CELEBRATING GREAT TRAVEL WRITING
Travelers’ Tales publishes books about the world and life-changing experiences that happen on the road. The Best Travel Writing, Volume 10 is our latest collection of great stories guaranteed to ignite your wanderlust.
Includes Grand Prize Winners, Solas Awards
Introduction by Don George
In The Best Travel Writing, Volume 10, readers will:
- Hunt for buried silver on a first visit to the Russian homeland
- Rejuvenate 40-something sex appeal on a dance floor in Cuba
- Rediscover the meaning of friendship in a roadside encounter in Namibia
- Fall in love and out again with the many Marcos of Rome
- Comprehend the meaning of forgiveness with a killing fields survivor in Cambodia
- Beat cancer by embracing travel and the world…and much more
Immersed in the Mud of Life
By Don George
I’ve finally decided to unpack my hiking shoes. About a month ago I returned from a week-long immersion in rural northern Cambodia. My mission had been to stay with a family in a stilt house in a village of unpaved paths, and to explore the ruins that waited in the surrounding jungle gloom. Because of time and travel constraints, I was visiting during the rainy season, but that didn’t deter my explorations. Over the course of that week, I and my hiking shoes leapt over (and sometimes into) sudden streams, sloshed through ankle-deep puddles, glopped through ten-foot-long stretches of sole-sucking mud, crashed through clutching vines, stepped over furry millipedes, and stumbled on mossy picture-puzzle-pieces of massive rock carvings scattered on the jungle floor.
By the end of this adventure, my shoes looked like they’d been dipped in milk chocolate, and as I sat in my fan-cooled cottage in Siem Reap on the last night of my adventure, packing for the twenty-hour journey home, I briefly considered leaving my shoes behind. They had served me well, I reasoned, but they would not be serving me anymore.
Then I realized that doing so would be like leaving a quintessential part of my adventure—a part of me—behind. So I wrapped each shoe in three plastic bags and stuffed them into the corners of my carry-on case. When I got home and unpacked, I placed the shoes, still securely shrouded in plastic, in my bedroom closet, thinking that I would figure out what to do with them later, at a time that would make itself known.
For the past two hours I’ve been sitting in my study, entranced by the stories in this anthology, and now, pieces have clicked into place inside me, and I’ve realized that the time has come to unveil the chocolate-covered shoes. I retrieve them from the closet and then, back in my study, heft one plastic-wrapped package and gingerly extricate the bags inside. Particles of mud—mini-mementoes of Cambodian dirt and rainwater—fall onto my hardwood floor. I reach into the innermost bag and grab a heel, grainy and grimy, and as dirt sprays around me, pull the left shoe out. Soon the right shoe is resurrected as well.
I set the shoes like trophies on their plastic bags. They are spattered, splattered, scarred, and copiously caked in mud, and as I gaze at them, the jungle comes back to me—or rather, I go back to the jungle. I feel the heavy humidity, the sweat pouring like an open spigot down my face and back, hear the mosquitoes whining in my ear, slap at them ineffectually, take my camera in sweaty hands to photograph an intricate carving of a voluptuous Khmer dancer on a twofoot by three-foot by two-foot stone block, partly hidden among lush ferns.
I’m again parting branches and vines, laboriously liberating myself from persistent stickers, wiping the sweat from my eyes, stopping for a precious swig of water—the mosquitoes whining, dancing on my neck and hands—stepping over tumbled pieces of rock, slipping and sliding, grabbing at branches to stop my fall, clambering over a half-intact wall to see a bas relief story unfold before me, warriors and musicians and fish alive in stone. I slip again, and narrowly avoid planting my palm atop a millipede. The hairy, feety nightmares are everywhere and I recall what my guide said when I asked if they could harm me: “Oh yes, if you touch one, you will die.”
Through a screen of green I discern a wall, a doorway, a crumbling tower, a stony face—lips, nose, eyes—at the top of the tilting stone. I fumble with my camera as rain starts to fall, first a pitter-patter on the forest canopy and then an insistent downpour that penetrates the branches and leaves, and soaks me from the red bandana on my head to the invisible rubber soles of my shoes.
Suddenly I’m back in my study in a San Francisco suburb. The sun is shining, hummingbirds are flitting in the dappled branches beyond my window. The whine of a distant lawn mower dances, stingless, in the air.
And then the pieces snap together: hiking shoes—travel stories. Both take us places we never expected to go. The book you hold in your hands offers a spectacular collection of hiking shoes. Among them, Jill Robinson transports us to an illuminating rest stop standoff with a black mamba snake in Namibia, and Lisa Alpine takes us deep into the everyday wonders of an Amazon backwater. Tania Amochaev leads us on a rigorous journey to a remote Russian village in search of roots and relatives; through Jeff Greenwald, we discover the vividly ventricled heart of a natural landmark in Arizona. Lavinia Spalding guides us on a bittersweet birthday celebration through Cuba, Erin Byrne and Marcia DeSanctis excavate the layers of poignant pasts in Paris, Michael Shapiro searches for the soul of Dylan Thomas in Wales, and Amy Gigi Alexander maps the life-saving marvels that travel can sometimes confer.
Like my shoes, all the stories herein are battered, spattered, scarred. They’re immersed in the mud of life. And like my shoes, they’ve absorbed once inconceivable and now immeasurably enriching journeys.
So, I invite you to step into these stories, to embark on the magical, muddy adventures they hold. I can guarantee that you’ll go places you’ve never imagined—and unwrap lessons you’ll never forget.
* * *
Don George is the author of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing
and the forthcoming The Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George.
Don has been a pioneering travel writer and editor for 40 years. He was the travel editor at the San Francisco Examiner
and the San Francisco Chronicle
, founder and editor of Salon’s “Wanderlust” travel site, and global travel editor for Lonely Planet. He is currently an editor at large and columnist forNational Geographic Traveler
and the editor of BBC Travel’s “Words and Wanderlust” section. Don is the cofounder and chairman of the renowned Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference. He has visited 90 countries and has published hundreds of articles in dozens of magazines, newspapers, and websites worldwide. He has also edited ten award-winning literary travel anthologies. He speaks and teaches regularly at conferences and on campuses around the world, and he is frequently interviewed on TV, radio, and online as a travel expert.
Friends Who Don’t Bite
Jill K. Robinson
The Vanishing Art of Losing Your Way
Sarah Colleen Coury
The Marco Chronicles: To Rome, Without Love
What Is that Thing?
Inside the Tower
Notes into Lines
Hannah Sheldon- Dean
Into the Hills
Show Me, Shouyu
Fish Trader Ray
My First Trip to the Homeland
The Tea in Me
Stephanie Elizondo Griest
The Crap Between the Love and Us
Neil and I
From the Ashes
James Michael Dorsey
Ohio House Tour
I Have a Problem with the Blood of a Woman
Surfing the Millennia
In Search of Dylan Thomas
Ben Aultman- Moore
The Bloom of Cancer
Amy Gigi Alexander
The Lapham Longshot
NEW YORK CITY
Into the Cold
About the Editors
Friends Who Don’t Bite
By Jill K. Robinson
If we help each other, there’s more time for wonder. The olive color of the black mamba can’t be ignored. It’s the last thing I want to see in Namibia.
And it’s under my car.
I perch on a picnic table at a tiny rest stop thirty miles north of Otjiwarongo, with my eye on the snake, knowing better than to throw something to scare it off. Tall grass punctuated with sprawling trees lines each side of the highway, and what lies beyond is protected by cyclone fencing. After ten minutes of waiting for the snake to move, a truck turns off the road.
“Are you having trouble with your vehicle?” asks the man.
“In a way,” I respond. “I’ve got a mamba under my car.”
The man introduces himself as Solomon, a Namibian wildlife guide, and asks if I have binoculars so he can check my claim. My binoculars are in the car. I hand him my camera. He looks through the lens, grunts, and gives it back.
“Indeed, that’s what he is,” says Solomon. “We’re here fora while. Do you have lunch?”
I reply that I have a great lunch, but it’s sitting in my car next to the binoculars. Solomon strides back to his truck, reaches inside, and pulls out a bag and cooler. In less than a minute, he’s set the picnic table and laid out his meal to share with me.
After a week, I’ve gotten so comfortable in Namibia that I’m not worried about driving across the country, walking through town at night, or hiking alone. Concerned emails from home ask if I’m staying safe and locking my hotel room door, tell me to watch out for strangers (which is everyone) and advise me to “be careful in Africa.” I’m beginning to wonder if I’m having a one- person fairy- tale experience and missing something ominous that will teach me a lesson.
It’s understandable, of course, that people are afraid of the unfamiliar. This entire continent is often prejudged or labeled based on events in a few regions. The only way to know the real truth is to pack your bags and see for yourself.
Even I had my moment of doubt before coming. When asked by the country’s tourism office if I felt comfortable driving a rental SUV around by myself, I hesitated.
“I’m a blonde surfer girl from the United States,” I answered. “I won’t blend in. Do you feel comfortable with me driving around alone?”
The immediate, positive response was all I needed to dismiss any doubt. But when I checked in at the rental car agency and was presented with a two- wheel- drive car instead of a four-wheel-drive SUV, I realized that my tire- changing skills were more than rusty. There’s no such thing as an auto service club in Namibia, and obstacles abound—from deep water holes to families of warthogs that seem to wait until the last moment to hurl themselves across lanes of traffic with their skinny tails in the air.
* * *
Noticing that the presence of the snake makes me nervous, Solomon asks me why. Surprised by his question, I sputter a little with my response about the mamba’s aggression and venom. I omit telling him that only recently have I gotten a lifelong snake phobia under control. But I still get shivers when I see a photo of a black mamba. Having a live one this close to me is unnerving.
“But right now, he is your friend,” Solomon advised. “Everyone is already your friend: the snake, the elephant, the leopard, the stranger. They are only not your friend if they hurt you.”
I counter his optimism. “It’s hard to overcome irrational fears, especially when potential danger is involved.”
Solomon nods, and points out that we’re two seemingly opposing animals in the world’s wilderness. “But here I am, an African man, talking to you, a blonde California woman, out in the middle of nowhere in Namibia,” he says. “Nobody is here to help if things go badly. And many people think that’s the only way this scenario can end, as if Africa is too dangerous to bother trusting. You’ve trusted Namibia, so you can trust our mamba friend. But that doesn’t mean you do it without caution.”
We enjoy his lunch of barbecued chicken, corn and garlic bread that he’d packed for a break in his six- hour drive. The cooler is packed with frosty bottles of Hansa Urbock, a bockbier that gives a subtle nod to the country’s German settlers. A glance at my car tells us that the mamba is still there, so we each open a beer and toast to friends who don’t bite.
“Back at home,” he says, “if you have car trouble, do you wait for help?”
I remember my father’s lessons in changing tires, back when I was fifteen. “Yes,” I explain, “however the person who comes to help is usually a mechanic who I call. Strangers don’t usually bother, thinking it’s not their responsibility. And we are often too wrapped up in our own lives to think about others.”
Solomon sighs, and silently points at the towering neck and head of a giraffe in the distance. He smiles when he sees my eyes widen—as if I’m five years old.
“If we help each other,” he says. “There is more time for wonder. Like that giraffe. How many have you seen in Namibia so far?”
I reply that I’ve seen perhaps thirty. But every time I spy another animal—no matter if it’s an elephant, leopard, cheetah, honey badger, oryx, jackal, or baboon—it’s as if I’ve seen it for the first time. The excitement never wanes.
“That’s how it should be with everything,” he says, and looks into the distance after the giraffe. Solomon digs in his pocket and pulls out a photo of his daughter, a four-year-old dressed in a rainbow t-shirt and red shorts, her eyes lit up by her smile. I ask if she’s in school today.
“No,” says Solomon. “She is with her mother this week. We don’t live together anymore, so Beata takes turns with us.”
I stop asking questions, thinking I’ve gotten too personal, but he continues.
“My wife left to be with my best friend shortly after the baby came. I want to understand, especially for Beata, but it’s not always easy,” he says, as he absentmindedly taps his finger on the neck of his beer bottle.
“I’m sorry,” I reply. “When people you trust hurt you, it’s hard to let them remain in your life without worrying about them doing it again.”
I tell him that I lost a friend, someone that I trusted as well, and while we remained in occasional contact, our friendship was not the same. It was far from easy, and at first, I wanted to hurt him back in retaliation. But the experience made me pay more attention to others’ suffering, as if my pain allowed me to see the pain of other people more clearly. And that made my anguish slowly fade.
Solomon smiles, and I recognize Beata’s smile as his. “I feel the same way,” he says. “It has made me sad, but how can I say no to the joy of my daughter, my friends, and this wide world?”
I haven’t looked at my watch this entire time, fascinated with Solomon’s stories. I have no idea if twenty minutes or two hours have passed. Aside from my need to get to my destination before sundown, I’m in no rush. I ask Solomon if I’m keeping him.
“If we don’t make time for friends,” he says as he hands me an orange, “how sad would our lives be?”
We look over to the car for our regular snake check. The mamba is gone. I silently hope it hasn’t crawled into my car’s undercarriage, but don’t want Solomon to know that I still don’t trust the snake completely.
As we pack up his gear, Solomon pulls some ostrich shell beads from a package in his truck, opens my hand, and places them gently in my palm.
“Your friends are more than these,” he says, as he closes my fingers over the beads. “See them everywhere they are, and you will be happy.”
He walks me to my car, and as I drive away, I see him waving. He is an unexpected teacher on my travels—one who has allowed me to see more clearly the things I can leave behind. I choose to believe his happy outlook is more innocence than naïveté.
Far ahead of me on the road, a family of warthogs runs across my path. I begin to think like Solomon. They are all my friends, so I slow down and drive with caution.
* * *
Jill K. Robinson is a freelance writer and photographer. Her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, American Way, Every Day With Rachael Ray, Robb Report, Coastal Living,
and more. At home, she scoots baby garter snakes out of the road to keep them from getting squashed under car tires. Follow her on Twitter @dangerjr.
James O’Reilly, publisher of Travelers’ Tales, was born in Oxford, England, and raised in San Francisco. He’s visited fifty countries and lived in four, along the way meditating with monks in Tibet, participating in West African voodoo rituals, rafting the Zambezi, and hanging out with nuns in Florence and penguins in Antarctica. He travels whenever he can with his wife and their three daughters. They live in Palo Alto, California, where they also publish art games and books for children at Birdcage Press (birdcagepress.com).
Larry Habegger, executive editor of Travelers’ Tales, has visited almost fifty countries and six of the seven continents, traveling from the Arctic to equatorial rainforests, the Himalayas to the Dead Sea. In the 1980s he co-authored mystery serials for the San Francisco Examiner with James O’Reilly, and since 1985 has written a syndicated column, “World Travel Watch” (WorldTravelWatch.com). Habegger regularly teaches travel writing at workshops and writers’ conferences, is a principal of the Prose Doctors ( prosedoctors.com), and editor-in-chief of Triporati.com, a destination discovery site. He lives with his family on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.
Sean O’Reilly is editor-at-large for Travelers’ Tales. He is a former seminarian, stockbroker, and prison instructor who lives in Virginia with his wife and their six children. He’s had a lifelong interest in philosophy and theology, and is the author of How to Manage Your DICK: Redirect Sexual Energy and Discover Your More Spiritually Enlightened, Evolved Self(dickmanagement.com). His travels of late have taken him through China, Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, England, and Ireland. He is also an inventor with one patent to his name and another on the way.