This Costa Rican boy was on a Pacific beach, not the Mississippi River, but still he reminded me of Huckleberry Finn. And so he also reminded me of one of my dreams: to float down the world’s major rivers—the Nile, Amazon, Mekong, and Yangtze in particular—and invite one or two members of the local broken humanity onto my raft. We’d fish and chat and cuss, and I’d jot down notes as we rounded a thousand bends (and bypass several dams).
Mark Twain, at the beginning of his book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, warns, “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” Well, since I’ve always thought some things are worth suffering and dying for, back in 2003 I sat on the Great Wall of China and wrote the following:
Few stories illustrate the wall-breaching value of travel as well as Mark Twain’s account of Huckleberry Finn and Jim’s journey down the Mississippi. Through adventure and conversation, a white boy and a runaway slave came to develop a sort of friendship, something that wouldn’t have been possible had they stayed put in their normal situations in life. Like Huckleberry Finn and Jim’s nineteenth-century drifting down the Mississippi, backpacking through distant lands in the twenty-first century is to journey into a complicated world of divisions and prejudices. Both journeys hold the possibility of getting lost and being found. Both are ways of living on the edge of society, of escaping it as a means to discover what it is missing and what it could be—or maybe even what it has possessed all along that for some reason you couldn’t see before. Both are movements beyond black and white and into a shared humanity. Both take you not only to scenic viewpoints; they carry you beyond the horizon itself, where transformation awaits and where you may even discover why you left home.
If interested in reading the full chapter from which this excerpt is drawn, click on A Journey Begins.