The Literary Traveller
Travel diaries, and literature from writing about travel.


Magun's Compass
Learn from the Travel Experiences of Others

A caricature of the people, or a detailed fresco of the place, is often all we get from the writer/traveller. For the lazy traveller/reader, it is a start at a comprehension between them and us, there and here. But even this is a fruitless exercise. To read different writers can often mean a transportation to a different place; supposedly the same.

If we really want to experience the place, we must get up and go there ourselves.

Maybe we have already been to Cairo, or are seriously contemplating travelling to Timbuktu. Ibn Batuta's historic reveries and encounters with Golden Kingdoms can only disillusion the reader; the romance is completely lost when Time Magazine reports that Tuareg rebels attack a convoy of modern -day Trans-Sahara travellers.

These collective characterizations only serve a purpose in their own split perspectives, because the encountered individuals are only seen from the writer's point of view. Jonathan Raban even tells us that the Theroux on the trains is not the Theroux who stops by on his houseboat for a cheery, drinky chat.

Because of this, travel literature takes on an almost fictional aura. The reader is introduced to real people who may never be met, and transported to places at the turn of a page.

The yearly Thomas Cook Travel Book Awards brings in the heavyweight writers, trying their hands at travelling; while the traveller filling in a diary, tries to bring it back in writing.

There are writers who have written great travel books, and there are great writers. Paul Theroux, walking around Britain in The Kingdom by the Sea, may drop in on Jonathan Raban, but his encounter with Borges is pure experience transcribed to manuscript.

Borges is a legend in South American literature, but to his credit, Paul Theroux has reproduced the greatest travel experiences aboard Asia bound railways. Travellers may dream of taking the Trans-Siberian Express, but Theroux puts us off that seven day extravaganza. Perhaps he was just tired, and wanted to get home!

The Patagonia Express can not compare with The Great Railway Bazaar, except for the meeting with Borges. But Paul Theroux has a knack of getting it right. No matter what part of Britain you live in, he was there; like a silent gull devouring the crumbs of custom and accent to return with owl-like words of piercing accuracy.

A traveller I met in Asia: long hair, open sandals and a British passport, so long from home that his accent was almost German, claimed to have savoured Theroux as a far back as the African Novellas, but hated him for what he said about Guatemala.

Eric, the traveller, had lived in the colourful Central American country, most probably with the Indians, and could not forgive the literary American for his portrayal of life there. However, it is hot and sweaty, and you can guarantee that a slice of water melon has more flies upon it than those little black seeds: You try to eat it, or remain on the train with a parched throat.

To blow the flies off the slice of fruit is a feat more tolerable than to suffer another gust of warm sand through an open window, in a train that travels slower than a queue for tickets in India.

So put down that book, get out the map, and remeber that the web is there for you to tell us all about it when you get back!

Travel Guides and Books about Travel


Around theWorld in 80 Months.

Nomadic Gatherings - Travels in Asia and Australia

Travel on trains and buses in Asia, then jump into cars with complete strangers in Australia and New Zealand as Michel introduces you to a collection of characters that bring Nomadic Gatherings to life.

If you can't afford to buy a copy of Nomadic Gatherings, the chapters are slowly being made available online - for free.

You may even decide that it really is worth having a hard copy in your hands; a useful read for those long bus journeys being written about, and for endless waits at ferry ports.

Nomadic Gatherings - Online Chapters.

Find out more about Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, The Middle East, and The Americas.
Magun's Compass

Originally Hosted on Geocities - in 1996

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