Throughout this pandemic I have been reading lots of travel books. Some of these were by my favourite authors and some of them were new authors to me. All of them had in common I wanted to pack my bags and jump on a plane yesterday.
Here is a selection of my favourite travel books I read of late.
The hills of Adonis - Colin Thubron
The Hills of Adonis is not only a masterfully-written travel book but also a personal quest for meaning by the author.
Ostensibly this is a book about Lebanon, finely written and deeply felt — not the Lebanon that a Beirut businessman would recognize, but a coastline of small historic ports and a littoral of beautiful mountains. In this country, the ruins of Phoenician, Greek and Roman are among the most impressive in the world. Crusader castles and Arab palaces stand together in the hills, and the people are a unique medley of races and religions.
For five hundred miles the author walked through the mountains, following tracks and rivers. His journey was not only a survey of a remarkable country, but a quest for the divinities of the region — Astarte and Adonis, who held the secrets of death and rebirth in the ancient cults of Lebanon. He visited almost every place of cultural importance, and lived with the people along his way, recording strange remnants left over from the religion of Baalim and high places.
The Hills of Adonis is both a travel book and a personal journal; a quest for meaning, a reflection on faith and reason and a poem on the joy and complexity of living.
Adventure Coordinators review: a nice travelogue by one of my favourite authors. One does notice he is at the beginning of his writing career here as he likes to carry on a bit about his quest. 7 out of 10.
Pilgrimage - Peter Stanford
A thought-provoking reflection on the practice and history of pilgrimage, and a compelling exploration of its relevance today.
Pilgrimage, a global ritual embraced by nearly all faiths, is one of civilization’s most enduring traditions. In this compelling book, author and journalist Peter Stanford reflects on the reasons people have walked along the same sacred paths through the ages. Through this history, Stanford explores how the experiences of the first pilgrims to Jerusalem, Mecca, and Santiago de Compostela compare to the millions of people who embark on life-changing physical and spiritual journeys today.
Pilgrimage traverses sacred landscapes…
Adventure Coordinators review: an interesting read with some thoughtful insights. And who would have known we had our own Camino in Canada? 8 out of 10
Lost in my own backyard - Tim Cahill
Lost in My Own Backyard brings acclaimed author Tim Cahill together with one of his—and America’s—favorite destinations: Yellowstone, the world’s first national park. Cahill has been “puttering around in the park” for a quarter of a century, slowly covering its vast scope and exploring its remote backwoods. So does this mean that he knows what he’s doing? Hardly. “I live fifty miles from the park,” says Cahill, “but proximity does not guarantee competence. I’ve spent entire afternoons not knowing exactly where I was, which is to say, I was lost in my own backyard.”
Cahill stumbles from glacier to geyser, encounters wildlife (some of it, like bisons, weighing in the neighborhood of a ton), muses on the microbiology of thermal pools, gets spooked in the mysterious Hoodoos, sees moonbows arcing across waterfalls at midnight, and generally has a fine old time walking several hundred miles while contemplating the concept and value of wilderness. Mostly, Cahill says, “I have resisted the urge to commit philosophy. This is difficult to do when you’re alone, twenty miles from the nearest road, and you’ve just found a grizzly bear track the size of a pizza.”
Divided into three parts—“The Trails,” which offers a variety of favorite day hikes; “In the Backcountry,” which explores three great backcountry trails very much off the beaten track; and “A Selected Yellowstone Bookshelf,” an annotated bibliography of his favorite books on the park—this is a hilarious, informative, and perfect guide for Yellowstone veterans and first-timers alike. Lost in My Own Backyard is adventure writing at its very best.
Adventure Coordinators review: a quick informative read which vaulted Yellowstone higher up on my bucket list. 7.5 out of 10
Lost White Tribes, Journeys Among the Forgotten - Riccardo Orizio
Over three hundred years ago the first European colonialists set foot in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean to found permanent outposts of the great empires. This epic migration continued until after World War II when these tropical outposts became independent black nations, and the white colonials were forced, or chose, to return home. Some of these colonial descendants, however, had become outcasts in the poorest strata of the society of which they were now a part. Ignored by both the former slaves and the modern privileged white immigrants, and unable to afford the long journey home, they still hold out today, hiding in remote valleys and hills, 'lost white tribes' living in poverty with the proud myth of their colonial ancestors. Forced to marry within the tribe to retain their fair-skinned 'purity' they are torn between the memory of past privileges and the present need to integrate into the surrounding society. The tribes investigated in this book share much besides the colour of their skin: all are decreasing in number, many are on the verge of extinction, fighting to survive in countries that alienate them because of the colour of their skin. Riccardo Orizio investigates: the Blancs Matignon of Guadeloupe; the Burghers of Sri Lanka; the Poles of Haiti; the Basters of Namibia; the Germans of Seaford Town, Jamaica; the Confederados of Brazil.
Adventure Coordinators review: an interesting read, sometimes chilling, sometimes touching. 7 out of 10
Lands of lost borders - Out of Bounds on the Silk Road - Kate Harris
"Every day on a bike trip is like the one before--but it is also completely different, or perhaps you are different, woken up in new ways by the mile."
As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she most craved--that of a generalist explorer, equal parts swashbuckler and philosopher--had gone extinct. From her small-town home in Ontario, it seemed as if Marco Polo, Magellan and their like had long ago mapped the whole earth. So she vowed to become a scientist and go to Mars.
To pass the time before she could launch into outer space, Kate set off by bicycle down a short section of the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel Yule, then settled down to study at Oxford and MIT. Eventually the truth dawned on her: an explorer, in any day and age, is by definition the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. And Harris had soared most fully out of bounds right here on Earth, travelling a bygone trading route on her bicycle. So she quit the laboratory and hit the Silk Road again with Mel, this time determined to bike it from the beginning to end.
Like Rebecca Solnit and Pico Iyer before her, Kate Harris offers a travel narrative at once exuberant and meditative, wry and rapturous. Weaving adventure and deep reflection with the history of science and exploration, Lands of Lost Borders explores the nature of limits and the wildness of a world that, like the self and like the stars, can never be fully mapped.
Adventure Coordinators review: at times I felt Kate Harris struggles to make a connection between her early experiences and where she is now. However, once I got past that, I enjoyed the read as she has some wonderful observations. 7.5 out of 10
Long Way Round - Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman
From London to New York, Ewan and Charley chased their shadows through Europe, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia, across the Pacific to Alaska, then down through Canada and America. But as the miles slipped beneath the tyres of their big BMWs, their troubles started. Exhaustion, injury and accidents tested their strength. Treacherous roads, unpredictable weather and turbulent politics challenged their stamina. They were chased by paparazzi in Kazakhstan, courted by men with very large guns in the Ukraine, hassled by the police, and given bulls' testicles for supper by Mongolian nomads.
And yet despite all these obstacles they managed to ride more than twenty thousand miles in four months, changing their lives forever in the process. As they travelled they documented their trip, taking photographs, and writing diaries by the campfire. Long Way Round is the result of their adventures - a fascinating, frank and highly entertaining travel book about two friends riding round the world together and, against all the odds, realising their dream.
Adventure Coordinators review: let's just say that not all actors are born writers. Maybe I'll watch the tv series one day. 5 out of 10
The Road Trip Book: 1001 Drives of a Lifetime Hardcover – Darryl Sleath
For anyone who has fallen under its spell, a car represents freedom and adventure. For decades, the tradition of the road trip has been bound up with the idea of new possibilities and new horizons. This book is an indispensable guide to the most beautiful, breathtaking, extraordinary, and fun road trips the world has to offer.
Complete with road trips varying in length and level of challenge, from an epic transglobal route inspired by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round documentary series to a two-mile blast around Monaco’s F1 street circuit, there is something for any adventurer. Each entry provides information about distance, start and finish points, road surfaces, must-see stop-offs, detours, and other details to plan an unforgettable trip.
Entries are organized into three categories: Scenic, Adventure, and Culture. One can marvel at the views from Cape Town’s scenic Chapman’s Peak Drive or central California’s Pacific Coast Highway, but the thrill seeker might opt for the hair-raising ride through Montenegro’s coastal mountains to reach the medieval walled town of Sveti Stefan on the Adriatic. The culture category features routes inspired by film, literature, and history: re-create Thelma and Louise’s heart-pounding joyride (minus the final leap), savor Japan’s “Romance Road” through unspoiled small towns, or follow Jack Kerouac’s path from On the Road.
Adventure Coordinators review: great book with a huge flaw. There are no maps, making it extremely hard to know what route they are talking about. Until an edition with maps is published I would give this a 5 out of 10. With maps it would easily score 8 out of 10
Travels in a Thin Country: A Journey Through Chile - Sara Wheeler
Squeezed between a vast ocean and the longest mountain range on earth, Chile is 2,600 miles long and never more than 110 miles wide--not a country that lends itself to maps, as Sara Wheeler discovered when she traveled alone from the top to the bottom, from the driest desert in the world to the sepulchral wastes of Antarctica. Eloquent, astute, nimble with history and deftly amusing, Travels in a Thin Country established Sara Wheeler as one of the very best travel writers in the world.
Adventure Coordinators review: while Sara Wheeler seems be drinking her way through Chile, this still makes for a nice read. 7 out of 10