Maybe nowhere in human experience is there a more bewildering divergence than between the visions we carry before traveling, the facts that we find on arrival, and the memories we choose when we return. I’m not sure anyone’s ever going to invent an algorithm to make sense of this – or I hope not – though age surely plays a big part, and mileage, and layovers, plus whatever optimistic tendencies you are likely to have inherited from migrating generations before.
Plus dinosaurs. If TripAdvisor promises dinosaurs then you’re probably going to have a whole other set of expectations to come down from.
In fact it is dragons a little boy counts on in Komodo! by Peter Sis, though some literature suggests the giant monitor lizards native to that secluded island are the only remaining survivors of carnivorous dinosaurs from 130 million years ago. No matter: I’ll trust the boy to know the difference, indeed his entire bedroom is so heaping with maps and books and artifacts that you could not care a fig about dragons or dinosaurs and probably still come away a little envious at the depth of his fascination.
Have you ever been swimming with dolphins? I haven’t, but recently observed my kids being chaperoned through a spectacle so divorced from the majesty and perils of mother nature we needed to hose ourselves after with Shark Week to make things right….
For all this, I was coiled with apprehension when Sis’s young naturalist decided to trade his dreamy sanctuary for a trip to Indonesia to witness the real thing. “It wasn’t at all the way I expected it to be,” says the little boy plainly, leaving it to us to put adjectives to his creeping disappointments. These begin as soon as he disembarks in Bali, which is depicted here as a sort of theme park dedicated to its neighboring monsters rather than the disco paradise I gather it has become, but all the same. Sis paints in panoramas, with an eye for the sort of miniature details we will probably miss if we do not take our time, so it’s hard to stop poking around between these jungles once our suspicions are aroused. Is that a gift shop on the main street? Monuments? Paddle ponds? Say, does anyone know any cool ruins where we can dispose of what’s left of our wonder?
Still, on to Komodo, where fifteen, sixteen, seventeen party boats encircle the solitary dock, and a five-wide line of photo-snapping tourists snakes around the single anemic lizard huddling under its shelter.
Keep searching, though. The little boy does, and is rewarded for his mutinous wandering by the sort of spectacle that might have even started in his imagination, but doesn’t stop there. Are those eyes in the trees? Aren’t there hundreds? It’s a rare book about traveling that also manages to feel like the journey itself, so thank you, Peter Sis, for having me along. And if it’s true we should sometimes learn to see a wider world through the eyes of our children, let’s beware of becoming dependent, because they’re not going to be children forever. Gosh, what will that feel like, I wonder? Imagine not having anyone around to remind you about all of the places you haven’t yet seen.