Friday, 24 October 2008

One hundred hours of solitude


Today I'm sitting in an internet cafe outside the bus terminal in Veracruz, Veracruz, a port city where Pete and I spent a few days of diahorrea and drinking back in 2003. (It was a bit more fun than that sounds). This time I am only passing through, from Papantla to Mérida, and into the Yucatan peninsula. This will leave me a stone's throw (3hrs) from Cancún and the final destination of this overland leg of my trip, which began in Seattle five weeks ago.

Mérida is just over 2,500 miles from Seattle, as the crow flies - and my route must have been a fair bit longer than that. I thought about this lying in a hotel bed the other night in Papantla, and calculated that I must have spent around 100 hours in transit so far on this trip. Certainly, the 15 hour journey I'm about to embark on will take the total into three figures.

The reason why this came into my head the other night was because I had found myself, earlier in the day, feeling restless in the last hour of my 6 hour trip from Mexico City (11 hours total from Morelia that morning). This must be the first time I have really wanted to get off the bus I was travelling on throughout the whole of the last few weeks. In fact, more often i find myself - at the end of an overnight journey - wishing that the bus ride was a little longer so I could sleep some more.

The only reason why i was so restless arriving in Papantla was because I was finishing War and Peace, and was left badly disappointed by the second half of the Epilogue. As Tolstoy drained on in the last 50 pages, repeating his view of history for the umpteenth time and using his 2,000th metaphor to dismiss conventional historians, I seriously considered giving up the book and finishing there. ...But when you're 1300 pages into a book...

Still, it was a superb read on the whole, even if it can't match One Hundred Years of Solitude for a rhapsodic ending.

So I am looking forward to jetisoning W & P when I next reach a youth hostel. (I couldn't bring myself to leave it in a hotel room or dustbin - so I will carry it for today's 20 hours' travel just to make sure it finds an honourable resting place. I wonder which brave backpacker is going to choose to lift it off the shelf I will leave it on.)

But having W & P really did serve a purpose: one which has now become clear to me. As I got on that bus ride to Papantla on Wednesday, the two women searching my hand luggage in Mexico City had joked at the immense size of W & P and my Mexico guidebook, to which I replied: "Well, at least i won't be short of something to read." Two days later, I may be running short.

I began an Inspector Rebus novel yesterday and I'm now just over 100 pages from its end. To be sure of having enough to read for my impending 15 hour ride, i will have to dig into the bottom of my backpack for ... another Rebus novel, which I picked up in San Diego. But frankly, I'm loving the prospect. I have realised - in totting up 100 hours' bus and train travel - how much I enjoy the process of travelling for its own sake.

15 hours to Mérida and nothing to do but sleep and read ... depending on the quality of the movies they play on the bus. This evening I'm hoping for some 1950s Mexican film that won't distract me. We'll see.

2 comments:

Peter said...

You're an animal, Smith! Looks like a great trip so far. I don't mind admitting that I'm very jealous. Maybe if my Spanish gets better I'll follow in your footsteps after my MSc.

I'm glad you kept Missouri in view, and doubley happy because Boulder Colorado is still showing too; Boulder has a special place in my heart.

Keep up the blog - it's a very good read. I had dinner with Joana and Bobby lasted night and mentioned it to them.

Hasta pronto mi amigo. Tengo ventitres anyos!

Richard Smith said...

Whatever you do don't run out of something to read. That's one of the worst things that can happen to a traveller.

But the travel;ing can take you into some new and different reading. I always remember reading a coverless copy of the Tin Drum in India, a tremendous book, and Papillon, not such a great book but a good yarn.

Try and find a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, a fabulous book. Or Moby Dick. But maybe when you get to Columbia you must read Garcia Marquez.