VANISHING TALES FROM ANCIENT TRAILS by James Dorsey, 2014, Vagabundo Magazine Publishing. Buy on Amazon.
When I first found his writing on celebrated travel webzine Perceptive Travel, there was one thing that made me an instant James Dorsey’s fan. It was the amount of literary adrenaline he was able to inject straight into readers’ eyes with the opening three lines of each and every story. Indeed, James would pull out his wordy meathook, and catch you right under the chin, pulling you into the action. You would feel the smells, sounds and fear he was trying to tell you all about. I don’t know why, but one of his simplest descriptions, “Akira tells me to follow him closely and I am practically in his back pocket” stayed with me until today: now, whenever I tell people to stay very close to my back, I tell them to “stick to my back pocket”, and I think of Dorsey’s time in Cambodia.
This is the best quality I admire in Dorsey’s writing: his simple, dry, straight forward and damn catchy list of words that one after another “dance on the page”, as Bukowsky put it. But in this case, they dance at the sound of tribal drums during a secret and ancient ritual consumed under a moonlit forest thicket. (more…)
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Camel meat is a common ingredient in the southern area of Morocco. There are 3 types of camel, and each color has its own function. White camels are special as they can smell water from 30 km. Dark brown (referred to as black) camels are used for work, and the lighter brown ones are used for meat. When you visit a butcher to buy your camel meat, you will find their legs hanging up. Younger camels are used for chops while older ones are more suitable for ground meat. It can be a little disconcerting to see a bunch of legs hanging in the air.
Describe a typical day:
Guelmim, admittedly, doesn’t have a lot of tourist activities. It’s best for those who wish to experience rural Morocco, a slice of life they will never experience in the more commonly visited cities of Marrkech, Fez, Casablanca, etc. However, it is easy to arrange a Bedouin experience in the desert from here. Guelmim is also within easy reach of some great beaches that are not overcrowded and packed full of tourists.
We enjoyed getting breakfast from our favorite cafe (ask for kulshi) and watching the world go by, which is a national hobby. Sip on your wonderful mint tea and savor the ritual that comes along with preparing it. Dip your pieces of bread in the wonderful argan (it tastes like almond butter) until your eggs come out on a sizzling platter. Rip off a piece of bread and use that and a finger to scoop up some egg. It’s a delightful way to begin a leisurely morning.
And no one does leisurely quite as well as the Moroccans.
Supermarkets do not sell fresh foods, so to get supplies you’ll need to visit a few vendors. Spend any amount of time here, and you’ll soon have your favorite vendor for produce, meat, chicken, bread, and so on.
Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:
One of my fondest memories of our time on the nearby oasis was sitting down and chatting with a local about a number of things, one of which included attitudes about dress for women. It was a discussion that really challenged my way of thinking in a way I had not anticipated. It really forced me to reconsider my judgments regarding how women dress there.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
I loved the slow pace of life. It was really fun building relationships with all my regular vendors. Whenever I went into town unaccompanied by son, they would always inquire after him. It was easy to feel like you were part of the community, even if my French was limited and I only knew 4 words of Moroccan Arabic, 3 of which had been taught to me by our favorite bread vendor. He was a wizened man who always had a big, mostly toothless smile and who delighted in hearing me use the words he taught me.
I was not a fan of the mini buses and shared taxis. I don’t enjoy being squished into vehicles.
Describe a challenge you faced:
Communication was the biggest challenge. English is not commonly spoken. In fact, I found more people who spoke Spanish than ones who knew more than “Hello!” in English. My French was pretty limited, and many of the locals didn’t speak that language either. But they were never impatient. We always figured out how to communicate, and when we finally figured out what the other was saying, we would both laugh heartily.
What new lesson did you learn?
Never make snap judgments about a cultural norm. You don’t really know what’s behind it, and once you discover the history and its meaning it may not seem so strange, unusual, or awful as you initially thought.
London! I can hear my bank account crying already.
I admit it, I have been lacking a few posts and overall been bogged down with work (yes, work, because even to sustain a life abroad we need some, in a form or the other), and I beg your pardon. To start off the New Year right, I believe you might love reading some quirky, wicked travel narratives from around the world.
You might take this as a shameless example of self-promotion, but the third issue of Wicked World, an alternative digital magazine I edit with British travel writer Tom Coote, is finally available as a great eye candy: just love the gloriously wicked Ethiopian Mursi warrior on the cover!!
As well as a range of alternative travel articles and photo features, for the first time we have also included some travel related fiction. At one end of the story telling scale, is a traditional Moroccan folk tale, The Red Lantern, selected by Richard Hamilton. In a more contemporary vein, where the lines between fact and fiction blur, we are also showcasing The Death Kiss of a King Cobra Show by Jim Algie.
At the reportage end of the travel writing spectrum, in Barbed Wire Scars, Marcello Di Cintio encounters desperate African migrants determined to make their way across the razor wired walls at Ceuta, in the hope of making it to the promised land of Europe. Equally contemporary, E T Laing investigates recent political upheavals in Bangladesh in A Savage Fundamentalism. (more…)
I take this week’s chance to announce the release of the second issue of Wicked World, a digital magazine project that dares to be different. Unrestricted by commercial considerations, it remains free to challenge, question, and tell the truth about the business of international travel. We’re not here to sell expensive guided tours, round-the-world gap year tickets, or travel insurance, but exist primarily to provide a platform for the kind of honest, alternative and irreverent travel writing that wouldn’t normally find a home in more mainstream publications.
In Issue Two you will find articles on: the walled Muslim city of Harar in Eastern Ethiopia; the Sultan of Sulu and the disastrous recent invasion of Sabah in Borneo; frenzied voodoo ceremonies in Benin; the sculpture of Iran’s Ahad Hosseini; the strange religious cult of Caodai in Vietnam; Thailand’s spirit tattoos; the sacred city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka; rapidly changing Cuba; and the punk rock scene in Penang, Malaysia.
You can read the present issue in digital format clicking here.
If you feel like you have something worthwhile and relevant to contribute to the Wicked World project, or would simply like to know more, then feel free to contact either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whoever idealized the serene night scene of Berber tents surrounding an oasis, fires flickering, a reflection of the stars above, the quiet hum of insects and maybe a bedouin bathing by moonlight had obviously NOT actually spent a night at an oasis; especially on a festival night.
If there is one thing that an oasis night is not, under any circumstances, it is quiet. There is really no way to describe the cacophony of sounds that paint the darkness: donkeys braying, dogs barking, cats calling, camels roaring (they don’t exactly roar, but they are certainly making their best attempt.) Add to that the clip clop of horse hooves, followed closely by the squeak of the wheels of the cart it is pulling, the low level drone of Arabic, whispers, conversations, laughter, shouting and singing and it is a symphony that echoes out onto the desert and disappears into the darkness.
The drumming started just at bed time. BOM-bah-bah-bah-BOM-bah-bah-bah-BOM-BOM-BOM-bah-bah-bah…. The constant beat of skin drums beaten with smooth sticks by men in ankle length, hot pink robes and green vests topped by red hats hung with long black tassles, reminiscent of a horse’s tail, attached at the center. The high, shrill trilling of the Bedouin women accompanying their beat: “HIEEEELA-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-LA!” BOM-bah-bah-bah-BOM-bah-bah-bah…. There was no sense in putting in earplugs and trying to sleep. The only thing to do was lay awake in the deep dark and frosty cold of the desert night and enjoy the symphony, trying to burn it into my sound memory for the deep dark and frosty cold of my ancient days, sixty years from now.
Then, sometime after midnight, as suddenly as if a switch had been thrown: quiet. No more drums, no more people sounds, only the lonely donkey’s cry or dog’s bark. We emerged from the tent to make a run to the bathroom, our breath hanging in the frosty air. Desert nights, especially in winter, hover around the freezing point. It was impossible to rush (as my chilly self wanted to do) across the sand to the bath house. We had to stand, heads held aloft and look at the stars. It is hard to believe that these are the same stars that watch over us in the pine forests of northern New England, but they are, the stars of the northern hemisphere: Ursa Major and Minor, the Pleiades and Orion, standing like an arab warrior over the ocean of sand. The moon was no where to be seen, hidden among the date palms at the edge of the horizon, perhaps, but the stars more than made up for its light. The desert stars alone were worth the trip.
Between drumming and the dawn prayers came three or so hours of twilight sleep. Douz has at least four mosques, each of which seems to pride itself on the accuracy of timing their morning prayers, and they certainly do not agree. The first wail arose at five thirty, sharp, and it was nearly half an hour before the last song faded into the semi-darkness. The sound of the muezzin is an effective alarm clock and reminds even we infidels that Allah is, indeed, Akbar. Emerging from our green tents, blowing on our frozen fingers, starting the fires that will result in coffee and tea we greeted Christmas Day on the edge of the Grand Erg Oriental, while Gramps hummed the inevitable under his breath: “Midnight at the Oasis” by Maria Maldaur (1973).
Visit this link to hear a version of the song by Renee Olstead.
In the past few months, I have complained several times about the current status of travel writing and how it does not satisfy my needs.
In this sense, it would have been too easy to just sit there and complain without actually doing something about it. And that’s exactly what I did by joining forces with British travel writer Tom Coote.
We sat down and worked hard to create a new digital magazine: Wicked World.
You can access it by clicking here.
Wicked World exists to promote the kind of travel related writing that wouldn’t normally find an outlet in more mainstream publications. We’re not here to sell expensive guided tours, round the world tickets or travel insurance. On the contrary, we are here to provide a showcase for honest, alternative and irreverent writing, with a particular emphasis on internationally oriented underground culture. And we of course accept related, inspired submissions from like minded travel writers and adventurers.
If you want examples, the very first issue of Wicked World has articles on: the burgeoning black metal scene in Bangladesh; the rarely visited Meroe Pyramids in Sudan; mine clearance in Cambodia; a haunting return to Vicksburg, Mississippi; the resurrection of a mummified monk in Thailand; a bizarre encounter with the police in Kyrgyzstan; System of a Down’s self-financed film about the Armenian Genocide; and a festival for hungry ghosts in Malaysia and Singapore.
In the future, we are planning to provide a syndication service for travel related articles, and to experiment with publishing the kind of eBooks that wouldn’t normally find an outlet through more mainstream publishers.
If you would like to get involved in Wicked World, or would simply like to know more, then send an email to either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently I’ve been reading, “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. When the author was in her mid-twenties she solo hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Her book unfolds as she treks north, nursing her blistered feet and cumbersome heavy pack along a majority of the 2,663mi (4,286km) trail. It initially begins at the Mexican border, passes through California, Oregon, and Washington in the USA and over the border into Canada. Several years ago I’d been gearing up to ride my horses along the same trail, but heavy snows in high mountain ranges and challenges with support team coordination threw a wrench in the trip–so it never happen. But I did ride sections of that trail, along with parts of the Continental Divide Trail, Chilkoot Trail, and the historic Oregon Trail. On foot I’ve graced sections of several other long paths, and driven a dog cart on one pulled by twelve huskies.
Reading Strayed’s book got me thinking about other long-distance footpaths around the world. A popular one in Europe that comes to mind is El Camino de Santiago which starts many different places but ultimately ends at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I first heard of the trail in a novel by Paulo Coelho called, “The Pilgrimage.” Other countries in Europe such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have quite a lot of paths. In Asia I’d looked into hiking the Annapurna Circuit in central Nepal. But it appears that Israel and Japan have many for the choosing as well; Japan’s most popular being the 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
Here are the worlds’ best hikes according to National Geographic.
Mark Moxon has an extensive website of information and stories from his long walking adventures.
The UK has a Long Walkers Association.
One Canadian man even walked around the world in eleven years.
Have you ever hiked or ridden on a long-distance path? Or do you have plans to do so?
Please share your stories or plans in the comments!
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
After spending several months in Africa, I have seen a lot of strange things and it has all begun to be quite normal. Therefore, the contrast of Kigali, Rwanda was actually the strangest thing I have seen in a while. The streets were impeccably clean, everything was organized and you couldn’t find corruption anywhere. The harassing street hawkers weren’t trying to sell me the same worthless junk or “Made in China” African statues and masks like everywhere else, but rather USB sticks, Oxford English dictionaries and Economist magazines. Compared to the past few months, this was very strange!
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
In Malawi I was introduced to the water spirit Tokoloshe. It resembles a human figure – two hands and two feet – but with extremely exaggerated features like the massive belly and enormous mouth and tongue. I have never seen anything quite like it and decided I had a buy one. Luckily, there’s a million craft stalls in Africa and Malawi is no different. I bought mine from a fellow that called himself “Cheap As Chips”.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
In South Africa, seeing a lion eat an impala, a family of elephants cross the road, two giraffes fight, rhinos hanging out, a leopard chase its prey and a handful of other breathtaking scenes at Kruger National Park was definitely “strange.” It honestly didn’t feel like it could possibly be real.
In Mozambique, the chapas – a shared mini-bus taxi that is typically the only mode of transportation available – are designed to fit 14 people. However, it typically has over 20 people + luggage + household supplies + the occasional live chicken and bag of raw fish. Waiting for and watching everyone squeeze into this vehicle while a guy came up to the window selling a bundle of machetes and an elderly woman came up with a huge barrel of oranges balanced on her head was probably the strangest overall visual of the trip.