The Best Travel Writing 2007

The Best Travel Writing 2007

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$16.95True Stories from Around the World

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By James O’Reilly and Larry Habegger and Sean O’Reilly
February 2007
ISBN 1-932361-46-4 352 pages
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The Best Travel Writing 2007

“Travelers’ Tales books luxuriate in that complicated, beautiful, shadowy place where the best stories begin, and the most compelling characters roam free.”
ForeWord Magazine

The Best Travel Writing 2007 is the fourth volume in the annual best Travelers’ Tales series launched in 2004 to celebrate the world’s best travel writing—from Nobel Prize winners to emerging writers. These 29 stories cover the globe, from probing the depths of a culture in Jerusalem to riding the rails in India and trying to save a life in Costa Rica. The points of view and perspectives are global, and themes encompass high adventure, spiritual growth, romance, absolute hilarity and misadventure, service to humanity, and encounters with exotic cuisine.

In The Best Travel Writing 2007 readers will:

  • Become a sex slave in Zambia
  • Watch karma play its part in rough travel in Costa Rica
  • Rediscover Jewish roots in Germany
  • See preconceptions crumble aboard a tramp ferry on the Red Sea
  • Comprehend the social magic of the Mexican taco stand
  • Discover how a restaurant can make miracles with only fish in Italy
  • Try to abandon a weighty possession—unsuccessfully—in Japan
  • Hang on the knife’s edge between life and death on a mountain in New Zealand
  • Encounter the hazards of kick boxers and become one yourself in Thailand
  • Escape a volcanic eruption in Vanuatu…and much more.
by Tony Wheeler
We travel to try to understand, a country, a people, perhaps ourselves. We may fail to find what we’re searching for, but we’re many miles ahead of the stay-at-homes who’ve not embarked on that search, and way ahead of the stay-at-homes who believe they understand the world, even though they’ve not even ventured out the front door.

I’ve been regularly reminded of that important quest in my own recent wanderings, visits to a roll call of countries which, we’re repeatedly informed, deserve to be described as “bad.” I won’t claim I’ve come anywhere near understanding them, but I’ve certainly had plenty of opportunities to contemplate that essential truth that every story has two sides. We may resolutely believe one side of the tale, but it’s foolish to ignore the reality that other people may believe the flip side with equal conviction. It’s by traveling that we meet people and come face to face with how they see the world or, even better, start to see how the world looks from their viewpoint and begin to understand why they think the way they do. We’re much less likely to discover that alternative perspective by sitting at home and watching the news on TV.

So many of the tales in this collection are reminders of this other essential truth: that it’s at ground level, in the streets, where we have the best hope of making that connection. Perhaps we’ll only emerge dazed and confused, perhaps the person we come to understand best is simply somebody else from our own culture, like “The Girl Who Drank Petrol” in Tanya Shaffer’s intriguing tale of a spell in Ghana. Or perhaps it’s some long ago family relationship like Michel Moushabeck’s seemingly (until we dig further) aloof and unfriendly grandfather in “The Mukhtar and I,” a story that so positively brings home a completely different interpretation of a place, Jerusalem, where we so often only hear one story. Or its polar opposite.

Some of my favorites in this year’s collection remind us that how you travel is just as important as where you travel. For instance, there’s no better way of finding understanding in India than riding the rails, as Gregory Kennedy does on “The Howrah-Puri Express.” Along the way he hears of hopes and aspirations and how simply going somewhere—to the sea when you’re from the mountains—can define you. Watching the daughter of that man from the mountains, embarking on her first big trip, whisks Gregory back to contemplate his own initial travel inspiration.

Road trips can be equally enlightening, particularly if hitchhiking also comes into the equation. Following the waves in Costa Rica, J. Spencer Klein discovers that it’s really not such a “Bad Country,” although bad karma can certainly play its part. His tale is also a nice reminder of how much fine travel is inspired by some other pursuit, surfing being one of the best.

“The Adventure of La Refrita” starts as road trip, but soon changes gears to remind us that some of the best travel adventures are the unexpected ones. Nobody wants their road trip interrupted by a long breakdown, but would Steve King ever have discovered Chamberlain, South Dakota if the injector pump hadn’t gone kaput? It’s an illustration that some of the best travel doesn’t involve travel at all, it can be just as important to become part of the scenery, as Richard Sterling (and his hat) do in “Mr. Hat’s Neighborhood.”

We’ve all lost umbrellas. They’re probably the most losable of personal possessions and it’s remarkable how a shower of rain in a city almost anywhere in the world will bring out umbrella salesman just as assuredly as it will turn the grass green. My last two new umbrellas started their short life with me—for undoubtedly their turn to be lost will come—in Munich and Seoul. “The Purple Umbrella,” Karin Muller’s fine little tale of international misunderstanding, inverts that umbrella basic: her umbrella proves unlosable and in the process underlines some basic rules of life in Japan. Railway travelers in Japan may observe that bicycles are equally unlosable, they pile up outside terminals all over Japan, unloved, divorced, but still waiting in vain hope for their fickle riders to return on the evening commuter service and reclaim them. Until finally they’re rounded up and shipped off to North Korea.

Nicholas Seeley’s Red Sea voyage in “Bread” is another reminder of those connections that travel brings and how people are people, even in the most foreign of environments. Bread is the other side of the equation here: food, of course, is a big part of travel and there’s no better way of coming to grips with somewhere else, or someone else, than over a meal. Pickett Porterfield’s “The Mexican Taco Stand” is a perfect song of praise for that most Mexican of dishes while Maciej Ceglowski analyses another country’s culinary preoccupations with “Argentina on Two Steaks a Day.” “Never underestimate the importance of the first steak of the day,” is clearly a piece of advice essential to Argentinian understanding.

But it was Bonnie Smetts’s perfect small tale “Only Fish” that brought the biggest smile to my face. Racing from restaurant to restaurant trying to find that perfect “vibe” is just as consuming a preoccupation to a guidebook writer as to a traveling chef. Yes, I thought, I’ve been there. I’d also already traveled, although only on paper, with Rory Stewart. His foot-propelled wanderings in “Dervishes” take place in Pakistan, but only a few months ago I followed his wonderful book The Places In Between across Afghanistan. My Toyota Hilux may have been beat up, but it was clearly a far more comfortable means of travel than the boots that carried Stewart on a truly amazing journey. He, however, appears to have had the deeper experience. At the end of the day it’s walking that really gets you there.


A lengthy jaunt along Asia’s “Hippy Trail” in 1972 led Tony Wheeler to create Lonely Planet Publications, a story he tells in Unlikely Destinations (Periplus, 2007). The account of his recent wanderings around nine pariah states (including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and North Korea) also appeared in 2007 as Bad Lands (Lonely Planet). Tony’s footloose ways can probably be traced back to his childhood: born in England, he grew up in Pakistan, the Bahamas, and then the USA where he went to high school near Detroit and Baltimore. Today he lives in Melbourne, Australia.


Publisher’s Preface

by James O’Reilly

Travel to new places, especially those far away, is surely one of the most rewarding ways to spend time. But it is also better than just about any other activity for the purpose of grasping the paradox of human existence: your life, and everyone else’s, is only a drop of water in the ocean, but is more valuable than all the stars in the galaxy. To paraphrase a line from the movieGladiator—“Is all of Rome worth the life of one good man?” I think most of us know the answer to that question, but travel underlines the enduring truth of the answer.

Some years ago I was on a travel panel and was asked who were, in my estimation, the most amazing travelers. “Refugees,” I answered, and an uneasy murmur passed through the crowd; I think I’d been expected to canonize Wilfred Thesiger or Isabella Bird, or sing the praises of backpackers and do-gooders roaming the globe.

But no! I said refugees and I mean it still. Millions of souls cross borders without food, documents, clothing, health, or hope, and are preyed upon by weather, wild animals, and human jackals—their own kind who hack at them, rob them, rape them, kill them. These are the travelers we should admire and study and care the most about, for our cardboard wall of law and borders is flimsy, and expensive weaponry is mostly an illusion, and while that wall keeps the demons from snapping at us in our well-washed and well-fed splendor, if it collapses we will all too quickly join our brothers and sisters who suffer unimaginably every day. We, the lucky ones who can cross borders with impunity, need to do so as often as we can to see how the rest of the world lives, to wake up and spread the honest news of our fellows to people at home who don’t get out much, or who think that Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates have it handled out there beyond the bubble.

Recent research concluded that if you have assets of—get this—$2,200—you are in the richest half of humanity. So chances are if you are reading this, whether you are well off or struggling to make ends meet, you are, in the eyes of most of your fellow humans, unimaginably rich. And not just in fact, but in opportunity, in education, and most of all, freedom.

The traveler today continues to enjoy an unparalleled opportunity to bear witness, do good deeds, and have fun and fantastic life experiences at bargain basement prices. And while it is not new to say that the traveler is a nation’s best ambassador, it is worth repeating, for the lives and ethics and views of individuals are often, as Tony Wheeler points out in the Introduction which follows, dramatically different from those of governments the world over. The U.S. Army recently had a recruiting slogan I like very much and think we should all apply to ourselves: “An Army of One.” That’s you, bringing warmth and hope and a fresh perspective to others wherever you go, even when you’re just on holiday.

So I say look kindly on all those bereft of home for any reason, political, economic, or religious, and encourage your leaders and fellow citizens wherever you live and travel to craft shrewd and honest immigration policies so that those who wish to live in freedom and prosperity be allowed to at least try out for the privilege. Do not let them languish in the gray lands where they are prey to the wicked and the greedy and to the hideous inertia and cruelty of state bureaucracy.

I just got back from my first trip to Antarctica, an intoxicating and terrifying continent, but one that so far doesn’t suffer from the confusion of fences and borders we have up north. Sure, many countries have made territorial claims, with more in the wings, but so far the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, and the awesome power of the continent’s climate and remoteness have kept us, the would-be carpetbaggers, at bay.

Consider the penguin, that goofy bird that has forgotten how to fly (except underwater). The penguin, while it has a few natural predators, can go where the krill are without being machine-gunned by Janjaweed or brainwashed child-soldiers, blown up by fanatics strapped to explosives, or restrained at every turn by the kudzu of government regulation. The penguin can go home again, back to the same nest, unlike the world’s homeless, from the Lost Boys of Sudan to the Dalai Lama, who has been in exile from his Tibetan homeland since that very same year the Antarctic Treaty was signed.

So enjoy your next trip with deep appreciation that you can do it at all! And I will accept your forgiveness in advance if I seem overly cranky. I must still be thawing out.

Publisher’s Preface
James O’Reilly

Introduction
Tony Wheeler

Bread
Nicholas Seely
Red Sea

The Barber
Dustin W. Leavitt
Vietnam

Sunday Dinner
Patrick Pfister
Spain

Blood Ties
Michael Engelhard
Alaska

My Military-Industrial Complex
Gary Buslik
Cuba

Confessions of a Water Pipe Smoker
Carolyn A. Theriault
Egypt

Kick Boxing for Pride and Peanuts
Antonio Graceffo
Thailand

Rilke Was Miserable Here
Kathleen Spivak
Paris

Bad Country
J. Spencer Klein
Costa Rica

Argentina on Two Steaks a Day
Maciej Ceglowski
Argentina

The Girl Who Drank Petrol
Tanya Shafer
Ghana

Mr. Hat’s Neighborhood
Richard Sterling
Saigon

Dervishes
Rory Stewart
Pakistan

At the Foot of Mount Yasur
Usha Alexander
Vanuatu

Only Fish
Bonnie Smetts
Italy

Grandpère
Ken Matusow
Mali

Smackdown in Tijuana
Jim Benning
Mexico

The Howrah-Puri Express
Gregory Kennedy
India

Immortality and the Art of Losing It
Thaddeus Laird
New Zealand

Over There
Paul Theroux
Zambia

The Mexican Taco Stand
Picket Porterfield
Mexico

A Visit to Dixieland
Hunter James
North Carolina

Next Year in Germany
Robert L. Strauss
Germany

The Purple Umbrella
Karin Muller
Japan

The Adventure of La Refrita
Steve King
South Dakota

Fishing with Larry
Tom Joseph
Bolivia

The Mukhtar and I
Michel Moushabeck
Jerusalem

Fishing with Larry

by Tom Joseph

They got together for one last adventure.

Don Juan says the Río Grande de Quetena holds trout. To make the point, he extends a muscled arm as if signaling a left turn: long as this and thick, too. He’ll meet us four days from now at his hotel, Mallku Cueva. “Voy a llevarlos.” I’ll take you there.

I’m skeptical about the trout, but that’s not important. I only hope the guy shows up. We’ve just booked a five-day trip across a remote region in southern Bolivia where there are barely any roads, much less gas stations. Don Juan will be carrying our extra gas.

A nagging voice whispers caution. The Bolivian tour operator talks and smiles big. Like just that, an operator.

“What do you think, Larry?” I ask, and immediately the answer shoots across my synapses. Go for it.

What the hey, we’re here for the adventure. So we pack our gear into Larry’s ’84 Toyota Land Cruiser and set off for the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt lake. With my sister-in-law Babette and her friend Christophe, my wife Jeanne and me, plus our Bolivian guide Dieter, the car is stuffed to the max.

My brother Larry makes six, but he doesn’t take up much room. He’s in a Ziploc inside my fishing fanny pack. Larry died a year ago. I’m carrying his ashes.

Larry was a man of grand schemes that had an uncanny way of coming to fruition. His last was the grandest. Driving the Land Cruiser from New Mexico to Tierra del Fuego was only half the plan. The other half had Babette’s Peugeot maneuvering from Corsica to parts east. He’d ship the Toyota from Chile to New Zealand, then north eventually to Southeast Asia. They’d crash the vehicles head-on in China. Larry would collect the insurance.

Traveling six weeks at a crack, over the course of several years the Land Cruiser had gotten as far as Bolivia, weathering a Colombian earthquake that created pandemonium in that already chaos-riddled country and a Peruvian mudslide that left Larry with a concussion and he and Babette trapped in the car neck deep in a raging river. My brother always kept his head above water. But he didn’t survive pancreatic cancer.

One of his last requests was that his ashes be divvied amongst his loved ones to do with as we chose. Jeanne and I brought our cupful on our hundred-day South American sojourn organized around learning Spanish, visiting our Peace Corps volunteer daughter in Paraguay, and meeting Babette in Bolivia. We began our trip at the tip of the continent in Punta Arenas. On the ferry ride across the Strait of Magellan, halfway between the mainland and Tierra del Fuego, I flung a scoop over the railing. It felt right. Larry was a nautical guy—a boater, diver, fisherman. On the return ride, in the afterglow of a blazing midnight sunset, a Patagonian dolphin surfaced at the same spot and paralleled the boat for a forever moment, eyeing me and nodding his head as if agreeing: good decision.

I’d only scattered half my Larry, though. I guess I still needed to keep him near.

Now, a month later with Babette and Christophe in Sucre, we’ve resuscitated the car, dormant four years. Three days of a whole family of mechanics’ time cost fifty bucks, but we also had to pay an $800 ransom to liberate it from their brawny and resolute mother, who owned the garage and swore the deal was five Bolivianos a day.

We made our way through the massively wrinkled 14,000-foot desert landscape that is the Bolivian Altiplano, south to Potosí, where, booking a tour of Cerro Rico, once the world’s richest silver mine, we met this thickly built, charismatic fortyish guy Juan Quesada, whose employees call him Don Juan. A chef by training, he’s a born entrepreneur.

We leave his office about a thousand dollars lighter with an itinerary to some of the most isolated reaches of Bolivia.

After rendezvousing with Dieter—his only explanation for his German name is, “my father was crazy”—he directs us onto the somewhat slushy Salar de Uyuni. “No hay problema,” he says, the salt is ten meters thick. We dodge piles of drying salt destined for shakers as we drive to the Salt Palace Hotel, built entirely of blocks of the white crystals. The rooms are little igloos, complete with salt stalactites and comfy, if a bit dazzling salt furniture. It was Don Juan who built this curiosity that actually works. I gain a little confidence.

Traversing the open Salar at our pedal-to-the-floor sixty miles per hour, the white is so intense, the lack of reference so complete that we have no feeling of movement. Babette says she feels as if she’s in a boat on a perfectly calm day. Larry would have loved this. She scatters half her Larry out the window.

At the foot of Volcán Thunupa, its flanks streaked with the red of iron, the yellow of sulfur and the green of copper, sits a small village, tiny yellow and red flowers pushing through the salt soil of its church courtyard. Larry, an artist, would have loved this, too.

Dieter guides us unerringly off the Salar and through a landscape soaked in salt, borax, and a periodic table’s worth of other minerals that is at once stark and intensely vivid. We summit barren mountain passes and ford unmarked streams up to our floorboards. Sometimes there’s a road, sometimes just wheel tracks that flare off in random directions.

Our stops—other than the ones to blow rust particles out of a frequently clogged fuel filter—are as compelling as the environs. We stroll through an Inca necropolis in a field of coral boulders, the tombs containing the misshapen skulls—from being bound—that gave Inca noble kids that fashionable oblong look. We’re voyeurs to male llamas draped lazily over lounging females: llaid-back llama llove. We view through a haze of heat all three species of Bolivian flamingoes, the black-winged Andean, the all-pink Chilean and the James with its brilliant red-orange wings. An equal number of the magnificent birds stand upside down in the reflection of the unnamed salt lake. My overstimulated eyes find elephants, vultures, a throne and two lovers in the bizarrely sculpted lava formations of the Rock Valley. Maybe the coca leaves I’m chewing are working better than I thought.

Exhausted and encrusted in salt, dust and sweat, two days later we reach Mallku Cueva, another of Don Juan’s hotels. This one is built into the side of a cliff; its rock face forms the rear wall of our bedroom. The shower even has hot water. Better yet, as we follow our noses to fresh baked bread from the hotel’s wood oven, Don Juan shows up with our blessed petrol and a bottle of Sangini, Bolivian cognac. He’s brought his fishing rod, too, a decrepit looking spinning outfit.

So we’re a bit furry-mouthed and anvil-headed when our trout expedition sets out the next morning. I ride with Don Juan down a dirt track that keeps getting worse, finally narrowing to a footpath that plunges down a steep hillside, barely squeezing between two boulders. The blue Toyota bravely follows, Jeanne at the wheel. Don Juan’s impressed.

After maybe an hour, we reach the Río Grande de Quetena. Grand it’s not, so choked with weeds that you can hardly see water. Here and there are open spots through which a gentle current trickles. No way is this a trout stream. We climb a rocky hill to an overlook and peer down. Trout. Huge ones! A few spook and swim beneath the blanket of weeds, but several, including one monster matching the size and bulk of Don Juan’s arm, just lie there. “Ahora, ¿Me crees?” Don Juan asks.

Yeah, I believe. Lordy.

That’s when the pressure hits me. With so little water to work a fly through, how am I going to hook a fish, much less land it? And Babette has built me up as some kind of fishing maestro, whereas the truth is I’m not much of a trout fisherman. We have streams in northern Wisconsin, but a lot more lakes. I grew up with a spinning rod in my hand and a minnow bucket at my feet.

So I try to conduct myself in the manner of every trout fanatic I’ve ever met. I prepare fanatically slowly. I return to the car. Ease into my waders. Rub each section of my five-piececaña de mosca on the oily spot on the side of my nose before putting it together. Check each guide as I string it. Unwind, stretch, and restretch my fifteen-pound leader. Snug the loop-to-loop connection.

I open the large compartment of my fanny pack to pull out my fly box, and instead encounter the baggie of Larry. Whoa. Could this be the place?

“What do you think, bro?” I whisper it aloud.

One thing about my brother. Type-A though he was, he believed in letting people make their own decisions. That’s why he left a dozen of us with ashes and no instructions.

Oh, the magical fishing days we shared. Northern Manitoba on the solstice, hammering the pike and walleyes as the sun dipped down and came up an hour later. Loreto, in Baja, Mexico on my fortieth birthday, one of those cosmic jokes with me as the butt when I couldn’t catch a fish to save my life, but it didn’t matter, not even when the skies opened up and cancelled our last two days, because the sight of the orange, swollen river dumping into the aqua of the Sea of Cortez was unforgettable. Or another time camping in Baja when his outboard conked out and our next landfall, by Larry’s reckoning, would be Australia. Or that final time in Captiva, Florida, a week before he died, when, under a double rainbow, Larry outfished us all.

But most treasured of all were evenings on the lakes of Northern Wisconsin, in the cold or the rain, that ended with grins on our faces and a stringer of walleyes, basket of slab crappies, or memory of wide-shouldered bass caught and released.

We worked together twenty years. He was eight years my elder, ever my sounding board, but eventually our talk about relationships or kids or our current passions, his painting and my writing, had been as peers. We shared blood, genes, a somewhat obsessive commitment to family and a lot of wine. Yet of all the bonds between us, fishing was as important as any. When we fished together, the world was always right.

How Larry would have loved the utter improbability of this trout stream in southern Bolivia. I make up my mind: this is the place. Whether the fish are catchable is immaterial.

When I ask Don Juan permission to put Larry’s ashes in the river, he says he’d be honored. We return to the rock overlook. Babette decides to scatter hers as well. The wind carries them to the edge of the weeds, where the double dose of Larry gently settles and sinks.

Don Juan takes out his spinning rod, gives it a quizzical look. He admits he’s never fished with anything other than a seine net. I show him how to hold it, flip the bail, make a cast. He flips his one spoon from the overlook and whoops when one of the monsters turns to it, but the fish flashes off. I try to get him to come down to the river with me, but Don Juan is gaga over being able to see the trout below. I scramble down alone.

With the help of a wood pole, I slog through the weedy gook to where I can cast. I have no idea what to throw. I’ve seen a few dragonflies, so I try one. The wind behind me, I make a perfect cast. Phew, at least I didn’t embarrass myself right off the bat. The fly floats back toward me. Nothing doing. I try several more times, then switch to a green tongue depressor, a Wisconsin smallmouth fly similar to a wooly bugger that Jeanne ties. Whammo. Don Juan sees the hit and is screaming like a kid. Fish on.

I’m glad for the heavy leader. The fish is strong, but, pulling horizontally, my six-weight affords good leverage, and I’m able to keep the trout from the weeds. Dieter has followed me with a landing net, large enough though the frame is way flimsy. I tire the fish out and instruct Dieter: hands on the frame, not handle. La cabeza primero. Head first. Fish in. Twenty-one inches, four and a half pounds, a fat, beautiful rainbow. In Bolivia. Thank you, Larry.

¿Quieres comerlo? ” I shout up the outcropping. Don Juan gives me the thumbs up. Hell yes, he wants to eat it.

I climb up with the fish. Time to help my host, who’s still after the big one. Time after time the fish refuses the spoon, though it never spooks. So I thread the spinning line through on a bobber I fashioned last night by boring a hole in a wine cork, then pinch on a split shot and attach a wooly bugger. A trout snaps at it immediately, but Don Juan misses the hit. He’s chattering nonstop, having the time of his life.

I still can’t get him to come down to the river. So I return. Wham. Twenty-three incher, another shimmering rainbow of a rainbow.

So the day goes. We eat lunch. Jeanne, Babette, and Christophe tire and leave. Don Juan, Dieter, and I, to say the least, don’t tire. The boss is determined to tease that monster trout from on high. I don’t have the heart to tell him that even if he hooks the fish, there’s not a trout’s shadow of a chance he’ll raise it up a twenty-five-foot cliff.

Moving upstream to another hole in the weeds with a large boulder in the middle, in no more than six casts I land a twenty-three and two twenty-fours, all six to eight pounds. We have plenty for dinner for us and the staff; I’m ready to catch and release. But Don Juan wants me to keep every fish. He’s having a party for his brother, who’s turning fifty in a few days. The brother has cancer. This will be a birthday to remember. I feel Larry smiling.

By now, it’s mid-afternoon and hot. I finally convince Don Juan to move to the stream. I want to take him to my boulder, but he insists on fishing downstream. Oh well, it’s his river. I try to place him where he can get some action with his spoon, but he’s not much of a listener. We see no fish for a good half mile.

So we return to the overlook rock. Yep, the behemoth is still there. Don Juan stands above to direct me. The wind has shifted and is now blowing down the river; it’s tough casting. Staying in the shelter of the rock overhang, I can just manage to put a fly into position. A fish hits. Twenty-four inches. Beautiful. But Don Juan wants me to fell the giant. I keep casting and break lines on two fish I never see. So I tie on a piece of twenty-pound shock tippet and return one more time. My fly sinks, drifts, stops. Yeah. Fish on. “Un caballo,” I yell.

I can’t stop it from swimming under the weeds. I’m patient, though, applying constant pressure, and finally out comes the trout, running downstream. Not good. But it stays on and begins tiring. The landing net has long since broken, so I keep working, tiring the fish, which always seems to have strength for one more run. Finally, the oversized trout lies quiet on the surface, allowing me to cradle it. Twenty-nine inches, eleven pounds. A horse, for sure.

Don Juan is all grins as we pose for a photo, holding the fish between us, as long as our outstretched arms. He thinks there’s still a bigger one down there. “Bastante,” I say. Enough. I try to impress upon him the importance of leaving some fish in the river. We return to the car and share a trago. Another universality, that post-fishing drink.

I pour a bit of Sangini on the ground both as offering to the earth goddess Pachamama and farewell to my brother. It’s not easy to get into Don Juan’s jeep and close the door. But it’s necessary. Thanks for one more great day, bro.

The next day we walk through a field of geothermal pools with roaring steam vents and burbling pots of brown, pink, and gray goo. Then we cross an expanse of soft blond sand dotted with large dark brown boulders, bleak yet ordered, and appropriately named Salvador Dalí Desert.

Larry would have loved this.


Tom Joseph’s fiction, essays, and travel writing have appeared in regional and national publications, including Travelers’ Tales Central America. He lives in northern Wisconsin, but often escapes to warmer climes. Currently, he’s working on a historical novel set in southwest Florida.

James O’Reilly, president and publisher of Travelers’ Tales, was born in England and Raised in San Francisco. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1975 and wrote mystery serials before becoming a travel writer in the early 1980s. He’s visited more than forty countries, along the way meditating with monks in Tibet, participating in West African voodoo rituals, living in the French Alps, and hanging out the laundry with nuns in Florence. He travels extensively with his wife, Wenda, and their three daughters. They live in Palo Alto, California, where they also publish art games and books for children at Birdcage Press (www.birdcagepress.com).

Larry Habegger, executive editor of Travelers’ Tales, has been writing about travel since 1980. He has visited almost fifty countries and six of the seven continents, traveling from the frozen Arctic to equatorial rain forest, the high Himalayas to the Dead Sea. In the early 1980s he co-authored mystery serials for the San Francisco Examiner with James O’Reilly, and since 1985 their syndicated column, “World Travel Watch,” has appeared in newspapers in five countries and on WorldTravelWatch.com. As series editors of Travelers’ Tales, they have worked on some ninety titles, winning many awards for excellence. Habegger regularly teaches the craft of travel writing at workshops and writers conferences, and he lives with his family on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.

Sean O’Reilly is director of special sales and editor-at-large for Travelers’ Tales. He is a former seminarian, stockbroker, and prison instructor with a degree in Psychology. Author of the groundbreaking book on men’s behavior, How to Manage Your DICK, he is also the inventor of a safety device known as Johnny Upright. Widely traveled, he most recently completed a journey through China, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. He lives in Virginia with his wife and six children.

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