clown tom bolton

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Tom the world traveler - page 1
...Tom in Europe...

Tom with the Finnish National circus.

Clown Tom Bolton relocated from USA to Europe in 1983. I traveled throughout Scandinavia during the summers from 1983 to 1995. In 1984 a performer from the Kansalis Finnish circus who I had met in Spain invited me to do some shows which in those days were strictly juggling. It took me a week to track down the circus which had changed its tour dates. I only stayed some days but it was a fun experience. I had done some circus work in the States, poorly paid and literally made to shovel elephant shit 5 minutes after having done a show. If you are not a big name act in the circus, it sucks big time.

circus performance Finnland

Tom in Kiel, northern Germany.

On my way to Scandinavia, I use to always stop in Kiel in the north of Germany. The city doesnt look like much but I always met a lot of really cool people there and the "Kieler Woche" festival in the harbor area was great, back before they gave all the playable areas to more bratwurst stands. The ship docked across from this pitch use to send their waiters down to serve us free drinks and ice-cream which made us feel like kings. Those were the good old days!

Kieler Woche Festival Germany

...Tom in Thailand...

Tom with thai hilltribes.

I spent many winters traveling in third world countries where the weather was warmer and the cost of living cheaper than staying in Europe. I first went to Thailand around 1988. In this photo, I was on a trekking tour of the hilltribes in northern Thailand. The kids loved to see the juggling or some slight of hand magic tricks, all of which could be done without special props. Here I simply used stones and clumps of dirt!

adventure travel Thailand

Tom on Thai beach.

Thailand has many islands and plenty of great beaches. It was so hot that I would wait until close to sunset before training. Typically, a spectator would want to learn to juggle. When others saw that it could be learned in one lesson, they would want to try as well. A week at the beach and I would have 30 or more people all coming to train. This was back before the big raves and when juggling wasn't so popular so it was a special experience. First time to Thailand I just enjoyed it. Second time, a year later, I started to look behind the smiling faces and recognize the distress the locals often felt by tourists breaking their taboos. This was often unintended and simply a lack of cultural knowledge rather than mere insensitivity. Still, the flood of tourism that has washed over Thailand has probably impacted their traditions as profoundly as the Tsunami which later washed over this beach.

Thailand beaches

...Tom in the philippines...

The Philippines were not quite as culturally exotic as most other asian countries but English is used everywhere so it has it's practical aspects. 99% of Filipinos seemed to think that all of their problems were somehow the fault of America yet they would give thier left testicle to get a greencard to reach the land of plenty where money just grows on trees. I often made small shows in the market places or in the evenings at the typical village disco, which would be some christmas lights strung up at the local school's basketball court.

Suprisingly, the Filippinos are CRAZY about basketball. People always asked me where I was born and when I mentioned Puerto Rico, they ALL knew that the Philippines beat Puerto Rico in Mens Basketball at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. The other thing always asked in the Philippines was to "sing us a song from your country". I never met a people so amazingly musical as the Filippinos and they strongly disliked it when I said I REALLY cannot sing. Like...how about this juggling trick?!...yeah, but NOW sing us a song! Oh F**k!

street-performance Philippines

...Tom in papua new guinea...

Tom making show in Rabaul, New Britain, PNG.

PNG is simply a crazy place! Wildly beautiful but a dangerous mixture of beliefs and customs out of the stone age thrown into the modern world. Here I made a show in the market at Rabaul. I also did shows for the kids of the workers at a prison. Yeah, they lived and grew up within the prison compound surrounded by barbed-wire. I guess that's what they call a "captured audience".

street-show Papua New Guinea

papua new guinea highlands.

PNG is simply a crazy place!!! I passed through one area where tribal warfare with bows and arrows was still being fought. But then warfare was the basis of highland tribal culture until they made contact to the outside world less a century ago. You still see plenty of guys like this in the highlands. Having entertained people first, I dared to make some pictures but typically people would demand hundreds of dollars to take their photo because they've heard that professional photographers sometimes get that for a good shot. My shows were also a kind of insurance. Make a show and impress the village headman and you were a lot less likely to be a target for any stress.

tribesman in traditional costume PNG

Tom "great white god of juggling".

I visted some missionaries in this village. I made a show by the market place and promised to return in a few hours. When I came back there were about 2000 people waiting for me. People totally freaked out when I vanished a small red handkerchief. I stopped doing any magic there since any bad occurancies would be blamed on sorcery and the disaffected party would look to get revenge. I heard that if an employee from any of the Australian mining companys there so much as ran over somebodys chicken, their whole family might be quickly airlifted out before they literally lost their heads.

magical juggling performance PNG

Teaching kids in papua new guinea.

I met these girls in the highlands of PNG and taught them to juggle with some small fruits within a matter of minutes! Most of the hundreds of people I have taught to juggle were not this clever. Of course some tips and feedback help but determination and practise are the key.

teaching juggling PNG highlands

Women juggling in PNG.

Occasionally, I would meet women in PNG who could already juggle 3 objects in the circular "shower" pattern which is actually more difficult than the standard criss-cross "cascade" pattern. I guess sitting in an open market for hours, selling lemons like these women, gets boring...

sellers in market juggling

...Tom in nepal...

Nepal was a fantastic place. Jungle in the south, highest mountains in the world in the north. The people were truely friendly, honest and gentle who maintained many traditions of their culture yet accepted that we tourists had other ways. Even the hash dealers were respectful. When I told them I was not interested they smiled and went their way. This was a relief having come straight from Bali where the beach vendors were like flies on shit, persistant and annoying. But the seeds of discontent that have plagued Nepal the last decade or so were already to be seen in 1990. Many young guys who worked in the larger villages impacted by the constant stream of trekkers were getting aggresive. They seemed to long for the material wealth of the foreigners and seeing the extreme poverty, who can really blame them. Here I made shows by the temples on Durbar square in Katmandu, alone and accompanied by my good friend Steve Goetz who I just happened to run into.

showtime in Durbar Square, Katmandu, Nepal

...Tom in Indonesia...

Tom at Bali Temple.

Here I was mobbed by curious kids near a temple on Bali. It's a beautiful, fertile island and while not everyone is rich, people sure aren't starving. As I arrived on a boat from Java, a woman approached a group of us disembarking tourists, holding up her baby as proof that we should give her something; as if 2 billion other people on Earth don't also have kids. Someone gave her a loaf of freshly baked brown bread which she threw in the dirt, screaming that she wanted money. Seemed everyone on Bali wanted to beg or cheat you or at least sell you something you had no interest in. To actually take a vacation, which westerners may take for granted, is a luxury many people on earth will never know. Yet in light of the extreme poverty I saw in India and Bangledash, most people in Bali are living in paradise.

Bali temple ruins

Java temple ruins.

Much of Indonesia was once Hindu. With the exception of Bali, Java and most of the rest of the country became Muslim. Hence the Hindu temple ruins still remaining in eastern Java. This area has a lot of geothermal activity. I went on to climb mount Marapi which was smoking cinders at the top. I got a late start and had no food. On the way down I keep losing the trail but found my way to the village below directed by the sound of the prayers being called out from the mosque. By the time I got down to where the first farms were, I fell to my knees and ate about a kilo of carrots pulled fresh from the earth. A decade later Marapi exploded again as did the smoldering volcano I later visited ouside of Rebaul in PNG. Beaches I visited in Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka were destroyed by the tsunami. I guess avoiding such natural disaster is just a matter of timing determined by destiny.

Java temple ruins

...tom in guatemala...

Babaj, Guatemala highlands.

Guatemala was my favorite Central American country. There is still a large Indian population many of whom still wear their colorful traditional dress which is unique to each village. The Indians were generally very shy with outsiders. In this highland village people told me they felt safer with tourists around who could be witness to the military oppression. I made a small show on the plaza in front of the church. Someone started ringing the church bells, bringing much of the village to see the spectacle. The day after I left this town there was a firefight with bullets flying in the street between soldiers and rebels.

Guatemala highlands market

Guatemalan girls.

Although generally shy in Guatemala, the kids were the most open. Without looking at them directly, I would start to make some silly expressions. Then throw a fruit up and catch it like I was just trying it for the first time. Slowly I would build up to wilder and wilder tricks. By then any kids would be captivated and laughing. Then their mothers would start to pay attention. Finally, even the most off-standish guy would be interested in seeing what the gringo might be doing to get everyone so hysterical.

cute kids in Guatemale

Guatemalan man in traditional dress.

In many countries it seems the woman often still wear some kind of traditional dress but most men just basic pants and shirts. In the mid 1990's, many men in Guatemala were still wearing traditional cloths, often as colorful as the womens'. In subtle ways, I had the feeling that there was more equality between the sexes there than amongst the Latinos of European decent and definitely more than in much of Asia.

Guatemale farmers market

In Guatemala I did a day-trip walking from Lanquin, which is know for it's spectacular cave, to the Cahabón gorge where the river mostly disappears underground at a point called Semuc Champey and comes back out some hundred meters further on. I went with a Canadian woman and her 3 year old daughter, thinking I would could also help carry the child if she got tired on the app. 18 kilometer round trip. It was a beautiful day but as we started back, the air got much cooler and the stress of walking and the dust from the road aggravated my asthma. Then I realized I had forgotten my asthma spray. I was really struggling and it started to get dark and we still had some kilometers to go. I was against it but followed this woman as she tried to follow apparent short cuts to the winding road. The way got steeper and steeper and I thought I would collapse. Suddenly, I felt a burning sensation all over my legs. I switched on my flashlight, which I had left off until then to conserve the batteries. A trail of thousands of red ants was using the same path as us. I freaked out a bit and ran back down the path, stuck to the road and we eventually made it back. The release of adrenaline due to the ant bites possibly saved my life. Somehow this made me think of a fellow asthmatic American juggler who had also recently been working in Germany. Strangely, what I didn't know then, Marcus had tragically died from asthma on the streets on Munich around the same time as my episode but that's another story.

...tom in Peru...

Tom at Machu Pichu.

One of the highlights of my extensive travels in Peru was seeing Machu Pichu. One takes the train from the old city of Cusco. So many thieves and bag snatchers worked this train, watching their attempts was entertainment in it's own right. Then a bus up a long winding road. It's breath taking but such a hard to reach place, you wonder how it was found again none-the-less ever built. Some hardy tourists trek a section of the old Inca trail in or out of Machu Pichu. When I asked one such adventurer what I missed, he said it was ten days of cold torrential rain and mud. Sorry I was on too tight of a schedule to enjoy that. In Lima, I stumbled onto the circus school and theater group "La Tarumba". They teach circus skills to kids and bring messages of hope and fairness to an impoverished country which was emerging from years of civil unrest. They inspired me that a clown can actually impact society as a whole.

Machu Pichu, Peru

...tom in Bolivia...

Bolivia was my favorite country in South America. There are the beautiful Andes which in the east drop into the Amazon basin. A bus wreck in these regions means you go off the side of a mountain and fall a loooong way down like something out of an old road runner cartoon. The high plateaus toward the border with Chile contain the Atacama desert. Suppose to be the driest place on Earth but it drizzled one afternoon I was there. The nights are so clear, it is worth camping out under the stars but take a warm sleeping bag. Trips across the salt flats are popular and this high altitude lake is much saltier than the ocean yet it supports microscopic life which thousands of flamingos there thrive on.

There were public strikes throughout the country while I was there, stopping all public transportation. I and a bunch of other tourists got tired of being stuck in a small village. A travel agency paid a private bus to pick us up outside of town and bribed the local strikers to let us leave peacefully. But some locals didn't go along with the plan. They chased the bus, throwing stones for kilometers, with us running across the desert with our heavy backpacks trying to catch up. Half of the tourists were young Israelis fresh from the military. A good run through the desert with a heavy load and stones flying was probably just routine for them but it was ball breaking for me.

Bolivian highland salt lake

So, those were just a few tales from my many travels over the last twenty and something years through North, Central and South America, Europe, Asia, Morroco, Australia, Hawaii, PNG and New Zealand. I hope to make another website someday with more stories and many of the thousands of photos I took. Till then, I hope you've enjoyed another side of a traveling clown! If you want, write me an email or better yet, book my show or set a link to this website or just state me as the beneficiary of your will!

Here you can see yet more about
Toms world travels
- page 2

Tom's complete adventures, photos and stories as a world traveler on his new 20+ page website. www.world-traveler.eu
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