Go West (or East), Young Woman

Two new collections offer incredible travel stories.

A WOMAN ALONE

edited by Faith Conlon, Ingrid Emerick, and Christina Henry De Tessan (Seal Press, $15.95) THE UNSAVVY TRAVELER

edited by Rosemary Caperton, Anne Mathews, and Lucie Ocenas (Seal Press, $15.95) IT COULDN'T BE gone. I knew the passport was there, tucked in the front of my grubby backpack. But soon after getting off the Barcelona-to-Madrid night train I realized, at the money changers' counter, that I was wrong. "Well, we'll have to go to the embassy," I announced to my sister, confident that being a red-blooded American would expedite the whole process. After mastering the subway and finding the embassy, we waited in one very long line to find out where to go. Next, we stood for an hour in another to get the lost passport paperwork. There, we learned we needed to find the local police department to fill out a theft report. With that in hand, we searched out a photo booth, where I took the most horrible picture. (I looked like a member of the P.L.A., so for years going through any sort of customs involved security one step shy of a strip search.) We made it back to the embassy and got the passport. But to leave Spain, we had to journey through France, which meant I needed a visa. We found the French consulate and waited in yet another line, which snaked up a seem- ingly endless wrought iron staircase. Mission finally accomplished, we set out to the subway. My sister insisted on carrying the valuables since I had proved irresponsible (the day before, another backpack had been slashed and a few loose bills snatched). Walking through the tunnel, I fell behind looking at a map and all of a sudden felt an arm around my neck and metal at my throat. Now I was getting mugged. Resigned to having the worst day ever, I handed over my camera and emptied my pockets. My sister watched frantically, but the whole episode was over in a minute and I only had a nick. After our second visit to a police station, we ended up in a courtyard cafe with illicit mugs of sangria (I was 18, my sister was 14) and plates of tapas. I removed my filthy Keds (this was three weeks into our trek around Europe, and I only had one pair of shoes) and tried to shake off the day. An elderly, heavily clad gypsy woman came to our table looking for change. We gave her a bit, and she moved on across the courtyard. She wasn't too far when I realized she'd taken my shoes. In an instant, the rage of the day bubbled over, and I raced across the ancient stones like a bull in Pamplona, tackled the 70-something thief, and held her firmly to the ground. We were both yelling in our respective languages, but I emptied her pockets, stuffed full of a day's worth of "liftings." I found my shoes. WHEN YOU ASK someone why she likes to travel, you hear a variety of answers. Some like to get away and relax, some want to experience different cultures, others enjoy tasting interesting food or shopping for local products. I travel for the stories. And I'm relieved and delighted to discover that I'm far from alone. The women whose tales are collected in two new releases by Seattle's female-operated Seal Press have been everywhere from Uzbekistan to Mongolia and had countless adventures, from teaching in remote Bhutan villages to hiking across the Australian desert with only camels and a dog for company. The books are similar (some of the same writers show up in both), though each has a distinct theme. A Woman Alone focuses on female travelers going solo. Through a wonderfully diverse parade of voices we learn of the struggles and joys of single travel, from accepting Venetian gentlemen's charms in Dawn Comer Jefferson's piece "The Truth About Italian Men" to Chelsea Cain's revelation that she loves Las Vegas in "Pretty Enough to Be a Showgirl." Unfortunately—or should I say fortunately?—I could contribute lots of stories to the second release, The Unsavvy Traveler, filled with women's painfully humorous tales of trouble on the road. Sharon Grimberg makes a woefully unprepared attempt to hike Papua, New Guinea's drippy and muddy Kokoda Trail. In "El Jolote Loco," Julie Gerk suffers though unwanted encounters with a vicious El Salvadoran turkey. While visiting Morocco in "Fete du Mouton," Rachel Berkoff watches a sheep's head burn. Both books make for extremely enjoyable escapism. The pleasure of reading these tales is in our introduction to each distinct storyteller and being drawn so strongly into their varied experiences. But whether they make you want to venture out for real, read more stories, or relive your own adventures will depend on what sort of traveler you are. They remind me of the time in Poland I lost my sisters for two hours in a town with no street signs, or the night we slept on hay bales in a Swiss cow barn, or the place we stayed in Paris decorated with hundreds of taxidermied cats, or. . . . avanbuskirk@seattleweekly.com

 
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