Hidden Treasures: How an Old Lonely Planet Guidebook still Guides
Hard to believe, really, but this month marks the tenth anniversary of my first major solo venture abroad. It was the year 2000. Not many months earlier I had finally finished twenty-one years of formal schooling. After sitting in classrooms since I was five years old, the time had come to trade in my campus backpack for one a bit bigger, and to see what lay beyond the walls of academia.
My first stop in this process—other than a visit to REI to buy a $140 backpack (which I still use to this day)—was the bookstore. Here I bought the 10th edition of Southeast Asia on a Shoestring.
It was my first Lonely Planet guidebook. Well-rooted in the world of books after two decades in school, I loved the thing. Unlike some drab economics or psychology textbook cover, Lonely Planet featured a gecko that looked relaxed and capable of having a good time. He was crawling across a map of Southeast Asia, and I craved to join him.
Which I did, thanks to a Malaysian Airlines flight that deposited me in Bali.
Bali, which I associated with rice fields and a Sting song, exhausted me from the start, because in order to save a $2 taxi fare, I walked, in blue jeans and tennis shoes, and with an overweight backpack on my back, from the airport to the backpacker district of Legian. It was perhaps three miles, and I arrived dehydrated and with feet full of blisters. It was the first stupid thing I did in Asia, and I loved it, for I was at last in Asia, and had already saved two dollars.
Flipping through this guidebook today, I feel a tenderness toward the dirty pages, the fraying edges, that wonderfully seductive gecko and map. I scan what I underlined and where I made notes, and I flip through ticket stubs and other knickknacks tucked within its pages.
I see a train ticket stub and remember the rhythmic thumping of cars going down the track in southern Thailand. I see the overnight ferry ticket to Ko Phangan and remember the smell of saltwater, the cozy quarters with scores of other travelers, and a night I wished would never end.
I see a sticker from the Kantha Bopha Blood Bank in Cambodia and remember riding a rickety bicycle in the dark to get there. Sweaty and smelly—I had just spent the day bicycling around the ruins at Angkor—I donated blood and then hopped back on the bike, headed to my hotel and feeling absolutely alive as I moved in a stream of Cambodians also on bicycle. (Side note: I also remember coming down with Dengue Fever several days later, and hoping my blood had received a good screening before being passed to a recipient.)
I see currency notes from several nations and my mind falls back to the afternoon I bargained over a t-shirt in Siem Riep. The price started at $3 or $4 and in the end, with both buyer and seller pleased, I got it for $2. (I thought it would last maybe a year but I still wear it to this day.)
And when I find the handwritten note that says “Penny Black (pub) 7:30 pm”, I remember an Aussie teacher named Steve who I met in Indonesia. When two weeks later I was passing through Singapore, where he worked, he let me crash at his place, and on that first night he invited me to join him and his coworkers at the Penny Black.
I’m rambling simply to say this: I treasure this old guidebook, for two reasons. First, because a decade ago it introduced me to a foreign part of the world that after four months of travel no longer felt so foreign. Second, I treasure the thing because, as I hold it again, I see that it has the power to take me to a place beyond any map, to what I guess we simply call "yesterday." And arriving there, I am reminded of who I was—a young backpacker fresh out of school, so much of the world still ahead of him.
Joel Carillet, chief editor of wanderingeducators.com, is a freelance writer and photographer based in Tennessee. He is the author of 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia. To learn more about him, follow his regular photoblog, or purchase prints, visit www.joelcarillet.com.