Encounter at Hadrian’s Wall
By Connard Hogan
Seventeenth Annual Solas Award Bronze Winner in the Travel & Sports categoryThe early hour, along with the jet lag which gripped me like a vise, muddied my senses and conspired to mute my enthusiasm. But I re-stuffed my day pack, and with Hadrian’s Wall Path guidebook in hand, legged it the quarter mile under gray overcast to the ruins of Segedunum Fort, the eastern terminus of Hadrian’s Wall. I could’ve hired a car or used convenient countryside buses. I could’ve accessed “the Wall” from two-lane roads in dozens of places, taken short strolls, and arrived at my evening’s lodging with my feet none the worse for wear. But no! I wanted to hoof Hadrian’s Wall Path westward for the entire eighty-four miles from Segedunum (Wallsend, Newcastle) to Maia (Bowness-on-Solway). I’d decided to collect the six stamps on a “Hadrian’s Wall Path Summer Passport.” Read more
A Long Century
By Yefim SominMy cousin Suzanne left Russia for France in the early 1970s, when only a few managed to emigrate. Little communication was possible across the Iron Curtain, but one thing stuck in my memory: there is a place in Paris, she wrote, where the name of our common relative is on a memorial wall. Almost 30 years later I am taking my teenage son on a grand tour of Paris. Metro Picpus is in the outer 12th arrondissement, far from the tourist crowds, but that’s where we are heading one day. Read more
The Hotel Ricardo
By Taylor JenningsOf all the gin joints in all the hotels in all the countries in Africa, the Hotel Ricardo in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, probably most resembles Rick’s Café in ‘Casablanca’ if not physically, at least metaphysically. It was long after sunset when we left the endless desert behind and entered a populated area where golden charcoal fires flickered across the hills. Accordingly, I was completely unprepared for the shock of electricity when the driver stopped at the end of a short driveway in front of a two-story tin-roof hotel with a welcoming open doorway. Read more
Letting Go of Hungary
By Ying-Ann (Annie) Chen
Seventeenth Annual Solas Award Gold Winner in the Funny Travel CategoryWhen I turned twenty, all the things I wanted got in my head. So, I went to Hungary. I scrolled through the program website of simple synecdoches. Brazil: Christ the Redeemer, Croatia: lakes, Mauritius: monkeys, Mongolia: yurts, Thailand: temples, Poland: colorful buildings, and Romania: Medieval architecture. Hungary: sunflower fields. Off I went. I stood in a clean suburban house under a slanting red tiled roof and windows that opened outwards. This was my host home in the village of Zalaegerszeg. I gifted my host-family Ghirardelli chocolate, a Sather Gate magnet, and pineapple cake. The city near where I live, where I go to school, and where I am from, I explained. Read more
My Posthumous Ally
Seventeenth Annual Solas Award Gold Winner in the Travel & Transformation Category
My Posthumous Ally
How a poet’s tragic childhood improved this writer's relationship to loss
By Gary Singh
At the Casa Pascoli Museum in San Mauro, Italy, I found a posthumous ally.
Over the years, I had written several travel stories “walking in the footsteps” of deceased writers. Abandoned buildings and old haunts, long-gone locales, gravesites and the outskirts of history all inspired me more than contemporary attractions.
I didn’t care about four-star restaurants in Venice. I wanted to raise the ghosts.
Many of these stories were contrivances—art for art’s sake—but something about the process must have served a healing purpose. I never thought about it, therapeutically speaking, until I explored Casa Pascoli.
Ambush on the Cumberland Plateau
By Brian Reisinger
Grand Prize Silver Winner in the Seventeenth Annual Solas Awards
A hunting trip in America’s original colonial backwoods was supposed to be full of lessons for his 12-year-old nephew.We were deep in rural Tennessee when the rain came. It was light and so quick that the sun was still out, and it danced in the sunlight as we drove on, coming and going. It was hard to tell whether the rain was just starting and stopping, or whether we were traveling through different pockets of a land with secrets. That land was the historic Cumberland Plateau, and we had come to this high wooded country to hunt wild hogs. [Read more]
The Weight of Paradise
By Cherene Sherrard
Grand Prize Gold Winner in the Seventeenth Annual Solas Awards
It takes time to find comfort in the swells of both culture and sea.
Given the picture-perfect day, the narrow Oahu beach was peculiarly empty. A pair of newlyweds had the entire panorama as backdrop for their wedding photos. Far from shore, streaks of cirrus clouds formed a cross in a cobalt sky that met the white foam of the break. The rainbow arcs of parasails spun their stick figure riders like marionettes.The water was the aqua blue of my dreams, but I couldn’t enjoy it. Turning away from the waves, I kept my eyes fixed on the bride and groom as they cycled through predictable romantic postures. We didn’t say a word, but I could feel my husband watching them, too. We were steeling ourselves — for the unpredictability of the water, and for the challenge that awaited us there. [Read more]
To the Young Mom on Flight 1122
By Pier Nirandara
Grand Prize Bronze Winner in the Seventeenth Annual Solas Awards
Fourteen hours, five passengers, three seats, two longed-for countries, one memorial.You shuffle down the aisle, toddler in tow, before plopping down in the middle seat beside me. Already flustered from the delayed flight and whatever connection you had to make, strands of hair escape down the sides of your face, framing brows downturned at the corners. Your expression crumples ruefully as you apologize profusely in advance: it was to be a long 14 hours, especially with your child in your lap. I smile politely—but the gesture quickly drops when your husband closes the aisle seat, armed with another child, a newborn.
House of Transfiguration
By Dianne Cheseldine
Travel and Transformation Gold Winner in the Sixteenth Annual Solas Awards
Finding an oasis in the ancient medina of Fez.Only a small plaque indicated the entrance to my riad, Dar Attajalli, meaning House of Transfiguration. The door opened and with one steep step I entered a new world. The young employee, Idris, greeted me with Salaam Alaikum in a soothing voice. He was tall and slender and moved with ease as he crossed the tiled floor of the courtyard. He was casually dressed in blue jeans and a light-colored cotton shirt, sneakers and a baseball cap, his dress contrasting with the old courtyard surrounding me. He lifted my heavy suitcase as if it were weightless and showed me to my room, the only one located on the ground floor. It was more beautiful than I had imagined, dimly lit with a huge bed clothed in an emerald-green spread and amber pillows displaying Berber designs. The floor was covered in carpets and several leather poufs in varying shades of blue, brown and red. The window of my room opened onto the courtyard from where I could contemplate the patterns of the wooden panels aligning the walls. I could hear the soothing sound of the fountain twenty-four hours a day.
Journeys with an Amazonian Shaman
By Johnny Motley
Men's Travel Gold Winner in the Sixteenth Annual Solas Awards
Further proof that lives can change in an instant.On the sixth day aboard an Amazonian cargo ship, I spied the faint outline of São Gabriel da Cachoeira from the aft deck. Located deep in the Upper Amazon, São Gabriel held the title of “Most Indigenous City in Brazil,” although “city” was a misnomer: São Gabriel was little more than a village that had sprung up around a Brazilian military base, an outpost intended to secure the nebulous borders between Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela.
Boots Bilong Mi
By Patrick Ritter
Grand Prize Gold Winner in the Sixteenth Annual Solas Awards
On a dugout canoe trip through the interior of New Guinea, how far would you go for a pair of shoes?I heard a splash behind me and I froze midstroke. Sounded close. I twisted around to see a large tree crashing into the water. The Sepik River winds across the swamplands of Papua New Guinea like a massive snake, its diet trees and eroded silt. The tree shuddered in the current. From the branches startled kingfishers escaped into flight, screeching. I glanced to Randy, my buddy from California, at the front of the dugout canoe. His face was sunburned and questioning. “No,” I said, “not a puk-puk.” In New Guinea the Pidgin English word for crocodile is puk-puk.
Honor and the Sea
By Janna Brancolini
Grand Prize Silver Winner in the Sixteenth Annual Solas Awards
How a female pioneer of underwater archaeology teamed up with a Sicilian winemaker to save a priceless ancient shipwreck.Buried beneath the floor of the Mediterranean, in waters so turbulent the epic poet Homer had imagined the thrashings of sea monsters, the ship waited. She had once defended an ancient settlement near modern-day Marsala, Sicily—until she was sunk in a dramatic battle during the third century B.C.E. For two millennia, people passed by her, unaware. As time wore on, the sea and its banks shifted, until water just deep enough to submerge a person stood between the vessel and its reclaimed glory. Yet her hiding place wasn’t the ship’s only secret: Her timbers held a clue to history.
The Shakeout Trip
By Robert Dale Fama
Grand Prize Bronze Winner in the Sixteenth Annual Solas Awards
A premature midlife crisis, a sack of money, and a backpack combine to reveal that a beginner traveler learns quick in the Sahara.We had already broken down five times when Amadou snapped the ignition key off in his dilapidated Land Rover. He reached up and rubbed his necklace, a black leather amulet that contained gris-gris, written prayers to protect and bring luck to the wearer. Beltrán lowered his head and made the sign of a cross. In Mali and surrounded by sand on the last leg to Timbuktu, a turn of a key changed everything. Suddenly, I thought we would never arrive, and with that, that I’d fail to accomplish the first phase of my round-the-world trip.
By Lisa Boice
Animal Encounter Gold Winner in the Fifteenth Annual Solas Awards
“The life list of a birdwatcher is of a different order. It’s not what you cross off that counts, but what you add.” —Terry Tempest Williams
The black sky was like a drop cloth over the prairie grass and the only thing we could see were the bugs darting in and out of the light from our car’s headlights. We were only 60 miles west from Houston in Eagle Lake, Texas, but the big city felt a lifetime away. I turned my neck to see behind us and the brightness of the headlight beams from another car made me wince. My husband, Steve, yawned, which made me yawn. It was early and we hoped we weren’t too late.
We were in a hurry to get in line at the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge to witness the Attwater's Prairie-Chicken’s courting ritual. During March and April, the males go out to a lek, an area where animals—or in this case, birds—assemble to engage in courtship behavior. In the human world our leks have evolved from parties and bars to smartphone apps where singles attempt to impress and be impressed. But at this lek all the hope that male Prairie-Chickens can muster is on display in the middle of an expansive field as they perform an elaborate dance just after sunrise, which is why we were up early in the black of night. [Read More]
Why I Love Baboons
By Lynn Brindell
Adventure Travel Gold Winner in the Fifteenth Annual Solas AwardsI think Beatus did it because he felt guilty. Or because he thought we’d give him a bigger tip. He’d gently rustled our tent flap that morning, the bright slit of light slicing through dark green shadows.
“Good morning!” he softly called. “Game drive now!”
We, The Newlyweds, usually slept in. But on our last day in Africa we left camp early, bundled against the mist and chill, our jeep the first to growl out and bounce along the rutted, mud way that passed for a road.
I leaned into Rob, cold air rushing against my cheeks. We weren’t supposed to be in an open-air jeep, without windows or ceiling to protect us from the sudden onslaught of a storm or an animal’s pounce. But I think Beatus wanted to deliver, finally serving up that signature moment, an exotic and extraordinary miracle of nature, witnessed in the bush. [Read more]
Laura: Lady of the Mexican Nights
By Edward Stanton
Grand Prize Bronze Winner (tie) in the Fifteenth Annual Solas Awards
You wanted to get farther away from home, beyond the border and Baja California, deeper into the country. The city of Saltillo lay on a slope of the Sierra Madre Oriental, just north of the central plateau, about 5,000 feet high. There you found a boardinghouse with a courtyard on Calle Xicoténcatl of sacred memory.
Your room opened onto the light-filled patio with a gurgling well, shade trees, cracked flower pots, a colossal zaguán or foyer with a carved wooden door. The courtyard was the hub of life for everyone in the house: the landlords Don Alfonso and Doña Hortensia; their daughter, her husband and their children; Panchita, a plump Indian woman who did most of the shopping, cooking and cleaning; a bachelor who taught Latin and Greek at several schools to make ends meet; uncountable dogs, cats and birds in cages. And then there was the woman who scandalized our whole house and neighborhood. Laura. [Read more]
Marriage, Dubois Style
By Colette O’Connor
Grand Prize Bronze Winner (tie) in the Fifteenth Annual Solas Awards
"Just add three letters to Paris and you have paradise." —Jules RenardThe family Dubois of Avenue Foch are French. That is to say, the family Dubois are different. In an age when nearly half of American marriages collapse, often in smoking heaps of anger, bitterness, pain, I often wondered, what does it take? Really, what does it take – to keep it together, if not forever, at least through thick and thin? So when I met the family Dubois of Paris’s Avenue Foch, I thought, Ah! A chance to understand how it’s done. I thought, Oh! If Tolstoy’s “happy families are all alike” idea was working out for the family Dubois, as it certainly seemed to be, given how they appeared so rich and thin and cheerful at lunches I shared with them, or quick aperitifs, then here was a family to study. So observe them, I did, like an explorer a continent foreign, with fascination. Here is what I found:
The House Within
By Jacob Kemp
Grand Prize Silver Winner in the Fifteenth Annual Solas Awards
When I turned twenty-one, I spent the better part of a year in an attic, hiding from Nazis.The calendar read 2011. I had just graduated from college. I was offered a role in The Diary of Anne Frank, to play Peter Van Daan. So I packed a suitcase, a carry-on, my winter coat, and left New York only weeks after I arrived—for Amsterdam, 1942. The actress playing Anne was a rising star in Chicago theater. A year later she’d be in a superhero movie, a blockbuster based on a comic-book. Onstage, she was a marvel. Scenes together, despite the long run of the show, the work and the sweat and the reaction of our energies each night, had that flinty and rare combination of absolute safety and vulpine unpredictability. We were well-matched. I awaited her articulation, her transformation into Anne, with the zeal of a tennis player anticipating a worthy opponent’s next serve. But in addition to being a formidable talent, she smoked.
By Marcia DeSanctis
Grand Prize Gold Winner in the Fifteenth Annual Solas Awards
There was danger, even in the presence of angels.
February is not the ideal time for a road trip to northern France, but the moodiness of the sea, wind, and sky appeals to a certain breed of loner like me, drawn to the echoing voids of the off-season. Coastal Normandy is famous for its dramatic weather, and in winter, it grows wilder still, with thrashing winds and squalls of frozen sleet that churn up from the English Channel. The region is a sweep of battlegrounds and fortified castles, stone-cold Norman abbeys, and craggy ports that have hosted centuries of departing and returning soldiers. Here, God and war forge their strange alliance, as they often do, and the backdrop of tempests, tides, and occasional shards of sunlight render it fertile ground for ghosts and their keepers.
I had endeavored to Mont St. Michel to seek some perfect solitude.
Passage of a Revered Teacher and Spiritual Leader
By Frances Klatzel
The Sherpa people of the Everest region mourn the Abbot of Tengboche Monastery, Ngawang Tenzin Zangbu, who passed away on October 10, 2020. Renowned for his commitment to the sacred valley of Khumbu and the Sherpa people, Tengboche Rinpoche was also well known among trekkers and mountaineers to Everest.
The allure of Everest, the highest (8,848 m) and most famous mountain, moves people of every nationality to visit the once remote Khumbu Valley, the homeland of the Sherpa people on the south side of Everest.
On a ridge in the heart of the valley, Tengboche Monastery holds a special place in the hearts and minds of both Sherpas and world visitors. Sherpas are an ethnic Buddhist people who settled valleys in the Himalaya about 500 years ago but have in the past century earned an extraordinary reputation on mountaineering expeditions.
Over the past sixty years, thousands of trekkers and climbers have paid their respects to the long time Abbot of Tengboche Monastery, Ngawang Tenzin Zangbu. His title, Tengboche Rinpoche, refers to his status as a ‘precious one’ and revered reincarnation of the monastery’s founder. The Sherpa people venerated Rinpoche as a strong unifying force and spiritual protector of the environment and culture of the Khumbu Valley. [read more]
The Trip That Took Me
By Marcie Kaplan
Elder Travel Bronze Winner in the Fourteenth Annual Solas Awards
The Himalayas helped her find intimacy, faith, and reassurance.I had my first tingly feeling when we were hiking up through woods from a 10,000-foot Himalayan pass to a monastery, and we passed soldiers in camouflage. I expected surprises in Bhutan, a Buddhist country about happiness more than money, and had been surprised by the trail’s red limbs with bulbous, mossy growths that seemed to reach out at me. But I hadn’t expected soldiers in camouflage. My guide, Pema, greeted them, “Kuzuzangbo la,” and continued on, signaling me not to ask questions, I thought, so I nodded politely to the soldiers and followed Pema.
Cubana Be, Cubana Bop
By Tom Miller
Grand Prize Bronze Winner (tie) in the Fourteenth Annual Solas Awards
The best guitar maker in Cuba.
Three events—baseball, Pope Jon Paul’s visit, and the Elián González case—exposed Cuba to the American public far beyond the embargo. Yet it was the improbable success of a handful of aging musicians that exposed a Cuba few knew and expanded the country’s audiences far beyond its bashers or its cheerleaders. The musicians went by the name of the Buena Vista Social Club, their music came from the 1950s and earlier, and their appeal was resolutely apolitical. On a visit to Havana, the American musician and producer Ry Cooder, not finding the musicians he sought, teamed up with Cuban producer Juan de Marcos to produce an album of exquisite sounds from another era.
Our Ravaged Lady
By Erin Byrne
Grand Prize Gold Winner in the Fourteenth Annual Solas Awards
Little by little, his spirit expanded in harmony with the cathedral.
—Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
She’s had many lives and here was the burnt offering of another.
Notre Dame’s lace spire sizzled and crumbled as it fell, and the gigantic hole it created became a cauldron. Flames, golden to orange to red, assaulted the lavender-tinged Paris sky, and smoke billowed in gray and white explosions. Silhouetted against glowing cinders, her bell towers stood dignified but unprotected.
Dark Train to Cusco
By Chase Nelson
Grand Prize Bronze Winner (tie) in the Fourteenth Annual Solas Awards
A modern-day rescue mission raises questions of life and death.With her husband looking on, we took turns pumping her heart for her, pushing blood to her organs, to her extremities, hoping for a gasp to bring her back, tearful and afraid, from wherever she was now.
Technically, they were called compressions. Less technically they were called rib-breaking, breast-exposing, desperate attempts at resurrection.
Love in a Time of Abundance
By Amanda Castleman
Grand Prize Silver Winner in the Fourteenth Annual Solas Awards
Navigating grief with the Okavango Delta’s last generation of Bushmen hunter-gatherers.When he was 15, Ditshebo “Dicks” Tsima took his spear into the bush. Hunting was still legal in Botswana’s Okavango Delta then, so he could follow an ancient coming-of-age tradition, practiced for around 200,000 years by his people: the Bushmen.
Most young men ran down giraffes, their lean muscles churning to pace the world’s tallest animals, which can cruise comfortably at 10 mph. Hour after hour, they pursued the lolloping giants through the mosaic landscape where Africa’s last wetland wilderness drains into the Kalahari Desert. Islands, scrub, and grasslands all flashed by: a fractal terrain of riverine lushness and heat-seared dust. “You chase them until they get exhausted and stand their ground,” Dicks explains. “Then you spear them. That’s the best way for a family to judge your worth. If you can chase down a giraffe, then your in-laws know you will take good care of your bride.”
Almost Blond in Nepal
By Nancy Bartley
Funny Travel Story Gold Winner in the Thirteenth Annual Solas AwardsI never asked to look like a female wrestler. You know the blondes in bikinis who toss each other around the ring or wallow wantonly through mud. But then again, maybe my problem simply was a matter of hair color – streaks of blond highlights in my brown hair, hair-coloring that marked me as distinctively western from my bangs to my trekking pants.
I was in disbelief when one of the men gathered around the television at my hotel first mistook me for a pro wrestler. I’m a writer, not a wrestler, I protested. I was in Nepal, going to Mount Everest Base Camp to do a book on an American mountain climber who had two-minutes of fame for the heroic rescue of a climber left for dead. But the trouble began long before I boarded the Twin Otter for Lukla and the remote regions of Nepal. It began in Thamel, the tourist section of Kathmandu where trekkers and climbers buy outdoor gear at good prices. I was minutes from the hotel when a young man began to follow closely behind me. As I would learn, he had a great fascination with my hair.
Nuns on a Train
By Ashley Seashore
Doing Good or the Kindness of Strangers Gold Winner in the Thirteenth Annual Solas AwardsHalf of my money is in my right shoe. My passport is in my left. The other half of my money is in an envelope in my underwear, and my credit cards, family photos, and one traveler’s check are in a flimsy pouch slung around my neck and hidden beneath my clothes. I have arrived in Rome in the dead of night at the wrong train station and I’m certain that the only reason I’ve been unmolested so far is thanks to the grace of a small crew of Sicilian nuns who have now left me.
Stazione Sant-Oreste is dark and empty. The shops and ticket counters are closed; the people are gone. There are too many shadows and echoes. I wait nervously as furrow-browed station patrolman Pierre-Luis takes my measure. Will he fulfill his promise to the nuns to look after me? Or will he do what I can see he wants to do, which is abandon me to whatever awaits me in the night? After all, he only made the promise so the nuns would stop yelling at him and poking him in the chest with their godly, determined fingers.
Strangers in the Bush
By Susan Bloch
Destination Story Gold Winner in the Thirteenth Annual Solas AwardsI’m traveling into unknown territory with a man I just met. His name is Karl, my safari guide here in Namibia, and we’re driving along a coast shaped by death and diamonds. A coast where shifting sand dunes bury secrets, mysteries, and skeletons; where for centuries, Atlantic waves smashed sails, masts, gunwales, and rudders, against treacherous rocks; where secrets drowned and secrets were lost at sea; where secrets skulk in rusted ships’ keels and hulls and lie camouflaged inside the bleached whale ribcages littering the beaches. The secrets of what shipwrecked sailors did to survive the torture of thirst, hunger, and exposure; secrets shared between sailors and prostitutes about buried treasure; and in the late 1930s, how Germany’s secret plan to recapture Southern Africa was smuggled to Nazi sympathizers in the region. These tales had captivated me for decades. But no secret was ever so carefully guarded as that by Karl—his family scandal. The secret I didn’t know when the two of us trekked alone into the bush.
That Other Hijab Story
By Maryah Converse
Culture and Ideas Gold Winner in the Thirteenth Annual Solas AwardsWhen I tell people that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jordan, the response is usually predictable: “Wow. How was that?” How am I supposed to answer that in few enough words that their eyes don’t glaze over? Overwhelming. Amazing. The hardest job you’ll ever love. A place where I was always and inexplicably a foreigner and a daughter of the desert at the same time. And sooner or later, they ask the inevitable question: “Did you have to…?”
This Never Happens
By Anne Lowrey
Bad Trip Gold Winner in the Thirteenth Annual Solas Awards"Nunca ha pasado aquí," he repeated. I shrugged as if I didn’t hear him, though I understood every word. “This never happens.” Except it did. I sat silently in the back of the rusted car that was taking me slowly away from the events of the past few days. I had run out of words to say in Spanish. In the middle of Colombia’s coffee country, with nothing but the clothes on my back, I was too exhausted to be angry. “This never happens” was all anybody seemed to be able to say to me when I told them. Each time the phrase came it spoke with a loaded look that also pleaded, “Please don’t tell anyone.” Why did getting robbed with a gun to my head feel like some terrible secret I’d be forced to keep?
The Place Where Norman Slept
By Teresa O'Kane
Animal Encounters Gold Winner in the Thirteenth Annual Solas AwardsNorman is a solitary old bull elephant who lives on Amakhala Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Years ago, he spent his days with his elephant friend George, until George had a battle with an electric fence. These days Norman wanders alone, joining the breeding herd only during mating season. The rest of the time he observes the other elephants from a distance or ignores them completely. Norman is bigger than most elephants his age. He is the one who asserts discipline over the herd and metes out punishment when he and his eight tons deem it necessary.
The House on KVR Swamy Road
By Sivani Babu
Grand Prize Bronze Winner in the Thirteenth Annual Solas AwardsWe push through a sea of people and cows, the dust and smog swirling red and heavy, giving the scene around us the hazy air of a vintage photograph. A calf chews languidly on a banana as flies buzz around its head. We walk down the street as the tinny sound of temple music floats by and the aromas of everyday life assault our senses: fruits, spices, incense, the musk of oxen, diesel, smoke. Nearly two decades have passed since I last walked KVR Swamy Road, but I still remember the childhood admonitions to keep the dust down by not dragging my feet. I laugh. A drop in the bucket, I think to myself, but I make sure to pick my feet up anyway, hopping, jumping, leaping over puddles and pungent piles of cow manure.
The Citroën and the Pomegranate
By Matthew Félix
Grand Prize Silver Winner in the Thirteenth Annual Solas AwardsI’ve traveled extensively. But you’d never know it from the looks of my apartment. Between an almost obsessive insistence on traveling light—never carrying more than one backpack, which fits into any overhead bin—and a general aversion to accumulating things, I hardly ever bring back mementos from the road. That’s what made my attraction to the pomegranates all the more peculiar.
The Mystery of the Sahara
By David Robinson
Grand Prize Winner of the Thirteenth Annual Solas AwardsIn 1965, I was driven across the Sahara by a woman whose real name I never knew. I’ve been trying to find her ever since. I was working in Nigeria at the time. In West Africa, even if you never see the actual Sahara, you are always conscious of its presence to the north. During the winter months, the desert asserts itself through the Harmatan winds that kick up dust storms and cause dry skin, hacking coughs, and chills among the populace as well as vivid sunsets. But in any season, just to see a Hausa man on the street is to feel the pull of the desert.
By Sharon Kreider
Travel Memoir Gold winner of the Twelfth Annual Solas AwardsBefore the internet, Google, or cellphones, the journey overland from Europe to Asia took time, ingenuity, and more than a little courage. Travel through Turkey, Iran, and Syria can be difficult today but was especially challenging for a young, white twenty-year-old woman touring these regions alone in the 1970s.
In February 1977, I found myself stuck at Gubulak, the border crossing from Turkey into Iran. Johan, someone I met in Greece, and I had been turned away from a Syrian boundary a few weeks earlier. Naively, we thought a bus service would just be there. Not only did such a thing not exist, but Iran had travel bans from sunset to sunrise. I was also completely unaware that civil resistance had commenced in Iran which led to the Islamic Revolution and the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi or 'the Shah.' I didn't see another woman anywhere.
Hung, the Boat Woman of Hue
By Maxine Rose Schur
Most Unforgettable Character Silver winner in the Twelfth Annual Solas Awards
I raised the expectation, You shook your head sadly. Like fish in water and fowl in the air It’s not easy to meet… I saw you off on your way And felt hundreds of jumbled feelings. —Nguyen Binh (1918-1966)For years I had loved the words “Perfume River.” I imagined sailing down this Vietnam waterway of which I knew nothing. I imagined it smelled gorgeous and the experience would be one of romance and poetry. That’s why on my single day in Hue, the ancient, imperial capital of Vietnam, the first thing I did was to inquire how to take a boat ride on the Perfume River.
Finding the House My Father Built
By May Gee
Elder Travel Bronze winner of the Twelfth Annual Solas AwardsA few thin, gray hairs skimmed the top of the elderly man’s pointed head, just like my father’s hair used to on his. Faint crinkles touched the skin around the old man’s eyes and deep creases ran from the edge of his nostrils to the outsides of his lips. All that was missing was a chest-length wispy mustache and goatee, and he could have been one of the Eight Immortals from Chinese mythology.
Welcome Back Again
By Matthew Félix
Doing Good or the Kindness of Strangers Gold winner of the Twelfth Annual Solas AwardsNine hours after leaving Fez, my French friend Sophie and I arrived in Tangier. Although we had walked to the train station the morning of our departure, this time we were arriving late at night. We opted to get a cab, a ride that shouldn’t have cost more than five or six dirhams, or less than a dollar. Past experience having left me with a strong aversion to taxis—I’ll always choose walking great distances over taking a cab in places I don’t know—my stomach was wrapped in familiar knots as we came out of the station.
The Five Wise Men of the Voodoo Trail
By Kevin DimetresThe feeling was unfamiliar. Alone, I sat on the splintered wooden bench while the passersby sized me up with skeptical curiosity. Their skin glistened with sweat, accentuating the slash marks lacing both sides of their faces. The slash marks had been deliberately crafted into their visage, haunting me with wonder. Images of celestial snakes and sword-wielding gods decorated the decrepit dwellings surrounding me. This was a faraway world, and for the first time in as long as I could remember as a traveler, I felt the fear of the unknown begin to surge in my veins.
Under the Cedars of Parc Perdrix
By Becky Band JainIt was at the end of the year I spent in the South of France, fully in the grips of my Francophilia, when a friend invited me to a barbecue. A week after Bastille Day, the summer heat was at its peak. The rosy tan stucco on the houses matched the scorched soil, a shade lighter than their terra cotta rooftops. Their large shutters shielded them from the sun’s onslaught, and spoke of a time before air conditioners. It was a traditional, agricultural region still. Orchards of peaches and apricots, olives and grapes; this was the terroir of Cotes du Rhone, and the famous Tain l’Hermitage vineyards. Gardens burst with bougainvillea, hibiscus and oleander.
By T Stores
Family Travel Gold winner of the Twelfth Annual Solas AwardsOn a rainy fall weekend, leaves brilliant with failing light, I hear Mr. Spock from my living room in rural Vermont: “Live long and prosper.” I smile, glad that James and Izzy have discovered Star Trek, good viewing for twelve-year-olds, especially those who are about to embark on a year-long adventure, “exploring new worlds, going where”—well, not no man but many men and women—“have gone before.” While I finish packing for our trip to Europe, the refrain echoes in my mind. “Live long and prosper.”
The Last Surviving Sea Silk Seamstress
By Eliot Stein
Culture and Ideas Silver winner of the Twelfth Annual Solas AwardsByssus, or sea silk, is one of the rarest and most coveted materials in the world. Today, there is only one person left on the planet who knows how to harvest, dye and spin it into elaborate patterns that glisten like gold. Each spring, under the cover of darkness and guarded by members of the Italian Coast Guard, a 62-year-old woman named Chiara Vigo slips on a white tunic, recites a prayer and plunges headfirst into the crystalline sea off the tiny Sardinian island of Sant’Antioco.
By Tina Dreffin
Cruise Story Gold winner of the Twelfth Annual Solas AwardsI awakened to someone caressing my foot. It was my husband Peter, announcing my 2 A.M. dogwatch—the time period for me to steer our sailboat at sea, offshore Namibia along the west coast of Africa. When Peter turned around to head back on deck, I luxuriated beneath the covers. A low, eerie sound of ooooohm-hummmmm reverberated through the hull, like that of a pipe organ. The eerie call was the wind in the rigging as the air filled the hollow boom. Rushing waves echoed through the hulls, sounding like volumes of cascading water.
On the Road with the Lady of the Rockies
By Linda Ballou
Destination Story Gold winner of the Twelfth Annual Solas AwardsAs I crested the bluff overlooking Estes Park, the summer sun pushed away the gray that had followed me from Denver (an hour’s drive away) to reveal bluebird skies. The sweet mountain town, guarded by 14,000-foot peaks of the Rocky Mountain National Park, rests in a cleft carved by the Big Thompson River. I was drawn here by the vivid descriptions of this magical place by Isabella Lucy Bird who journaled her stay as she rode 800 miles solo on her mare Birdie in 1873. I imagined her sense of relief at having finally arrived at what she dubbed the “Inner World.”
That Old Time Religion
By James Michael Dorsey
Adventure Story Silver winner in the Twelfth Annual Solas AwardsStories have always come to me in Africa. I can’t say if it’s the taste, the smells, or the sheer antiquity of the land; or maybe it’s just the sense of belonging I have while I am there, but the words always come.
Because it is a continent lacking in written languages, storytelling serves to preserve not only local history and culture, but also the daily lives so often lost in recorded history. In Africa, more than in the west, storytelling is an art form. In West Africa, everyone has a story, and Abraham Boko had more than most.
Mitty in Rome
By Juilene Osborne-McKnight
Grand Prize Bronze winner of the Twelfth Annual Solas Awards
TrastevereThey have cleaned the fountain in the Piazza of Santa Maria in Trastevere. This means that it no longer works. Water spills over the basin and down the sides.
On the lone dry step, the King of the Gypsies has taken his throne. He is young – well, younger than me, which qualifies enough of the world these days. He wears a patchwork coat of many colors and a pair of old pajama pants. He carries a tall staff whose top is adorned with feathery rags in profuse colors. Some days I see him begging; in early mornings on my way to work I have seen him asleep in doorways. But I have also seen men kneel before him and buss both of his cheeks.
By Aaron Gilbreath
Grand Prize Silver winner of the Twelfth Annual Solas AwardsWithin Tokyo's populous Shibuya ward lies the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing. By some estimates, 2,500 people cross here during rush hour each time the signal changes. Locals call it “The Scramble.” Every day, over two million passengers pass through neighboring Shibuya Station, commuting to work and enjoying the area’s countless shops and restaurants. Many of them pass through The Scramble. When traffic lights turn red, they all turn red simultaneously, stopping ten lanes of automobile traffic and sending pedestrians from five separate crosswalks into the massive intersection. For nearly one full minute, people flood the street in what seems an explosion of human buckshot. To the casual observer, the surge resembles chaos ─ all these bodies, weaving and darting, moving in different directions across each other’s paths. Yet there is order to it, a choreographed chaos. As Los Angeles Times writer John M. Glionna said in 2011, “Despite so much humanity inhabiting such a confined space, there’s rarely a collision, sharp elbow, shoulder-brush or unkind word.” When you watch footage of The Scramble, you can’t help but wonder what holds this system together. How do people remain so well-behaved?
All the Grains of Sand
By Angelique Stevens
Grand Prize Gold winner of the Twelfth Annual Solas AwardsIt was a full moon, which meant from my vantage point, I could see his naked silhouette shining blue as he washed his body behind the big lorry. I was naked too, behind the Land Rover. The body was so familiar, that wiry frame, those graceful hands, the shaven head and the point of his beard. We had both gone, separately, to bathe behind the circle of vehicles that surrounded our camp. I had been so careful about choosing a spot farther away from the men sitting around the fire that I hadn’t realized I moved myself closer to the place where the crew washed. At some point, mid-bath, I turned my head and there he was, no more than 20 feet away bent double scooping water from his basin and splashing it on his chest.
The Fan Over the Dining Table
By Donna Lawrence
A reach for understanding of an unknowable past.My grandmother wrote a genealogy tracing her family, the Corbins of Virginia, and it was fun to flip through the slender book and find interesting connections. Some of it was speculation. One Hanna Corbin married John Augustine Washington, brother of George Washington. She may have been connected to our family of Corbins—that was uncertain. But one connection that Grandma was sure of was William Tappico, King of the Wiccocomico Indians of the Algonquin tribes, whose granddaughter, called Mary Tapp, wed our ancestor, John Corbin in 1799. My dad was so proud of that, our Native American blood. But, among the records of births and marriages and deaths, one entry stopped me cold. It was the last will and testament of William Corbin of Culpeper County, who died on December 3, 1796: “I give and bequeath unto my son Benjamin Corbin one Negro wench Sarah and her child Lydia and all their future increase.” Reading those words, I forgot to breathe.
Some Vague Stars to the South
By Dave Zoby
Syria, and the ancient lessons of friendship.Dust-covered aluminum satellite dishes rimmed the rooftops. During the heat of the day, electrical circuits popped audibly, faltering all afternoon. Mid-day, the bakers came out in their floured aprons to read the state paper in the shade of their doorways. There was the sweet-shop, the pharmacy, the place to buy shoes, a booth for a haircut. And always the joyful roar of farm tractors strumming the streets, the farmers seated at the wheel, a load of watermelons stacked on a wobbly trailer. We snapped the requisite photos of the Omayyad Palace in Damascus—even me, in a half-hearted way, with a cheap camera my mother had leant me. There must be hundreds of images from our meeting with the Grand Mufti: the Mufti in the middle of the group, the Mufti smiling, looking serious, pious. I memorized his famous quote: There is no holy war. Only peace is holy.
Like Dust in a Storm
By Sivani Babu
A tragic close call in rural Colorado.Useless. I wiped at my sunglasses with my dirty hands, trying to clear the droplets that settled on the lenses. The water smeared and streaked across, creeping into dust filled crevices and turning to mud. It became even harder to see and I gave up, pushing the glasses into my muddy and matted hair where they came to rest atop my head. Useless. I could relate.
Last Stop in Oklahoma
By Robert Reid
An Okie expat and his 76-year-old uncle aim to summit the Black Mesa in the USA's most unlucky and unwanted rectangle.The road’s empty and rising slightly. I lean forward in the driver’s seat and look through the windshield to the biggest skies I’ve ever seen. An immense block of sea-blue smeared in white clouds presses down on fields of cut wheat, peppered in parts with small clumps of trees, a far-off farmhouse, a wind pump. My cellphone signal’s gone, and with it my GPS, so I’m guessing. Is this it?
By Leslie Oh
A weaving workshop on the Navajo Reservation bonds a mother and daughter and offers a lesson about how to live a balanced life.Mom and I breathed deeply four times in the cool shadow of Table Mesa. In the distance, a worn road led southward through the Navajo Reservation and northward to Shiprock, New Mexico. The white tips of Dibe Nitsaa, Mount Hesperus, the sacred mountain of the North, whispered above. We stretched our arms into a sky as turquoise as the stone in the necklace Mom made me. Father Sky. Swollen gray clouds drifted slowly by. Then we folded ourselves in two; our fingertips brushed the red soil swirling about our feet. Mother Earth. Mom’s eyes remained closed as she inhaled one more time and brought her arms to her chest, the way she normally embraced me with all her might. I wanted to melt there but instead I stood awkwardly beside her, trying to mime a graceful pattern of arm and leg movements that resembled Tai Chi. We faced East (thinking), then South (planning), West (living), and North (wisdom).
Monks and Monkey Poop on the Mountain
By James Michael Dorsey
A pilgrimage gone wrong.At first sight, the temple on the mountain seemed a folk tale come to life.
On my journey through Burma, the gleaming temple on the rock that guards Mount Popa had become my challenge, my grail, my pilgrimage, and there it towered above me like a finger of God pointing towards heaven.
Into Celtic Twilight
By Erin Byrne
The air is the region of the invisible. —John O’Donohue, Anam Ċara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
It is morning on the west coast of Ireland on a swath of pebbly beach with an emerald hillside and plateau off to the right. Cloudish sky, pewter water. Beyond the lapping of the waves comes a faint yet beckoning wail, like the highest note of a flute, heard by those who achieve a certain kind of quiet. A haunted sense of synchronicity surges through me: I’m home again.
In Search of a Shining Moment
By Anne Sigmon
We all call barbarous anything that is contrary to our own habits. ―Michel de Montaigne, The Compete Essays
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. ― Martin Luther King Jr., speech in St. Louis, March 22, 1964The front page pictured a lifeless Syrian child, dusty limbs splayed in the gray rubble of Aleppo. I felt cold and lost. That poor boy might be a little brother, perhaps to one of the mischievous kids I saw roistering on the playground when I visited Aleppo in 2010, not long before war overwhelmed the city. He could be the son of the jovial grinder in the bazaar—the boy who giggled at me when I stopped to have my pocket knife sharpened.
By Steven Law
Faced with a difficult life decision, he seeks solace in the wilderness.The air was cold and still, a skin-tightening astringent kiss from mother nature welcoming me back. And nothing moved. The precedent stillness before the storm. Like God pausing to wrap a pull cord around a tornado. It gave me a buggy, spooky feeling. The same feeling you get when you feel eyes staring at the back of your head. The kind of nervous calm that makes birds take flight, horses run in circles around the field. Everything’s still, but there’s a barely perceptible vibration underlying it all. It’s the kind of stillness that pulls dreamers from their work-life routines to see what the hell’s going on.
The Swankiest Rodent in Cartagena
By Darrin DuFord
For one well-traveled Colombian chef, the culinary intersection of country and city is served with a side of 80s arena rock and a phantom mouthful of water hyacinth.The structure I’d just entered loosely counted as a building—part indoor, part outdoor, depending on how much light pierced the gaps in the zinc roofing. Several turns later, a concrete ceiling appeared with its jumble of electrical mains dangling from beams. The inner sanctum, perhaps. I was inside the bowels of Cartagena’s Bazurto Market, following the steps of Charlie Otero, co-owner and chef of the restaurant La Comunión.
Paddling the Sewershed
By Brice Particelli
Two friends, a leaky raft, and the Bronx River.We splurged on the raft. While the picture on the box clearly showed two young kids paddling a placid lake, it also boasted a “motor-mount fitting” for an engine. It was comforting to know that this raft at least pretended to be built for rougher stuff. My paddle-buddy, Cuong, paused in front of a cheaper one. “Are you sure this one won’t do?” he asked. It had one air compartment and looked even more like a toy. “It’s only $32.”
The Uncertain Certainty of Leaving
By Kathy Harding
They discover what they’re willing to risk for love.Buoyed by the brazen optimism of our new love affair, my Kiwi, Rob, and I cast ourselves adrift in a revelatory landscape, the South Island of New Zealand. I was 41 years old and desperate for a baby, he was a stranger from the bottom of the planet, and nothing about our romance made sense. Spring he rented a townhouse, summer he decamped to expedition ships, fall he floated on private yachts, and on Christmas he woke atop ice floes, drifting 60 degrees south of the equator. I could be found in my bed every day of the year.
From Tsetses to Chimps
By David Myles RobinsonOne of my favorite movie lines of all time was spoken by Walter Brennan’s character Eddie in To Have and Have Not: “Say, was you ever bit by a dead bee?” I can’t say exactly why that line resonated with me, especially since I’m not one of those guys who make a practice of remembering movie lines. Perhaps it was the wonderful characterizations of Brennan, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall. Or perhaps it was the various meanings one could read into the line. One of those meanings might be this: just when you think everything is fine and you see no danger ahead, you might step on an innocuous-looking dead bee and still get stung.
Nirvana’s Horizon: Discovering the Soul of the Golden Land as a Buddhist Monk in Myanmar
By Kevin Dimetres
He was seeking a new level of travel.The reflection in the mirror was virtually unrecognizable; the spelling of my name remained obscure; what might happen next had become a perpetual mystery. Before I could make sense of it all, Burgundy-robed monks whisked me away, up a dusty spiral staircase, to their secluded 5th floor rooftop. With endearing fervor, the monks excitedly pulled out their smartphones, gathered around me as a group, and began snapping selfies, with me, against the backdrop of the Yangon skyline. Had I stumbled down the rabbit hole, only to arrive in Myanmar? I peered over the ledge to the chaos of once-familiar city life below; I became as dizzy as the moment was surreal.
White Water Death
By Steve Gardiner
A drowning in Yosemite National ParkA park ranger on a horse rode up behind Terry Rypkema and me and pleaded for our help. “You have a climbing rope,” she said. “Bring it up to the bridge, please. We have a possible drowning.”
The Elevator in Rome
By Bill Zarchy
Stuck on a hot day.“I’ve gotta get out of here!” shrieked the voice from the corner. “You don’t understand. I’m claustrophobic!” It was a warm summer day. Susan and I had boarded an elevator in a poorly air-conditioned archaeological museum in Rome, along with a dozen people from our tour group, and Rachel, our English guide.
Making the Great Migration
By Sarah Enelow
An American woman makes a pilgrimage to Mississippi, where her black family lived during slavery and segregation, then retraces their 1941 exodus to Detroit by train.I stared up at a concrete obelisk streaked with black dirt. It bore an etching of a confederate flag and read, “The men were right who wore the gray and right can never die.” A dozen people, black and white, milled around on a sunny, 60-degree afternoon in January. This tiny town consisted of a central square, a few roads leading away from it, and not much else.
The Remnants of War: A Meditation on Peleliu
By Anna VodickaOn Peleliu, the roads are paved with coral—a once-living thing, a hardy animal. The coral came from the inland ridges and valleys of this two-by-six-mile speck among specks in the island nation of Palau, in western Micronesia, an almost invisible scene in the shadow of bigger acts in the Pacific, where land itself is a kind of debris, cast from the ocean by tectonic clashes and shifts that left things topsy-turvy, bottom-up, fish-out-of-water. Before: an underwater reef, an ecosystem of competitive individuals. After: a coral atoll bleaching into a future island paradise. Something new under the sun.
By Katherine Jamieson
A tropical love story in Guyana.The one-room schoolhouse rang with the din of teenage girls’ voices in the humid afternoon air. Someone had erased the sentences with their adjectives and nouns underlined from the black wooden slab we used for a chalkboard and scrawled out a rough schedule for the upcoming concert: Indranie—Chutney dance; Onica—I Believe I Can Fly; Wanda—Modeling. Scratchy dub music played on the school’s dinged up tape deck, and a few girls gyrated their hips seductively to the deep bass line while the others sat around languidly braiding each other’s hair.
Deborah, the school prefect and informal director of the concert, was complaining to me. “Miss, dem first year girls actin’ stupidy, talking nuff nonsense. Miss, we must tell dem speak properly, and learn they lines, right, Miss?”
“Yes, yes, Deborah, please help them learn their lines,” I said fanning myself with some loose papers. I was sitting at one of the student desks, trying to imagine how the chaos in front of me would turn into a performance in the next six weeks, when we heard thumping sounds on the staircase.
By James Michael Dorsey
A magical day in Mali.Hippos surfaced with wiggling ears as the boat man poled our dhow past the submerged herd. We were both tense, expecting a bluff charge, while only feet away white pelicans with long golden beaks floated in the shallows casually scooping minnows in their great fleshy pouches. On the opposite shore the grass huts of the Fulani glowed like fiery tumbleweeds in the hazy sunrise as bare-breasted women pounded their dirty wash on river rocks. At this bend of Mali’s Niger River, the lethargic water resembles dark roasted coffee as it slowly meanders on towards the fabled city of Timbuktu. I was in old spear-and-loincloth Africa to chase the end of an era with my camera.
By Suzanne Roberts
Getting naked with your new lover's family.Your lover’s family doesn’t like that you’re from California, that you’re only half Jewish (and the wrong half), but most of all, that you’re still married. While nobody seems to question your lover’s decision to have an affair with a married woman, everyone wonders about your lack of scruples. When you meet his sister in the lobby of the Bellagio, the first thing she says to you is, “Are you divorced yet?”
By Rosemary Davis
A visit to the home of the Mississippi blues.Sometimes the answers aren’t easy. Driving down endless country roads—seeing nothing but identical rows of crops covering the flat, uneven land, one ponders the meaning of life. But in one Southern town, the meaning of life can be summed up in two words: cotton and the blues.
Driving with Gods
By Carol J. Arnold
An old gypsy teaches a retired American visitor that getting lost is often the best way to find what you're looking for.It came out of nowhere, a horrendous crash like something had dropped from the sky, shattering the passenger window only a few feet from my face. “It’s okay,” my husband Andy said as I grabbed his hand, his rapid breaths only slightly less ragged than my own. “The glass is in one piece.”
Ali’s Heritage Garden
By Rosie CohanOne man's efforts to preserve traditional culture as tourism changes his community. Pink skid marks faded to purple in the blackening sky as lights popped on across Goreme, the stony Turkish village below me. I had checked into my room and then saw my friend, Ali, sitting alone on the terrace of the hotel he had built within the cave walls where his family had originally lived. Cave homes had been a common form of habitation in this rugged land. Ali’s chair was turned toward the dark valleys on the opposite side of the illuminated village.
The Tour du Mont Blanc
By Marianne Bohr
Mother Nature always wins.The Tour du Mont Blanc, affectionately known to its devotees as the TMB, is one of the world’s classic long-distance footpaths and is a capstone event on our European itinerary. Experiencing the Alpine wilderness in the presence of the dramatic ice-capped peaks is the proverbial icing on our backpacking, sabbatical-year cake. In seven days, we’ll hike seventy-five miles around Mont Blanc, the highest point in the Alps at 15,770 feet, undertake elevation gains and losses of over 36,000 feet, cross through three countries with seven companions, and complete one magnificent hike.