The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World . . . via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes

The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World . . . via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes

Carl Hoffman

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 0767929810

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Indonesian Ferry Sinks.  Peruvian Bus Plunges Off Cliff.  African Train Attacked by Mobs.  Whenever he picked up the newspaper, Carl Hoffman noticed those short news bulletins, which seemed about as far from the idea of tourism, travel as the pursuit of pleasure, as it was possible to get.  So off he went, spending six months circumnavigating the globe on the world's worst conveyances: the statistically most dangerous airlines, the most crowded and dangerous ferries, the slowest buses, and the most rickety trains.  The Lunatic Express takes us into the heart of the world, to some its most teeming cities and remotest places: from Havana to Bogotá on the perilous Cuban Airways.  Lima to the Amazon on crowded night buses where the road is a washed-out track.  Across Indonesia and Bangladesh by overcrowded ferries that kill 1,000 passengers a year.  On commuter trains in Mumbai so crowded that dozens perish daily, across Afghanistan as the Taliban closes in, and, scariest of all, Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., by Greyhound.

The Lunatic Express is the story of traveling with seatmates and deckmates who have left home without American Express cards on conveyances that don't take Visa, and seldom take you anywhere you'd want to go.   But it's also the story of traveling as it used to be -- a sometimes harrowing trial, of finding adventure in a modern, rapidly urbanizing world and the generosity of poor strangers, from ear cleaners to urban bus drivers to itinerant roughnecks, who make up most of the world's population.  More than just an adventure story, The Lunatic Express is a funny, harrowing and insightful look at the world as it is, a planet full of hundreds of millions of people, mostly poor, on the move and seeking their fortunes.

From the Hardcover edition.

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inches shorter than me, dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt that read ILLINOIS STATE, and he spoke English well, part of the army of cheap, semi-skilled laborers dispersed throughout the world, keeping their parents and their ancestral villages afloat. He was returning home to the Celebes after five years, the last six months as a seaman in Dubai. The Siguntang, I soon discovered, was packed with people just like him. “I need a break,” he said. “I’ve been working twelve hours a day, seven days a

“This one!” she said, and we straddled the bench and in seconds four bowls appeared full of noodles and meatballs and hot peppers. “Bakso! You like bakso?” she said. I plunged in. Whatever it was, it was good, and we sucked our bakso down like it was candy. On some unspoken signal, the silent man paid, even though I whipped out a pile of bills. That, too, would happen over and over again—people far poorer than I insisting that they pay for everything. When we got back to the ship, it looked like

elbowing each other, taking it all in. “That man is selling medicine,” said a man with a long beard and skullcap. “Take it and you will feel better! I don’t believe it, though.” His name was Hasan, and he’d just retired after fourteen years as a bellman at the Intercontinental Hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “I will now go into the stock business,” he said. “I will buy, hold, and then sell. In Saudi, it is a Muslim country. A woman can’t go out without a head covering, but my country is a little

inched past bullock carts and tractors. Ranjit knew every scene; he’d watched them all an untold number of times. But he delighted in them all the same, could barely take his eyes off the screen. The romance, the singing, the sudden outbreaks of violence, the family struggles and redemption, were formulaic, yes, but they spoke so clearly to Ranjit’s soul that there was something comforting and amazing about it. Popular American films were all about alienation and individuality; even in romantic

first light. We fixed that one. In late morning we ran out of gas, and that really might have killed us, because the heater, such as it was, wouldn’t work if the engine wasn’t on, and a wind had kicked up. But, strangely, the engine died literally across the dirt from a gas station in one of the few villages we passed—a jumble of small wooden houses in the middle of nowhere. Still, it was an ordeal. Batbillq had to hike in the wind to the pump and we had to lift the cab up three times while he

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