If the essence of a good travel book is one that informs and enthrals, engages and excites – though not melodramatically – and is written by an author who is honest and personal, yet not self-obsessed, then I’ve just read one of the best offerings of 2016.
Heather Ellis is an Australian who immersed herself and her Yamaha TT600 in the African continent for 15 months back in 1993/4. In her twenties at the time, she discovered the importance of trust and then embraced it wholeheartedly, eschewing fear in favour of believing in humanity. The result is reproduced within these 370 pages and is truly heart-warming, especially in this time of rising nationalism and angst misdirected as hate.
Many of the African countries she travelled through were no more stable then than many are now, but by steadfastly ignoring media reports and seeing for herself, she grew immeasurably as a person and had a magnificent life experience.
This is not to say everything went well. Nearly dying in deserts and suffering recurring malaria, dysentery and worse, she nevertheless discovered that something always appeared at the right time and that those with next to nothing are the most likely to share it. Sleeping wild or under the auspices of ‘village head’ protection she was prepared to expose herself to the continent, warts and all, and was richly rewarded.
She built a real relationship with her TT but was not averse to leaving it – entrusted to strangers – while she climbed mountains or hiked through jungles. There is plenty of motorcycle action for those who need it to pepper their adventure travel stories, but it’s all relayed in a hugely accessible way. The story itself, like her confidence, improves markedly after she parts from her early travel companion, something which enabled standout experiences like the 24-day barge journey down the Congo river. This narrative is thrilling, beautifully written and highly recommended.
Review by Paddy Tyson
Paperback, 370pp, pp colour plates from £15.99
Published by Nero