When I am not travelling, I read books set in destination. Here is another selection of books I read of late.
Playing the Moldovans at tennis - Tony Hawks
It doesn't take much - "£100 is usually sufficient" - to persuade Tony Hawks to take off on notoriously bizarre and hilarious adventures in response to a bet. And so it is, a pointless argument with a friend concludes in a bet - that Tony can't beat all eleven members of the Moldovan soccer team at tennis. And with the loser of the bet agreeing to strip naked on Balham High Road and sing the Moldovan national anthem, this one was just too good to resist.
The ensuing unpredictable and often hilarious adventure sees him being taken in by Moldovan gypsies and narrowly avoid kidnap in Transnistria. It sees him smuggle his way on to the Moldovan National Team coach in Coleraine and witness (almost) divine intervention in the Holy Land.
In this inspiring and exceptionally funny book, Tony Hawks has done it again, proving against all odds that there is no reason in the world why you can't do something a bit stupid and prove all of your doubters wrong. Or at least that was the idea....
Adventure Coordinators review: good for a giggle and probably the only book I know of set in Moldova. 7.5 out of 10
A walk across France - Miles Morland
[A] humorous and effervescent memoir of reflection, revitalization and good wine." -- San Francisco Chronicle
At age forty-five, Miles Morland left his high-paying job at the London office of a Wall Street firm and took a leap -- actually, a hike -- into the unknown. A self-described "middle-aged wreck," Miles set out with his wife, Guislaine, to walk across France, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.
Setting for themselves the goal of twenty miles a day, Miles and Guislaine made their way past farmyards and riverbanks, through dusty village squares and ripening vineyards, into ancient walled cities and over sand dunes. And as the hot, dry countryside unfolded slowly before them, the couple looked back with relief -- and wonder -- at the tense, frenzied corporate life they had left behind.
The story of a walk, a marriage, an adventure, and a dream made real, A WALK ACROSS FRANCE marks the debut of an enormously entertaining writer.
Adventure Coordinators review: Enjoyable read with many recognizable moments of my own walks in France. 8 out of 10
Midnight in Chernobyl - Adam Higginbotham
The definitive, dramatic untold story of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, based on original reporting and new archival research. The disaster not only changed the world’s perception of nuclear power and the science that spawned it, but also our understanding of the planet’s delicate ecology. With the images of the abandoned homes and playgrounds beyond the barbed wire of the 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone, the rusting graveyards of contaminated trucks and helicopters, the farmland lashed with black rain, the event fixed for all time the notion of radiation as an invisible killer.
Chernobyl was also a key event in the destruction of the Soviet Union. For Moscow, it was a political and financial catastrophe as much as an environmental and scientific one. With a total cost of 18 billion rubles—at the time equivalent to $18 billion—Chernobyl bankrupted an already teetering economy and revealed to its population a state built upon a pillar of lies.
The full story of the events that started that night in the control room of Reactor No.4 of the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant has never been told—until now. Through two decades of reporting, new archival information, and firsthand interviews with witnesses, journalist Adam Higginbotham tells the full dramatic story.
Adventure Coordinators review: a must-read for anyone who plans to visit Chernobyl and a chilling reminder of the power of a totalitarian state. 8 out of 10
Unlikely Destinations, The Lonely Planet Story - Tony and Maureen Wheeler
Founders of the phenomenally successful publishing company Lonely Planet, Tony and Maureen Wheeler have produced travel guides to just about every corner of the globe.
Lonely Planet Publications was born in 1973 when the Wheelers self-published a quirky travel guide, Across Asia on the Cheap. This was quickly followed by what soon became the backpackers' bible, South-East Asia on a Shoestring. Going boldly where no other travel publisher had ventured, they catered to a new generation of independent, budget-conscious travelers long before the advent of mass tourism.
Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story is a unique mix of autobiography, business history and travel book. It traces Tony and Maureen Wheeler's personal story as well as the often bumpy evolution of their travel guide business into the world's largest independent travel publishing company.
Adventure Coordinators review: an interesting read. One quote struck me as quite funny if it weren't so sad: "911 wasn't the only problem to hit Lonely Planet. Over the next couple of years SARS, the Bali bombing, the Iraq invasion, the Madrid bombing and other downers would create a "Perfect Storm" for anyone involved in the travel business." Clearly those were child's play compared with what is going on now! 7 out of 10
Walking the Amazon - Ed Stafford
In April 2008, Ed Stafford set off to become the first man ever to walk the entire length of the Amazon. He started on the Pacific coast of Peru, crossed the Andes Mountain range to find the official source of the river. His journey lead on through parts of Colombia and right across Brazil; all while outwitting dangerous animals, machete wielding indigenous people as well as negotiating injuries, weather and his own fears and doubts. Yet, Stafford was undeterred. On his grueling 860-day, 4,000-plus mile journey, Stafford witnessed the devastation of deforestation firsthand, the pressure on tribes due to loss of habitats as well as nature in its true-raw form. Jaw-dropping from start to finish, Walking the Amazon is the unforgettable and gripping story of an unprecedented adventure.
Adventure Coordinators review: rather than agreeing to the publisher's description above I would say the book is about a slog through mud, waste-high water and dense scrub. Little attention is paid to the environmental concerns facing the Amazon and its indigenous peoples. You have to admire the man for doing what he did but I kept wondering: "What's the point of it all?" 7 out of 10
Morocco to Timbuktu - an Arabian Adventure - Alice Morrison
The Book of the BBC2 Series Morocco to Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure Timbuktu. A city of legends and myths hidden in the heart of Africa. It was once the richest city on earth. Its greatest king changed the route of the Niger just so his wife could have a bath. Alice Morrison follows the ancient, lost salt roads from the top of Morocco across the burning sands of the Sahara to find the fabled city itself. This book is a good old-fashioned adventure with death-defying donkeys, a severe case of gold fever and plenty of goat gizzards for dinner. It explores of one of the most dangerous routes in history which brought gold, salt and slaves across the Sahara and up to Europe.
Adventure Coordinators review: an entertaining read and I learned about a few spots in Morocco that were well off-the-beaten-track. 7.5 out of 10.
The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival - John Vaillant
It’s December 1997, and a man-eating tiger is on the prowl outside a remote village in Russia’s Far East. The tiger isn’t just killing people, it’s apparently engaged in a vendetta. Injured, starving, and extremely dangerous, the tiger must be found before it strikes again.
As he re-creates these extraordinary events, John Vaillant gives us an unforgettable portrait of this spectacularly beautiful and mysterious region. We meet the native tribes and witness the arrival of Russian settlers, soldiers and hunters who greatly diminished the tiger populations. And we come to know their descendants, who, crushed by poverty, have turned to poaching and further upset the natural balance of the region.
Throughout the book we encounter surprising theories of how humans and tigers may have evolved to coexist, how we may have developed as scavengers rather than hunters, and how early Homo sapiens may have fit seamlessly into the tiger’s ecosystem. Above all, we come to understand the endangered Siberian tiger, a highly intelligent super-predator that can grow to ten feet long, weigh more than six hundred pounds, and range daily over vast territories of forest and mountain.
Adventure Coordinators review: a meticulously-researched and informative read, even though the author does go off on a tangent every so often. 7.5 out of 10.
Lookout - Trina Moyles
While growing up in Peace River, Alberta, Trina Moyles heard many stories of Lookout Observers--strange, eccentric types who spent five-month summers alone, climbing 100-foot high towers and watching for signs of fire in the surrounding boreal forest. How could you isolate yourself for that long? she wondered. "I could never do it," she told herself.
Craving a deeper sense of purpose, she left northern Alberta to pursue a decade-long career in global humanitarian work. After three years in East Africa, and newly engaged, Trina returned to Peace River with a plan to sponsor her fiance, Akello''s, immigration to Canada. Despite her fear of being alone in the woods, she applied for a seasonal lookout position and got the job.
Thus begins Trina''s first summer as one of a handful of lookouts scattered throughout Alberta, with only a farm dog, Holly--labeled "a domesticated wolf" by her former owners--to keep her company. While searching for smoke, Trina unravels under the pressure of a long-distance relationship--and a dawning awareness of the environmental crisis that climate change is producing in the boreal. Through megafires, lightning storms, and stunning encounters with wildlife, she learns to survive at the fire tower by forging deep connections with nature and with an extraordinary community of people dedicated to wildfire detection and combat. In isolation, she discovers a kind of self-awareness--and freedom--that only solitude can deliver. Lookout is a riveting story of loss, transformation, and belonging to oneself, layered with an eyewitness account of the destructive and regenerative power of wildfire in our northern forests.
Adventure Coordinators review: a good read - the author shows her vulnerability and determination. Would I be able to do the job? Perhaps, perhaps not. But he solitude does sound alluring!