G4: Grounded

I hope this volcano in Iceland stops acting out—otherwise my sister and I will be traveling to Europe like Seth did in Grounded

I mentioned a while back that I was reading a book a friend had recommended to me–and I just had the pleasure of finishing said book. And so here goes my first foray into an actual travel book review…

“Grounded: A Down To Earth Journey Around The World,” written by Seth Stevenson, chronicles the tale of the author and his girlfriend as they travel around the world, roaming from latitude to latitude, without ever setting foot on a plane (well, spoiler alert, that’s not totally true of both of them). They take container ships and cruise ships, buses, trains and rental cars. They even book it for a while on a bike journey.
I have to say that what I liked most about this book was how Stevenson managed to tell his personal journey so well, while teaching me something about the history of travel in the process. (That, and the fact that Stevenson settled it for me—I could never travel around the world the way he and his girlfriend did!) I’ve never known more about the origin of air, ship and train travel. And who even knew you could catch a ride on a container ship?

So once I got past my serious case of the “why-not-me’s” (Seth and Rebecca’s situation sounds like a fantasy of my own that I’ve had for a while—drop everything. Sell material things. Give up apartment. Take to the road. Except they actually did it. I have yet to find the guts). Anyway, once I got past that part, I decided to start dog-earing the pages that I found really interesting, or that meant something to me for some reason. And you know if I’m dog-earing a precious book, that’s gotta mean it was good. Here are some choice snippets:

“Whenever travelers and/or expats encounter each other abroad…the parties will swiftly sort themselves into a hierarchy. Lowest on the totem pole are the vacationers—the people on two-week or three-week breaks. They enjoy taking holidays, but never leave home long enough to truly abandon their workaday lives.
One rung above the vacationers are the restless wanderers. I’m in this camp. We knock around for several months at a time, perhaps even a year or two, and consider ourselves far more grizzled and worldly than the vacationers.” Now I know that I never said I was a “restless wanderer,” I’m a weary wanderer, instead. But at least now I know what I would have to do to become a restless wanderer, should I ever decide to do so.

I decided to dog-ear this doosey of a passage while I was sitting on my own bus ride, contemplating on how I would write the perfectly worded complaint blog about the experience. “Buses are perhaps the least romantic mode of surface transport. Ships and trains maintain a classic allure. The automobile has its passionate cult. But you rarely hear anybody rhapsodizing about a bus trip. You’re far more likely to hear bus-related horror stories. My own: While traveling in Ecuador I caught a rural bus headed for a tiny beach town on the Pacific coast. There was no room left…so the driver directed my friend and me to a ladder on the back of the bus. We climbed up onto the vehicle’s roof, where we rode atop an enormous pile of strapped-down luggage. The bus rumbled along dirt roads at 40 mph, and we clung for dear life to random suitcase handles.” Yeah, that doesn’t make my own foray into the world of bus riding sound so bad now, does it?

I also thought I’d bookmark the history of the left-right-sided driving argument for my lovely readers, as well. “In America, as in the great majority of the world (including ships at sea), we stay to the right when passing an oncoming vehicle. I’ve yet to find any satisfactory answer as to why some countries insist on doing it differently. One theory holds that in the age of the horse, everyone kept left—so that the right hand (the dominant side for most people) would be in position to greet, or clash swords with,  an oncoming rider. A second step to the theory is then required, and it goes like this: Napoleon, being left-handed, preferred to ride on the right side of the road. The diminutive tyrant insisted that his soldiers, and everyone he conquered, followed his lead.”

Lastly, and what I think I might have ultimately taken away from this book, can pretty much be summed up in the following: “There’s also the depressing realization David Foster Wallace put his finger on. That however many awesome things we have, we will forever crave the next awesome thing. And that even when all discomfort is eliminated, and life is “perfect,” less-than perfect emotions will persist in our stubborn brains. Which calls into question just what it would take to make you happy….”

So, my friends, as I get ready to head off to Europe the Sunday after next (on a plane, I promise you), I’ll keep that final thought in mind.

Until next time, bis bald, my friends! And read this book!

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