Relics, Miracles, and Faith Light the Way Along Spain’s Camino de Santiago

It was pure good fortune that enabled me to arrive in Santo Domingo de la Calzada on the feast day of Saint Dominic. I was hiking west along the Camino Frances, en route to Santiago de Compostela, when I saw people gathering in front of the cathedral for a procession that gradually wound its way through the old town on streets lined with spectators. Young men in medieval costumes performed traditional folk dances at points along the route. Young women in period dress marched together.  Men wearing red berets played traditional melodies on flutes. The music and the dances were little changed from medieval times.  I felt as if I were observing a cultural tableau dating back hundreds of years.

Portland’s Whimsical Creativity Trumps Grit and Crime

When I first moved to Portland, Oregon, in the early 1990s, one of my first friends was a man who self-published a high-brow zine about amusement park rides. He eschewed car ownership, although he was happy to ride in mine. When we played Scrabble, he favored long, obscure words over point value. For all of my friend’s quirks, he turned out to be a surprisingly typical Portlander. Those who found Portland too self-consciously hip could laugh at its liberal excesses as immortalized in Portlandia. But these days, Portland has acquired a layer of grit. Homeless camps and boarded-up buildings covered with graffiti dot the whole city. Does the promise of Portlandia live on? For the sake of journalism, I decided to take an unflinching look at my city. Read More

Agatha Christie: The Mystery Maven Who Traveled the World

Chances are, wherever you travel, you’ll find an Agatha Christie paperback. With eighty detective novels and story collections to her credit, Christie’s work has been translated into 130 languages and ranks third in sales behind the Bible and Shakespeare. She loved nothing more than going away and was utterly fearless about trying new destinations. Of her “foreign travel books,” she later would write, “if detective novels are escape literature, the reader can escape to sunny skies and blue water as well as to crime in the confines of an armchair.”


Plane Spotters Share Birdwatchers’ Passion for Things that Fly

Birdwatchers stroll through forests hoping to catch a glimpse of an elusive bird. Plane spotters do the same, only their birds are bigger, louder and arrive on schedule. This isn’t some small group.  Plane spotters have an extensive network of members from all over the world. In Los Angeles, their Facebook Group LAX24R, the official LAX Plane Spotting Community, has over 4,200 members, and that’s just one group for one airport. For most people, plane spotting is just a hobby, something they do for pleasure. It’s mesmerizing to watch 330 tons of metal inbound from an exotic destination gliding gently toward a runway, and being able to capture that feeling is immensely satisfying. For others, it becomes a global pursuit for photos that showcase airplanes and airports.

Above the Arctic Circle Alaskans Skin Moose and Mush Dogs

It’s 1:00 am under a brooding Alaska sky in February. The temperature’s a few degrees above zero and there’s no sign of the aurora borealis. I wander back into the pioneer cabin where the others in my party are waiting around for the northern lights to show. Inside, Jack Reakoff holds forth about how to hunt, slice and transport the hides and carcasses of various large Alaskan mammals. He’s even brought laminated, full-color sheets showing himself and his wife posing with their kills and pictures of the chunks of meat these animals become. He segues from the best cuts of moose and bear to his upcoming gig training Special Forces how to safely cross frozen rivers.

“What do you think the most dangerous thing here is?” he asks, peering around the pioneer cabin at my group, a ball of energy despite the hour. “Bears? Moose? No, falling through the ice. Getting wet in cold weather.” The aurora never shows on my second night in Alaska. Still, after a couple of hours with Jack, I’m gripped by the spirit of Alaska and the self-sufficiency necessary to live here.

Life and Death Under the Volcano for the Bali Aga

North of the market town of Ubud, Bali’s tourist resorts and handicraft markets give way to small villages like Trunyan, pop. 300, that belong to a mountain people called the Bali Aga. Unlike Balinese Hindus elsewhere, the Bali Aga do not memorialize the dead with elaborate cremations. Instead, they place their deceased kinsmen beneath a large tree and let nature reclaim the bodies. In my imagination, Trunyan seemed both dreadful and exotic at the same time.