One of the things I’m pondering while looking back at my notes and writing Lunatic is the idea of traveling alone, of escaping into the furthest corners of the world, which has always felt good to me. Part of it is just adventure; it’s exciting to plunge along a muddy road in the Peruvian Amazon or jump aboard a ferry with no idea of where I’m going. It makes me feel nervous, scared a little, and that makes me feel intensely alive and focused. And I’ve always felt like it’s a great thing to escape from the mundane tasks of daily life, from bills that need paying to the drumbeat of bad economic news to grocery shopping. Or that’s what I’ve always told myself.
But my marriage, on shaky ground for a bit, collapsed entirely on this journey, and that’s made me think more deeply about travel and human connection and escape. I always pride myself on the connections I make while traveling, from the nutty Swiss guy in Mombassa to Fardus in Bangladesh to Moolchand the ear cleaner in New Delhi. But all those interactions were fleeting, shallow – I can’t kid myself otherwise. Which made me wonder if travel always felt so good to me not because I was making new connections, but because I was escaping the ones I had, pushing them away.
Traveling on the Lunatic Express made me, in places like India and Indonesia where people almost always travel together and I was a freak alone, start to understand the value of those deeper connections, and writing about it now only more so. Only connect, wrote E.M. Forster in one of those famous literary lines that’s now cliché, and as humans that’s what we all crave perhaps more than anything else. To be known, to let your guard down, is scary; how ironic that so many of us flee instead; that we don’t allow ourselves the very thing we want in our deepest souls. The lure of foreign countries and cultures has always been escape, but also transformation, redemption, discovery. People who feel like they don’t fit in have long sought escape in the exotic, but maybe that’s because in those foreign lands they don’t have an excuse – they can never be really known in the first place, never have to take that risk of opening up and trusting. My father never remarried after divorcing 35 years ago. Today he’s living in Thailand with a woman whose command of the English language is shaky, at best, and it’s his longest relationship in years. Do they get along because they connect so deeply, or because they barely connect at all and she can’t ask him any of those pesky emotional questions?
Carl Hoffman is traveling for The Lunatic Express, to be published by Broadway Books in 2009. He is a contributing editor at Na…
One of the opportunities afforded by writing a book like Lunatic is to put a long journey into perspective and to look back over my notes.
The crash of Continental Flight 3407 in Buffalo on February 11, 19 days after ending my traveling is a strange reminder of the unpredictability of, well, your fate.
Slumdog Millionaire’s victory at the Oscars last night, just at the time I’m working on Lunatic, reminded me again of the importance of plain old story, told simply and well.
When I landed in Los Angeles I was a five-hour flight from home, which is why climbing on a Greyhound for 72 hours of sitting bolt upright instead took enormous willpower.
Three days on Isla del Sol, in Lake Titicaca; natural beauty and Inca legends
Differences in daily life between Canada and Peru
Iquitos: the largest and most popular jungle destination in Peru
Madrid's Festival of San Isidro has morphed from a religious procession to a full scale arts festival