Destination: Anywhere but here

More than a few recent events have prompted the nation to cast its sympathetic eyes on our fair city, and some media have gone so far as to accost locals with the question, "Do you want to get the hell out?" With WTO, alcohol-induced riots, and a seismic jolt under our belts, it's a question we might very well want to ask ourselves. It certainly doesn't help that we're in the midst of the late-winter blahs, the kids are headed to Disneyland and Hawaii for spring break, and we're stuck in the rubble, literally, twiddling our thumbs till the bleakness ends. So what's stopping us? Why don't we just leave? Jobs, significant others, and property aside, now's the time to plot our escape from this City of the Damned.

Which is where books come in—travel books, that is. Our pals in Oakland and Australia, the Lonely Planet publishing folks—no strangers themselves to natural disasters and scary crowds assembling in the name of "amateur sport"—have sent over their newest updated editions about places that can be easily seen as preferable to our unstable existence. Herewith, a brief rundown of places to go and what you'll find when you get there. After all, anywhere's better than here!

Baja, California (by Andrea Schukte-Peevers, David Peevers, Michele Matter, and Sarah Long; $17) It's not quakeproof: Baja was formed by a tectonic shift in the earth's crust starting 20 million years ago, creating this mighty landmass almost entirely surrounded by water. Known for decades as an "escape" destination by ex-cons and soul-searchers alike, it's both a natural wonderland and a party spot. Desert, beach, mission, or city, this is a place for leisure and relaxation. Sample multiple tequilas in Tecate or catch marlin in La Paz. Take a sandy stroll to Land's End in Cabo San Lucas or take in a soccer match in Tijuana. Nobody knows you here—you're just another Yank with a sunburn, a gringo without a plan, a person with a few pesos to spend and a lifetime to watch the gray whales migrate.

Bali and Lombok (by James Lyon, Paul Greenway, and Tony Wheeler; $18) Not even paradise is a safe haven. Bali has its share of active volcanoes and political upheaval (think East Timor). But when you're sitting in your very own pool in your garden villa at one of the world's most dazzling hotels, what's the problem? Bali and its sibling, the less-developed Lombok, boast exotic landscapes and ceremonies, eerie temples and graceful performing arts traditions. As unfamiliar gods, shadow puppets, and gamelan groups attest, this is the place to get away from it all. Swim with dolphins, frolic topless along the shores, or climb a mountain (make sure it's not steaming first). Welcome to your new island home—majestic, isolated, and definitely not owned by Paul Allen.

Louisiana and the Deep South (by Tom Downs, Kate Hoffman, Virginie Boone, Dani Valent, and Gary Bridgman; $22) Scarred by history and slowed by heat and temperament, the South is everything the Northwest isn't: It's old, rambling, tangled, and infused with tragic drama and down-home, old-world civility. Steamboats instead of ferries might take some getting used to, but many feature gambling! And haven't you heard Cajun spice is the new wasabi? It's also lush, wet, and green, but for other climatic reasons. Dangers include the surreptitious 'gator, the average person's daily cholesterol intake, and N'Awlins during the real Mardi Gras festivities.

Morocco (by Matt Fletcher, Joyce Connolly, Frances Linzee Gordon, and Dorinda Talbot; $20) You aren't leaving the most geographically varied part of the world, you're entering it. Morocco, from the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara and its dual coasts (Mediterranean and Atlantic), is the Northwest of Africa. This also poses some problems, however, like the ferocious hash-trading route that runs from Spain to next-door neighbor Algeria and the extra-tight political control wielded by the country's new ruler, who's a direct descendant of Mohammed. On the upside: Moorish, Berber, French, and Spanish influences can be seen in the art, architecture, and m鬡nge of culinary offerings. Whether you choose to settle in the bustling confusion that is Tangier or indulge in the silver-screen sentimentality of Casablanca, you're in for a multicultural traffic jam that will seem all the more refreshing for its non-Scandinavian qualities.

Turkey (by Tom Brosnahan, Pat Yale, and Richard Plunkett; $22) Ever hear of Turkish prisons? Keep clear. Leg irons aside, Turkey is a wonderland of mythical proportions. Yeah, they fight with Greece a lot, and there's that nagging question of who owns Cyprus, but this is the land of Turkish baths, carpets, and minarets. It's also where the Greeks brought that gift of a big wooden horse and where that horrible battle took place in which the beautiful blond actor in that Mel Gibson movie got killed. The new Turkey is far more intriguing if you're talking water, what with the Black Sea, Dardanelles, Bosphorus, Aegean, and Mediterranean hugging its many coastlines. Even better, I say, is that cay (tea) usurps coffee as the national drink.

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