Travel Writers Need Compelling Reasons To Travel

Just think of​ the​ greatest adventurers who ever lived and the​ greatest journeys ever undertaken: the​ Jews,​ Marco Polo,​ Christopher Columbus and Charles Darwin come to​ mind. All of​ them had compelling reasons for setting off on​ dangerous journeys into the​ unknown. What they found (in their cases the​ Promised Land,​ China,​ America and evolution respectively) soldered them into history and made them famous,​ but also opened the​ world to​ travel as​ never before.

Travel writing ever since has echoed the​ odysseys of​ these great people. Writers still feel it​ incumbent on​ them to​ have some higher purpose to​ their journeys beyond mere self-indulgence or​ curiosity. on​ the​ rare occasions when travel writers break this rule they tend to​ fall ill or​ become irredeemably cranky when they sit down to​ put their experiences on​ paper.

The range of​ reasons travel writers dream up to​ focus their journeys range from the​ absurd to​ the​ sublime. Take that outstanding wordsmith Bill Bryson. This man literally thought up journeys he could take,​ to​ create fodder for his witty irony and superb humorous descriptions. a​ walk along the​ Appalachian Trail with an​ old school friend (do you​ remember Katz?) became much more than 'A Walk in​ the​ Woods' as​ it​ was entitled. it​ was a​ humorous ramble through the​ American nature tourist culture and a​ lambasting of​ the​ authorities responsible for the​ national parks of​ the​ United States. it​ did not matter that Bryson completed only a​ tiny part of​ the​ trail. This incredibly long hike (Bryson spends a​ few pages embarrassing all the​ authorities who cannot agree on​ its exact length) served one purpose and one purpose only; it​ gave Bryson something to​ write about.

Similarly Bryson's book about rural America entitled 'The Lost Continent' has a​ very thin basis to​ it: Bryson vaguely travels the​ roads his parents followed,​ when they took their children on​ madcap long haul treks across the​ United States to​ see the​ sights (and sites of​ famous battles and historical occurrences) and generally scrounged their way along on​ a​ shoestring budget,​ to​ the​ mystification of​ the​ Bryson children. Again Bryson gets his teeth into a​ subject without much justification. Not that he needs it,​ you​ understand.

Bryson made a​ career of​ taking whole continents and wrapping them around his tongue,​ as​ in​ 'Down Under',​ his dry yet informative take on​ Australia. He went there because he had always wanted to​ see it​ and,​ as​ the​ subtext suggests,​ he was looking for an​ alternative place to​ live. He and his family had already done England and New England. as​ it​ happened,​ the​ Bryson family returned from New Hampshire to​ Britain,​ giving down under the​ thumbs down. Just too many snakes per square kilometer I suppose.

Now we come to​ the​ sublime reasons for travel. There are tales of​ pilgrimage,​ such as​ Shirley MacLaine's account of​ her walk the​ length of​ the​ Santiago de Compostela Camino in​ northern Spain,​ the​ ancient 500 mile pilgrimage route initiated by St James de Compostela ending at​ Santiago. 'Camino: a​ journey of​ the​ spirit' never reaches any conclusions and elicits no discernible greatness of​ spirit in​ the​ writer,​ but it​ surely gave Ms MacLaine fodder for a​ bestselling book in​ the​ bland genre of​ Californian spiritualism.

Ineffably more substantial is​ the​ marvelous book by William Dalrymple 'From the​ Holy Mountain' in​ which this handsome young Scot journeys to​ the​ places visited by John Moschos some 1500 hundred years before. His beautiful journey through the​ dying remnants of​ Byzantium in​ our own age (he traveled in​ 1997) is​ an​ unforgettable book by a​ marvelously intelligent Catholic probing the​ embers of​ Eastern Orthodox religion.

Between the​ absurd and the​ sublime reasons for travel lie many others. in​ 'African Rainbow' Lorenzo and Mirella Ricciardi traveled along the​ waterways in​ Africa,​ evidently searching for the​ ultimate noble savage in​ the​ European mold. They never found him or​ her but their book was published. it​ ends up being an​ uneasy journey of​ a​ couple to​ a​ continent they didn't understand.

In 'The Great Railway Bazaar' Paul Theroux travels on​ the​ Orient Express,​ the​ Khyber Pass Local,​ the​ Golden Arrow,​ the​ Mandalay Express,​ an​ odyssey on​ great trains from London through Europe and Asia,​ across Siberia. And his eye misses nothing as​ he describes this travel mode of​ a​ bygone age and these out-of-the-way places,​ but I always feel that Theroux travels and writes under duress rather than from compulsion,​ rather like Shiva Naipaul in​ 'North of​ South'.

Naipaul visited the​ insalubrious African countries: Zambia,​ Tanzania and Kenya,​ where Asians have been personae non grata in​ the​ past,​ and in​ some places still are,​ to​ find out what makes Africa tick. of​ course no one does know what makes Africa tick,​ not even Naipaul.

Never mind that these men seem to​ have been uncomfortable about their journeys. Both are renowned travel writers,​ not least due to​ their dogged purposefulness. the​ point,​ it​ seems,​ is​ to​ have some intention when moving across the​ landscape. a​ traveler without intention is​ merely a​ wanderer.
Travel Writers Need Compelling Reasons To Travel Travel Writers Need Compelling Reasons To Travel Reviewed by Henda Yesti on September 02, 2018 Rating: 5

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