Today I’m talking about the ultimate backpacker’s tale – Imagine, a Vagabond Story by Grant Lingel, who left a cosy suburban lifestyle to backpack around Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. If you think you’d enjoy this book, read on for my review…
Having failed to quite complete his college degree, Grant decided to get out and see a bit of the world, rather than take up a steady job like most of his friends. His journey started in Mexico with only a couple of hundred dollars in his pocket and no return ticket. For a while he joined a friend working in a hotel resort, entertaining American holiday makers before joining a group of buddies in their van travelling through Belize and Guatemala and then continuing alone wherever took his fancy.
I read Imagine- a Vagabond Story in between boat trips and crab fishing in Brittany and I must admit it was an incongruous but entertaining read. The book transported me to another world of easy come, easy go hostel lifestyle, where best friends are made and said goodbye to in the space of a few days and where the drugs, tequila and pretty girls are always available. My first impression was how different the travel experience appears to be for some Americans like Grant, to whom the thought of going to Mexico to work in a 5 star resort seemed impossibly exotic after his steady upbringing. In England, there are so many cheap flights and warm destinations a few hours away, that it did seem a little like me going on a package holiday to Greece.
After a while working in the Mexican resort of Playa del Carmen, Grant was also ready to move on to something a little more adventurous and takes up the offer of some guys who are travelling south to go with them and get a bit more off the beaten track. Together they swim in waterfalls in a deserted national park with only a few bored soldiers with loaded automatic rifles for company, take in the jungle view from the top of Mayan pyramids and watch the sun set behind three smoking volcanos.
Reading this book was a little like following the blog of a student friend on their round the world trip, albeit better written. In the book, however, Grant gives us the uncensored version of his adventures – the back cover description as a memoir of sex, drugs and salsa dancing pretty much covers it. This isn’t one you’ll be reading to your kids at bed-time. As a mother of teenagers who will be off seeing the world in the next few years, it was an education – of course I never got up to any such mischief when I was travelling in my university years!
I had to laugh when Grant was working in a hostel in Antigua and given a T-shirt to wear saying ‘Que Pasa en Antigua se queda in Antigua’, translated as ‘What happens in Antigua stays in Antigua’. Yeah right Grant, I thought. That’s except when you write a book about it for the whole world and your mother to read!
After the first few chapters of fairly typical backpacker stuff I was half expecting something really bad to happen, like Grant getting mugged or having all his money stolen, to complete the typical vagabond tale. But luckily the worst that happens is the van veering off the road and getting wrecked and being chased by street dogs when coming back drunk to his hostel one night. After a while I did find the hostels, nights getting drunk and stoned and the travellers Grant met all merging a bit into one, as I suspect they did for Grant too.
There were times when I wished Grant could get beyond that backpacker scene and engage a little more with the locals and their culture. There was the dreadlocked local guide, Juan in Guatamala with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Tikal ruins, or Carole, the eco-farm hostel owner who’s husband had been killed by the Guatamalan forces during the years of civil war. Now here were some people with a story to tell, if Grant had delved a bit deeper to see things from their perspective.
Grant’s story is more a personal journey of a college boy who grew up and became a citizen of the world through his travel experiences. I was swept along by Grant’s delight and enjoyment of his new found freedom and opportunity to do and see whatever took his fancy. Imagine – a Vagabond Story is a book that will make you want to pick up your backpack and Lonely Planet guide and see where the road leads you too. If you like a book that ties in with the place you’re going, then I’d say this is one to read on that long bus journey through South America to take your mind off the hair-raising driving, then leave on the hostel bookshelf for the next traveller to enjoy.
You can buy Grant’s book which costs $16.95 from his website at Vagabondstory.com, where you can also read more about Grant’s story and see the photos from his trip.
Other travel books you may enjoy
Review of the Madrid Confessions by Ben Curtis