To Find: The Search for Meaning in Life on the Gringo Trail
Del Gato (2019)
Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles (11-2020)
Through Mexico and Canada
“To Find: The Search for Meaning in Life on the Gringo Trail,” by J.R. Klein, is an unforgettable travel memoir about a burned-out graduate with a doctoral degree and the promise of MIT looking to recover from torpor in 1980. Looking for adventure, he (aka Alex Moreau in the book) and his shutterbug friend Stefan strike out on impulse to make their way through Mexico and Central America, and on only a few hundred dollars. Together they traverse islands, mountain villages, rain forests, and deserts. When not taking whatever rudimentary transportation is available, they hitchhike, and meet fascinating people and locations.
They aren’t tourists in the popular sense of the word. They’re wanderers, gypsies, absorbing the cultures as they encounter them. His dreams and visions add a surreal dimension that is intriguing, and the scenarios of bad weather and other dangers are very realistic. Besides travel, there is romance with Yvette, and the plot of the overall book builds at a steady pace, not giving you everything at once, which is nice; and so is his friendship with Stefan. Although described as a travel memoir, and it is, it also reads like a very entertaining adventure novel, with distinct characters, plot, conflict, dialogue, and of course settings.
What I like about this travelogue is the grit that it takes to impulsively take off on a journey with little planning and no expectations. As you read, you travel along with the author on his encounters. The descriptions make everything come alive, and you feel as if you’re really there. Klein is clearly on a trek of self-discovery and rejuvenation, and I wondered what his life would have been like if he hadn’t taken this trip. In a way, this trip was a variety of things for him–a cap on his life goals, a doorway to personal awakenings, and a treasure chest full of experiences he could carry with him for the rest of his life. Klein is more than a mere traveler. He seems to be a born writer who is able to paint living postcard memories for you to enjoy.
If you like to do your traveling vicariously, or ever wanted to break free from the chains of boredom like Klein, climb aboard “To Find: The Search for Meaning in Life on the Gringo Trail,” by J.R. Klein, and take a ride.