A Love Affair with Five Continents


By Elisabeth Eaves

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Spanning 15 years of travel, beginning when she is a sophomore in college, Wanderlust documents Elisabeth Eaves’s insatiable hunger for the rush of the unfamiliar and the experience of encountering new people and cultures. Young and independent, she crisscrosses five continents and chases the exotic, both in culture and in romance. In the jungles of Papua New Guinea, she loses herself — literally — to an Australian tour guide; in Cairo, she reconnects with her high school sweetheart, only to discover the beginning of a pattern that will characterize her life over the long-term: while long-distance relationships work well for her, traditional relationships do not.

Wanderlust, however, is more than a chronological conquest of men and countries: at its core, it’s a journey of self-discovery. In the course of her travels, Eaves finds herself and the sense of home she’s been lacking since childhood — and she sheds light on a growing culture of young women who have the freedom and inclination to define their own, increasingly global, lifestyles, unfettered by traditional roles and conventions of past generations of women.


"Whether the journey is emotional or geographic, Eaves again and again captures the exhilarating moment when the safe place is left behind and the new place is not yet arrived at—that 'in between' moment that contains the thrill of the journey."
—Andrew McCarthy, actor, director, and writer
"Even those of us who have read Elisabeth Eaves before and know what a poised writer she is will marvel at the elegance and embracing reach of Wanderlust. She conveys the nomadic romance of an adventurous soul traversing the vivid world and yet retains the intimacy of a voice confiding its secrets, taking you with her, smuggling you along. Once Wanderlust embarks, there'll be no place else you'd rather be."
—James Wolcott, cultural critic, Vanity Fair
"Wanderlust isn't as much a desire to travel as it is a force of nature that can course through a person's veins with such blinding power that there is nothing else in life more important. Elisabeth journeys into her self, and around the world, as she heeds the call of the open road—and her heart."
—Jen Leo, editor, Sand in My Bra series; and co-host of "This Week in Travel"
"Eaves tells a provocative story that explores the question of why we travel, and how the allure of far-flung places can turn into an obsession. Smart, soulful, and startlingly honest, Wanderlust takes the reader on a wild ride from Paris to Pakistan—and many points in between."
—Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding and Marco Polo Didn't Go There

"Don't seek the water; get thirst."

On an early December morning in 2005, as the Christmas lights faded and festive dark turned to gray daylight, I loaded four suitcases into a taxi on Avenue Montaigne. I went back upstairs and stepped into the parquet hall to take one last look at what was now my ex-apartment. The living room was too perfect, with its balconies, its marble fireplace, its fashionable but uninviting white sofa. I surveyed the emptiness, then locked the door from the outside and slipped the key back underneath, for my now ex-boyfriend to find. Another life was over, and I couldn't get back inside if I wanted to.
I flew back to Vancouver, where my parents met me at the luggage carousel. My four suitcases represented the household I'd acquired thus far in life. The most overstuffed among them had split open between Toronto and Vancouver. The handlers strung it up in red and white tape, but when it arrived on the carousel, the rip still gaped ominously, contents poised to escape, the whole bundle looking dangerously close to explosion. We took the suitcase to the Air Canada counter, where they provided us with an enormous clear plastic sack, into which I dumped the remaining physical artifacts of my existence: clothing, bags, boots, books. We gave the airline the broken suitcase, and four days later a new one, larger and sturdier than its predecessor, turned up on my parents' porch.
My life wouldn't be so easy to fix. I'd woken up at the age of thirty-four to realize that I wanted to go home, only to discover that I had no idea where that was.
Wanderlust, the very strong or irresistible impulse to travel, is adopted untouched from the German, presumably because it couldn't be improved upon. Workarounds like the French passion du voyage don't quite capture the same meaning. Wanderlust is not a passion for travel exactly; it's something more animal and more fickle—something more like lust. We don't lust after very many things in life. We don't need words like worklust or homemakinglust. But travel? Anatole Broyard put it perfectly in his essay "Being There": "Travel is like adultery: one is always tempted to be unfaithful to one's own country. To have imagination is inevitably to be dissatisfied with where you live . . . in our wanderlust, we are lovers looking for consummation." I spent a long time looking for the consummation Broyard describes, and the search was tied up with love itself. I traveled for love, and loved to travel, making it hard to disentangle cause from effect.
The American president Thomas Jefferson once cautioned his nephew against roaming. "Traveling makes men wiser, but less happy," he wrote in a letter. "When men of sober age travel, they gather knowledge, which they may apply usefully for their country, but they are subject ever after to recollections mixed with regret—their affections are weakened by being extended over more objects, and they learn new habits which cannot be gratified when they return home."
Had that happened to me? Would I never be gratified?
I wasn't so sure. It was true that I'd extended my affections far and wide. But I didn't think I would have sent home a warning like Jefferson's. I doubted that even he, who wrote to his nephew from Paris, would have traded in his own rambling.
As my taxi merged onto the Périphérique, I wondered what had propelled me. I wondered what wanderlust had done to me, and whether I'd followed it for too long.

"It would be good to live in a perpetual state of leave-taking, never to go nor to stay, but to remain suspended in that golden emotion of love and longing; to be missed without being gone, to be loved without satiety. How beautiful one is and how desirable; for in a few moments one will have ceased to exist."
—John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

chapter one
I met Graham on an airplane. He was seventeen and off to England with his rugby team, a posse of blond boys in blue-striped jerseys sitting near the back of our jet. I was sixteen, on a school trip to Paris and London, the first time I'd be abroad without my parents. We both came from suburbs east of Vancouver, which was where we embarked. After takeoff we talked sitting on the floor of the jet, amid our respective classmates, pretending a more sophisticated knowledge of our upcoming itineraries than we actually possessed. By the time we landed in London, where our paths diverged, it was clear to me that travel without parental supervision led directly to the exchange of phone numbers with cute boys. But I was quickly caught up in my two-week trip, then exams on my return home, and didn't expect to hear from the guy on the plane. I was surprised the first time he called and asked me to go to a movie, all the more so when a month later he asked me to his graduation ball. Graham hadn't yet become unique in my mind. He was athletic and had a car and listened to heavy metal; his misbehaviors were run-of-themill, like cutting class and smoking cigarettes or pot. We kissed passionately on the couch in my TV room. He teased me about the big words I used ("insatiable"), and I made fun of the names of his bands ("Anthrax").
I'd never been to a formal dance and was flattered to be asked; I immediately said yes. My mother altered a blue and black satin prom dress that had belonged to my cousin, and I was granted special dispensation to stay out as late as I liked. When three in the morning rolled around, and we found ourselves at an after party at someone's house, Graham volunteered to have his dad chauffeur us to our respective homes. Part of me wanted to stay out even though I could barely stay awake. I wanted to use my new freedom to its maximum, to exploit it as outrageously as I could, but I wasn't sure what that would mean. The part of me falling asleep accepted the ride and went home.
We didn't become boyfriend and girlfriend; we didn't go all the way. But we stayed in touch over the summer, while I worked at a clothing store in a Burnaby shopping mall. Graham became different in my mind from other boys, as I learned about his singular ambition: He wanted to go away and travel. Sometimes we talked on the phone about his desire, which over those first months I knew him, progressed from a hazy idea to a concrete plan. Neither of us knew anyone else who aimed to do the same thing. Many of our classmates seemed to have no plans at all, and those who did expected to go straight to university. As I entered my senior year, he scrimped and saved, working two jobs and living with his dad, so that he could buy himself a ticket to see the world. I heard less and less from Graham, until finally he called one day in the winter to tell me that he was leaving. I admired the way he'd made his own wish come true.
It wasn't until after he left, and began sending me notes from afar, that I began to really fall for him. First from Hawaii, then from Fiji, then from Australia, he mailed regular light-as-dust aerograms, those pale blue, prestamped sheets from the post office that are both stationery and envelope combined. He wrote in a dense ballpoint scrawl about palm trees, which he'd never before seen; about scuba diving, which he'd never before done; and about his evolving plans. Once he mailed a photograph of himself, now with longer hair and darker skin, accompanied by a letter saying he was living in a trailer and picking fruit. From my circumscribed life of homework and curfews and college applications, I became so captivated by Graham's voyage—by the fact that you could just do that, go off into the world and let it carry you along—that after a while I couldn't be sure where wanting him stopped and wanting to be him began.
I was admitted to some Canadian universities, but chose instead to go to the University of Washington, across the border and a few hours' drive south. Going to Seattle, and the United States, represented a bigger, broader world. I immediately started taking an 8:00 AM Arabic class, during which I often fell asleep. Part of my desire to take Arabic was that it was the more distant, exotic thing. I already spoke French and Spanish, and had traveled in Europe with my family. We'd also been to Turkey when I was fourteen, and that had stoked an appetite to see what was farther East. The architecture in Istanbul had left an indelible impression. I was so awestruck after visiting the Topkapi Palace that as I gazed back at the Golden Horn from our ferry, skimming the strait where sultans had drowned their predecessors' concubines, I shushed my mother when she tried to talk to me.
If buildings could look so radically different, with their Ottoman minarets, Byzantine domes, and serpentine blue-tiled halls, then it stood to reason that much more could be different too. Seattle was disappointingly unexotic; its palette was gray and green like Vancouver's. Since I was raised to regard college as obligatory, it didn't occur to me that I could leave and do something else instead, even as I envied Graham his freedom. But I could take Arabic, and a language was another kind of new world. Through study I hoped to quench that urge that he was satisfying through actual travel.
I joined a sorority and gravitated to new friends: to Kim, whose goal in life, at eighteen, was to get to Germany and a boy named Sasha, who had been an exchange student at her high school; and Katerina, the daughter of Czech émigrés, who told us about the Velvet Revolution unfolding that very fall. It was 1989, and we were all hearing from our parents and teachers that the world as we knew it was changing. But we didn't really know what it had been like in the first place.
As sorority sisters we were expected to participate in the Greek system. Inside the house that meant occasional meetings and sometimes dressing up for dinner, and outside it meant an endless round of drinking parties at the neighboring fraternities. I considered all new experience good experience, and threw myself in, carousing up and down the leafy streets with Kim and Katerina, looking for the party with the biggest crowd, the best music, or the most freely flowing alcohol. Sometimes I'd meet someone funny or interesting, with a story to tell about driving his car to California or spending a semester in France. The Greek system, though, quickly came to seem like a bubble, and most of the stories in which I pretended to seem interested revolved around the last drinking party. Here we were, released from adult oversight for the first time in our lives, and our social activity of choice was to rove the same five-block radius over and over, drinking insipid beer. The novelty of moving from Vancouver to Seattle quickly wore off, and I couldn't shake the feeling that the world was elsewhere.
My sorority mail room, which also housed the telephone switchboard, was the node that connected us to the outside world. Juniors and seniors took turns staffing it, sorting the mail and announcing phone calls and visitors over a PA system that reached through the upper floors. If a "visitor" was announced, that meant a girl; "guest" was the code word for boy. I was thrilled the first time a letter from Graham found its way to my sorority mailbox, and afterward started checking my mail more often and with more eager anticipation. He'd arrived in New Zealand and was hitchhiking from town to town. His letters put me in touch with a way of living that was more spontaneous and adventurous than my own.
It was my mom who first floated the idea of Spain. Her friend Janet, a Canadian who'd married a Spaniard, worked as a preschool teacher in Valencia, and she mentioned that some parents at her school wanted English-speaking summer nannies. My mother had barely finished saying the words when the idea took visceral hold: I wanted to—I had to—go. I was surprised that it was she, whom I still associated with curfews and groundings, who proposed the Spanish scheme, but she was more sensitive to my restlessness than I knew. And my parents trusted Spain; they trusted Janet and her husband, Manolo.
For me, Spain was a happy childhood memory. It was the place that had showed me, for the first time, that when you were somewhere else, you could be someone else.
I was nine and my brother Gregory was five when my parents moved us to Rocafort, just outside of Valencia, where my father would work during his academic sabbatical. We lived in a white stucco villa, and other than a handful of houses on our dirt lane, were surrounded for miles by orange groves. The scent of oranges mingled with diesel fumes to this day makes me think of Spain.
My parents enrolled me at a three-room public school in Rocafort. I spoke no Spanish, and at first spent my lunch hours sitting on the banister of the stairs leading down to the concrete school yard, surveying my running, shrieking classmates from on high. When they tried to talk to me, I gave them blank stares, but they were persistent. One day a ringleader named Maria Teresa approached me again and started talking. This time, to my surprise, I understood what she was saying: She wanted me to come play hopscotch. After weeks of incubation, my Spanish had sprung to life fully formed, and it operated like a reflex, subliminal and involuntary. I hadn't heard Maria Teresa's words and translated them into English; I'd just understood.
At home my father brought my brother and me Tintin, Asterix, and Smurf comic books in Spanish, as well as Guerreros del Antifaz, a clash-of-civilizations-themed comic in which a Christian hero battles the Moors. At first he read to us from them, in part to practice his own Spanish, but I complained and rolled my eyes when he stopped to explain grammatical points. Soon Gregory and I were reading the books ourselves.
Tintin, with his wild foreign adventures, was one of my first literary heroes. With his sidekick Captain Haddock, an irascible drunk, Tintin went to America, Egypt, Congo, Tibet, China, a South Pacific island, the ocean floor, and the moon. He also solved scientific mysteries and ancient archaeological riddles. In my favorite book, Tintin en el Pais del Oro Negro, the intrepid boy-explorer discovers oil in Arabia. I reread books like Vuelo 714 Para Sydney and Tintín y el Lago de los Tiburones dozens of times, looking for some hint of how I might make my life more like his.
A few months after my language breakthrough on the hopscotch grid, I was playing in the yard of my friend Amparo's apartment, in the next village over from Rocafort. Her friends asked me where I was from. I told them Canada, and tried to explain about it being a foreign country, near the United States, but they howled in disbelief. "You're from Rocafort!" they screeched. When I absorbed the meaning of this turn of events, I was electrified. I still stood out as a white-blond, selfdressed ragamuffin among my groomed and cologned classmates, but I sounded just like them. I could pass as something I wasn't. I could be two people. It could be that all my subsequent travel has been an attempt to recapture the feeling of that first time.
When the school year ended, we spent the summer touring Europe and Morocco in our Volkswagen van. My parents made us feel like we were helping direct the expedition. I'd study maps and go through lists of campgrounds, urging them to take us to one with a swimming pool. Gregory collected bottle caps from everywhere we went, and I begged to have my picture taken with a cobra. By day we traipsed around cathedrals or Roman ruins. At night my brother and I took the top bunk and my parents took the one below, and as it got hotter, we slept with the door open to the night. Every day we were in our home, and every day we were somewhere new.
I had a game I liked to play in the campgrounds, many of which were set up as vast grids, echoing the Roman fortresses that once dotted the region. (I learned my Roman history from Asterix.) Once I was permitted to walk to the bathhouse by myself, I made getting lost a deliberate goal. For example, if I knew I should go right to get back to our van, I'd go left instead, and take a series of wrong turns with the aim of becoming disoriented. I'd wander amid the maze of tricked-out campers and families grilling their dinners, admiring accessories I thought we should have, like a tent that attached to a parked trailer to create a covered front porch. When I knew I was really lost, not just pretend lost, I'd try to find my way back. The best moments in this manufactured joy were when I confidently believed I was on the right trail back to our van—then discovered that I was lost again. Really lost.
We returned to Canada the next school year, and to the house we'd rented out. My mother cried: She couldn't find some of her things, while others had broken. I entered the fifth grade, where I took an immediate dislike to my teacher. Getting home was an allaround disappointment. I was outgrowing comic books, but Gregory carefully collected and organized all of our Spanish literature on his shelf. I'd sometimes go and pick one of the Tintins, and mull where to someday go.
In February of my freshman year of college, Graham returned from his twelve-month trip. Our relationship had been mostly chaste before he left, no more intimate than kisses. As it became purely epistolary, though, my longing to see him had built up. My desire was inextricable from his having gone away. When he called and told me he'd returned, I made a plan to see him on my next trip to Vancouver.
He had no car, so I borrowed my parents' Taurus and picked him up on the road outside his father and stepmother's wooded trailer park. It was a typical Vancouver winter day; a granite sky pressed down. He looked very different from when I'd first met him, now deeply tanned and with curly blond hair past his shoulders. It was pulled back into a ponytail, and he wore a heavy dark overcoat against the chill—an oilskin, souvenir of Australia. I thought he looked great on a superficial level, and his transformation was also reassuring deeper down. It told me you could go and invent yourself. Our parents and schools, these wooded roads, this city, didn't have to be the whole story.
I felt skittish and excited as he got into the car, and we spent a long few moments staring at each other and nervously laughing. He'd brought a mix tape with no heavy metal whatsoever, and envelopes full of photographs to show me, but we had no idea where to go. Around us the cold damp forest of Anmore tapered into suburban sprawl. The idea of a mall was abhorrent. We decided to drive all the way across Port Moody, Burnaby, and Vancouver to one of the beaches of Stanley Park, for no reason, really, other than our need to have a destination.
As he told me his stories, images lodged in my mind as surely as if they had been my own memories: Graham waiting on a table in a long white apron; Graham jumping off a bridge over a gorge; Graham driving a Volkswagen van—which he called a "combi"—at sunrise, with two English girls asleep in the back and Roxy Music playing on the tape deck. He'd gone until he had no more money, worked, then gone on again.
Around the time of Graham's return, my summer plans were falling into place, and so I had exciting news to share. I'd spend the months between my freshman and sophomore years working for a Valencia couple with a two-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy. They had a summer home in a beach town called Moraira, on the Costa Blanca between Valencia and Alicante. Graham beamed, taking pleasure on my behalf. He, too, was already set on going away again. At first the idea had been just an inkling. After all, he'd only flown home a few weeks before. Now, after penniless, carless winter days in an isolated trailer park, failing to connect with the friends he could rustle up, he was confirmed in his plan. He'd stay only long enough to save up money. This time he'd go in the other direction, to London. His antipodean trip had stoked his desire for more, clueing him in to how much more of the world there was to see.
A high school friend of his attended my university and lived in a fraternity house nearby. Several weeks after we first reunited, Graham borrowed a car to drive to Seattle, and arranged to stay with Paul for a couple of nights. For a few hours I was able to smuggle him upstairs in my sorority, to the living space I shared with several roommates (I slept elsewhere in the house in a dorm room), where we lolled on a quilted bunk amid an upperclassman's cushions and teddy bears. Apropos of nothing, he looked up and said, "I love you," and it dawned on me: That's what this was—this longing, this excitement, this frisson at the sound of his name, the wanting to talk about him all the time to Kim and Katerina, who always indulged me and listened. I had had boyfriends, but this was something new. I was happy but also alarmed, suddenly and for the first time realizing that I had no control—of my feelings, or of this other person with whom they were so bound up. I felt immensely vulnerable, and wondered how I could make myself feel less so. I asked him to always be honest with me. I thought we could last forever—not necessarily as lovers but as something, maybe friends, maybe in some new form of relationship I'd never heard of. Maybe this was when people starting calling one another "soul mates." Of course he couldn't promise not to hurt me, but he didn't know that at the time.
Love was immediately associated with travel, now between Seattle and Vancouver. On one of my trips I was able to stay in his room in his father's home. Now we finally went where we had known for months, or maybe years, we were headed. I was newly nervous and awkward as he removed my clothing piece by piece, and I did the same for him. We'd both imagined ourselves confident and experienced people of the world, in my case on no grounds whatsoever.
I saw him a few more times on weekends that spring, and in the weeks after my final exams. I marveled at our extraordinary privilege. I must have, I realized, been passing in-love people all the time, without understanding their world. I didn't want to exit this place of warmth and pleasure, didn't, in fact, understand that you could. I couldn't imagine why you might have to, because to be in love felt expansive. It included the whole world, made anything possible. I was so happy about two things, the way I felt about Graham and my upcoming trip to Spain, that it didn't immediately occur to me that they might be at odds. I didn't anticipate the pain of parting ways.
The night before I was to fly, I drove Graham back to his father's place and stayed too late, feeling like a hollow was opening up in my chest every time I tried to leave. Finally I sped home, sobbing all the way. Halfway along Barnet Highway, between Burnaby Mountain and the inlet shore, sirens invaded the haze of my emotional emergency, and I pulled over. The officer asked me what was wrong. I took a moment to bring my breathing under control, then choked out, "I just said good-bye."
"Ya just said good-bye, eh?" he repeated back, not cruelly, and handed me a ticket. "Try to slow down now, okay?"

chapter two
Maria José taught engineering, and Toni was a dentist; they were in their forties. They spent most of the year in Valencia, but in the summer retreated to a breezy, white stucco hillside home in Moraira, where Toni also kept a practice. The children were named for their parents. Maria José Jr., at two a tottering bundle of baby fat, was sandy-haired and blue-eyed like her mother, while Antonito, at four, had his father's tawny skin and black hair. Maria José's parents would come to visit for weeks on end, as would her sister. Toni's parents had a house nearby. I was unsure about my job description, but it seemed to be: Be around most of the time, speak English to the kids, and baby-sit solo as needed.
I was given a cubby perched on the roof of the two-story home. To get there I exited the main floor of the house onto a veranda, then climbed a set of outdoor stairs. The room was just big enough for a single bed, a shelf, and a chair. Its chief attraction was the wide window, which gave me a panoramic view. Moraira sits on a southfacing bay, and the house was on a hill on the east side, so I could see the scrubby, sand-color hills that surrounded the town, a tumble of white stucco homes with red-tiled roofs, and the Mediterranean, which shifted from iridescent gray in the dawn to bright aquamarine in the late morning. When I first took in the view—mine for the


On Sale
May 24, 2011
Page Count
256 pages
Seal Press

Elisabeth Eaves

About the Author

Elisabeth Eaves is the author of Bare: The Naked Truth About Stripping, and her travel essays have been anthologized in The Best American Travel Writing, The Best Women’s Travel Writing, and A Moveable Feast: Life-Changing Food Adventures from Around the World. Her writing has also appeared in numerous publications, including Forbes, Harper’s, the New York Times, Slate, and the Wall Street Journal, and she holds a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University. Born and raised in Vancouver, she lives in New York City.

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