The Lunatic Express

Lunatic_ExpressCover_250Carl Hoffman’s latest book, ‘The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World via its most dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes‘ was the perfect reading companion during my recent trip to Haiti. As I followed Carl on a bus through the Andes to Puerto Maldonado, or a train from Kenya to Uganda, or a ferry through Bangladesh, I myself was commuting about Port-au-Prince on the backs of motorcycle taxis who weaved in and around traffic, and stuffing myself into crowded tap-taps, fabulously decorated pickup trucks with seating in the back.

A thoroughly engaging read, Hoffman plays a game of odds, seeking out the world’s riskiest conveyances. He is drawn to routes where ships sink regularly, buses careen off of cliffs, and trains which kill people daily. However, he notes that “though slow and statistically dangerous, travel at this level was as cheap and available as bread,” and he wanted “to experience travel not as a holiday, but as it is for most people a simple daily act of moving from one place to another [..] for whom travel was still a punishing, unpredictable, and sometimes deadly work of travail.”

Through countless such observations, Carl opens our eyes along with his as he finds the true value of the world’s mass transit systems, traveling hundreds of miles for a few dollars a day, and connecting with fellow commuters who refused to let him buy his own meals despite the fact that they would be much poorer than he. In fact, the worst experience in his around-the-world excursion was on his last leg home, via our very own Greyhound buses from Los Angeles to Washington, DC. He discovered a generosity of communal spirit that exists in all corners of the world except our own. It was on an Indonesian ferry that he realized “the more I give myself to the world, the more I made myself vulnerable by putting myself completely at the disposal of people and situations in which I had no control, the more people took care of me, looked out for me.” Except, of course, for right here at home.

While Hoffman’s tale shows us a colorful and grunge-filled world of conveyances and the characters who ride them, the underlying journey is an inward one. “For twenty years I had been a stable husband and father, and then I’d snapped. My life suddenly didn’t seem to fit anymore.” Through his self-analysis, Carl highlights something far more likely than dying on a train in Mumbai – how the intoxicating lure of exotic travel can impact one’s family. As a travel journalist volunteering in Haiti, camping underneath a manned guard tower of the U.N. and surrounded by the rubble of a collapsed nation for two weeks, I was acutely aware of my wife back at home, studying for finals without my usual help and support. Like Hoffman, I felt the excitement of being someplace new, someplace a little risky, and knew that I could stay indefinitely, that I wanted more. Given the opportunity, the temptation to travel far and wide and for long periods of time, to dive deep into cultures across the world, is what excites an explorer such as myself, but he reminds us that there is a price. The relationships created with all of the amazing people one meets while traveling, no matter how intense the connection, is by nature fleeting. Our families are the relationships that sustain us, give our hearts home and comfort, and for vagabonds, that is a struggle we must always be mindful of.

The Lunatic Express is currently available in hardcover through Amazon, and softcover should be available soon.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | March 25, 2010
Category: Adventure Travel, Travel Writing

2 Responses to “The Lunatic Express”

  1. Modes of transportation « MexiGo Pass Blog Says:

    […] in foreign countries tend to be some of the most vivid memories that come back with me. The Lunatic Express was such an enjoyable read because I could identify with Hoffman’s mission to explore the world […]