In 1987, Chris Stowers ditches his dull job in the UK and embarks on a trip throughout the Asia-Pacific, following countless other adventurers traveling with just a backpack and a minuscule budget in what he calls the “golden age of travel”.
Chris Stowers considers the 1980s to have been the golden age of travel and Bugis Nights describes two trips of his during that decade. One involves traveling in Tibet with his love interest, a German woman named Claudia. Stowers is a green 21-old to Claudia’s seasoned 30. The other, more important thread details a journey from Jampea Island in East Indonesia to Singapore on a sailing boat crewed by Bugis and French adventurers.
In the late 19th century, a group of Mennonites leave Russia for what is now Uzbekistan. Driven out by Russian demands that the pacifist group make themselves available for conscription, and pushed forward by prophecies of the imminent return of Christ, over a hundred families travel in a grueling journey, eventually building a settlement and church that locals still remember fondly today.
At this point it is almost a truism that travel memoirs are more about the author’s internal journey than the physical one. “It is the journey, not the destination,” we are frequently told. Never was this point more clearly made than in The White Mosque by Sofia Samatar. Billed somewhat humbly as merely a “Silk Road memoir”, the author provides a personal account of her trip following the passage of a group of Mennonites who relocated from Czarist Russia to Central Asia in the late 19th century.
“Kopi Dulu” means “coffee first” in Indonesian—a common phrase from Indonesians who are happy to have coffee anywhere, anytime and with anyone. At least, that was Mark Eveleigh’s experience, as a travel writer and reporter, traveling across the country’s many islands.
Many of us have likely seen photos of the Aral Sea, and the rusted Soviet-era ships, sitting in the desert with no water in sight. The Aral Sea is now just 10% of its former volume, shrinking down from what was once the fourth-largest body of inland water in the world, after what writer Jeff Fernside calls “one of the worst human-caused environmental catastrophes”.
The world would likely be a better place if there were more people like Jeff Fearnside in it. Ships in the Desert is a collection of essays based on and informed by four years that Fearnside spent in, mostly Kazakhstan early in the century, first as a teacher for the Peace Corps and later managing a fellowship programme. He comes across as concerned, thoughtful and, above all, tolerant.