Reviewed by Megan Zabel
Six months ago I found myself on top of a 13,000-foot mountain in Malaysian Borneo, shivering in near-freezing temps at five in the morning, perched on the highest spot between the Himalayas and New Guinea, waiting for the sun to rise. I'd started the trek a day earlier, five miles and 7,000 feet below, and had slept for a mere three hours before donning my headlamp at 2 a.m. to shimmy up a bare granite wall to the peak with about 100 other equally groggy hikers. What am I doing here? I wondered. I work for a bookstore, in Oregon. How the hell did this happen?
Well, what happened was, I picked up the first edition of this book, Make the Most of Your Time on Earth: 1,000 Ultimate Travel Experiences, and I got an idea. Many ideas, actually, a couple that I ticked off my list during the same trip: trolling through the Mekong Delta in a slow boat, and renting a modest shirt with long sleeves in order to gain entry to Bangkok's opulent Grand Palace. Other ideas (Argentinean wine country! Ireland's Skellig Michael!) were filed away, where they will marinate until I can manage to make my next escape.
Organized by region and focused exclusively on iconic experiences, this Rough Guide isn't a guide so much as it is a wealth of wanderlust inspiration, with tips that you'd be more likely to learn from locals than from the average travel book. Instead of directing you toward the Eiffel Tower, this book suggests canoeing past chateaux and villages along the Dordogne River or taking a trip to Normandy to taste the gourmet cider, offering a vibrant photo, brief description, and all the important information for each destination.
Conventional holiday seekers will find plenty of inspiration in the book, but it's also a relentless enabler for travelers like me, once-in-a-lifetime-experience junkies who jam-pack trips with activities and most often return home exhausted instead of refreshed, riddled with suspect bug bites, perhaps displaying a couple of new scars. Each part of the world gets equal weight, even areas Westerners would be quick to label off-limits.
Looking for a non-traditional getaway? Go to the hillside village of Maaloula in Syria, one of the few places left on Earth to hear the Aramaic language, or explore the Meroe Pyramids in Sudan. Not for everyone, sure, but the inclusion of these regions that tend to only get negative media coverage has a humanizing effect, reminding us that, though terrible things happen in the world, even places with the most abysmal histories have geography and culture worth experiencing. In addition to keeping adrenaline addicts busy indefinitely, complete coverage of every corner of the world makes this volume a valuable source of reference to readers who have no intention of actually packing their bags.
The sunrise from the top of Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo was stunning -- but my misgivings about what I'd gotten myself into were far from quelled. On the way back down my knees were so close to blowing out that I had to basically crawl, except for the stretches where my tiny Malaysian guide thought it would be faster to throw me on his back and sprint. The following three days I was so debilitated I had to descend stairs backwards and seriously considered sliding down a few banisters. But, even then, I knew all the pain would be worth it. What good is travel if not a source for stories, and what story doesn't benefit from a bit of physical suffering? With any luck this book will keep my anecdote arsenal well-stocked for years to come.
Books mentioned in this post