Most of my friends know I spent this summer, metaphorically speaking, traveling with Paul Theroux, the modern-day travel literature legend. I can’t seem to get enough of his writing and the world I experience through his sensibilities.
Right now I’m with him in Costa Rica as he travels south from his hometown near Boston to the southern tip of South America in The Old Patagonian Express. This is the seventh book of his that I’ve read since June. At this rate, since he’s written well over thirty travel-related books and he, at eighty, is still writing more, I’ll be traveling with him for the rest of my life. Not an unpleasant thought.
I like the way he travels. Eschewing airlines and starred hotels, he chooses rickety old trains and humble pensions. He stays close to the ground and the people who live there. He strives to speak their language. He strikes up conversations with strangers, and he comes away with priceless human-interest stories to share.
In the preface to The Old Patagonian Express, he explains the travel-writing method he used: “I looked closely, I listened hard, I sniffed and wrote everything down.” This could be (should be?) the goal of every hopeful travel-writer, I believe. Not an easy task.
He prefers to travel alone. “Travel is at its best a solitary enterprise,” he says in Costa Rica, “to see, to examine, to assess, you have to be alone and unencumbered. … It is discovery not diversion that I seek.” I so agree. That’s why we make good traveling companions; he doesn’t know I’m there.
I’m glad I traveled widely, and alone, when I was younger and wrote about those travels in my own earlier books, because I don’t (in reality) travel anymore. I’m happy to have settled in the central mountains of Mexico, which in most respects combines all the best aspects of other countries I’ve loved and provides the things I appreciate most: sunny climate, hospitable people, a less-stressful and more affordable way of life than I’d ever known in the United States.
Here in San Miguel de Allende, my preferred method of transport is walking. (I’m so happy not to own a car here!) I walk miles every day –averaging over 5,000 steps per day — taking in the sights, sounds, smells (looking, listening, sniffing, as Paul Theroux would say) of Mexico: the vivid colors everywhere I turn, the music emanating from every possible source, the fragrance of traditional Mexican cooking filling the air.
But occasionally I need to go farther than my legs might want to take me. So I choose to take a bus. The bus system in San Miguel is outstanding: efficient, modern, safe, reliable, and muy economico (very inexpensive) – only 8 pesos (40 cents US) per trip. I often wonder why, when I do take a bus, I’m the only gringo on it. Is it fear?
That was the case this week when I decided to take the Ruta 8 bus to the Tianguis de Los Martes– the famous Tuesday Market on the highway across from the Plaza La Luciernaga shopping mall outside of town. This massive, colorful street market, now held every Tuesday beneath several newly built adjoining airplane-hangar-type structures, used to offer everything imaginable. But since COVID hit it’s been restricted to life’s necessities, such as food (cooked and fresh), clothing (including sombreros and shoes), toiletries and tools — all at head-spinningly low prices.
I was in a rare shopping mood this past Tuesday, on the lookout for new running (walking) shoes to replace the ones I’ve walked to death. But none of the styles I liked were available in my size. (Mexican women have much smaller feet than I do, I’ve learned.)
Nevertheless, it was fun to be there, among la gente (the people), enjoying the shapes and sizes and colors of the countless items for sale, the sounds of a wandering balladeer playing his guitar amid a few exuberant hawkers, the open-air aromas of the Mexican food being cooked for the eager lunchtime crowd.
After about an hour of this sensory overload, though, I was ready to take a bus back to el centro and walk the mile home from there.
This was my real-life mini travel-adventure for the week. Now it’s time to return to Paul in Costa Rica.
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~ For my July 2 WOW post on my earlier travels with Paul, go to: www.bonnieleeblack.com/blog/travels-with-Paul/.
~ For more information on the bus routes in SMA, go to: https://weexpats.com/bus-routes-san-miguel-de-allende/.
~ For more on San Miguel’s Tuesday Market, go to: