Whenever I want to travel without leaving home, I turn to Paul Theroux. Right now I’m accompanying him on his nostalgic trip throughout Asia in his 2008 book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, in which he retraces the epic journey he took in 1973 when he was in his early thirties, which became his first bestseller, The Great Railway Bazaar.
I’ll admit it: I love traveling with this man this way. I love his sensibilities, his observations, his breadth, the sound of his voice on the page. I love the way he chooses to travel – down to earth, close to the real people – the way I, too, prefer to be.
In an effort to remain a companionable traveling companion, I tend to agree with him and go along with everything he wants to do and everywhere he wants to go, uncomplainingly. But the other night we had a major disagreement.
Paul Theroux, as anyone who’s read him knows, loves train travel more than any other kind. To him, trains are “ideal.” He hates to fly, avoids hired cars, and thinks buses are “usually nasty.” As I read the other night in Ghost Train:
“The great challenge in travel is not arriving at the glamorous foreign city,” he wrote, “but solving the departure problem, finding a way out of it, without flying. Buses are usually nasty, and bus stations the world over are dens of thieves, cutpurses, intimidators, mountebanks, and muggers. Hired cars are convenient but nearly always a rip-off, and who wants narration from the driver? The train is still the ideal – show up and hop on.”
What!? “Dens of thieves, cutpurses, intimidators, mountebanks, and muggers”! That’s not true, Paul! I argued with him in my mind. After having read close to a dozen of his terrific travel books, I feel we’re on a first-name basis and I can confront him this way. You haven’t traveled enough by bus in Mexico! I tell him. (He has, in fact, written a fabulous book about his travels in Mexico by car, On the Plain of Snakes, which I highly recommend.)
I wanted to send him all the blogposts I’ve written about my travels by bus since retiring in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, seven years ago: All of the praise I’ve heaped on Mexico’s sterling bus system – the safe, modern, clean, sleek, on-time buses; the safe, clean, spacious, well-lit, well-run bus stations. But Paul Theroux is a busy man, too busy to read my blogposts, I’m sure. He’s a disciplined writer. He’s published over fifty books, both fiction and nonfiction, in his long career. His newest book, a novel titled The Bad Angel Brothers, will be published by HarperCollins early next month. And anyway, I know he’s stuck on trains.
One of my most memorable Mexican bus rides, though, which might interest him was the one I took in August 2016 after a trip to New York. The bus line was ETN, and my bus was a double-decker. As I wrote in my WOW post at the time (www.bonnieleeblack.com/blog/on-the-road-home/ ):
“What a surprise! The bus I took back to San Miguel de Allende from Mexico City last week, on the last leg of my long journey home from New York, turned out to be the most modern, clean, large, luxurious bus I’d ever ridden.
“It was a veritable luxury-liner of a bus – double-decker, but not open at the top, like New York’s tourist buses — and outfitted like the first-class section of an airplane, with cushy, wide, La-Z-Boy-like reclining seats, head sets, Wi-Fi, TV, you name it.
ETN bus upper deck interior
“Before I boarded and took the seat I’d chosen — No. 1, directly above the driver down below, offering a panoramic view of the road ahead and the countryside on both sides — feeling weary, hungry, and more than a little delirious from being in transit for nearly twenty-four hours without sleep, I was handed a bag containing my choice of bottled beverage and a big, beautiful, fat empanada stuffed with a tasty meat filling. That certainly perked me up.
Part of the panoramic vista from my front seat on the upper deck
“The biggest surprise of all for me was that this four-plus-hour “luxury cruise” bus trip cost me — thanks to my senior discount card, available to every citizen and legal resident of Mexico over the age of 60 — only $242 pesos, or, by today’s exchange rate, $13 USD. An equivalent bus trip in the U.S., let’s say from New York to Washington, D.C., would cost nearly five times as much, and the buses would likely not be as comfy.
“Mexico, I’m finding, is full of such surprises. …”
The forward view from my upper-deck seat on the ETN bus from Mexico City to SMA
Paul Theroux and I have this in common: We both served in the Peace Corps in Africa. And this life-altering life experience has certainly played a big role in our shared hunger for world travel and adventure. I’m sure he’d agree with me that whatever the mode – train, plane, bus, car, ferry, rickshaw, or even (no, especially for me now) book – it’s always fun to get back on the road again.
On the Road Again
Oh, and to spur you on your way, just listen to the young Willie Nelson sing his classic “On the Road Again” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBN86y30Ufc