ForeWord Reviews

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Travelers' Tales

By Land and by Sea

In the early 1960s, Moro Buddy Bohn set off to travel the world with no money, carrying only his guitar and his firm belief in the essential goodness of people. Drawing on his journal entries and fond memories, Bohn lovingly recounts his peripatetic journey in Kin to the Wind: A Troubadour’s Magical Journey around the World with No Money (Traveler’s Tales, 978-160952055-7). As a youngster, Bohn picks up the guitar and quickly masters it. He shares with a local priest his dream of visiting exotic places, and the priest tells him about troubadours who traveled around playing their music without using money as a means of exchange, but who shared their music in hopes of making friends and even sometimes performing for kings. Bohn envisions such a life, “making it all the way around the entire earth at least one time, surrendering myself to whatever adventures life might bring.” Wide-eyed and grateful, he regales the reader with tales of playing in front of Queen Elizabeth and later, in France, for Pablo Picasso, crossing the Arabian Desert with a camel caravan of Bedouins, providing the guitar accompaniment for a dancing midget horse in an Italian circus act, and almost dying of hepatitis in Okinawa. Through it all, Bohn never gives up his steadfast belief that love will conquer every trouble: “It’s hardest to remember Love when we’re afraid, angry, or hurting, but that’s when it’s most important to remember … that Love will fix everything.”

A Room with a Pew Book CoverMost travelers opt for a more explicitly comfortable quest. One recent summer, respected travel writers Richard Starks and Miriam Murcutt plunged off the beaten path through Spain, spending their nights exclusively in several of the country’s ancient monasteries. The couple recount their adventures in A Room with a Pew: Sleeping Our Way through Spain’s Ancient Monasteries (Lyons Press, 978-0-7267-8145-4). Although there are hundreds of Spanish monasteries where travelers might stay, Starks and Murcutt select seven on their journey from Barcelona to the southern Mediterranean coast, offering readers a captivating tour of these edifices of spirituality, piety, and community—places embodying values so different from the rest of the world. At El Real Monasterio de Santo Tomás, for example, the writers discover porcelain plates that depict a “Chinese Jesus—with sloping eyes, a drooping Fu Manchu mustache, and long thin black hair that he’s tied into a topknot.” The writers so enjoyed their own experience that they offer advice on choosing a monastery, making a reservation, and getting along with the hosts.

Stefan Szepesi sets out on a very different kind of journey in Walking Palestine: 25 Journeys into the West Bank (Interlink Books, 978-1-56656-860-9). Part guidebook and part memoir of his walks across the sometimes rocky, other times verdant, and always politically contested, territory, Szepesi draws on his many years traversing this terrain to offer helpful guidance for first-time and experienced hikers alike. With great humor and warmth, Szepesi counsels that “Palestine is not Switzerland,” and he offers this advice on keeping healthy: “Water is life, protect yourself from the sun, avoid blisters, be aware of wildlife, and of walking in a conflict area.” For each individual hike, Szepesi offers detailed information about mileage between stops and directions to follow on various routes; he also shows how to get to various starting points for walks and advises on places to eat and drink, people to meet, and places to stay overnight. Numerous sidebars reveal stories of the history and heritage of the particular hiking regions. Szepesi’s consummate guide to walking the West Bank is a must-have for visitors to the area.

Paddling a kayak or a canoe through the waterways of the world offers encounters with others that can teach us about ourselves. Drawing on over thirty-five years of journals kept during his wide-ranging adventures, Nigel Foster provides a variety of short reflections about human and animal nature in Encounters from a Kayak: Native People, Sacred Places, and Hungry Polar Bears (Globe Pequot, 978-0-7627-8106-5). Divided into four sections—creatures, people, places, and flotsam and jetsam—Foster’s book explores the many moments during his lifetime of kayaking in which his encounters with the world around him drew him outside of himself to ponder the ways he fit into his surroundings. For example, one evening in a French canal, he encounters a creature that looks like a rabbit swimming in the water; it is a “sea jackrabbit,” a gastropod (a slug-like creature) with “long earlike protuberances.” He discovers that the sea hare can release ink from its glands, much like an octopus or squid, in order to throw predators off its trail. On one particularly poignant trip, Foster encounters people on a beach with an urn housing the ashes of their late aunt, and he offers to carry the ashes out to the middle of the bay to scatter them, pondering death and what it leaves behind as he does so. In one of his final reflections, Foster discovers a whale’s ear bone and meditates on the “fine balance between hearing sensitivity and bone density” that it represents, the “result of some remarkable evolution.”

Sometimes people’s travels take them back home again in search of their roots. In Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria (Soft Skull, 978-1-61902-007-8), Noo Saro-Wiwa discovers that it is possible to go home again and find meaning in the midst of a land that she had once hated passionately. When she was a child, her father took the family to England to provide them with a high-quality education and to remove them from some of the dangerous political conflicts in Nigeria. Saro-Wiwa resents her father’s insistence on an annual trip back to Africa, for it pulls her away from her comfortable life in England. After her father is killed for his part in a political rebellion, the author returns to Nigeria to confront her past and her heritage and to attempt to understand her homeland in a new way. She finds a place that is as full of beauty as corruption; yet, her journeys are cathartic and give her the will to embrace her country and her decision to live outside of it: “Travelling here as an adult helped me to finally wipe away the negative associations and start a new relationship with the country, in which I was prepared to embrace the irritations with tentative arms, and invest some of myself.” Saro-Wiwa’s poignant tale illustrates that travel not only takes us out of ourselves to discover our similarities and differences with others, but it also takes us back to ourselves as we discover new facets of our identity.