Journalist Downs dedicates a trip around the world to her dying mother.
In 2010, newly married and having just quit a 10-year job as a reporter in Palm Springs, the author took a relatively low-budget trip to places her mother, who was suffering the late stages of Alzheimer's disease, had always wanted to see and others that were on her own bucket list. The first couple weeks were a sort of honeymoon, with Downs and her husband, Jason, staying in Peru at a freezing-cold hostel, facing dangers while climbing the Inca Trail, and getting attacked by mosquitoes in the Amazon rainforest. Then Jason returned to work, leaving Downs to make her way through South America, Africa, and Asia, sometimes on her own and other times with companions she met along the way—and often without internet or phone access to communicate with her family and friends. She often paid for her food and lodging by volunteering or working, sometimes teaching English and one time working as a DJ playing American country music in Uganda. When her mother died, Downs was staying at a yoga retreat in Egypt. “Word of my mother’s death,” she writes, “spreads quickly through the dozen or so long-term residents, and they rush to take on some of my pain.” She returned home for the funeral and then set off again. At multiple points, the author seems to be trying to assure herself that her travel is truly for her mother and not a form of escape. Recounting a whitewater rafting trip on the Nile, she writes, “I knew she would take chances if she had the opportunity. I have to do this, because she cannot.” Downs has a fluid, conversational writing style, zooming in to particular anecdotes that illuminate her experience rather than trying to cover the entire year. While the segments devoted to her mother and her disease are integrated rather awkwardly into the narrative, the travel sections are compelling and lively.
A poignant tale of connection and disconnection through travel.