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Late one night on a hot summer five years ago, I found myself in a room packed floor to ceiling with bunk beds and sweating human bodies. This was no prison or hippie commune, mind you; I had just embarked on the Camino de Santiago — a grueling journey of 800 kilometers that starts from a small village in the south of France, crosses northern Spain, and ends a mere 90 kilometers from the Atlantic ocean in the town of Santiago de Compostela. In medieval times, the road to Santiago (as the name translates to) was a major pilgrimage route culminating at the town’s eponymous cathedral, which, legend has it, holds the remains of Saint James, one of Jesus’s apostles.

I am not religious, but neither were most of the thousands of people who would walk the Camino that summer. Unlike the ragged, world-weary, indulgence-seeking travelers of old, modern pilgrims come here clad in high-tech mountain gear for reasons ranging from the lofty to the prosaic. Among the people I met at various points were: Catholics looking for divine communions; garden-variety spiritualists on the hunt for energy fields and epiphanies; hedge fund managers in the throes of midlife reckonings; recent graduates desperate to ward off adulthood for as long as they could; and a slew of curious, more practically motivated characters hoping for a soulmate, weight loss, and cheap thrills.
More… “Millennial Sin”

Elitsa Dermendzhiyska is an entrepreneur in London who builds digital products, travels the world and studies mental health. In 2016, she took a break from business to research the links between genes, genius and madness. Her writing has appeared in the award-winning book Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Possibility.

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Although I grew up in Kansas, I’ve had a long interest in Japan with many points of contact along the way. A Japanese history course at the University of Kansas, a two-year Army tour in Okinawa, visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a climb up Mt. Fuji, a sabbatical in Japan studying the Japanese Constitution, and about 20 trips to Japan visiting my wife, Miyo, and taking trips with her in her home country.  But never had we gone to the far or “deep north” of the largest of the four main Japanese islands, Honshu.

Several years ago, I happened upon the excellent travel book by Lesley Downer, On the Narrow Road to the Deep North: Journey into a Lost Japan. 300 years after haiku master, Basho’s, trip to the “deep north,” Downer tried to follow in his footsteps, walking and hitchhiking, eating flowers and sautéed grasshoppers, amongst other things. Before reading her fascinating book, I had not known of Basho. Matsuo Munefusa (1644 – 1694) was the most famous poet of the Edo period (1615 – 1868) in Japan.  His disciples built him a rustic hut and planted a banana plant (basho in Japanese) in his yard. Basho’s disciples called his house the basho house and Basho liked the term so much he changed his last name. Since then, he has been known as Matsuo Basho and his poetry is internationally renowned.

More… “Looking for Basho”

Fritz Snyder, J.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Montana. He has written about the Montana and Japanese Constitutions, the links between great works of literature and the Supreme Court, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. He has also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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I am in Cuba, sitting in a bar with Ernest “Papa” Hemingway. The Floridita, made famous for its daiquiris, has capitalized on the writer, installing a life-sized bronze statue in the corner where he would sit and order “papa dobles.” In his time, Hemingway enjoyed drinking here with fishermen, sailors, and regulars. Now, it’s a tourist trap. The air is thick with overpriced cigars, the bar is inaudibly loud, and the room is crowded by foreigners attracted by the writer’s renown. The only Cubans are the ones working. A man in a fanny pack next to me says to a younger woman, “Hemingway is great,” as he creeps closer to her through the mob. “The Great Gatsby was one of my favorite books in high school.” I leave the bar, disappointed and bitter.

More… “Que Pasa Papa?”

T.K. Mills is a writer who lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He runs the art column for OpenLetr, and is a regular contributor to the street art magazine, Sold Mag. T.K. has also been published in The Vignette ReviewGlobal Street ArtLiterate Sunday, and The American Dissident, among others. His story, “Nicotine Traces”, was selected for the Summer ’16 anthology of Catalogue. To read more by T.K. Mills, check out his portfolio, visit tkmills.com.

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Outside the apartment window, at twilight, the trees of Sokolniki Park held the last oranges and reds of autumn, rhyming with the carrots, apples, and beets on the cutting board in front of me as we prepared dinner together, Jeremy and Natasha and I. I’d arrived in Russia earlier in fall 1992 on a Watson fellowship to study “Contemporary Russian Poetry and Its Relationship to Historical Change,” but I was feeling even more lost than when I’d arrived. Russian language, which I’d studied in college for four years, was a thicket that I’d tear myself through every day, trying to express the simplest things. And if the language weren’t thorny enough for me, I found navigating Russian bureaucracies and mentalities — whether train depots or library privileges — like a pathless wood. More… “Farther and Farther in Sokolniki”

Philip Metres is the author of Pictures at an Exhibition (2016), Sand Opera (2015), A Concordance of Leaves (2013), and To See the Earth (2008), etc. A recipient of the Lannan, two NEAs and two Arab American Book Awards, he is professor of English at John Carroll University.
http://www.philipmetres.com

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I went to Istanbul’s Taksim Square in a blizzard. Snow comes with Istanbul winters but blizzards are rare. When I emerged from the funicular, Taksim was deserted, which was also rare. The streets spiraling out from its center like bicycle spokes were washed out by a volley of flurries that forced the few pedestrians to scuttle like crabs along the sidewalks. A few tourists gathered in front of the Republic Monument, which depicts two statues of Ataturk, one before and one after the war for independence; the wind had blown a mask of snow over his face on both statues. A batch of roses had been laid at his feet along the eastern portico, a reminder of his importance in Turkish memory. On the western portico, Ataturk’s snow-covered face looked toward Istiklal Caddesi, “Independence Avenue,” obscured by flurries.

I had gone to Istanbul partly because of the weather. I’d always wanted to go but the weather had been a bonus. I hadn’t thought Istanbul would be warm, exactly, but I hadn’t expected the Biblical storms we were at the time experiencing in Boston. I’d been thinking 40, maybe even 50 degree days. It couldn’t get much colder in a city lined with palm trees, right?

The driver who’d collected me at the airport had been the first to warn me of the impending snow fall, but he hadn’t been worried. “The snow here, it does not last.”

He’d been wrong on that point, but neither of us could have known then. I’d asked him if he could visit just one site in Istanbul, what would it be. I’d wanted to know what a local thought worth seeing, and I’d been hoping for a suggestion off the beaten path, the kind of tucked-away jewel only locals knew about. Without hesitating he’d said, “Taksim. If you want to see Istanbul, that’s where to go.”

More… “Huzun, Snowfall”

Robin Kish received her M.F.A in Creative Writing from Indiana University. Her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Florida Review, and Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, along with other journals. When not traveling, she teaches writing at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

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A pro-surfer friend described Sayulita as a kid-friendly artist hamlet where you can surf in warm water year round, gorge on heaping plates of Mexico’s best fish tacos for two bucks, and have your morning latte. I was on the prowl for an unsanitized destination to get my son, Kai, his first passport stamp (which meant no Club Med within spitting distance). Yet I also craved a reasonably safe vacation spot to relax with my four-month-old baby. As it turned out, Sayulita fit the bill.

Though the community originated as a coconut harvesting and fishing village, after the highway from Puerto Vallarta was completed in the 1960s, surfers — hearing rumors about an epic right and left reef break — sojourned to Sayulita for waves without the masses. Today, Sayulita, located on Mexico’s newly rebranded Riveria Nayarit, is one of those beach towns that travelers whisper about for fear it will wander the road of Mexico’s other former fishing “villages” (locals are adamant about their hamlet not becoming another Cabo or Cancun). Yet even as the town swells with enough American travelers that I scratched my head and wondered how so many people know about this intriguing mix of surfers, funky galleries, local families, gourmet eateries, and rich Mexican culture, Sayulita still feels like a secret. More… “Shifting Expectations in Sayulita”

Michele Bigley is a world traveler, travel writer, and public speaker. She writes guidebooks about California and Hawaii and has contributed her travel writing to national and international outlets. She was a featured travel expert for CNN’s On the Go.

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Çukurcuma is an unusual neighborhood on the European side of Istanbul. Though quite central, just a short walk from the Bosporus or Taksim square, it has survived the recent wave of modernization: its many wooden houses in different colors give it a similar aura to the photos taken some 50 years ago, except that the cobblestones have mostly given way to more modern paving. Antique stores are typical for this quarter, and over the past couple of years, gourmet coffee shops have sprung up on almost every block. Then there are the cats: they are ubiquitous, dreaming their days away on car roofs. On the corner of Çukurcuma Street and Dalgiç Street, just a few blocks down from the hammam, there is a house that fits in perfectly — and yet it doesn’t. It has an unusual dark red color, and the windows hint at the fact that no one actually lives here. There is something otherworldly, almost ghostly about this house, especially during evenings and nights when it seems abandoned in the dark.
More… “The Museum of Innocence”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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We had climbed halfway up the staircase of a Valparaiso sidewalk when Salvador Dalí appeared. He was stenciled to the landing above, waiting for us with his perked up handlebar mustache. For a closer look, my fiancée Melanie and I stepped around another stray dog, his long body blocking almost the whole width of the concrete step — Valparaiso’s take on multi-use public space.

Morning had barely arrived and cargo ships at the port, in the distance below, had probably unloaded enough plastic silverware to outfit Chile’s entire fast food industry. Meanwhile, the hung-over hills overlooking the port still slept, still hugged a blanket of overcast gauze. I wondered how many cans of Escudo beer the town had put back last night. And how many new stencils had been tattooed to its buildings?
More… “What the Walls Taught Me”

Darrin DuFord is the author of Is There a Hole in the Boat? Tales of Travel in Panama Without A Car, silver medalist in the 2007 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Awards. He has written food and travel pieces for the San Francisco Chronicle, BBC Travel, Roads & Kingdoms, Gastronomica, and Perceptive Travel, among others. Follow him on Twitter at @darrinduford.

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I approach this city with a spiraling movement, whose beginning and end I can’t determine. I conquer the town on foot, often on the move for so long that I feel nothing but muscle, bone, and heartbeat. Once I am past a certain stage, I am no longer thirsty, let alone hungry. Heat like this would normally slow me down, but my body reveals strengths that I didn’t know it had. I have a personalized map with spots marked on it wherever there is some association for me. These markings become gradually denser until they spread across the city like a spider’s web.

Everything feels different. And sounds different too. Early in the morning, I’m awoken from a deep sleep by the chanting. Some voices rumbling from the city’s belly are louder than others, and the singing comes from different directions, out of step. But perhaps each voice is aware of the others? I’m promptly wide awake, and rise to lean out of the window to hear them better, my eyes still closed. There are moments when I can’t tell if the ezan from the next-door mosque is echoing off the walls on my block or if I can hear the calls to prayers from other mosques.
More… “When I Told Them Where Mecca Is”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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I was disappointed not to go to the town of Limbe with Clement. In Haiti, Clement Benoit II is to books what Paul Farmer is to medicine. He waited for me in the open air lobby of La Plaza Hotel in Port-au-Prince while I tried to make up my mind. This was the second year in a row that I had met with him at La Plaza and he offered to take me to Limbe, his birthplace, and I had to decline. Both times, a State Department alert warned against traveling to Limbe because of riots. I’d seen similar warnings concerning Port-au-Prince and ignored them, but Limbe was three hours away.

An author who has published several poetry books, including Tach Soley, a book of poems written in Creole, Clement works tirelessly to give people access to books. His work involves establishing small libraries and delivering books on horseback to people who live in isolated rural communities. His biblio cheval, library horses, are part of his vision for raising Haiti’s literacy level, which, according to the CIA World Factbook is 52.9 percent, way lower than the rest of the Caribbean.
More… “Biblio Cheval”

Harriet Levin Millan‘s debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, based on the life of “Lost Boy” of Sudan Michael Majok Kuch has been selected as a Charter for Compassion Global Read. She’s the author of two books of poetry, and a third to appear in 2018. Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel University. Click here for more essays on The Smart Set.

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