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Book details
  • Genre:TRAVEL
  • SubGenre:Asia / General
  • Language:English
  • Pages:296
  • Hardcover ISBN:9781930222212

A Monkey's Tale

by Thillman Wallace and Mary Katzke

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The Epic, True Story of a Man, a Monkey and 32,000 Miles of Uncharted Adventure
I wrote this manuscript from memory while recovering at my parents’ house in Upstate New York upon my return. I had not kept a journal while traveling for a number of reasons including bearing the weight of yet another object, lack of writing utensils, and severe weather often soaking my entire backpack. When looking back on the trip there were so many decisions, thousands of decisions and I was just a naïve twenty-five year-old guy. My journey became one of doing the impossible, of doing anything necessary to survive. I had been brought up with so much confidence, I never questioned my ambition to take a westerly route all the way back to Alaska. In some ways, that was the beauty of it all. I was so ignorant, I was fearless and open to everything. I had hoped to work my way around the world but quickly learned that wages were so low in undeveloped countries I would never make enough to pay for travel. The truth is I lost over twenty-five pounds and was very weak for most of the time because I would not offend people by refusing their offerings of food, even when it was unsanitary or as unappealing sheep’s blood. It was vital to my survival that I was not perceived as a threat or superior to the people upon whom I relied throughout my journey- but that philosophy also almost killed me.
About the author
I felt a need to set the world right in their perceptions of us. I believed we did not come from a “mean place” or were a country that would knowingly do wrong to others. Instead, we took in the poor and downtrodden from all over the world and gave them a chance at a shared dream. While I learned that we are not necessarily without fault in our international actions, I also learned to have a compassion for all the world’s peoples and I have come to the conclusion there are many “right” ways to live. I viewed us as equal beings no matter what fortune- or lack of fortune- bestowed upon us due to luck or place of birth. The villagers near Nankam with only three eggs among them did not hesitate to feed me. The poorest people in Burma laughed the most often. I was not judged for being dirty or having no money to pay for so much that was freely given. Instead, I was welcomed as a traveler, revered for the courage I was exhibiting by leaving my comfort zone and breaking bread with them, gratefully. That is a lesson about humanity I will take to my grave: wealth is a relative perception and we have much to learn from the hearts and cultures of others. I admit I was not a good correspondent. I sent one letter to my parents- which caused them untold anxiety, and have not maintained contact with anyone since the trip. I did hear from Rajah indirectly when a religious zealot passed through Anchorage and asked to meet with me. What I took away from that meeting was that Rajah may have joined some type of religious cult. For all his bravado, he was still very much searching for meaning internally. The only map I had for the entire trip was a world map. It was a sacred thing as it was the only thing I had to go on but gave a big picture more than any specific direction; there were no roads on it. By the end of the trip it had big holes in the seams because I had unfolded it and folded it so many times. On the whole, I spoke little English in my travels. People have to communicate and so that left me to use pidgen English, or ridiculous charades that made my look like a fool. I think Americans in general live in a type of accommodation of other languages and culture, but lack a genuine inquisitiveness which would serve them well in travel. I’m all for getting to know our neighbors: they are never as bad as we’ve been told. We need to lose the high school mentality of having invincible rivals and get back to being open, receptive and tolerant. My advice to travelers is to learn as much as possible in advance of going to a new country. A little understanding and appreciation will go far in connecting with your hosts. I also suggest that you go while young, before you have the attachments of work and family: old enough, but not too old. The only time I was ever almost robbed was the only time I wore my suit. Learn to travel as slowly as possible. I could have easily spent an entire week in each place I spent only a day. It is the only way to see the minutia of differences, even within a culture there is so much to learn. I’m hoping I’ve made the world a little better place having been here. I know Chin had a bit of adjusting from his jungle lifestyle to the nine years he spent with us in Alaska afterward, losing a good bit of his eighteen inch tail to frostbite one bad winter. But I am ever grateful for his companionship and his ‘bridge’ to so many people as we moved among strangers. Children, music and animals all share a common language. As for me, my own heart was finally filled when I met Ella, my wife of 55 years, a young Swiss girl riding her bike across Canada with two girlfriends. I was immediately won over by her kindred adventurous spirit, damn near making a fool of myself chasing her all over Alaska, looking for the white hankie she would tie on the bushes near their campsites. I hope others who read this will be inspired to use their time to see our amazing world, and to do as much good as possible while on earth.
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