Journey to the end of the world – really.

Posted: September 13, 2012 in Travel and Adventure writing

Book reviews:

Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

South America has such a mystical allure. It seems a little dangerous, somewhat untamed, and rather exotic, especially from a South African’s perspective. We have our own curious creatures and cultures but there is something so enthralling about names like Guatemala, Nicaragua, La Paz, Puerto Torro and Lake Titicaca. And what true adventurer never dreamed about exploring the heart of the Amazon and imagined fighting off piranhas and other blood stealing creatures? I used to suck up those thin Tarzan booklets and fantasize about getting lost in the Amazon on some heroic mission or another to rescue an exotic butterfly or something cute and furry, only to be captured by Indians; hostile and strangely beautiful… And then my hero would come charging through the lush foliage and sweep me into his sweaty muscular arms and together we would journey through the man-eating forest. But I am mostly over that fantasy now. Now I am more interested in riding a bike from San Jose from 18 November to finish with the end of the world in Belize on 21 December. Funny how our goal posts shift.

If you are signing up for the  South American tour (www.tourdafrique.com/tours/vueltasudamericana) or want to see if the world will truly end on 21 December on the Doomsday Tour, www.tourdafrique.com/tours/doomsday) you will especially enjoy mark Adams’ insights.

Adams is a prolific writer and editor who follows the footsteps of the peculiar Hiram Bingham III who ‘discovered’ Machu Picchu.  Bingham III was later accused as a villain who stole both priceless artifacts and credit for finding the great archaeological site. Adams sets out to discover the truth armed with a pack of donkeys and a very odd and thick-skinned Australian guide.

This book is part travelogue, a history lesson presented humorously and accurately, and part philosophical journey. It is a lot more cerebral than your average travel literature but Adams skillfully makes his writing accessible and enjoyable whilst still being very informative. I am sure it will be a keeper to read over and over again.  O

Doomsday Ride Costa Rica to Belize.

Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne.

If inner city madness is more your thing you will love Bangkok Days.  I found myself trapped in Bangkok at the height of last year’s floods.

The train tracks were under water and I could not get to Chiang Mai. At my backpackers I had to leap over sandbags to get into the foyer. The Chow Praya river had bursts its banks and the locals were escaping en-masse by bus and car. I decided to sit it out, found a dry and safe haven at the Buddhist temple, and got myself a copy of this gem.

Osborne loves to visit Bangkok because of its cheap dentistry and, well, its general cheapness. His account of this mad city is spot on as I slowly discovered during my forced stay. He so perfectly captures the sounds and tastes of the city. If you have been to Bangkok’s Khao San Road you will have wondered about the miraculous way that people are not electrocuted on a daily basis. The electricity wires are like massive tangled birds’ nests drooping dangerously low down to the flooded streets. They never seem to take away the dead wires and simply keep adding on layer upon layer. Just get the book to read his explanation of this phenomenon.

Osborne befriends ex-pats and describes them accurately as I discovered later on after meeting some of them. The ex-pats in Bangkok, and the rest of Thailand, are a curious bunch. They are also there for the cheapness, the gorgeous weather and beaches, the ladies of course, and some of them for doing some dodgy business that seems to easily slip under the radar.  A really beautiful and evocative read.

By Astrid Stark

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