Sunday, October 08, 2006

Danziger's Travels - Beyond Forbidden Frontiers

Now this is serious travel by a seriously good writer.

"Danziger's Travels - Beyond Forbidden Frontiers" was Nick Danziger's first book. He wrote it after being awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship in 1982 to follow ancient trade routes. He eventually travelled in 1984.

There are some people that make you laugh, some that bore you, some that make you uncomfortable, but this guy just left me slack-jawed in wonderment. Where do people like this come from? Where does their motivation come from? Who broke the mould?

He travels through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and through China (pre-tourist friendlier present) - overland. What sets this book apart for me, is that this is not just an observational account of someone's travels through sometimes (actually, mostly) difficult territory, but, that he gets very involved with the people he meets. So much so, that in Afghanistan and afterwards in China he passes for an Afghan and finds it difficult to let that part of his travels go. He gets very involved with the mujahideen in Afghanistan when they were fighting the Russians. As a side note it is very interesting to read about this period in Afghanistan, especially as we now know what came later.

Above all, it is beautifully written, in a considered, amusing, questioning way that makes it, for me, one of the best travel books I have ever read.

You can buy it from

Very Funny - Now Change Me Back Again

The notes at the start of the book say "Peter Biddlecombe is a travel hardened businessman". Well after reading this book, I would like to know what business he is in (I still haven't sussed that) and I hope they pay him a lot of money.

Anyway, first things first, don't be put off by the "businessman" thing. That is just something he does that allows him to travel around the world to some really dodgy places (Port au Prince, Haiti. Bogota, Colombia) as well as refined ones (not that many), and then write very funny stories about the places he has seen and the people he has encountered.

"Very Funny - Now Change Me Back Again" by Peter Biddlecombe was first published in 1997, but I think some of the stories go back further. However, what you realise when reading this book is that nothing changes. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (The more things change, the more they stay the same). His writing, whilst being very funny is also spot on when describing some of the diabolical lives that people in some parts of the world call 'everyday life'.

What I really like about this book, is the obvious humanity of the writer and his ability to describe some very sad or serious situations, and, make some very good points. But I also liked the fact that he wasn't po-faced or preachy, and to be honest - that he made me laugh!

And this is from a "travel hardened businessman" (and I still don't know what he does for a living!)

You can buy it from