I was in the Deep South because I hardly knew it, and for the sheer pleasure of driving my own car, for the freedom of not having to make onward plans, because only in America can you travel in confidence without a destination: the humblest town has a place to stay, probably on its outskirts, probably a beat-up motel; and a place to eat, at best a soul food diner, but probably a Hardee’s, an Arby’s, a Zaxby’s, a Lizard’s Thicket, or a disenfranchised chicken place reeking of hot oil, but friendly. Typically, it was a small eatery with a counter that displayed an anthology of fried food — catfish, chicken, burgers, corrugated French fries, even fried pie — peasant food eaten by everyone. A deep tray of okra, as viscous as frog spawn, next to a kettle of sodden collard greens looking like stewed dollar bills. You were always offered a wet biscuit, and often a blessing. I stayed away from the big cities and the coastal communities. I kept to the Lowcountry, the Black Belt, the Delta, the backwoods, the flyspeck towns.
Read the full extract in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Paul Theroux won the Outstanding Contribution to Travel award in the National Geographic Traveller Reader Awards 2015