Books: Evils of the Junket

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, April 1995

Books: Evils of the Junket
By Miles Harvey

Errant Journeys: Adventure Travel in a Modern Age, by David Zurick (University of Texas Press, $30). Everywhere David Zurick looks, he finds the world "on a path toward conformity." Yet it wasn't until recently that Zurick, a compulsive adventure traveler, realized that he is an agent of this homogenization. As he and other Westerners push deeper into the earth's most remote regions--from the highlands of Nepal to the forests of Cameroon--they infect these areas with the same modern world they seek to escape, forever altering native lifestyles and landscapes. Errant Journeys is thus a profoundly self-reflective meditation on the political, cultural, spiritual, and ecological ramifications of an adventure travel industry that's driven by "the West's own disenchantment with itself." Zurick is especially critical of increasingly popular quick-hit package tours. He views such trips, including a whirlwind group jaunt he took through the villages of northern Thailand's hill tribes, as "ethnic voyeurism" at best and "the commodification of life" at worst. Errant Journeys should be required reading for all conscientious adventurers. Zurick may not dissuade you from taking your next trip, but he's sure to change the way you experience it.

The Life and Death of Petra Kelly, by Sara Parkin (Pandora, $22). The mystery of Petra Kelly's death has tormented the environmental community since October 19, 1992, when the patron saint of the European green movement was discovered at her Bonn home with a bullet through her head. The gun that killed her was found a few yards away, near the body of her lover, retired NATO General Gert Bastian--leading many to speculate that the two had agreed to a suicide pact. Not so, argues Parkin, a longtime Kelly friend. Instead she theorizes that Bastian--afraid of losing Kelly, distraught over family troubles, and terrified about a potential political scandal--shot his unsuspecting lover as she slept, and then took his own life. Yet Parkin offers little solid proof for these conjectures. And ironically, because Parkin delves so deeply into Bastian, he becomes a more compelling character than the book's hero. Nonetheless, Parkin brings passion to her telling of the Green leader's story. But this admittedly biased biography is far from the final word on Petra Kelly's life or death.

Heart of the Land: Essays on the Last Great Places, edited by Joseph Barbato and Lisa Weinerman (Pantheon, $24). A literary Dream Team--including Rick Bass, Philip Caputo, Louise Erdrich, Pam Houston, Teresa Jordan, Barbara Kingsolver, Peter Matthiessen, and Terry Tempest Williams--contributes work to this project of The Nature Conservancy. In each essay, a different author travels to one of the ecosystems that the Conservancy is working to save--from a "wilderness of green shadows" in Micronesia (Paul Theroux) to the "surreal, vast expanse" of New Mexico's Gray Ranch (Jim Harrison). Despite surprisingly flat contributions from such writers as Thomas McGuane and William Least Heat-Moon, most of the essays are outstanding. Among the best is William Kittredge's painful account of his return home to Oregon's Warner Valley, where he and his family "did great we pursued our sweet impulse to create an agribusiness paradise." Echoing the conclusions of many contributors, Kittredge calls for a new relationship with the land: "We have lived like children, taking and taking for generations, and now that childhood is over." Or, as Rick Bass puts it, "When we run out of the country, we will run out of stories." Heart of the Land demonstrates that, luckily, we still have some breathtaking examples of both.

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