Lunch Reading with Steve Hely, author of “The Wonder Trail.”
Steve Hely, writer for The Office, 30 Rock, and American Dad! presents a travel book about his journey through Central and South America. He let us ask him some questions…
1. This trip sounds like one hell of an adventure. Without giving up too many spoilers from the book, how did this idea come about?
At the local coffee shop near me, they had a huge map on the wall of Central and South America. A 70's classroom map, just a bit of hipster decoration. It looks like this:
I’d stare at it every day and imagine what the Amazon and the Panama Canal and the Andes were like, and how little I knew about that huge chunk of the world. Then I ended up with about three months off between two jobs. I knew I should do something great with that time, and finally I decided, I’m gonna spend that time going south and seeing as much of this portion of the world as I can.
2.Was this your first major trip like this? When did you first get the itch to travel?
In 2007 I went around the world without using airplanes, as part of a bet with a friend of mine (told in our book The Ridiculous Race). Since I was a kid I was itchy to see places, whether it was like the woods behind our house or Mongolia.
3. As far as documenting your travels goes, is that something that came naturally to you? Was publishing your experience always in the works?
As a writer I’m always trying to collect stories and interesting experiences, so I knew I’d probably write something about the trip. Putting it together was hard work, but fun because I got to relieve and reconsider and go deeper into learning about places I’d seen and people I’d met and history I’d heard about. I hope I was able to convey those stories in a way that’s entertaining to a stranger.
4. What was the most surprising stop you made?
The wildness and weirdness of Bolivia was pretty surprising. It’s a mountainous, landlocked, remote country, where they’ve preserved a lot of indigenous culture. You can easily feel like you are in another century or in some fantastical kingdom invented for novel. In the market in La Paz you can buy a preserved llama fetus for use in blessing a new house. That kind of place.
5. Aside from the memories, what kind of souvenirs did you bring back to the States?
Not a preserved llama fetus. I like to buy clothes when I travel — it works out well because you can pack less, and they’ll have appropriate clothes for the climate you’re in in the place you’re in, and they’re likely less expensive than in the USA. I’m wearing a belt right now I bought in Lima, Peru.
6. Here at The Lunch Read, all roads lead to food. What’s the best dish you ate on the trip?
There was so much good stuff. In Nicaragua I had fruits I’d never had before. the pupusas in El Salvador are delicious, the street food in Colombia is fantastic. But maybe best of all was Peruvian Chinese food. Familiar and strange all at once.
8. You were a writer and producer on The Office. Which character from the show are you letting ride shotgun on this adventure? Who gets left behind?
Creed can come with me anywhere. You might think Dwight would be a bad road trip companion, but I think he has a great capacity for sitting quietly, and he’d probably have some interesting picks for music on the way. I would do a short road trip with Dwight.
9. Speaking of which, the TV landscape is also full of the unknown. How did your TV experience help you gear up for this excursion? Los Angeles is as bizarre a place as any in the world. I wonder if the best parts of the book might be the beginning where I describe how I perceive the attitudes of LA and California, which were strange to me when I moved here from New England. Realizing how strange your hometown can be helps make other places not seem quite so crazy.
10. You must have learned a lot throughout your journey. Any pro-tips for travelers?
Don’t pack too much. I feel like people often get blocked on packing for trips. But shopping in a strange country can be as interesting as going to a museum, and they’ll have what you need — wherever you’re going, people have ways of getting the stuff humans need.
11 So you’ve conquered Central and South America. What’s next on the travel agenda?
I’ve got somewhere good in mind but I don’t want to give it away! I am learning from better writers than me to talk as little as possible about projects that are still ideas.