Kevin Revolinski is the author of 15 books, including 60 Hikes Madison, Backroads and Byways of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide. His travel memoir The Yogurt Man Cometh: Tales of an American Teacher in Turkey is now in its fifth printing and has been translated into Korean and Turkish. His articles and photography have appeared in many worldwide publications including The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Sydney Morning Herald. He is an avid photographer and hiker, loves to cook, reads as much literature and nonfiction as possible, writes short stories, plays several musical instruments, speaks Spanish, less Italian, much less Turkish, and counts to ten in Thai… very, very slowly and with fingers to keep track. He’s never sure what he’s doing next — or even should be doing — and always welcomes suggestions which he’ll probably ignore after stewing on them for a long time.
In turns pessimist and optimist, misanthrope and humanist, he is The Mad Traveler with one leg of his compass pinned in Madison, Wisconsin (or is it Bangkok?) and the pencil end loose and scribbling all over the map. Part of him refuses to color inside the lines and that drives another part of him crazy. However, it’s not much of a drive, really more of a short putt.
The Not-As-Short Story:
I grew up like a lot of people with a house subscription to National Geographic Magazine. My grandmother renewed it every year for Christmas. I especially loved the maps in special issues. Nothing unusual about that; it is a fascinating magazine, especially for kids. Those yellow bound mags ended up boxed in the basement somewhere like a lot of hopes, dreams and fleeting aspirations.
In high school, in a tiny town in Central Wisconsin, I was fascinated by the foreign exchange students, picking up on whatever music or books they brought with them. But the idea of studying abroad always scared me and even in college I worried about missing something at home while living abroad. Rubbish.
Not until my mid-twenties did I venture out into the world of “abroad” and even then it was only south of the border. But it was on a slightly seat-of-the-pants volunteer trip into the state of Chihuahua, Mexico when I had my first “National Geographic” experience. Taking a couple days’ break from orphanage work, digging a foundation, and distributing donated medical supplies in Anahuac, we ventured deep into the Copper Canyon where we spent the night in a Tarahumara village. We had descended in the dark, our only views of the canyon being the headlights of the pickup truck we rode in sweeping through empty space like lighthouse beacons at every switchback.
I stepped from my tent the next morning and I was a tiny breathless thing in the middle of a deep beautiful world that directed all eyes to the heavens. Up and down the single dirt road along a nearby river paraded a mob of men, half drunk on homemade corn beer and stripped to their boxer shorts. Their bodies were covered with alternating lines of black and white mud creating patterns of bones and they danced about waving sticks to the sounds of an ad hoc marching band of an untuned guitar and improvised percussion instruments. They carried around an effigy, a flopping scarecrow of a Westerner with sunglasses and a cowboy hat and a large phallus fashioned from knotted red bandanas – Judas, we were told. We had arrived for a festival as old as the culture itself but passing as a Semana Santa event, a Catholicized version of a spring fertility ritual. I stood there along the stream of revelers, ignored by most but getting curious glances from some of the children, as I snapped away with a simple Pentax K-1000 and I felt a million miles and two universes away from a little town among dairy farms in Wisconsin – as if I had woken up on the pages of a National Geographic spread. It’s getting harder and harder to be the only traveler witnessing just about anything these days as the world has opened up in every corner not just to backpackers but to seriously commercialized tourism. But that dramatic moment of feeling like the discoverer has always stuck with me.
Many years and many jobs later, I have filled two oversized passports with wanderings and changing homes, and while I love to see as much of the world as possible and experience the magic of new places and new faces, there are times the wanderlust seems like a restless curse keeping me awake at nights in strange towns keenly aware of distant plane noises and the coyote howls of trains which remarkably have never run far from just about every one of my “permanent” homes since birth. I’m not sure there’s a cure, and if there is, I’m doubtful I would want it.