I am an English teacher in China and can now read and write some Chinese.I have been to 13 countries on 4 continents.I am an avid audiophile
Phil is an ex military elite from England and his stories of handling the customs officers with their Blackberries and white shirts are really amazing. We get to hear about all the intimidation that goes on in DRC. He buys into none of it, and always makes the immigration guys shake his hand and make eye contact with him before he gives in to their requests.
The more interesting part of the story is his interaction with the native fishermen, who are very poor and lead very austere lives, but know their way through the jungle quite well. Phil speaks French, Swahili and practices other languages along the way while he plies his canoe up to 12 hours a day.
In some ways it reminded me of Kira Salak's book where she kayaks 600 miles through Mali to the city of Timbuktu. She is treated well in some places and with great hostility in other places.
Both adventurers are fantastic athletes, and both are a bit crazy in my opinion, to put themselves in knowingly dangerous parts of the world. It must be part of their psyche to tempt fate and test their abilities beyond what most of us would consider reasonable.
This man's five month journey from Zambia to the Atlantic Ocean is a harrowing tale where we are treated to his deepest thoughts during stressful situations.
The author offers a first hand account of what homeless people do to survive without a job by becoming homeless and winning the confidence of modern hoboes,who divulge secrets about raiding the KFC dumpster after closing to get chicken,simply eating someone's left over pizza,getting meals or living at a shelter for three days at a time and enduring a religious sermon in exchange for food and temporary shelter.
It made me feel less sorry for homeless people,but at the same time more understanding of how difficult it must be to have nowhere to live,no money and nothing to eat.
I picked this one up,since I really have enjoyed travel on trains in China and also really enjoyed Paul Theroux's titles previously.Instead I came away feeling once again,that Ted Conover has a keen eye for details and putting things in an easy to follow narrative that is captivating and well thought through.
The author seemed a bit depressed at first.Having been divorced,but he goes on a seven year adventure by himself,which was perhaps fool hardy.The recounting of navigating the Cape York peninsula and the whole coast of Australia was enthralling as he nearly runs his boat aground.The stories about Sri Lanka,the Maldives and navigating the Red Sea in gale force winds made me think he was courageous.When he glossed over Europe I could understand that this part of the world is overpriced.Going through the Panama Canal lochs was also cool.He picks up a couple of backpackers to help with the navigation.I was left feeling like the sea is perhaps the last place on earth a man can be alone with his thoughts and truly free.In the deep ocean there is less concern for hitting rocks and when provisioned right a blissful place that often ends in island hospitality.When he met the tug boat captain in Sri Lanka he began to understand that we have all the capacity for happiness within us.
I generally like true adventure tales and this one was on an exploration of Antarctica that was unknown to me.
However, the narration and delivery was devoid of almost all emotion. I contrast it to the story and narration of 'Into Thin Air' by Jon Krakauer. In that book, you could understand and empathize with the Everest quest and sense the extreme dangers involved.
Here, the story is told in an almost matter of fact, police report style. " Mawson fell down a crevass....he climbed out on his second attempt." Yawn.
Another issue was, and this is not the narrator's fault, that some information was repeated at times. I wondered if this book was written by a 'team' and several chapters made references to the same events or technical information.
If this is truly the 'Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration', it surely was delivered in dead-pan as I almost missed the climatic parts.
All in all, I am glad to have learned about Mawson and his experiences in Antarctica and the challenges, but they were delivered with such a lack of emotion that as another reviewer said, it probably would have been a better read.