Friday 9 February 2018

A Travel Reading Holiday in Lorne (Part 1)

Every couple of years I take a short summer holiday in Lorne, on the Great Ocean road here in Victoria, Australia.

It's always a few days about two weeks before Christmas, as that's a period before the festive season rush; when room rates drop while everything in the seaside town opens.

As I've done before, I made it a tech-free break, putting the phone in a drawer once I'd checked into the hotel. The objective - in addition to swimming and walking - was to read as many books as possible.

So here are some reviews of my travel-themed reading, starting with two books about Africa...

1. Walking the Nile; by Levison Wood

There's something slightly irritating about this adventurer who decides to walk the entire length of the Nile, from Rwanda to the Mediterranean. He exudes a subtle air of outdated British imperial folly, perhaps, though he is good mates with the Africans he employs as guides along the way.

There's something meaningless about the goal, though it does lead him through an interesting variety of landscapes and nations, and into difficult encounters which make for dramatic reading. One specific episode within this true story is shocking in its outcome, and nearly brought the walk to an end.

In fact the Nile is never fully walked, as Lervison is forced to skip a section of South Sudan after civil conflict comes too close for comfort. And Egypt, the final country, is something of a damp squib as his progress there is so closely monitored and regulated by the authorities.

Having said that, it is an entertaining journey which reveals a lot about the cultures encountered and landscapes crossed.

[see this book at Amazon]

2. The Last Train to Zona Verde; by Paul Theroux

Some people aren't fans of Paul Theroux's travel writing, as they detect a cold misanthropy in his on-the-road observations. I'm not sure about that. It seems to me he is fact deeply invested in the places and people he encounters, but has a naturally detached way of relating them.

He also has a knack of getting people to speak to him, which seems the opposite of misanthropic.

In this follow-up journey to an earlier book about an overland trip from Cairo to Cape Town, he travels from Cape Town to Angola and talks to plenty of people along the way: shanty dwellers in South Africa, elephant handlers in Botswana, San tribesmen in Namibia, random strangers in Angola.

What Theroux doesn't do is suffer fools gladly, and if he takes a dislike to someone or something you know it. He's not a fan of Western culture in its incarnations as mass tourism or rapacious capitalism, and he's particularly scornful of international aid agencies.

He doesn't mind giving African people a serve over their societal shortcomings either, which can make for uncomfortable reading; though he's just as scathing of Europeans who fail his measures of decency.

The journey itself is fascinating, especially since Angola in particular is little visited by Westerners; partly because of its dependence on its misused (in Theroux's eyes) oil wealth. Indeed, it's in Angola that the trip - originally aimed at reaching the Mediterranean - falls apart and is abandoned.

Theroux, as if feeling awkward about not completing his stated quest, spends far too much time justifying himself at the end of the book. It didn't bother me; the journey as it was was intriguing, and I would've myself dropped out after the first difficult Angolan day.

[see this book at Amazon]

Next: Two more reviews - one of a hapless hike through the Andes, the other about the mysteries of a three-nation border region...

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