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.
A Visit To Gansu Province is a travel diary covering two and half weeks during the Chinese New Year of 2003 spent in a rural community. Author Helen Walliman was given the opportunity to visit the family of a fellow teacher that she met while teaching in a Chinese university. Walliman had mentioned her interest in the notorious cave dwellings of the area and her friend invited her for the holidays.
Yang Tao’s parents still lived in one of the cave homes known as yaodongs, and the whole family made Helen feel very welcome. Although there was much poverty, Helen was treated as a special guest and she experienced many traditions and learnt about their beliefs, whilst meeting many of the extended family and friends.
I quite like cultural books about places that I know nothing about. The insights into the schools in the area and the travel options were very eye-opening. Although I don’t know much about the vibrant cities in China, I could easily imagine how different life in this province was from the cities.
Written in an informative style with photographs to break up the narrative, this was an easy and enjoyable read. I think that anyone who is interested in the history of rural China might enjoy this book.
In 2003 about sixty percent of China’s population still lived in rural areas. And of that population, about forty million still lived in the man-made cave dwellings known as yaodong. Whereas life in the cities had changed radically, in the country change was slower and many old customs still existed – as the author of this book, Helen Wallimann, was to experience during her stay with a Chinese family in their farmhouse on the loess plateau of Gansu Province, northern China.
There, during the Chinese New Year holiday, she witnessed everyday family life, the busy market, weddings and preparations for weddings, and also various traditions connected with the New Year celebrations or the commemoration of the dead. She visited people in farmhouses and yaodongs, sat with them on the heated kang, ate with them; she watched women doing the cooking, spinning, sewing shoes, doing embroidery; she chatted with old ladies about foot-binding and their work in the fields, with young women about courtship and marriage. She talked with school teachers about schools, a long-distance truck-driver about his work, the local doctor about euros and Swiss francs. She met a government surveyor, a woman who ran a bus line, a man who sold clothes in Moscow…
This does not claim to be an academic anthropological study, it is simply the diary of an open-minded woman who noted and photographed what she saw and heard. Now that so much has changed and that many traditions have been lost or have lost their meaning, this account may serve as a partial record of a way of life that is rapidly disappearing.
Helen Wallimann’s descriptions and photographs of a New Year stay in Gansu give a wonderful, lively picture of daily life for millions of Chinese people, far from the neon and skyscrapers of China’s coastal cities. (Frances Wood, former head of the Chinese collections at the British Library)
Through her vivid description and the numerous photos, the daily life of the people she lived with for nearly three weeks in the midst of winter is recreated in the reader’s mind. Helen Wallimann has the gift of conveying [the] feeling of being accepted as a friend of the family, of being at home to her readers. (PD Dr Johannes Reckel, Curator of the East- and Central Asian Collection at Göttingen State and University Library.