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Painted Maidens Aren’t Always What They Seem

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Spring always reminds me of the years I spent in Japan. The damp chill of Tokyo winter gives way to gentle warmth. There’s a sense of optimism in the way people walk, and a smile hovers at the corners of every mouth. It’s a wonderful time to be alive. In Japan, spring is also the season for festivals. Most celebrate nature, renewal, and transformation. Those may seem like innocent...

Travels in Arabia Deserta

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Charles Doughty’s imposing 1,400 page tome is one of those strange books many people hail as a masterpiece of travel literature but which few of those people have read. Famous among scholars of Arab history and culture, it’s more often been described as “an achievement” than a gripping read. But thanks to this well chosen selection from Dover Publications, the casual...

Vagabond Dreams Outtakes #3 — Interrupted by Gunmen

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  Vagabond Dreams Outtakes are “deleted scenes” from my book. Think of them as a “Special Features” disc of outtakes and curios. This incident took place on the outskirts of Managua… I sat in blank Zen-minded drowsiness as the plush coach sped through vacant pre-dawn streets, letting the rumble of the engine lull me to sleep. I was just dozing off in the shabby...

The Road is My Guide

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Arrival is an event to be delayed as long as possible. To arrive is to end the journey. That period between departure and arrival, when the days blur together and time becomes plastic, is the opiate. It’s what keeps us going. For the true traveler, life is a series of consecutive journeys, one leading into the next, culminating in that most final of arrivals. And for all we know, that might...

Two Postcards from Laos

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Laos is a jungle country of rural villages with wooden stilt houses and smoky cooking fires. Karst hills obstruct the journey, jutting up like horribly broken teeth, unbrushed and moss-covered. Distances are not great, but winding roads make journeys into marathons. The highway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang is like a footpath that — over time and purely by default — became a highway...

By Freighter Down That Lazy River

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The journey from Managua to the port town of Bluefields on Nicaragua’s remote Mosquito Coast takes place in two phases: the first a teethrattling ride in a dustchoked bus down the only jungle road. At the road’s terminus, the lost town of Rama, you must throw your lot in with the Rio Escondido as it seeks communion with the sea. The engine pulses and shudders through the flaking steel...

Riding Theroux’s Ghost Train

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If you want to write meaningful travel literature, you’ve got to immerse yourself in everything that’s been published in the genre. In addition to reading broadly, I’ve made it a habit to read deeply of specific writers whose work truly resonates with me. I first read everything they’ve ever published. Next, I read their collected letters and journals. After that comes...

Vagabond Dreams Outtakes # 2 — Alone in a Crowd

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Vagabond Dreams Outtakes are “deleted scenes” from my book. Think of them as a “Special Features” disc of outtakes and curios. This incident took place in Guatemala… During highland evenings a damp chill replaced the setting sun.  The park was filled with couples. Old couples walked arm in arm, dressed as though for a first date. Young couples clung to each other on...

A Postcard from Tibet

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A heavy silence replaced the motor’s shake and grind. Metal ticked softly in the disconnected dead of night, and the side wall of the bus was cold to the touch. I struggled out of my plywood bunk and climbed over baggage and sleeping bodies to take a piss outside the front door. Suddenly lightheaded, on the edge of passing out, I stumbled back to my bunk where I shivered in a panting heap...

It Ain’t Nothing But The Hound, Dawg

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Only those with little money and infinite patience would consider crossing the continent by bus, but it can be an unforgettable experience, one that’s inaccessible to the short distance traveler. A barrier is breached when you go beyond that one-day travel gap. Your time sense shifts, the days become cyclical, and the only constant is movement. Like a rocket or a submarine, the bus carries...

Ryan Murdock

Author of Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Columnist at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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