Veteran travel writer Thompson (Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer, 2007, etc.) faces personal fears and journeys to places he has deliberately avoided his entire adult life.
The author defines “extreme tourism” as travel that tests personal boundaries—physical or emotional—and he chooses four destinations simply because they are places he does not want to visit: the Congo, India, Mexico City and Disney World. Thompson claims that he has always been afraid of the Congo due to disease; India because of the gastrointestinal peril that seems to affect everyone who visits; Mexico City for its violent crime and pollution; Disney World because it represents everything wrong with America today. As he treks across the globe, his assumptions and fears about each destination are addressed, if not debunked, with wry, self-deprecating humor. The author was never robbed in Mexico City; everyone he met was warm and hospitable. He put himself in incredible danger while on safari in the Congo by foolishly venturing off alone, but dodging deadly pathogens took a backseat to his quest to discover the funniest joke in Africa. The worst part of India were the cab drivers, and Disney World was not the villainous cultural black-hole of his nightmares—a chat with a former “Dream Squad” worker about a cancer-stricken family member moved him to tears. Yet as Thompson deftly sums up in his epilogue, “as my catalog of international experiences stacked up against the Bush-Obama-Palin electoral circus and dissolving economic fortunes in the States…I began to realize that my travels had become less about surviving horrors abroad and more about facing up to ones at home.” The author makes no bones about his political or social views, from the Bush Administration to childhood obesity, but his observations are sharp and honest.
A witty, provocative tale that may not encourage extreme tourism but packs in plenty of local flavor and amusing anecdotes.