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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Created: March 26, 2018English