On the Road Again

Whenever I want to travel without leaving home, I turn to Paul Theroux. Right now I’m accompanying him on his nostalgic trip throughout Asia in his 2008 book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, in which he retraces the epic journey he took in 1973 when he was in his early thirties, which became his first bestseller, The Great Railway Bazaar.

I’ll admit it: I love traveling with this man this way. I love his sensibilities, his observations, his breadth, the sound of his voice on the page. I love the way he chooses to travel – down to earth, close to the real people – the way I, too, prefer to be.

In an effort to remain a companionable traveling companion, I tend to agree with him and go along with everything he wants to do and everywhere he wants to go, uncomplainingly. But the other night we had a major disagreement.

Paul Theroux, as anyone who’s read him knows, loves train travel more than any other kind. To him, trains are “ideal.” He hates to fly, avoids hired cars, and thinks buses are “usually nasty.” As I read the other night in Ghost Train:

“The great challenge in travel is not arriving at the glamorous foreign city,” he wrote, “but solving the departure problem, finding a way out of it, without flying. Buses are usually nasty, and bus stations the world over are dens of thieves, cutpurses, intimidators, mountebanks, and muggers. Hired cars are convenient but nearly always a rip-off, and who wants narration from the driver? The train is still the ideal – show up and hop on.”

What!? “Dens of thieves, cutpurses, intimidators, mountebanks, and muggers”! That’s not true, Paul! I argued with him in my mind. After having read close to a dozen of his terrific travel books, I feel we’re on a first-name basis and I can confront him this way. You haven’t traveled enough by bus in Mexico! I tell him. (He has, in fact, written a fabulous book about his travels in Mexico by car, On the Plain of Snakes, which I highly recommend.)

I wanted to send him all the blogposts I’ve written about my travels by bus since retiring in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, seven years ago: All of the praise I’ve heaped on Mexico’s sterling bus system – the safe, modern, clean, sleek, on-time buses; the safe, clean, spacious, well-lit, well-run bus stations. But Paul Theroux is a busy man, too busy to read my blogposts, I’m sure.  He’s a disciplined writer. He’s published over fifty books, both fiction and nonfiction, in his long career. His newest book, a novel titled The Bad Angel Brothers, will be published by HarperCollins early next month. And anyway, I know he’s stuck on trains.

One of my most memorable Mexican bus rides, though, which might interest him was the one I took in August 2016 after a trip to New York. The bus line was ETN, and my bus was a double-decker. As I wrote in my  WOW post at the time (www.blog.bonnieleeblack.com/on-the-road-home/ ):

“What a surprise! The bus I took back to San Miguel de Allende from Mexico City last week, on the last leg of my long journey home from New York, turned out to be the most modern, clean, large, luxurious bus I’d ever ridden.

“It was a veritable luxury-liner of a bus – double-decker, but not open at the top, like New York’s tourist buses — and outfitted like the first-class section of an airplane, with cushy, wide, La-Z-Boy-like reclining seats, head sets, Wi-Fi, TV, you name it.

ETN bus upper deck interior

“Before I boarded and took the seat I’d chosen — No. 1, directly above the driver down below, offering a panoramic view of the road ahead and the countryside on both sides — feeling weary, hungry, and more than a little delirious from being in transit for nearly twenty-four hours without sleep, I was handed a bag containing my choice of bottled beverage and a big, beautiful, fat empanada stuffed with a tasty meat filling. That certainly perked me up.

Part of the panoramic vista from my front seat on the upper deck

“The biggest surprise of all for me was that this four-plus-hour “luxury cruise” bus trip cost me — thanks to my senior discount card, available to every citizen and legal resident of Mexico over the age of 60 — only $242 pesos, or, by today’s exchange rate, $13 USD. An equivalent bus trip in the U.S., let’s say from New York to Washington, D.C., would cost nearly five times as much, and the buses would likely not be as comfy.

“Mexico, I’m finding, is full of such surprises. …”

The forward view from my upper-deck seat on the ETN bus from Mexico City to SMA

Paul Theroux and I have this in common: We both served in the Peace Corps in Africa. And this life-altering life experience has certainly played a big role in our shared hunger for world travel and adventure. I’m sure he’d agree with me that whatever the mode – train, plane, bus, car, ferry, rickshaw, or even (no, especially for me now) book – it’s always fun to get back on the road again.

Oh, and to spur you on your way, just listen to the young Willie Nelson sing his classic “On the Road Again” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBN86y30Ufc

20 thoughts on “On the Road Again”

  1. Hi Bonnie,

    I was with my sister, Be Scott, in Taos last week and commented to her how much I enjoy your blog. I told her that I had never told you how much and she said I should do that. So here I am, telling you how much I enjoy hearing about your life in SMA, and admire your curiosity and pursuits such as watercolor.
    Thank you for your smart work.

    Marianne Reynolds, Denver

  2. Dear Bon,

    I think Paul Theroux would love reading your blog. I also think he would learn something by doing so. The lovely descriptions you have given us about your frequent bus trips convinced me that they have little in common with the public transportation or Greyhound experiences available here. It’s all a question of who is deemed worthy of respect, isn’t it? Amtrak is a more comfortable choice, at a much greater price.

    I read both last week’s and this week’s post today because I haven’t had internet for six days. As each day went by, I missed the lack of it less and less. Still, I am very happy to have it back.


    1. I’m glad you have Internet again, dear Paul! 🙂 (I missed hearing from you last week.) I never traveled by Greyhound bus when I lived in the States, so I have no personal experience of their service. But I suspect there’s no comparison between Greyhound and the nice bus lines here in MX. Yes, I agree with you: It’s all about respect. — LU2, BB

  3. Thank you for this, BonnieDear! I’m not in a position to take a ride on a plush Mexico bus, but you inspired me to order Ghost Train to the Eastern Star to listen to while cooking and on my walks with Kizzy. Can’t wait to start listening to it! xoxo~Be

  4. I to love traveling close to the ground and Theroux’s books. In 2020 made a memorable journey with our Gabon Peace Corps daughter through Togo, Berkina Faso & Mali to Timbuktu using many forms of local transport.
    Thank you for your podcasts.

  5. We’ve only recently discovered bussing on ENT this month. What a game changer! Direct from SMA to mex city for pennies. We watched them fumigate between trips – heavy spay, looked like the bus was on fire! I suspect it’s that grapefruit extract. No odor. Super clean and comfortable. Mexico City is better than ever – clean and practically polluted free. Great shopping, restaurants and museums. Super friendly.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your recent experience traveling to MX City by ETN bus, Lynn! Mine, as I wrote in this blogpost, was from six years ago. I’m glad to know it’s still terrific. — BB

    1. Thanks, Lyn! I’m thinking that we gringos bring our prejudices against (and bad experiences with) U.S.buses with us when we come here. We’ve got to experience the superior MX bus system to believe it! 🙂

  6. I enjoy more travelling by road, by bus or train than flying, it gives us more time to experience the places. I haven’t read Thoraux, however, I have seen one or two of his TV shows shown in our TV in Sydney. In regards to the song, it brought me to this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxGroeAhHz4
    Back on the Road by Joe Egan, which I enjoyed listening to it these days. I will check out the W Nelson next. Happy Bus travels!

    1. Querida Amparo — So good to hear from you, way out there in Sydney! And thank you for sharing Joe Egan’s song, which I just listened to. He has such a lovely, soothing voice. Take care, and happy land-hugging travels to you! 🙂

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