Five Questions With Celeste Brash

Portland-based travel writer Celeste Brash has written more than 30 Lonely Planet guidebooks. Her new title, Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, appeared this summer.

By Heather Strang July 18, 2012 Published in the August 2012 issue of Portland Monthly

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Photo: Courtesy Celeste Brash

Celeste Brash at the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia

You got your start as a twentysomething in Southeast Asia with $600 in your pocket. You fell in love with a Tahitian pearl diver and lived on a South Pacific atoll. Now you’re an established international travel writer. Glamorous! Right? No, although the image certainly is. People tend to imagine me flying first class with a silk scarf around my neck. In truth, I’m crunched in coach, my clothes are falling apart, and I’m sweating because there’s no air conditioning.

But there has to be a sexy part of it, no? I love visiting crazy, out-there spots like Pitcairn Island in the middle of the Pacific, where only about 50 people live. And when I was traveling in American Samoa, a village threw a feast in my honor, which meant we ate while the rest of the villagers fanned the flies from our food. So … that’s pretty sexy.

What’s the weirdest experience you’ve had abroad? I got cursed with black magic by a random man at a train station in central Java—apparently he did this to me when I looked him in the eye. About a week later, after days of strange happenings, sickness, and no clue I’d brushed with bad magic, I met a holy man who recognized that I’d been cursed. I hardly believed it, but the holy man “removed” the magic with some chanting, incense, and arm waving. The energy came up out of my stomach through my mouth like a softball. Then life went back to normal.

Mmm, OK. How do you keep stuff like curses from happening more often? My husband says I have a highly developed don’t-fuck-with-me-vibe. Looking confident, saying no when you need to, and paying attention to the world around you tends to stop potential hasslers from getting anywhere with you or even approaching you.

You go everywhere and could presumably live anywhere. Why settle in Portland? I fell in love with Portland because I don’t feel like a freak for being interesting and I don’t feel freakishly interesting either. Everyone here is interesting, and I love going to an event and meeting 10 or more people who are living amazing lives. I feel like I belong here. In all of my traveling, I’ve never been anywhere like Portland.

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