We read travel stories to be inspired, to help stoke our inner longings to experience new cultures, to grow our knowledge about the world. The last few weeks have yielded powerful pieces that accomplish all of these objectives. Here are three that will stick with you for a while.
There’s no sugarcoating it: Laura Yan’s recent essay for Longreads.com is uncomfortable, unsettling, and disturbing. That’s what makes it so powerful. The story, titled “The Shaman,” details the author’s experience of being raped on an extended trip in Bolivia. It also reveals the inner conflict she endures from reconciling this horrible encounter with a lifetime of advocating on behalf of the empowerment traveling alone can offer women. Ultimately, despite pleas from many friends to return to the United States immediately, Yan writes about her decision to stay in South America, to keep traveling and exploring the world. Perhaps the best part of the essay is the short biographical tagline at the end—it states that the author lives in California and that she still travels alone.
Nick Casey’s recent New York Times feature about another part of Bolivia is mind-bending for entirely different reasons. This piece, titled, “Climate Change Claims a Lake, and an Identity,” investigates the disappearance of Lake Poopo in the southwest corner of Bolivia, near a town named Llapallapani. On the surface the feature is about climate change. But it’s also about the future of the Uru-Murato people, the oldest indigenous group in the area. Casey explains how this group adapted over generations to the conquests of the Inca and the Spanish, but shows how they are struggling to adjust to the abrupt upheaval climate change has caused. Vivid images and graphics supplement Casey’s tight writing, further demonstrating the locals’ plight. Together, the package is storytelling at its finest.
Finally, you could argue that this recent piece by Ashley Powers for the California Sunday Magazine isn’t a travel story at all. Sure, it paints a colorful picture of Fort Bragg, California, and the surrounding forests of Mendocino County. And, yes, it takes readers into the forest on a manhunt for a drug-growing murderer. But really, what makes this story so compelling is the tale Powers weaves about a small town, a son’s fall from grace, the parents who can’t help but love him, and society’s unyielding quest for justice. Powers’s piece also addresses an important question: When madness grabs hold of a person, who is responsible? This is heavy stuff, indeed. And that makes the story—and its corresponding photographs—even more powerful.