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Tales From The Road: Argentina, France, Cameroon And ... Home

by Tim Patterson Nov 27, 2007

I’m typing in a cozy armchair in front of the fireplace in my Uncle’s house in Connecticut, recovering from Thanksgiving dinner and the traditional family football game.

By the time you read this roundup, though, I’ll be in Buenos Aires, struggling with Spanish and taking in a whole new world.

One of the glorious things about travel is the shift in perspective that accompanies a change in place. Seeing the world from a different angle is a revelatory experience that adds depth and wisdom to our lives. Ideally, the effects of this experience linger long beyond the trip itself, informing and contextualizing our idea of “home”.

To reproduce T.S. Eliot’s oft-quoted phrase, “the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

The best travel writing often takes the form of a journey home, a “there and back again” tale that comes full circle – but arrives at a very different place.

Enjoy the stories!

1. “The Insufferable Gaucho” by Roberto Bolano, The New Yorker

This epic story will take your breath away. A work of fiction, it is nonetheless a classic travel narrative – one that taught me more about Argentina in only a few pages than a whole bookshelf of guidebooks.

Although Bolano’s creation is rooted in a specific time and place, it grapples with universal human themes of family and loss, tradition and independence. If you only read one story all year long, this would be a good choice.

2. “A Game Journey” by Jason Wilson, The Smart Set

I’ve always thought of Jason Wilson as the editor of The Best American Travel Writing anthology, but it turns out Mr. Wilson is also an excellent writer himself. “A Game Journey,” which describes a boar hunt in France, is a fun, revealing read, complete with guns, hard liquor, red meat and snobbery.

3. “A Goat And Global Feminisms” by Sarah Burgess, Sarah in Cameroon

Here’s a short blog post by an American college student studying in Cameroon, who manages to sum up the central problem of well-intentioned foreign aid in a fun little story about a runaway goat.

4. “No Direction Home” by Matt Gross, World Hum

The good people of have celebrated Thanksgiving by putting together a series of reflections about home that feature a couple of professional vagabonds – Rolf Potts and Matt Gross. Matt’s story is heart-felt, personal and true, a window into the travails of a successful travel writer. Also make sure to check out the audio slide show narrated by Matt and Rolf.

5. “Tales Of A Luggage-Less Traveler” by Jonathan Yevin, Budget Travel

I just got off the phone with Jonathan Yevin, a travel writer who, like me, will be working next month on the Fodor’s Guide to Patagonia. We talked about the tone we’re trying to hit with the guidebook and what we’re planning to pack – when I told Jonathan I’m bringing a tent, he laughed and said: “Dude, go light. I once traveled from Ecuador to Mexico with no luggage at all.”

Unbelievably, Jonathan’s story checks out – he even wrote up the experience for Budget Travel. Some travelers try to carry home with them on the road – others, it seems, are comfortable treating the world as their home.

BNT contributing editor Tim Patterson travels with a sleeping bag and pup tent strapped to the back of his folding bicycle. His articles and travel guides have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, Get Lost Magazine, Tales Of Asia and Traverse Magazine. Check out his personal site Rucksack Wanderer.

Photo by Mark Hochstetler

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