To Hellholes and Back: Interview with Chuck Thompson

Chuck Thompson, former features editor for Maxim and former Editor in Chief for Travelocity Magazine, calls the four destinations he never wants to see-Africa, India, Mexico City and Disney World-the four horsemen of his apocalypse.

In his second travel memoir, To Hellholes and Back (Holt Paperbacks; Dec 09) Thompson lists specific reasons why he doesn’t want to visit these places: Cholera, Yellow Fever, hyenas, 18-hour plane rides, famine, rebel attack, war, genocide, AIDS, and national spicy dishes that have you curled up in the fetal position on some seedy cot in the back room of some seedy hotel clenching your stomach in pain, retching and screaming for a swift and sure death, to name a few.

And then, Thomspon decides to visit these four locations anyways.

Perhaps his decision to bravely face “his horsemen” is truthfully a cold, hard case of reverse travel psychology. He says Americans have grown soft, himself included, and he must prove his travel writer toughness by going places he doesn’t want to go. In To Hellholes and Back, Thompson delivers a fairly harsh, only slightly exaggerated judgment of Americans-albeit partly true in my opinion.

He writes, “Our edges have been beaten away by trophies handed out just for showing up; schools that no longer make kids memorize multiplication tables; doctors who pass out brain meds like Skittles; and therapists who indulge the public’s every impulse to whine and wallow in self-obsession.”

In To Hellholes and Back, foraging through the Congo seems like a last ditch effort to bare his teeth and growl in the bathroom mirror to assert his tough-guy-travel-writer-manliness in the face of our pill-popping, pussy breeding culture, as he so gently puts it.

Offended yet?

Don’t be. You’ve never read anything like Thompson before, trust me. His writing is a hybrid of a Bill Bryson memoir (goofy guy gets himself into goofy foreign situations) and a sexually charged Maxim feature.

Thompson has an opinion about everything from African whores to Indian beggars, girl-on-girl brawls in Mexico to the Soarin’ motion simulator at Disney World. And he’s not afraid to express them those opinions in colorful, crude language, littered with curse words and quirky metaphors. But rather than being crude just for the sake of a quick-and-easy joke, the Thompson-personality that emerges here is refreshingly honest and funny. Once you get past the uncomfortable first feeling of “what would my grandma think if she caught me reading this..?” the memoir evolves into a humorous send-up to these four disparate, but fascinating destinations.

If you’re looking for a good laugh, To Hellholes and Back is a must-read. It’s dirty, scandalous, and it’ll give you a completely fresh perspective on travel, travel writing, and the travel industry apart from the glowing review of four-star resorts and beach clubs.

It’s real, and you feel like a real traveler reading it.

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