One enticing thing about travel tales from distant centuries is the way they suggest so many more stories that haven’t been told. While we assume that Marco Polo was a pioneer in his journey to the Far East, for example, we learn from his own narrative that he encountered other Europeans – Germans, Lombards, Frenchmen – in the cities of China. Polo’s contemporary, William of Rubruck, traveled across Asia and found Greek doctors, Ukrainian carpenters, and Parisian goldsmiths working in the Mongolian capital of Karakorum. As intriguing as these thirteenth-century accounts of Marco and William are, imagine a rich trove of unknown travelers’ diaries stretching far deeper into antiquity.
In the fall of 2001, while I was living in the south Thailand border town of Ranong, I had a brief love affair with an Australian woman named Eva. I first met her on the swimming-pool veranda of the aging hotel where I was renting a studio for $150 a month. Travelers would occasionally pass through Ranong to renew their Thai travel visas at the Burmese border, and Eva had just returned from a visa run with a British couple I’d met the day before. That night the four of us went out to drink whiskey and sing karaoke at a local nightclub. The following morning, the British couple headed north for Bangkok, and Eva moved her things into my room.
By the time I arrived at the Guacara Taina nightclub, it was just short of midnight. The club was mostly empty, though this is a relative term when the disco in question sits in a huge underground cave that can comfortably fit 2,000 revelers. The subterranean climate proved a cool respite from the smothering June humidity of Santo Domingo, and there was a certain charm in the occasional flutter of bats while waiting in line for the toilet, or the ever-present danger of stumbling over stalagmites while fetching beers. I had been in the Dominican Republic taking dance lessons for just over two weeks, but this was the first time I’d ventured out to try my new skills in public.