Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The point of the journey is not to arrive*

Over on the Sourcebooks Casablanca blog, the authors are discussing travel this month.

My debut as a Sourcebooks author is still 17 months away, so I don’t get to play along just yet. But since travel is my very favorite thing in the whole world, I can’t resist the urge to play by myself over here (which, incidentally, is my second favorite thing in the whole world).

When it comes to travel, Pythagoras and I are very lucky to share the following:

1) A devotion to traveling light – carry-on only, even if we have to plan for both hiking in the Swiss Alps and snorkeling off the Italian coast.

2) A refusal to pay more than $50 a night for lodging

3) A commitment to the fine art of meandering – no hotel reservations, and standby flights that sometimes earn us first class seats, and sometimes earn us a few nights sleeping on an airport floor.

4) A steadfast belief that the journey itself is half the fun.

The latter has been particularly key for me – both in writing and in travel. As much as I enjoy typing “the end” or checking into a hotel room to discover little luxuries like soap, it’s the journey itself that really rolls my socks up.

This is something I’m having to remind myself as I’m in the very scary BEGINNING part of a book – the part where I really don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m strapping on my seatbelt and hoping the ride isn’t too bumpy.

Then again, bumpy has its perks.

Once while traveling around Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, we hopped aboard a bus headed to the colonial town of Valladolid. In theory, the journey should have taken an hour.

But because we’re penny-pinching backpackers, we opted for the third class bus. The primary difference between a first and third class bus in Mexico is that the first class bus will get you there within an hour or so of its predicted time.

A third class bus might get you there. Beyond that, they don’t make any guarantees.

I’m mostly fluent in Spanish (the result of many years of schooling, followed by four months living in Venezuela and learning more than I had in nine years of classroom study). This fluency made me privy to conversations that went like this:

Bus driver:
We should pick up Juan.

Buddy riding in the seat behind him, serving no discernible purpose in the operation of the bus: You remember where he lives?

Bus driver: No, but if we drive around awhile, we’ll find him.

So we drove around for awhile looking for Juan. We made a few pit stops along the way to buy comic books and fruit, which the men took turns enjoying when they weren’t busy ignoring traffic signals and terrifying livestock with horn-blasts.

Eventually, we found Juan and headed out of town. We had just hit the highway when the bus driver smacked himself on the forehead.

Bus driver: Shit, I forgot my shirt.

Juan: You’re wearing a shirt.

Bus driver: No, my uniform shirt. I got in trouble for that last week. I’ve gotta go home and get it.

So we spun a u-turn in the middle of the highway – narrowly missing a large truck packed with chickens – and headed back to town. All 35 passengers aboard were treated to a lovely tour of the barrio, complete with a colorful lecture from the bus driver’s wife who shared her immense displeasure at his failure to return home the previous night.

Eventually, we set out again on a journey that lasted nearly four hours and included a rousing game of “let’s hit pedestrians with fruit pits while traveling 50 mph in a vehicle held together by duct tape.” When the bus driver emerged victorious, he celebrated by taking a nap on the floor while Buddy #1 took over driving duties.

Eventually, we made it to Valladolid. The bus driver was kind enough to weave his way through the narrow city streets in search of a hotel I pointed out in the guidebook. As the busload of weary passengers waved at us from the grime-streaked windows, we couldn’t help but feel a little sad to see the journey end.

So I have to keep reminding myself of this as I begin this new book. This is the journey – the fun part. The part where I get to throw fruit pits at pedestrians and weave through traffic at disturbing speeds.

Where’d I put my Dramamine?

* Butt-rock bonus points to anyone who can tell me song title and/or band name for the lyric that serves as the title of this post!


Linda G. said...

"Prime Mover." Rush.

Love the post! Reminds me of when the theater god and I back-packed through Europe, timing our train trips for overnight so we wouldn't have to pay for hotels. (We splurged at B&Bs when we couldn't go another day without a shower.)

P.S. Did I win? I live for butt-rock bonus points.

LR said...

If it's Rush then it must have been penned by none other than the illustrious Neil Peart. I (heart) Rush!
Excuse me while I go listen to Tom Sawyer.

Patrick Alan said...

"Let's go pick up Juan" is my new favorite saying.

I'm sort of like you when it comes to travel. I won't stay at a hotel where the breakfast costs less than $50. And I only like flying first class.

KAK said...

Rush, of course, took it from Lao Tzu and "The Tao Te Ching," subject to the foibles of translation.

Are butt-rocks listed as proper 3rd class bus ammunition or is that limited to fruit pits?

Tawna Fenske said...

Linda G, yay for you! Butt-rock bonus points! Try not to spend them all in one place, OK?

LR, I share your divine love of Rush and the illustrious Neil Peart. And oh, Geddy Lee! How I do love thee. (Like my Rush poem? I just made that up. I'm talented that way).

Patrick, I'm glad we're on the same page with travel. Will you be paying for my next vacation?

KAK, butt-rocks are indeed worthy ammunition. Much more effective than fruit pits.


Jade said...

Can I just say that (and I don't say this lightly. Lots and lots and lots of thought went into this), but your blog is my new favourite.

And you're stupid funny!

This post is really rockin' my socks off because I just started a new project yesterday and I'm in a scared/nervous/excited I-hope-he-likes-me-back kind of mood. Which is awesome. I'm looking forward to the 'journey' too. Here's to hoping that it ends with a pub deal, lots of money and Johnny Depp.

Melanie Sherman said...

If the get tired on this new book journey, pull into a nice hotel parking lot. They are usually pretty quiet and safe so you can have a nice sleep in your car and you can sneak in and use their lobby bathroom. (Just saying) Although, I doubt if you'll get to hang out with Juan.

Tawna Fenske said...

Jade, "stupid funny?" Where were you when my agent and I were spending weeks and endless brain cells trying to come up with the perfect tagline to describe my writing? I think you nailed it! :) Thanks for reading, BTW. I've been enjoying your blog as well, along with the desperate urge it's giving me to visit Australia again.

Melanie, hotel parking lots, eh? We seldom rent cars when traveling overseas, but maybe we can get those third-class buses to just drop us off? "No, we don't have a reservation. We're just rolling out our sleeping bags in the parking lot. Got a problem w/ that?"

Thanks for reading!


Claire Dawn said...

Dearest Tawna, whyever do you write fiction? Your life is so very entertaining. ;)

I'm a total travelaholic too, but I book ahead. Just because I hate stress. Mexico is definitely one of my dreams though, since I too am fluent in Spanish. 3rd class buses sound like fun.

NWFoodie said...

You're making me want to take a third class bus in mexico now - and I don't speak any spanish - hell I have a hard enough time with English - Texican I'm pretty fluent in. I have to thank Melanine again for telling me about you and your blog. You had me laughing out loud again in the cube. the other cube rats are nervous.

Tawna Fenske said...

Claire Dawn, Mexico is one of our favorite places to go (partly because it's so cheap, partly because it's a really beautiful country). Give me a shout if you start plotting a trip. We've been there half-a-dozen times and have seen a lot of different areas, so I'm happy to share tips!

NWFoodie, I'm so glad you're digging the blog. Melanie's blog is pretty hilarious too, huh? It's one of my faves.