Special to the News
In these days of extremely limited foreign travel one does the next best thing and reads books about travels by others. Enter Whitehorse resident Peter Steele and his newest offering, Meanderings. Not only is this a wide-ranging travel book, it is an incredible reminisce of what travelling used to be like before ease and convenience spread everywhere. No online bookings, no convenient bed and breakfasts, and no credit cards.
Meanderings is split into sections, each one covering a trip through a geographic area. There is quite a lot of them as the wanderlust is strong in our author. There are sections devoted to China, Tibet, India, eastern and southern Africa, Antarctica and the chilly southern bits of South America, and the Trans-Siberian Railway. Almost all the routes were done by Peter and his partner Sarah, except for the railway trip that was done by Peter and a very patient and long-suffering friend called Tuck.
Peter and Sarah were one of the early tourists to get into Tibet after it had been opened up by the Chinese government in the 1980s. Their descriptions not only of the country and the cities, but also of the people and the other travellers they meet is fascinating. From what one can gather from present-day travel guides; a lot has changed with both the buildings and the people in this part of the world. And like most parts of the planet, probably not for the better either.
Peter covers both the good and the bad of travel. There is a long description of being extorted of money in Dar-es-Salam, and travelling the Trans-Siberian Railway in the decade after the Soviet Union had collapsed did not exactly ensure law and order were around. Still, the positive aspects of travel glow through Peter’s writings, and while certainly bad things can happen this book will certainly stir the wanderlust in most readers.
Of particular interest to this reviewer is the section to Southern Africa. Having grown up there prior to Peter and Sarah inflicting themselves upon it, it was fascinating to get their perspective on what I consider my childhood home. The descriptions of places I was familiar with certainly tugged at the heartstrings and makes me seriously consider travelling there once conditions permit. This is what good travel writing should do. While time, money, plagues, and politics can prevent travel at the moment it is still good to be inspired by writing such as this.
Not only do Peter, Sarah, and Tuck seem larger than life; the acquaintances and friends they encounter are some of the legends of exploration from the 20th century. Wilfred Thesiger (yes, the Thesiger of the Arabian empty quarter fame) pops up in Kenya and gives them a lift. Thesiger doesn’t drive the vehicle, leaving it to the vehicle owner.
The rationale for this is explained as follows: “I’ve never learned to drive, but I’m an excellent instructor. I hate the internal combustion engine. It’s the most pernicious instrument of civilization. If a camel stops, you kick it, and if it doesn’t move, at least you can eat it.” This is going to have to be added to all the wise and profound quotes attributed to Thesiger that can be found online.
While the book does not cover adventures in the Yukon, there are the occasional references back to it. Even the McRae Chinese restaurant gets a mention, where the idea for the Chinese trip was sparked. There is also mention of similarities and differences between Yukon landscapes and those far away lands that are covered in the book.
If there is one criticism of Meanderings, it is that there are not enough photographs. The author went to some fascinating places that have since been irrevocably changed. To be able to see things as Peter and Sarah saw them would be fascinating. That being said there are a few pictures scattered here and there, and the writing brings all places to life.
Meanderings by Peter Steele is available at finer bookstores everywhere, including Mac’s Fireweed in Whitehorse.
Lewis Rifkind received a signed copy of Meanderings for writing this review.