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Travel

124 articles
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A Planet for Rent

Trials and dangers abound for an interplanetary social worker.

"The Planetary Tourism Agency always compensated the family members of the unlucky victims of dematerialization, giving the evergreen excuse that on Earth they didn’t have enough experience managing such advanced equipment, because extraterrestrial technicians were reluctant to train human crews to run teleport booths. Maybe there was a bit of truth in that. Surely newly trained human teletransport specialists would get off the planet as fast as they could: artists, scientists, athletes—they all ran from their birth world as soon as extraterrestrial credits made them understand where true happiness could be found."

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Some Girl

A woman travels in a band on the way to their next show.

"With raised eyebrows, Jay crouched down, turned his hand up, and motioned wide. From the flat top, we could see oil rigs in the distance. A pair of buzzards looped in a slow figure eight. I wondered what kind of body lay out there on that red expanse, just out of my eye line, drying out under the sun into those bleached desert bones people put on fireplaces. They disgusted me, sure, but something about them called for touch, to feel those natural cracks in skulls, how similar we are to porcelain on the inside. Once we lose our connective tissue, we can show softer to those that put their hands on us."

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Migration

The travels and migrations of a troubled young woman.

"Women made warnings of my peasant blouse and pouting thumb to children grown past frightened, but not yet ripened with rebellion. Men offered me rides. Maybe I took the rides. Maybe I left before they offered, tripped on a stone and tended to my bleeding knee."

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Haul Road

A conversation between two truckers on a wintry Alaskan highway.

"Even at twenty-five miles an hour the snowfall looks like a TV left on through dawn. French is on the radio, letting the checkpoint know how fucked the storm is. There’s nothing we can do but watch the path of the road to not end up in a ditch, or worse, the pipeline. Of course, the checkpoint’s still timing us, that’s the rules and breaking the haul road’s speed limit is the kind of thing that’ll get you shit-canned. French hangs the mic on the dash. 'Hey, G.P.,' he says, picking up where he left off, “how’s a Green Peace turd like yourself do with the ladies?'"

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These 13 Certain Things

A flight attendant's love affair.

"Only now, in filling up the legal yellow pads with her memories of Will bent over his maps and her black panties drying on the towel rack and those broken glasses and the plane roar that wakes her up at night, does he seem more lost then her. She wasn’t a bird, not a bit like one. Birds were sharp, had metal in their brains which told north and south apart."

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The Twenty-Third of June

Two lovers, a new home, a repeating cycle.

"That night, I will dream a dream of trains, and of the sound of waves. I will dream that I am the woman searching for something lost. I will dream the man’s dream, and walk into the night alone, guided by the moon. The earth is cool under my feet. It is summer. I can smell the light from the sun that has left the trees. I am knee-deep in the swaying ferns. They are so tall I only have to bend a little to reach them with my fingertips, and then I let my legs fold under me, and I lie down in the ferns. I close my eyes and listen to the ferns, try to understand their secret whispers. When I open my eyes again, the ferns begin to blossom, their fragile white petals bright against the night sky."

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From Clay

An American woman's travels and memories of her Russian husband.

"When Bramya was abroad, Sarah mixed adhesives, ordered glaze, saw friends, and lived without the expectation of change to this arrangement. She read his letters and answered his phone calls, and they talked about the things they did when they were apart, neither acknowledging that separation had come to be as familiar as the shape their bodies took together. But when she knew his flight had landed, she sat at the kitchen table with painful patience, rolling clay from hand to hand until it was made pliable by the heat of her skin, piecing together anxiety animals, anticipating the sound of the cab door closing that told her Bramya was on her street."

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Outlaws

Dodging bill collectors, a couple stops at a motel on their way to Tennessee.

"See, Faye was an absolute saint of a woman. Kind, funny, understanding to a fault, but she was young, eight years my junior, and she lacked a certain seriousness about her. Everything to her was solvable, temporary, and the gravity of our situation - how much we'd fucked things up, how much we owed, and what a general shit-storm we were in - didn't seem to bother her for a second. Being with her then was like looking down one day and realizing you were sporting a fancy convertible when what you needed was a four-door sedan."

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Three Aerogrammes

A series of one-sided international love letters.

"I want to frame those first three months I was in Paris with you, and that month last year in Morocco. I want to hang it next to the wooden clock on the wall above my bed. Those hot nights of waiting, talking, making love with our words on Rue D’Aboukir. Waiting for you to return to my fourth-floor apartment with ice cubes for the Martini Rossato and the loud love making that would follow next to paper thin walls where I could hear the neighbours cough. Paper-thin walls never mattered in that hotel room in Morocco. Calling out 'Oui', bent over the bed and the knock of the chamber maid on the door."

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Treading Water

A fragile relationship teeters during a family vacation.

"At the restaurant, I enjoy myself for the first time the whole trip: I try fried plantains and sopapillas, washing them down two real margaritas (made from tequila and lime; that’s pretty much it). There is a live band, and Inez pulls Alan up to dance. Her hips have probably never been told no. Erik and I watch from the table. He holds a hand out to me and raises an eyebrow. I shake my head."

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Everywhere and Nowhere

A narrator's philosophical observations on travel.

"How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures—even the elevator buttons!—are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths. They must have to write things down in special codes. Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them—they are accessible to everyone and everything! I heard there are plans in the works to get them some little language of their own, one of those dead ones no one else is using anyway, just so that for once they can have something just for themselves."

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Wake in the Sky

A distraught brother is given a Ziplog bag of his sister's ashes.

"So where should he stow a Ziploc bag of his sister’s ashes? Not all of her cremains, mind you. About a third, according to his father. Noah didn’t like the idea of their dad divvying her up, like a drug dealer, weighing out bags of powder. But more than that he also doesn’t like having that baggie now. On the airplane. Heading back to San Francisco. After the funeral."

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Present Perfect

Diary entries concerning innocent Americans abroad.

"Our conversation continues! He is come to tell me I may lunch with him, the progress of my new composition permitting—but immediately he sees I have not moved, not even to dress myself, or put pen to paper. You have a look of puzzlement on your face, little Lotte! he says, and again, I fear he is about to laugh. Indeed, sir, I do! I said. Because I am puzzled! Greatly puzzled! Look! he cried. She gesticulates! You are perhaps at heart una italiana!"

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YOU ARE BUT A PILGRIM TRAVELING TO A STRANGE AND HONEST LAND

Strangers unleash a mysterious mantra upon a weary traveler.

"From his glove box he pulled a laminated flyer no bigger than a bookmark. I took it with hesitation and studied the print. The first sentence said DID YOU KNOW HOPE AND DESPAIR ARE SISTER AND BROTHER AND YOU THEIR DISTANT COUSIN? There was a picture at the top of two people tugging a rope. There was a woman and a man and they looked like hieroglyphic people who had been locked in eternal struggle."

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Between Here and the Yellow Sea

A former student and high school coach travel to California to kidnap the coach's daughter, an adult film actress.

"I would watch her green eyes, the smile that always closed them. I remember her face lit by a Bunsen burner's quivering flame, laughter bursting from her like confetti. Once, I saw her slap Junior Wendell's hand away from her skirt, and I felt the confinement of a teenage girl. The way her mind was full of longings—a knot of emotions constantly rising to the surface, washing over her, carrying her through a harrowed suburban field, past the shopping mall and long acres of bluestem grass, into the back seats of cars, truckbeds."

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The Highway

Two strangers on a bus attempt to make sense of mutual loss.

"Back on the bus, the old man has vanished. Only flecks of tobacco linger on his empty seat. If he suspected me of anything, by now I’d know. Through the window, I watch the market shrink away until it’s no more. The sun beats on my face, hotter than yesterday, and the day before that. Motion sickness snaps between nerves in my brain, spreads down and gnaws the lining of my stomach. I feel my organs rotting from the inside out. One hundred and twenty. Stupid dogs."

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Abduction At the Deluxe Kwik-Trip Pump

A mother tries to get herself abducted, first for money, and then for appreciation.

"After all, Tim could not replace me with just any woman he plucked off the streets. He’d have to date first, and then there’d be nannies and maids to pay, restaurant bills, and eHarmony fees. Not to mention the time he’d lose on the endeavor, which, multiplied by his hourly rate, would cost a considerable amount. Viewed in this light, my value was significant. I used to work in marketing and view matters at all levels of illumination."

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Twenty-Nine Ingredients

Two friends travel to Mexico while dealing with individual deaths.

"Late in the afternoon Allison and I happen upon a parade in the oldest part of Oaxaca―more out-of-tune horn-players and wild-hot colors and heart-shaped garlands and costumes and photos of people gone but still remembered and cherished. Two tiny girls dressed in white, like angels or brides or spirits, carry a baby-sized cardboard coffin on their shoulders. These good people of Oaxaca have learned, one generation to the next, how to make this annual occasion of loss into celebration."

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Red Clay

A woman travels to Mexico at the request of her married lover/boss.

"The driver has a picture of his family on the dashboard, like the one Gustavo has on his desk at work of his two little runts, his wife, all in cowboy hats or sombreros. Meera doesn’t know the difference. In the picture, his wife comes across as a woman who likes to be in charge: big boobs, square shoulders, a sturdy ass and yet apparently confident in tight jeans. Meera doesn’t know her name, doesn’t want to know it. But in her head, when she thinks of her, her name is Gustava."

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Stopover

A story of friendship and distance between two Filipino-American women.

"If Cathy could ever convince herself to write a story about that night, she’d probably mention how she took Evangeline home after her friend had nearly passed out on the sidewalk in front of the fifth bar they had gone to; she’d admit that she had known that Evangeline wasn’t used to marathon drinking, but that Evangeline didn’t seem to mind. Maybe she’d describe how Evangeline’s laughter buzzed in her ears like flies’ wings as when she had asked Evangeline for her address, and how she watched the lights of downtown Austin illuminate the interior of their cab with its indulgent, wasteful glow. Evangeline had sobered up when they had gotten home, and they helped each other fold out her futon couch, laughing when they realized that they couldn’t figure out how they had done it when they futon finally gave in to their pushing. If words fractured a friendship, alcohol healed it, and she wished it were possible to drown in the amber-colored recklessness of that night forever."

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Madeleine E (Excerpt)

An experimental story of travel, quotations, and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.

"Two scenes intervene between Cypress Point and San Juan Bautista: one in Midge’s apartment, when Midge reveals her self-portrait-as-”Portrait of Carlotta” to Scottie, and, following it, a scene in Scottie’s apartment, “early dawn” the following day, when Madeleine comes to visit him to tell him about her dream. One scene attempts to conceal what it in actuality reveals, the other conceals that which it is supposed to reveal; Midge’s feelings for Scottie are clearest here, where her gesture is meant to be seen as ironic, and Madeleine’s are most calculated in the scene following it, just when she is supposed to be at her most vulnerable (“supposed to” according to her script, that is, the one written by Elster)."

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A V of Geese

Interlocking narratives of relationships and a potential murder.

"Metal ran in an extensive and intricate network in streams across the countryside and densely through the city. Metal channeled the blood, and metal screws held Sarah’s glasses together as she left the parking lot and exited Le Roy onto the freeway. She felt sad to have missed a chance to get involved with a crazed dangerous person like Mike. Had he really committed a murder before she picked him up? She thought about the geese and drove home."

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Birds In Fall [Prologue]

An ornithologist and a cellist converse desperately while trapped in a crashing plane.

Somewhere over the Bay of Fundy the cabin lights began to flicker. The video monitors went dead (they’d been showing a map of the Atlantic, with our speed, altitude, and outside temperature). The cellist looked up for a moment, her lips still moving with the sheet music. Then the cabin fell entirely dark, and a strange silvery light poured into the plane through each oval portal and lathed the aisles in a luminous, oddly peaceful glow.

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The Last Itako

After a tragic accident, a husband and wife take a trip to Japan.

"Neither of us knows what Nori looks like, nor do we know how he will recognize us. In my first reply email months ago, I had explained that my wife and daughter would like to try exotic foods, perhaps see a bit of Japanese history. I had forgotten, like so many other things that have since slipped through the cracks, to mention that Gracie would no longer be joining us."

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In Mykonos

A college student takes a trip to Greece following a death in the family.

"He bumped his way through the crowd of tourists shopping for postcards and miniature statues of gods with erect penises. Was his dad in an art gallery, picking up a sculpture of Poseidon for the foyer? Was he at a taverna sipping on local wine and feasting on fresh clams? Alex kept marching, out of the town and past the famous windmills. He looked back at Little Venice and its cluster of bars extending out over the water like they were threatening to leap."

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The Dark Arts

A man in a struggling relationship travels in Europe to find a cure for a serious medical condition.

"It was meant to be a romantic medical-tourist getaway, a young invalid and his lady friend sampling the experimental medicine of the Rhine. But they’d fought in France, and he’d come to Düsseldorf ahead of her. Now he waited not so hopefully, not so patiently—dragging himself between the hostel, the train station, and the Internet café, checking vainly for messages from Hayley—while seeking treatment at the clinic up on the hill."

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Winter Montage, Hoboken Station

Two friends meet and catch up at a train station bar.

"I cough something out about seeing him around and he swallows something back at me and each of us gives something that’s barely a nod. I start to walk towards the light rail to carry me home and I look out at the water. The snow’s still falling, hitting the Hudson and turning anonymous. I get the sudden abstract sense that going by train in this weather isn’t safe and I turn back around to see if Nathan’s still at the machine, if there’s time to go back to him and say something better than what I’ve given so far. When I look back, there’s no one left to stand at the machines."

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The Company Of Ashes

After a friend's death, three people take a trip to scatter the ashes.

"The will assigned the task of scattering the ashes to Megan and Nolan, high school friends, and me. We were to scatter the ashes in a ravine on Levi’s uncle’s farm in Henderson, Kentucky. A year passed before Megan, Nolan and I agreed on a weekend to make the trip. By that time I was out of the halfway house and working max hours as manager of a dingy apartment complex in Louisville. I couldn’t believe Levi, at twenty-two, had written a will."

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A Resting Place

An American woman in Chile takes a scenic trip with a local photographer.

"Carlos had told her there were beautiful things to see on the way. That this was one reason he’d like to take her into the outer heart of his native country. The other reasons were still in her inbox — he had fun that night, dancing and drinking and talking. He thought she was smart. He thought she should consider staying in Santiago for a while, making sure to add that he didn't want anything serious, just a friend. She could not say what she wanted. She did not want to go home and face the next step in her life yet, not even knowing what it was. She didn't want to be a cliché, falling in love with someone in another country, either. Of the two options, the love one to her seemed better. Ultimately, she’d let life take her where it wanted for a while. To read and run in the morning as she always had, but to give some months up to contemplating her place."

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Shooting the Moon

An elderly widower tries to convince his son to go on an overseas excavation.

"He thinks I’m an old man. I can see pity in his eyes when he talks to me, which, these days, isn’t so often. I want the tickets to be a surprise for two reasons. One, the money. I’ve already put out feelers to two New York-based auction houses and three high-end retail stores. Factor in the backstory, and I suspect the revenues will be hefty, at least $2,000 per bottle. Play a few interested parties off one another, and I’m sure that number will creep up. Allowing for 25 percent breakage over time, I calculate revenues of close to $12 million. Amortize the sales over ten years to prevent market saturation, subtract expenses, and I’d still reel in enough profit to have a pied-a-terre in the city plus a four-bedroom tax-haven in Nassau."

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The Lady Of the Reef

Memories of happiness and troubling behavior linger during a couple's vacation.

"He could hear nothing underwater but his breathing and the rise and fall of frothed waves. Sometimes Nora appeared in front of him or off to the side, but he couldn’t talk—only wave or point. She was beautiful, a streak of light in the water. He duck-dived and his breaths rumbled in the tube. He imagined the crew back on the boat. The whole trip he had noticed how people treated him differently, an Asian with a white wife in Australia, where they didn’t belong, even without knowing he had tried to choke her and she still refused to forgive him. The mask covered his nose and he breathed out of his mouth now like he did when he was trying to sleep."

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Miles from Nowhere

In 1968, the author revisits remote British Columbia, which he traveled two years earlier.

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GOING SOUTERRAIN

Exploring Paris’s parallel universe of tunnels, caverns and catacombs.

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Paradise With An Asterisk

“From all appearances, this place is still an earthly paradise. There is just one problem, though you could stare at this palm grove for a lifetime and never see it. The soil under our feet, whitish gray in color with flecks of coral, contains a radioactive isotope called cesium 137.”

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The Flight

A woman's communications and interactions with a potential criminal.

"The beaten man lurches to his feet and pulls out a shape, a gun, from his pocket–somehow it must have escaped the notice of the other men before. He staggers backward into the porticos and I can no longer see him. But a minute later I can hear him yelling in English as he storms up the stairs of my building, calling, 'Help! Help!' and hammering on doors. There are several banging sounds as though he’s fallen."

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The Swingers’ Guide To Islam

A Javanese shrine where Muslim pilgrims seeking good fortune must peform a ritual: find a stranger, have sex with them.

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Peeling Oniontown

Unraveling the layers of upstate New York’s most reclusive community.

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The American

A nameless, interlocking conversation about a tryst.

"Of course he was American, but I courted him, not the other way around. And now he's returned to the United States and you miss him. B-- removes a cigarette from her silver case. Please don't light that, A-- says, I haven't finished my meal. All right, go on then, tell us about him. When was the affair? C-- asks. He went home two weeks ago. You didn't tell us, D-- says. I didn't think you would understand. I understand that you're my friend and should have said something. So I was right, you don't understand."

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Death on the Path to Enlightenment

Westerners’ spiritual quests in India gone wrong.

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The Clown Show

A clown's harrowing, distorted journey through towns, roads, and memories.

"Now, long days along the roads, back roads and highways, roads of dust and concrete, roads bent and vibrating in the heat and the letter taped to the windshield, a membrane browning in the sun. Long days tangled in the station wagon, legs and heads flopped from windows, the back window kicked out and exploded into dust for the bulges and ruffles of a hundred Pierrots, their long red shoes and polka dots. Long days now hurtling along, lost in the vibrations of gestures, lost within the vibration of minds. These days hurtling along roads in an endless gesture, the only gesture Pierrot once knew. The gesture Pierrot never forgot."

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Ultimate Retreat to French Polynesia

Exploring remote atolls in the South Pacific.

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A Good Man Is Hard To Find

A family, headed to Florida, encounters a gang of criminals in this grim classic.

"The old lady said that in her opinion Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe acted you would think we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking about it, she was exactly right. The children ran outside into the white sunlight and looked at the monkey in the lacy chinaberry tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself and biting each one carefully between his teeth as if it were a delicacy."

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Paddled

An American enrolls in a Beijing ping-pong school. A series of humiliations ensue.

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Eddie Is Gone

On surf legend Eddie Aikau and the complicated history of Hawaii.

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Days of Reckoning

On Yemen’s uncertain future.

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Number One

Wildly diverse thoughts while waiting for coffee.

"I then remember that I am only ordering coffee and wonder how that would be depicted and I settle on an outline of Columbia only to realize that I am giving far too much credit to the register’s operator to deduce that coffee is the blow state’s largest legal export and then wonder if it could be a button with a brown “C” and realize how easily that would be confused with Coke."

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Sunshine 320 Days A Year

A father and daughter engage in an elaborate deception in a roadside diner.

"I followed him, stretching my legs to match his stride. I swung my arms, too, catching the shiny rhythm of the way he walked when he was excited about something. I copied the bounce in his step. Even though I was just an eleven-year-old girl, I promised myself that I, too, would someday ride trains and sit around campfires listening to old hobos telling stories. Even if I had to dress like a man to do it, I wanted that kind of experience, even more than being a war nurse. Before he got to the front door, I caught up. 'Let’s play deaf again.' 'Okay, squirt.' He zippered his lips with his fingers. 'Mum’s the word.'"

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Last Morning in Al Hamra

On living in Saudi Arabia.

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What We Liked About Bosnia

An American visitor reflects on a visit to Bosnia, with observations both sweet and ominous.

"We liked the weather on the ground and in the mountains and we liked the drive up Jahorena with its dismantled houses, houses whose faces were opened by bombs and tanks. We stayed in a cabin surrounded by snow and the ruined landscape of an ethnic cleansing. And on that mountain we threw paper planes and shot homemade videos and played steal the bacon until it was time for us to go to sleep, then wake up again feeling safe in the cold house with an unfed, wood-burning stove."

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Entrainment

The hungry, woozy thoughts of a young hitchhiker.

"The time since our last bath has made us smell completely wanton, like we’re bad apples. That is why I am not allowed to faint, no matter how hungry I get. If I swoon, there won’t be help. My body will not be held in arms until it can be laid gently among the reeds. Rather, my skull will split against, and brains will spill great fountains on the sidewalk. The crowd will continue, too busy to observe the tableau by their feet. If anyone hears my splash, they’ll see the dark sky and be convinced that it’s somehow got to do with rain."

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A Wild Week in Lagos

A trip to a modern African megacity.

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Sleeping with Cannibals

For days I've been slogging through a rain-soaked jungle in Indonesian New Guinea, on a quest to visit members of the Korowai tribe, among the last people on earth to practice cannibalism.
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City in a Bottle

The story of booze and Bangalore.

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The Existence Of The Opposite

Three women bribe a Red Cross driver for a ride to a battlefield to identify the lost men in their lives.

"They climbed into the back of the Red Cross truck, carrying small bags of lunch and the knickknacks they hoped to bury. The interior smelled of disinfectant, of cigarettes. The metal seats offered only the ache of ice. Underneath their unwashed winter coats, they wore clothing for the dead -- Carmen in Savic's favorite dress, the one he always begged her to wear without a bra, and now much too thin for this cold; Marina in jeans and a sweater, wearing her brother's skiing cap and a large cross around her neck, folding and unfolding her spotted hands; Gisele bundled up, zipped up, buttoned up with all the clothing she could wear, not a bit of wife showing."

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Timbuktu

An invitation to Timbuktu; an attempt to push away life's problems.

" Here, do not think about the past; do not worry about the future. Instead, think only of the present. Of the brilliant shining sun. Of the opalescent waves. Of the bleached rolling dunes in the distance. Let yourself fade away. Enjoy the weather of Timbuktu.……Walk across the island. Notice how the temperature is exactly what you’d want it to be if someone asked you. Do not think about how no one ever asks you—about anything. How most things occur against your will. Instead, realize that throughout Timbuktu, the temperature varies from 64° to 95°."

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You Leave Them

A troubled mother and daughter spend their first day in Los Angeles.

"I wonder what we looked like then, that day we drove over into California. My mother could probably still tell you what we wore. We were driving to California from Bay City, Wisconsin, just the two of us, so I could be a television star. We'd taken Ted's Mobile Credit Card and stayed in motels, charging gasoline and Cokes on the bills. We dug up to our shoulders in the ice chests, bringing the cold pop bottles up like a catch. We'd stolen vegetables all across America, anything we could eat without cooking. My mother spotted the trucks."

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The Machine-Tooled Happyland

A trip to Disneyland in the mid-1960s.

Previously posted on Longform.org on January 25th, 2012.
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Tourist Snapshots

"I turned to see Eva padding around the room, naked, dipping a small plastic wand into the bottle of bubble soap she’d bought at the market... Sometime in the far future, when I was lying on my deathbed, I said, this was the moment I wanted to remember."

On the relationship between travel and photography.

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Tomorrowland

A mother recalls her sexual past while on a trip to Disney World.

"We ride the Jungle Cruise. The animals are fake yet it remains a big draw of Adventureland. That and the turkey legs, which are big as clubs but 100% real. You should see how America eats them. I feel almost skinny. My husband picks up a stuffed giraffe as a souvenir. Call it luck. Until I planted that hissing plate of fajitas (hot, very hot) before him at Mary’s Cantina I had no idea anyone could see pregnant skin as potential."

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Everest, the Grandaddy of Walking Adventures

Eco-tourism in the Himalayas.

The valley is everything you'd want and more. An icy milky river thunders over rocks and below steep wooded slopes are lush fields where people are working the land, oblivious to the Gore-Tex procession. Oblivious but not unaffected: the houses are smart, the prayer wheels freshly painted, just about everyone has a mobile phone, it seems, and is on it, and there are very few places you can't get a signal around here. This is not really the place to come if you're looking for peace and quiet.

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Another Night to Remember

The sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship.

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The Bodega At The End Of The Earth

A woman goes to unexpected extremes to determine why her body has been invaded by microorganisms.

"There are microscopic organisms in my body. They’re not killing me, but I can feel them all the time. They hold impromptu line-dancing sessions in my abdomen when I am trying to eat. They think my lymph nodes are snooker balls. They climb out of my bellybutton while I am sleeping, and do an Irish jig atop my knee caps."

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The Republic of Marfa

A history of a small Texas town deep in the Chihuahuan desert:

The isolation is such that if you laid out the islands of the Hawaiian archipelago, and the deep ocean channels that separate them, on the road between Marfa and the East Texas of strip shopping and George Bush Jr., you’d still have 100 miles of blank highway stretching away in front of you.

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On Tipping in Cuba

Colonialism, the convertible peso, and the strange dance between the cheap beach tourist and the tour guide tout.

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Long Time Passing

A stoned woman's journey encompasses family memories and political and feminist activism.

"The caravan of images broke apart, dispersing into the motes that poured through the windshield of her Dart. Ruth took off her sunglasses and rubbed her eyes. The tiny blood vessels felt huge. She did not know her sister anymore; they were separated by politics and by her marriage to Jack. Had she ever known Helene? Ruth put the saliva-soaked joint to her lips, aware now of the music coming over the radio. “All you need is love. Love is all you need.” She laughed, sapphires and rubies spilling from her mouth, and the sadness left for a moment."

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Why the Titanic Still Fascinates Us

How movies, music and literature reproduce the disaster.

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Foggy Mountain Breakdown

A nerve-wracking mountain drive and degrees of protection.

"He didn’t seem to mind. He drove fast, confident, and he had turned the music up on the radio, and it was the wrong music, loud and angry, the kind she thought was okay sometimes, maybe when they were drunk and at a bar, laughing and shouting their words.But not now. The music, the loudness, the speed of sound and movement, the fog, the loopy meandering, the mountains ready to move, she couldn’t handle it."

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Traffic

Life as an air-traffic controller.

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Something More Interesting

Outside of a Springsteen concert, a lonely young woman bonds with a bus driver.

"Heidi stood there with him, waiting for him to do something else. The thought of sitting in a hot stadium with thousands of other people made her sick. But the driver wasn’t leaving either, she realized. He, too, stood there with his hands in his pockets, looking a little awkward. She felt her heart pound instinctively, and ran her hand through her hair to tousle it."

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Buy the Right Thing

On a press junket in Ecuador, the author investigates the ethics of shopping.

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The Life

Interviews with modern travelling salesmen. The article inspired Kirn’s novel Up in the Air.

What makes this a truly military culture, besides its overwhelming maleness, its air of emotional deprivation and the lousy rations, is its obsession with rank and hierarchy. Like jungle gorillas, business travelers always know where they stand versus the rest of the group. In this parallel universe of upgrade vouchers and priority-boarding privileges, everyone has a number and a position, and who gets that open aisle seat in first class means even more on the road then who earns what.

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Cattle Haul

A young man analyzes his personal problems while making a cattle delivery.

"I think about driving back through this mess after I drop the cows off, and speed up the drive in my eyes so that it’s like watching a movie in fast forward: me and the truck diving into the green again. I see my daddy in the house waiting for me, sitting at his same seat at the table. I picture this in my head even though I know he probably ain’t even going to be there, that the house will smell like empty: dust and cut grass and Comet and fried grease."

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Driving

A dream-like drive alternates between urban and rural settings.

"A few streets away from home now, past the closed tailor’s shop, and suddenly there are ducks gathered under a streetlight. The night is disobedient. When she pulls up she sees them standing there, hovering over a puddle of dark water in a small crater made by broken paving stones. There are seven of them, tall and snow white, untouched by the soot and grime in the air, with bright orange beaks and feet. She stops the car and turns off the lights."

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Fraser Island

Passengers and a tour bus driver share personal stories and local legends.

"Fraser Island is the world’s biggest sand island. It is made up entirely of sand. I like to say that a good island is just like a person: if you can understand its one main factor, you can understand the whole thing. The sand is what makes the island the way it is. It is all sand, blown together by the wind and taken here from the coast of New South Wales. That is why we have the trees we do, and why the beach and dirt are our roads. So you could say the island is the way it is because of sand from the wind."

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Earth Station: The Afterlife of Technology at the End of the World

A visit to the newly on-the-market Jamesburg Earth Station, a massive satellite receiver that played a key role in communications with space, and its neighbors in an adjacent trailer park.

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The Landing

A problem on an airplane, observed by the acute eye of Lydia Davis.

"With his announcement, everything had changed: we might all die within the next hour. I looked, for comfort or companionship in my fear, at the woman in the seat next to me, but she was no help, her eyes closed and her face to the window."

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Everyone Is an Immigrant

On the Italian island Lampedusa— “politically Europe, but geographically Africa”—as a wave of African immigrants is due to arrive from Libya by boat, ruining the tourist season.

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Living in a Trailer

On touring America and the culture of trailer parks in the early 1950s.

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The Place to Disappear

On Bangkok’s Khao San Road.

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Excuse Me, Weren't You in the Fall?

Tracking down 40-odd members of the British band.

It's a Tuesday morning in December, and I'm ringing people called Brown in Rotherham. "Hello," I begin again. "I'm trying to trace Jonnie Brown who used to play in the Fall. He came from Rotherham and I wondered if you might be a relative." "The Who?" asks the latest Mr Brown. "No. The Fall - the band from Salford. He played bass for three weeks in 1978." "Is this some kind of joke?"

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Highway to Homs

A motorcycle trip through Syria as it descends into chaos.

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Long Day's Journey

Two weeks spent walking across Provence.

There is something about entering an ancient town on foot that's radically different from entering the same place by car. Keep in mind that these old French towns were all designed by people on foot for people on foot. So when you walk in, you're approaching the place as it was intended to be approached—slowly and naturally, the way Dorothy came upon Oz (spires rising in the distance, a sense of mounting mystery: What kind of city will this be?).

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Heart of Dark Chocolate

You know this one: German guy heads into tribal jungle deep upriver, sends the company crazy reports full of radical ideas—and then goes totally rogue. Only this time it's not ivory he's after. It's a secret lost for centuries: the finest cacao on earth.
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The Curse of Lono

A trip to Hawaii to cover a marathon.

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On the Travelogue

A cultural history of the travel-writing.

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The Year of Reading Differently

The author reluctantly commits to a Kindle.
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U.S. Journal: Pinellas County, Florida Attractions

A visit to Walt Disney World.
The first thing I did at Walt Disney World was to take an oath not to make any smart-aleck remarks. A Disney public-relations man had told me that attitude was everything. So I placed my left hand on a seven-Adventure book of tickets to the Magic Kingdom and raised my right hand and promised that there would be no sarcasm on my lips or in my heart.
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Come to Happyland

Tourism in Burma? A journey through Asia’s most anesthetized state.

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Loch Ness Memoir

A trip to Scotland and an investigation of enduring belief:

I remember reading about the deathbed confession, and how strangely sad it made me, even though I had not, at that point, believed in the monster for years. How much sadder, I wondered, would it make those who still believed in the existence of a monster in Loch Ness?

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Pashean Play

At a dinner party, the author meets one of Afghanistan’s last remaining maskhara  an entertainer, thief and murderer.

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Land of Shadows

On the future of Myanmar.

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Meltdown

The writer travels with his father to Iceland and Greenland:

It usually takes a week of traveling with Ed Tower before I’m seized by the tantrum-pitching impulse and can barely resist the urge to punch myself again and again in the face.

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Travels with Toni

The author accompanies Toni Morrison to Stockholm, where she accepts the Nobel Prize in Literature.
"Hi," she said on the telephone, a week after the announcement. "This is Toni, your Nobelette. Are you ready for Stockholm?" Well, since she asked, why not? I left town for Greek light, German sausage, Russian soul, French sauce, Spanish bull, Zen jokes, the Heart of Darkness and the Blood of the Lamb. Toni Morrison's butter cakes and baby ghosts, her blade of blackbirds and her graveyard loves, her Not Doctor Street and No Mercy Hospital and all those maple syrup men "with the long-distance eyes" are a whole lot more transfiguring. Where else but Stockholm, even if she does seem to have been promiscuous with her invitations. I mean, she asked Bill Clinton, too, whose inaugural she had attended, and with whom she was intimate at a White House dinner party in March. (He told Toni's agent, Amanda "Binky" Urban, that he really wanted to go but... they wouldn't let him.) Salman Rushdie might also have gone except that the Swedish Academy declined officially to endorse him in his martyrdom, after which gutlessness three of the obligatory eighteen academicians resigned in protest, and can't be replaced, because you must die in your Stockholm saddle.
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The Cuban Grapevine

A visit to the new Havana.

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57 Feet & Rising

During the Great Floods of 2011, the Mississippi unleashed deadly currents and a flow rate that could fill the Superdome in less than a minute. Defying government orders, the author and two friends canoed 300 miles from Memphis to Vicksburg. This is their story.

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How to Mend a Broken Heart

A visit to the Museum of Broken Relationships.

Olinka and Drazen are artists, and after some time passed, they did what artists often do: they put their feelings on display. They became investigators into the plane wreck of love, bagging and tagging individual pieces of evidence. Their collection of breakup mementos was accepted into a local art festival. It was a smash hit. Soon they were putting up installations in Berlin, San Francisco, and Istanbul, showing the concept to the world. Everywhere they went, from Bloomington to Belgrade, people packed the halls and delivered their own relics of extinguished love: “The Silver Watch” with the pin pulled out at the moment he first said, “I love you.” The wood-handled “Ex Axe” that a woman used to chop her cheating lover’s furniture into tiny bits. Trinkets that had meaning to only two souls found resonance with a worldwide audience that seemed to recognize the same heartache all too well.

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Why Not the Worst?

A search for the “armpit of America” ends in Battle Mountain, Nevada.

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The Romance of Birthright Israel

On the Birthright Israel program, which sends young American Jews on a tour of Israel free of charge, thanks to massive funding from both the Israeli government and philanthropists like the conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

A new era is dawning for Birthright. What began as an identity booster has become an ideology machine, pumping out not only Jewish baby-makers but defenders of Israel. Or that’s the hope.

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The End of the Rodeo for the World's Greatest Cowboy

A profile of Florida legend—and pardoned killer—Charlie Driver.

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You Blow My Mind. Hey, Mickey!

A journey to Disney World with kids and weed.

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In Which We Are Back In Nigeria Now

On returning to Lagos after years abroad.

It is always understood when you leave Nigeria as a Nigerian that you will return at some point.

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Brazil in Three Fruits

A young mother transplants her family to Bahia.

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Walking the Border

Over the course of a year, Luke Dittrich will be walking the entire 1,933 miles of the Mexico-US border “from the beach to Gulf” with a stroller. The first in a series.

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A Pilgrimage of Sin: Booze, Bombs, and Hookers in Islamic Thailand

A travelogue through the contradiction-rich and predominantly Muslim Southern Thailand.

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Obama’s Young Mother Abroad

In 1967, Stanley Ann Dunham took her 6-year-old son, Barry, on an adventure to Indonesia. An excerpt from A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother.

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The Grand Tour

We ate in our own restaurants, stayed in our own hotels, and hired our own guides. We moved through a parallel Paris—and a parallel Rome, Milan, and so on.

The reporter takes a whirlwind guided bus tour of a Europe with a group of Chinese tourists.

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Operation Iraqi Vacation

From the Tower of Babel to the birthplace of Abraham, from Saddam’s ruined palaces to fortified blast-proof checkpoints, a diary from a nine-day, eight-night tour of Mespotamia/Iraq.

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Slam and Jam

Inside the world of air-traffic controllers.

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The Last Wailer

A trip to Kingston, Jamaica to track down Bunny Wailer, a reggae legend now living “in his own private Zion.”

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A Remote Town in Romania Becomes Cybercrime Central

A trip to Râmnicu Vâlcea, a town of 120,000 where the primary (and lucrative) industry is Internet scams.

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Las Terrenas

The writer and his girlfriend move to the Dominican Republic, joining the rapidly expanding community of expats who claim to have found paradise. They promptly get robbed at gunpoint. To cope, he investigates the country.

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Allen Iverson: Fallen Star

A reporter heads to Istanbul, where Iverson is playing minor league hoops in a 3,200-seat arena and hanging out at T.G.I. Friday’s.

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Internacionalista

Memories of the expat revolutionary scene in 1980s Nicaragua. An excerpt from Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War.

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In Search of Lost Paris

“Most cities spread like inkblots; a few, such as Manhattan, grew in linear increments. Paris expanded in concentric rings, approximately shown by the spiral numeration of its arrondissements.”

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If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be the Taliban

At tourism’s wildest frontier; guided tours of Afghanistan.

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Amakusa: Islands of Dread

The history of a Japanese archipelago and its inhabitants, through rebellions and famine, a 20th century exodus for prostitution work across Asia, and finally depopulation and isolation.

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The Lost Canadians

A report from Minnesota’s Angle Township, which was put in the U.S. instead of Canada by a map-maker’s error.

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Disneyland with the Death Penalty

William Gibson’s controversial take on the sanitized wonderland that is Singapore.

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If You Knew Sushi

A stroll through Tokyo’s Tsukiji, the world’s largest seafood market, and the mecca of the global sushi trade.

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After the Fall

A trip to interview former South Vietnamese premiere Ky on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the reunification of Vietnam ends with government surveillance, partying, and confusion.

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In the Land of the Juggalos

Horror-rap’s annual festival draws thousands of clown-makeup wearing Juggalos - devotees of Insane Clown Posse - for a weekend devoted to spraying Faygo soda, rioting, and discussions of the occult.

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Confessions of an Opium-Seeker

From Hong Kong to Bangkok to the Golden Triangle, the author searches for something everyone says no longer exists: an opium den.