“I think this whole “being a foreigner” thing feels consistent, somehow. It’s like my inner world and the outer one are in alignment. I’ve felt kind of foreign all my life, now I truly am.”
All too often travel memoirs make me feel inadequate, jealous or annoyed. The problem is either a lack of authenticity or an unlikeable narrator. Thankfully Picaflor suffers neither of these faults. Picaflor: Finding Home in South America relates the journey of New Zealand-born Jessica Talbot, whose restless travels start with a tattoo of a hummingbird in Peru and leads her to Buenos Aires in a quest to discover what it means to feel at home.
Jessica’s descriptions of the transitory characters, long-time travellers and expats “drifting, like little white parachuted dandelion seeds in the wind” are spot-on. After traveling solo in Central and South America for months I can relate to descriptions like “the eerie atmosphere that hovers in Cusco’s valleys seems to attract people who are searching…” and that “everyone I meet is struggling with something.”
It’s about a search for love.
Expats and long-term travellers have all experienced a version of Jessica’s Paco, the enigmatic one-that-got-away who, on reflection, was no real catch. Negotiated a confusing set of dating rules and etiquette often in a different language. Suffered the fly-by-night chancers, and maybe, if they’re lucky, found their quiet and dependable true love like Jessica’s Diego.
But Picaflor is more than your average “girl goes travelling, girl looks for boy, finds boy” travelogue shallowness. Jessica’s journey is a search for meaning, for family, for her place in the world. Picaflor is intimately revealing; reading snippets of a haunted childhood, exploration of the grief following the loss of a true love, macabre incidents like the death of a drunken tour guide, and her always candid exploration of her feelings, it feels like you’ve stumbled across a diary rather than your regular travel blog post.
Authenticity of voice and a refreshing parity of description make this book memorable. Just enough detail to pick you up and deposit you in a dusty Peruvian plaza, gazing at an open-mouthed church, but not too much that it reads like a guidebook. And anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Argentina will appreciate the insight into this fascinating country’s psyche from an outsider’s perspective.
Thanks, Jessica, for Picaflor. Aside from identifying with the story, I thought the book was a beautiful read and a moving – brave – account of universal themes of longing, loss and acceptance told with warmth and style.
Picaflor is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository and most online bookstores. Ebooks are also available from iBooks, Kobo, Copia, Gardners Books, Scribd. and more. Paperbacks are available in Argentina from Walrus Books (San Telmo) and Kel Ediciones bookstores in BA (and online).
Read more from Jessica and other nomadic searchers here at Finding Home
All quotes from Picaflor: Finding Home in South America. Photos from Hummingbird Book on Facebook