Travelogue review! Getting Stoned. . .
Posted April 20, 2011on:
Getting Stoned with Savages: A trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu, by J. Maarten Troost
Published in 2006
Where I got it: borrowed from a friend
Why I read it: I really enjoy travelogues.
50 pages or so into this book, I was ready to trade my winter boots for flip flops and hop the next flight to Fiji. Great weather, volcanoes, no traffic jams (no traffic lights), chilled out culture, sign me up! Then I got to the chapters (plural) about cannibals. I was still ready to go. Then I got to the chapters (still plural) about the giant poisonous centipedes. You know what? I think I’ll stay here in the American mid-west, thank you very much, where snow comes and kills the insects every year.
Marten seems to spend most of his days in Vanuatu jokingly thinking to himself how can he make his and his wife’s stay more interesting. Perhaps by nearly losing their house due to a mudslide. Perhaps by visiting with the descendants of cannibals, to see what that’s all about. Perhaps they should start a family. Perhaps he should let a poisonous centipede bite him on the food. Yes, Yes, yes, and why not? And while they’re at it, they should visit an active volcano as well. Maarten Troost doesn’t do anything halfway, and along the way he takes what could be a few years on the islands of Vanuatu and turns it into compelling reading.
I always enjoy the occasional travelogue, and even more so when they are written in Troost’s amusing style that combines self deprecation, dry humor, anecdotes regarding expats getting lost in translation, and an unending love for the local intoxicants. Honestly, it was a little like reading an Anthony Bourdain book or watching one of his shows, only more locals, less fixers, more intoxicants and less obligatory-seeming feel good bits.
There are a few snippets of Fijian history, mostly detailing how the French, English, and other colonizing mother countries gave the islanders wonderful reasons to hate white people, but mostly Getting Stoned with Savages is about Troost’s every day interactions with his neighbors, learning about local politics, and visiting the smaller islands of the area. Much of his experiences are laugh out loud funny. The pace is pretty quick, and the writing style witty, making for a fun, relaxing read. Sometimes even I need a break from scifi and fantasy!
And the “getting stoned” part? Maarten discovers Kava, a local intoxicant made by masticating the roots of a specific local pepper shrub. On some islands Kava is used ceremonially, whereas on others it’s slammed the way Americans might drunk Budweiser at a bbq. And Kava and Maarten Troost are destined to be very good friends.
My favorite thing about travelogues? It’s always geeky fun to follow along on GoogleMaps or GoogleEarth. Troost has a few other travelogues floating around, and I know I’ll be in for a good time if I get another one.
I’ve read a handful of travelogues, and I always enjoy them. It doesn’t even matter what the geographical locale is, if I see a travelogue at a garage sale or a used bookstore, I nearly always pick it up. And because I love the why behind things, I started wondering why I enjoy them. Well, I enjoy reading scifi and fantasy mostly because I like the feeling of visiting someplace new and strange, a different planet, going back in time or into the future: basically someplace I’ve never been before and doubt I will ever be able to visit. Travelogues serve a similar purpose for me, except I’ve got a way better chance of actually visiting some of these places!