November book review

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Havana

Good effort with 3 books read within the last month 🙂

Book number 19

Book read: Step by Step: The Life in my Journeys by Simon Reeve

An awesome book from TV presenter Simon Reeve and possibly my favourite book so far this year. Simon gives an honest account of his incredibly interesting life and he opened my eyes to important global issues.

Simon comes from a modest ‘normal’ background where he grew up in West London with his teacher father, mother and his younger brother. He describes his difficult teenage years where he left school with few qualifications, battled with depression and basically didn’t feel he had much hope in his life.

He got into journalism with a job in the post room and became involved in research. He wrote a book on terrorism before the terrorist attacks of 9-11 after which he became well known as an author, leading to TV appearances and a TV career.

Simon’s first TV travel adventure was called ‘Meet the Stans’ and at the beginning of Chapter 13 he describes the anticlimax felt when he arrived back in London after filming the first half of the series. For me, coming back from any trip and back to the routine of life is always an anticlimax although, as Simon points out, travelling around the world is an “abnormal privilege” and something unthinkable for the vast majority of the world’s population.

Simon describes the issue of migrant workers in Chapter 18, whereby countries such as the UK save money by recruiting Ghanaian health workers which is more than the money they give to Ghana in health aid! This is an issue I’ve never previously considered… how much of this goes on? ‘Rich’ countries making themselves look good with foreign aid donations while simultaneously saving millions with cheap migrant labour!

I resonated with a paragraph at the end of Chapter 19 where Simon suggests we should add meaning and adventure to our trips; for example, by going to strange places, taking chances and embracing risk, rather than “lying horizontal by the pool”. So delving into the culture of a place and not sticking within the confines of the hotel.

Furthermore, Chapter 21 was also close to my heart and values and offers Simon’s take on the environmental consequences of travel. He advises we seek out authentic travel experiences and understand that when we pay our national park entrance fees, we are helping to preserve  “the greatest wildlife on the planet”.

All in all, a brilliant and highly recommended book!

 

Book number 20

Book read: It’s on the Meter: One taxi, Three Mates and 43,000 Miles of Misadventure Around the World by Paul Archer and Johno Ellison

This was another inspiring travel and adventure book! This is about 3 lads who, after a drunken evening, agreed to buy a London taxi and embark on ‘the longest taxi journey in the world…’

A short while later they were en-route from London to Sydney… the beginning, the Europe section was ‘laddish’ with tales of getting drunk almost every evening with their couch surfing hosts. I had no problem with this given they were all in their 20’s and it was fun to read of their antics.

The book got more interesting as they ventured towards Central Asia and described the issues they faced with their journey across borders into countries such as Iran and Pakistan. And their drive across the highest point in the world, Everest Basecamp!

Their adventure was event featured in the Daily Mail!

Another exciting ‘hard to put down’ book!

 

Book number 21

Book read: Remembering Che: My Life With Che Guevara by Aleida March

I picked up this book in Varadero airport at the end of my trip to Cuba where, throughout a week of seeing his iconic image at almost every turn, I was intrigued to learn more about Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution.

Of over 20 books I’ve now read so far this year, this is only the third paperback with the rest being Kindle books as downloaded to my iPad. However with a recent holiday to Grenada I had saved this book until then.

Learning about history has interested me much more as I’ve got older; having seen places around the world I can now relate to them in a way that they seem much more real than ever being taught from a text book at school. To be honest, I was never keen on history lessons back then.

This book was written by Aleida March who was Che’s wife and the mother of 4 of his 5 children. Argentinian Che met Cuban born Aleida when they were both guerrillas in the Cuban Revolutionary army. The book describes her early life and her life with Che until the point he was assassinated in Bolivia in 1967.

This is an incredible story of her militant life back in the day when many women were housewives. The book was difficult to follow at times but gave a fascinating account of  Cuban history and a side of Che Guevara that would previously have been unknown.

Another fascinating book!

 

 

 

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October book review(s)

Book number 17

Book read: Grand Adventures by Alastair Humphreys

A short but HUGELY inspiring book which has given me loads of ideas for my own adventures! Alastair is enthusiastic and he explains how, with an example of a £1000 budget, you can set about planning all kinds of exciting trips! As I was reading this book I started to jot down some ideas:

  • Drive across Australia
  • Drive across Canada
  • Drive around Europe
  • Travel by land and sea from London to Sydney
  • Travel across Madagascar independently by train
  • Climb Kilimanjaro
  • Trek the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal
  • Cycle Eurovelo routes
  • Cycle and wild camp around Iceland
  • Drive the Wild Atlantic Way (Ireland)
  • Walk the length of New Zealand
  • Walk to Rome
  • South West Coast path
  • UK Coast to Coast
  • Pembrokeshire Coast
  • Bibbulman track (Western Australia)
  • Routeburn track (New Zealand)
  • Dolomites trek

(Some of these are not new ideas but I thought I would capture them in any case)

 

Book number 18

Book read: Walk Sleep Repeat by Stephen Reynolds

This book was somewhat tame by comparison but still an enjoyable read. Once I got into it… I started to become a bit irritated by “Dear Reader” references on almost every page but I got used to this as being the author’s writing style. Although when he started waffling on about which flavour Weetabix drink to have in the morning I did start to question why I was reading the book…

Whereas the likes of Alastair Humphreys and Chris Pountney fill a book with a 12 month plus cycling adventure, this was an entire book about a one week trek along the 100 mile West Highland Way.

However as I continued to read I found I really like the way Stephen Reynolds writes. He has a lovely descriptive manner that makes you feel you are walking the West Highland Way right next to him. Which is nice.

He is really likeable and I started to think of him as a mate, an honest, down-to-Earth kind of chap, someone you would like to sit in a pub with at the end of a busy day and exchange stories.

And on a positive note, if he can string out a book from a week of walking, a popular walk that many thousands have done in the past, I’m sure there would be a market for my 2016 adventures!

  • Walk the West Highland Way (just adding another adventure…)

 

 

September book review

Book number 16

Book read: Cycling the World Part 2: Into the Sunrise, Sydney to Mori by Chris Pountney

Another amazing adventure! I read Chris’s first book, part 1, Paris to Sydney in February and this has been one of my favourite books, if not my actual favourite book since I began this challenge in January. While I enjoyed ‘part 2’ immensely it didn’t quite have the same style of writing as the first and I found myself skim reading over small sections of it. Maybe I’ve just been reading too many cycle touring books this year?

 

 

 

August book reviews(s)

Book number 14

Book read: The Little Princess by Casey Watson

One of the most powerful and emotional books I’ve ever read was ‘One Child’ by Torey Haden which I read sometime around 2004. The contents of that book were horrifying and humbling and caused me to take a different approach to life and really appreciate my own upbringing.

This short book was also sickening and also described the abuse of a 6 year old girl. The girl had been removed from her own evil parents and was taken in to spend Christmas with a foster family. While only a short story I feel full of admiration and respect for families such as Casey’s who consistently give generosity and kindness in such tragic circumstances.

 

Book number 15

Book read: Thunder and Sunshine: Around the World by bike Part 2 by Alastair Humphreys

Wow… another superb book which I read quickly as I found it difficult to put down! Having travelled pretty much the length of South America in 2016 I could closely relate to many of the places Alastair visited on his epic adventure from the tip of South America or ‘El Fin Del Mundo’ (the end of the World) to the top of Alaska.

OK… so Alastair cycled and I took the soft luxury option travelling by plane, bus and cruise liner however I was able to visualise many South American places as well as LA, Seattle and Alaska.

The book continued with Alastair’s incredible cycle journey through Siberia… in the winter and then through Asia and back into Europe inspiring me to do something more adventurous and push a few more boundaries… I’m not yet sure what…

Alastair had some awesome quotes in his book too, particularly towards the end as he reflected on his fantastic journey:

Page 341: How mad we are to neglect our body, the very machine that carries all our thoughts, emotions, ambitions, dreams, fears and our life itself. And yet we still expect to live smoothly, healthily and happily to a ripe old age.” So very true and something I am very conscious of… especially now that I am 50…

Page 339: I decided to see some of the world and to escape from England and the conveyor belt of my life” most people probably do live on a conveyor belt of a life and conform to a similar pattern without even questioning they could be doing something different…

 

 

 

July book review(s)

Book number 12

Book read: Moods of Future Joys: Around the World by bike Part 1 by Alastair Humphreys

Another book about cycling around the world… and I loved it! Another incredible adventure which was well written and so interesting to read. Alastair was only 24 when he decided to leave his home and family in England and cycle through Europe and the Middle East and all the way down the length of Africa to Cape Town. Brilliant!

These are a couple of quotes which really demonstrate Alastair’s ability not only to write beautifully but to fully capture his humble sense of engagement and absorption from his surroundings:

Alastair supports ‘Hope and Homes for Children‘ an organisation set up by a British couple who find homes for children who have been abandoned or orphaned. When Alastair met some of these children in Sudan he said “as I shook their small hands and looked into their shy eyes it was with a feeling of ‘you are amazing’… A beginning with no schooling, home or parents is out of my comprehension and I drew so much strength and resolve from them.”

A few pages later… “Despite their poverty, the Sudanese people I met were happy. They had dignity and self-respect and were content with what little they had. And they had an abundance of friends, family and faith. They were the kindest, most cheerful, hospitable and welcoming people that I had ever met. I pedalled through the village towards Ethiopia with a smile on my face.

Paragraphs such as these are so inspiring and heart warming that I can’t wait to read about the next leg of Alastair’s journey which stretches the full length of the Americas. I love the sense of adventure mixed with dose of motivation each time I read a section.

Following this first book Alastair became an adventurer who writes about his travels, gives lectures and pioneered the concept of microadventures. Alastair’s idea of microadventures are about fitting in a little inexpensive adventure at the weekend to escape your life perhaps by camping under the stars or wild swimming in rivers.

My version of a microadventure has been many mini trips to Europe where, when I’ve been short of time and money, I’ve still travelled and seen the highlights of Paris, Amsterdam, Florence, Berlin and several more cities in a day or short weekend. In fact, I see and appreciate my life as being packed with microadventures… a beautiful 5 mile walk which ends in a country pub during a warm sunny evening after work; a weekend of camping with lovely friends; an afternoon bike ride across bumpy tracks and fields to see my parents… or end in another pub… a trip to the coast or Peak District to do a long walk…

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Wild camping in the Brecon Beacons last weekend

 

 

Book number 13

Book read: What Happened That Night by Sheila O’Flanagan

In preparation for my relaxing Cuba beach holiday I purchased a good old paperback which I felt would be far easier to read than reading books from the Kindle app on my iPad! You can leave a book lying around on the sun bed, it doesn’t matter if you get your smeary sun cream fingers on it and the odd splash of pina colada doesn’t hurt…

I managed to read this book within the week I was in Cuba and while I found it quite good and I enjoyed reading it, I could take it or leave it… it wasn’t one of those books that keep you gripped from start to finish…

I did enjoy some of the themes and values which came out strongly from the book… the warmth of the traditional Irish family, the complications of relationships and the idea that following your true feelings is best!

However I’m starting to realise that ‘chick lit’ isn’t really my thing… I’m really keen to read the next instalment from Alastair Humphreys where he cycles from Patagonia at the tip of South America, right up to Alaska in the very north of the Americas land mass. Tales from real life adventures are much more exciting!

 

 

 

 

June book review(s)

Book number 9

Book read: High and Low: How I hiked away from depression by Keith Foskett

I really like the way Keith writes… descriptive enough to make the book interesting and conjure up a suitable image in your mind but without being too over the top…

This is the second of Keith’s books that I’ve read and I was interested to learn more about the links between hiking and depression… since I’ve been doing so much exercise for the last 6 months I feel I’ve been on a permanent high… However I can see that even if you do a lot of exercise, this can surely help to lift your mood but it isn’t a cure for depression. Reading the book through the eyes of someone suffering helped me to understand the condition.

 

Book number 10

Book read: Together by Julie Cohen

I picked up this, the first paperback book I’ve read in years, at Heathrow Airport to take on my recent Seattle and Alaska trip.  This is also the first ‘story’ or fiction book I’ve read all year… or for several years in fact… I wanted to look further than travel adventure books this time!

This book is, in many ways, a heart-breaking love story about a couple called Robbie and Emily… the book begins with the couple in their 80’s and is a wrenching account of Robbie dealing with Alzheimers. The story jumps back to different times in their lives and the struggles they’ve faced together over the years. I enjoyed reading it but it has a weird and somewhat uncomfortable twist at the end…

 

Book number 11

Book read: Five Years from Now by Giovanna Fletcher

This book was the second of the ‘Buy One Get One Half Price’ Smiths airport deal… and another about relationships…  it took some perseverance for me to get into, but once I did, I quite enjoyed it. The book is set in Cornwall and follows the life journeys of its main characters, Nell and Van. There are a few twists and turns and several thought provoking sections… and much of the book is actually quite sad…

 

I did enjoy reading these two fictions books… but I’m back onto another travel book again… about another cyclist attempting to cycle around the world…

 

 

 

May book review(s)

Book number 7

Book read: Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

This is the first book by a famous travel writer that I’ve read this year. This book documents Bryson’s trip from the very top of Europe starting in Hammerfest in Norway as he travels across the continent and right through to Istanbul where the east of Europe meets Asia.

This was Bryson’s first travel book which was written in 1991 and I must say that I did read the original paperback version when it was published then, so over 25 years ago.

It felt weird reading this book again as it is nothing like I remembered it! This shows how time can distort the way you remember things… I have since been to many of the places he visited which is great as I can now relate to them. Maybe this is another reason I remembered the book so differently?

This isn’t the best book of my 50@50 challenge year by any means… Bryson does complain a great deal and does paint himself as a stereotypical moany tourist… I found the book funny in places but after a while the jokes become a bit tedious…

 

Book number 8

Book read: Lone Rider by Elspeth Beard

Elspeth was the first female to circumnavigate the world by motorbike and documents this fantastic journey in the form of her book. She is incredibly inspiring as she shares every detail including accounts of her being treated badly, being ill and having to deal with nightmare bureaucratic border crossings.

She did this between 1982 and 1984 so long before the days of smart phones and sat navs… and while in her early 20’s…

I was in the middle of reading of her immense courage and the hardships she overcame on her own while on my recent solo trip to Montenegro. This really put my trip into perspective… the short flight, comfy hotel, things to do, people being super friendly so not even a little toe dipped out of my comfort zone… Elspeth inspired me to do something more adventurous another time…

Elspeth noticed that people in developing countries seemed far happier as she reflected on her journey towards the end of the book:

“It was clear to me how easy it is to take things for granted and forget to be grateful for the basics in life: family, food and shelter.”

This is something I also noticed while travelling around the world in 2016… travelling in developing countries is a humbling experience…

 

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Always up for more adventures…

 

 

April book review

Book number 6

Book read: The Long and Whining Road by Simeon Courtie

An interesting and realistic account of a family of 5 who travelled around the world in an old VW camper van. The author (the dad, Simeon) gives you a good insight of what would be involved if you ever wanted to take on such a trip, setting out a number of issues for example with border controls and with shipping their van between continents.

This book did take me a while to get into so progress was slow at the beginning. However the book got better and better as the family continued to drive through Europe and into Turkey, Syria and Jordan and onto India, Australia and the US.

Incredibly Simeon drove his family through Syria although thankfully for them this was shortly before the tragic events of Syria took hold. Even so, he described the tensions the family felt in a country on the brink of civil war.

This book definitely inspired me even more to take on something similar… maybe not driving around the world in one go but I would certainly love to drive around the UK, Europe, Australia and the US in camper vans!

 

 

March book review

Book number 5

Book read: Balancing on Blue by Keith Foskett

A fantastic account of the authors incredible 2,200 mile journey as he made his way on foot the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. This makes the recent 632 mile South West Coast Path book I read look somewhat tame although both are amazing achievements…

Both books, and also the Kamikaze Kangaroo book which had a section where the author trekked Australia’s 623 mile Bibbulmun Track are really starting to inspire me to do a long distance walk. My feet are getting itchier by the day…

At the moment the UK’s South West Coast Path is probably the most realistic to aspire to (no bears or rattlesnakes to contend with) although I don’t think I would get another career break from work any time soon…  And I haven’t actually done anything more challenging than a weekend of hiking… maybe I should try a week of daily hikes first?

This was another of those books I got through fairly quickly as it was hard to put down… I loved the way Fozzie effortlessly weaved his feelings, experiences and connections with the harsh facts of what it’s like to experience life as a thru-hiker on the trail.

Again, much of this book resonated with my constant desire to travel and explore… “the desire to roam is all I dream of” says Keith. This is me. I am always dreaming of exploring but the difference is, Keith is out there doing it while I’m spending far too much time dreaming while in the office…

I found many more inspiring quotes in Fozzie’s book and another was from one of his trail buddies, who, upon his return back into civilization said:

Page: 261

“I had no desire to own anything other than the crappiest car in existence. It also acted as a people-filter. I had little time for anyone who judged me on the basis of my car, and you would be surprised how few people that left.”

I can definitely identify with that too!

I’m keen to read more of Fozzie’s books… I’ve been thinking that maybe I should expand my literary horizons and read a book that isn’t a travel book but I haven’t quite managed to do that yet… I’ve now started following the adventures of a family travelling the world in a camper van…

 

 

February book review(s)

So, another two books completed before the end of February! Both are travel books again, documenting the adventures of two very different styles of traveller. Chris Pountney who cycled from Paris to Sydney and George Mahood who backpacked with his wife from Quito to Lima.

Book read: No Wrong Turns: Cycling the World, Part One: Paris to Sydney by Chris Pountney

Book number 3…

Wow! An awesome book! What a guy! I enjoyed every sentence of this book and was gripped right from the beginning… How could anyone even consider cycling from Paris to Sydney? This seemed such an impossible task and is only the first leg of his World cycle tour! And he didn’t even take the most direct route! Chris set himself a number of conditions one of which was to cycle through 100 countries.

Having begun in Paris, he headed off up through Germany to Scandinavia before dropping back down via Estonia and Poland and back through Germany towards Ukraine.

Not only was the adventure side incredible to read, the author has a brilliant style of writing which, together with his descriptions and humour make this one amazing package.

I was quite sorry when the book finished in Sydney so I’m now a regular reader of his website, eager to catch up with Chris and his now wife, Dea.

I love Chris’s approach and way of thinking… How to travel for next to nothing… Get a bike of course!

Awesome quote:

“But I also hoped that if I could circumnavigate the entire planet without ever once getting in a motor vehicle, it might just inspire one or two people that they could perhaps do their shopping without one.” Page 132

This is the best of the four books I’ve read so far this year.

And note to self: I have huge admiration for Chris and while I have been inspired to lead a more adventurous life, I don’t think (extraordinarily) long distance cycling is for me…

Book number 4:

Book: Travels with Rachel: In search of South America by George Mahood

A book documenting the author and his wife’s 6 week adventure through Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

I enjoyed this book as I was able to closely relate to their travel style which was similar to the way Chris and I travelled in 2016. Yes, we are middle aged and did manage to spend a day doing the short version of the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and climb up and down the steep paths of the Sacred Valley without just about making it to the gift shops (as George seemed to imply this was the case for anyone over 30…)

I loved reading about the places we didn’t get to such as Ecuador and the Amazon rainforest trip (both of which I would love to do in the future) as well as those places we did visit.

As well as plenty of reminiscing and developing an even stronger desire to travel to South America again, the main thing I took from his book was the inspiration to turn our 2016 adventures into a book! We were away for 11 months in total, exploring the Pacific, Asia, Central and South America… We captured much of our adventures in our blog so surely it can’t be too difficult to turn this into a book???

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Oct 2016: me at Machu Picchu