Book Title: From Snow to Ash – Solitude, soul-searching and survival on Australia’s toughest hiking trail
Author: Anthony Sharwood
Promotional Blurb: The incredible, inspiring story of a solo journey through Australia’s toughest and most beautiful hiking trail – the Australian Alps Walking Track – for fans of Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer or Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and anyone who dreams of iconic wilderness walks.
At the start of the hellish, fiery Australian summer of 2019/20, Walkley Award-winning journalist and suburban dad Anthony Sharwood set off on a journey. Abandoning his post on a busy news website to clear his mind, he solo-trekked the Australian Alps Walking Track, Australia’s most gruelling and breathtakingly beautiful mainland hiking trail, which traverses the entirety of the legendary High Country from Gippsland in Victoria to the outskirts of Canberra.
The journey started in a blizzard and ended in a blaze. Along the way, this lifelong lover of the mountains came to realise that nothing would ever be the same – either for him or for the imperilled Australian Alps, a landscape as fragile and sensitive to the changing climate as the Great Barrier Reef. Source
Promotional Blurb: A smart, funny novel of love, self-acceptance, second chances and blisters. Two misfits walk 2 000km along the Camino to find themselves and, perhaps, each other.
Zoe, a sometime artist, is from California. Martin, an engineer, is from Yorkshire. Both have ended up in picturesque Cluny, in central France. Both are struggling to come to terms with their recent past – for Zoe, the death of her husband; for Martin, a messy divorce.
Looking to make a new start, each sets out alone to walk two thousand kilometres from Cluny to Santiago de Compostela, in north western Spain, in the footsteps of pilgrims who have walked the Camino for centuries. The Camino changes you, it’s said. It’s a chance to find a new version of yourself, and a new beginning. But can these two very different people find themselves? Will they find each other?
In this smart, funny and romantic journey, Martin’s and Zoe’s stories are told in alternating chapters by husband-and-wife team Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist. Two Steps Forward is a novel about renewal – physical, psychological and spiritual. It’s about the challenge of walking a long distance and of working out where you are going. And it’s about what you decide to keep, what you choose to leave behind and what you rediscover along the way.
My Thoughts: This is one for the camino walkers or the ‘camino curious’. Rather than a super-factual walking guide to the Camino in Spain, it couches the trials and tribulations of long-distance walking in the ebbs and flows of a fictional new relationship.
Martin and Zoe have an inauspicious meeting in Cluny, central France before they set out independently to walk South and South-west towards Santiago de Compostela. Zoe intends her final destination to be St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees while Martin intends to walk all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
What their intentions are and what actually happens are two completely different stories.
I have read Simsion’s work before and did not really enjoy it and, if it the book wasn’t about walking a camino, I would never have grabbed it out of the bargain bin of my local Op Shop.
Camino first, quality writing second!
However, my estimation of him went clear through the roof when I read the jacket blurb to reveal that both he and his wife walked the Chemin/Camino from Cluny to Santiago de Compostela, not once, but twice! That is around 2 038km over 87 days – twice! All of a sudden these authors had street cred! Or serious walking cred!
I may be a little judgmental, but the fact that both authors had experienced these paths firsthand meant that their writing had a little more authenticity. They had walked the endless hard days and enjoyed the warmth of new friendships and deep conversations.
This book will appeal to people who have walked the Camino and wish to reminisce about the Le Puy, del Norte or Primitivo paths. It will also appeal to people who would like an entertaining introduction to caminos in Spain or those who just enjoy a light read.
Prior to the Covid19 pandemic, I was due to fly to Spain to walk the Primitivo (plus a couple of other lesser known paths). I have also long dreamed of walking the del Norte route and now, I have the Chemin from Cluny to add to the wish list.
One of these days we will be allowed to travel internationally again and these dreams can come true.
This is a pleasant, easy read. Not world-beating literature, but it rolls along at a steady pace – a bit like a day’s walk – and the vast variety of characters are appealing and credible.
It is not good for those of us with itchy feet! I gave it 7/10.
Author bios: Graeme Simsion is the internationally bestselling author of The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect and The Best of Adam Sharp.
Anne Buist is the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne. She has thirty years’ experience in perinatal psychiatry, and works with the legal system in cases of abuse, kidnapping, infanticide and murder. Her Natalie King: Forensic Psychologist series of thrillers are published by Text.
Promotional Blurb: What would move you to ditch your life and take off into the wild for five months? For Laura Waters, it took the implosion of a toxic relationship and a crippling bout of anxiety.
Armed with maps, a compass and her life in a bag on her back, she set out to walk the untamed landscapes of the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand, 3000 kilometres of raw, wild, mountainous trail winding from the top of the North Island to the frosty tip of the South Island. But when her walking partner dropped out on the second day, she was faced with a choice: abandon the journey, or face her fears and continue on alone? She chose to walk on.
For five months, Laura battled not only treacherous terrain and elements, but also the demons of self-doubt and anxiety. As the kilometres fell behind her, nature did its work, stripping away her identity and guiding her towards a new way of being. At the end of Te Araroa, it was the hard-earned insights into the power of nature, emotional wellbeing and fulfilling relationships – with others as well as with herself – that were Laura’s greatest accomplishments. She emerged ‘rewilded’, and it transformed her life. Source
Book Title: The Valley of the Assassins And Other Persian Travels
Author: Freya Stark
Promotional Blurb: Hailed as a classic upon its first publication in 1934, The Valleys of the Assassins firmly established Freya Stark as one of her generation’s most intrepid explorers. The book chronicles her travels into Luristan, the mountainous terrain nestled between Iraq and present-day Iran, often with only a single guide and on a shoestring budget.
Stark writes engagingly of the nomadic peoples who inhabit the region’s valleys and brings to life the stories of the ancient kingdoms of the Middle East, including that of the Lords of Alamut, a band of hashish-eating terrorists whose stronghold in the Elburz Mountains Stark was the first to document for the Royal Geographical Society.
Her account is at once a highly readable travel narrative and a richly drawn, sympathetic portrait of a people told from their own compelling point of view. Source Continue reading →
Book Title: Eight Feet in the Andes: Travels with a Mule in Unknown Peru
Author: Dervla Murphy
Promotional Blurb: The eight feet belong to Dervla Murphy, her nine-year-old daughter Rachel and Juana, an elegant mule, who together clambered the length of Peru, from Cajamarca near the border with Ecuador, to Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital, over 1300 miles to the south.
With only the most basic necessities to sustain them and spending most of their time above 10,000 feet, their journey was marked by extreme discomfort, occasional danger and even the temporary loss of Juana over a precipice. Yet mother and daughter, a formidable duo, were unflagging in their sympathetic response to the perilous beauty and impoverished people of the Andes.
In this extraordinary adventure, Dervla Murphy is at her intrepid best, facing up to the terrors, horrors and joys of her journey along the mountain paths. Source
My Thoughts: To date, I have not travelled anywhere in South America and have read very little about this continent. Spotting this book in a second hand bookstore was the perfect opportunity to remedy this situation. The fact that the book was about a walking adventure made it even more appealing!
This is an eye-opening read. Their bravery or downright foolhardiness is as breathtaking as the scenery they scramble through. I do not know if I am more in awe of Dervla for her unquestioning belief that walking 1300 miles through the Andes is an interesting and enjoyable way to spend ten weeks of your life OR her daughter Rachel who merrily and uncomplainingly traipsed along after her mother. The adventurous spirit must be a genetic thing and I suspect you could count on one hand the number of other nine year olds in the World who would willingly follow a parent through such terrain and under such conditions.
Murphy is quoted as saying, “the hardships and poverty of my youth had been a good apprenticeship for this form of travel. I had been brought up to understand that material possessions and physical comfort should never be confused with success, achievement and security”. Wise words.
Amidst all the blood, sweat and tears, Murphy waxes lyrical about the breathtaking natural scenery and at times, struggles to find enough superlatives to describe what she is seeing. Luckily for the reader she knows to check herself and balances much of the floral prose with snippets of historical information as they follow the path of the early Spanish conquistadores.
A really enjoyable read that is a good mix of adventure, stunning landscape, human mishaps, history and reflections about colonial invasion. I gave it 8/10.
Author bio: Dervla Murphy was born on 28 November 1931 of parents whose families were both settled in Dublin as far back as can be traced. Her grandfather and most of his family were involved in the Irish Republican movement. Her father was appointed Waterford County Librarian in 1930 after three years internment in Wormwood Scrubs prison and seven years at the Sorbonne. Her mother was invalided by arthritis when Dervla was one year old.
She was educated at the Ursuline Convent in Waterford until she was fourteen, when, because of the wartime shortage of servants, she left to keep house for her father and to nurse her mother. Dervla did this for sixteen years with occasional breaks bicycling on the Continent.
Her mother’s death left her free to go farther afield and in 1963 she cycled to India. There she worked with Tibetan refugee children before returning home after a year to write her first two books.
Dervla Murphy’s first book, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, was published in 1965. Over 20 other titles have followed. Dervla has won worldwide praise for her writing and has been described as a ‘travel legend’ and ‘the first lady of Irish cycling’. Now in her 80s, she continues to travel around the world and remains passionate about politics, conservation, bicycling and beer. Source
Book Title: On The Trail of Genghis Khan – An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads
Author: Tim Cope
Promotional Blurb: The relationship between man and horse on the Eurasian steppe gave rise to a succession of rich nomadic cultures. Among them were the Mongols of the thirteenth century – a small tribe, which, under the charismatic leadership of Genghis Khan, created the largest contiguous land empire in history. Inspired by the extraordinary life nomads still lead today, Tim Cope embarked on a journey that hadn’t been successfully completed since those times: to travel on horseback across the entire length of the Eurasian steppe, from Karakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia, through Kazakhstan, Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine to the Danube River in Hungary.
From horse-riding novice to travelling three years and 10 000 kilometres on horseback, accompanied by his dog Tigon, Tim learnt to fend off wolves and would-be horse-thieves, and grapple with the extremes of the steppe as he crossed sub-zero plateaus, the scorching deserts of Kazakhstan and the high-mountain passes of the Carpathians. Along the way, he was taken in by people who taught him the traditional ways and told him their recent history: Stalin’s push for industrialisation brought calamity to the steepe and forced collectivism that in Kazakhstan alone led to the loss of several million livestock and the starvation of more than a million nomads. Today Cope bears witness to how the traditional ways hang precariously in the balance in the post-Soviet world. Source
My Thoughts: I had heard about this book many, many years ago and it sat in my To Be Read pile for the same amount of years. I had to get my mind ready for an epic journey – ready to tackle an adventure of this size and scale.
This IS an adventure to beat ALL adventures!
Throughout the book I was boggled by Cope’s ability to withstand the searing or freezing temperatures, the constant threats to personal safety and his ability to survive on a diet heavily laced with camel’s head and pig fat, and all washed down with a never-ending stream of vodka.
I like to think I am a fairly adventurous soul, but I am positively pedestrian when compared to Cope. His journey from Mongolia to Hungary was an exercise in pure resilience. I was blown away by Cope’s passion for the journey and the history of the regions he passed through and its people, and his sheer stamina to do it day after day even under constant threat to his safety.
Cope’s passion for adventure is balanced by his love of history and his book is littered with background information on the Mongols, Cossacks, Russians and Tatars. It was the impact of the Russians which really opened my eyes. Their systematic programme of ethnic cleansing all but wiped out the individual cultures and replaced it with bland and severe Soviet architecture, social and political systems, Russian language and a seemingly limitless stream of vodka. It has just broken the identity of so many countries and it makes me wonder if they will ever recover. Amidst all the desolation and cultural devastation there were small pockets of resistance and I hope they can find a foothold and eventually blossom.
I must admit that I did lose track of some of the history and it all got a bit confusing at times, but that is more of a comment about me than Cope’s writing.
Another thing I have been wondering is whether this sort of adventure is still possible today. We live in such an incredibly connected world these days, is it possible to truly go ‘off grid’ like Cope did?
Also, with so much political tension in the World, would it be possible to move from country to country like Cope did, although I acknowledge that this was not straight forward for him either 15 years ago.
It has certainly tweaked my interest to travel to some of these little known countries.
If you like an adventurous read that makes you think AND opens your eyes to both history and ancient cultures, then make sure you track down a copy of Cope’s epic.
Author bio: Born in 1978, Tim Cope, F.R.G.S., is an award-winning adventurer, author and film-maker with a special interest in the traditional cultures of Central Asia and Russia. He has studied as a wilderness guide in the Finnish and Russian subarctic, ridden a bicycle across Russia to China, and rowed a boat along the Yenisey River through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean. Tim’s most renowned journey was a three year journey by horse from Mongolia to Hungary on the trail of Genghis Khan. He is also the creator of several documentary films, including the award winning series “The Trail of Genghis Khan,” (commissioned by ABC Australia and ZDF/Arte in Europe). Tim lives in Victoria, Australia, and annually guides trekking journeys to remote western Mongolia for World Expeditions.Source
Promotional Blurb: It was the late night Tai Bo fitness commercial warning him that life comes to an end after 40 that prompted Peter Moore to chase a boyhood dream. To go to Italy and seek out its celebrated dolce vita from the back of a Vespa.
But it couldn’t be just any old Vespa. Peter wanted a bike as old as he was and in the same sort of condition: a little rough round the edges, a bit slow in the mornings perhaps, but basically still OK. And it had to have saddle seats. And temperamental electrics. And a little too much chrome. The sort of scooter you’d imagine a sharp-suited, Ray Ban-wearing young Marcello Mastroianni riding. Her name was Sophia.
From picnicking in the Italian alps and rattling through cobbled hilltop to gate-crashing Frances Mayes’s villa and re-enacting ‘Roman Holiday’, Vroom with a View is as much a romance as a travel adventure. For not only does Peter win the woman of his dreams, he falls for a side of Italy others rarely see. Along with Sophia, of course… Source: Book Depository
My Thoughts: This is a wonderful, quirky travel read, especially enjoyable for those of us with a soft spot for all things Italian.
It really resonated with me so soon after my return from my latest walk, this time in Italy. I was pleased to see he traveled to a few of the same places that I visited. He even mentioned the Via Francigena a couple of times and I do admit to often looking longingly at Vespas and other small motor bikes. How much easier and quicker would it have been to jump on one of those machines, even an old one like Sophia, and putter up some of the %$#@! hills?
He has a very easy and entertaining style. His voice is informal and relaxed, but interesting at the same time. He has a good eye and ear, and captures the sights, smells and sounds of Italy. Most importantly, he captures the warmth of the Italian people.
Author bio: Peter is an author who writes about travel. He is always searching for places that are authentic and a little bit different. No floaty sundresses or hipster beards here. Born in Sydney. Living in London. Author of six best-selling travel narratives. Travelled through 105 countries. Always looking for the next dodgy lane to wander down.Source
Promotional Blurb: This funny and tender book combines three of Alice Steinbach’s greatest passions: learning, traveling, and writing. After chronicling her European journey of self-discovery in Without Reservations, this Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Baltimore Sun quit her job and left home again. This time she roamed the world, taking lessons and courses in such things as French cooking in Paris, Border collie training in Scotland, traditional Japanese arts in Kyoto, and architecture and art in Havana. With warmth and wit, Steinbach guides us through the pleasures and perils of discovering how to be a student again. She also learns the true value of this second chance at educating herself: the opportunity to connect with and learn from the people she meets along the way. Source
My Thoughts: I really, really, really (get the picture?) enjoyed Steinbach’s first book – Without Reservations – so I pounced on this one, ready to recapture the magic of her first adventure as an independent traveller. And I was disappointed.
While it was just as beautifully written, and set in equally exotic and attractive locations around the world, this one came across as quite self-indulgent and conceited. Yes, she was indulging her desire to travel and learn, but this time it appeared to me like she was showing off, and we know how us Aussies do not like show-offs.
Perhaps it was jealousy on my part, and I viewed her writing through green-tinted glasses, but there was a sense of ‘look at me, how clever I am, and my wealth’ as she swanned from one part of the world to the other. I am the first to admit that perhaps I need to re-read her book as I may be judging her harshly.
Despite my criticism, I am supportive of her ability to follow her dreams, set her own goals and go after them, even in the face of naysayers. Perhaps her book wasn’t so bad after all.
Author bio: Alice Steinbach, whose work at the Baltimore Sun was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1985, was a freelance writer until 1999. She was appointed the 1998-1999 McGraw Professor of Writing at Princeton University and was the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. She lived in Baltimore, Maryland and passed away in March 2012 from cancer. (Source)
Promotional Blurb:Without Reservations is about a woman’s dream come true – taking a year off to travel the world and rediscover what it is like to be an independent woman, without ties and without reservations. ‘In many ways, I was an independent woman,’ writes Alice Steinbach, single working mother and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. ‘For years I’d made my own choices, paid my own bills, shovelled my own snow, and had relationships that allowed for a lot of freedom on both sides.’ Slowly, however, she saw that she had become quite dependent in another way. ‘I had fallen into the habit of defining myself in terms of who I was to other people and what they expected of me.’ Who am I, she wanted to know, away from the things that define me – my family, children, job, friends? Steinbach searches for the answer in some of the most exciting places in the world – Paris, where she finds a soulmate in a Japanese man; Oxford, where she learns more from a ballroom dancing lesson than any of her studies; Milan, where she befriends a young woman about to be married. Beautifully illustrated with postcards Steinbach wrote home to herself, this is an unforgettable voyage of discovery. Source:Book Depository
My Thoughts: Although I read this book many years ago, it still resonates with me today. I was struck by her courage to cast off the expectations of other people, as well as the limitations that she placed on herself. She wondered what happened to her old self, the missing woman, who was adventurous, curious and more of a risk-taker? Of course it helped that she had the financial wherewithal to afford her very own brand of international irresponsibility, but what a way to pursue a journey of self-discovery.
I use the word ‘courage’ because I believe she was pretty brave to step away from the comfort of her routine life, but also because she stepped out into the world on her own, with no real plans. How liberating would that be? She ticks off her personal highlights – Paris, London, Oxford and Italy, and throughout the book she includes copies of postcards that she sent herself, capturing a snapshot of what she was experiencing that day. Note to self: time to start sending postcards to self!
I have included, at the end of this review, an interesting Q&A session she completed on the release of Without Reservations.
A light and enjoyable read, especially if you have visited any of Alice’s destinations, or if you also hanker to cast off the bow lines and sail out into the world.
Author bio: Alice Steinbach, whose work at the Baltimore Sun was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1985, was a freelance writer until 1999. She was appointed the 1998-1999 McGraw Professor of Writing at Princeton University and was the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. She lived in Baltimore, Maryland and passed away in March 2012 from cancer. (Source)
Promotional Blurb:When A.J. Mackinnon quits his job in Australia, he knows only that he longs to travel to the Well at the World’s End, a mysterious pool on a remote Scottish island whose waters, legend has it, hold the secret to eternal youth. Determined not to fly (‘It would feel like cheating’), he sets out with a rucksack, some fireworks and a map of the world and trusts chance to take care of the rest. By land and by sea, by train, truck, horse and yacht, he makes his way across the globe – and through a series of hilarious adventures. He survives a bus crash in Australia, marries a princess in Laos, is attacked by Komodo dragons and does time in a Chinese jail. The next lift – or the next near-miss – is always just a happy accident away. This is the astonishing true story of a remarkable voyage, an old-fashioned quest by a modern-day adventurer. (Source)
My Thoughts: I love a good adventure, and even more than that, an adventure that turns into a comedy of errors. I give Mackinnon full marks for audacity, vision and perhaps a fair dose of stupidity thrown in there. He was lucky to get out alive!
How is it that some people can dream up these journeys, and rationalise in their own minds that such trips are perfectly acceptable, and perfectly achievable? I guess that is what sets us apart – true adventurers and absolute novices.
He seems to lurch from one disaster to the next, meeting ever more fantastical characters, and brushing ever nearer to death. He gets arrested, jailed, deported, married, kidnapped, becalmed, and continuously re-routed on his two-step-forward-one-step-back progress, battling to get out of the Southern Hemisphere, let alone to a remote island off Scotland. In fact, over 230 pages of the book are devoted to lurching around Australia, New Zealand and Asia, before racing through the Mediterranean, Europe and finally to England in the last handful of pages.
Similar to his debut novel, he travels and writes quoting great swathes of poetry, and in this book, playing his tin whistle to earn his keep.
No wonder he travels solo!
It is hard to read Mackinnon’s story and not wonder how much is true and how much is simply wishful thinking. After all, this book covers a year of adventure in 1990, and this book was not released until 2011. Surely the lapse of 21 years has polished the tales to a golden hue?
Regardless, it is an enjoyable read and I look forward to him packing his bags, or at least putting pen to paper, again soon.
Author bio: A. J. (Sandy) Mackinnon was born in Australia in 1963 and spent his childhood between England and Australia, travelling with his family on the last P&O liners to sail between the two countries. His interests include painting, philosophy, writing, conjuring and home-made fireworks. He is currently a teacher of English, Drama, Mathematics and Philosophy in the Victorian High Country. He is the author of The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow and The Well at the World’s End. (Source)
Book Title: The Lost Continent. Travels in Small-Town America
Author: Bill Bryson
Promotional Blurb:‘I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to’
And, as soon as Bill Bryson was old enough, he left. Des Moines couldn’t hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England, he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14 000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of trim and sunny place where the films of his youth were set. Instead, his search led him to Anywhere, USA; a lookalike strip of gas stations, motels and hamburger outlets populated by lookalike people with a penchant for synthetic fibres. He discovered a continent that was doubly lost; lost to itself because blighted by greed, pollution, mobile homes and television; lost to him because he had become a stranger in his own land. (Source: http://www.penguin.co.uk)
Promotional Blurb:Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning a letter arrives, addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl, from a woman he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. But before Harold mails off a quick reply, a chance encounter convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. In his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold Fry embarks on an urgent quest. Determined to walk six hundred miles to the hospice, Harold believes that as long as he walks, Queenie will live.
Promotional Blurb: Nearly 900 years ago, Duke Godfrey de Bouillon set out on the First Crusade– and in our own time, author Tim Severin retraced his steps. The destination: Jerusalem, city of gold. For more than eight years, Severin followed the historic trail, riding through northern Europe’s green countryside and into the heat of the Near East. In the process, he covered more than 2 500 miles by horse, past ruined Crusader settlements and ancient battlefields, over arduous mountain passes, and across Anatolian steppes. A dazzling synthesis of adventure, practical history, and exploration, told by one of our finest and most respected travel writers – illustrated with his own photographs.
Book Title: The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow. A Mirror Odyssey from North Wales to the Black Sea
Author: AJ Mackinnon
Promotional Blurb: A couple of quiet weeks sailing the River Severn was the intention. Somehow things got out of hand – a year later I had reached Romania and was still going…
Truly hilarious books are rare. Even rarer are those based on real events. Join A.J. Mackinnon, your charming and eccentric guide, on an amazing voyage in a boat called Jack de Crow.
Equipped with his cheerful optimism and a pith helmet, this Australian Odysseus in a dinghy travels from the borders of North Wales to the Black Sea – 4,900 kilometres over salt and fresh water, under sail, at the oars, or at the end of a tow-rope – through twelve countries, 282 locks and numerous trials and adventures, including an encounter with Balkan pirates. Along the way he experiences the kindness of strangers, gets very lost, and perfects the art of slow travel.
Promotional Blurb: ‘When a Gandhi dies, nobody is safe.’ An assassination, a romance. A hijacking, several nuclear explosions and a religious experience … just some of the ingredients in the latest tour de force from the bestselling author of the Carpet Wars. In the searing summer of 2004, Christopher Kremmer returns to India, a country in the grip of enormous and sometimes violent change. As a young reporter in the 1990s, he first encountered this ancient and complex civilisation. Now, embarking on a yatra, or pilgrimage, he travels the dangerous frontier where religion and politics face off. Tracking down the players in a decisive decade, he takes us inside the enigmatic Gandhi dynasty, and introduces an operatic cast of political Brahmins, ‘cyber coolies’, low-caste messiahs and wrestling priests. A sprawling portrait of India at the crossroads, Inhaling the Mahatma is also an intensely personal story about coming to terms with a dazzlingly different culture, as the author’s fate is entwined with a cosmopolitan Hindu family of Old Delhi, and a guru who might just change his life.
Book Title: Slow Journey South. Walking to Africa – A Year in Footsteps
Author: Paula Constant
Promotional Blurb:Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time. When Paula Constant and her husband, Gary, attempt to break away from the conventional 9-to-5 routine, a few weeks lazing in a resort or packed in a tour bus is not what they have in mind. What starts out as an idle daydream to embark on ‘a travel to end all travels’ turns into something far greater: an epic year-long 5000-kilometre walk from Trafalgar Square in London to Morocco and the threshold of the Sahara Desert. Quite an ambition for an unfit woman who favours sharing cigarettes and a few bottles of wine with friends over logging time on the treadmill. But if the sheer arduousness of walking over 25 kilometres a day through the landscapes and cultural labyrinths of France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco – without a support vehicle – is overlooked in her excitement, then so too is the unexpected journey of self-discovery and awakening that lies beyond every bend. Both the companions she meets on the road and the road itself provide what no university can offer: a chance to experience life’s simple truths face to face. Paula’s transformation from an urban primary school teacher into a successful expeditioner is a true tale of an ordinary woman achieving something extraordinary. It is a journey that begins with one footstep.
My Thoughts: I am going to have to stop reading these walking books. All they do is to fill me with an urgent wanderlust. I could pack and leave home tonight.
Paula and Gary Constant come up with the idea that they want to walk across the Sahara desert. This dream expands to walking from London to the Sahara, and they finally settle on walking from London to Cape Town!! And I thought I was a bit partial to a long stroll! All these dreams and plans are delayed and postponed, as they work up the courage to finally put one foot in front of the other and actually start walking.
I can’t believe how ill-prepared they were with virtually no training or fitness to speak of, AND carrying a pack the size and weight of which makes my back pack look like a day pack! I am surprised they even made it out of England let alone across France, Spain, Portugal and on to Morocco.
Although like me during my walks, they had some incredibly tough times, they also shared immense joy – especially with the people they met along the way.
There is so much that resounded with me in this book and Paula’s voice is honest and amusing. An entertaining read for walkers, dreamers and would-be adventurers.
Author bio: Paula Constant began walking from Trafalgar Square in 2004. Since then, she has walked over 12000km through eight countries: England, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and Niger. From 2005-2007, Paula walked over 7000km through the Sahara, until she was halted by civil war in Niger. Her first book, Slow Journey South, was released by Random House in 2008. Her second, Sahara, was released in October 2009. Paula is currently planning another walk, and lives in rural Victoria.
Book Title: Wild. From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Author: Cheryl Strayed
Promotional Blurb:At twenty-six, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s rapid death from cancer, her family disbanded and her marriage crumbled. With nothing to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to walk eleven-hundred miles of the west coast of America and to do it alone. She had no experience of long-distance hiking and the journey was nothing more than a line on a map. But it held a promise – a promise of piecing together a life that lay shattered at her feet. (Source)
My Thoughts: Yet another walking book that made me want to do just that – WALK! I have completed three caminos so far, but these all pale in comparison to the walk that Cheryl undertook.
Cheryl is truly a wild child after her mother dies. It plunged her into bottomless grief which pushed her into a self-destructive life. Too many men, drugs and other risk-taking behaviours. She stumbled across a book about the Pacific Crest Trail, and spontaneously decided it would be a ‘good’ thing to do. She believed the walk would give her time to think, remove her from day-to-day temptations and ‘fix’ her. Ultimately, the trail broke her apart, piece by piece, and then built her back up again as a stronger, more balanced person.
I marvel that she could undertake such a mammoth trek with so little preparation and training. She epitomised the definitions of ‘over-packed’ and ‘under-trained’. It was like a comedy of errors in the beginning as she limped along mile after mile, being crushed by the weight of her pack. I felt every blister and aching muscle, but I also felt her triumph as her body started to acclimatise and Cheryl started to believe that she could actually achieve her lofty goal.
The thing I most admire about this book is her unstinting honesty. She shared her story from her lowest of lows and didn’t try to minimise or excuse the depths she had plunged to.
You don’t need to be an outdoor enthusiast to enjoy this book. In essence, it is an inspiring human story played out in glorious scenery, and in hiking boots.
Author bio: Cheryl Strayed is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir WILD, the New York Times bestsellers TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS and BRAVE ENOUGH, and the novel TORCH. Her books have been translated into forty languages around the world. The Oscar-nominated movie adaptation of WILD stars Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl and Laura Dern as Cheryl’s mother, Bobbi. Strayed holds an MFA in fiction writing from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Portland, Oregon. (Source)
Topic: Walking a Camino from Granada in Southern Spain to Santiago de Compostela.
Her Promotional Blurb: “I WILL WALK OFF YOUR SINS: Pilgrim seeks sinners for mutually beneficial arrangement. Seven Deadlies a specialty.
With these words Ailsa Piper’s journey begins. Less than a month later she finds herself hiking through olive groves and under translucent pink blossoms, making her way from the legendary city of Granada, towards the cliffs at Finisterre in the far north-west of Spain.
On her back she carries an unusual cargo – a load of sins. In the tradition of medieval believers who paid others to carry their sins to holy places, and so buy forgiveness, Ailsa’s friends and colleagues donated sins in order to fund her quest. She’s received anger and envy, pride and lust, among many.
Through glorious villages and inspiring landscapes, miracles find her. Matrons stuff gifts of homemade sausages into her pack. Angels in both name and nature ease her path. Sins find her too. Those in her pack and many others tempt her throughout her journey. And she falls in love: with kindness, with strangers, and with Spain”.
My Thoughts: I had known about this book for a number of years, and I finally got around to reading it in early 2015. This was a really bad idea as all it did was reignite my wanderlust. As if I need any encouragement!
Australian woman, Ailsa Piper, first walked the Camino Frances and then came up with the plan that, like in the days of old, she would offer to carry the sins of other people for a fee. This gave her a way to fund her trip plus a novel angle to develop a story and ultimately this book. Clever thinking.
It was wonderful to read about the early part of her walk, the first 400km before arriving in Merida. It appeared to be very similar to the Via de la Plata but with slightly differing landscape. It was then equally enjoyable to read of her experiences once she joined the Via, especially when she wrote about places I also walked through in September 2014.
I know I am picky but a couple of times I noticed she got the towns of this path out of order. Perhaps Ailsa wasn’t expecting that a portion of her reading audience would be experienced walkers or familiar with this part of Spain. For accuracy, you would have thought she would have checked her map and then simply rejigged her paragraphs. But maybe I am just being too pedantic, especially if it doesn’t detract from the story.
The thing I really liked was the fact that Ailsa walked a lot of the 1400-odd kilometres on her own. She discusses this in detail and shared how it opened her up to a whole range of different experiences as well as meeting new people.
It inspired me to do my next camino (the Camino Portuguese in May/June 2016) solo. Yes, like Ailsa there were times when I was a bit antsy/afraid and lonely, but I think the opportunity to reflect, and the complete flexibility of walking solo, far outweighed those small downsides. (See my post under the Two Feet heading for my discussions of the pros and cons).
This is an easy read and truly captures the sights and sounds of southern Spain. If you enjoy vicarious travel and have no intention of ever walking a camino then this is the book for you.
The way she has structured the book means you get a clear picture of her experience – both good and bad – but also some insight into the people for whom she is carrying the sins. Periodically throughout the book she checks-ins with the sinners back in Australia, and spookily, their lives as changing the closer she gets to Santiago. A nice bit of serendipity or poetic/writer’s licence? Who’s to say.
Author bio: Ailsa Piper is a writer, director, teacher and actor. She has been nominated for Green Room Awards as both an actor and director. Her play, Small Mercies, was joint winner of the Patrick White Playwrights Award in 2001. She is director of LuminoUS, which investigates and illuminates classic texts through detailed work with actors and light. She is yet to win an award for walking. (Source: Melbourne University Press).