Travel from your armchair

A collection of 30- odd features from the best Canadian travel magazine.
Travel from your armchair
Travel from your armchair

This may sound like a strange confession for a magazine writer, but I&rsquove never been much of a fan of reading magazines. Secretly, I&rsquove always had the sneaking suspicion that anything of any consequence will eventually make its way into a book. Reading Way Out There&nbspby James Little (Greystone Books, Rs 600, 369pp), a new anthology of writing from Canada&rsquos top travel magazine, almost changed my mind. Maybe I should start reading Explore, I thought.

A collection of 30-odd features from Explore, Way Out There shows that the Canadian magazine has terrific range. There&rsquos no endless slog of gear-based, &ldquoI&rsquom-more-daring-than-you&rdquo articles here, and none of the formulaic, begin-with-colourful-anecdote-and-end-with-hotel-prices articles that plague travel mags. From Ross Crockford&rsquos piece about the fastest cyclist on planet Earth to Charles Montgomery&rsquos interview with the Solomon Islands&rsquo last surviving headhunter (&lsquoSearching for Big Man Magik&rsquo) these are thoughtful, surprising, and above all informative stories &mdash not of the &ldquohow I rate the service at the Plaza&rdquo variety, but the kind you remember and irritate your wife by reading aloud.

Consider, for example, Explore contributing editor J.B. MacKinnon&rsquos piece on travelling in the Sudan (&lsquoBehind the Grass Curtain&rsquo). It begins with a gimmicky, commercial magazine premise &mdash MacKinnon sets out to prove that Canadians are no longer the world&rsquos most welcomed travellers, now that Canada has begun to interfere in world affairs. But MacKinnon hardly allows the sales-pitch to distract him as he narrates his story of travelling across the southern region of the warring country. The result is a vivid and accessible portrait, all the more perceptive because it has no journalistic purpose, because the entire project, like the war, is essentially absurd.

Similarly evocative, though in a completely different vein, is Jerry Kobalenko&rsquos feature about the extreme sport of marathon swimming. Like many outdoor pursuits, marathon swimming has in recent years changed from a feat of endurance like climbing Everest (all those paddlers who dared the English Channel) into an organised sport with a tour along the lines of the one ran by the Association of Tennis Professionals. Kobalenko manages to capture the drama of competitive swimming and the freakish psychology of the athletes who risk their lives in Canada&rsquos freezing waters remarkably well. But I mention it here because it illustrates the great strength of many of the articles in this collection they evoke the bizarre nature of Canada&rsquos remote and cold expanses as dramatically as most &lsquotravel writing&rsquo describes India, Africa, and other places deemed to be &lsquoexotic&rsquo by editors on the other side of the world.

And for that reason,
Way Out There 
offers great armchair travelling.

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