Over my years of reviewing I have enjoyed travelling across the world with several authors, while most of us are re-thinking our holiday options, I thought I’d take another look at a selection of my favourite travelogues.
Salt Water and Spear Tips by Thor F. Jensen. Thor’s world-record circumnavigation of the island of New Guinea in a traditional sailing canoe. Read my review here or find it on Goodreads here.
The Green Unknown: Travels in the Khasi Hills by Patrick Rogers. Patrick goes to Northeast Indian in search of the people who grow living bridges from the roots of trees. Read my review here or find it on Goodreads here.
Hit the road Jac!: Seven years, twenty countries, no plan by Jacqui Furneaux. On her fiftieth birthday Jacquie took off travelling the world on an Enfield motorbike. Read my review here or find it on Goodreads here.
In Foreign Fields: How Not To Move To France by Susie Kelly. Susie and her husband hoped to find paradise in the French countryside. Read my review here or find it on Goodreads here.
A Visit to Gansu Province for the Chinese New Year by Helen Wallimann. Helen visited rural China and the man-made cave dwellings known as yaodong. Read my review here or find it on Goodreads here.
Fifty Miles Wide by Julian Sayarer. Julian cycled through Israel and Palestine meeting people from both sides of a troubled region. Read my review here or find it on Goodreads here.
Among Friends: Travels in Cuba by Heather Murray. An interesting look at Cuba from the author’s multiple trips which began in 2009. Read my review here or find it on Goodreads here.
Immersed in West Africa: A Solo Journey Across Senegal, Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea and Guinea Bissau by Terry Lister. Read my review here or find it on Goodreads here.
Adventure by Chicken Bus by Janet Losole is the memoir of a family who spent three years backpacking through central America. Read my review here or find it on Goodreads here.
Toubab Tales: The Joys and Trials of Expat Life in Africa by Rob Baker is set in Mali. Rob tours the country in search of its music and musical instruments. Read my review here or find it on Goodreads here.
From A Wonky Path To An Open Road: A short book about a long journey join Janey de Nordwall, her cat and her 1970s VW campervan as they journey around Scotland. Read my review here or find it on Goodreads here.
Among Friends is a non-fiction travel memoir about Heather Murray’s love for the island of Cuba. Heather is a Canadian, teaching English in Switzerland. She has reached out to Julian, who lectures in medical English in Cuba. In 2009 Heather takes her first trip to Cuba as a speaker at an Anglo conference in Havana. Due to the political situation, travel arrangement are complex, but as a Canadian she is seen more favourably than, say, a resident from other western countries, because Canada has made material donations to Cuba.
Julian meets Heather in Havana, becoming her tour guide; this allows her to immerse herself in the everyday life of Cuban people. There are two forms of money: a local currency for Cubans and a different one for everyone else. Cubans have access to subsidised shops, restaurants and travel; however, this is reflected in their very low wages. Additionally, there are vast shortages of paper, drinking water, transport, electricity and certain foods.
At the conference Heather is expected to pay to be a speaker and pay for her end of conference dinner. At first she is indignant; she has already paid for her airfare and accommodation, but Julian explains that without money from foreigners, the conference would not exist. Lots of delegates are keen to befriend Heather, but she is disappointed that no one invites her to their home or their place of work for a visit. Julian, once again, explains that with so many shortages these contacts hope Heather can send them items like, paper, books and other resources they need, or even invite them to visit Switzerland, whilst they are ashamed to invite her to where they work and live. He reminds Heather that few Cubans can leave their country, whereas for something like an academic invite, they may be granted permission.
Heather returns to Cuba several more times, each time witnessing changes. One big change was when Eusebio Leal began to restore areas to attract tourists, thus bringing in much needed foreign money to Cuba.
One interesting time was the death of Venzuela’s president, Hugo Chavez. Cuba announced three days of national mourning for someone outside their own country. This was because, in the past, Venezuela sent oil and money to Cuba, now Cuba feared for the future. I was also very impressed by the vast empathy from Cubans, to others. Many Cubans volunteer all over the world in medical aid agencies; particularly helping the poor and distressed in Latin America and Africa. This may be one way they can legitimately leave Cuba.
I found I learnt a lot about the history of this country and the everyday hardships its people face. There are no pictures in the book, but these can be found on Heather’s website. This is a long book; however, I would recommend it to those interested in the story of native people from this Caribbean island.
Among Friends: Travels in Cuba is a lively account of one person’s discovery of Cuba and Cubans over a decade-long series of visits. Murray falls in love with the country but never stops asking questions as her radius of exploration widens.
With an eye for the telling details of daily life, Murray first savors the mixture of timeless beauty and decrepitude that defines Havana and then sets out for provinces to the west and east of the capital. We get to know Julian, her Cuban guide and friend; Magdalena, protective landlady and outspoken critic of the Castro regime; Ernesto, taxi driver and mountain guide, as well as a multitude of naIve North American tourists, Cuban English teachers, variously motivated tourist guides, octogenarian salsa dancers and perspiring bicitaxi drivers. Besides probing the Cuban psyche and describing its hardships, Murray’s explorations also highlight the unique scenery of Cuba, from the elegant center of old Havana to the mogotes of the Vinales valley, and from the pristine beaches of the northern keys to historic Trinidad and Cienfuegos and the Escambray mountains with their lakes, waterfalls and jungles. The book is accompanied by a website full of illustrative photographs and a travel blog (travelsincuba.weebly.com).
A humorous and candid portrait of Cuba as it emerges from over half a century of privation and isolation, this book will appeal to armchair travelers, long-time Cuba fans and those who have yet to discover the island.