Interviewing the Unbreakable Vasilisa Komarova

Show notes for podcast #134
Interviewing the Unbreakable Vasilisa Komarova

In a special guest interview, Bruce Dorn spends time in Tulum, Mexico with Vasilisa Komarova - an adventure motorcyclist, physical therapist, and spiritual guide. They discuss Vasilisa's early life in Russia, her emigration to the UK, and her decision to eschew convention to spend her life chasing adventure and distant horizons.


Host Bio:

My name is Bruce Dorn and I’ve been a full-time professional image-maker since 1973 when I was “discovered” by the editorial staff at Conde Nast – the publishers of Architectural Digest, Glamour, Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily, and Vanity Fair magazines.

At the time of my unexpected but most welcome Big Break, I was a college Senior working on a Bachelor’s Degree in Design and paying my way as a grease monkey at the local Texaco station.  When I heard the news that I was being recognized as “One of the top creative college students in the nation” I was changing the spark-plugs on my girlfriend’s car.  Next thing I knew I was shooting editorial fashion spreads in New York, Paris, and countless other beautiful locations around the globe.

Over time, I segued from Fashion Photography into Advertising Photography and eventually from Still Photography “Only” to the Production and Direction of television commercials for a “Who’s-Who” of Fortune 500 Companies.  I was inducted into the Directors Guild of America in 1984.

As a Director/Cameraman working in Hollywood, my areas of specialty have been in the categories of Automotive, Fashion, Life Style, Light Comedy, Aerials, Underwater, and Digital Effects Design.  Over the years, I’ve sharpened my skills through professional competitions and have earned almost all of the major industry awards.

Common to all of my many and varied visual pursuits has been my clients’ consistent demand for imagery that is both compelling and visually attractive.  With hindsight being 20/20, I’ve come to realize that it’s been my innate ability to recognize and celebrate subtle beauty that has been at the core of all of my successes as an image-maker.

Now it’s time to pay it forward.  I’ve learned quite a few interesting and useful things during my long and fruitful career and look forward to sharing them generously on this blog.  Positive interaction with my blog’s visitors will be my primary payback so please join me as I continue in a relentless pursuit of beauty.  Who knows where this little creative adventure will ultimately lead us? @bruce.dorn


You can follow many of Vasilisa’s adventures on her instagram: @mythousandsmiles







Scott Brady:  Hello and welcome to the Overland Journal podcast. I am your host, Scott Brady. And for today's installment, we have a special guest interviewer in Bruce Dorn. Many of you know know Bruce from his contributions to Overland Journal and his recent time on the Overland Journal podcast. Bruce interviews Vasilisa Komarova. They conduct the interview down in Mexico, and Bruce and Vasa have developed a longtime friendship as fellow travelers and photographers for those that have sensitivity around disturbing subjects. You'll wanna stop listening to the podcast at this time because Bruce's interview with Vasilisa Komarova includes details about her brutal rape in Bolivia in 2017. So we not only learn about Vasilisa Komarova”s [00:01:00] brutal assault, but we also learn about her unbreakable spirit. Vasilisa overcame incredible odds coming back from being left for dead at the side of that lake to ultimately seeing her assailant prosecuted and serving now time in prison in Bolivia. This is an important conversation. It's a difficult one for Bruce and it's a difficult one for Vasilisa to have, but you will come away being so impressed with her as an individual. And this is just gonna be the first installment with Vasilisa. There's more conversations coming up and you can read more about Vasilisa’s story in the spring 2023 issue of Overland Journal. And we thank you all for listening, and we'll talk to you next time. This content is brought to you by Overland Journal, our premium quality print publication. The magazine [00:02:00] was founded in 2006 with the goal of providing independent equipment and vehicle reviews along with the most stunning adventures and photography. We care deeply about the countries and cultures. We visit and share our experiences freely with our reader. We also have zero advertorial policy and do not accept any advertiser compensation for our reviews. By subscribing to Overland Journal, you're helping to support our employee owned and veteran owned publication. Your support also provides resources and funding for content like you are watching or listening to right now. You can subscribe directly on our website at Overland Journal dot. 

Bruce Dorn:Welcome to the Overland Journal podcast. I'm the Overland Journal's senior photographer and occasional writer, Bruce Dorn, and I'm here with Vasilisa Komarova, my longtime friend [00:03:00] who I have been face-to-face with for 20 minutes back in, about that. When, when you came out to the show in, in, London. I was over there to do a little presentation at the Apple Store. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Who could think we would meet here? 

Bruce Dorn: I know, it's crazy. It's crazy. It's crazy. Vasilisa came to my show and, skated in and, couldn't help but notice you. You came right up to the front row and you were very attentive, and we spoke for a few minutes afterwards. I learned that you were an adventure traveler and at that time, I believe you had already been traveling for a while and I was doing a show on adventure, photojournalism advanced for filmmaking. So, if I recall you, you have always wanted to be a traveler. You traveled by motorcycle. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Yes. 

Bruce Dorn: And, tell me about when you were a kid. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Well, the thing is that, I grew up in Soviet Union and in Soviet [00:04:00] Union, the kid could dream about anything to be astronaut, to be a scientist, policeman, fireman, but not a traveler because we lived behind the iron border and because few things that happened personally to my family when Soviet Union fall apart, like traveling was out of question for me. And I grew up on reading, Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain. You know, I wanted to do a lot of, you know, discovery of the world to have all the adventure. So I guess, you know, in the way being so.  out of possibility of traveling and just seeing it once in a while, you know, in some programs because even the programs from from abroad almost didn't come to Russian Union. I remember there was one program on traveling only like one an hour, and I was always like waiting for this moment, and I guess it's really what I was dreaming since I remember myself, literally since I started to understand things and understand who I am, I [00:05:00] wanted to travel. 

Bruce Dorn: I have this vision of you as a like an eight year old girl who just sees the mountains in the distance or sees the horizon and just wants to go over it. And, and you've been, you've been doing that, but, but there was something in between. So you, as I also recall, you're trained as an attorney, as a lawyer. 

Vasilisa Komarova: I, as I was working in Russia as the. Assistant of the lawyer because by the time I could become a lawyer, understood that it's not what I want to do because, I was interested in criminal law more than anything and I saw things that, broke my heart and my paradigmo, you know, of all the world. And I realized that, you know, in Russia, I cannot really.  changed the system. So, and we say, you know, like you cannot walk on, on dirt and not to become dirty. So I decided just to leave it all behind me and, start from the scratch. And because of the [00:06:00] person who I was working that the moment in Russia was really high and close to the government, you know, like I saw things that made me, didn't want to be around all, so.

Bruce Dorn: How much time did you invest, in being in, in the legal system where you saw the stuff?

Vasilisa Komarova:  In about eight years. 

Bruce Dorn: Eight years? 

Vasilisa Komarova: Yeah. Like, college academia diploma, then working, you know, so, yeah. Bruce Dorn: And you had enough, you finally had enough and you decided that was it? 

Vasilisa Komarova: There was a tragedy. Which, which I don't need to go into the details, and that, that tragedy made a huge impact on me, and, I realized there is no, no way I want to be part of this.

Bruce Dorn: And then, when we met, you were in London, had and had been in London for a while, and you were not practicing law. You never went back to that. And I believe that you were a personal trainer and a fitness champion. I think you were [00:07:00] already a fitness champion. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Oh, I don't remember if I was already champion by that time. And I think.

Bruce Dorn: You were on the way?

Vasilisa Komarova: Maybe? Yeah, I was maybe on the way because, I don't know if I mentioned that I did photography for some time also in London. Yeah, I did photography for some time. I was working on some books then. I was working on Studio photography then, you know, I was teaching Photoshop like some few people. Yes. And won some competitions, also this photography, Photoshop. But afterwards, also something happened and I eventually I went to Vietnam to meditate and think, you know, about my life and the end I decided to put, more things together. So at some point, you know, I can just go. You know, to chase my horizon.

Bruce Dorn: This explains a lot because your photography is fantastic. After we met, we exchanged, Instagram information and I began to follow you. And, your work is terrific. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Thank you. 

Bruce Dorn: It's terrific. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Thank you. [00:08:00] 

Bruce Dorn: I was going, what the heck? She's so good at this, you know, but, I really enjoyed following, your travels and, and admire your work. So you began making short trips, out of the country and you went to Vietnam and some other places. And I.

Vasilisa Komarova: I have been almost, almost all over Asia, but it would be like one a month, one or two months at the time. Because of that time I was working as a personal trainer. And I would lead my clients for year and more. And most of the time, you know, sometime between mid of December to the mid of January as much, through whole August, that was dead period. So I could take at least those two months, you know, out of the year, just go into the country. Find the motorcycle, put my backpack on the motorcycle and just go to explore and then come back to London and live normal life.

Bruce Dorn: Well, you know, since arriving [00:09:00] here in Tulum to, to meet with you, all I've wanted to do is buy a motorcycle. I wanna buy a motorcycle and run around. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Well, you have long, you United States, right? 

Bruce Dorn: Well, you know, I'm kind of light on motorcycles at the moment. I sold my beloved Harley. The fellow who owns it has promised me visitation rights, so yeah.

Vasilisa Komarova: But I can see that you understand you're guilty, right? You're guilty. 

Bruce Dorn: Well, you know, as you get older and slower witted. I don't know if motorcycles are exactly the right choice, but.

Vasilisa Komarova: They're always right choice. 

Bruce Dorn: They're the right choice. They're the right choice. I started making, the wrong choice of motorcycles at a very young age. I was racing motocross and stuff when I was about 14, and.

Vasilisa Komarova: Oh, that’s awesome. 

Bruce Dorn: Oh yeah. No, I, I wouldn't have changed anything, but I crashed a lot. 

Vasilisa Komarova: So did I you know, here we are.

Bruce Dorn:  It, it goes with, it goes with the. With the excitement. Can't have the excitement without paying a price sometimes.

Vasilisa Komarova: Exactly. 

Bruce Dorn: But [00:10:00] so you would, you would go somewhere, get a bike, get a map, and find the most remote path and follow it?

Vasilisa Komarova: Yeah, usually I, but I think, you know, like now these years past, I understand that I did things that I shouldn't have done , you know, because that time it was no gps, nothing. So I would usually get, you know, painted map, then I would like. There is a lot of green and there is a dot. Hmm. It must be interesting. And I would go there, you know, but obviously, you know, it would bring me into like, you know, I'm here now to tell the story, so I've done everything right. 

Bruce Dorn: Everything is perfect. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Yes. But let's say if I would have children or anything, I would definitely not want to, want to do those things because I don't know, it's, it's a miracle that I'm still around.

Bruce Dorn: Yeah. So, yeah, I, I think that I'm part cat because cats have nine lives and I at least nine, so, so yeah, you can call me Cat daddy. I, I'm gonna adopt that title. Cat, daddy. [00:11:00] Adventure travel. Adventure travel. It wasn't even called that then. You were just driven to pursue? 

Vasilisa Komarova: Yeah. I even didn't know, like, you know, I never read, I still haven't read a single blog on traveling on the motorcycles And now I think, you know, maybe when I started, you know, I should have read something because you know, all what I had my roller blade parts. You know, Roller blade gloves, I would get, you know, the cheapest, helmet and I didn't have any protection. I would just take, you know, my, my backpack, put it on the motorcycle and like learn on the way

Bruce Dorn: But you, I get the impression you really believe that it's a great way to self-actualize it. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Exactly. Because, you know, like, it, it's like it brought me the most amazing experiences. If I didn't get lost, if I didn't crash, I wouldn't, you know, Made all those stories that I have to remember. You know, like once I was lost, monks took me to live in the monastery, another time you know, the tribe took me [00:12:00] to live with them and they healed me, and I wouldn't get inside of those places and get connected with people if I did everything. Correctly. You know, so like as long as you follow your heart and you feel it and you trust your intuition, the God, the journey, or wherever you want to call it, will take you exactly where you want to be taken.

Bruce Dorn: I believe that. I believe the universe rewards those who are brave. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Exactly.

Bruce Dorn: And I have daughters and granddaughters. And as a grandfather, you know, it's a little different than being a father. You really don't want your daughters to do anything dangerous. But with the granddaughters, you kind of want 'em to have a, an adventure, but you also want 'em to figure out the best ways to be safe.

Vasilisa Komarova: Exactly. You know? I think it's not making mistakes, but you know, learning from mistakes that make you great person. Because if you never tried, if you never could burn yourself, who you going to be? You know, like you [00:13:00] will be just a jerry without water in it. 

Bruce Dorn: So, so before you did most of Southeast Asia and then, I think you were getting ready to head towards South America to do what I have always thought of as a transact from the southernmost point up to Alaska. I think that when we, yeah, we talked, you were, your goal was to do that, that journey and, along the way you, you had a some, terrible experience, and that's the subject of the article in the Overland Journal of the Spring Edition of 2023. So that's out there to learn from, but after, after, having just, an awful experience and. , pulling yourself out of that, which was, not a slow process. And I think, I feel like the fighter that you are from your, your goals of, of working in law and trying to champion, people, who are [00:14:00] in legal issues, I think probably helped you survive the.

Vasilisa Komarova: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because, you know, like I believed into doing the correct thing, you know, and I believed in the, the rightness of putting those people into the jail, and it was so strong, that belief inside of me that, you know, I was just following it wherever, wherever anyone would tell, because even the people who were my side and helping me, eventually they would say, you know, we know that you're not going to win. But because nobody tried before, we will use your case as a study case so we know all the mistakes in the system, how afterwards to help to other people. But when I, when I won, you know, like even in the court, I remember, you know, the am waste faces because it was like a miracle happened. Bruce Dorn: You never let go. You refused to let go and, you're unbreakable. Yeah, well, [00:15:00] which, which brought, finally you were able to, and there's no way that you can put that terrible experience, completely behind you, but.

Vasilisa Komarova: No, no, I, I can, because you know, like now, now even. When I look back, I believe, I know it's may sound strange, you know, because everything was going on right in the world right now. But I believe that universe puts on our shoulders only what we can carry, and it's depend on us, how we carry it and how we react. So now what something happens, for example, last year started. Terribly for me, you know, things happened, but by then I already believed into the, into the great thing around above me, and so I knew that whatever happens now, I won't. I won't dive into it with the sadness, I will see how I can learn from that and my horrible experience to what I had. Now when I look back, I know it sounds strange, but I'm grateful to universe for that because it never would make me so [00:16:00] strong as I am now. It wouldn't, I would, I would not become unbreakable if someone didn't try to break me before.

Bruce Dorn: Exactly. So exactly. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Everything is.

Bruce Dorn: And, and, and here you are. You know, we, the way that I discovered that you were, going through the troubles was that you, you sort of disappeared off of social media for a little while. And, and then we reconnected and we, had a lot of exchanges and, I've tried to kind of be there for you as just a, a friend out there far, far away. But now here you are and, and you, you, I, I feel like your journey, your physical journey is going to continue. But here you're planted in Tulum at this time and you're feeling very I, happy, satisfied at the moment. Vasilisa Komarova: Absolutely. Because here it's, I'm now putting together, I feel like, you know, eventually everything that happened to me in my life, [00:17:00] you know, like from the childhood, you know, from the background where I grew up, my family, things that happened, my education, everything, you know, it was like bits of puzzle. And now, eventually, you know, here I can bring all the puzzle together into one beautiful picture and this beautiful picture make a change in the world. So I'm working on this now. 

Bruce Dorn: I love it. I love it. I truly think that every moment, positive or difficult, builds us to a certain point where we can do things that we're destined to do. But, so do you anticipate that you'll, you'll be planted here for a while, you have, new projects? 

Vasilisa Komarova: Yes and Yes. Because.

Bruce Dorn: Tell me, tell me a little bit about the new project. 

Vasilisa Komarova: So here in Tulum, I came back to my spiritual part, and now I'm helping. Some women, again, to go through certain trauma. So far been doing it mostly one-to-one with some friends, but now [00:18:00] I'm forming, tours, motorcycle tour. Like right now I'm looking for motorcycles or for the companies who want to help me on this in the way of the promotion of the tour only for women. Starting with the short, like four or five days around the Utah can and then taking them further out. Those who don't drive yet super well, but who I can help on the way and through this help to give them power because motorcycle and traveling is so empowering, so, During the day, we would travel and then we would have, you know, women circle discussion, bringing out all the traumas, discussion the traumas, and putting all that power, which we learn during the day into this content and through this to empower.

Bruce Dorn: Such good work, such good work. And I'm, I'm certain it will. Bear fruit and it will be a fantastic success. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Thank you. 

Bruce Dorn: And, [00:19:00] as it goes forward, I'm gonna be a force multiplier for you as, as you, get this going. I look forward to helping you, turn it into something really big. And I hope that it reaches far, far beyond here, although this is a spectacular place.

Vasilisa Komarova: Yeah. When universe want to help you, you just need to be grateful, so I'm really grateful. 

Bruce Dorn: Yes, exactly. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Thank you. 

Bruce Dorn: Exactly. So, gosh, there's so much to talk about, but this has been a really great moment, time to catch up a little bit. Do you have anything that you want to, promote a little bit more or talk about a little bit more? The tours? Do you have a name for your tour group or for this thing yet? 

Vasilisa Komarova: So, so far I will start at My Thousand Smiles. It's, yeah, it's my name, so I haven’t thought about the company. I want to, to follow these because, you know, my, this, this, you can play towards, so like thousands miles and this, this thousand miles to have [00:20:00] thousand smiles and we'll see if it's grow into some another world or anything. But this is the main thing Also, my, my, groups, I call them, sisterhood, Phoenix sisterhood because you know those women usually had also quite few traumas behind, and as I said, you know, it's. When you go through the term trauma, it's what makes you stronger. So we, all of us, like Phoenixes coming out of the ash and ready to fly.

Bruce Dorn: Yeah. The, the Phoenix rising, I've used that to describe you many times and it sounds like you're continuing to soar and we'll continue to do so. And, Vasilisa’s Instagram. My thousand smiles at My thousand Smiles. Look deep back into her feed. You'll see a lot of amazing imagery and you'll see the story of an amazing woman [00:21:00] So happy. So, all right, Vasilisa Thanks. I'm, I just, I can't wait to share more and, hear more about your projects and your success. 

Vasilisa Komarova: Thank you. Thank you for coming all the way here. 

Bruce Dorn: Oh, it's awful to come to Tulum. You know, you could have invited, she could have invited me before, but now that I have this Villa, you know, it, it's all good. It's all good. So I'll be back anytime. Right. Thanks folks. Bruce Dorn for the Overland Journal podcast.