Tales So Chilling You'll Consider Staying Home


DANGER! True Stories of Trouble and Survival edited by James O'Reilly, Larry Habegger and Sean 0'Reilly (Travelers' Tales Guides, $17.95, paper).

Some of the selections in this book reflect dubious travel judgment (that solo Atlantic crossing in a wooden boat probably seemed like a good idea at the time). And at least one--the inclusion of a Los Angeles gang member's swaggering account of his supposed attempt to commit murder--shows extremely bad editorial judgment.

By and large, though, these are rippin' good yarns, superior to the sort of "there I was" tales adrenaline junkies might spout at sky diving conventions. To stop reading most of these mid-story would be about as easy as turning back after leaping from a plane.

Beyond the thrills, there are travel lessons here. In "A Zambian Nightmare," Anthony Brennan offers up a chiller that could easily be optioned for a slasher movie script if the ending weren't relatively happy.

Alone in a friend's huge estate, the author and his girlfriend awaken to a gang of wild-eyed thieves within the compound, just outside their window. The police don't answer the phone. The guard dogs have been drugged. Running from room to room, locking doors behind them, the couple listen as their visitors, armed with machetes, hack and smash their way closer and closer.

Later, the two learn that just down the road from the estate, in a direction they'd never traveled, is a shantytown. Confronted with the stark juxtaposition, Brennan has the sort of epiphany that many travelers manage to avoid even as it stares them in the face: Perhaps a 6,000-square-foot mansion with all the trimmin's is a bit tempting and annoying to neighbors raising hungry children in cardboard shacks without water or electricity.

Another of the attempted crimes reported in this book is without any such mitigation. Josie Dew has bicycled on her own through 36 countries. One day, in Bulgaria, while fighting off dehydration and illness, she lowered her guard and accepted a ride from a pleasant-seeming fisherman.

The man took her to his fifth-floor apartment, gave her water and food. Then started stalling. The wife and children he promised never showed. When Dew tried to flee, she found no knob on the door. A struggle ensued. The man beat her. Threatened her. Raged. Rape seemed inevitable. Then, in a moment of bravery that only fear can compel, she found a terrifying escape route and rescue.

As Tim Cahill writes in his introduction to the collection: "Concepts of cowardice and courage exist in continuous collision, of course, and oftentimes dwell within the same person, at the same time. This is what we might call the surface tension of danger."

WORLDWIDE RIDING VACATIONS--A Global Guide to Holidays on Horseback by John Ruler and Arthur Sacks (The Compleat Traveller, $21.95 paper).

In most parts of the U.S., litigation has taken the fun out of riding vacations (and plenty of other activities) as lawsuits fly in the face of common-sense notions of risk.

Hence, it's virtually impossible to rent a horse here without a guide.

That may explain why this book will evoke such longing among those who love riding but can't afford to keep a horse. Canter through the snow in Finland. Pub crawl on horseback through New South Wales. In Kenya's Masai country, one outfitter's clients open up for long gallops. Should a rider tumble, hyenas, not lawyers, are likely to swarm.

One caveat: The book contains articles by folks with vested interests. So take that information with a grain of salt.

Quick trip


Together these books offer an excellent accompaniment to that fabulous stretch of coast between Big Sur and the Washington border. Restaurants, events, lodging, cool side trips.

Books to Go appears the second and fourth week of the month.

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