Wile planning this trip through Southeast Asia, I found that we would be following the “Banana Pancake Trail,” a notorious trail blazed by Westerners backpacking through the tropical (cheaper) regions of Asia. It is characterized by having hostels that serve banana pancakes for breakfast, something which is apparently not a traditional local dish (hence the blazing of the trail).
Now that I’m on the Banana Pancake Trail, I do have an unusual urge to eat banana pancakes (or roti pisang) every day for breakfast. This is unusual, I explained to Mike, because while I have always liked pancakey things, I ate bananas for breakfast as a child so often I developed a mild distaste for them. Nevertheless, roti pisang doesn’t seem to be quite native. Rotis seem to be a traditionally savory breakfast item. But whatever–banana pancakes are still delicious, especially with condensed milk.
Despite the aptness of the name, “Banana Pancake Trail” always seemed ironic to me, because it seemed to be saying, despite the adventurous, trail-blazing connotation of backpackers, despite the romance that is cultivated by anyone who seeks to be a backpacker, the name seems to be throwing the failure of the romance in the face of the trail-followers: Look, you weren’t the first ones here–that’s why there are all of these nice hostels here to feed you your fusion cuisine. Granted, hostels aren’t always nice. They’re not five star hotels. But they’re not a village hut full of non-English speakers either.
But there’s still some romance. Mike and I are a bit self-conscious, not to mention financially conscious, of taking a year off to travel. For those not in our shoes though, it seems to seem very daring (which it is), admirable (we’ll get back to you about that), and Romantic. Not romantic in a honeymoon kind of way, but Romantic in the way that Byron and Keats and the Shelleys were. It’s somehow getting away from it all and getting back to nature and the Truth of things.
Well, we’re like those great Romantic poets in that, while we’re not flowing with cash, we’re not strapped for it either. After all, if you’re really poor you can’t leave your own city. Those great Romantics expatriates were really doing something fairly typical for English people and even Americans with means. They were going on a Grand Tour.
So really, despite all the street food and hostels and backpacks, the Banana Pancake Trail is just the new Grand Tour.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. English literature seems to have been positively influenced by various Grand Tours, or at the very least, influenced. Who knows what we, as in Mike and Lucy, and we, as a society of people who believe again in Gap Years, will get out of it? It could be artistic, literary, culinary. It could lead to A Deeper Understanding Between Cultures or A Greater Understanding of Ourselves. It could just be a vacation that jolts us out of boxes once in awhile. At the very least it could lead to A Deeper Appreciation of our Boxes.
Sidenote: By boxes, I mostly mean routines. This could be good (exercising regularly), bad (drinking beer every day–hard to do in an officially Islamic country–though I knowMike will disagree with me about the Badness of Drinking Beer), or merely complacent (assuming you will be able to read menus), Boxes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. While in the U.S. I was very comforted to be boxed in by words that I can actually understand. The containment of boxes is useful, even if we should be aware of what is outside of them.