Smile when you're lying: confessions of a rogue travel writer by Chuck Thompson. Holt, 2007.
It's unfortunate that the publisher placed the Kirkus Reviews quote that compared this Thompson to Hunter Thompson. Let's hope the tales Chuck spins are closer to what he remembers as the truth than was Hunter's inclination. To call these tales confessions is a stretch, except when it relates to the travel industry rather than the numerous stories of his wild youth, being stranded in Thailand, and various encounters in some of the hundreds of countries to which the author has visited, almost always on assignment and on someone else's dollar or Euro. They are the kind of stories I enjoyed hearing when I sat around a youth hostel or backpacker's hotel and shared advice, warnings, and past adventures. In the right company I will still tell some of them, even though they date back to the 1960's: being searched by the East German border guards, a trek in the jungle of Togo, being caught up in the beginning of the Nigerian civil war, encounter with a Haitian intelligence officer, gypsy women in Santiago, the kindness of drivers and hitchhiking, and so on. Without these kinds of stories, the book would have been a long article.
He was editor of the short-lived Travelocity magazine, and that post-mortem was quite illuminating. He has some pointers for us the consumer-traveler, and these generally make sense to me. I've been to about fifty countries and lived outside the continental U.S. for about six years. He is very hard on Lonely Planet (recently sold by Wheeler) and points out some interesting inconsistencies in the messages in the writings of Paul Theroux who criticizes certain practices in one book and reveals that he enjoys them in a later article.
Did Thompson burn all his travel journalism bridges with this book? Will he ever be invited by a tourist bureau or airline or hotel chain to write for them again? I guessed he saw what Anthony Bourdain did by writing Kitchen Confidential and parlaying it into speaking engagements, other books, and a cable TV program No Reservations where he travels all over the world and eats locally and takes in some local adventures. I still prefer Ian Wright of Globe Trekker. They recently put most of their travel programs online for free.
Smile is not a book you will refer to, but it's worth a read, so look for it in your local library before buying it.
The day after Christmas we drove about three hours from Los Angeles and reached Anza-Borrego State Park which surrounds the town of Borrego Springs, west of the Salton Sea. A trailhead near the campground leads to the most popular destination, a grove of California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera), the only ones native to the continental United States. There is a day use fee to park here or you can walk further from the excellent visitor center another mile further away. From the closer parking area it is about a 3 mile hike round trip. We have minimal knowledge of the flora of the desert, while this site provides complete coverage of the plants along the trail as well as the damage from the ten foot wall of water from flash floods a few years ago. I liken the difference to my entering a teeming outdoor market where I don't understand the language. Visually it is impressive, but a local who knows the language will have a much better understanding about what is really going on. And that's why I did not recognize rattlesnake weed, mule fat, desert tobacco, and white goosefoot. More pictures below:
Sacramento is the capital of California. It's grown immensely along with the state. There is a riverside vestige of the town's past, Old Sacramento. We were taking care of our grand kids on the weekend and stayed at the Embassy Suites just on the Sacramento River, very near the Tower Bridge (left) which was closed for a construction. We walked down to the river and strolled along the dock. Along the way boat owners were having quiet parties along side their craft. The girls drew compliments as we passed. At the end just before we climbed up to Joes Crab Shack where we had dinner, there perched on the edge was a huge sea lion. Somehow it had made its way from the ocean to the San Francisco Bay and up the delta and river to Sacramento, perhaps a good 75 miles of twists and turns.
Yes, kids can fit through the holes in the cheese sculpture.
The next day we went to Fairytale Town a couple of miles south of the hotel. This is a very low tech park for kids. At the entrance a sign read, "Adults must be accompanied by a child." The themes were Wizard of Oz, Winnie the Pooh, and animals to pet. Chickens roamed freely, and there were enough structures to climb on that kids from two to 10 seemed happy to be there. Each one had a dedication plaque, and one was donated in 1958, about the same time that the first Disneyland opened 400 miles south. The only high tech addition was a speaker at each site that either played a song or told a story depending which side of a plastic key a child inserted. The girls each had a key, and other kids who did not gathered around to hear the stories at each stop on their tour.
There is a saying that in California we name housing developments and shopping malls after that which has been destroyed to make way for development. So you have The Pruneyard, The Vineyards, and so on. In San Jose, California, a faux-European shopping complex was constructed across from a typical mega-mall. Santana Row features high end restaurants, shops, and luxury car dealers rent space to park Hummers and Masaratis around the area. People do like to walk around the streets, even if they buy nothing. There is some public area where you can sit, play chess, and not have to buy anything. On Sunday, October 7, Santana Row sponsored a pear festival, " a day of festivities honoring its heritage as a thriving, 65-acre pear orchard and the sweet fruit that it produced. " It was limited to one side of the street on one of three main blocks, and there were some farmers selling produce. I saw one box of small pears and an artist selling ceramic pears. There was also music and a cooking demonstration in the central area.
Waterton Lakes National Park is across the border from Glacier National Park. The latter will simply be called "National Park" once all the glaciers have melted. It is smaller that the U.S. park, but there are choice hikes, lakes for kayaking, and a pleasant village with places to eat and get supplies. We spent a day there kayaking, visiting the old hotel, and hiking the Red Canyon.
You can walk from the Canadian side along the lake, cross the border, and check in with a U.S. official on that side.
Banff was the first national park in the Canadian system. It is quite crowded in places, and the town of Banff is jammed with souvenir shops and crowds jostle each other on the sidewalk, so plan on spending your time on the trails, lakes, and rivers in the park. There is a lot to see. We enjoyed the well known sites such as Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Kayaking on Two Jacks lake was relaxing and scenic. This photo is of a range of mountains heading south out of Banff.
June 29, 2007 was the day the Apple iPhone was on the market, and at each Apple store many people waiting in line to buy one for $600. I went over to Valley Fair in San Jose at 10 a.m. thinking it would be on sale when the store opened, but 6 p.m. was the time on the poster. There were several people sitting in canvas chairs and each had an official sign denoting their place in line. This allowed them to leave the line, go to the bathroom, eat, etc. and return without any hassle. I spoke with several, and the
number three woman seemed rather clueless about what she was buying. She had no idea you needed a two year contract at $60 a month plus the expensive phone. They pointed out that the line stretched outside, and I walked back to switchbacks of patients consumers waiting for a questionable product. I returned to the front of the line where a TV crew had gathered to interview Steve Wozniak
who had, one his own, come in the late night to stand in line. However others had already arrived, but they gave him first place. We left after about 20 minutes. I don't even use a cell phone that much, but I'm interested in the way it will be used in developing countries more than the advanced services touted by ATT and Apple.
The dog beach in Santa Cruz is off limits to pets between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Usually some people ignore that rule. During the day of February 16, 2007, someone was hard at work making this large emblem (End War) in the sand. By tomorrow it will probably be washed away by the tide. This is also very near the surfing museum where
one of the first webcams was located in the early 90's.