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Adventure Blog

The Reason Paul Theroux Travels

Buzz Poole
04/05/2011 - 00:00

<p style="text-align: justify;">Of late, the world feels a bit more hectic than usual. Earthquakes, radiation, rebellions and dictators have not done much to help the come hither imagery of tourism board websites and brochures used by many countries to woo travelers to their myriad wonders, from historical sites to pristine beaches and mouth-watering cuisine. It’s enough to make you want to stay home. Or is it?

<p><p style="text-align: justify;">Leave it to <a href="http://www.paultheroux.com/">Paul Theroux</a>, a contemporary master of travel writing, to offer up a slightly different, and valuable, perspective in <a href="http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/04/03/travel/03Cover.html?hpw">&#8220;Why We Travel&#8221; </a>(a <a href="http://blog.adventurecenter.com/?p=393">familiar theme</a> in these parts) from this past weekend&#8217;s <em>New York Times</em>. Theroux has been crisscrossing the globe for decades, traveling in many places where people told him not to go.  He writes, “&#8217;Don’t go there,&#8217; the know-it-all, stay-at-home finger wagger says of many a distant place. I have heard it my whole traveling life, and in almost every case it was bad advice.&#8221;</p>

<p style="text-align: justify;">Now, Theroux isn’t being cavalier. Recently, he has paid visits to Sudan and Turkmenistan, and the same as visiting parts of Northern Ireland during the height of tension there in the early 1980s, what he has found to be true in regions that are less than stable, but far from total anarchy, is that locals are trying to lead their lives the best they can, and are often happy to have a visiting stranger in the mix. He admits that such places might not always be fun, but they always impart something new about how people behave, and the world at large.

<p style="text-align: justify;">He also recalls being warned not to visit Cambodia during the days of the Khmer Rouge, and heeding that warning. He concedes that he would not visit present-day Afghanistan, Somalia or Pakistan. Theroux makes the point that countries like Myanmar and Kenya have boasted robust tourism campaigns though over the past fifteen years both countries have been run under questionable leadership.

<p style="text-align: justify;">The ultimate point he’s making is that he’d rather experience a place first-hand then take someone else’s word for it. The article does not promote running off to Libya. But it does urge people to realize the world is in constant flux; certainty – anywhere – is an illusion. Going out into the world is where one finds reality: “the fact that a place is out of fashion, forgotten or not yet on the map doesn’t make it less interesting, just more itself, and any visit perhaps more of a challenge. But travel maps have always been provisional and penciled in, continually updated. The map of the possible world being redrawn right now — parts of it in tragic and unsettling ways — might soon mean new opportunities for the traveler who dares to try it. Travel, especially of the old laborious kind, has never seemed to me of greater importance, more essential, more enlightening.”

<p style="text-align: justify;">Theroux is the exceptional traveler; his attitude ensures never becoming world-weary, relishing, and respecting, the importance of true adventure.

<p><p style="text-align: justify;">Bonus Link: <em>The Times’</em> <a href="http://intransit.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/01/readers-tales-submissions/...">In Transit blog</a> has posed the same question I asked last week: Why do you travel?</p>

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