By Maria Moss

What exact­ly is a trav­el­ogue? Or, asked dif­fer­ent­ly, what is it not? A trav­el­ogue is not an adver­tise­ment that tries to sell spe­cif­ic des­ti­na­tions to its read­ers. A trav­el­ogue is not a guide­book with a list of the top 10 best restau­rants or mas­sage places. Rather, a trav­el­ogue is a cre­ative nar­ra­tive of someone’s expe­ri­ences while traveling.

Trav­el­ogues focus on and cel­e­brate the dif­fer­ences in tra­di­tions and cus­toms around the world; very often, they’re con­ver­sa­tion­al in tone and filled with fun­ny details (see, for instance, Bill Bryson’s Sto­ries from a Small Island). Good trav­el­ogues con­tain vivid descrip­tions and sen­so­ry details; unex­pect­ed, maybe even trans­for­ma­tive expe­ri­ences; and accounts of inter­ac­tions with local peo­ple. Trav­el­ogues can also com­bine fic­tion­al and fac­tu­al ele­ments, as one of the great­est trav­el writ­ers, Bruce Chatwin (1940–1989), beau­ti­ful­ly demon­strat­ed (e.g. the sto­ries deal­ing with his trip to Aus­tralia, The Song­lines). Fic­tion­al or non-fic­tion­al, fun­ny or not – above all, a trav­el­ogue must tell a story.

The fol­low­ing two trav­el­ogues, writ­ten by cre­ative writ­ing stu­dents in the fall semes­ter 2022/23, each tell a sto­ry. One takes place in the Ecuadore­an rain­for­est, the oth­er in Venice.

Yes, I do!

By Gaia Braßeler

Cesar stares at me: “You know you’re sup­posed to just chew it and then spit out the rest, right?” No, I didn’t know that. It’s only my sec­ond time eat­ing ants. Tun­ti­ak laughs at me: “Didn’t your par­ents teach you any­thing? Your stom­ach will be in pain after this.”

It’s a sun­ny day in the rain­for­est. We’re sit­ting on a bench in Tunants. Music starts blar­ing, the gen­er­a­tors are on. It’s the first day of a three-day par­ty to cel­e­brate the found­ing of the vil­lage. There will be food and games and per­for­mances by the stu­dents. Yes­ter­day we caught a whole pot full of ants to con­tribute some­thing to the big meal.

I remem­ber the first time eat­ing ants a few months ago. A lit­tle girl came up to me and put them on the table. “Quick­ly or they will fly away. And make sure to remove their pli­ers, so they don’t cut your tongue. They can even cut through rub­ber boots, you know?” I do now – they cut through mine last night.

It’s easy to col­lect fly­ing ants. To attract them you put a flash­light into a pot; once they’re caught, you quick­ly remove the flash­light and close the lid, shake the pot, and voilà: You´ve got your­self a nice snack. Toast­ed and with salt, they taste a bit like chips. At first, I was strug­gling with eat­ing the live ones, but I didn’t want them to fly around the room, and not eat­ing them would have been incred­i­bly impo­lite. As a mat­ter of fact, I seem to have very bad man­ners over here. When I first arrived, I didn´t know that refus­ing any food or drink was an insult to the per­son offer­ing, their fam­i­ly and the whole vil­lage. I insult­ed many people.

Tunants is a one of the big­ger vil­lages in the area. It has nine hous­es and a school. And some­times elec­tric­i­ty. This week­end, peo­ple from all over Taisha came to cel­e­brate, sell food and jew­ellery, and take part in the soc­cer and the dance competitions.

Taisha is the biggest can­ton with the low­est pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty in the province of Morona San­ti­a­go in Ecuador. Accord­ing to Wikipedia, Morona Santiago’s main source of income is the tourism indus­try, but in the last eight months, I’ve only met one oth­er tourist. A poor guy who fell asleep on the wrong bus and woke up to find him­self look­ing out the win­dow at the rain­for­est with­out a clue where he was. He didn’t speak any Span­ish but man­aged to make the bus stop when he saw me and my friend walk­ing along the side of the road. We told him to just wait for the next bus in the oppo­site direc­tion. There’s only one road here, so the bus­es just go back and forth. When we came back four hours lat­er, he was still sit­ting in the same spot. He didn’t know he had to wave for the bus to stop.

Most peo­ple who live in Taisha belong to the Shuar, one of many Indige­nous peo­ples of Ecuador. By the time of the par­ty, I had already learned some of the Shuar lan­guage and cul­ture. Enough to get by, or so I thought. Not enough, it turned out. I cre­at­ed a huge scan­dal by both danc­ing with the same man three times and by mis­un­der­stand­ing and acci­den­tal­ly say­ing ‘yes’ to a mar­riage pro­pos­al by a man I had no inten­tion of mar­ry­ing. When my host fam­i­ly kicked me out for my behav­ior lat­er, they didn’t make it clear which one was worse. I’m still wondering.



By Jus­tus Runte

On the morn­ing of our jour­ney, I wake up with a sore throat. The next twelve hours spent on the overnight train don’t help improve my con­di­tion. Upon arriv­ing in Venice, we are exhaust­ed and cold. It’s late Novem­ber, and walk­ing through the crowd­ed city with our heavy back­packs is the last thing we want to do. We final­ly sit down in the small Café del Vico­lo in one of the nar­row alley­ways and wait for the own­er of our rental to bring us the keys. We order cap­puc­ci­no and learn our first sen­tence in Ital­ian: “Avete il lat­te di soia?” Next, we have our first, cer­tain­ly not our last Spritz and try not to appear too much like Amer­i­can tourists. I wash down a pill to sup­press my inten­si­fy­ing symp­toms while Luki reads a pas­sage from the nov­el Jour­ney by Moon­light aloud. Here, Hun­gar­i­an author Antel Szerb writes about a failed hon­ey­moon in Venice.

This trip is not for plea­sure – we’re here on a uni­ver­si­ty excur­sion. We are here for the arts, the cul­ture, and our edu­ca­tion. We take this endeav­or very seri­ous­ly. In between our numer­ous cap­puc­ci­nos and Spritzs, we walk around the great exhi­bi­tion spaces of the Bien­nale with our note­books and pens, using big words like tran­scen­den­tal, sub­lime, and exis­ten­tial to show how invest­ed we are. We are not pre­ten­tious, we just try to fit in.

On our last day, two well-dressed strangers approach us in a gift shop. They give me their busi­ness card. They work for a mod­el­ing agency in Milan. We take the train back to Ger­many with stom­achs full of pas­ta, Spritzs, and cap­puc­ci­nos. And heads full of art, dream­ing of a life as a mod­el in Italy.


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Maria Moss is a blog edi­tor. Find her bio here.

Gaia Braßel­er stud­ies Glob­al Envi­ron­men­tal and Sus­tain­abil­i­ty Stud­ies at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty Lüneb­urg. She loves to read and do Kung Fu.

Jus­tus Runte is in his third semes­ter of Cul­tur­al Stud­ies at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty Lüneb­urg. His hob­bies include read­ing and jog­ging. He would also like to become a doc­u­men­tary film­mak­er – maybe the next Wern­er Herzog.