Chris Tennant

Chris Tennant

Eugene, Oregon

Linda Howard

Linda Howard

Eugene, OR


The Old Patagonian Express

POSTED IN: Thoughts on travel

My impression of Paul Theroux came mostly from reading the Old Patagonian Express.  I read it at the same time that I went on a six month backpacking trip through South America.  This was in the mid-1980s, and I traveled through Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia.  My total budget for the six months was less than $2,500, so it was far from a luxury trip.  

I'm going now on what I remember of my impression of Theroux's book.  I'm sure that if I re-read it now, my reaction would be different.

My impression of South America was of a vibrant, welcoming place.  I remember for example being at a tiny town of about 20 people in the jungle at the intersection of the borders of Peru, Bolivia and Brazil.  I was waiting for a plane to get back to Lima and on home.  The plane nominally came once a week, but I waited a couple of weeks before realizing that the plane didn't always stop at this town, depending on the weather, and I ended up having to walk 60 kilometers through mud to get to the next town to catch the plane.  But I remember how friendly people were.  The local police officer was a kind, warm man, and he and I would walk in the evenings around the 'square' (a muddy field), talking.  I don't even remember what we talked about, just how thoughtful he was.

By contrast, my sense of Theroux's persona in the book was of a grumpy American, with no real sense of the people who surrounded him, of who they were, what they cared about.  It didn't help that I mostly didn't see Americans on my travels -- there were Canadians, Israelis, French, but not a lot of Americans.  Then one day I was in Cuzco, and I saw a tour group of Americans going by in a tight knot inside a barrier -- maybe they were getting onto a plane?  But it was like being on the wrong side of the aquarium glass and seeing the aquarium visitors file by.  

I should re-read Theroux.  But my problem with him was only that he was negative, and critical, it was that I didn't find that he *saw* the people who were around him.  Being able to see past superficial impressions -- poverty for example -- to the creativity and life beyond that is the great privilege of travel, in my opinion.  And I found that Theroux didn't appreciate that.

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About the Authors

Linda Howard

Linda Howard

I love to learn about the world through the travels and experiences of others. I'm primarily a memoir reader, fascinated by what others choose to do in life and how they feel about their choices.

Chris Tennant

Chris Tennant

I co-founded Dream to Learn in 2013. I love the outdoors, growing and building things, and the challenge and beauty of writing computer code. I live in Eugene, Oregon with my wife Giuditta, my two kids Joshua and Rebecca, and our cats Sprinkie and Hugino.

About this blog

Created: March 26, 2018


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