Arnon Grunberg
Words Without Borders

A Good Travel Guide Beats Reality

Other people call it a "holiday," or "going on vacation," or sometimes just plain "tourism," but an author has the luxury of telling his friends that he is doing research for his next novel.
So here am I in Swakopmund, Namibia, for the third time in twelve months, doing research for, well, my novel. I must admit that this novel could have come into existence without this third trip to Namibia, maybe even without any trips to Namibia. But I’m old fashioned enough to believe that you should have seen the real Namibia in order to fill in the details with your own fantasy.
Furthermore, in November, I met a woman with a driver's license who was willing and able to drive me through the Namibian desert this winter.
Full Disclosure: I’m one of those Europeans who thinks that he can grow old without ever having driven a car.
So this time, I’m in Namibia with a four-wheel drive vehicle, a woman I barely know and lots of travel guides.
Instead of reading a book in bed, I study travel guides in order to find the next lodge in the desert.
A real adventurer might sleep in his jeep. As a wimp, I tend to prefer a bed.
Reading travel guides in bed is addictive, the more you read the more they become fiction.
Take for example, in the Bradt travel guide on Namibia, this sentence on the Oropoko Lodge: "If film fans imagine James Bond approaching a villain’s isolated estate, surrounded by a veritable private army, then Oropoko offers them the perfect chance to act out that fantasy."
Not that I’m a James Bond fan, but if you are in Namibia with a ladyfriend, act out at least one fantasy, I would say.
On a hot Sunday afternoon, we approached the Oropoko lodge.
The estate was isolated, as are all lodges in Namibia, but the veritable private army was nowhere to be seen.
In the otherwise pleasant lodge, I locked myself in my room with all my travel guides.
A good travel guide beats reality.