Friday, January 15, 2016

Around the World in 50 Years

Book 2 of my 2016 Reading Challenge
read from 12/21/15 - January 3

Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth
by Albert Podell

Summary (via Goodreads)
This is the inspiring story of an ordinary guy who achieved two great goals that others had told him were impossible. First, he set a record for the longest automobile journey ever made around the world, during the course of which he blasted his way out of minefields, survived a serious accident atop the Peak of Death, came within seconds of being lynched in Pakistan, and lost three of the five men who started with him, two to disease, one to the Vietcong.
After that-although it took him forty-seven more years-Albert Podell set another record by going to every country on Earth. He achieved this by surviving riots, revolutions, civil wars, trigger-happy child soldiers, voodoo priests, robbers, pickpockets, corrupt cops, and Cape buffalo. He went around, under, or through every kind of earthquake, cyclone, tsunami, volcanic eruption, snowstorm, and sandstorm that nature threw at him. He ate everything from old camel meat and rats to dung beetles and the brain of a live monkey. And he overcame attacks by crocodiles, hippos, anacondas, giant leeches, flying crabs-and several beautiful girlfriends who insisted that he stop this nonsense and marry them.
Albert Podell's Around the World in 50 Years is a remarkable and meaningful tale of quiet courage, dogged persistence, undying determination, and an uncanny ability to escape from one perilous situation after another-and return with some of the most memorable, frightening, and hilarious adventure stories you have ever read.

My Opinion
My feelings about the book varied wildly as I read.  My overall opinion is that there were many interesting things about it but a huge red flag (read on for more information) almost caused me to 1 star it and will prevent me from recommending it; the readers I know would have the same negative reaction I did.

What I liked (3 stars):

  • "Dad" jokes..."As a safety measure against a campfire conflagration, the Uros had imported a few medium-sized rocks from the mainland to serve as insulating platforms for their cook stoves. Very few. Because the Uros know that people who live in grass houses shouldn't stow stones." and "I was tempted to write a short poem about [the different types of lemurs], which would have been my first lemurick".
  • Fun (or not so fun) facts..."the combined annuals GDPs of those 48 poorest nations is less than the combined net worth of the three richest men in America"; In Madagascar, the family exhumes the bodies of loved ones after five or six years of burial, washes the bones and anoints them with honey, dances with the bones and parades through the streets, and then puts them in a smaller coffin and takes them home to catch them up on what's changed while they were gone; and foreigners can't rent cars in Mongolia, they can only hire cars with drivers.
  • He really threw himself into each trip and tried to be as "non touristy" as he could with his lodging and food.  In his words, "An essential part of the discovery and adventure (and sometimes the delight) of travel comes from sampling the unusual foods the locals eat, foods they're been eating for hundreds of years without noticeable harm. Dining on the indigenous fare also helped me better understand the local culture and economy and they way they lived."  Leading to this quote from the gentle scolding he got while looking for mice shish-kebabs: "We are all sold out for today. Come back tomorrow around noon. Your customs must be different from ours. We eat mice only for lunch."
  • How he met the children he sponsored through ChildFund and brought them presents and bought them goats, taking the time to research and find the best goat for each family. 

What was okay but a little offputting (2 stars):

  • I know he said nothing is exaggerated but how many close calls or coincidences can one person have?  Seemed unbelievable.
  • It seemed better suited for someone more interested in the logistics of travel; I want to know about the actual places, not the clothes he wore or how many times they had to change a tire.
  • He doesn't seem to think highly of women at all. He described the takin as "an odd beast with the head of a goat, the nose of a moose, and the body of a cow, that reminded me of some of my worst blind dates", he lamented how getting older prevented him from "hunting quail" because the "20-something beauties who roused my interest" were no longer interested in him, he described women he saw as though they were part of the scenery, and he included as one of his ranks the countries with "the type of women I like" (incidentally, he didn't marry until his trips were complete and the woman he married, 49 years his junior, was from one of the countries on this list).
The moment that caused me to rage (1 star):

  • The things he said about women that I already mentioned rubbed me the wrong way but weren't enough to really piss me off.  Until THIS QUOTE (It's a long one; I want his full words to really sink in how disgusted I felt)...
        "My long background evaluating female bodies provided me with vital sociopolitical insight as to why Yemeni women average a svelte and inviting 115 pounds while Saudi women tip the scales over 210, why these lithe ladies glide by in shimmering black silk robes while the similarly attired Saudi women plod by like oxcarts whose wheels are out of line."  
        He then lists 5 reasons for this difference.  I will spare you all of them and just quote this one, #4 on his list: 
        "Although times may be changing a little in Saudi Arabia, it is still a bastion of arranged marriages, where the parents pick the mates and the parties take whatever is offered. In Yemen, the teenagers are more independent, and often conduct lengthy courting interviews before marrying, interviews in which looking like an oxcart would not be advantageous - unless the prospective husband is primarily seeking someone capable of heavy hauling."

In the end I went with 2 stars.  Looking at my breakdowns, the good outweighed the bad but the bad was SO bad that I couldn't go higher.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"From their misunderstanding, I learned valuable lessons that helped me through years of foreign travel: If you speak a different language than the other, make sure - unmistakably sure - you and the other person are in agreement. Be sensitive when you're in a position of power, as a hotel guest is with an employee. Never assume that a member of a foreign culture will readily undertake an act that is proscribed in her society. And avoid presuming that just because a person is poor or working class, they'll do anything you want - even if you're the head of the IMF."

"Despite my e-mailed entreaties to my friends asking that they not try to talk me out of my plans, only ten of them advised me to "Go For It!" - four adventurous types, three free spirits, two beneficiaries of my will, and one who asked to be added to it."

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