Published by Rough Guides
Warning: once you pick up this book and start reading it, your wanderlust will increase exponentially. If you are already sick of your boring job and are daydreaming about attending colorful festivals on distant shores, World Party is going to be trouble.
This entertaining and lavishly photographed book does as excellent job of rounding up the best festivals and annual parties across the globe. Organized by geographic region, the book describes music festivals, religious festivals, historic festivals, and plenty of for-the-hell-of-it festivals. From Burning Man to Boi Bumbu, Reading Festival to Reggae Sumfest, Inti Raymi to Il Palio.
The most prominent festivals get more space than the minor ones, which makes it easier to read than something that tries to be all fair and balanced, but there's a surprising amount of depth to the listings. Many travel compilation books these days seem to be written by desk jockey editors who don't get out much, but the lineup and text here are thorough, sensible, and easy to navigate. Thankfully it's not dumbed down for the gap year kids, though helpful icons by the description tell you the chief characteristics-such as nudity, drugs, religion drinking, or music.
World Party doesn't resort to giddy cheerleading all the way through either. Controversy about a given festival often figures into the descriptions and the Rough Guides editors aren't afraid to mention the downsides. For one in Tanta, Egypt, "The atmosphere is intense, the crowds dense, and pickpocketing rife."
Many readers will find something that's missing-the biggest annual music festival in the U.S. (Bonnaroo) isn't here for one thing-but overall it's thorough and fun to read. Pick up a copy of World Party if you're looking for the crazy, the colorful, and the just plain different in your travels.
Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik: A Woman's Solo Travels Through Africa
By Marie Javins
I always imagined an overland trip through Africa to be dirty, frustrating, slow, and more costly than it should be considering what you get for your money. After reading Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, it appears I was right on all counts. "Our trip from Kapiri Moshi, Zambia, clocked in at 53 hours by the time we all stepped, dizzy and stinking, onto the platform in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania," Javins says before we're even on page 100.
The beauty of reading an account of a long overland journey is that you can live the experience through someone else, still enjoying your hot shower, comfy bed, and well-stocked pantry at home. Javins' book is one of those conversational, easy-reading tales that doesn't try to dazzle you with its erudite suppositions or try to make grand expositions on the nature of what's wrong with Africa. Instead there are just musings on impossible questions, such as "Should I be accepting personal responsibility for slavery, the price of coffee, and colonialism?"
The book mostly just goes for a long journey and takes you along for the ride: from Cape Town to Cairo via a meandering route up the east after heading through Botswana and Namibia. She admits that the first time she went to the continent it was just something to cross off a list: "Wash clothes. Buy toilet tissue. See Africa."
Javins' goal was to do it all without getting on a plane, as part of a round-the-world tour on the ground and water only. In the end she has to hop a flight from Sudan to Egypt to catch a freighter when, as expected, the schedule doesn't quite move as planned. The mishaps here are natural ones though, things that any traveler will encounter on the continent, with no scenes that make us feel as if the author was intentionally seeking out bad situations just to enliven the story. Of course the natural hurdles in Africa can be bad enough on their own. In this case it's a Namibian taxi driver who keeps nodding off at the wheel, a bus wreck in Ethiopia, and and enough scamster touts to fill a small city.
Along the way there are some understated asides that will make you smile. A Ugandan vendor asks the author if she's a born again Christian because, "all of the Americans in Uganda are."
Despite the luxury camps and expensive safari trips Africa is known for, it is still a wild frontier for anyone trying to cross it by land and this book is a great way to figure out if you're up for it yourself.
The Best American Travel Writing 2006
Edited by Tim Cahill
Series Editor Jason Wilson
After trashing the 2005 edition of this series for mostly making travel feel about as fun as a graduate-level night class at the university, I'm happy to give this year's version an enthusiastic recommendation. Having Tim Cahill-a writer with a proven sense of humor-at the editor helm makes all the difference, apparently.
No matter how your personal tastes run, it would be hard to find fault with this impressive collection of great writers at the top of their game. You've got Pico Iyer on a Japanese convenience store, P.J. O'Rourke on the largest commercial airplane in the world, Alain de Botton on why interesting people shouldn't need Zurich to be interesting for them, and David Sedaris hilariously covering his beef with a seatmate on a flight--coughdrop accidentally spit onto her lap and all.
This is an unsually varied collection that still manages to hit a home run far more often than most anthologies manage. George Saunders' GQ story on the have-nots and the super-haves of Dubai is like taking a walk on another planet. Caitlin Flanigan's New Yorker story about a huge hotel complex in Hawaii is a keen-eyed, honest, and downright funny critique of the expensive mega-resort concept--"The Price of Paradise." Christopher Solomon runs down the Korean ski experience in a piece from Ski magazine. Sean Flynn looks into the seedy underbelly of Costa Rica's sex tourism trade. Tad Friend rides around Oman with Tony and Maureen Wheeler, founders of the Lonely Planet empire. Michael Paterni spends time with a different kind of giant: an 8-foot Ukranian man living in a little village with no plumbing. And on it goes, one quirky surprise after another, usually highly entertaining or full of new insights we haven't read a dozen times already somewhere else.
Those who love Cahill's work will be happy to find some "writer tests the limits" adventure travel too, whether it's by camel through Libya, by sailing ship around the world, or being the first Western Whities to cross through an old Silk Road pass in Afghanistan.
This is a collection of essays that captures the joy, the wonder, and the irony of travel in the world we live in now. And oh yeah, Rolf Potts is in here too, with "Tantric Sex for Dilettantes," published in an obscure webzine called Perceptive Travel.
A Year of Adventures
Lonely Planet Publications
Edited by Andrew Bain
Many of Lonely Planet's compilation titles have gotten a mixed reception from seasoned travelers, but A Year of Adventures is a winner. It runs down interesting, fun, and exciting activities on every continent. There's the camel safari in Rajasthan, cenote diving in the Yucatan, surfing in Bali, hiking the Inca Trail, and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. They don't stop at just the "greatest hits of adventure travel," however. There are plenty of adventures in places most of us have never even heard of, doing things we probably never even considered.
So at heart, this is a dream list and a way to figure out what really makes your heart race in anticipation. It would be a great read before a round-the-world journey (if you have the self-control to prioritize and not want to do it all). The real value in the book is that it tells you the best time and the worst time for a particular activity. You find out when the slopes turn to mud and landslides or when that raging whitewater rafting adventure will be a lazy float and a walk around protruding rocks.
It is by no means complete, of course. While the World Party guide also reviewed this issue (from Rough Guides) is working with a rather established and finite set of events to write about, nobody can possibly round up all the adventure activities available across the globe. And the list expands each year. Being exhuastive is not really the point of this guide anyway. Their gimmick-and it's a good one-is to list one adventure for each week of the year, but stopping at 48. Why four missing weeks? So you can go find your own adventure and stop depending on Lonely Planet to tell you what to do. Nice touch.
Tim Leffel is editor of Perceptive Travel and author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune.