I am really tired of reading lists and in my pursuit to engage with the world of travel social media, that's all I end up finding anymore. 10 of the World's Greatest Beaches, 22 Things You Can't Forget to Pack, 742 Reasons to Visit Wherever. It can be pretty trying to sort through all the numbers to find something more substantial, which is why I'm so thankful to my friend Angela who gave me the 2013 edition of The Best American Travel Writing. This book was full of captivating travel essays that I engaged my wanderlust and didn't try to sell me a destination, but made me feel like I was already there.
This collection was put together by guest editor Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and I think she did a phenomenal job including a variety of travel essays. The topics of the essays range from high tension politics like John Jeremiah's Sullivan's story of visiting his wife's family in Cuba to more light-hearted narrative's like Sam Anderson's tale of a decaying Charles Dickens amusement park. There are stories of Serbs and Bosnians "snow punks" coming together to form an extreme snow sports team and a thrilling story from David Sedaris about the difference between his American doctors and French dentists. Every essay in this collection is strong, but there are three that stood out to me the most. These were the most impactful of all.
"The Way I've Come" by Judy Copeland is the story of woman determined to hime the mountainous Sanduan Province of Papua New Guinea with the help of three young girls as hired guides. Not only must she face the fierce terrain, but also the teasing from the girls who also eat all of her treasured Oreos.
In "Blot Out" by Colleen Kinder, the narrator takes on an experiment in feminism while living in Cairo. She dawns a niqab, a headless that conceals her entire body except for the eyes. She and a friend decide to walk together in full nib through the market square and fall victim to a more subtle kind of harassment. It is a tense knuckle-clenching and thought provoking read.
"Dreaming of El Dorado" by Maria Arana is a profile of a Peruvian gold mining town told from the perspective of Senna Ochochoque, a small girl who works hard to help her family and enjoys reading and reciting poetry. The town is controlled by the mining cooperations and it's citizens live in poverty, dedicating their lives to the mine, and dying young due to the hazardous environment and toxicity in the air and water. It is an essay of hope and the willpower to find beauty and a better life.
Oh no. Did I just make a list? Well, just get the book and read all the essays or if you don't have time, at least read one of the three above or look up the authors. I really enjoyed them and if you haven't quite been getting types of travel writing you've been looking for from your Twitter feed, you might too.