An anthology covering three decades of calculated serendipity.
For San Francisco–based travel writer Hansen (Orchid Fever, 2000, etc.), travel is an endeavor of empathy, and empathy entails a burning cross-cultural curiosity that rewards itself and the reader with memorable examples of human contact on essential, even primitive levels. These skillfully crafted pieces are void of the usual commercial travel flackery; Hansen conjures romantic adventure not by proclaiming it but letting it creep up and tingle on the back of your neck. He has a cartographer’s eye for the contours of the globe, a naturalist’s sense of impending threat in local ecosystems, and—in certain Australian bars on given evenings—a connoisseur’s eye for the lay of the land. His humor springs like a trap: On Thursday Island, off Australia’s Queensland Coast, for example, checking into a hotel room with the door torn off, floor littered with debris, walls scarred by graffiti and vandalism, Hansen dryly wonders “what the meals will be like.” The idea of becoming a smuggler of a certain dried, smoked fish that is an everyday commodity in the Maldive Islands but a prized delicacy central to the cuisine of Sri Lanka hundreds of miles away is easily justified by the Hansen maxim: “the best way to penetrate a culture and mingle with the people was by getting involved with the local economy.” His literally mind-blowing account of the effects of the core narcotic employed in the Melanesian kava-drinking ritual will probably change the minds of some armchair travelers who up to that point had been envious of somebody who didn’t just talk about adventures but kept going out and having them.
The rare traveler who senses the reason why we travel in the first place.