White Sands

"We looked. We were ready to believe. We were ready to see." (p. 120)

I found White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World by Geoff Dyer in the new non-fiction/travel section in the used book store. The wrinkle of the broken spine down the middle of the simple white soft-cover was what initially made me pick it up. After reading a few pages I knew this would be a good book. Never have I laughed as much as I did reading this book, and paused to look up photos of the mysterious looking places mentioned in this collection. 

The book consists of 10 stand-alone essays, each prefaced with an interesting seemingly unrelated story that has a connecting theme to each piece. Dyer recounts a variety of travel experiences set in French Polynesia, China, New Mexico, the Arctic Circle, and California. His writing exudes curiosity and is rich with insight, mixed with a jaded traveler point of view that comes across as negative but also humorous with a relatable kind of honesty. Initially, I was slightly irritated but found his voice entertaining and enlightening. 

The overall theme is, "[e]verything that has happened stays happened. Everything has consequences." Meaning, even when things don't go as we would have liked and sometimes go terribly wrong, it's how we react and deal with it that makes or breaks a moment. The title, White Sands, refers to a national park in New Mexico. The title also brings to mind pristine white sand beaches, a postcard of an idolized vacation spot, so far from the truth. I searched for White Sands and zoomed in on the striking white park on Google maps, amazed how the area almost looks like a body of water when seen in contrast with the surrounding desert and patches of green. 

I laughed because this book brought back memories of my own travels, when I was at times frustrated and downright disappointed. Thinking back, those experiences are a source of endless internal jokes because they really were not so terrible even though they seemed at the time. When I read about Dyer and his wife being outsmarted by the evading Northern Lights on their "worst" trip, I remembered how we once flew to DC in the springtime solely for the purpose of seeing the cherry blossoms. It rained the entire time and there were no blossoms to be seen, except a brief sighting of pink from the plane window when we departed and the sun came out. 

I remembered the time we were stranded in the airport on Christmas, when I insisted we leave early in case of traffic. We ended up watching almost an entire season of Arrow, sitting on chairs we dragged closer together at a coffee shop at the terminal for hours. It wasn't so bad, we decided, at least we had brought a tablet with us to watch something together and had a cozy place to wait out the storm. 

I remembered the time the hotel bed seemed uncomfortably hard, and upon closer inspection found a sheet of plywood under the mattress that I decided to remove, after which the mattress had promptly collapsed. During this process, we also discovered a very large and fortunately very dead cockroach under the bed. When pointed out to the hotel manager, he said, "Oh good! The poison worked" and that seemed final enough.

I remembered the time I was nearly knocked down by an enormous umbrella that flew out of nowhere on the beach, slicing across my shoulder. The first thought I had was, at least it didn't hit me in the face and break my glasses, which made no sense at all. 

I remembered the many times when the places we wanted to visit where closed for the duration of our stay. All those memories now make me feel lighter when I laugh, even though when they happened I felt weighed down with worry. Often times, imperfect beaches are the more beautiful because there are fewer travelers there to ruin them. 


  1. Oh geez, your hotel experience ha! Great review, Olia.

  2. Whites sands was one of the places we visited on our epic road trip last winter. It was a surreal experience. Unfortunately, it was very cold and winter that day and we did not get out to explore much.

    1. It must have looked very different in the winter. Were there signs advising not to pick up hitchhikers?



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