Photo: Akarat Phasura/Shutterstock

Tales From the Road: Scotland, China, Cambodia, Easter Island

by Tim Patterson Nov 13, 2007

Every week I search for hidden treasure, scouring the Internet for travel writing that resonates, narratives that slap me across the face with wit and poetry, stories that make me feel their emotional weight in my belly and my brain.

The good news is, most weeks I find 5 great stories. Some are buried in obscure blogs. Some are encased in the websites of elite print magazines like National Geographic or The New Yorker.

Others are published by feisty, low-budget online magazines, and it’s hardly a secret that these are the ones I find particularly encouraging.

What never fails to piss me off is when I read a truly outstanding, revelatory piece of travel writing in a print magazine or newspaper, a story that I want EVERYONE to read, a story with the capacity not only to change opinions, but to change the world…and go online to find that it is “only available to print subscribers.”

The arbitrary restriction of something so easily distributed as a simple story always strikes me as quaint and unfair. Sure, magazines need to pay the bills and writers need to eat. But I’d rather have that money come from other sources – like advertising – and have the story itself be freely available in the marketplace of ideas.

Yesterday I read an amazing travel story about the tar sands of Western Canada by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker. Only an abstract is available online.

It’s a real shame, because Brave New Travelers around the world deserve to read it. That’s why, this week Tales From The Road features only 4 articles…for #5, you’ll just have to e-mail the New Yorker and demand the keys to the library.

1. “Where The Roads Diverged” by Catherine Watson

The best travel writing is always about something other than travel – an issue, an emotion or a revelation expressed through the lens of a narrative journey.

Catherine Watson’s deeply moving story takes place within the framework of her stay on Easter Island, but it’s really about the ineffable qualities of attachment, and the loneliness that accompanies one’s realization that for all the possibilities in this world, we only have one life to live.

2. “The Least Expected Isle Of Scotland” by Michele McAlister

Here’s another story by a woman who stayed for a long time on a very small island. “For a month long visit to Scotland, I decided to hunker down in just one spot-on the remote and rarely visited Isle of Eigg,” begins Michele McAlister in this whimsical and smoothly written travel blog.

3. “Capitalist Roaders” by Ted Conover, The New York Times

Ted Conover is one of the best travel writers in the world today, and this piece – about car culture in China – is one of his most entertaining and revealing, by turns funny, ironic and deeply sad. If you missed my recent interview with Ted Conover, check it out here.

4. “Angkor: When It Rains, You Score” by Stephen Brookes

I lived in Cambodia for 5 months, but never during the rainy season. Stephen Brookes’ fine article in the Washington Post makes me wish that I had stuck around. It’s a great reminder of the benefits of off-season travel, and the rewards waiting for travelers brave enough to go against the flow.

5. “Unconventional Crude” by Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker

“It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”
-Elizabeth Kolbert

Bold statement? Sure. Chillingly accurate? Yes. Want to read more about Elizabeth Kolbert’s journey to SYN-CRUDE pits of Northern Alberta? Too bad. The story is not available online.

Instead, you can read an excellent interview with Kolbert here.

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.

Read a great travel story lately? Leave a link below!

Discover Matador

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.