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Episode 6: En el camino

By Duolingo on Thu 18 Jan 2018

Fabián Mauricio Martínez discovered his love for travel through his other passion — literature. So when he first read Jack Kerouac’s novel, “On the Road”, he dreamed of crossing the United States from coast to coast as the main characters in the book had. One day, he decided it was time to make the trip his own.

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Martina: Some people can travel to faraway places without ever leaving home. Growing up, Fabián Martínez did this through literature and his own imagination.

Fabián: Cuando era pequeño, me gustaban mucho los libros. Veía las ilustraciones y me imaginaba los países y ciudades de las historias que leía.

Martina: When it came time to actually leave on adventures of his own, he wouldn’t go anywhere without his good luck charm — a photo one of his friends gave him of a landscape in Tibet. On the back, she wrote: “Never stop traveling, even when you’re in your own living room.”

Fabián: Representa la importancia de los viajes en mi vida.

Martina: But this message wouldn’t take on its full meaning, until Fabián found himself on a train, crossing the United States from coast to coast.

Martina: Welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast, where we bring you true bilingual stories of travels with unexpected turns, plans unraveled, and destinations unknown. The Spanish in this story is for intermediate level learners, but if you get lost, don’t worry, we’ll be chiming in throughout the story.

Martina: When he was a kid, Fabián would fantasize about different places around the world. He would spend hours looking through his atlas, dreaming about the Amazon River, the Serengeti plains or the glaciers in Greenland.

Fabián: Años después, cuando fui a la universidad, estudié literatura. Y después de leer cientos de libros empecé a viajar — a otros lugares y a otros tiempos — sin salir de mi casa.

Martina: That’s how he embarked on various trips, without ever leaving home. He sailed with Santiago from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”, and walked barefoot beneath the stars next to Lena Grove, of William Faulkner’s “Light in August.”

Fabián: Pero un día, empecé a leer On the road, de Jack Kerouac. Y todo cambió.

Martina: In this book from the fifties, Kerouac tells the story of two young men as they go on their first trip across the United States. They travel on foot, by bus, and by car, searching for the wild heart of North America. And as they travel, they get to know themselves, too.

Fabián: Cuando terminé de leer el libro, decidí combinar dos de mis pasiones: leer y viajar. Y organicé un viaje en tren por los Estados Unidos. Quería visitar los lugares de los que tanto leí en On the road.

Martina: Since he was fascinated with Kerouac’s book, Fabian decided to go to all the places he had read about in On the Road. He lived in Bucaramanga, a town at the foot of the Andes in northeast Colombia. From there, he flew to Truckee, California. In Truckee, he took a summer job as a cooking assistant to save up money for the trip.

Fabián: Después, pasé dos semanas en San Francisco, una ciudad llena de literatura y música. Pero para realmente vivir la aventura de On the Road, tenía que empezar el viaje de mis sueños — en tren por los Estados Unidos, desde San Francisco a Nueva York.

Martina: A train from San Francisco to New York takes about three and a half days and goes right through the middle of the country. As the train pulled away from the station, Fabián thought about Sal Paradise, one of the characters from Kerouac’s book. During his trip, Sal got to know itinerant workers, jazz musicians and Mexican fruitpickers.

Fabián: Yo saludaba y le sonreía a las personas que entraban al tren. Quería conocer y hablar con gente nueva. Pero casi todos me ignoraban. Solo una persona me miró como si estuviera loco.

Martina: But even though the other passengers ignored him, Fabián was thrilled to be riding with them. The train howled loudly, breaking the silence of a quiet day. He couldn’t wait to meet someone who resembled the characters in Kerouac’s book. Fabián got his first chance when a man asked him if he could charge his laptop by his seat, because the outlet closest to him didn’t work.

Fabián: Dije que sí y también le dije que, mientras, podíamos hablar. Él dijo que solo quería la electricidad. Conectó la computadora y se fue.

Martina: As the stranger walked away, Fabián wondered: Where were the nomads and the free spirits? Where were the travelers who wanted to analyze the world and figure out what they are made of?

Fabián: Todos estaban usando sus celulares o computadoras, sin mirar afuera o hablar con otras personas.

Martina: Meanwhile, Fabián read a passage from On the Road, in which Sal Paradise rides with a group of homeless men who traveled for free on the freight cars. But as he looked around, Fabián only saw regular passenger cars.

Fabián: Encontré a personas dormidas y coches con ventanas enormes. Me senté en uno de ellos y observé la geografía: montañas rojas, rocas amarillas, un cielo sin nubes.

Martina: Next to him, a blonde woman was eating an ice cream and looking out the window. That’s when Fabián was reminded of another character from On the Road: Dean Moriarty. He would fall in love with the women he met on his travels.

Fabián: Miré a la mujer y pensé: “¿Por qué no? Soy un aventurero viajando por el mundo”.

Martina: Besides, this adventurer was getting a little bored. He’d been riding the train for eight hours already.

Fabián: Saludé a la mujer y le dije: este viaje en tren es muy especial.

Martina: He said hello. And then he told her how special it was to be riding this train together.

Fabián: Pero ella continuó comiendo su helado. Sin mirarme, dijo: “Tomo este tren todas las mañanas para ir al trabajo. Lo tomo en la noche para regresar a casa. Esto no es nada especial”.

Martina: Without looking at him, she said she didn’t find the train ride special at all, and continued eating her ice cream. Rejected, Fabián turned his attention to his next meal. Dinner was being served in another train car, and the smell of roast beef and french fries made him hungry. Fabián went back to his seat.

Fabián: En San Francisco había gastado mucho dinero y no iba a tener suficiente para continuar mi viaje en Nueva York. Entonces solo pude comprar pan y una lata de sardinas por día. Por eso comía muy despacio.

Martina: He made a sandwich, and was eating it very slowly when a female attendant came by. She invited him to eat in the restaurant car of the train.

Fabián: Me invitó a probar el delicioso menú. Le dije que no tenía dinero y que iba a comer pan y mis sardinas hasta llegar a Nueva York. Ella sonrió con tristeza y me deseó una buena cena.

Martina: After finishing his dinner, Fabian went to sleep. When he woke up the next morning, the train had stopped and sat empty. He looked all around him, hoping for new passengers.

Fabián: En ese momento, un grupo de niños entró al tren gritando y llorando, junto con sus profesores. También entró un grupo de personas mayores.

Martina: One of the senior citizens sat near him, but when Fabián tried to speak to him, he turned away, seemingly annoyed. The man proceeded to talk to himself, gesturing wildly with his hands. Eventually, he fell asleep.

Fabián: Continué leyendo el libro de Kerouac. Necesitaba leer sobre los músicos que viajaban, los jóvenes aventureros, y los cowboys con olor a whiskey.

Martina: Fabián missed the travelers that crisscrossed the continent on old pickup trucks carrying the only things they needed: their memories and the clothes on their back.

Fabián: Pero yo solo veía a niños llorando, profesores aburridos y viejos locos. Entonces decidí escribir un diario de viaje.

Martina: On the pages of that diary, he wrote: I carry with me my notebook, my camera, and the book my ex girlfriend gave me, the book which is to blame for this journey, On the Road. One thing is to read it under the sheets in the privacy of my own bed, a very different thing is to read it on the road, as if each paragraph were to show you that your place in the world is everywhere and also nowhere.

Fabián: El día siguiente, un pasajero me preguntó por qué viajaba tanto en tren. Me emocioné y le hablé de Kerouac y de On the Road. El hombre no conocía el libro, ni al autor.

Martina: The man told Fabián that he found it strange that someone would choose to travel by train when traveling by airplane was so much more affordable.

Fabián: Le dije que no quería viajar por los Estados Unidos en avión; quería viajar en tren, en coche y caminando.

Martina: The man looked at Fabián as if he were crazy.

Fabián: Me dijo “Buena suerte con eso”. Y se fue.

Martina: Good luck with that, the guy said and left. The romantic journey Fabián had played out so many times in his mind, was not turning out at all like he had imagined. There were no eloquent conversations about the American way, no memorable encounters or quirky characters. The quirkiest thing about this whole trip was Fabián! So Fabián abandoned the other passengers, and found refuge in his journal. In it, he wrote about the fields of corn, the farms and lakes that he saw fly by through his window:

Fabián: A veces veía un pequeño camino de tierra que iba a un campo… Me preguntaba: ¿quién lo camina?, ¿cómo es su vida?, ¿hace cuánto tiempo vive aquí?

Martina: Hunger woke Fabián from his daydream. The bread and sardines were now gone, so Fabián was drinking tons of water from the fountain in the bathroom to keep his stomach from growling.

Fabián: La asistente del tren me vio y me dijo: “Eres como mi hijo. Él también viaja solo y sin dinero. Toma esto y come bien, por favor”. En su mano tenía 20 dólares.

Martina: Fabián said no, thanks. But in the end, she insisted so he took the money and headed towards the restaurant car.

Fabián: En el coche restaurante ordené una hamburguesa con papas fritas y una bebida. Comí lentamente, disfrutando los sabores del kétchup, el queso, la cebolla y la carne.

Martina: He savored that burger as if it were his very first… and then returned to his seat, euphoric from his meal.

Fabián: Me emocioné cuando vi los árboles rojos, verdes, amarillos y naranjas por la ventana. Observé el paisaje hasta que el tren paró por última vez. Tomé mis cosas y salí del tren.

Martina: As he left the train, Fabián opened his copy of On the Road and took out the photo his friend had given him so long ago. He thought again about the message on the back, the one that encouraged him to never stop traveling, even when he was in his own living room. Home was now more than two-thousand miles away, in Bucaramanga, Colombia. He was tired and hungry, and a living room with a couch sounded pretty good right about then.

Fabián: Respiré, agarré mi bolso y caminé junto a los cientos de viajeros que, como yo, llegaban a Nueva York.

Credits & Media

This episode includes recordings from TomchikRec, blimp66, medialint, InspectorJ, mrbriandesign, arnebuhmann, The_Matt_Freeman, flag2, davethetech, and barcelonetasonora under the CC Attribution License from