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“Imagine: A Vagabond Story” Reviewed

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“Imagine: A Vagabond Story” Reviewed

In his 2009 "Imagine: A Vagabond Story," Grant Lingel tells a fascinating tale of self-discovery through travel. Grant takes you on an incredibly interesting trip through Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico, where he spent most time.

I loved it.

This book has special appeal to anyone who has traveled the backpacker way. In my case, Grant’s trip brought back a flood of memories.

Grant’s clear and compelling narrative brings you quickly into his life. You begin to care for him and even worry about him.

For example, as Grant makes “newbie” mistakes similar to yours, you might even groan. I almost cried out, “Don’t do that!” (for good reason) at one point. That’s how involved you may become.

I took issue with Grant’s behavior at times, as explained below, but could not help but like him.

First-timers

For anyone planning a first big trip away, this is an exceptional read. Grant did not write this as a guidebook, but you will certainly absorb his experiences.

You will find comfort in how easily Grant was able to start to have fun and adapt to his new surroundings. Especially outside of familiar environments, backpackers really do provide each other with a wonderful support system, which is described in detail. You will not be alone, unless you want to be.

You’ll also receive loads of useful tips–hostels Grant liked and did not like so much, restaurants, clubs, excursions, must-sees, dangers, how he dealt with situations, etc. He would not want you to follow his exact itinerary (or anyone else’s), but you easily could from reading this book.

Parents

Surprisingly considering some of its topics, I also recommend "Imagine" to parents of prospective backpackers—they would have to be very open minded parents, of course—worried about their children going off alone.

I say open minded, because you will not find this book in your local school library. It is not for the easily offended.

Parents who do read it will see the joy Grant experienced during his journey. They’ll note his growth to independence and adulthood. The book may even trigger a desire to see much more of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Sets an example

Grant came armed with a very friendly personality and not an iota of prejudice. These traits really helped him as he traveled.

He also exhibited a wonderful spirit of spontaneity that I’ve struggled to attain. (Eisenhower didn’t plan D-Day more carefully than I once did a trip to New Zealand. Every hotel, hostel, train, ferry, and coach was booked in advance and most prepaid. I even booked four local tours before the trip, because “these popular ones might sell out.” Happily, I've changed--somewhat. :) )

Grant really pushed to improve his Spanish, which facilitated many opportunities to build local relationships, including one with a woman who may someday marry him. Speaking Spanish well also helped him get out of a variety of tight situations.

With his experiences, Grant really motivated me to work on my Spanish.

Challenged on cultural sensitivity

We need to cut Grant a lot of slack because this was his first trip outside of Canada and the U.S.

Nevertheless as this is a review, I must say Grant significantly neglected to do sufficient homework about the cultures and histories of the people he would meet while traveling.

That fostered and exacerbated negative experiences.

I am not just picking on Grant. The issue of cultural sensitivity comes up with fun-oriented backpackers in general, as well as with any group such as cruise passengers focused on its own pleasure while traveling the world.

Socially conservative societies

Backpackers like Grant—ones that balance a desire to experience other cultures with having lots fun with each other–often harbor significantly different value systems than the majority of citizens in the countries they visit.

As an example, unlike Grant and most of the backpackers he meets, Mexicans continue to be very socially conservative. I don’t mean that in the way Americans think, anti-abortion and all that, although those attitudes may be the similar.

What I mean, for instance, is that many Mexicans remain deeply religious in a conservative way and recoil at such things as nudity and sexual behavior on their beaches. In general, I also mean that Mexicans have far more traditional attitudes toward the role of women in society, the obligation of men to protect them, and so on.

A hostel incident

The closest Grant came to totally losing his composure on this trip came when an aggressive security guard tried to prevent him from bringing a close Mexican friend into the sleeping area of his Mexico City hostel.

To Grant, the guard was acting as a boorish “rent-a-cop on the power trip of a lifetime.” To the guard, I am very confident, Grant was an irresponsible, drug-bloated, American hippie sleazebag trying to deflower an innocent young Mexican woman not able to protect herself, while disobeying hostel rules.

Also, keep in mind that this hostel interaction occurred within the greater context of Mexican history, which Mexicans tend to look at as a long chronicle of American aggressions against their people and exploitations of them continuing to this day.

I am not saying that a serious “I am very sorry. I mean no offense. I love Noret very much, and I will never do anything to harm her” would have resolved the incident or bought about perpetual world peace, but it just might have diffused the anger in an explosive situation. It certainly would have conveyed some respect for the traditions of the society he was visiting.

Captain or crook?

Another problem popped up when a boat captain on the lookout for more money tampered with the enjoyment of a portion of Grant’s trip.

In Mexico as some Americans see it, business people are constantly trying to rip you off, sometimes egregiously so.

In this case when he met them for their return trip, a boat captain claimed Grant’s group had paid only for the trip out. Having used his advanced Spanish to arrange passage, Grant knew this not to be true.

As many readers know, what some may think as an attempted rip off is actually an honored process in Mexico, as well as many other countries in the world. If you embrace the day-to-day Mexican financial system, it can become great fun. You negotiate. That’s the way it is.

Think of Mexico as one huge American “pre-owned” car lot with no set prices.

With the captain—and I don’t wish to diminish too much the loathsomeness of his business mode that affronts even Mexican standards–Grant could have smiled at least slightly to show that he knew the system, explained his side civilly, and, if needed, then dived into negotiation.

Certainly, Grant could not have ended up any worse than he did by losing every centavo of the group’s return fares, when he stormed away in anger. Grant’s group got nothing, and the captain returning with an empty boat got nothing, not even the little extra as a tip that he was probably hoping for.

Buy this book

As said, I loved this book.

I cannot begin to describe how interesting Grant’s story is. There is a richness of experience that few achieve in such a short time. In his shy non-congratulatory way, Grant even describes saving a life at much risk to him.

As with everything else in this tale, that is powerful reading.

I highly recommend "Imagine: A Vagabond Story."  

I cannot wait until Grant comes out with his next adventure. (UPDATE September 2015: No new book as gone on market.)

Comments

nomadic matt
September 21, 2011

and what about the writing? it’s not very good.

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Don Nadeau
September 21, 2011

Matt, thanks for your comment, but even though I know that you are an outstanding writer, I respectfully disagree. I did not want to put the book down. To me, that’s a mark of good writing.

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Steve Nomad
August 31, 2016

I’ve read the book and I have to agree with Matt, that the writing is not the best. Having said that though, it did resonate with me and I could definitely relate to some of the tales he wrote about.

Thanks for the review Don

Steve

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Don Nadeau
September 5, 2016

Thanks, Steve.

Have enjoyed meeting Matt several times and know that he’s really well educated and of course know from reading his posts that he’s an outstanding writer. Moreover, your writing also demonstrates that big time. Must bow to your opinions!

Am probably much too tolerant to write proper book reviews, but as long as travelers spell check, don’t use all caps, and make some attempt to be coherent I am happy with trip reports not done by professional writers, at least as long as I find them interesting and helpful.

Again, thank you and all the best to you!

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