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Adventure Blog

Going Back Again

Buzz Poole
09/06/2011 - 00:00

In the “Why didn’t I think of that?” category, Australian travel writer Brian Thacker has just released Tell Them To Get Lost, his tale of using the first edition of Lonely Planet’s South-East Asia on a Shoestring today. Originally released in 1975, after Tony and Maureen Wheeler spent most of 1974 traveling from Timor to Laos, the book is one of the pillars that holds up the Lonely Planet empire. According to this Melbourne Weekly article, Thacker came up with the idea during a conversation with Wheeler that got Thacker curious about “whether Wheeler’s recommendations had stood the test of time and just how much South-East Asia had changed since Wheeler . . . had ambled through what became known as the Banana Pancake Trail.”

The most magical travel experiences are often the most subjective. I love the reference to the “Banana Pancake Trail,” as one of my all-time favorite adventures involved this very breakfast treat. It was 1997 and I had made it out to Malaysia’s Perhentian Besar, a tropical island paradise located in the China Sea. With my two friends, we spent a few days and nights doing nothing but snorkeling, lazing on the beach and commencing every morning with, you guessed it, banana pancakes. Closing my eyes and thinking about them now, I can taste the sweetness and see the slices protruding out of the fluffy cake, just kissed with caramelized char. The memories of this experience go well beyond breakfast, but I can’t get to the rest of the trip without starting with the pancakes. Would I enjoy them as much today? I love the idea of returning to find out. I’m sure they would taste good and some internet surfing makes it seem like the island remains more or less the same as when I visited, but I could never recreate the experience. Of course, this is one of the joys of traveling: being in the moment.

Interestingly, Wheeler did join Thacker for a leg of his journey and reports: “Brian found plenty of places that were still in business all those years later and others which had changed name, but were still run by the same family. He seemed to bump into everybody, just in Bali he encountered Jenik, the woman who started the ever popular Poppies at Kuta Beach, up in the hills in Ubud two more enterprising Balinese ladies, Okawati and Canderi, were also still in business. Elsewhere a remarkable number of places had been handed down from father to son.”

The advent of the Lonely Planet approach to traveling did start a minor revolution and it is remarkable to think of certain establishments weathering the intervening decades. Clearly, this fact tickled Wheeler, though I’m sure he’d be the first to say that traveling is not about trying to recreate someone else’s experience; it’s about creating your own experiences.

Have you ever visited a place and returned some years later looking for something you remember fondly? If you found it, how did it compare to your expectations?

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