The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 23, 2012

World traveler shares passion for visiting cultures abroad

Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — Last Thursday, despite triple-digit temperatures, Shaun Steele ran with the bulls down Joplin’s Main Street with nearly 200 others, avoiding horn-helmeted roller derby players on skates. Proceeds went to the Joplin Area Catholic School system and the Ronald McDonald House. The idea of it all came from personal experiences. Back in 2007, and again in 2010, Steele found himself in Pamplona, Spain, participating in the real deal.

“It was amazing,” said Steele, who ran for a Joplin City Council seat earlier this year. “It was such a wonderful experience. It was 24 hours, seven days a week. They only stopped the bulls to clean the streets.”

During his second run, a man tripped in front of him and Steele had to leap over the unfortunate man.

“(The bulls) have bells around their necks so you can hear them running up behind you,” Steele said. “You can almost feel one of those horns going up in you, but luckily the (bulls) were a little bit away from me.”

Later, in the arena, Steele ran up to a snorting bull to touch it with his hand.

“He turned around,” he said. “I just froze. And we were staring at each other, maybe 10 feet apart at the most. And then somebody ran between us and the bull took off after him. But for that moment, I was staring into the eyes of a very big and mad bull, and I was thinking, ‘Oh, what have I done?’”

Saving for sojourns

Running with the bulls in Spain was just one of many memorable moments from Steele’s multiple trips abroad.

The Joplin resident and McAuley High School graduate loves to travel -- so much so that he works a second job at Joplin’s Club 609 to make enough extra cash, or “fun money,” as he calls it, to travel abroad during the hot summer months. Steele also is a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service

“I started a bit late,” he said. “My first trip was to Europe in 2007.”

It was a 31-day, 1,800-mile odyssey that took him from Spain all the way east to Turkey. He stayed with family or friends along the way, eagerly taking in the foreign sites and sounds.

The effect was intoxicating.

“I’d always wanted to travel,” Steel said. “Once I did, it just stuck with me. Now I just want to travel all the time.”

He’s visited Belgium, Croatia, Slovenia and Lebanon, to name a few places. On his to-do list are future visits to Ireland, the Greek Isles, India, Vietnam and Cambodia. He was back in Joplin last week after an exciting stay in Central and South America, visiting friends in Costa Rica, Bolivia and Peru.

“I love seeing the different cultures,” Steele said. “To see how they live, their lifestyles. Everybody (was) so friendly. That always gives me a little motivation to go back.”

While some Americans visiting foreign places are glad to return home, Steele says the opposite happens to him. He hates it when his trips come to an end.

“When you meet people who are friendly to you, it’s like having another family,” Steele said. “To leave them, it feels like your are leaving your own home.”

Travel tales

Steele has had some memorable experiences. In Lebanon, for example, he stayed with a Christian family who socialized with the Muslim families living in the southern portion of the country. There was no visible animosity that he saw during his stay there.

In Peru, he trekked up the backside of Machu Picchu, seeking the mysterious ruins at the top. Halfway up, there was a huge

festival “that felt like a big welcoming party for me.” At the top, the view, he said, “was breathtaking.”

In Bolivia, there was a transit strike going on in La Paz. Transit drivers had parked city buses and taxi cabs to block all the roadways in and out of town. So Steele hopped out and walked six miles to the airport -- up a 2,000-foot incline.

During a seven-hour layover at the Istanbul airport, Steele took a taxi to a train, then took a train out of the city before getting off the train and hiking back into the city so he could be back at the airport for his next flight.

“I just wanted to see the countryside,” he said.

In France, Steele participated in France’s Bastille Day. It commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, seen as a symbol of the rise of modern France. In the shadows of the Eiffel Tower, Steele ate and drank and watched couples dance around him.

There was none of the French-American hostility so bandied about by the media, he said.

“Nobody treated me any differently,” Steele said. “I sat down with them and traded with some people, and they were dancing around, and they even invited me to dance.”

A few French citizens did seem a bit puzzled why a young American would care about a French holiday.

“I told them that freedom should be celebrated by everyone all over the world,” Steele said with a chuckle. “And I guess they liked my answer, because we were all pals after that.”

Fun-loving feel

Basically, Steele just loves to travel, whether it’s abroad or here in the states. He’s visited 42 of America’s 50 states.

“I’m hungry to see more and go to more places,” he said.

But once in a while, Steele admitted it’s nice to come back to Joplin.

“I’m tapped out for this year,” Steele said. “I like to go as hard and fast as I can while I’m there, and then when I come back here, I’m exhausted. I have to go back to work to get some rest.”

He said he would like to transplant some of that fun-loving spirit he’s witnessed in places like France, Bolivia, Peru and Lebanon, and light it on fire in Southwest Missouri.

“Every time I got somewhere, it seems like most of the people are celebrating,” he said. “They’re in a good mood. They’re happy. They’re friendly. They’re having the best times of their lives, and they want you to join them.

Steele said he saw the city’s spirit bump up a notch or two after the May 2011 tornado, when the community rallied to help each other -- even celebrate each other -- in a way never quite seen before in city history.

“So many people have been motivated that I’d like to see more of that here in Joplin,” he said. “More involvement that brings this community together.”