I’m pretty much a looney person – so this is of course right up my alley.
There is nothing that will make you feel worse about bitching (in your head) about flying coach overseas (i.e. Slum Class, according to Hugh Grant’s character in the Bridget Jones Diaries (very academic, yes, I know…)) than reading a (true) story about really roughing it. It slaps a little perspective into ya.
I got this book, the Lunatic Express, by Carl Hoffman, on recommendation from my sister (hey girl, haaaay!) after talking to a stranger on the airplane (we’re so related). Hoffman is a journalist who started ruminating on the difference between the way that we, rich people (even if you don’t think you’re rich, if you have the interwebs and free time and are reading this … you’re rich), travel – for fun, for vacation, to become “worldly” – versus those that live in third world and developing countries that risk their lives on a daily basis just to get to work to make a few dollars a month, to meet their families in remote villages, to lead their day-to-day lives.
These journeys of the “others” are fairly undocumented, though they are dangerous and people die on a daily basis. We don’t think about travel as being functional. But every day, people in South America, India, Bangladesh, everywhere, are traveling in squalor, dozens of hours on end, just to get somewhere. Boats and trains are so overcrowded that people are physically ejected. Planes that don’t have safety regulations, seat belts, functioning towers, crash and kill hundreds. And it’s barely a blip on the radar of the developed world.
Hoffman chose to travel around the world taking all of the most dangerous forms of transportation. Not traveling to see, but traveling just to move. He experienced the worst possible conditions – sleeping on planks in the belly of rusty boats with roaches crawling all over him, rickety buses hurtling through the jungles in South America, no bathrooms or running water to be found, overcrowding to the point of being on top of another human being. Yet his journeys show an incredible perspective on humanity. Everywhere he went, he was a celebrity. People knew he was foreign, different, not versed in the ways of survival in a different realm of living… and they took care of him. People that made the equivalent of a few US dollars a month bought him food, drinks, and opened their (meager) homes. It is amazing thing to read about such poverty, and yet such giving.
Part of Hoffman’s journey was to run, to escape from everything that was his life, to be isolated. Yet, he found that the further he ran into the depths of the third world, the jungles, the deserts, and the more he tried to disconnect, the more he felt connected to humanity, the more he understood that he was a part of something larger. And while these interactions and relationships were quickly forged and fleeting, they are what makes us human – our relationships, our people. It really gives you a new perspective on travel. I like to think that I’m open-minded and into experiencing something that is real. But…I stay in nice hotels, eat nice food, don’t drink the water in countries where the CDC says not to drink the water. I’m sheltered. I’ve never roughed it a day in my life. You think you are seeing the world, but you’re only seeing what makes you comfortable, what you want to see. I definitely recommend this book to give you a
shiny gritty new, rugged, *down to earth* perspective.