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Marco Polo Didn’t Go There by Rolf Potts

Autor:   •  January 9, 2017  •  Book/Movie Report  •  784 Words (4 Pages)  •  160 Views

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Skyler Lam
FYS Travel Writing
Book Review
10/19/2014

Expect the Unexpected

        “Marco Polo Didn’t Go There” by Rolf Potts collects together 20 of his wildest stories on the vibrant, often contradictory experience of what it’s like to travel in the post-modern world. Through humorous illustrations and daring engagements in first person, Potts’ makes it a lively and entertaining experience for readers. With unique endnotes added in the end of each story, they acts as “commentary tracks” which answers questions, share details that weren’t included in the published version of the story, and often includes explanations about why he used specific narrative techniques, making it a perfect behind-the-scenes and educational companion for curious readers eager to know the full stories behind many of his best-known travel writings.  

        Potts cleverly packs his stories with multiple elements of surprise, where he first tries to storm the set of Leonardo DiCaprio’s film “The Beach” in Thailand through ridiculous methods such as bribing local fishermen, wading through rivers full crocodiles and even breaking down hotel doors. Next, he plays a game of road roulette and plans to hitchhike around Poland and let the adventure take him where it may, but of course, he ends up snoozing through the country and finds himself waking up in Hungary. His carefree and wander-loss attitude even leads him to being drugged and robbed in Istanbul, getting stranded without water in the Libyan Desert and surprisingly, learning the secrets of Tantric sex in a dubious Indian ashram.

        In the final chapter of “Marco Polo Didn’t Go there”, Potts even provides demonstrations on how to write travel stories by breaking down the chapter into 7 tutorial parts and using his travels in Andorra (a small country in southwestern Europe) as an example.  The step-by-step tutorials teaches readers on how to begin travel stories by illustrating a memorable experience such as attempts to impress pretty women in Potts’ case, adding historical details and even reaching endings with a tiny generalization. Moreover, the sub-titles of this tutorial - “Editors Are Impressed by Tidy Narrative Formulas” and “When Bogged Down in Description, Trot out Some Colorful Characters” goes on to show Potts’ engaging intelligence, creativity and good humor.

        On the other hand, most of Potts’ travel narratives come from experiences that were largely unplanned, but it is exactly his openness to experience unplanned challenges place him in many situations ripe for storytelling. However, amidst the humor and ridiculousness, Potts also addresses the serious question of how to travel in a discovered world. Potts, just like many other travelers nowadays are travelling to places already visited by “the oracle of mass media and the shock troops of mass tourism” (Potts 15), unlike Marco Polo, who was believed to be traveling to places full of mystery and unexpected terrors at that era.  Potts describes how “it is the expectation itself that robs a bit of authenticity from the destinations we seek out” (Potts 67), therefore it is important for travelers to embrace incoming challenges and let the adventure take them on a unexpected journey, far away from the railways of fixed destinations.

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