Samuel Clemens was not perfect. But he embodied many of my writerly goals and ideals. He was the arch to my amateur; the consumate to my clumsy, the major to my… you get the drift. He traveled, observed, recorded. His observations helped us to learn, and equally important, to laugh.
Project Gutenberg has The Innocents Abroad in its entirety. In it Clemens frames the concept of the Ugly American, but the phrase came much later, from Cuban photographer Constantino Arias in 1948. I like to think that their characterization has in some small part made travelling citizens of the U of S of A a little more patient, a little more polite, a little more open. I like to think.
We have always tried, hopefully successfully, to be anyone but Ugly Americans. We encountered a lot of truly offensive tourists over the years from a lot of different countries. The latest travel polls have the United States somewhere between fourth and seventh for inflicting the worst tourists upon the world. Maybe we are learning?
It was without a thought of Mr. Clemens that I penned my first travel review in 2015. My love-almost-but-not-quite-hate relationship with arguably The United States of America’s greatest writer was almost a quarter of a century old at that point. Yes. I said hate. Almost. But not quite.
You see one of Clemens’s first assignments as a travel writer was then known as the Sandwich Islands. He spent four months there in 1866. One of my first trips away from the mainland U.S. of A. came in 1991, to the Big Island of Hawaii and Volcanoes National Park.
The sight of Kīlauea spurred my muse into overdrive, and I hastily began scribbling notes. A glance at a placard off to my right stopped my muse and my pen in their tracks. Mr. Clemens had gotten there long before me, described things much better than I ever could.
My muse promptly booked us two tickets on the defeat express. I tore them up and instead did something very writerly. I got over myself.
Time and again over the next three decades I cross paths and pens with the ghost of Samuel Clemens. Each time I pause a moment, honoring the writer and the man. I recall what he penned over thirty years later, in 1899 “…after a moment’s reflection, hope came up again, and then certainty… for Authorship is not a trade, it is an inspiration;”
So please, if you can, find a way to find your way to the Big Island. Say ‘Yes’ to Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, the Place of Refuge, and snorkeling. Yes to Kīlauea, Volcanoes National Park and Chain of Craters Road and the Pu`u Loa Petroglyphs. Yes to The Kalapana – Kapoho “Red” road and the black sand beach. Yes to inspiration.
Near Keauhou you owe it to yourself to stop at Kenichi Pacific or Teshima‘s for some amazing Japanese fare. Farther North? Say, Waimea? One place. Merrimans. Just go. Not near Waimea? Get there. Just go.