‘The Unseen Walls’ by Christian Brix

The bravery of solo travel is often mentioned by others. The myth of a courageous attitude is something few overlanders work hard to dispel, but similarly very few are prepared to discuss what can be the psychological reality of solo adventure through alien cultures.

Living through the visual medium of Facebook and Instagram, where everyone’s life seems to be a stream of excitement and happy selfies, you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s the reality of travel. The truth of course can be very different and as humans we flow through cycles of contentment and confidence where each wax and wane.

The Unseen Walls that travel with many people can control and encase you. Psychological barriers that fill you with dread and curtail the cultural interaction that makes travel so much more than just riding your bike.

Brix plans to ride south from the UK to Cape Town and chooses a 660 Ténéré to do it, but human frailties and battles with bureaucracy catch up with him in West Africa and he ends up flying from Ghana to Jo’Burg before looping the southern part of the continent and heading North-East to Kenya and the sanctuary of his sister’s house.

This is still an 18,000-mile travelogue, yet it contains more reflection that most. It’s very well written, but some of the content may scare you, because it’s real. This book shines a light on the problems and fears that we comfortable Westerners can face, and on the real state of the developing world, or rather, the rest of the world. There is a lot of social politics mixed in to the text, as you may expect of a politics graduate, but most of it is observational and opinionated. On occasion it felt that he said in a page what he could have more eloquently said in a paragraph, and there are times the reader might want to shout ‘stop moaning’, but that’s probably because we are more comfortable when reading about challenges that relate to road surfaces, weather and terrain, than the human condition.

If you want another enthusiastic tale to bolster you into action, this isn’t it, even though some of his descriptive prose is wonderful. However, if you’d like to understand a little more about mental health and how depression can nibble away, or can completely embrace you while you’re on the road in an alien environment, this could be really educational and that’s why I recommend you take the challenge.
Available here.

review by Paddy Tyson

ISBN: 978-17314-3769-3
240 pages, 8 B&W route maps (£12.00)
Published by author (2018)