I have a thing for extra virgin olive oil. Some might call it an obsession, but I prefer to think of it as a love affair. I’ve chased that golden-green elixir around the world, savoring its subtle inflections: grassy, fruity, nutty. My husband has waited patiently in elegant tasting rooms as I sipped varietals and cultivars and single-estate standouts, robust early harvests and pale, buttery award-winners.

Snack of olive oil, hummus, crackers, and vegetables
Snack of olive oil, hummus, crackers, and vegetables
Olive oil snack. It’s good brushed on grapes, too, for that professional-looking shine. (Photo by author)

At home, extra virgin olive oil is my favorite afternoon snack. I pour it onto a cracker and admire it there in a tiny, shimmering pool surrounded by a dollop of hummus to keep…

Haggis hunting in comfort

When I mentioned my upcoming trip to Scotland, friends didn’t ask whether I’d be tracking down the Loch Ness Monster or attending the Highland Games. They weren’t interested in my plans for visiting world-class golf courses or drinking fine single-malt Scotches. They were not concerned, either, with windswept moors or ancient castles.

They asked about haggis.

“Eeeew — you aren’t going to eat that awful stuff they make with intestines, are you?”

“It’s offal, not awful,” I would correct them, “and it’s the national dish.”

My friend Kate looked it up online. “It is a savory pudding traditionally made with…

Fusterlandia (images © Laurie McAndish King)

From Havana’s startling graffiti to Fusterlandia’s zany sculpture, Cuban art is full of mystery and symbolism.

A long blue pool stretches across the center of the compound. It is surrounded by tall palm trees and slippery, red-lipped fish. Looking down from his home above the water, a laughing monkey sits atop the pregnant giraffe’s back. Roosters spread their wings in the sun. Nearby, a gigantic strawberry-and-pistachio sundae with a cherry on top melts in the bright December light. There is no sound.

I move silently, glad I wore my sneakers. It’s still early, and I don’t want to disturb the…

Inside the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka (© Laurie McAndish King)

High above the clouds in the forested mountains of Sri Lanka sits the city of Kandy, once the capital of an ancient kingdom and now home to one incalculably precious treasure: the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Guatama Buddha.

I’m not a Buddhist, but as soon as I heard about the Sacred Tooth Relic I knew I had to see it.

According to legend, mourners rescued this tooth from the remains of the funeral pyre on which the Buddha was cremated nearly 2,500 years ago. The legend doesn’t specify which tooth it was — canine or molar, upper or lower…


My first time was with my father. He decided it was time for my initiation because I was, after forty-plus years, still a virgin — an eclipse virgin.

Let me explain.

If you’ve never experienced a total solar eclipse, that’s what you’re called: an eclipse virgin. We’re talking about that elegant astronomical collusion during which the earth, the new moon, and the sun are perfectly aligned. Partials don’t count, and the moon doesn’t either. It’s a moment hung in time: a mere blink in the lifetime of our solar system — but oh, what a blink! People who experience it…

The first time I tracked lions, it was from the relative safety and comfort of a large — although open — Land Rover, with a loaded rifle situated handily next to the driver. At that time our guide had assured us that as long as we didn’t wear brightly colored clothes, make noise, or stand up, the animals would perceive us as part of the vehicle, and therefore not worth eating. His logic was not entirely convincing. Lions have been making their living — for, what, several million years? — by figuring out what is, or is not, edible. And…

Chaik, a one-thousand-pound brown bear, lumbers in my direction, stops, and rises to his full height — about ten feet. He looks directly at the man standing next to me and roars.

“Do you want to feed him?” the man asks.

We are about forty feet away from Chaik, which would be a far-less-than-safe distance except for the fact that the hulking bruin is safely situated in a gigantic cement pit, the remains of an abandoned paper pulp mill just outside Sitka, Alaska. Or rather, I am safely situated on the walkway at the top of the seventeen-foot-high wall that forms the perimeter of the old pulp basin that…

Sama at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka. Photo © Jim Shubin.

Sama is the saddest elephant I have ever seen.

A small adult, she has only three usable legs and leans desolately against a sturdy metal fence at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in central Sri Lanka. A hundred or so tourists crowd around the dusty corral that houses Sama and three adorable baby elephants. Most of the visitors are admiring the babies, and a few lucky ones even get to feed the youngsters from giant baby bottles. But I am looking at Sama.

Sama’s right front foot and about six inches of her lower leg were blown off when she stepped on a land mine during the Sri Lankan civil…

Each winter, just as surely as frost laces the trees and ice begins to silence the wetlands, hundreds of bald eagles congregate in a “fly-in” at northern California’s Klamath Basin. The weather is numbing, but if you’re willing to rise before dawn and brave sub-freezing temperatures, you’ll witness one of the most spectacular events a wildlife enthusiast will ever see.

One icy day in early February I joined a dozen or so other raptor fanatics at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. We had spent the night in an unheated cinderblock motel, catering mostly to duck hunters. …

Laurie McAndish King

Award-winning travel writer and photographer specializing in nature and culture.

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