Buffalo News, and my picture appeared in the newspaper under the term, the headline was Maltese Mock-up, and it said, "Dave Seminara of St. Gregory the grade school representing the island nation of Malta." And long story short the Maltese embassy somehow saw this news clip of me dressed up like Gaddafi but representing Malta, and they were apparently not pleased about this at all. Because I got a letter, believe it or not, from the Office of the Prime Minister of Malta.

Dave Seminara: I was 12 years old and I received this letter. The school actually received the letter because they didn't have my home address, and it was basically a scathing letter, especially being that the person who wrote it who was the personal secretary of the person who was, at the time, the Prime Minister of Malta. He was writing to a 12-year-old boy, and there were all kinds of exclamation points, and underlines, and it said, "This is not how we dress in Malta. You have grossly misrepresented us." There were even a few weird conspiracy theories in there too as though this was some sort of an American plot.

Dave Seminara: Long story short, this letter was forwarded to the state department and then the state department eventually sent me a letter. The Maltese desk officer at the state department, which is a very lonely post I can tell you, having worked at the State Department, sent me a letter saying, "Well, don't worry about it young man, and we encourage you to pursue a career in diplomacy." Now why they would have recommended that for someone who had created such an undiplomatic incident, I don't know.

Phil: This explains a lot.

Dave Seminara: But 20 years later I did become a diplomat, and then several years after that I had a chance to travel to Malta. And I thought, I always like to travel with a purpose, this is one of my things as a traveler that I do. I don't like to go to a place with no preparation and just show up like, "Oh okay, what do I do?" I don't look on Trip Advisor. What I like to do is I like to have a purpose for my travel and to think about what interesting people could I meet, or what interests could I pursue? And when I was going to Malta I was going to be there on a cruise and I had only one day and I thought, "What am I going to do with my one day in Malta?" And I thought, "Well, I know what I'm going to do." I'm going to try to find this guy who wrote me the letter.

Dave Seminara: I brought the letter with me, and also a book that the guy sent me. The guy sent me a book about Malta along with the scathing letter saying, "Here, please learn something about Malta. This is what we really are like." This was about six or seven years ago, and I thought, "I'm going to find this guy. Malta is a small country, it can't be that difficult." And it was just a wonderful quest. I spent the day bouncing all around the capital, Valletta, trying to find this gentleman, and I wrote all about this story in my first book which is called Bed, Breakfast, and Drunken Threats: Dispatches from the Margins of Europe. But I did not end up finding him that day because he had moved.

Dave Seminara: I actually tracked down his house, and I went to the house, and his neighbor said, "Oh Mario", the guy's name was Mario, "Mario moved a few months ago." And he had moved to the other side of the island and my boat was about to depart. So I didn't get to meet him, that was the bad news. However, I wrote an article about my quest to find him, and through my website about six months later he contacted me. And we struck up, believe it or not, the weirdest friendship I think that's ever been known to man. We began to correspond about once a month together for a period of about five or six years. And I was supposed to meet him in Malta and it never ended up happening because he died last year. A sad ending to a very interesting story.

Kim: All right, well this takes us to Liechtenstein, that's very hard to say.

Dave Seminara: Yeah.

Kim: So how are you a best-selling author in Lickton... Oh, help me.

Dave Seminara: Yeah. Liechtenstein. Basically I should say Kim, in fairness, you only have to sell two copies of your book to be a best seller in Liechtenstein. Which is precisely the number that I sold there, and that did bolt me to number one on their charts. Again, this is another case of going to a country and having great interests to pursue. Several years ago I wrote a story about the oldest and youngest participants in the Davis Cup, which David cup for those who aren't tennis fans, it's like soccer's version of the World Cup. All the different countries participate, and I wrote a story about the oldest and youngest participants.

Dave Seminara: Now the oldest guy who was ever in the Davis Cup was a guy from Togo who participated when he was 60-years-old, basically. Because he was supposed to be the coach but one of his players overslept his alarm clock, and so this guy, he was down one player so he had to play at age 60. The youngest was a 14-year-old from Liechtenstein, the guy's name was Kenny Banzer. Well he and I, after I profiled him, we stayed in touch. He would send me letters occasionally and say, "Hey, you should come to Lichtenstein." Then one day when I had an opportunity to do so, of course, I gave him a heads up and said, "Hey Kenny, I'm finally coming to your country and I would love to get together with you."

Dave Seminara: So I had a personal host to show me around the place. There are 37,000 people who live there, bordered by Austria and Switzerland. And they don't have their own currency, they do use the Swiss Franc. It's an extremely interesting little country.

Kim: You are super interesting. A diplomat, a journalist, a self-diagnosed pathological traveler, and Phil mentioned the word Gonzo journalism. I know in the book that we're giving away a couple of copies of, Breakfast with Polygamists: Dispatches from the Margins of the Americas, you mention Hunter S. Thompson in that book. Would you call yourself a Gonzo journalist?

Dave Seminara: No, I wouldn't. Actually I don't really even like to call myself a journalist. I don't know whether I used that word on the back cover of the book or not, but if I did I think maybe I'd like to change that. Because I really consider myself to be a traveler first and foremost, and if you ask me about various different identities that I have, the one that's most important to me is being a traveler. Because that is my real passion, and I find combining writing and traveling is ideal for me because it gives me a good excuse to meet people, and to pursue, and to find more interesting, off-the-radar places that aren't in guidebooks.

Dave Seminara: It's better than just basically trying to strike up conversations with strangers on a bus, although I do that too.

Kim: Well you do say in the book, you kick it off with a common thread in the stories in the collection, is that you reflect your obsession with findings sights between the sights. You let your curiosity guide you, and you basically said that as we opened up the chat.

Dave Seminara: I do let my curiosity guide me, and what I do before I go to places is I try to think about... I mean, I have a few different passions that I'm interested in regardless of where I travel. For example, there's a section in the book with several stories about visiting medicine men and traditional healers. Really there are some interests that you can really only pursue in certain countries. You're not going to, if you're interested in seeing gorillas then Saskatchewan is not going to be the place. There are certain interests, like for example medicine men and traditional healers, you can pursue that interest in many different countries around the world, and I have.

Phil: That's actually a touchy topic for many of our travelers, World Nomad's travelers, especially around the [inaudible] ritual in South America. Have you been and studied that one?

Dave Seminara: No, no, no. So I'm not so interested in that sort of psychedelic medicine. I know some people are just interested in the tripping experience, and I'm not really into that. I have had some health problems in my life, and actually, when I consult traditional medicine men I am actually interested in people who heal specific conditions and such, and who practice traditional medicines. Not so much just, "Hey, let's go someplace and get high", or whatever, go tripping. I'm not as interested in that stuff.

Kim: Okay. Nudists on Orcas Island.

Dave Seminara: Oh, yeah. This is a great place. Well, Orcas Island, first of all, is part of the San Juan Island group, which is about, let's say you if you go Seattle you drive a couple of hours up to a place called Anticordis and then you take a ferry that's about an hour and a half or so. Then you come to the San Juan Islands, and Orcas Island is one of those islands. I would argue probably the most beautiful one, and there's a place called Doe Bay there. When I say Doe Baby, you think about Homer Simpson says, "Doh."

Phil: Yep. Yep.

Dave Seminara: Well it's spelled just like that, except D-O-E. So think about Homer Simpson when you think about it. But it's a great place that has a number of thermal baths, and it's considered clothing optional. And although we found it when we were there, and I was there by the way with my wife and my two little boys. My sons right now are 10 and 12-years-old and they travel me with to a lot of the adventures that I profile on these two books, these kids have come with me.

Dave Seminara: And at the time they were probably more like eight and 10. So we weren't purposely seeking out a nudist resort of anything of that nature, but I did hear that the place is clothing optional and I thought, "Well that's kind of interesting. We'll find out what that's all about." And Doe Bay, it turned out to be a really interesting place. And most of the people actually do end up going into the baths without clothing, which was an interesting experience for me because I'd never been to that sort of place before.

Dave Seminara: I don't know if you folks are very familiar with the Pacific Northwest, but it's also pretty much the crunchiest, most liberal part of our country. It's really a free-wheeling place, and it's the kind of place too where I guess people are not as obsessed about body image, and people are, I guess I would say, less scrupulous about shaving. A lot of beards, a lot of bodily hair. People of all different shapes and sizes, and nobody feeling ashamed of themselves at all. It's a great place. I had a lot of fun there.

Phil: Hey, what's the etiquette when you're getting into the thermal pool nude?

Dave Seminara: I'm probably the wrong person to ask that question because I was wondering the same thing when I was there. And I can only tell you what I observed. I don't know what the proper etiquette is, but I can tell you what I observed and that's if you go into a hot tub full of nude people with a swimsuit on, you will get some strange looks. So I guess what I found from the etiquette was there's a number of different pools at this place of varying temperatures if you want to go in a pool with a swimsuit on, look for one of the pools where there's at least one other person actually wearing a swimsuit.

Dave Seminara: The same goes the other way as well too, that if you're going around naked it's probably better to find one of the pools that have other naked people. What I saw was that people definitely did not... The weather wasn't warm enough for people to be strolling nude from there, these are cabins that this place has, people were not strolling nude from their cabin right into the tubs because the weather wasn't warm enough. It's the Pacific Northwest so it never really gets too hot. So people either had on robes, or towels or whatever and then there were hooks and stuff like that near the tubs that people would disrobe right before getting in there.

Phil: If you talk about being on the margins, I like to call the margins fringe. Because things get a little bit frayed out on the fringe, don't they?

Dave Seminara: I guess it sort of depends. What do you have in mind? Tell me what you mean.

Phil: Well, there isn't really a normal is there? The idea that we're all the same isn't really true. Everybody's got some sort of strange thing going on, or what I like to call their own private revolution going on inside of their head, and you seem to love going and finding those. The nudist colony, and the bathing there, and it's the title of the book, so Breakfast with Polygamists.

Dave Seminara: I should explain that, shouldn't I?

Phil: Yeah, go on.

Dave Seminara: Sure. So one of the stories in the book is called Muffins for Polygamists, and what that's all about was when I was in Utah about six years ago, I had done a little bit of research. Obviously Utah, it's famous in the US for a lot of different things, but probably most well known for having the largest number of Polygamist families in the country. I think the estimate was about 10 years ago there was an estimate that there were about 35 to 40,000 Polygamist families living in Utah. And I thought, when I started researching this before going to Utah, I stumbled across an article about a place called Rockland Ranch which is very close to Canyon Lands National Park.

Dave Seminara: But you would never, ever, ever find this community unless you were specifically looking for it. It's off on a dirt road on a dead-end road, and it's quite an interesting community. There are about 20 Polygamist families there who are living inside what are essentially cave homes they've blasted into. Imagine these huge sandstone rocks that are, let's say, maybe 100, I'm sorry I'm not good with the metric system, but they're probably 100 feet high. Think of these towering, enormous, really pretty sandstone colored enormous rocks. And they blasted about 20 homes all around the side of this enormous rock, and most of the 20 families in this community are polygamists. I had read about this community and saw photos of it and I thought, "Wow, I'm going to be in Canyon Lands National Park, I would really love to meet some of the families from this community while I'm there."

Dave Seminara: So I found this woman who's name is Anne Wild who is, you guys know what a fixer is, right?

Phil: Yep.

Dave Seminara: Journalists rely upon fixers to hook them up with different connections in different places, and I had heard from another journalist there's a woman in Salt Lake City named Anne Wild who's sort of a polygamy fixer. She's a polygamist who is trying to counter negative stereotypes about polygamy in the media, and by doing that she's willing to hook journalists up with people who are Polygamists from different communities. And I asked Anne whether she knew anybody in Rockland Ranch, and by chance she did. I set an appointment to meet these folks, and I found myself, I was staying in a town called Moab. Moab is maybe 30-45 minutes away from this community, and Moab is a really cool place but it's also quite trendy as well too.

Dave Seminara: So I found myself on the morning that I was set to meet these people at a very trendy artisanal bakery in Moab, and I thought, "Well, I'm going to bring them", it's breakfast time when I'm meeting them, "So I think I'll bring them some muffins." And just as I was about to order, now these were muffins which were three or four dollars each because it's trendy little baker, and as I was about to order I remembered, "My goodness, these people have 13 children." There's two wives in the family, a husband, and 13 kids. So I thought, "Well, how many muffins is the correct number to buy for a family of 16?" I did some quick math and we're like, "No, no, no, I don't think I have the budget to spent $60 on muffins this morning." That's how the name of the story came about.

Dave Seminara: But I did actually travel out to their community, and I did have breakfast with this huge family, and I got a chance to understand a little bit about their side of the story. I had a very interesting day with this family, called the Foster family, and after I wrote my story about them and their community I started getting contacted like crazy by all sorts of producers of reality TV shows who wanted me to introduce them to this foster family. So I kept getting contacted by producers saying, "Will you introduce me to them? We want to get them on TV", and they kept saying, "No, no, no. We're not interested. We don't want publicity."

Dave Seminara: Then about a year ago, one day my wife and I were looking on Netflix and I saw her face, Lillian Foster's face. And I thought, "Oh my gosh, there's Lillian Foster, what is she doing?" It turned out that she changed her mind, and there's a television program called Three Wives and One Husband, and it profiles some of the families in this Rockland Ranch community that I visited.

Kim: Now that is a guy who would be super entertaining at a dinner party. Now, to win a copy of Breakfast with polygamists: Dispatches from the Margins of America, join our Facebook Group, they'll be a link in show notes, and tell us your wackiest travel story. The two judged the best will win.

Phil: And if you want to get in touch with us, in general, you can email us at [email protected] And please don't forget to rate and subscribe from wherever you get your podcasts. 

Speaker 1: Amazing Nomads. Be inspired.

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