I wanted to drop out. People said, "Get a cell phone, use FedEx, sign up for Hotmail, stop in at Internet cafés, visit my Web site . . ."
I said no thanks. The whole point of my leaving was to escape this stuff, to be out of touch. The greatest justification for travel is not self- improvement but rather performing a vanishing act, disappearing without a trace. As Huck put it, lighting out for the territory.
Africa is one of the last great places on earth a person can vanish into. I wanted that. Let them wait. I have been kept waiting far too many times for far too long.
I am outta here, I told myself. The next Web site I visit will be that of the poisonous Central African bird-eating spider.
A morbid aspect of my departure for Africa was that people began offering condolences. Say youre leaving for a dangerous place. Your friends call sympathetically, as though youve caught a serious illness that might prove fatal. Yet I found these messages unexpectedly stimulating, a heartening preview of what my own demise would be like. Lots of tears! Lots of mourners! But also, undoubtedly, many people boasting solemnly, "I told him not to do it. I was one of the last people to talk to him."
I had gotten to Lower Egypt, and was heading south, in my usual traveling mood: hoping for the picturesque, expecting misery, braced for the appalling. Happiness was unthinkable, for although happiness is desirable, it is a banal subject for travel. Therefore, Africa seemed perfect for a long journey.
Copyright © 2003 by Paul Theroux. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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