Travel can be a journey into the realms of fear and loathing, or a happy-go-lucky search for wildflowers.
It can be an exploration of animosity, or a ride to the chapel on your wedding day.
This week Tales of the Road explores a brutal jungle of hidden, festering horrors; a moral wasteland where blood-sucking fiends skulk in the shadows, a place so nightmarish that the author who explored its darkest corners is unwilling to identify himself.
That’s right…prepare to venture into the world of the American business traveler!
Oh – and there’s also a lovely article from the jungles of Papau New Guinea, where American soldiers once battled malaria and the Japanese Imperial Army.
“I would have taken an enemy bullet before going back into those mountains,” said one veteran after hiking across Papau New Guinea on his way to the battlefield.
As for me, I’d rather slog through the leech-infested jungle than press flesh in Shanghai.
Read on, and make up your own mind…
1) “Of Courtesans and Kings” by ‘The Professor’
I’m intrigued whenever an author hides behind a pseudonym. A refusal to identify oneself with a story is, ironically, a mark of honesty in my book, a tell-tale sign of truth shrouded in the darkness of a confessional space.
Just think how many juicy stories start with a furtive dart of the eyes and the disclaimer: “You didn’t hear this from me, but…”
‘The Professor,’ as our mysterious truth-teller is known, is an American business traveler who specializes in China. Few people have more influence over our global future than deal-makers in the Pearl River delta, but their’s is a secretive world.
Backpackers spill every mundane detail of their trips in blogs, but when was the last time you read a tell-all account of a business trip to Shanghai?
‘The Professor’ doesn’t spill any sensitive trade secrets, but he happens to be a fine writer, and his story provides a small window into the pin-striped universe of the business traveler.
2) “A Lake of Pure Sunshine” by Scott Calhoun
Scott Calhoun does not fit the typical profile of a flower-peeper. In this rollicking narrative about searching for wildflowers in California, Scott dishes on everything from immigration policy (let immigrants who open good restaurants stay) to Motel 6 (“we’ll flip over the ashtray for you”).
He even compares Joshua trees to Keith Richards (“I’ve had a long night, sweethearts, but I’ve managed to send up these fabulous bayonets for your enjoyment. God I need a nap.”) This story is pure, sunny enjoyment.
3) “Walking Off the Karakoram Highway” by Jeffrey Taylor
Worldhum.com has published some absolutely terrific travel stories recently, which makes my job a lot easier!
“Walking Off the Karakoram Highway”, by the renowned adventurer Jeffrey Taylor, is a gutsy, meaningful travelogue that spares no descriptive detail yet doesn’t waste a single word. In tone, content and literary quality, it reminds me of Rory Stewart’s incredible book about walking across Afghanistan.
Taylor doesn’t just travel off the beaten path; he ventures into places where the danger is real, and writes well enough for those of us back home to feel traces of his wistful uncertainty and gnawing fear.
4) “Chasing Ghosts” by James Campbell
Outside magazine consistently serves up some of the finest adventure travel writing in the world. “Chasing Ghosts” is no exception.
Campbell’s story recounts his experience as a member of an expedition that retraced a brutally difficult hike through the wild, mountainous jungles of Papua New Guinea – a trek undertaken by American soldiers during World War II.
If the first paragraph doesn’t suck you in, I don’t know what will:
“I’m lying in a bark hut surrounded by strange men. One sits smoking pungent tobacco rolled into a long, fat spear, a caricature of a Rastaman’s joint. Two others chew betel nut, their mouths a bright, frothy red. Curled up in the corner, my friend George Houde is sleeping the sleep of the dead while rats play at his feet.”
Sounds like fun, right? Well, at least it makes for a good read!
5) “Eloping, Italian Style” by David Farley
A couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of meeting travel writer David Farley and his lovely wife Jessie in a bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
David and Jessie are actually both writers, who split their time between New York and a medieval Italian hill-town.
It seems like most travel writers are a friendly bunch – to survive in this business, you need friends – but David and Jessie stand out as especially accessible, funny and genuine.
“Eloping, Italian Style” is David’s story of their wedding – it’s a great read that will make you laugh, make you a little mushy and no doubt leave you smiling.
And as a little bonus – here’s Jessie’s story of how she met David, which was recently published in the Modern Love section of the New York Times:
6) “A Friendship Too Tight for Breathing Room” by Jessie Sholl
Until next week!