We managed to jump over a couple strings of cars and get out of the yard and were wandering past suburban houses when two cop cars rolled out of nowhere. A bald, angry-looking officer swaggered over to us. “Cat-and-mouse game, huh? Looks like we win,” he scoffed. The other, a soft-spoken “good cop,” asked us a lot of questions about ourselves, and we managed to build up a friendly rapport. The bald one narrowed his eyes and glared at Jackson: “You’ve got a wedding ring on and a nice-ass camera around your neck. So what are you doing out here?”
So begins Rudyard “Mowgli” Kipling’s epic tale of the worst-roadtrip-ever, as told by PBS’s The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (a Ken Burns joint). In 1889, the British author/cranky traveller took the “grand tour” of Yellowstone Park, paying about $150 for the privilege of only barely enjoying this freshly minted national wonder. “The park is just a howling wilderness,” he whines, and goes on to complain generally about the poor cuisine (tinned beef and beer), his gum-snapping Chicagoan companions, and a wealth of other annoyances. You may never love Kipling as much as you will after watching this clip. Or you can read a section of his immensely entertaining takedown here.
What’s the worst trip you’ve ever taken?
It’s not just anyone who can come, but everyone too – and they do. In the previous month, 10,000 tourists had entered Sagarmatha National Park. The trail north from the scary little airstrip at Lukla is chocker with trekkers – at times it’s more like a queue than a walk. Antipodeans trade matey banter; purposeful Germans with trekking poles overtake on the straights; the French, beautifully turned out, shrug indifferently; fat tattooed Brits huff and puff on the inclines. Above us, the air is alive with helicopters ferrying Japanese tourists who have neither the time nor the inclination to walk up the valley. They will spend a night in the Hotel Everest View, gasping into oxygen cylinders. In the morning they will take photos on the terrace, then fly away. Tomorrow they’ll probably be in Bangkok, or the Philippines.”
Even on Everest, time marches on, and Sam Wollaston’s trudging in its Gore-Tex’d footsteps for the Guardian. (Read it in full here.)
…..I rearrange the fragments. What was I thinking when I cropped them? Why did I cut the sky-blimp out of my picture of the Chicago World Cup parade? Why did I cut Graceland Mansion out of my picture of Graceland? …Removed from the official photographic memory, the fragments demand an exercise of actual memory, an act of reclamation. They are like phantom limbs: You have to dream the body back into being.
Paddling one day about ten miles southwest to a headland, I caught sight of an island that had been hidden from my campsite — a new hump of rock where I saw a sandy beach and some huts. A Germanic-looking man in a green bathing suit stood on the beach to welcome me. “Hi,” he said and grabbed my bow line and helped pull my boat to shore.
“Nice kayak,” he said. It was salt-smeared and wet from the long haul from the headland. “Isn’t that the kind of boat Paul Theroux paddled in his travels around the Pacific?”
Being cautious, I said, “You read that book?”
“Oh, yeah. Great book.”
This happens now and then — more often in a remote place like Palawan than in places closer to home.
“I wrote it.”
“Cut the shit.”
This was not a garden variety safari. The destination was the Congo, and the journey was difficult, although not for Alice, who was carried most of the way by porters. Later she wrote that “If I dropped something I was quite accustomed to clap my hands and have six large, naked cannibals spring to attention and pick it up for me.”
“It’s situated in one of the least populated sections of the contiguous United States, known locally as el despoblado (the uninhabited place), a twelve-hour car-and-plane trip from the east coast, and seven from the west. It is nowhere near any interstates, major cities, or significant non-military airfields; it hosts an active population of dangerous animals and insects (a gas station clerk died of a spider bite the summer I first visited); and its 2,424 inhabitants represent the densest concentration of people in a county that covers over 6,000 square miles—an area larger than the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. The isolation is such that if you laid out the islands of the Hawaiian archipelago, and the deep ocean channels that separate them, on the road between Marfa and the East Texas of strip shopping and George Bush Jr., you’d still have 100 miles of blank highway stretching away in front of you.”
From reading Dostoevsky in the original, to Gehry’s bitching, to abandoned avocado sandwiches and those mysterious lights — Sean Wilsey and his comprehensive look at Marfa makes you want to take that trek too. (Read it in full here.)