The Americans: Travel Stories

Explorama Lodge, Peru
September 2009

“El Presidente” Alan, as the guides call him, tells the story of how his wife, Irene, had her plastic scissors confiscated at the Bangkok airport, how she wouldn’t board the plane without them. Her late husband had given them to her. They were of great sentimental value. Alan raced through the airport to a post office to mail them back to the United States. In Laos there was an injury. The tour guide took them to an emergency room where they were seen by a doctor in only 15 minutes.

In Japan, en route to Thailand, the flight that Carol from Michigan and her husband were on was late in arriving. Before they disembarked, the authorities came on board with a camera device to check the passengers’ body temperatures. When they ultimately arrived in Bangkok, there was no guide to meet them. Someone from the airport greeted them and got them a limousine to their hotel.

Fresh off a 12-hour flight from New York, poor Michelle from California was accosted in the women’s room of the Cairo airport, while her husband, Forrest, waited outside. The two attendants blocked the exit, stared her down demanding backsheesh even though she had no cash, until she was in tears.

Until the day comes when I’ll need the group, I want to see as much as I can on my own.They have traveled far and often, my American friends in the Amazon, farther than me — Vietnam, Africa. They recall many kindnesses, little adventures. But they’ve seen most of it from a tour bus, a group, a shell. They ask me why I travel alone. They recall the old days when they booked their own trips.

This is why I travel far now. This is why I travel alone. Because someday I will be like they are. I will want the security of the group, the comfort of the package. Some days I want that now — but only for a day or two. That’s all I can take, and then I snap out of it. Until the day comes when I’ll need the group, I want to see as much as I can on my own, in my own way. There are so many places to go.

Yesterday, leaving the Explorama camp, Irene and Carol struggled with the heat and climbing. We didn’t walk far, just briefly to a medical clinic just upriver, and again to the village where my guide, Orlando, was raised. The women hid under umbrellas the way old women do in Florida during the summer. They complained about the sun, their lost sunglasses, their husbands trying to soothe them, even as they struggled themselves. They wished we could forgo the visits to the clinic and village. They wilted in the slight shade watching the village kids play football. They were relieved when the boat came to pick us up, relieved further when they arrived at Ceiba Tops to the air conditioning, the cool swimming pool, and hot showers.

I was relieved too, for the moment. But soon enough, I wanted to go again. On to the next place. There was more to see.

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