Periodically my mother suggests I write a travel book or magazine article. She doesn’t read travel books, but she is worried that I don’t have a job (or the apparent prospect of one) and would be much happier if my trip were funded by a massive publisher’s advance instead of by foot modeling. This is reasonable. But there are obstacles, at least some of which do not include incurable laziness, limited talent, and a floundering publishing industry.
The traveling part is fine. I enjoy it. And a notebook is an indispensable outlet for a natural talker forced into solitude. The problem is the small print, the trip details at the end of the glossy article, or the third-person preface that explains the vision behind the intrepid journey now immortalized. I would have to fake them.
My inky, food-stained notes were never meant to be printed on shiny paper. I am not Condé Nasty enough, though I know what’s required:
Dervala Hanley traveled to San Cristóbal de las Casas on Aero Mexico, $1599-$1999 RT. She stayed at Hotel Posada Albergue de la Finca, $359 per person (based on double occupancy). Helicopter trips to the Sumidero Canyon $260 for 45 minutes, Eco-Chopper Tours. Massage and spa packages by Adorable Indian Lady, Inc. For more details on local handicraft markets, visit http://www.gringobasura.com.
The subtext is as follows:
Dervala Hanley is the kind of person who, like you, gentle subscriber, has a fabulous travel agent, Maria, who has looked after her for years. She also has the kind of hectic, dashing, New York magazine writer’s life that requires and deserves regular exotic spa vacations.
In no way does she resemble the kind of person who spends hours in an Internet café booking cheap, one-way consolidator fares that then cost $600 to switch due to screwed-up dates. Nor does she ever choose hotels as a function of the fraction of an hour or hours she has already spent schlepping a backpack in the heat.
This stuff I can manage, sort of. I can be snotty and patronizing—I lived in New York for five years, after all. I can pretend to be wealthy. The really tough stuff is the Intrepid Preface genre:
Dervala Hanley was six years old when she first learned of the trained, formation-flying vampire bats used for hunting by the Y_______ Indians of Tabasco. Twenty years later she built a replica famine-era coffin ship and sailed from Connemara to Veracruz with an irascible donkey and a Toltec phrasebook. This is the story of how a young woman slowly won the hearts of a hidden tribe and their beasts.
She now farms and trains vampire bats in Co. Clare.
A truthful version would go something like this:
Dervala Hanley decided on a whim to go to Mexico because she couldn’t afford New York rent. Many of her friends had liked Mexico and conveniently, she already spoke Spanish. She also felt it would be reasonably safe for a solo woman traveler, an important factor since she is not very brave.
She traveled mainly by public bus and was frequently sick. Mostly, she followed routes recommended by her mass-market guidebook, though she discovered that since most tourists only want to meet each other it is relatively easy to find less-traveled paths. Unfortunately, she cannot remember the names of any of the villages she visited on these explorations.
She had many encounters with charming local Internet-café proprietors, though she is only moderately interested in the lives of foreigners.