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Getting There

When the going gets tough, the world beckons.

Jul 25, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 42 • By THOMAS SWICK
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Returning home, she breaks up with Graham and then meets Stu before heading off on a State Department internship in Karachi. It is in Pakistan that the futility of Foreign Service work is revealed to her (though the feeling of powerlessness she experiences as an intern is not surprising, and perhaps not the best indication). Stu joins her at the end of her stay, and with some colleagues they make an arduous journey to the Chinese city of Kashgar. Here they find a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer (“no one came”), snow leopard pelts, and the predicable assortment of international travelers: “We thought we were iconoclasts at the far edge of the world, but here we were in uniform, like members of any clique.” As they take turns telling about their travels, someone dismisses Australia as “all about sex and lager.” Eaves—“tired of proving I was tough enough”—finds that description rather attractive.

Back in Seattle she sets up house with Stu, even plans a wedding, but after a year and a half bolts for Asia. At this point a few readers are going to critically question how they spent their twenties. “The mind is primed by going away,” Eaves writes. “Desire and appetite build and you feel like you can’t miss a thing, because who knows when you’re going to have just this chance again? Everything has to be tasted.” In Malaysia one night she calls home and receives the news that her grandmother has died. “I felt relieved to be so far away, because I was excused from grieving. .  .  . Going away could free you from feeling too much.” Though some readers might see this as travel’s curse. Eaves makes her way to Australia, gets odd jobs, and falls in love with a landscaper named Justin. With some friends they make a leech-filled trek through Papua New Guinea. Then she leaves Justin to reunite with Stu in New Zealand. This time, departure doesn’t lessen the hurt. 

No one ever explained how to deal with this kind of pain. All the examples of what I was supposed to want were about channeling emotions, funneling them carefully into marriage or at least monogamy. What if I didn’t work that way? .  .  . The jungle, with its never-wavering pattern of life and death, its seasons and routines, its clarity about what would kill you, was a rational place compared to my own heart.

She compares herself to Houdini, whose “point wasn’t so much to be free as to get free.” In Auckland, she and Stu renew their Seattle life, Eaves working once again for a shipping company. She leaves the job on short notice to work on a boat sailing to Tonga. A weeklong storm makes them change course and head for Fiji. (If Eaves’s land life is anything but stable, why should her sea life be any different?) Back in the States, Eaves attends Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. There is a glorious passage describing what it’s like to be young in Manhattan. New boyfriends accrue—including an ex-Marine and one with no name other than “the Englishman”—as do foreign assignments. But technology has changed the nature of long-distance relationships: “Now we have email and cell phones. .  .  . Reality intrudes on the perfection of the distant image. .  .  . Time and age have also done their part. The implicit permission to do anything no longer flies. Monogamy is part of the boyfriend-girlfriend deal, and forgiveness isn’t assumed.” Yet three pages later Eaves is still longing for the double life, which, she says, is not the product of travel but the inspiration for it.

Can someone like this ever be happy? Walking around her arrondissement, Eaves finds the women with facelifts frightening. She writes that “becoming them is one possible outcome of a life spent trading on sex appeal, and I know that I’ve dabbled that way.”

About this she needn’t worry. As Wanderlust shows, she has other talents. 

Thomas Swick is the author, most recently, of A Way to See the World: From Texas to Transylvania with a Maverick Traveler.

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