AS WITH ANY DECENT travel narrative, in Across the Yucatan by Lawrence F. Lihosit, the reader ultimately learns more about the author than the region visited. This is surely to be expected, as the author is, in essence, an intermediary between reader and place traveled. Nevertheless any reader of this compact narrative will be struck as to what degree this holds true. Mr. Lihosit’s writing is terse, his humor pointed and occasionally flagrantly schmaltzy. But the book is genuine, and obviously genuinely written from the heart.
Mr. Lihosit’s adventures begin when he receives an unexpected “windfall” (tax-return) and decides to take some of his family to the Yucatan, in Mexico, on the advice of his Mexican-born wife. Mr. Lihosit had spent time in this part of the world as a younger man. He speaks fluent Spanish. This is all to the reader’s benefit. Work circumstances don’t allow him to travel with his wife, so he decides to take his two teenaged sons, Zeke and Anson. Although neither boy is overly confident in his Spanish, Anson the younger one is less so. The reader soon discovers that one of the main motivations for taking this trip is to get them speaking Español. Lihosit’s efforts at trying to persuade the boys do so successfully towards the end provide for some of the sharpest wordplay in the book.
The three Lihosits travels take them from Cancun to Tulum to Merida and the ruins of Chichen Itza, and points nearby. They swim in the ocean, buy gewgaws, visit with locals and ride on innumerable buses. Throughout, Mr. Lihosit offers commentary on the history of the ruins, the people or the region being visited. These, too, are some of the best parts of the book. However as with any book there are positives and negatives. Here are a few of both, in brief.
The bad news. Mr. Lihosit’s writing alternates from the Tom Sawyerishly hokey to clear, elegant prose sometimes in the same paragraph. For example, a cave is described as being “just down the road a spell.” Such a description is highly colloquial. However, in the same paragraph, a bird “takes wing” instead of just flying off. This incongruent mix of slang and literary formality can be difficult to reconcile. And here are some examples of what I mean by hokey: Anson is described at one point as being “as busy as a one-armed wallpaper hanger”; a group event is portrayed as “trying to trim whiskers off the man in the moon”; and someone’s face was “beet red and blowing like a bull snake at a barking dog.”
The good news. None of the aforementioned matters. It’s still a good book, and fun to read. Mr. Lihosit is at his best when writing about the history of Mayan civilization, the current political situation in Yucatan cities, pre-Colombian games and the fortunes of the indigenous people who still struggle to eke out a living in the region. His knowledge of the language gives him a decided advantage over other “travelers” to the area. During their travels, he and his boys meet topless European sunbathers, native speakers of Mayab, fellow Americans displaced by choice, opportunity or circumstance, and of course, ordinary Yucatan Mexicans themselves. In fact, it’s just precisely these encounters that lend the book the majority of its appeal. In short, Mr. Lihosit’s love for life is obvious, and comes through on the first page. It’s a fun book, and recommended to anyone with plans to visit this region.
Blaine Comeaux works in the field of elections for the City of Mesa, Arizona. His own book is entitled Two Years in the Kingdom, The Adventures of an American Peace Corps Volunteer in Northeast Thailand, available on Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.