Alan Whelan has an ability to convey experiences and encounters in an easy descriptive style. His observations about people and places sit well alongside historical context that scratches below the surface without being wordy. They are lightly sketched yet apposite, efficient rather than superficial.
The latest book in a series about African journeys, ‘Empire Road’ is the most insightful and thought-provoking yet. As with ‘African Brew Ha-Ha’ and ‘The Black Stars of Ghana’, what you get is an entertaining and well-written account of a down-to-basics journey of discovery with purpose.
Each of his trips on locally sourced Chinese bikes have had a device at their core: seeing who you get to talk to as you brew a cuppa by the roadside; looking in on the World Cup through the eyes of football-crazy underdogs and now, a ‘circumambulation’ of Lake Victoria following the trails left by Livingstone and other early European explorers.
Alan prefers to travel optimistically; no GPS or laptop, just an open attitude, a single change of clothes, a notebook, camera and voice-recorder in a back-pack strapped to the luggage-rack of (this trip) a Shineray XY175GY ‘Sport’. That optimism is borne-out by frequent kindnesses of the sort that see a penniless rider rescued by banks willing to open-up after closing for the day, or a stranded trucker that uses air from his own tyres to help the ‘mzungu’ back on his way. But there is no glossing over the potential for conflict and banditry, on one memorable day he is attacked by warriors on the lonely road to Lake Turkama and later nearly waylaid by a highwayman truck-driver.
Africa has become addictive to Alan as “…the place with the greatest allure – the deep wells of sincerity, the harsh living, the wildlife, the capacity to see nothing as ordinary, an amazed attitude to life, and the open-armed hospitality all encourage exploration.”
Written with warmth and humanity, ‘Empire Road’ is a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging read; a compelling nudge for anybody thinking about their future travel plans.
Inkstand Press (2015). £9.99