It’s almost like being there

Part 1 of 2

adventure travel, Afghanistan, Africa, Equatorial Pacific, J. Maarten Troost, off-the-beaten-path travel, Pamela Watson, personal journeys, Rory Stewart, The Places in Between, travel essays, travel writer, virtual travel

All my life, I’ve loved maps. It’s a combined reaction to the places maps represent and their graphical nature. I would choose a region and imagine the journeys I would take there. Now, when a real journey isn’t possible, I do the next best thing – find a great travel essay that will transport me to a different place, with a different pace.

Grab your passport, pack your gear, and get ready to experience – vicariously – some great off-the-beaten-path journeys.

  1. Esprit de Battuta: Alone Across Africa on a Bicycle by Pamela Watson
    Australian Pamela Watson traveled alone by bicycle from Dakar, Senegal to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania through seventeen countries, over eighteen months and covering over 9,000 miles. This gripping book documents her eye-opening experiences with the people of west, central and east Africa along with the economic, political and social realities of the continent.In her straight-forward and sometimes amusing narrative – which channels the spirit of Ibn Battuta, the Islamic scholar and adventurer – Watson’s joy, exhaustion, fear and frustration are meticulously detailed in each segment of her journey. Her tough-mindedness in combination with flexibility guided her through many potentially dangerous situations including arriving in Rwanda on the eve war. Through her book, I’ve traveled to many places that I’ll probably never see, but was fortunate enough to experience.
  2. The Places In Between by Rory Stewart
    In 2002, after most of the Taliban were deposed, Scotland’s Rory Stewart, a journalist and ex-military, traversed Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul on foot, traveling Babur’s (founder of the Mughal empire) route. “You will die,” one of the secret police tells Stewart as he began his journey. Warning aside, Stewart wrote a narrative that captured heartfelt, terrifying, comical and insightful episodes about the Afghan people and their land, against a backdrop of another turbulent year in their history.There’s something so mysterious about Afghanistan. One part of the intrigue is the country’s amazing topography. The other is that it has been invaded, controlled, occupied and abused for so long. Yet through it all, I felt the humanity and resilience of its people thanks to Stewart’s carefully-observing eye.
  3. The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost
    Troost followed his wife, Sylvia, to Kiribati, a tiny island nation in the South Pacific. The plan: while Sylvia was working for an international nonprofit, Maarten intended to soak up the local color and write a literary masterpiece. Paradise right? Days end with magnificent sunsets and airplanes can’t land because pigs occupy the island’s sole runway. But Kiribati wasn’t paradise. It was polluted, overpopulated and scorchingly hot. Yet after two years, Troost and his wife were reluctant to return home. It’s a revealing look at culture shock and culture clash, and about learning to adapt and enjoy.This travelogue made me laugh out loud. I doubt I’ll ever forget Troost’s horror and  response to his neighbors playing La Macarena 24/7 or his first swim with the locals in the “beautiful” blue Pacific. Troost is a very funny writer – richly evoking the strange, day-by-day events on the island. Kiribati – not a place I plan to visit – but in reading this book, I’ve already traveled there.

Any new travel books or adventures worth mentioning?

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