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Wild Thoughts

21 Oct

After the disaster that was Fifty Shades, I rushed to the bookstore and prayed to the gods of the bargain shelf.  They gave me Cheryl Strayed’s gutty memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  It is powerful.  It’s sad.  It’s haunting.  And I don’t know exactly how I feel about it.  Or how I feel about her.  But it’s touched me.

Cheryl is 26 when she begins her 1,100-mile hike through California and Oregon.  She says she’s at a “low and mixed up” point in her life; she’s better described as majorly f***ed up.  The death of her beloved mother – “the love of her life” – 4 years prior has destroyed her.  Having abandoned her bedside promise to finish college, she is waitressing… and shooting heroin into her ankles and having lots of indiscriminate sex (including with all 5 of the line cooks in the course of 1 month), which, coincidentally, leads to the end of her 7-year marriage and an abortion.  On top of it all, as if to prove the point, in the wake of her divorce she’s changed her name to “Strayed” in a cliched stab at self reinvention.

Cheryl starting on the Pacific Crest Trail at age 26.

To say the least, it’s gritty, and it feels real and it feels raw in a way that makes Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love seem downright silly.  This is not an indulgent book-advance-funded quest for enlightenment.  The ethos is pragmatic self-reliance.  God, she says, is “a ruthless bitch.”

Nothing at all extraordinary happens to Cheryl on her long hike.  She meets some interesting people and has some scary moments, which she conveys sharply and vividly; but in the end, they barely matter.  It’s the whole of it that’s compelling.

Her story is both deeply sad and strangely beautiful.  I guess that’s life.

Yesterday, I arrived in Singapore, and I bought a mini-bottle of Cab Sauv from 7-Eleven, and I snuck it into a movie theater to watch Taken 2.  And the thought invaded my head yet again: “what the dragonfruit am I doing here?”  I should be at home – taking hot showers – practicing law – building a life – going on dates — paying my student loans! – decorating an apartment.  Not halfway around the world, at the movies, alone, drinking bad wine from the bottle.

But Wild helped.

If Cheryl’s trip is about about piecing together a life that has come apart, then mine is about coming to terms with a life that has never really been put together.  It is about allowing myself, finally, to acknowledge my own brokenness.  To pick up the pieces and to feel, for once, the sharp edges.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that at the end of it all, when I find my way back to my Dad’s couch, the ending of my story is going to be the same as hers:

Nothing has changed, but everything has changed.

Cheryl completed her big hike in 1995; she published Wild earlier this year.  17 years later.  And that’s how it will be with my story.  Changed forever in ways that only time will reveal.

Staying Healthy While Abroad, Part II

9 Aug

Great chapter.

The book review continues!  More about “How to Shit Around the World” by the “Shit Doctor.”

Let’s start with some good news.  The book says that infectious and communicable diseases only kill 4% of those travelers that die abroad (accidents are the most likely way to go).  Comforting (maybe?).

Next, the snippet in the book that really stops you in your tracks:

Who takes their three-month-old infant trekking in the Himalayas?  And what the heck does it matter that it was “along a forested ridge that crossed a road halfway”?  Any guess what happens next?!! I will tell you. Someone steals their diapers, and Harriet gets bronchitis.

While we’re on the subject of Nepal (where I will be in less than a month, ahhh!):

So many questions!  What do smart female trekkers in Nepal do? And what exactly does she mean by “unwanted nocturnal encounters”?

Onto some more gems I’ve mined from the pages.  The most common ailment of the traveler is, of course, none other than traveler’s diarrhea, which seems easy enough to handle:

Simple enough.

But then she implies that a book may be necessary as well:

What does reading have to do with shitting?

In any event, when you are dealing with the shits around the world, you will have no toilet paper.  Which you should feel good about:

And, for the record, I’m willing to bet that I am way above average when it comes to toilet paper usage.

On a slightly more serious note, though, here’s my basic strategy on trying to stay healthy on the Big Trip:

  • Smart preparation (vaccines, meds, insurance, awareness).
  • Keep in mind the trusty travelers’ maxim: “Peel it, boil it, cook it, or forget it.”
  • Eat freshly cooked, piping hot food.  This will mean a lot of eating local (pad thai in Thailand, folks, not lasagna) and, likely, not being afraid of the street vendor, however questionable his setup.
  • Never touch a salad.  Someone probably shit all over it in the field, and no one has bothered to wash it.  And even if they did wash it, it was probably with shit water.
  • The fact that water is bottled means jack.  When in doubt, sterilize.  Yay for my Steripen!
  • Be more hygienic than I am at home = in particular, lots of hand washing.

I’ll let you know how it works out!  Comment below if you’ve got a suggestion for me.

Staying Healthy While Abroad, Part I

8 Aug

It’s book review time!

A travel blog suggested I read the above book pre-RTW in order to learn how to stay healthy abroad.  I obliged.  Hmm.  We may have another crackhead on our hands.

The author calls herself the Shit Doctor, and she quickly overwhelmed me.  Holy shit (if she can say it, so can I), I thought.  Basically, I figure, if I follow all of her rules (don’t eat meat! dairy! veggies! fruit!), I will starve to death.  Right after I die of thirst.

I’ll save you from reading the book yourself by providing the highlights:

Seaweed is the only safe thing to eat.  Can’t wait to try the pink kind.

Okay.  Obviously there is no explanation needed.

Who calls a fish an individual? Pick your fish like you pick your women, folks: clear eyes and a firm, intact body that smells all right! Otherwise, you will be paralyzed and dead in 12 hours.

Oh yes, and remember yesterday’s post about the threat of stray, rabid dogs?  The Shit Doctor has a solution:

I’m calling bullshit on this one. You will just get yourself bit in the face.

The Shit Doctor also reminds you to take a flashlight when you go to the bathroom at night.  Otherwise, you risk the same fate as pregnant, blind Nepalese women:

What. the. shit.

Helpful idea on how to do your laundry:

No comment.

I do note that this book may indeed be helpful if you are an idiot:

So this book gets at least one thing right.

This highlight reel ain’t over yet!  I’ve still got a few more things to say about the book.  Expect Part II shortly.

Indispensable! Travel Advice

20 Jul

By this point, I have read a lot of travel advice books.  What have I learned?  Well, for starters, I’ve learned that people smoke a lot of crack when they write these books.  As an example, let’s take Thalia Zepatos’ A Journey of One’s Own: Uncommon Travel Advice for the Independent Woman Traveler, which boasts a five-star rating on Amazon. Here is some of her advice, in the order in which it is dispensed in the book:

Gee wiz, I will go from lawyer to prostitute in one plane ride!

So the men, they want to marry prostitutes? They must watch too much Pretty Woman out there.

Okay! Great. Don’t even want to know how that works.

Well I’ll be damned.

Edit: “To add to how stupid your pasty ass American potato face presently looks, wear your clothes backwards.”

I do like the author’s Final Word, though.  I’m calling it my 23rd Psalm!

Is This a Dumb Idea?

16 Jul

I’ve taken a vow of silence and am trying this out with my co-workers.  They are ready to kill me.

I wonder, how do you communicate with people who don’t speak English?  Everyone is like, “oh, just learn a few words… you know, to show you are trying.”  Okay, nice idea.  Until (1) you remember that you couldn’t learn elementary Spanish in the tenth grade and (2) you realize your freaking vocal cord setup is not meant to pronounce phonemes common in other languages (i.e., the guttural ones like you’re hocking loogies in your esophageal tube, etc.).

See, say I need a canoe. I just flip my book to page 52 and point!

Ultimately, I gave up Spanish and studied American Sign Language in college.  So I usually go with the sign language.  When that doesn’t work, I draw stick figure pictures.

Dieter uses his Point It book!

So I thought I had a genius, novel idea: print out some pictures, paste them on index cards, laminate them, and take with.  I googled it; turns out Dieter Graf already had my idea.  And he fit pictures of 1,300 items in his miniature book.  So I bought it (from here).  It currently costs $6.18 (with free shipping).

The big question is: will this work?  Or will it just make me look like an idiot?  I figure something, good or bad, will come out of this book.  Which makes it worth $6.  Stay tuned, and feel free to make fun of me.

Another thing I learned today, which I wish I would have known ten years ago (I should start making a list…).  To get rid of stickiness, particularly after removing labels or price tags, use peanut butter.  No joke.  It is amazing.

The Greatest Part of the Adventure Is the First Step.

20 Jun

Over the past ten months, since I left school behind, I have rediscovered reading for pleasure.  The books have really started to stack up on my nightstand, and, yes, unsurprisingly, many are travel-related.

The stack includes the following two, both about real-life RTW trips.  The first, The Lost Girls, follows a trio of almost-30-year-olds who quit their jobs, leave the familiar, and embark on a RTW trip in search of inspiration and direction.

The second, Journeys, is written by a middle-aged mother, who after seeing a “vision” (no joke), snatches up her 13-year-old daughter and goes RTW in an attempt to realize dreams long cast aside.

I enjoyed both books, because they allowed me to dream about my own trip, and, most importantly, because they built up my confidence that I could do this.  Neither books are literary works of art.  Little in the books is truly, truly exciting or fantastically interesting — neither the travel stories nor the narrative personalities nor the self-realizations.  But, in a weird way, that’s cool.  I get it.

It seems like some people set off on RTW trips with romantic notions of “finding themselves” out there in the world: purpose, meaning, a lover, a life, a cause, a career.  I’m not one of those people.  I don’t expect to find what I’m looking for.  And that’s because I’m not looking for anything.  Yes, I hope the Big Trip is a tale, perhaps epic, of wanderlust and self-discovery, but I expect to find no answers to the great questions of life that ruminate inside my head.  What I expect, the only thing I expect, is to feel deeply — to cry, to scream, to belly laugh.

My co-worker, who has endured hours on end of discussion about the Big Trip (bless his heart), says I’m going because I don’t know what I want to do, because I have nothing else lined up that I want to do.  He predicts that I will come back one year older, with less money, less options, still alone and still grappling with the same issues (unsure about what I want to do with my life and career).  And he’s probably right (as he usually is, groan).

And yet I still go.  I have no expectations, no grand ambitions (hell, I don’t even have an itinerary).  Almost literally, I’m hoisting my sails and letting the winds of chance catch me and carry me onward.  [Of course, the winds could also bury me in the sea, but I will ignore that possibility.]

Like the people in The Lost Girls and Journeys, I’ll probably come back with a good story or two.  And I’ll probably learn a thing or two about myself.  But that’s not the point.  It’s what happens at the very beginning that really matters: the surrender.  The total and near-unconditional surrender of yourself to the powers that be.  That’s the special part.  That’s what sets you apart.  That’s what changes you.  It’s not about finding answers; it’s about having the courage to ask the questions.

I’m in Love with Rolf Potts

3 May

I Googled “is Rolf Potts married” (and “is Rolf Potts gay,” since that was a suggestion).  An investment of thirty seconds of surfing the results page didn’t get me anywhere; his relationship status is unclear.

In any event, I’m reading his book, “Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer.”  I’ve only made it through 5 chapters and 82 pages, but… I love it.

After trying in vain to read Paul Theroux and finding it extraordinarily tedious, Rolf is a delight.  He is real, he is nutty, he is funny.  Novel and enlightening, each short story (a.k.a. each chapter) includes a commentary track: “endnotes that reveal the ragged edges behind the experience and creation of each tale.”  The endnotes impart an honesty, perhaps even an intimacy, to his stories.

I don’t particularly like travel writing.  And I don’t particularly like short stories.  But I love this book.  That’s because the dude gets it; at least for me, travel is not about the places.  Sights and sounds and whatever don’t come through very well on the page; it tends to bore me.  What’s it’s about is the experience itself.  And Rolf has good, insightful thoughts and reflections about the experience of experiencing.  And dude can write (in a straightforward, non-pretentious way to appeals to yours truly).

Rolf, fancy a drink on the road?