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Meet Leslie Hsu Oh

Leslie Hsu Oh is an award-winning author, photographer, and editor. Her work can be seen in Alaska Magazine, Alpinist Magazine, Backpacker Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic, Outside Magazine, Travel + Leisure and more.

Where we can find your work:

Alaska Magazine, Alpinist, Backpacker Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, First Alaskans Magazine, Fourth Genre, National Geographic, Outside Magazine, Parents Magazine, Smithsonian, Sierra Magazine, Washington Post, Vogue, and more.

Define your travel beat:

Adventure travel, indigenous knowledge, sustainability, ecotourism, outdoor adventures and gear, culinary arts, family travel, health and wellness.

Describe your personal travel style in five words:

Make a difference through travel.

Tell us your most recent travel discovery:

I had a chance to camp in Antarctica for one night. Before we landed, our expedition begged us to please try not to poop or pee while we were on land. They did prepare a portable toilet for anyone who couldn't last the ten hours we were on land, but it was highly discouraged. I was impressed with the strict International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators rules established to ensure safe and environmentally sound private-sector travel. For example, there is a strict limit to guests ashore at one time (1:20 ratio of staff to guests) and guidelines on where guests can walk.

Tell us about a travel souvenir you regret not buying?

When collecting indigenous art, I always make sure that I can communicate directly with the artist. For Alaska Native art, I recommend the art fair at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. One of my favorite pieces that I couldn't afford, and still think of today, is "The Spirit of Change" mask. Jerry Lieb, Jr., a Yup'ik Iñupiaq artist, carved a mask mimicking his features. He shaded half the mask with soot and inlaid a single tear drop of turquoise. He told me the mask was supposed to heal not only the artist but the beholder. "The mask shows a dark side that I had, in my case alcoholism, when I acted out to fulfill my own needs without regard to the people I hurt. But to you, it could represent something that you suffer from or grieve about." On the top of the mask, he inserted five ivory feathers, representing respect for family, land, water, the creator, and food. He traced the black etchings on the feathers that jutted out from the darkened portion of the mask, "These lines mean that even though I respected these five values, I was weak."

What was your most memorable travel experience? What about it was so unique?

In my childhood, I thought I had spelunked through the most unusual caves every summer with my mother until last fall, when I rappelled thirteen stories off an overhang inside the Caverna do Diabo in Brazil. My headlamp illuminated translucent ripples in calcite-rich draperies. The farther I descended into a cathedral of geological wonders, formed drip by drip over 600 million years, the lower the temperature dropped beneath the scowl of a naturally formed Devil's face.

What I'll never forget about this cave is what happened after I landed my rappel. My friend, Josiah Holwick, inched his way down the overhang. His headlamp stroked the marble in just the right angle to spotlight his silhouette in shades of burning embers. I snapped several images. Using only my phone camera, I was not expecting anything spectacular, but as I studied the pictures, I knew immediately which one my mother would've inspired: its composition evoked a feeling or message that can't be adequately translated into words.

Two hours later, we had all regressed to kids, sliding down marbleized chutes into fathomless clear blue-green waters where we had to pull ourselves across with anchored ropes. Diving beneath rock features, we laughed so hard our stomachs hurt. At the turnaround point, I was standing in a series of pools as deep as my chest, beneath the Devil's Throat Waterfall, which plummeted with so much force that I couldn't lift my helmeted head and I didn't feel my phone slip out of my pocket.

As I prepared my ascent, I realized that I had lost my phone and with it, the photo. The Brazilians who guided us to this point in the cave began to search the pools. I followed one of them beneath the waterfall. I couldn't see anything. When I tried to come up for air, my helmet hit something hard. I swam forward and tried to surface again, but I was trapped underwater by a marble slab. Holwick grabbed my hair and pulled me out before I ran out of air. We blinked at each other, digesting the thought that I risked my life for a photo. Someone said, "You scared me." The space around us shrunk.

To find out what happens next, read Alpinist 77 issue.

Your favorite words to hear while traveling [e.g., "Prepare for takeoff," "Your room is ready early," "You've been upgraded]:

"Most people want to avoid crevasses but Leslie climbs into one."

The last thing you've written/photographed/produced:

A story only you can tell (based on your cultural background):

My story in the Feb 2021 issue of Travel + Leisure, which earned two gold medals in the most recent NATJA Travel Media Awards, is a great example. Read:

What destination is at the top of your list for 2022?

Africa and Australia and New Zealand

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