Includes stories by Susan Orlean, Ann Hood, and Laura Fraser
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, Volume 8, the latest collection in our 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.
This best-selling, award-winning series presents the finest accounts of women who have traveled to the ends of the earth to discover new places, peoples—and themselves. The common threads connecting the stories are a woman’s perspective and lively storytelling to make the reader laugh, cry, wish she were there, or be glad she wasn’t. The points of view and perspectives are global and the themes eclectic, including stories that encompass spiritual growth, hilarity and misadventure, high adventure, romance, solo journeys, stories of service to humanity, family travel, and encounters with exotic cuisine.
In The Best Women’s Travel Writing, Volume 8, readers will:
- Fend off angry bulls on a mountaintop in Kyrgyzstan
- Start a new life in a boat on the Ganges
- Climb the Great Wall with a 9-month-old and a 91-year-old
- Battle it out with an alter ego in a jungle in Mexico
- Learn about survival in a slum in Rio de Janeiro
- Walk the Camino de Santiago from France to Spain
- Find romance in a strip club in Oman and a boat in Belize
- Discover family in Sicily, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Zambia … and much more.
By Lavinia Spalding
When I was little, we didn’t travel. My parents couldn’t afford airplane tickets, and we were never one of those road-tripping-skiing-camping-fishing-s’mores-by-the-bonfire families. We were a stay-indoors-play-monopoly-read-politely-on-the-sofa people. I do recall one big international trip, however, to Madrid, Spain.
What I remember is that I didn’t get to go. My parents took my older brother and sister, while I stayed home with my Nana. Although I have no memory of their departure or return, I can still vividly recall the resulting 8 x 10 framed photo of my siblings, ages five and eight, posing with a statuesque flamenco dancer. All three subjects beamed widely into the camera as they held castanets above their heads, wrists turned elegantly inward. That grainy photograph hung on our living room wall every day of my childhood, taunting me.
“You wouldn’t have even remembered the trip!” my mom protested whenever I complained about my missed opportunity. “You were two! And in diapers!”
None of that mattered. All I knew was that something rare and magical existed within that photo, and I wanted in.
The summer after I turned ten, I finally got the family trip I’d longed for. My parents moved us from New Hampshire to Arizona, and we spent three glorious weeks on the road. My brother Nathanael and I rode with my parents in a yellow 1965 school bus they’d converted into a camper van and named Gillie Rom (“Song of the road” in Romany, the Gypsy language) while my sister and a friend caravanned in the U-Haul. Nathanael and I spent most of our time at a foldout card table in the back, playing poker for pennies and encouraging passing truckers to honk their horns. I devoted entire days to reading Nancy Drew books, scribbling in my journal, and staring dreamily out the window at cornfields and cows.
My parents braked for all major landmarks: the Hershey chocolate factory in Pennsylvania, the Luray Caverns in West Virginia, the Museum of Science and Technology in Tennessee. I remember a Fourth of July barbecue in Memphis with pulled pork cooked for twenty-four hours, and a late-night bluegrass jam session around a campfire in Kentucky. One night at a KOA in Arkansas, my father jimmied the lock of a rental paddleboat and we all floated on a moonlit lake while he serenaded us with his classical guitar.
I had never been happier or more awakened to the promise of the world and the possibilities that exist within a family. And I’ve probably spent my adult life trying to prolong the experience.
There’s something tremendously potent about family travel, and this fact struck me again while editing The Best Women’s Travel Writing, Volume 8. As I reviewed the stories that make up this year’s collection, an unexpected theme began rising from the ink: among the cast of characters were two grandfathers, a grandmother, two mothers, a father, a brother, a couple of daughters, a son, some ancestors, a friend’s parents, and two sisters-in-law.
Likewise, there’s something singularly powerful about the stories that come from family travel. I find them fascinating, and not strictly because of an unchecked childhood obsession with a photo, or even three weeks spent in a school bus with foldout cots. What excites me in a piece of travel writing is the same quality that makes travel itself meaningful: genuine human connection. When a story involves family, this is nearly always present—often paired with some complicated and long-awaited flash of understanding, the reinterpreting of a shared history, a healthy dose of ambiguity, a deepening of ties, and in the end, a sense of renewal, perhaps even redemption.
To me, that makes for good reading.
In this year’s collection, we have Amber Kelly-Anderson climbing the Great Wall of China in torrential rain with her ninety-one-year-old grandfather who yearns for nothing more than one final journey, and Carol Reichert accompanying her brother to a stem-cell clinic in the Dominican Republic on a desperate mission to find a miracle cure for his disease. There’s Ann Hood’s stunning memoir of seeking a little solace in Tibet after a devastating family tragedy, and Molly Beer’s recognition, on a bridge between El Salvador and Guatemala, that the paths she and her father have taken in life are peacefully intersecting.
In Marcy Gordon’s “Root-Bound,” she recalls a trip to Sicily with her mother to research their ancestry, during which they end up finding more famiglia than they anticipated. Root-bound, a gardening term, refers to the point when plant roots exceed the limits of their container and grow all together in one big, tangled mass.
To me, these are the perfect words to describe the uncommon kinship that emerges from travel.
Thirty-some years have passed since the summer I spent on the road with my family. Since then I’ve traveled to thirty-some countries and inhabited thirty-some homes. I’ve lived in seven states, and for six years I called South Korea home. I’ve gone hang gliding in Australia and horseback riding in Costa Rica, driven a Fiat 500 across Sicily, and danced the sevillana on a rooftop in Spain. I’ve hidden from Chinese police in a hillside monastery in Tibet, outrun a typhoon in the Philippines, and lain on a dirt road by a rice field in Bali watching fireflies light up the dark. I’ve trekked with hill-tribe Hmong girls in Vietnam, learned to salsa in a tiny Cuban living room, ridden an elephant through a jungle in Thailand, and meditated at dusk in an ancient, deserted temple in Cambodia.
I’ve nursed a lifelong love affair with movement, straying ever farther from those I love most. But somewhere along the way, it dawned on me that I was always traveling with family—because the act of travel, to the extent that it separates us from our relatives, also extends, manifests, multiplies, and completes family.
Travelers’ Tales’ editor-at-large James O’Reilly once wrote, “It is a cliché to say that we are all kin, but it is true. Even if we hail from different clans, travel makes you certain that kinship is true not only in sentiment but in fact.”
On the road, how quickly strangers become our sisters, sharing stories, tips, meals, and maps; how seamlessly our guides morph into overprotective brothers, herding us through crowds and shielding us from mysterious dangers. Our hosts become self-appointed parental figures who insist we’re not eating enough. And if we aren’t careful, our travel companion can turn into something resembling a conjoined twin.
Many stories in this year’s collection illustrate this category of “family.” Bridget Crocker learns about the enduring power of sisterhood in a river community in Zambia, while Abbie Kozolchyk forms “a funny little family” on an island in Vietnam with locals who don’t speak a word of her language. Jocelyn Edelstein finds a home in a slum in Brazil with three generations of women who teach her about survival. And Jess Wilson joins a “pilgrim corps” to walk the Camino de Santiago from France to Spain—and becomes part of what she calls “an unmistakable we.”
There’s something profoundly intense and intoxicating about friendship found en route. It’s the bond that arises from being thrust into uncomfortable circumstances, and the vulnerability in trusting others to help navigate those situations. It’s the exhilaration of meeting someone when we are our most alive selves, breathing new air, high on life-altering moments. It’s the discovery of the commonality of the world’s people and the attendant rejection of prejudices. It’s the humbling experience of being suspicious of a stranger who then extends a great kindness. It’s the astonishment of learning from those whom we set out to teach. It’s the intimacy of sharing small spaces, the recognition of a kindred soul across the globe.
It’s the travel relationship, and it can only call itself family.
For years, Travelers’ Tales has brought together tribes of travel writers whose stories make the world a more familiar place and tribes of travel readers who connect to the storytellers, making it a more familial place. With each tale, we move closer to one another, and closer to someone in a faraway part of the world, and it seems a new leaf sprouts on a branch of our extended family tree.
This book will take you from Afghanistan to Brazil, from Cambodia to the Dominican Republic, from England to France and Guatemala, and all the way to Zambia, with umpteen points in between. The women in this book will take you on inner journeys as distinct as each destination. As you read, you may find your paths crossing, your lives colliding, and your stories becoming inexorably intertwined—perhaps even root-bound. You might develop a feeling of affinity for not only the authors, but also the amazing characters they’ll introduce you to.
You’ll meet a beautiful boatman in Belize, a blundering bicycling guide in Kyrgyzstan, a cocky cab driver in Argentina, and a puzzling palm reader in India. In France, you’ll learn a thing or two about marriage from a famous restaurateur and find your preconceptions challenged by a village ice cream maker. You might even fall for a stubborn Brit in Oman, a butterfly photographer in Mexico, a dreadlocked soccer coach in Kenya, a long-lashed Muslim in Afghanistan, or a quiet, pancake-making bird researcher in New Zealand.
After all, anything can happen on the road—especially when you’re traveling with family.
LOST AND LIBERATED
BRIDGE ON THE BORDER
EL SALVADOR /GUATEMALA
TWENTY YEARS AND COUNTING
LEARNING TO PRAY
BENEATH THE SURFACE
STORMING THE CASTLES
WHAT WE DO AFTER GUNFIRE
TAKING THE OARS
OF MONARCHS AND MEN IN MICHOACÁN
A THOUSAND SIMPLE STEPS
THE KIWI HUNT
Jennifer Rose Smith
THE THREADBARE ROPE
THE INTERNATIONAL EXPIRATION DATE
OUR OWN APOCALYPSE NOW
Haley Sweetland Edwards
I THINK I MUST BE BEAUTIFUL
PASSION AND PIZZA
BONES SURFACING IN THE DIRT
MARE’S MILK, MOUNTAIN BIKES, METEORS, & MAMMARIES
LETTING GO ON THE GANGES
MEAT AND GREET
DEATH AND LOVE IN KENYA
DANCE OF THE SPIDERWOMEN
ON THE MACAL
Mary Jo McConahay
TONGUES AND ARROWS
ABOUT THE EDITOR
Lost and Liberated
by Kimberley Lovato
In a French village, their preconceptions melted away.
“I’m lost. I’m late. I’m sorry,” I blurted into the phone, in French.
“So, Monsieur Manouvrier, if it’s O.K. I would still like to meet you today.”
“You are an hour late. Do you think I have nothing better to do? You Americans think you are so important?” he bellowed, barely breathing between salvos. “Do you think we are so honored to speak to an American that we will stop everything else in our lives?”
I wanted to shout, “You know nothing about me!” But since it was my last day in the Dordogne, and I wanted to meet this man before I left, I begged. “Please, may I still come?”
“Fine,” he replied. The slam of the receiver reverberated in my ear before I could ask him for better directions.
As an American who had spent many years traveling in France, I sometimes felt like the honorary town piñata, enduring swing upon jab about my accent, my nationality, and the political leanings of our president who, I had constantly to remind people, was not a personal friend of mine. But despite the occasional bashing, I’d also become a defender of the French, charmed by the generosity of those who welcomed me, a stranger, into their homes, and seduced by their pervasive and earnest joie de vivre.
So, alone in a three-chimney village somewhere in southwestern France, at a crossroads, literally and figuratively, I had two choices: I could abandon this meeting altogether or I could exemplify American perseverance. I folded up my map and set out, knowing that the long road ahead was more than just the one I was lost on.
In France, as in many parts of the world, the best information arrives by word of mouth, or de bouche à oreille as they say, from mouth to ear. This is how I had learned of Roland Manouvrier, an artisanal ice cream maker—and the source of my navigational woes.
I’d been in the Dordogne for nearly a month researching a culinary travel book. Having amassed a stockpile of classic recipes from local chefs and home cooks, I was in search of something—and someone—a little different. One of these people was Chef Nicolas DeVisch, who had taken over his parents’ restaurant in the medieval village of Issigeac, and whose menu did not include a single serving of duck or foie gras—two mainstays of the regional cuisine. Nicolas had invited me to dinner and after several courses of his unconventional cooking, plunked a tub of ice cream down on the table, handed me an espresso spoon, and motioned for me to dig into the creamy white contents. Preparing my taste buds for vanilla or coconut, or some other sweet savor, I closed my lips around the mouthful. The cold burned my tongue, then melted down the back of my throat. Nicolas’s eyebrows arched in question.
“Goat cheese?” I guessed.
“Yes, from the village of Rocamadour,” he confirmed. “And you really must meet this guy before you go.”
After crisscrossing the Dordogne countryside for nearly two hours, I had pulled off the road to make that call to Roland. My otherwise trusty GPS had been no match for rural French addresses without street names or numbers, only titles like “The Sheep Barn” and “The Old Mill.” Finally, thanks to a helpful barista, I zeroed in on Roland’s address, given simply as “The Industrial Zone” in the village of Saint-Geniès.
When I arrived twenty minutes later, Roland met me at his office door wearing a white lab coat, a plastic hair net set askew atop his wavy brown hair, and a scowl. The archetypal mad scientist, I thought. For a second the story of “Hansel and Gretel” popped into my head. I wondered if anyone would hear me scream as Roland shoved me into a cauldron over a hot fire. Would I be his next flavor—Glacé à l’Américaine?
“How much time do you need?” he barked, interrupting my reverie.
“As much as you’ll give me,” I answered. He corrected my French.
“Because you’re late, I’m late, and I must make deliveries.”
“How about I help you? We can talk on the road,” I offered.
“Pppfff…” Roland produced the classic French noise made by blowing air through one’s relaxed lips, often done to dismiss something just said.
I followed him through his stainless-steel kitchen and helped him load frozen cases of ice cream into his delivery van. As I moved them into place, I noticed the flavors penned in black ink on the lid of each container: Tomato-Basil. Szechwan. Rose. Violet. Calvados. I asked Roland if I could include one of his unusual recipes in my book.
“What do you think? I have a formula like at McDonald’s? I don’t write my recipes down. They are not exact, and depend on many influences.”
“Pppfff…” he added.
We coursed the serpentine Dordogne roads, past fields of lemon-yellow flowers and over oak-encrusted hills, delivering the frozen parcels every fifteen to twenty minutes. Each time Roland got back in the car, he shelled me with questions: Do you like Andy Warhol? Have you been to New York? Have you ever seen a real cowboy? How about a real Indian? What is the point of baseball? Each time I answered, he corrected my French.
“Would you like to drink something?” Roland eventually asked.
Finally, I thought. A question that isn’t about America and cultural icons. Hoping to demonstrate my language prowess and keep his corrections at bay, I came up with the perfect response, an idiomatic expression I’d recently learned.
“Oui. Les grands esprits se rencontrent,” I replied. Yes. Great minds think alike. “J’aimerais une boisson froide.” I would love a cold drink.
“Une boisson FRAICHE,” Roland said, emphasizing the correct adjective. “Pas froide.” He added in a verb suggestion while he was at it, and didn’t even mention the expression I’d whipped out to impress him.
I didn’t mind being corrected. It was part of learning a new language. But after an hour of the question-response-correction routine—and what felt like nitpicking at what was, in fact, intelligible French—my patience had eroded.
I finally took a swing back at him. “If you prefer, we could speak in English. Would that be easier for you?”
“Why would I speak in English? I am in France and French is my language!” he bellowed. The sarcasm was lost on him.
My face flushed and my jaw tightened. Short fused and aching from the smile I’d been faking for the last hour, I was ready to abandon this day and this ill-mannered ice cream man. I blew up.
“You know what?” I hollered, “It’s people like YOU who give the French a bad reputation in my country. And in case YOU haven’t noticed, I am in YOUR country speaking YOUR language because YOU can’t speak mine.”
I braced myself for retaliation. Roland stared straight ahead, his hands clenching the steering wheel. After a tense ten-second interlude, he asked me about the reputation the French have in America. I quietly listened to the advice of the voices in my head. One said, “Be diplomatic, you’re a professional.” The other said, “Be honest, he’s an asshole.” I cleared my throat.
“Though generalizing,” I began, “we find you rude, arrogant, and hateful toward Americans.” A good synthesis of both voices, I thought.
Roland’s belly-bouncing chuckle filled the air, but he said nothing more, not even to correct me.
We crossed a bridge and puttered down the main two-lane street of Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, our final stop for the day. The sun was low in the summer sky and cast an ochre glow on the stone buildings. Garlands of yellow and orange paper flowers strung between the steeply pitched rooftops swayed overhead, remnants of a recent festival. We parked and found a table in the sun at the town’s only café. Roland ordered me to wait while he delivered ice cream to his brother down the street. I watched him shake hands and kiss-kiss the cheeks of a few people along the way before disappearing into a doorway. When I saw him again, he was back on the street, handing out ice cream cones from the back of his van to lucky passersby. He waved me over.
I asked him if he lived in Saint-Leon-sur-Vézère.
“No. This is where I was born,” he said.
Roland pulled out another familiar white container, scooped the bright orange ice cream into two cones, and handed me one. The mandarin orange flavor couldn’t have tasted better if I’d plucked it from a tree.
We wandered through the cobblestone streets of the riverside village, and as I savored my frozen treat, Roland unlatched his memories. He pointed out the window he’d broken while trying to master a yo-yo; the home of a girl he once had a crush on; the church where he got married. We stopped in front of the brown wooden door of a village house, and Roland told me the lady who once lived there had found a rusted American G.I. helmet in her garden.
“She gave the helmet to my father, and we kept it displayed on top of an armoire in our dining room for many years,” Roland said.
“Why?” I asked. “What interest did your father have in it?”
“We didn’t know anything about the soldier. Did he come from Oklahoma? Wyoming? Did he have a family?” Roland said. Then he raised his finger in the air. “The only thing we knew for certain was that this anonymous American came here to liberate France. For that we are grateful.”
Tears pricked my eyes, and I silently blinked them away. It wasn’t just the unexpected provenance of Roland’s story, or the softening of his voice. His words had conjured an image in my head of a framed black-and-white photograph hanging in my dining room back home: my nineteen-year-old grandfather—my own hero—in his G.I. helmet.
We sat, wordless, atop a low rock wall for several minutes, feet dangling over the Vézère River.
“Thank you for sharing that story,” I eventually said.
“Thank you for come today,” Roland replied, in English.
I didn’t correct him.
Kimberley Lovato is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Her writing has appeared inNational Geographic Traveler, Afar, Delta Sky Magazine, Executive Travel, and in other print and online media. Roland’s recipe for tomato-basil sorbet appeared in her mailbox a month after their meeting and can be found on page 123 of her culinary travel book, Walnut Wine &Truffle Groves, which won two awards in the category of Culinary Travel: the 2010 Cordon d’Or International Culinary Academy Award, and the 2010 Gourmand International World Cookbook Award. Her website is kimberleylovato.com .
Lavinia Spalding is the author of Writing Away: A Creative Guide to Awakening the Journal-Writing Traveler, chosen one of the best travel books of 2009 by the Los Angeles Times, and coauthor of With a Measure of Grace: The Story and Recipes of a Small Town Restaurant. She also edited of The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011. A regular contributor to Yoga Journal, her work has appeared in a wide variety of literary and travel publications, includingSunset magazine, Gadling, World Hum, Post Road, and Inkwell.
She currently lives in San Francisco and can always be found at www.laviniaspalding.com. Visit her there to see more of her work and to read interviews with the authors from The Best Women’s Travel Writing series.