Great Journeys
The World's Most Spectacular Routes

Andrew Bain, et al.
(Lonely Planet)
It starts out on "the Hippy Trail" --- London to Goa --- and ends up with "the Shikoku Pilgrimage," 1,400 km around the Japanese Island visiting eighty-eight Buddhist temples en route.

In between there are seventy or so other "routes," including "The Orient Express," "The Maya Route," "Icefields Parkway" (the Rocky Mountains of Canada), "Ferdinand Magellan," the "Karakoram Highway," and "Marco Polo's Exploration Route" --- this last being 39,000 km. through Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, India, China, and Iran. You might get nuked if you try to trek though this last one ... but this indelicate subject is not brought up in the text.

Great Journeys is packed with information and lovely pictures ... photographs so breath-takingly beautiful that one gets a tad suspicious. For the volume seems to make any of the seventy-four journeys not just journeys, but trips that we should all enjoy.

We suspect you would have to be out of your mind to try some of them. The 10,000 km. on the Trans-Siberian Railway is touted as "a sea voyage on land ... sleeping and reading for a week while the ultimate backdrop rolls by your window." If you want the truth about this Trans-Siberian tripe, read Paul Theuroux's first big seller, The Great Railway Bazaar: food to die for (or to die with), third (and fourth) world latrines, and --- as he related it --- a prison-like madness that takes over on the last few days, a case of the crazies that made him end up in fisticuffs with an innocent porter in the stinky filthy dining-car.

On page 202 of Great Journeys, you'll find a trip into Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The editors do a bit of a strain to bring this one off, mentioning that when you get to the Ugandan border, there might be "some bandits" ... not to mention a civil war that has been going on in the Congo itself for several decades. Then there is the problem of getting stuck in the pits of Kisangani trying to wrangle a boat-ride (while trying to avoid being shanghaied.)

What we have here is a bad case of the traditional feel-good travel-fantasies that infect all of us after browsing through a few travel books, especially this one. If, following Marlow, you survive the 1,730 kms. and finally make it, bruised but bewildered, to Kinshasha, you'll find that --- far from being the dump that many have described --- you'll be bewitched by "the intoxicating sound of soukous (African rumba), the click-clack of shoeshine boys and the spontaneous song-and-dance of its citizens." Not the horror the horror ... but a basic catchy happy jive rhythm, no?

There is to top it off, a truly disgusting photograph of a "three-ton hippo" from the Lukuga River, a beast who could well use a root-canal on those vile black-and-green choppers.

§   §   §

Speaking of choppers, one of the oddest proposed journeys is dubbed "Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries." The editors are quite jocund with this. After listing all the countries involved (from Columbia to Argentina), the time commitment (six months) --- under the heading "Best time of year" they suggest "Whatever Revolutionary Fervour Grips You!"

The "Essential Tip" at the bottom of the page: "Leave your revolutionary ideals at home." Pack up the old kit bag but hide your copy of Das Kapital.

A two-page spread shows gorgeous llamas in Chile's Lauca National Park, with a side view of the Osorno volcano ("A sight to inspire revolution?") Then there is the thought that you can add zest to your journey by "Locating the exact spot where Che was killed in the village of La Higuera, Bolivia." The revolution will obviously not be televised nor tweeted but trampled to death by tourists vainly searching for the blood of the martyr there in La Higuera.

What have these cheersome editors left out? How about a leisurely stroll along the route of the Bataan Death March? A snow-bike ride to one of those scenic Gulags like Vorkula? Or best of all, a month or two on the Trail of Tears with the Choctaws: Essential Tip: Leave your possessions behind!

--- Carlos Amantea
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