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I’ve updated my google map so take a look and follow my journey. You can find it by clicking here: Rachel’s trip to date (or above).
The map shows pointers of each place I have been to and am hoping to visit, click on the pointers to see links back to relevant blog posts and little excerpts and bits of info.
The red pointer shows my current location.
I hope you enjoy and do keep reading and posting your comments. Thanks all.


Frontier Airlines. ‘A whole different animal.’
I’m still not really sure what that means, or why Frontier Airlines have badly photoshopped, smiling animals on their promotional posters.
Neither am I sure that their ad campaign ‘Running late? We’re not’ was working for the people who had been delayed for hours in the line in front of me at LAX.
Despite my marketing frustrations I tried my best to keep a cheery disposition as I boarded Carl the coyote (my plane).
I sat next to a lovely Tico (Costa Rican) called Chris, a high school student, who when I asked him about the trains in Costa Rica assured me lines still ran to Puntarenas and Limón. Excellent, I thought.
Five days, 20 hours of Spanish lessons and several totally contradictory opinions on trains in Costa Rica later, I am feeling somewhat confused.
Currently I’m fairly sure the line to Limón is no longer and an American company run a train from San Jose to Puntarenas for tourists along the original train tracks.
Tomorrow if I dare to ask anyone else, that could all change.

En route from Hawaii to Costa Rica I made a short stop in San Francisco, California. Suffice to say that my favourite thing about visiting San Fran was watching Oliver Stone’s fascinating documentary South of the Border, where he gains unprecedented access to several Latin American Presidents, including Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Cristina Fernandez.
An inspiring insight into South America’s brave new world of politics, where for the first time in many years Latin Americans feel like they are in control and have some sense of power over their future.
“They wanted to control their own resources, strengthen regional ties, be treated as equals with the U.S, and become financially independent of the International Monetary Fund.” Explains Stone.
Fernando Lugo echos this in one of many uplifting moments in the documentary: “We believe in the roots of change, who would have thought a soldier, a woman…. and indigenous people would rule over Latin America…”
I’d certainly recommend taking a peek.

A Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles, is an intriguing read which left me feeling rather uneasy and with several unanswered questions.
Husband and wife (Port and Kit) set off on a trip to Africa after the second world war with a friend of theirs (Tunner). The story takes a turn for the worse when Port is struck down with Typhoid and after that things just get, well plain wierd. After he dies, Kit leaves him locked in a room in a one horse town, only to be forced into marriage with a local camel rider before finally running away from the American consulate.
A great story and interesting read but I’d be fascinated to know which aspects of the book inspired Paul Theroux to travel….

I also decided to read some modern travel writing about South America to see what I could glean. Viva South America by Oliver Balch takes each country and an issue in turn: Argentina and politics, Peru and religion, Ecuador and native people, Colombia and violence etc.
The running theme through the whole book is South America’s contemporary fight for freedom. There were many helpful bits of info in the book not to mention some downright scary facts such as: “Today you are only twice as likely to get killed on the streets of Cali (Colombia) than Beirut.” Gulp.
Perhaps some slightly less detailed research might be best for my nervous temperament.

I’m now officially on American soil, Hawaii to be precise. I’ve taken a flight to Honolulu, on route to Costa Rica and my Spanish course, to spend a couple of weeks reading, researching and relaxing before my trip. I was also hoping to meet with Paul Theroux, who lives on the Windward side of Oahu in a house on stilts, where he keeps bees and provides a restaurant in Honolulu with all the honey it needs.
Unfortunately I did not manage to find Paul on Oahu as he spends his summers on the mainland USA (as I later discovered from his agent). Just as an aside/disclaimer I’m not actually stalking Paul Theroux!
I did however meet some other interesting locals, of the wildlife variety.
Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish live in the Pacific ocean on Oahu’s Windward side, their sting is about 75% as powerful as cobra venom, certainly best avoided.
Lonely Planet please take note no mention of this in your ‘danger and annoyances’ section, nor anything about the venom filled centipedes, which are even worse, one of which I discovered in my shorts after hanging them on a tree at Malaekahana State Park (see photos).
Nature-related incidents aside I’ve been getting down to some serious pre-trip reading.
First up the Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, the author and traveller who ‘sent Theroux on his way’ according to The Guardian.

In order for me to travel from Central America to Patagonia a good grasp of Spanish is certainly going to help.
When Paul took his trip he could speak the language and found his journey a very different one to that of when he travelled in Asia for The Great Railway Bazaar.
“The mood of the Old Patagonia Express, which is at times sombre, was the result of my knowing Spanish. It was easy for me to be light-hearted when I travelled to write The Great Railway Bazaar, I had little idea of what people were saying…. But speaking to people in their own language – hearing their timid turns of phrase, or the violence in their anger, or the idioms of their hopelessness – could be distressing.”
A quote from Paul Theroux’s preface of the latest 2008 issue of The Old Patagonian Express.
Picking up Paul’s trip in Costa Rica – rather than Boston – (sink holes, a lack of trains, hurricanes, time constraints and visa issues making this the best place to start), I had to decide on the best place to learn the language in order to make my trip worthwhile, as being unable to speak to locals would render my blog rather uninteresting!
After some research I discovered that most places you can learn Spanish in Costa Rica are also home to many American retirees and partying backpackers, as Paul previously discovered in Puntarenas. Certainly not the local culture I’m keen to immerse myself in.
After sneaking around several bookshops furtively glancing at The Lonely Planet and Time Out (budget and backpack weight stopping me from buying a guide for each country), I decided on a beautiful, quieter sounding spot called Manuel Antonio and it’s nearby town Quepos, nestled by a national park about a four-hour bus ride from San Jose.
Fingers crossed this will prepare me to “meet unusual people, give them life and create a series of portraits, landscapes and faces” as Paul aimed to do on his journey more than three decades ago.

The section in the Overseas Timetable under Colombia reads:
“Rail services in Colombia are generally suspended at present, as the State Railway is now bankrupt and has closed. A new ‘Shadow’ organisation STF has resumed rail service, under contract, on some lines.”
Not the specific information I was hoping to glean.
I bought Overseas Timetable ‘Your travelling companion since 1873’ in Stanfords travel book shop in Covent Garden, where I spent a solid couple of hours squinting at all the maps they had of South America to try to find the ones with the best train lines. It turns out that all maps have a very very faint grey line on them, where the railway lines might be. Even the shop assistant who bounded over to me enthusiastically to ask if I needed any help admitted defeat and ran off to deal with an easier task after half an hour of squinting.

I left the shop with maps, post-it notes, Overseas Timetable and a raging headache wondering if I had set myself an impossible task.
But then I told myself, Paul took this trip in the seventies, surely this should be easier with all the technology at my fingertips in 2010.
After some googling of Colombian railways I started to wonder if perhaps modern technology was working against me. It seems people were less interested in keeping up-to-date printed modern timetables/information as posting spurious unreliable information on the internet.
There was only one thing left to do, investigate for myself…

Just bought my flights to Costa Rica where I’ll be picking up Paul Theroux’s trail. Frontier Airlines were advertising a ‘Whole Enchilada’ of a sale. With a marketing tagline like that and very cheap prices how could I resist? – although I felt the airline’s name could perhaps do with some work. Not being a massive fan of flying ‘Frontier’ was not an airline name that instilled a great deal of confidence.
But being on a budget and promising myself not to be scared of such things I hit the purchase button and grinned bravely, while trying to banish thoughts of a gun-toting bandido piloting my flight.

Anyone reading this blog will want to know how The Old Patagonian Express was received when it was first published in 1979. Working at The Times I started my search in the basement, but after spending two frustrating days immersed in the Times archives I admitted defeat, as there was not one review of the book to be found. I discovered lots of reviews written by Paul and many reviews for his other books, including The Great Railway Bazaar and Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, but nothing for The Old Patagonian Express.
Puzzled I contacted Ion Trewin, Literary Editor of the paper at the time. And he rather interestingly told me:

“When I became Literary Editor of The Times in 1972 Paul was almost
unknown. He reviewed for us regularly and then went off on his first
rail journey across Europe and Russia and wrote the book which made his
name. But The Old Patagonian Express was published in 1979, the year
that The Times, Sunday Times, TLS etc ceased publication because of
management’s row with the unions over what was then called ‘the New
Technology’ For 11 months we were employed but didn’t produce a
single newspaper.”

Pleased that I was not going mad and no reviews existed at News International, I dusted myself off and began tacking some ‘New Technology’ of my own – The Guardian’s digital archive. Unfortunately the site’s search was spurious and inaccurate leaving me worried that my plans for publishing could come up against some ‘New Technology’ issues of their own.


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