You know, I hate travel guide books. Actually, I love to read them but I always feel cheated afterward. And I always fall for it. Every time. For instance, a guide will tell you that Chicagoans invented the deep-dish pizza and give you the address, phone number and hours to Pizzeria Uno and all the other entities important in developing this grotesque creation. OK, so I know “what” and “where” but I’m much more curious than that. I long for the “how?” and more importantly, “why?” Why on earth is more like it. What happened to that flat Margarita on its way from Naples, Italy to the dreary Midwest? A mysterious mid-Atlantic mutation I presume? Most travel guides won’t tell me that. Certainly not my most trusted Lonely Planet, the bible of both backpackers and casual travelers alike.
But wait. I want more. What does that monstrosity taste like? What does it smell like? Should I expect pizza sauce to be streaming off my chin and should I bring a bib? Will there be an endless string of cheese constantly leashing my lips to the cast iron pan? Are the tables large enough for me to get down and dirty with a whole pie or does the 80 year old pizzeria more resemble a can of sardines. Now I know my Lonely Planet won’t help me out with any of that.
My most recent example of guide book let-down was in Peru. There it was so bad that I lost the Lonely Planet when checking out of the Cusco Rumi Punku to do the Inca Trail and I didn’t even miss it. It helped me to book the hike with the Llama Path tour group but I wouldn’t have cracked it once on the trail (if I still had it in my possession). I recall looking up hours of operations once and admiring a map of the Sacred Valley on occasion but that was all. This picture is probably the last sighting of my Lonely Planet Peru copy.
Now it’s not fair to say that guides are only good for leveling the legs of a wobbly cafe table. Usually a travel guide is good in one area. Whether it is Lonely Planet for it’s most current phone numbers or Time Out’s evaluation of Prague’s underground rave scene they all seem to serve at least one demographic. But even my favorite DK Eyewitness guides are very shallow on inspiration. I am a visual person and those guides illustrate everything. They use hand drawn area maps with really cool building cut-aways. They promise: “We show you what other guides only tell you.” Great! But who is going to make me feel what you show me?
So when the guides fell short I began keeping my own journals. And I found myself going back and reading those journals over and over again while the Eyewitness guides propped up the broken foot of my bed frame. These journals were very personal more like traveling with a companion than with a daily log. Hence the name of the blog.