“Travelers’ Tales books luxuriate in that complicated, beautiful, shadowy place where the best stories begin, and the most compelling characters roam free.”
Since the publication of A Woman’s World in 1995, Travelers’ Tales has been publishing award-winning books by and for women. We continue this tradition with The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2005, the first collection in an annual series guaranteed to inspire women to take their first trip—or to continue exploring the world with wit, soul, and verve, as so many adventurous women do each and every day. These 30 stories cover the globe, from kayaking 600 miles of the Niger River to Timbuktu to encountering the devil in Malaysia to finding your ancestral home in China. The perspectives are global and themes encompass spiritual growth, high adventure, romance, and encounters with exotic cuisine.
In The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2005 readers will:
- Discover the sex appeal of a big butt in Senegal with Wendy Wright Soref
- Find a spiritual and physical cure in the Namibian desert with Victoria Shaw
- Watch your mother transform before your very eyes in a classroom in Laos with Kathryn Kefauver
- Shake off your solitude through the kindness of an old man in Scotland with Fran Palumbo
- Discover the island where boys grow up to be girls in the South Pacific with Laura Fraser
- Deliver the mail by bush plane in the Australian Outback with Kari J. Bodnarchuk
- Appreciate the calming quality of worry beads in Greece with Mija Riedel
- Learn to perform a traditional tea ceremony in Japan with Andrea Miller
- Make yourself whole on a solo journey to Bali with Kiersten Aschauer…and much more.
by Mary Morris
Throughout my early years, I traveled. I went everywhere I could. I kept extensive journals, described incidents and events in great detail. But these jottings never left my journals. I never wrote about it. The fact is it never occurred to me to do so. I felt that my experiences as a woman traveler somehow weren’t as compelling as those of my male counterparts.
I have always been aware that women move through the world differently than men, and I have written about this now a great deal, but at the time it seemed as if those experiences—the fear of dark alleys, the difficulty of carrying luggage, body issues, a general malaise when my bus would get in late and I wasn’t sure where I’d be spending the night—were just what women had to put up with. Female troubles didn’t seem to be the stuff from which travel literature was made. And I felt sure that the rest of the world wouldn’t be particularly interested in it.
The truth was at the time that not many women were writing about their experiences on the road. There were the Victorian lady travelers, of course—those eccentric, courageous women, usually childless spinsters, who climbed the Himalayas and rode camels across North Africa. But for various reasons that have to do with the sociological circumstances of women after World War I, women’s travel writing, with only a few exceptions such as Rebecca West and Mary McCarthy, came to a halt. It seems as if some aspects of modern life, such as being combat soldiers, airplane pilots, and travel writers, had not yet trickled down to women.
In 1986 I was sitting in a restaurant in New York with my editor. I was between books. A novel I was working on wasn’t going very well. And my editor asked me what I wanted to do next. I really wasn’t sure. But the weekend before, The New York Times had come out with a special summer travel issue. They had reviewed twenty-seven travel narratives, all written by men. I was struck by this fact and I told my editor how odd I thought it was.
“Well,” she said, “you travel all the time. Why don’t you write about it?”
The obvious left me stunned. Of course I traveled all the time. I had those journals to prove it, full of travel experiences, tidbits, incidents, writings. All my thoughts as I’d trudged through the world. And yet these musings had never seen the light of day and this gave me pause. So like a good student I began to read some of those twenty-seven books the Times had reviewed. And I found them wanting. Or rather, they did not speak to me. My journey as a woman writer was as much inner as outer, as much about my emotional terrain as the landscapes I moved through. And yet as I read those books I found I learned about culture and history, about men and their missions. But the traveler eluded me.
That was almost twenty years ago and now everywhere I look women are traveling and writing about it. And not just writing about it as adventurers, but as writers who are going out and thinking about what it means to be a woman in the world. To lose your luggage or have to carry it. To travel incognito in a world that is dangerous to women (and in a sense what world isn’t?). To be obsessed about your body and food in a world that is starving. To go shopping with women in another culture. To raise children in forbidden places.
Women are not only having their own experiences, but they are embracing them. And sharing them in their writing. There is an image seared into my brain that I have written about many times. There are certain moments and memories that make us who and what we are and this is mine. My parents were invited to a “suppressed desire ball.” You were to go as your secret wish, your heart’s desire. My mother made herself a costume of the world. It was the only thing she ever really wanted. To go to China, the Taj Mahal, to live in Paris. All of which eluded her. Instead of seeing the world, my mother became it.
Now, as women, we can not only see the world. We can become it in our own way as we bring our unique personal vision to what we see, what is around us. The journey, after all, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and I am grateful that the women in this book have brought their visions to bear.
Mary Morris is the author of twelve books, including five novels, three collections of short stories, and a trilogy of travel memoirs, including Angels & Aliens: A Journey West, Wall to Wall: From Beijing to Berlin by Rail, and Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone. She has also coedited with her husband, Larry O’Connor, Maiden Voyages, an anthology of the travel literature of women. Her numerous short stories and essays have appeared in such places as The Paris Review, The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, andVogue. The recipient of the Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, Morris teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
Almost ten years ago, when I was compiling my first anthology, Travelers’ Tales Spain, I read stories about a pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago—and I began to dream: of adventuring solo, lost in my thoughts amid the lush green hillsides ubiquitous in northern Spain; of the personal epiphanies that the challenge of pilgrimage could yield; of the camaraderie the Camino offers, among an international assortment of pilgrims carrying walking sticks and backpacks. Last fall, after years of planning my trip—postponed for a cross-country move, a marriage, a baby—I finally walked the ground of that dusty trail in northern Spain.
Since medieval times pilgrims have made their way to the town of Santiago de Compostela as a religious quest (an enormous cathedral towers over the grave, they say, of Saint James), but nowadays people make the journey for all kinds of reasons, often spiritual but sometimes purely for the beauty and challenge of the walk. As for myself, I was going through a difficult period in my life and the timing just felt right; travel and walking, in particular, have always been a way for me to reorient myself, to gain perspective.
I brought the baby (for reasons—based on the response from friends and family—that apparently only I will ever understand). I would be reasonable, however; I wouldn’t do the entire 500-mile Camino. (“Not alone with a toddler!” friends who are mothers exclaimed.) I would take a few weeks and do only small sections of the trail, with a lightweight stroller, from “home bases” that I established in major towns along the path.
Right from the beginning, though, I was an anxious pilgrim. Rather than pausing to gaze at the velvet hues of Spanish wheat fields, at the rolling canopy of clouds at every stop, I occupied myself with diapers or powdered milk and bottles for my daughter Hannah. And rather than becoming lost in the transcendent experience of walking the ancient Camino, my primary emotion was fear of becoming quite literally lost. Constantly on the lookout for the next scallop-shaped marker that indicated the path—what if I’d strayed, and with the baby?—I wondered: When would this pilgrimage begin to feel “transporting”? When would a dramatic insight capture me in its grip? Where was my moment of epiphany?
Of course, the answer to my questions lay on the path itself. It was there all along; it was even spelled out in a sign that pilgrims see here and there along the Camino: “Verse a si mismo” : Look inside yourself. If travel does anything it reminds us that in life as well as on the road, the markers we find don’t always point us to the proper path of discovery—either of the self or the world. All we can do is take the next step—and understand that the way will become apparent only to the extent that we are willing to trust the journey itself.
For more than a decade, Travelers’ Tales anthologies have been inspiring people to take that next step, to embark on the kind of journey that I felt inspired to make. The books have been dedicated to inspiring women, in particular: when the press got started it was among the first publishers to collect women’s travel writing in a serious and consistent way. Since the first title in 1995, A Woman’s World (edited by Marybeth Bond), press founders James O’Reilly and Larry Habegger have published seventeen women’s titles, including this one, out of a total of some eighty books. This dedication to collecting and publishing women’s writing (from a couple of guys, no less!) is just one reason I feel so proud to be part of their work.
The collection in your hands inaugurates a new yearly series of The Best Women’s Travel Writing. In it you will find a wide range of stories and voices: of young women entranced by a foreign place for the first time, as well as seasoned travelers reconnecting with places they’d loved in their youths. There’s a story of an American woman who in her golden years begins to live as the “Parisian” she knows she was born to be, and a story of a traveler who meets the Devil—a not-unknown character, perhaps, to any woman who has journeyed solo. There are tales of romance, as well as accounts of spiritual journeys in which women connect with places within. There are adventure stories, including that of a woman who kayaks alone 600 miles to Timbuktu, a sojourn no man had ever completed—and certainly no woman. And although only one story takes the title “Open-Road Therapy,” in their own ways each of these essays is about the transformation that travel offers, about that moment of renewal and insight that eventually opens up through the act of journeying.
Happily, that moment did finally come for me along the Camino de Santiago. It was toward the end of my little self-made pilgrimage when I found myself deep in a eucalyptus forest. Stopping to dig out the Cheerios from my backpack, I suddenly noticed the profound silence that enveloped Hannah and me, and how the sunlight streamed through the narrow, towering trees. I let the scent of them fill my head, while from her stroller my daughter began singing softly to no one in particular. And it occurred to me that in that precise moment I was simply present. I was there, my thoughts no longer darting around with worry. I held myself still and felt flooded with a deep sense of well being, of joy to be alone in a forest in Spain with Hannah, despite all the naysayers and despite especially my own fears. Suddenly all the hardship associated with traveling solo with a child felt worth it. And even if for only a little while, rather than looking for the next marker I simply put one foot in front of the other along the path, each step leading me surely to the next.
I hope that this collection might inspire you to take your own next step. May it be along a path to some long dreamed-of journey.
It Takes a Village to Please My Mother
Mungo Made Me Do It
The Making of My Maman
The Devil and Hare Krishna
Where Size Matters
Wendy Wright Soref
A River Runs Through Me
State of Grace
Bananas and Eggs
Clicking in Greece
In the Dust of His Peacock’s Feathers
A Tale of Two Churches
Deborah J. Smith
Asia and Bust
Leilani Marie Labong
The Tao of Simon
Where Boys Grow Up To Be Girls
The Naked Brew
Kari J. Bodnarchuk
The Beauty Contest
The Stones Also Are the River
An Utterly Unremarkable Cave
The Little Dog That Could
Climbing the Coconut Tree
A Bridge Across Sand
Germaine W. Shames
Letter from Morocco
Sample Chapter: Letter From Morocco
by Melissa Manlove
In Casablanca, a visitor learns to give herself over to the unknown.
Ramadan is over, and I have emerged with a new appreciation of the small pleasures of food and drink, and of sleep: getting up before sunrise to eat breakfast and then returning to bed is tiring and confuses my body’s clock. Wednesday was the 27th of Ramadan, when the first part of the Koran was revealed to Mohammed, and the mosques sang all night long, their tune weaving into my dreams.
This morning, the Eid il Fitr, the end of Ramadan, I walked out into streets cool and wet, smelling of rain. People spilled into the street from the mosques in their prayer, in the still morning.
To give yourself to an unknown is a wrenching experience. I was terrified to come here. To live in a place for a year, to perhaps loathe it on first sight—entirely possible, arriving jetlagged and exhausted—to sleep there and wake there, to breathe the scent of it and be chased by its noises, to not only observe its shortcomings and annoyances but to belong to them, to say, this is what I have chosen and it is mine. For the lives we live in are no less physical and personal than the bodies we inhabit.
Now, I wish I could tell you the wonder of the souks and marketplaces; the brilliant overflowing of spices, olives, fabrics; the witchcraft stalls; the fishmongers; the piles of mint and thyme scenting the air…and even more than this is the wonder of its becoming familiar, the sufficiency and contentment in knowing the names of things, the words to tell the taxi drivers, the sense and reason behind the lives of Moroccans. I’ve realized that that is what I wanted all along, not to visit another country, but to live in it, to find belonging and familiarity in the strange and exotic. E. M. Forster thought a room with a view was a great thing—but I want more than a view. Let others look out upon me—I will be the one below the window, raising hands bright with saffron and henna. I am lucky to have come here. Moroccans are vivacious, dramatic, family-oriented, and so, so welcoming. I want to see into their lives, and I cannot imagine how hard it would be for me if I had come to a country that would not let me in.
We go to the hammam once a week, with plastic stools to sit on and plastic scoops to tip water over ourselves, soap and shampoo, kisses (the black, finely nubbled, abrasive mitts for scrubbing ourselves), and sabon bildi (the soft, dark brown, olive oil soap used in thehammam). Beyond the changing room lie three hot, humid rooms rising to vaults, lit by watery skylights. Around the walls are stone cisterns, with a hot and a cold tap from the pipes running around the walls—the hot too hot to touch, the cold frosted and dripping. I wish I could paint for you the beauty of the girl standing beside the faucet. Her skin is shades of warm cocoa to milk-brown. She holds herself as easily as though she had never thought of being other than naked. Maybe she feels the gorgeous wholeness of herself every day, under her clothes, and it is like being naked in the hammam, before a careless audience of women. Silk-wet brown bodies sit or stand around us, and within minutes we, too, are shining with the heat and the laden air. Sabon bildi is musky and latherless and light on the skin. Having rubbed it into our skin, we must wait for the heat and moisture to do their work, so we sit in our nakedness in the languid heat, under the dim vault, in the soft echo of water and the murmur of women around us. Then we scrub, slowly and thoroughly, every bit of ourselves, and the dead skin and sweat and dust rolls off of us visibly. I have never been so clean. We dry ourselves, and walk home radiant with heat, through the streets with wet hair.
The vendors walk down our street with their carts, croaking, howling, hiccuping; the children in the half-seen courtyard behind us laugh and scream. The air is fragrant with wood-smoke. September turns into October; the days are bright and warm, with fresh, gusting winds from the sea; the nights are soft black, or tiled with bright stars.
Tuesdays and Thursdays I teach in an office that looks out towards the sea. In the foreground stands a beautiful church, set among palm trees, with a tiled roof as green as a mermaid’s tail. The Atlantic is salt-clouded and iridescent, and the clouds shifting and luminous.
Home is made with small pleasures, small comforts and familiarities. This afternoon I climbed the stairs to the roof to hang my laundry. From the west came the tinny whine of the muezzin’s call from the mosque next to our outdoor market, and then, more distinct, another from the south. Suddenly I could hear the words, the notes—a song. I stood among my blowing sheets in the afternoon sun, with the wind and the song of faith around me, and I was struck with the thought that I might really miss this place when it is time to leave. And I thought how every letter written from Earth should be a love letter; there is so much beauty in the world, and indeed this letter is one.
Melissa Manlove arrived in Morocco in the fall of 2001 to begin a year of teaching English just before 9/11. Moroccans, ones who knew her, as well as complete strangers, offered her their sympathies for her country’s tragedy. Even after the U.S. reprisals began and the Muslim world was full of resentment against the U.S. government, Manlove says that Moroccans never once turned that resentment against her. Today she lives in Northern California.
Lucy McCauley’s travel essays have appeared in such publications as The Atlantic Monthly, the Los Angeles Times, Harvard Review, and Salon.com. She is editor of three previous Travelers’ Tales anthologies—Spain (1995), Women in the Wild (1998), and A Woman’s Path (2000), all of which have been reissued in the last two years. In addition, she has written case studies in Latin America for Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and now works as a developmental editor for publishers such as Harvard Business School Press.