Wanderlust pumps through my veins: I’ve explored two dozen countries and all but four of the United States in the past decade, and ache for more. Every place is glorious in its own special way, but now and then, I stumble upon somewhere sacred. It usually takes a moment to recover, and when I do, I scan the room (or wilderness) for a pair of eyes to share it with. No matter where I am-downtown Manhattan or the Mongolian steppe-it is inevitably in the eyes of another woman that I find a similar spark or sense of wonderment. Afterward, I can only describe the place as one where “every woman should go.”
When Travelers’ Tales approached me with this project, memories of these places surged forth. I scribbled down half the list in half an hour, then started calling my girlfriends (and a few select boy friends). Nearly one hundred interviews later, this book was born. Within its covers, you’ll discover places where women made history, where we battled for our rights to rule, to speak, to vote, to be free. You’ll find places of inspiration and enlightenment, such as the 88 Sacred Temples of Japan, and places of purification and beautification, such as the mud bath volcanoes of Cartagena, Colombia. Looking for a little adventure? There’s surfing in Costa Rica, mountain trekking in Pakistan, canyoneering in Utah, pearl diving in Bahrain. Or do you just want to indulge? Choose between white-sand beaches in Zanzibar, champagne tours in France, and chicken tamales drowned in black mole sauce in Oaxaca. For every site of struggle on this planet (Rwanda, Beirut, Cambodia, New Orleans) there is a site of celebration (rumba clubs, full moon haflas, flamenco festivals, Carnivale).
In short, this book documents places where being a woman is affirmed and confirmed; where you will be energized and impassioned.
Perhaps you are wondering: does this mean there will be no men? Not a chance: in some locales—Rio de Janeiro, Havana, Bali-they are a main attraction! But we all know how catcalls from street corners and wandering hands in crowded subways can tarnish an otherwise fabulous trip. So pains were taken to include places populated by men who are at least somewhat respectful to foreign women. Of course, not all women are similarly received on the open road. A Bulgarian friend of mine, who has dark Mediterranean features, strolled across southern Italy without incident, while a busty blonde American friend got harassed at every turn. Our perceived race, class, religion, and sexual orientation can have just as much-or more-impact abroad as at home.
Another initial goal was to choose only places where local women, indigenous people, and the environment are treated with kindness, but it was nearly impossible to find 100 of them: inequities are too omnipresent. Instead, I tried to highlight the work of local community activists so that if you, like me, feel guilty downing a glass of Chardonnay in Napa Valley while undocumented farm workers are hunched over in the sun, you know where to volunteer or send a check afterward.
These destinations can be visited with your girlfriends, your mother, your daughter, or your partner. But hopefully you’ll someday travel to at least one alone, to take on Mother Road on your own terms and experience what she has to offer. Be forewarned that she will push you to your physical, spiritual, and psychological limits—then nudge you a few steps further. But at the end of the journey, you’ll be more self-reliant and self-assured, and ever more the woman.
May your travels take you far and wide!
Stephanie Elizondo Griest has mingled with the Russian Mafiya, polished Chinese propaganda, and belly danced with Cuban rumba queens. These adventures are the subject of her award-winning first book: Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana (Villard/Random House, 2004). Atria/Simon & Schuster will publish her memoirs from Mexico in 2008. She has also written for The New York Times, Washington Post, Latina Magazine, and numerous Travelers’ Tales anthologies. An avid traveler, she has explored 25 countries and once spent a year driving 45,000 miles across the United States, documenting its history for a website for kids called The Odyssey. She has been a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University and is currently a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute and a Board Member of the National Coalition Against Censorship. Visit her website at www.aroundthebloc.com. Tell us about your favorite places and put them on the map at placesforwomen.com.