A Round-up of the Year’s Great Travel Writing

We kicked things off with an eight-year retrospective in January, then presented some of the best travel writing of 2014 the rest of the year in the virtual pages of Perceptive Travel.

arctic hiking story

That issue marked the debut of Canadian writer Jerry Kobalenko, a man who thinks its fun to hike across snow-blown plains in sub-zero weather in Labrador with an expedition partner he just recently met. See his story here: Crossing Labrador by Foot with Noah.

western China travelLuke Armstrong was back with a tale of getting roped into hiking Panama’s highest mountain at sunrise and seeing a killer with a knife at the top. Then having no ride when he got to the bottom. See The Horror Movie Atop Panama’s Volcán Barú

Can travelers make a positive difference in the local cultural attitudes? James Dorsey and his traveling partner find a way to do their small part with one ancient vendor in an Ughur area of China. See Giving Face in China.

Susan Griffith was back with a batch of interesting new travel books, including the latest on Africa from Paul Theroux. Laurence Mitchell reviews new world music albums that are all a mash-up of one culture and another.

In March, we added a few more awards to our shelves. Perceptive Travel got a Silver for “best online travel magazine” from the North American Travel Journalists Association, as well as some individual awards. Then the Solas Best Travel Writing Awards came out and we took home even more in that one.

Volker Poelzl and his girlfriend took off on a canoe to paddle down a remote section of the Amazon River where there are more pink dolphins and caimans than people. See The River of Solitude in Brazil.

Ukraine travelJudith Fein corresponded with a pen pal in Ukraine for 20 years before finally paying him a visit. She was there to research a new book (The Spoon From Minkovitz) and dive into the origins of her mother’s home cooking in Jewish Brooklyn back in the day. See Kishka and Kasha in the Ukranian Countryside.

I think I know a lot about the world and as a kid I was fairly obsessed with all the unsolved mystery stuff that was all the rage in the 70s—from UFOs to the Loch Ness Monster. I had never heard of this strange Nan Madol site in Micronesia though that Brad Olsen profiles. It’s a citadel of ancient kings, built with giant basalt “logs” that can weigh a couple hundred tons, and it defies all logical explanation as to why it’s there and how it was built. See Micronesia’s Mysterious Nan Madol.

Graham Reid cranks up some new world music albums, including the new Rough Guides collection Arabic Cafe and a new one from the legendary Gipsy Kings.

Bill Caverlee reviews some new and noteworthy travel books hitting the shelves, from yet another Lonely Planet coffee table book to the 80th-anniversary edition of a beloved Footprint guide. See the latest travel book reviews.

Sometimes editor types joke about the “three I’s of travel” that grace so many magazine covers: Italy, Ireland, and India. They’re photogenic, look exotic, and have nice luxury hotels with ad money to spend. You’ll rarely find a travel magazine that goes a whole 12 months without one of the three on a cover.

In the April issue of Perceptive Travel, we subbed in Iceland for Ireland. (Don’t worry, you can still find the latter plenty of places on our blog.) Iceland is also photogenic, can look exotic, and has some nice hotels. As usual though, we didn’t tick off places you’ve already seen a hundred times before. We like to take the road less traveled. In this case we were literally on the road with Luke Armstrong as he tried to learn how to drive a stick shift on the fly. In a van. Going across Iceland in the “crazy season.” See Learning to Drive a Dinosaur in Iceland.

We also have a story about Italy, but toss out your expectations because Debi Goodwin is not going to check anything off your bucket list. This place was on hers though: the Italian marble quarries of Carrara.

Old Delhi

We had a story in the past on how the “Incredible India” portrayed in ads and glossy travel stories is like an alternate universe to the Slumdog Millionaire reality that non-luxury travelers see every day. Being sheltered from the grinding poverty is next to impossible if you go for a walk though, as Jim Johnston finds out in Hunger and Privilege: Dinner in Old Delhi.

As always we run down some world music worth listening to, from a globalFEST compilation to classical music with a Turkish twinge, through the ears of Laurence Mitchell.

Susan Griffith reviews three new books: one from a legend, one from a shipping industry reporter, and one from…well, you decide.

For May, we traveled to diverse spots on the globe and also highlighted some worthy travel-related books and music. We welcomed two authors making their first appearance in the webzine. Larry Zuckerman, author of The Potato, is an American Jew in Israel when he joins up with a tour company run by ex-soldiers to see how the politics of occupied Palestine play out on the ground in Hebron. See Make Hummus, Not Walls.

Marco Ferrarese, author of Nazi Goreng brings us a story on hard cheese and hard horse riding on a Mongolia steppes adventure. See Cutting the Cheese, Mongolian Style.

David Lee Drotar returns with another tale from Canada, this time exploring Quebec in the dead of winter for some outdoor activities of snowmobiling, dogsledding, and skiing. But with a twist… See The Blade Runners of Quebec.

Quebec winter adventure

William Caverlee reviews a few new and notable travel books: Ukraine before the conflict, overland Morocco by motorcycle, and travelers writers’ food experience around the globe. Graham Reid spins a few mash-up world music albums, but also the aptly named collection The Rough Guide to the Best African Music You’ve Never Heard.

In the June issue, I got a little personal. I tell so many of the tourists who end up in Cancun: “Go west young man/woman.” Tack on some time, because there are a lot of really cool places to see and interesting things to do in the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula, beyond the vacation factories. Here’s a story I’ve been meaning to write for years: The Other Side of the Yucatan.

The Yucatan has been deeply entwined in my life for the past 11 years. It was the first place we took my daughter after she got her first passport at three and we returned there again and again after buying a little beach house on the Gulf Coast near Merida. Each time we did a little more exploring, plus I’ve been back a few times on my own for writing trips. I could post a hundred photos from there, but I mostly just put up some Mayan ruins, a fun video of a horse-drawn train, and some memories of when my teenager was a cuddly little girl.

Borneo man

My buddy Bruce Northam was back with a fun story about hanging with a real man in Borneo, the kind of man who does the things we used to do before we got so soft. He catches fish with his bare hands and cooks them up in bamboo tubes. He can whip up a shelter in the jungle in no time flat with a tarp and a machete. See Rent a Real Man in Borneo.

James Dorsey has met up with plenty of wild men himself in the stories of Perceptive Travel and this time he ends up on a baboon hunt with the Hadzabe tribesmen in Tanzania. There’s smoking, spearing, and passing around primate meat. See Last of the Bushmen in Tanzania.

As always, we check out some new travel books so you’ll know what’s worth reading and we review some new world music albums so you’ll know what’s worth downloading. (Oh, okay, what’s worth at least checking out on Spotify.)

For July, Luke Armstrong returned with another tale from his adopted home of Guatemala, following a naturalist with exploration in his blood who is looking for a rare butterfly first discovered by his great-grandfather. See Chasing the Butterflies Through Time in Guatemala

Guatemala travel story

Steven Crook, author of several books on Taiwan, takes us deep into Blood Rites in a Taiwanese Temple.

Carolyn Heller returns this month, fresh off her award from the Travel Media Association of Canada for a previous story on northern Ontario. This time she looks at isolation of a different kind while encountering a North Korea soldier on the border with China. See One Step Across.

William Caverlee checks out a few soul-searching travel books from Frances Mayes, Donna Leon, and Esther Woolfson. Graham Reid covers new world music albums from around the globe, including a great collection of Indian classical music and the return of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars.

Then Steven Crook finds that In the most popular temple of Taiwan, self-mutilation to please the gods is considered an honor and a duty.

For August, we went off the beaten path, waaayyy off in fact. If we were trying to sell magazines on a newsstand based on the places featured on the cover, we’d be in trouble: West Papau, Gürün in Turkey, and some remote hidden villages in Mali. There’s a geography quiz few people would pass. That’s okay though because we like good travel stories better than the latest restaurant rundown for some place you’ve already read about a hundred times.

James Dorsey has won quite a few awards for stories he has published in Perceptive Travel and elsewhere and this time he ventures into villages in Mali that are hard to even see from a distance. There he encounters people who claim to be from a distant star in outer space and aren’t exactly the model of hospitality. See The People Who Are Not There.

Marco Ferrarese feared he might be starring in his own version of Midnight Express when a policeman ordered him to pack up his tent and come with him to the police station. But things turned out a little differently in this remote town in Anatolia. See Gürün Prison Blues in Rural Turkey.

paddling West Papau

The photos are a lot prettier when we move from rural Turkey to the South Pacific islands of West Papau, where coral gardens and gorgeous islands are on the itinerary for Micheal Buckley’s multi-day kayaking trip from one cove to another. See Up a Tree, in a Wetsuit in West Papau.

Each month we also review some cool new travel books and some world music worth downloading and taking with you in your travels. Susan Griffith checks out a diverse set of travel books covering Italy, Tibet, and “radical architecture” in poor parts of Latin America. Laurence Mitchell spins some new world music albums from around the globe, all combining at least two cultures to create a new hybrid sound.

Burma boy monks

In September we visited three continents and explored areas that aren’t usually on the tourist map. Camille Cusumano returned with a recounting of her time teaching tango to disadvantaged youths in a rough part of Kenya’s capital. With the program running on donated funds, it’s not a happy dance when the money starts lining pockets. See Dance of Betrayal in Nairobi.

Michael Shapiro exited the well-worn pagoda trail in Myanmar and visited Kalaw, once a British hill station. He lucked upon a two-day event meant to anoint new monks to be, from ages 4 to 11, before they enter the monastery. With parades, grand costumes, and head shaving, it’s a colorful glimpse into local culture. See Rites of Passage in Myanmar’s Tribal Highlands.

Becky Garrison went on a very strange press trip when she hooked up with Kush Tourism for a “Cannabis Grow Tour.” With Washington State being the next in line to legalize marijuana, farmers and vendors were gearing up for a green gold rush. See the full story here.

Every month we feature round-ups of new travel-related books worth checking out and dive into some world music worth downloading to take on the road. William Caverlee reviews a book on riding the seas on a gargantuan warship, going from the top of Everest to the sea by paraglider and kayak, and yet another pictorial list book from Lonely Planet.

Graham Reid does the music honors, spinning a rare union of NYC and Guinea, time-travel in India on a collection from the vaults, classic old soul from Africa, and a surprisingly good compilation of African blues from Rough Guides. See them all here.

In October, Beebe Bahrani returned for another tale from Spain, this time in Tarragona. She and a friend sit down for a lovely lunch in an outdoor cafe, where all goes great…for a while. See A Spanish Death in the Afternoon.

After years of talking about it but never making it there, I finally spent some time in the Mexican city that is a dream destination for food lovers, mezcal aficionados, and handicraft buyers. See Handmade in Oaxaca.

garnache Oaxaca

Darrin Duford visited the Caribbean island of Martinique and tried to trace back the place’s music heritage while ignoring the smog in paradise. See Following the Grooves in Martinique.

Susan Griffith checked out new travel books on Asian food, motorcycling, and memorable walks. Laurence Mitchell spun some world music albums from Europe, the USA, and South America.

The November ’14 issue of Perceptive Travel had tales from Louisiana, Greece, and Southeast Asia.

Judith Fein went traveling in order to put aside the recent death of her mother, but kept finding reminders of not-so-dearly departed mom when she exploreed the swamps of Louisiana. See Did I Have an Alligator Mother?

James Dorsey ventured to the top of a rocky outpoint in Meteora to find a gifted Greek monk creating religious masterpieces in obscurity. See Painting as Prayer in Greece.

ziplining Laos

Michael Buckley went zipping through the canopies in Southeast Asia and even zipped to and from his treehouse lodging in one spot. He found that ziplining in Thailand and Laos may not be the worry-free soft adventure pursuit it is in countries that have been doing it a lot longer. See Zipping Into Big Trouble.

William Caverlee checked out two new travel books on long-term journeys and one on the rape of Tibet (by Mr. Buckley above). Graham Reid reviewed some new world music albums worth listening to from Mali to Mongolia to Scotland.

For the last issue in December, Marco Ferrarese found himself in the middle of a bizarre street festival while visiting the town of Berestagi in Sumatra, Indonesia. He’s warned not to look anyone in the eyes and is transfixed by demonic creatures putting people in a spell. See Street Walking Demons in Sumatra.

Huasteca adventure

I wrote before on this blog and posted some pics from a crazy adventure travel trip I went on during the summer in the seldom-visited state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. That was a dashed-off blog post, but later I put out a more literate narrative with some different photos. Check out Taking Adventure to the Next Level in Hidden Huasteca, Mexico.

James Dorsey often writes on Perceptive Travel about interesting tribes and expressions of spirituality, but he found little of either in modern-day Russia, where even a celebration day is dour and devoid of life. See A Grim Commemoration Day in Modern Russia.

Susan Griffith took on the book reviews again, with one she wished she’d never read and one most parents of gap year kids should probably avoid. See the December travel book reviews.

Laurence Mitchell reviewed a batch of world music albums, from a dub Christmas to a classic Cuban collection to a mash-up of India and the Sahara. See the December world music reviews.

As always, we’re giving away something cool to one of our regular readers and 12 of them got new gear this year. Sign up for the monthly newsletter to always be sure you get the announcement. Or act like you’re in Vegas and follow us on the Facebook ad generation platform. You may see our newsfeed one day after that if you get lucky and can enter. Along the way, you’ll be treated to some of the best travel stories on the web

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