Hardie Karges – “Hypertravel”

In The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler gives us an odd and interesting guidebook writer, Macon Leary, who doesn’t exactly relish his work.

He hates travel. He travels “in a desperate kind of blitz—squinching his eyes shut and holding his breath and holding on for dear life.”

Leary writes “chunky, passport-sized paperbacks” like Accidental Tourist in France and Accidental Tourist in Germany. The logo for the series is a winged armchair.

Macon Leary writes the anti-guidebook, slim volumes that capture the essence of a place. “Plenty of other guidebooks say how to see as much of a city as possible,” his boss had told him. “You should say how to see as little.”

Macon Leary is weary of checking the quality of scrambled eggs in the various haunts he has recommended and he just wants to go home.

Hardie Karges is the opposite.

Hardie Karges has the urge, this deep itch, to keep cruising—to keep gobbling up the countries and diving into new cultures. “Hypertravel” is his account and it’s a breezy, fun, fast-moving (as one would expect) and enriching account of bombing around the world.

Karges is an old-school backpacker, a hostel-seeking, Wi-Fi-hungry traveler who depends on a good slug of coffee more than Jack Reacher. He searches for quality Chinese food everywhere he goes, battles gout and deals with his not-so-deep approach to sleeping. He thinks about his Thai wife Tang, who is at home in Los Angeles, and wonders where the relationship is heading. He has a fascination (fixation?) with border crossings and how each country handles the check-in process, the whole visa stamp and visa approval thing.

Once you settle into Karges’ style, a fine mix of chatty conversation interspersed with witty slices of poetry and moments of sheer beauty, you’ll find yourself extraordinarily engaged. “Hyptertravel” flies.

You get that feeling of being out on the road, of pushing your limits of comfort and communication and confusion. When Karges gets lost, you might never feel more clueless. When Karges gets robbed and assaulted, you’ll feel the same anger at his attackers. When Karges encounters another pit being passed off as overnight accommodations, you’ll never feel more disgusted.

Karges’ view of the world is at the street level. He’s rides buses and he walks. A train here, a plane there, but most of “Hypertravel” is hoofing it. A little bit of Bill Bryson, a little bit of Brad Newsham (“All The Right Places”) and a little bit of early Paul Theroux.

His humor is sneaky and sly. “Argentina rolls under the bus like Nebraska and her mother-in-law, just going on and on about nothing, vast plains dotted with towns and cows.”

In Buenos Aires: “What I can’t believe is that o many people seem to like the confusion, meeting with friends and chatting on sidewalks where three sets of shoulders couldn’t fit sideways. They seem to feed off the stress, like Matrix mugwumps getting a bio-electric buzz.”

In Paramaribo (Suriname): “My first three days…I stayed in a great little place a half hour’s walk from downtown that had everything you could ever want for the price of a U$ Grant—Internet, full breakfast, A/C, in-room coffee & tea, and as spic-and-span as my German grandmother would have it. If anything, it was TOO nice. I was afraid of losing street cred with you, my readers.”

Djibouti: “Guide books won’t tell you when a place sucks; I will. They’ll act like Djibouti is the Promised Land; I won’t. I could write the guidebook on Dijbouti in one word: ‘sucks.’ It should make interesting reading.”

Favorite line of the whole book is the punch line here: “The Kalahari Desert isn’t so deserted, really, just a notch more so than the savannahs where the Big 5 animals roam. But there’s not much wildlife here I guess. That’s up north in the Okavanga Delta, where I’d love to be going for its environmental uniqueness, but that requires a safari budget, and I require budget safaris.”

Okay, second favorite line in the book, while Karges is lost in Marseilles: “Streets branch off at acute angles that leave buildings on corners sucking in their bellies and hanging on for dear life. They probably mark the spots where some ancient forbear—let’s call him ‘Desmond’—manned a barrow in the marketplace and the rest is history.”

There’s a bit of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” to Karges’ whole spirit, in fact.  Life goes on, brah. Karges cruises and we take in the sights and sounds, all from the comfort of our winged armchair.

Karges doesn’t go for the big sights, the big tours, the famous spots (much) or the postcard settings. He’s after the flavor, the color, the food, the music—an impression more than sharp relief. These are his encounters, not necessarily the routes he’s recommending.

Karges makes it look easy, he makes it look (mostly) like fun and makes me want to hit the road.

Good stuff.

(Full disclosure that Hardie is an old college friend but I haven’t laid eyes on the guy since 1974 or 1975. He is a terrific observer and one helluva writer and I’m glad I got to read “Hypertravel.”)

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