Colorado.FM Interview: Joshua Berman
Welcome to this episode of the Colorado.FM podcast where I had the pleasure of sitting down with award-winning travel writer, Denver Post columnist and Colorado camping aficionado Joshua Berman.
Josh’s articles and photography have appeared in the likes of The New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, Outside Traveler, 5280, and many more.
Josh is a freelance writer specializing in Travel/Adventure, Wilderness Education, and Spanish language education, especially in Central America and Colorado.
In our conversation, Josh tells how he was able to weave a common thread through writing from his time in the Peace Corps to his work for Moon Travel Guides where he is currently tasked with updates to both his Nicaragua Guide and, perhaps more relevantly to this podcast, the Colorado Camping Guide.
Josh has worked as a fixer in Central America for such shows as Bizarre Foods, and brings his love for Central American culture back to both his classrooms and the Colorado community as a whole through what he calls Nicarado events where Nicaraguan artists, writers, poets, come to Colorado.
Of course, we’ll be sure to put all of the relevant links from this conversation in the show notes. So now, here we go. My conversation with travel writer and columnist Joshua Berman.
Selected Links from the Episode
[2:30] Boulder – Nicaragua – Pakistan – Back to Boulder
[6:30] Honeymoon adventure becomes a book
[8:20] Back to Boulder
[9:25] Landing the Colorado Camping Guide
[14:35] Some standout campsites in Colorado
[17:45] Nicarado Connection – Nicaraguan cultural exchange in Colorado
[22:45] Being a ‘Purposeful Traveler’
[27:30] Some local favorite spots – Valmont Bike Park, Chautauqua Meadow Music
[29:30] Who Josh would love to hear on this podcast: Ryan Van Duzer
Colorado Podcast Interview with Joshua Berman
Josh Berman: Hello, everyone. And thanks for tuning into this episode of Colorado.FM – the Colorado podcast – where I had the pleasure of sitting down with award winning travel writer, Denver Post columnist and Colorado camping aficionado Joshua Berman. Josh’s article and photography have appeared in the likes of the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Outside Traveler, 5280 and many more.
Josh is a freelance writer specialing in travel adventure, wilderness education and Spanish language education, especially in Central America and Colorado. In our conversation, he tells how he was able to weave a common thread through writing from his time in the Peace Corps to his work for Moon Travel Guides where he is currently tasked with updates to both his Nicaragua guide and, perhaps more relevantly to this podcast, the Colorado Camping Guide.
Josh has even worked as a fixer in Central America for such shows as Bizarre Foods and he brings his love for Central American culture back to both his classrooms and the Colorado community as a whole through what he calls Nicardo Events. Where Nicaraguan artists, writers, poets, et cetera come to Colorado. You can find Josh online at joshuaberman.net as well as on Twitter at tranquilotravel and on Amazon where you can find his catalog of books. Of course we’ll be sure to put all the relevant links from this conversation in the show notes but for now, here we go … my conversation with travel writer and columnist Joshua Berman.Read More
Josh Berman: My pleasure, Doug.
Doug: As we let on in the intro, you’ve been a travel writer for over twelve years, or even longer probably.
Joshua Berman: I’d say about 20 years.
Doug: Okay. Man that’s a long career and you’ve also had a chance to do some of your travel writing right here in Colorado and so that was part of what was really interesting to me. You got in with Moon Handbooks but before we get into that, why don’t we back up and just tell us what led you on your path into writing and how that brought you to Colorado.
Joshua Berman: When I was 22, so recently out of college, I ended up in Boulder for a year and I got a job at a new startup magazine called Gravity where I was an intern. First an unpaid intern and then got on and learned the business of making magazines here, basically. And there was doing a whole bunch of other thing too. I was waiting for my Peace Corps application to go through and I ended up going to Nicaragua in the Peace Corps which eventually, 10 years later, was gonna lead me back to Colorado when I met my wife. But at first it was … yeah, went to Nicaragua with the idea that I wanted to keep writing. So I did my Peace Corps experience but also edited the Peace Corps publication with a buddy of mine.
While we were down there, this was 1998-2000, we realized there was no complete guidebook to Nicaragua. At all. And he and I worked together on the volunteer publication. So we wrote it and that got me into writing guidebooks, writing about travel, writing about Nicaragua. And what had happend was I had a niche all of the sudden put in my lap. I was the Nicaragua guy. I knew about travel there and that, to this day almost 20 years later, that’s one of my expertises, is travel in Nicaragua. So it was all pretty serendipitous. And ended up there and ended up writing this book and getting into guidebook writing and working for Moon. We wanted to write for them because they’re books are very thorough. So now I’ve written five titles for them and it’s about 19 years later and I’ve got three kids and I’m in Colorado and still figuring out away, yeah, to keep with this freelance travel writing thread through my life as I do other things.
Doug: Yeah. That’s amazing. When you were going into the Peace Corps, were you already writing a lot at that point? Were you thinking, “Man, I’m definitely gonna get a good story out of this.” Or, did you go in for different volunteering reasons and travel reasons and then thought, “Man, I should start writing this down.”
Josh Berman: The writing was secondary probably. Although, because while I was waiting for the application to go through and was working at Sport & Fitness Publishing and learning about magazines and realizing, actually, it’s not … this is something I want to do. I actually put off Peace Corps for four months or so because it was going so well at the magazine. But I figured out a way to support it pretty much immediately, by doing this volunteer publication. So, yeah, my primary reason, I wanted to learn another language. I wanted to live abroad. I wanted to experience that. I worked in environmental education so I was working with teachers down there. And some disaster relief. We were there for Hurricane Mitch, 1998.
I also just knew if you throw yourself into these incredible scenarios then the story’s gonna be there and that was a big theme of it. Putting myself out there in situations where I knew there was gonna be some kind of great story to tell.
Doug: Sure. And that became that common thread that you were starting to develop, kind of became a part of your marriage as well. Right? When you took off on another adventure on your honeymoon … and I learned this through you and I also saw some of these videos on your website, including your Boulder TEDx talk which we’ll be sure to link to and things like that. So you took off on a honeymoon and ended up with an amazing story and wrote a book on that as well.
Joshua Berman: Yeah. I met my wife … I met her in Baltimore of all places. She was from Colorado and we met through our mutual Peace Corps friends. She had done Peace Corps in The Gambia in West Africa. And we met, it was all pretty quick. We got married pretty quickly and decided that … we had each been in the Peace Corps. We had each had this transformative experience abroad but we knew that to have that experience together somewhere would really help us make up for lost time. We met when we were both 31 years old so we did it as a way to pressurize our new relationship. We went abroad. We signed up to volunteer in India and Sri Lank and Ghana. We connected those volunteer stints with several months of travel so we really kind of milked out … and did some freelancing while we were going along as well.
So we ended up traveling 16 countries in 16 months and came back and there’s the answer to your first question. That’s when we landed and Colorado. We wanted to come back and be here, we love the mountains … be near her family and accessible to my family back east and we landed where my wife got a job at the hospital. She’s a registered nurse who works with childbirth. The first job she got was Boulder and here we are. It’s been about 12 years now that we’ve been in Boulder and three daughters later.
Doug: Gotcha. Did you have much experience with Colorado before you got together with your wife?
Joshua Berman: A little bit. Yeah. Growing up I had an uncle and aunt and cousins in New York, growing up in New York. And they would take me to Colorado and that’s … I did learn to ski. We came on some vacations here. But it really was that year before the Peace Corps where I lived in Boulder. I slung bagels at Moe’s on Broadway. I was a security guard at the Boulder Theater. And, oh yeah, I had this magazine job. And then amidst all that going up and going hiking and backpacking and snowboarding.
Josh Berman: It was a little bit hard to give up when the Peace Corps invite finally came. It was definitely a fun year.
Doug: That’s interesting. So you’ve done your 16 months of travel. You’re back in Colorado and you already at that point have this experience with Moon writing the first Nicaragua book. Is that correct?
Josh Berman: Yeah.
The Colorado Camping Guide
Doug: Bring us to getting in charge of the Colorado camping book.
Josh Berman: I wrote the first four editions of Moon Nicaragua with my co author Randy Wood. And then we gave that up and some other people continued it and I’ve recently taken it back. So I’m going to Nicaragua next week to update the seventh edition of that book. Randy and I also wrote Moon Living Abroad in Nicaragua. I wrote the Moon Belize book for ten years for four editions of that. I did a regional book for them that was called Maya 2012 that was about the Maya calendar and the whole Maya region.
Then, a couple of years ago, I heard that the author of the Moon Colorado camping book could no longer continue the book. The way these work is somebody has to update these guidebooks every two or three years and that person’s name, with Moon, still goes on the cover and they get to update the text and take it over and make it theirs and I had that opportunity. I’ve been camping for years. Growing up, back east, going Outward Bound as a student and then as an instructor. I worked for a few years for them. I’ve done quite a bit of wilderness education and worked as a Wildland Firefighter one year. Managed to find jobs that paid me to sleep on the ground and go camping.
And as I travel around Colorado and get to know more places, and take my kids camping and try to get them into it, it just seemed the perfect timing for this. To take it over. Because updating the book forces you to get out there and do it. There’s no … real no excuses. You have a deadline and you have to literally visit as many campgrounds as possible. Which we did and I’ll get to update that next year as well.
Doug: Bring us into what that was like when you first took over the Colorado camping book and what that meant for your time as far as having the family. When did you do this and how did you get out there and see as much as you could of Colorado? There’s gotta be thousands of camp sites in this state.
Josh Berman: There are. There’s 480 campgrounds that are listed in my book. I knew I had to hit as many as I could and otherwise I had to find out has the price changed? Has the number of sites changed? Are reservations accepted now? There’s not that much that changes at a campground but sometimes they do get closed and new ones open. So you really do have to take a pretty thorough approach to sweeping the whole state and for me it’s all about balancing act with my schedule as a Spanish teacher and being able to work on my breaks and take on these bigger writing projects during the summer breaks, basically.
The goal was, two summers ago, the kids were ages two, five and eight. The youngest still in diapers. And we decided to go on a thirty day trip around the state. Pretty much anchored in the main national parks and national monuments and camped at almost a different place every single night. Tent camping. Setting it up, taking it down. Making sure that the little one didn’t fall in the fire or off a cliff. And it was exhausting. It’s not relaxing to camp with your family. It’s like there would be the little moments, a beautiful moment of sitting next to the camp fire and everyone’s relaxed and not fighting and safe. And then it’s … all mayhem breaks loose. And it’s just finding those moments and not turning the kids off to it. They enjoyed it. They saw a lot.
Doug: Yeah, I would imagine.
Josh Berman: My wife grew up in Colorado and she said in that summer our kids saw more of Colorado than she had growing up there.
Doug: I would imagine that would be a feat that’s hard to replicate. Until, maybe, I guess next summer if you update that book again. I don’t know what you’re committed to on that but, yeah … I just did a couple of days of camping at the Sand Dunes a couple of weeks ago and by the end of the second night everyone was pretty much ready to pack it in. So I can imagine what day 30 looked like of the camping caravan.
Josh Berman: Yeah. Hot springs help. We would break up the camping by staying in a few … and that’s what we did last summer, was do the similar loop anchored to the hot springs. And there was just enough to do and see around the state. It really is amazing how much is there.
Doug: Yeah. And so, out of 480 … I’m sure it’s difficult and I’m sure you get this question a lot. If you could get away for … I guess a couple of things. Like the weekend or versus, you had a little extra time. What places just stick out in your mind as being those places that were just super special where everbody seemed to be happy and entertained? And, I don’t know, something … maybe there was a nice river there or something. But whatever it was that just brought it together that really made it a great spot.
Josh Berman: I’d say there’s a lot of amazing ones. And the tricky thing is, the biggest question we always get too, is the reservations on the weekends thing. It really is hard to go out on the weekends. And you either are the kind of person that makes the reservations five, six months in advance or you can adapt if you don’t get into the campground you want and you’re kind of ready for that. But just about every campground we went to in the San Juan National Forest in the southwest of the state blew us away. Always in a different way. Transfer Campground is north of Mancos and that was in a beautiful aspen grove with this view of some sacred mountains.
The Teal Campground was one of our favorites. That was 22 miles north of Pagosa Springs and we ended up … it’s a first come first serve place and two years in a row we ended up at site 12 where you can walk your tent down this hill and just be in the middle of this huge meadow, looking out over this lake. So we started developing some little traditions. Hopefully, I’d like to make it back there. And Sand Dunes, too is one of our favorites. If you get a site on one of the outer loops in the Pinon Flats campground there, the one inside the park, that’s just spectacular.
Doug: Yeah. And that’s the reward you get, right, with camping? We were just there, like I mentioned, and it’s a little gritty in your teeth and maybe you didn’t sleep all that great. But when you walk out the view is just spectacular. It’s so … I mean, as soon as you walk out of your tent it’s just one of the most amazing things that you can see. And it almost doesn’t make sense, right? All that sand in the middle of the mountains. And so your mind’s just really working pretty hard on that. But those are great suggestions. I appreciate it. And, of course, like I said we’ll make sure we put links to any resources we mention in the show notes so that people can find these places. Because if something like Teal sticks out in your head, that’s probably pretty special amongst that month of traveling. And if you get there and spot 12 is taken it’s not my fault.
So that’s really interesting how you’ve been able to tie that experience … and I’m sure if I asked you the same thing for Nicaragua you would be able to go off, but that’s a different conversation, I think. But one of the things that is really interesting that you’re doing is bringing your love of Nicaragua and it’s culture right back here. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about some of the cultural things you’re doing to help bring awareness and bring some of that Nicaraguan culture right here back to Boulder and Denver and Colorado.
Joshua Berman: Sure, yeah. I feel really lucky to stay really connected with Nicaragua. It’s a very special country in Central America by itself, but also to me personally and I’m able to travel back there once or twice a year doing different work. And just stay connected to my friends and adopted family down there. And I discovered very soon after we moved here 12 years ago I discovered, I call it the Nicarado connection. There are … sometimes it’s official. One of Boulder’s official sister cities is [00:18:52] in Northern Nicaragua and there are several delegations that travel regularly from Boulder to Nicaragua. Several at CU Boulder who do that. There’s a lot of work, there’s a lot of international work that’s based in Colorado that does work in Nicaragua. Whether that’s bringing groups down there or supporting water projects down there. There’s NGOs that are based here and I just found that there’s a strong connection and I wanted to take advantage of it.
Over the years I’ve invited Nicaragua friends, musicians and writers and people to come visit. And they’ve come. Visited my Spanish classrooms. We’ve done radio shows. We’ve done live concerts and fundraising efforts. There’s a group called Empowerment International who just had … one of their graduates came up and visited some or our schools. They’re based in Grenada, Nicaragua and Boulder. And it just doesn’t feel like it’s a coincidence that that’s happening so I just feel really lucky to be able to keep that up and to bring that … just to share some of it.
In Peace Corps it’s called the third goad. The third goal is bringing knowledge of your host country back home and teaching people about that experience and what you learned there. So for me to have that alive in my classroom and in my community and in my city is … I feel pretty lucky to do that.
Doug: And like you said, as a teacher, that’s gotta be really special. Any time you get a chance to make it real, right? And if there is one thing that people knock Colorado and the front range for is kind of a lack of diversity. It’s always interesting to me though that there are all these opportunities out there to engage in the world that you just need to go look for them. And then, on top of that, people like you who are bringing the world to us … our kids benefit so immensely because in the classroom they’re learning Spanish and they’re doing some of these activities, but it makes it real when you bring in a poet from Nicaragua and they can talk and they can listen in their language and still understand what’s going on. It’s just like a really special moment and I’m sure they remember those days more than all the other ones combined, probably. I’m sure you can get a good sense for what the classroom’s like when you’re able to do that.
Joshua Berman: Yeah. There’s more opportunity than we realize. Even literally just down the … in front of our noses. Right across the street from the school where I teach there’s a taqueria called La Choza and that’s my standard field trip. I’ll take the 8th graders there, the high school students there, and we sit down and we eat tacos. They’re like Mexico City style street tacos but they have to … I make them talk with the people there and say how are you and what’s your name and where are you from. And how interesting is it that everyone we meet in North Boulder is from Zacatecas, the same state in Mexico? There’s some interesting community there and it’s just a matter of not only knowing that language but just knowing the cultural … what’s accepted to be able to approach somebody and talk to them. That’s the big thing that I learned in Nicaragua was you just talk to people all the time. So trying to keep that going here.
Doug: I think that really ties in. I mean, not all of us had that intense experience of being in the Peace Corps even if we have traveled pretty extensively. And you just don’t get that real tie in to the community when you’re a traveler. And so I was looking at your TEDx video on your website and you talk about being a purposeful traveler and I thought that was kind of interesting. And one of the things you said was that travel is not supposed to be easy. What does being a purposeful traveler mean to you?
Josh Berman: It’s a couple of things. One thing is it’s just traveling with a mission. With a job to do. Whether that’s I need to go visit as many campgrounds as I can in the next 30 days or whether it’s I’m going to Nicaragua next month and I’m going through this book and systematically checking it hotel by hotel and looking at all the prices and everything and just making sure that’s up to date. So knowing that you wake up in the morning and, yes, I’m in this beautiful place with these incredible people, but my job is to walk the grid of the city. Of this beautiful colonial city and duck in and out of cathedrals but really look at it systematically. And I like having that direction and that drive when I’m traveling. Sometimes.
When I’m with my family I like it also. And they often are with me when it’s on assignment. For my column in the Denver Post which is around Colorado, where everything outside of Denver is … we’re technically researching it when we go there. But it’s always a different pace when it’s with the family. But I like the idea of having a goal when you’re traveling. Or a theme. When < and I began our honeymoon, that extended honeymoon, we started in Pakistan. And the reason we did that is because her great grandfather had spent 50 years of his life there. He was a Presbyterian from New York and a scientist and a biologist and he had spent so much time there that we knew that if we went with the mission of looking up his past that doors would open for us. And they did. Immediately. Amazing doors opened for us there just because we mentioned his name and we went there … that whole family origin quest and I’ve hear of people doing that kind of trip and that’s fascinating to me.
So it’s really available to anyone, not just travel writers on assignment. But, make a reason for your trip or set a theme to it or make a research project out of it just for yourself or for your blog or whatever it is. And I think that that’s … it makes it easier to find something that you’re passionate about. It’ll bring it to life for you and it gives you a different lens to see each day through when you wake up in that colonial city.
Doug: Sure. And you get to bring that home once you get back. On your website it also mentions you had a gig as the fixer for Bizarre Foods show with Andrew Zimmerman.
Joshua Berman: Yeah. Yeah.
Doug: So, speaking of purposeful travel … did you have to eat anything weird when you did that with him?
Joshua Berman: I did. My job was to research and come up with the menu that he was gonna eat. It’s an hour long show. So the Travel Channel came to me in 2009, I had been writing the guidebook for about eight years and I had this network of people all over Nicaragua that I needed to do the guidebooks. And I was like, “What else can I use this network for?” And then the Travel Channel came asking questions about researching the show and I said oh, there it is. And I started calling all my friends that I knew down there and the chefs and the guides and I pulled together six stories for them. And I flew down there with them and then they ended up using me in one of the scenes as taking Andrew back to my Peace Corps site, to my village and treating them to some dishes there.
Doug: Oh, nice. It’s amazing that you have been able to keep that common thread going from that experience through to your current life. Including, like you said, leaving in a week or so to go to redo that book again. I like to start wrapping these things up by asking people some of their favorite spots and activities to do. You already mentioned obviously from your camping trips some great spots. What about just right here in Boulder? When you have a Saturday, whether it’s just to yourself or with the kids, what’s a can’t lose kind of day for you?
Joshua Berman: When it’s with the kids and the weather is perfect, which it usually is here except for the couple handful of hot days and the handful of cold days, but my kids love going to the Valmont Bike Park. It’s free. It’s active. We try to go early. The other day when we went the four year old face planted on the very first little hill-
Joshua Berman: … down into the skills loop so that ended that trip early. The kids are now … they’re still pretty young but they’re getting out there. So bike park and the library … make it to the library for story time, and that’s the morning. But it’s just so easy. They’re not big hikers yet but we’re trying to edge them toward that way and there’s so many places to do it. And tonight there’s a free concert down at Chautauqua, out in the meadows there, and there’s just no shortage of things to do here. Whether it’s just going downtown and hanging out next to the creek.
Doug: Yeah, the bike park is a great one. That place is amazing. It’s a really great, local resource. And then the Chautauqua concerts, what do they call those again? [crosstalk 00:29:13]
Joshua Berman: Music in the Meadow, I think.
Doug: Music in the Meadow, okay.
Joshua Berman: The Jeff & Paige concert that’s sponsored by the city and Open Spaces.
Doug: Okay. Right.
Joshua Berman: So, pretty classic Boulder scene. A lot of kids running around.
Doug: Right. Yeah. So that’s a good one even if you’re just coming in town just to look up.
Joshua Berman: Every Monday evening during the summer, 5:30. The show starts at 6, there’s a family hike right before that so …
Doug: Oh, there you go. And then the last thing I like to ask is, who would you love to hear on this podcast? You got any ideas for that?
Joshua Berman: You know, there’s so many great characters around the state and around Boulder. But one of my favorite is Ryan Van Duzer … is a Boulder boy who I first met him because he was in the Peace Corps in Honduras and we had some common Peace Corps friends. Exc pet when he finished his Peace Corps he got on his mountain bike and rode it home to Boulder from Honduras.
Joshua Berman: So he’s kind of a long distance cycling adventure guy. Travels the world but is based right up the road here. So he and I check in, every few months we’ll see each other and sit down and catch up. He films shows for Nat Geo and Travel Channel and Discovery all around the world but he’s just based in his little place up there.
Doug: Oh, no way. Wow. Well, that’s a conversation I would love to have.
Joshua Berman: Bicycle Missionary, I think, would be part of his title.
Doug: Okay. Nice. I’ll have to look him up and, again, put any links and maybe with your help I can get in touch with this guy. That would be fantastic.
Joshua Berman: We can nail him down.
Doug: Yeah, if he’s not riding around somewhere, right?
Joshua Berman: Yep.
Doug: Awesome. Well, I gotta say it’s just really interesting to hear some of the backstory on how you’ve ended up here and, again, this common thread that you’ve been able to weave through your personal and professional life is just fascinating. And so thanks for sharing the story with us and thanks for all those great recommendations. That’s the kind of information I think we can all use.
Joshua Berman: Well, thanks for having me Doug. Yeah, just keep … we’re exploring whether we’re doing it down the block in Boulder or around the world or down Nicaragua. So [crosstalk 00:31:37]
Doug: Right. Just explore, every day of your life, right? Just keep exploring. Awesome. All right. Thanks again.
Joshua Berman: Thank you.
Doug: Hey, everyone. Again, thanks for listening. As we mentioned in the intro, you’ll be able to find all of the relevant links and resources from this podcast in the show notes. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or however you like to consume podcasts. And you can also join our e-mail list for updates. If you can, please leave a review on iTunes. It really helps us get the word out on the great folks we were talking to here at Colorado.FM. So again, thanks a lot and we will talk to you soon.