Bruce and June Conord

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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

shiver

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

landlocked

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

clear,

travelers should feel very safe sojourning through the Yucatan,

although

the guide includes a thoroughly entertaining discussion of bribes

— poetically dubbed, in Spanish, "mordidas" or

"bites"

— 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

Jersey,

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

always

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.

"June

grew up next to the ocean in Plymouth, England, so she has an

overwhelming

desire to be beside the sea," he explains. "I think she’s

game for adventure because of her English, seafaring blood."

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Bruce and June Conord

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

followed,

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

environmentally

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

pristine

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

approach

to collaboration. When they return to their hotel after a day’s

exploration,

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

bougainvillea,

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

"about

$800-worth of equipment and about 800 rolls of film." The

"Adventure

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

as well.

"With some travel guides, you get the impression that the writer

has hurried through, getting the high points and covering the

basics,"

Bruce says. "But not only did we try to be as thorough as

possible,

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

Bruce Conord, Encore Books, Princeton Shopping

Center,

609-252-0608. Sunday, September 20, 11:30 a.m.

Also at Borders Books, Nassau Park, 609-514-0040.

Sunday,

September 27, 2 p.m.


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