Review published on January 31, 2018.
Sometimes it is the little things in life that make the biggest differences. Having sneaked into Alton Towers to save some cash, Levison Wood then lost his wallet with all his money in… Dismayed and penniless, he was shocked, to say the least, when it dropped on his doormat with a note from the army officer who had found it. Wood wrote back to say thank you and to ask about a career in the services; a reply was swiftly forthcoming with six pages of notes that detailed recommendations and suggestions to optimise his chances of getting in and the final sentence was the recommendation: above all, travel…
Which is why he found himself at the age of 22 setting off a journey to hitch-hike from Nottingham across Russia with a friend, before heading south alone to follow the route taken by people for millennia, the Silk Road. He was inspired to follow this route after finding a book called the Great Game in the library whilst he should have been researching something else. This book told the tale of Arthur Conolly who in 1839 tried to see if it was still possible to travel along this legendary road.
His budget of £750 was stretching the definition of shoestring fairly thin, especially as he was hoping to fly home rather than hitchhike back again. His companion in Russia was Jon Winfield, a friend who shared a love of the open road too. Wood’s Russian leg would take him from Calais to Stavropol via St Petersburg and he would drink more vodka than was definitely healthy for him, but as they approached Georgia, the first of the Caucasus countries, Jon decided to head home, with the ominous message that he didn’t want to hear about Levison on Al Jazeera.
Having heard all the horror stories from the Russians about the Georgians, he finds them warm and welcoming and find that the loathing that they have for each other is mutual. Leaving the country to pick up the Silk Road from Turkey and would head into Iran. It is a country of contrasts, with the theocratic mullahs having the most influence and the population committing their own individual acts of defiance. Next was the most dangerous part of his journey, into Afghanistan; this was in 2004, and the country was still under American occupation with battles still happening between the mujahideen, the Americans and the Taliban. The people were resigned at the time to another war taking place in their country but still were as hospitable as they could be given the circumstances. Surviving Afghanistan, Woods crosses the Khyber Pass and into Pakistan the penultimate country on his trip, before reaching the beaches of Goa at journeys end.
It was a journey that had a significant impact on his life. He did join the army as an officer in the parachute regiment and served in various theatres before leaving and becoming a journalist and photographer, but adventure travel is what he has become best known for. This latest book, about his experiences hitchhiking across Russia and the Middle East, is I think his best yet. It may not have the freshness of his walks across Africa, Central America and the Himalayas, as it was written from the notes and journals that he kept, but he has matured as a writer and it shows in this book.
Paul Cheney 4.5/-
Eastern Horizons by Levison Wood
Hodder & Stoughton 9781473676268 hbk Nov 2017
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