Updated: Feb 21
I have not read many travel books and would not have thought the genre suited my tastes, until I came across this old but still intact second hand copy of 'A Journey Through the Andes' by Christopher Portway.
When it comes to travelling, or moving along any landscape, sightseeing and so on, it always seemed to me to be something one should participate in rather than read from a fellow commentator's tale about the same. Not too different to watching a cookery program or someone running a marathon. I have never seen the point ! Except perhaps when one is following along to replicate a recipe to be enjoyed later. If you find a reason to watch a marathon, let me know. I do know and admire all the great marathon runners and have followed their stories, not their runs: Gebrselassie, Bekele, Dibaba, Kipchoge and many more.
The point surely is to cook yourself, or run, for the final experience will vary among participants however closely one follows a recipe - something I always welcome. Randomness is everywhere, even when we try to extinguish it - a subject for another book review or essay, as cooking and running marathons deserve too.
Coming across this book also highlights the benefits of second hand book markets. When one is not deliberately seeking anything, but walking and browsing, then suddenly coming across something that piques your interest. If the book is still in good condition, it is even better - there is one more person in me to enjoy the words read by others. The value almost seems higher than a brand new copy, knowing it carries stories of others who stared at the same pages.
I enjoyed the clarity and simplicity of the narrative. Portway is adept as describing the landscape, weaving in bits of Inca history, and the expected human story of triumph under difficult circumstances when they either run short of money, or meet bad weather, or take longer than expected on a path of the long journey up the Andes mountain plains. Whilst the destination and targets along the way provide a focus, in the end, it is the human interaction with the landscape, with his walking partner, other locals who welcome them as guests and the quiet reflections chewed through on a long day's walk.
I often pick the book up in my study and read a few passages and one can almost feel the breeze and high altitude with the blinding light one would expect in the Andes. Or imagine the Inca and the wonderful engineering of the road they build from Cuzco to Quito. I have met all three different characteristics - breeze, high altutude and blinding light - in different environments at different times. The Andes seem to promise a single location to see them all.