Archive for October, 2011

On being published

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized, Writing on October 4, 2011 by ilikemountains

Note: this is a piece I came across from early 2009, so it’s 2.5 years old. It was saved in my drafts queue, and I kind of liked it so thought I might as well publish it. Enjoy.

Alaska - coming soon to a store near you!

Alaska - coming soon to a store near you!

This year, I will have five books out there with my name listed as a contributing author. I haven’t seen any of them yet (though Pacific Northwest Trips is available for pre-order on Amazon – order your copy today!), and having them on the shelf is both a source of pride and anxiety. Why I’m proud is obvious – being a travel writer is a goal I methodically and passionately worked towards for several years. My anxiety is multi-faceted, but mainly it’s the the fact that now I’m out there for the world to see – and judge.

There was a moment on my Thailand research trip when I realized that as a traveler, I had sort of come full circle. The moment came when I was unceremoniously deposited from a local bus into the rain – one of those scenes where the bus doors hiss shut and the wheels toss muddy puddle water onto me and my luggage. I knew what town I was in, but had no idea where in this town I was.  I called the guesthouse I was supposed to stay at, but we couldn’t communicate so I shoved the phone at a Thai guy standing near me. He shouted into the phone for a few seconds, then handed it back to me. I gathered through the broken English on the other end that I should cross the street and someone would come to pick me up.

I wasn’t necessarily in a town, but a sort of highway stop on the outskirts. Everything was a rain-slicked cement shade of gray, and a giant pedestrian overpass loomed above. I sloshed across the highway, pulling my wheeled bag through the water, to a Thai-style tire shop (ramshackle, housed in what Americans would normally view as a large storage locker) and stood waiting for a few moments. Realizing I might be waiting more than just a few moments, I eventually took a seat at a small table.  I wasn’t worried or nervous or impatient; I had complete trust that someone would come to get me eventually. I knew that I stood out as I sat in the rain outside the tire shop, but Thais are notoriously friendly and polite, so we all just smiled at each other and then went about our business.

Flash back almost exactly ten years: here we have 21-year-old Catherine who has never traveled, and – sadly – has never really even rode the bus. With no real forethought to self-preservation, she’s embarked on a solo trip through Europe, and everything both delights and frightens her. The trip is marked with lots of crying (beginning with the sobbing breakdown upon landing at the Athens airport), but also the huge self-esteem boosts of figuring things out On Her Own.

But right now we see her in Germany, in a spa town called Baden Baden. Though she made a few friends at the hostel, she somehow lost her swimsuit at a hostel in Switzerland (don’t ask) and so can’t join her new friends at the non-naked baths. So she takes a bus to the clothing-optional baths, frolics around naked with a bunch of middle-aged German men (not as pervy as it sounds), then catches the return bus to her hostel. Throughout this trip, she’s relying blindly on her Western Europe Lonely Planet to tell her which bus to take, which spa to go to, etc. She hops the bus, but doesn’t realize it’s going the wrong way (how this happened, I have no idea. Blame it on the  heady elixir of being massaged while wrapped in a heated blanket at the end of her spa visit).  Eventually, the bus gets to the end of the line. It’s near midnight, and there’s no other passengers. The bus driver doesn’t speak English, but he makes it clear she is to get off the bus. She cries (as usual), and eventually he communicates that she should cross the street and wait.

So, at midnight on the outskirts of an unfamiliar town,  I did just that. And I sat on that curb and sobbed, wondering how the hell I was going get myself back to my hostel without being mugged. My only solace was that the bus I had disembarked sat across the street, the driver reading under the fluorescent light.

Twenty minutes later, the same bus makes a u-turn, picks me up, and resumes its route in the opposite direction. Why that driver made me cross the street and sit on the curb for twenty minutes I’ll never know, but I made it back to my hostel just fine.

So now I’m in Thailand, watching teenage boys fill tires while I wait in the rain for a ride. I can’t help but think of the symmetry of the two trips, the crossing and waiting, the not really knowing if a ride is coming, and the perfect time span of an exact decade. And as I mentally pat myself on the  back for becoming such a calm traveler, I have another realization: now I’m writing the guidebook.

That’s a lot of pressure, but thankfully I have the memory of 21-year-old Catherine and all her anxiety. Because of her, I know I’m going to make sure all the bus information is correct. Because, at 27, she had to hitchhike to a hospital in the middle of the night in Panjim, India, I’m going to make sure to find out where the hospitals and clinics are. I’m meant to do this job, and I know I can do it well.