Sunday Travel Scorecard [10.25.09]
As print newspapers fight to stay alive, travel sections lose pages and steadily increase service journalism while operating under more scrutiny than ever. In support of our paper/e-ink colleagues, here’s the Sunday print travel news that’s fit to post about.
This week’s newspaper travel sections finally seemed finished with European travel promotion. The result: more exotic and thoughtful pieces.
Case in point: The New York Times’s Latin American-themed section, which features writer Seth Kugel (“The Other Brazil: Minas Gerais”) telling the story of traveling with two friends through an often unvisited section of Brazil.
While most travelers often pass through the area known as Minas, which boasts waterfalls, cultural towns, and rugged mountains, Kugel decided to take a more adventurous road filled with danger and even some trespassing, to say nothing of meeting tour guides with bullet holes and swimming in waterfalls.
This is subject matter I want to see in a travel section every week. That said, the piece reads like a diary, and as spontaneous as his trip gets, he doesn’t exclude the less-than-thrilling:
I stuck with the students for two churches but then fled: turns out 45-minute lectures on church history in Portuguese are not my thing.
More rousing, in certain ways, was David Carr’s “Villa de Leyva, a Graceful Window on Colonial Colombia.” Sure, most American travelers steer away from cities with few or zero English-speakers, yet Carr bravely plunges via bicycle into the carefully preserved city formed in 1572. (If anything, the town seems worth visiting for its fossil museum, which houses a kronosaurus.)
Freda Moon’s description of an old-fashioned arts district inspires more Americanized comfort than Carr’s adventure. In “Mazatlán’s Old Town is Spry Again,” Mazatlecos, as the natives are called, seem a lot like Los Angeles artists: They dress well, eat at sidewalk cafes, boast distinct food palates, and wear giant shades. They even have bohos and a “First Fridays” art walk, like Venice!
At night, when crowds of young hipsters with ironic oversized glasses, neon tennis shoes and shaggy hair fill the long, narrow balcony at La Tertulia and flirt to a remix of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” at Modular, old Mazatlán becomes young again.
SCORE: 9/10 CARRY-ONS
It’s been awhile since I’ve read a travel piece involving animals (unless you consider articles that involve eating them). This goes doubly for pieces about belugas. So I was particularly enthralled this week to read special writer to The San Francisco Chronicle John Flinn’s attempt to read these expressive creatures (“In Churchill, Manitoba, snorkel with belugas”).
Refreshingly, Flinn dismisses dolphins’ faces as “fake smiles are rigidly fixed like those of politicians’ spouses,” and he even describes his feelings about a close encounter with a beluga’s face as “curiosity tinged with apprehension.” If you, however, feel compelled to reach out to these gentle whales that were once trained by the U.S. Navy for secret missions, you’ll have to wait until next July, when beluga-viewing season begins.
Thankfully, if you can’t wait until then, you can always have a conversation with an elephant. In “Departures, Sometimes language barrier isn’t,” Spud Hilton talks of elephants that communicate through sounds that travel for miles, in contrast to his trouble communicating with locals in Tunis, who speak French, which isn’t exactly Hilton’s strong suit. On the other hand, Hilton has a great conversation with a teenage boy who knows about 30 words of English, and brings up an interesting theory: Are conversations with foreigners more compelling because we focus on language more when we’re not speaking English slang?
One thing is for sure: I really need a pet elephant.
SCORE: 6/10 CARRY-ONS
Over the summer, H1N1 fears left Mexico suffering from a lack of American tourists. While I thought it would blow over once the next news victim took stage (balloon boy, anyone?), this doesn’t seem to be the case. The Washington Post’s Tim Carman was practically alone on a recent trip to Playa del Norte. His article, which asks, “Where is everybody? Not in Mexico,” is easy to answer: getting flu vaccinations. The good news? If everyone’s gone, that means free frolicking on beaches.
In “Face to face with Jamaica,” writer Andrea Sachs gets more social, however. She writes of exploring a friendly, innovative program that matches locals with tourists. Why doesn’t every city do this? (I think some areas that receive heavy tourism would rather watch foreigners suffer.) By opting out of an American resort, Sachs learns how Jamaicans live, entertain, and eat. A local chef tells her:
Eating healthy is a way of life. Your food should be your medicine, and your medicine should be your food. We need to eat healthy to create a healthier nation and a well-being of people.
Take that, Michael Pollan.
SCORE: 7/10 CARRY-ONS
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