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This article by Phyllis Maguire was published in U.S. 1
Newspaper on September 16, 1998. All rights reserved.
A New Jersey Kid & Wanderlust
It will still be Princeton outside when Bruce and
June Conord visit Encore Books on Sunday, September 20, and Borders
Books on Sunday, September 27 — but inside the bookstores, a faint
whiff of lobster cooked in curry might perhaps be detected, or a
shared over a tale of sacrifices performed among the Chichen Itza
ruins of ancient Mexico. That’s when the husband-wife travel writing
team, authors of "Cancun and Cozumel Alive" issued this month
and the "Adventure Guide to the Yucatan" released earlier
this year, will share their adventures with the hometown crowd. The
Conords’ "Alive" guide focuses on the foreign city visited
by the greatest number of North Americans — Cancun — as well
as the idyllic island of Cozumel. Their "Adventure Guide"
opens up the literary horizon to the entire Yucatan peninsula, and
it is chock full of information, aphorisms, crash courses in Mayan
and Spanish, and a great deal of charm.
The Conords will leave plenty of time for questions from their
audience. "We find many people who have traveled to Cancun and
who now want to go farther afield," Bruce says. "Then there
are the concerns people have, about drinking the water and how safe
they’ll be." As the Conords’ "Adventure Guide" makes
travelers should feel very safe sojourning through the Yucatan,
the guide includes a thoroughly entertaining discussion of bribes
— poetically dubbed, in Spanish, "mordidas" or
— as well as advice on how to deal with the Mexican police.
When they’re not pursuing their peripatetic profession, the Conords
now call Hightstown home. Bruce’s childhood home, in Linden, New
was under a flight pattern to Newark Airport, and he used to lie in
his front yard watching the silver threads cross the sky. "I
wondered where they were going, and I wanted to be on them," he
says of his first stirrings of wanderlust. While most of his childhood
vacations took place at a family cabin in the Poconos, Bruce and June
carry on his parents’ tradition of taking regular Sunday drives.
"We are those annoying people in front of you, driving too slow
on a country road," he laughs. Extolling New Jersey as a great
destination state marked by cultural and geographical diversity, Bruce
claims many of their weekend drives wind up at the Jersey shore.
grew up next to the ocean in Plymouth, England, so she has an
desire to be beside the sea," he explains. "I think she’s
game for adventure because of her English, seafaring blood."
The Conords, who first met in the early 1970s, continue to enjoy a
long-lived marriage — and an unusual one, given their professional
collaboration and what Bruce calls "the inordinately large amount
of time we spend together." He first divined literary inklings
after realizing what success he enjoyed at cocktail parties recounting
the true-life tale of being mistaken for a terrorist and arrested
at the airport in Brussels, smack in front of the son of the owner
and the sales force of his company he was working for. Finally putting
the story down on paper, he sold it readily in the early-1980s to
the alumni magazine of his alma mater, Rutgers University, where he
had graduated in English in 1975.
A well-received piece of writing for the Times of Trenton soon
and his writing career was launched. He has since authored three young
adult biographies — of Cesar Chavez, John Lennon, and Bill Cosby
— for Chelsea House Publishers, and written hundreds of magazine
and newspaper stories.
He and June first visited the Yucatan in the mid-1980s,
discovering what Americans in droves have since realized: that the
peninsula offers a fascinatingly exotic, yet inexpensive vacation.
They have returned a half-dozen times since, including a three-month
stint researching the "Adventure" and the "Alive"
guides. Both are adventurous travelers, "culturally and
sensitive," he says, eager to take off from the beaten path, and
usually finding a warm welcome in villages where the Conords like
to arrive with a box of children’s books, or pens and baseball caps
to present as gifts in the schools. Their willingness to explore the
countryside — swimming in the "cenotes" or sinkholes that
have formed in the peninsula’s porous limestone, exploring the many
"grutas" or caves, venturing out in a boat at night with a
biologist to tag crocodiles, and researching all 1,000 miles of
beaches — dovetailed with an era when vacationeers were seeking
more active ways to spend their time off. Adventure vacations —
and travel writing — "grew exponentially," Bruce says,
for the past several years, marking a trend that may have recently
begun to turn.
"People are taking shorter vacations," he says, "and while
it’s certainly possible to enjoy Cancun or Cozumel for a long weekend,
the area offers a tremendous amount to people who can stay longer.
It’s pushing it a bit, but you can do the entire circuit around the
peninsula within two weeks."
As a working couple, the Conords have worked out a complementary
to collaboration. When they return to their hotel after a day’s
Bruce logs details of excursions into his laptop, while June writes
down her impressions longhand in a journal. Then they compare notes,
coming up with a consensus of "what we thought and felt,"
Bruce says. "June will remember a remarkable trellis of
while I’ll notice the broken bathroom tile."
Their interests complement the other’s as well: Bruce was more drawn
to the history of the Maya and their colonization, while June delved
into cultural developments. The final product — with Bruce doing
the bulk of the writing, and June serving as editor — includes
a touch of science, a strong dollop of anthropology and history (and
the history of the Yucatan for the past several centuries has been
a brutal one), as well as all the practical, insider descriptions
of destinations and events. The couple collaborates on creating color
photographs for their projects, something Bruce says involves
$800-worth of equipment and about 800 rolls of film." The
Guide" — nominated this year for a Lowell Thomas Travel Award,
the most prestigious travel guidebook writing award — is not only
a first-class guide to the Yucutan, but a marvelous armchair excursion
"With some travel guides, you get the impression that the writer
has hurried through, getting the high points and covering the
Bruce says. "But not only did we try to be as thorough as
but we always enjoyed where we went. That’s what we try to convey
in our writing — all of the enjoyment and charm."
— Phyllis B. Maguire
609-252-0608. Sunday, September 20, 11:30 a.m.
September 27, 2 p.m.
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