Tag: Travel/Adventure

My 10,201 Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration

by Sara Dykman

Exactly what the subtitle says. This woman went to Mexico where the monarch butterflies overwinter, got on a plain old bicycle (nothing fancy), and cycled all the way up to Canada, then back again. Along the way she counted monarchs, stopped roadside constantly to examine plants, move frogs or lizards or turtles etc. off the roadway and talk to people about the butterflies. She stayed with strangers or camped in her tent (usually in places she wasn’t supposed to) and gave presentations at many many schools along the way. It’s a travelouge about a bike tour, with all the details of that- dealing with traffic that doesn’t watch out for cyclists, finding her way in unfamiliar cities, fixing breakdowns on the way- and also her personal rant about climate change and human destruction of the planet, and of course a lot about love for nature and small living things- creepy crawlies and amphibians but also and especially, the monarch butterfly. I learned a lot of interesting details about the monarchs and their life cycle (I didn’t know that there are plenty of monarchs living in other parts of the world that simply don’t migrate, for example), about people who are helping them- whether by planting milkweed, making changes to protect habitat, raising monarch caterpillars, or simply teaching others about their plight. I thought I would really like this book, but it really dragged for me. Though I agree with the author on many points, something about the delivery and tone was wearying. The descriptive phrases are a bit overdone, the humor a tad old, the opinions fill in too much space. I hugely admire the effort she made, cycling solo all the way along the migration path and back, advocating for the butterflies everywhere she stopped, but I just didn’t love this book.

I appreciated finding photos from her trip on the author’s website, plus there’s lots more information about monarchs in general, and her “butterbike” project in particular.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
280 pages, 2021

by Michael Crichton

I still vividly remember seeing the movie of this for the first time, decades ago. Finally satisfied my curiosity to read the book. It wasn’t nearly as tense as I expected, probably because I already knew the storyline- only a few scenes were unfamiliar, or different from my memory. For example, when there’s a sick dinosaur in a field, I remember that being a triceratops in the movie. In the book, it’s a stegosaur. Just in case anybody reading this finds it unfamiliar, here’s a brief synopsis: scientists figure out how to extract ancient DNA from dinosaur blood in prehistoric mosquito innards, and use it to create living dinosaurs. Extremely far-fetched idea, even considering what I’ve read about scientists trying to recreate a mammoth (fetus grown inside a surrogate elephant), or the quagga from back-breeding zebras, and now what about re-assembling the DNA of a thylacine. Maybe possible?  Dinosaurs- no way.

But of course it’s fun to run with the idea, and that’s exactly what this author did. With a wealthy guy who has no proper sense of responsibility at the helm, who bought a private island and turned into a giant theme park of sorts, populated with fifteen different species of dinosaur. Not as they had existed eons ago in reality, but as close as they could get, with DNA “patched in” where segments were missing. I’d like to know more about how that was supposed to work, but a lot of things in this story are glossed over with one or two smart-sounding sentences and then the plot moves on quickly to danger and drama- exciting you know. Some people go to tour the island for an inspection, and sombody’s kids arrive there too for who knows what reason- and of course things go drastically wrong. Because of greed, and one computer nerd guy shutting down systems to smuggle out dinosaur embryos. And a tropical storm which causes further damage on top of the sabotage. Dinosaurs start running amok, getting into areas they were never supposed to, people are separated, kids in danger, the boy in the end is one who saves the day with his computer skills. Beyond me. I know a little about computer code, and even having it spelled out for me in the book, I didn’t get what he did.

Well, in the end quite a few people die (this author apparently has no qualms about killing off characters) and dinosaurs prove their behavior can be quite unexpected, which is delightfully interesting. The individual I found most intriuguing this time around- back when I watched the movie I just rolled my eyes at his rambling theories- but now I actually slowed down to inspect those ideas- was the brilliant, sarcastic mathematician who says all kinds of things about “chaos theory” and how randomness eventually overtakes any system, destroying attempts at predictability. My favorite quote in the book is from him: “We live in a world of frightful givens. It is given that you will behave like this, given that you will care about that. Isn’t it amazing? In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.

What I found surprising, was how dated this story felt now. Startling that when all the computerized systems go down, nobody can call for support from the mainland- because there’s no cell phones of course. I was puzzled why they used motion-detecting cameras to track the dinosaurs on the island- why didn’t each individual animal wear a tracking device? and other places where the technology didn’t quite seem to be on par with their capabilities to re-create living prehistoric animals.

Oh well, it was darn fun. I just bashed out my immediate reaction on closing the last page, to the keyboard here. Could say a lot more about it later if anyone’s interested. Who out there has read the book? or wants to pick apart inconsistencies in the movie version with me? I’m looking for the sequel in the library database now.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
448 pages, 1990

One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book has been in the back of my mind for a very long time. A while ago I was interested in reading it, but then looked at reviews online and the many negative ones made me think this one wouldn’t be for me. I’m actually glad I finally read it, though. It’s a memoir. This woman had a painful, messy divorce and then jumped into a new relationship too fast, which eventually floundered but she couldn’t end it cleanly. Decided (on a whim it sounds like) to take a break from life as it were, and sort out her internal priorities. She spent a year travelling- four months each in Italy, India and Bali (island in Indonesia). Her basic goals were to indulge in pleasure in Italy (via food), immerse herself in the spiritual in India, and find some balance in Bali. I was impressed that she worked to learn the language before and during her stay in Italy. That she spent most of her time in India in an ashram, following the teachings of a guru, doing meditation, periods of silence, and service (this varied from scrubbing floors to being a guide and hostess to new arrivals who were attending a retreat at the ashram. The whole time she is searching for a spiritual experience, but it doesn’t come in the way she expects. Finally, she journeys to Bali where she spends her time between visiting a medicine man and hanging out with a traditional healer who becomes her friend, but then it gets a bit messy in the end when she asks people back home for donations online to help this woman buy a house . . . Through it all, she’s really doing a ton of navel-gazing, trying to understand her past actions and straighten herself out for the future. Soul searching, I guess. I thought this would put me off- the details about culture and scenery in these far away places she visited might be a lot more interesting than internal monologues or conversations with herself via writing in a journal.

But not at all. I found her struggles so very relatable, even though she’s a very different type of person than me. The honesty and humor won me over, I liked the writing style, I found all the people she met and friends she made interesting too. Even the parts about meditation and religious experiences in India were thoughtful to read about, while I don’t consider myself a religious person anymore. This book had similarlites in my mind to both Richard Bach (somebody is probably cringing at that) and Tracks– because it’s about a single woman travelling? Not sure. Maybe the voice. So while I don’t agree with or understand all the author’s opinions and means in this book, it was a good read regardless. Sometimes seeing opposite ways that other people view the world is just so interesting. And I didn’t mention yet- in the final part of the book, she falls in love with a Brazilian man. One of a group of ex-pats. I expected I was going to find that part boring, but the storytelling was still good. I am interested in seeing the movie now, just don’t know when.

It didn’t come across as terribly whiny to me, though I can see why other readers felt so. I did get annoyed at how she kept referring to herself as an “old woman” in her thirties! Please! I’m in my forties and don’t feel old yet.

Rating: 4/5
334 pages, 2006

by Robyn Davidson

This book reminded me a lot of Wild, although the tone is very different there are similarities. A woman takes a very long walk across the landscape solo, to remake herself. Or so it seemed to me. That was a part of the story I couldn’t help being curious about at first, because it seemed such a strong undercurrent: what was the traumatic past Davidson was getting away from? or trying to heal from? but before many more pages I found myself respecting her privacy, especially seeing how she had to defend her need for solitude from so many people- local men in Alice Springs, tourists, National Geographic representatives . . .  She was a woman who got along better being alone or with her animals, not people- so deciding to walk 1,700 miles across the Australian desert with just four camels and a dog made sense to her. First she had to work for men in Alice Springs in order to obtain the camels- had no money, and needed some know-how. The magazine heard of her plans and wanted to do a feature on her trip, so sent a photographer to accompany her for certain legs of the journey, and of course she used the much-needed money to fund her equipment and supplies. But bitterly resented having to do so. Wanted it to be all her own effort. I admit, reading the first part of the book was difficult for me. Not only about how brutally (by neccessity, it sounds) the wild-caught camels are treated during training, but also how rough the scene was at Alice Springs. It’s very different from the picture I got of Alice Springs in other accounts. Also upsetting to read how systematically the Aborigional people were oppressed, and how racist many of the people Davidson met were.

But once she gets out in the desert, alone with her camels, things change. And not at all in the manner I might have expected. She had a lot of mental turmoil to work through, and the solitude and stress of the desert also worked upon her. She met and sometimes stayed with Aborigional people along the way- encounters she’d looked forward to, but they weren’t always as expected either. In fact a lot of things didn’t turn out as she’d planned or hoped. The way she became in tune with the landscape and learned to recognize, appreciate and use the native plants was part I loved reading about- though nearly all the plant life was totally unfamiliar to me, so I had a hard time picturing it. Very little mention of wildlife- not sure if because she didn’t encounter many animals, or just didn’t think to write about them. Overall it just sounds like it was an amazing, life-altering, and very strenuous and difficult experience- but at the same time, became very easy once she got used to the routine and rigors of the journey. She talks about social mores and niceties falling away, and how hard it was to readjust when she left the outback.

A book I definitely want to read again someday. And watch the film, though I know it simplifies the story and probably makes more of her relationship with the photographer.

Rating: 4/5
270 pages, 1980

by Raynor Winn

This couple was dealt a double blow in their fifties. After raising their children in a farmhouse they’d renovated themselves, they lost it all due to a bad investment with a so-called friend who turned out to be a bad business partner. House taken away, no livelihood, nowhere to go. All their attempts to find a place they could afford to rent with the little money they had left, failed. Public assistance was not really helpful, and the generosity of friends/family letting them stay wore thin quickly. Then in the same month, the husband was diagnosed with a serious neurological disease. He was told to rest and take it easy, but since they had no home, they decided to just take a long hike, on the South West Coast Path of England, from Somerset to Dorset, all of 630 miles. With two packs, a cheap tent and thin sleeping bags, not much else. So reminiscent of a few books I’ve read about hikers on the PCT or Appalachian Trail, and I also thought many times of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. Though this book is really nothing like those. It’s so individual. It was tough. It was wild and beautiful, and the people they ran into were friendly or aggravating, encouraging or unkind in turns. Some just downright odd. They could barely afford food (often went hungry or picked berries, collected mussels on the shore, etc) and rarely pay for a proper campsite, so very soon were dirty and ragged. Fellow backpackers commiserated, but other people they encountered- usually tourists as many of the villages they passed through had long since lost their original occupations of fishing or mining and were now just surviving as tourist attractions- reacted to their appearance in one of two ways. If they said they’d left it all behind and were just walking the path- letting people assume they’d sold their house- they were admired for doing something inspiring. If they honestly said they’d lost it all and were actually homeless, people were immediately uncomfortable or disparaging. If it was by choice they were brave, whereas if by accident, they were pariahs. Why are people so judgmental. I’m sure their version of being homeless- not due to addiction or mental illness but just plain misfortune- is not all that uncommon.

It was a pleasant surprise that I’m vaguely familiar with some of the places they walked through (geography of foreign countries is not a strength of mine). They went through the village where Doc Martin was filmed, along the cliffsides where Poldark was situated, and also Tintagel- site of many King Arthur legends. Also very strange but in the end amusing, was how many people mistook her husband for a poet (apparently famous, but I’d never heard of him). It got to be a running joke between them.

I liked the author’s voice, and look forward to reading her sequel, The Wild Silence. I enjoyed the bits of humor, the interesting encounters along the way, glimpses of wildlife (birds, deer, seals, occasionally a badger), and thoughtful words. Although they’d anticipated the long hike would be a time to figure things out (facing her husband’s illness, grieving the loss of their home, what to do next) for the most part she said they spoke little, reminisced hardly at all, just were. Just surviving. Experiencing the weather, the difficulty of putting one foot in front of the other when tired, hungry and footsore. Finding to their surprise that her husband’s condition improved with the exercise, in counter to the doctor’s advice- I’d really like an explanation for that! And I’m glad that it had a good ending. Just as suddenly as their world fell apart at the beginning of the book, a few things suddenly came together at the end of their hike to put them back in the functional world again. Though- did they want it, now?

Some quotes:

But on that beach it was as clear as the saltwater running over the Bideford Black that civilization exists only for those who can afford to inhabit it, and remote isolation can be felt anywhere if you have no roof and an empty pocket.

After meeting a man who was going blind from glaucoma:

The light grew, prizing the sky and the sea apart. Had I seen enough things? When I could no longer see them, would I remember them, and would just the memory be enough to fill me up and make me whole? 

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
271 pages, 2018

More opinions:
Book Chase
Read Warbler

by Hope Jahren 

This was great. It was not what I expected all round- I delighted in reading about experiments on the lives and methods of plants (especially details about tree biology, which read as little independent essays), how Jahren and her fellow scientist Bill came up with their ideas, the meticulous work involved, the scrounging for lab equipment and funding, the long hours and sleepless nights, the road trips and field work . . . What took me by surprise was to find myself also reading about mental illness, the mania and depression of bipolar described very frankly. And to read a birth story when she had her son. It kind of all is one long birth story- the story of how Jahren found her life\’s work in science, and struggled to grow into the best person she knew to be, doing the best science, hoping it would all get seen someday. Some parts are laugh-out-loud funny, some parts are very tense, and some incredibly insightful. Definitely keeping this one to enjoy and learn from again. Wish I could say more about it but not finding a lot of words right now. It is rather significant the things the author did not tell throughout this memoir, but they didn\’t really bother me until I read some other reviews and thought about them more. For example: she tells about a nearly-disastrous, ill-planned road trip to  a conference where she\’s supposed to present a paper, but then there\’s nothing about the conference and only one comment about the presentation itself. Hm. Well, I liked it regardless. Might read it more closely next time. There will be a next time.

Rating: 4/5             290 pages, 2016
More opinions:

From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail 

by Cheryl Strayed 

Adventuresome memoir by a woman who felt herself at a loss and at odds when her mother died suddenly of cancer. She freely admits that her life was rather a mess- she cheated on her husband and got into drug use, among other things. Then upon seeing a guidebook for the PCT in an outdoor equipment store, she spontaneously decided to hike it. All the way from the Mojave Desert in southern California to the border of Oregon and Washington – eleven hundred miles. I liked how honest the telling was. From the embarrassment and weight of her inexperience, to the tedium of freeze-dried meals, frequent discomfort and injuries, camaraderie with other hikers, spontaneous generosity of people who gave her lifts, meals, showers and sometimes a bed to sleep in, and the wonder of vistas and sights along the way. A lot of it is musing on her past as she walks- her troubled family, issues with her mother, poor choices… I did see the film a while back, so a lot of this was familiar. In particular I had remembered when a man stopped her on the road for an interview because he was writing an articles on hobo and thought she was a hobo- it made me laugh, and of course the scene where she lost a boot. I found two parts rather shocking- no, not all the stuff about men- I knew that about her personality going into this-  one involved a horse that used to belong to her mother, the other what she did with her mother\’s remains after cremation…  My older sister hiked the PCT several years ago, so I also enjoyed comparing what she\’s told me of it, to what I read here. 

Rating: 3/5               315 pages, 2012
More opinions:

by Lucy Irvine 

Fine adventure story, if a bit odd at times. In 1981 this guy who literally wanted to live like Robinson Crusoe, advertised for a woman to accompany him for a year on an uninhabited island. Lucy Irvine answered his query and went with him to Tuin Island, which is near Thursday Island (I\’d heard of that one) which is between Australia and Papua New Guinea. It sounds kind of crazy- they didn\’t know each other, and after a week of being together didn\’t even like each other (and notably had very different reasons for going to the island)- but had to officially get married or the Australian government wouldn\’t let them live on the island. They started out with meager supplies, knowing it was going to run out but planning to subsist on local fruit, coconuts, fish from the sea, and vegetables they would grow. It was far from easy. In fact, a lot of the time it was downright miserable. They soon suffered from heat exhaustion, tropical ulcers and malnutrition. Fresh water in the creek soon ran dangerously low. It\’s doubtful they would have survived the year except some people passing by in a boat spotted them on the beach and offered them some supplies. Not long after they were getting regular visits from Badu Islanders (in the Torres Strait). Eventually they visited Badu Island as Lucy\’s companion became known to the locals for his skill at fixing engines. His work was soon in demand, and they were able to trade the service for rice, flour and other goods- which changed the dynamics of survival mode on the island. It\’s interesting how their relationship also changed once he got treatment for the sores on his legs, recovered his energy (having been laid up much of the first part of the year), and made an occupation for himself repairing things. A lot of the book is Lucy writing vivid descriptions of the island\’s beauty and how deeply it affected her- she loved that island. It\’s also a lot about the friction in their relationship, and of course the survival skills they employed, how they simply adjusted and got used to doing without many things, and acted with ingenuity to overcome other hardships or lack. Pretty interesting the description of the local islander\’s lifestyle and personalities as well, once Lucy deigned to leave the Tuin and visit Badu- she refused for a long time, wanting to stick to her commitment to stay on the island for an entire year. I would really like to read the book her companion wrote about the same venture- The Islander by Gerald Kingsland (the whole time she only refers to him as G). Forewarning: this book has a lot of profanity, and Gerald addresses Lucy with awful words, though apparently meaning nothing ill by it (she took offense plenty of times, though).

Rating: 4/5                    288 pages, 1983

by Ernest Hemingway

I could not like this one. I tried really hard- read a third of it. It\’s about a safari trip Hemingway made to East Africa with his wife (referred to in the book only as P.O.M. – Poor Old Mama- took me a while to figure that out) and a few friends, to hunt big game. Their goal was to get as many large animals as their license permitted during the allotted timeframe- rhino, lions, kudu, giraffe, zebra for their hides, etc. Hemingway was obsessed with getting a larger rhino than his companion, a kudu with bigger horns, etc. He took pride in making a good, clean shot- and while I can admire the skill- I found the attitudes overall very distasteful. Even though he describes in one passage having suffered a terrible war wound in the past, so he knows what it feels like to have been shot- and thus is determined to always make a clean kill so the animals don\’t suffer long. Yet he describes in detail how one of his companions always laughed hilariously at the sudden contortions animals made when hit hard from a far distance- stunned, in shock and agony, flipping head over heels or spinning in circles- I didn\’t find that funny at all. I\’ve read other hunting accounts that were interesting and showed enough respect for the animals, enjoyment of the challenge that I was okay with it. Yes, these were different times and attitudes but still. It was too crass for me. The descriptive writing of the landscape, environment and native peoples did not make up for that. The cursory manner Hemingway used to refer to his companions- barely describing them at all so I rarely knew who was who- and half the time had no idea what their conversations were about- didn\’t redeem it for me either. I did like reading his opinions on other writers- in the evening, after stalking and shooting at animals all day, Hemingway and his companions would sit around the camp getting drunk, reading books and discussing literature. Really full of their own opinions. Some great thoughts in there and pointed observations, but if I wanted to read literary criticism I\’d much rather have a book about just that, without all the amusement on the part of animals dying with their hides blasted open so he and his friends could get all the trophies they\’d paid for. I\’m feeling sore about this, as you can tell. Don\’t care for Hemingway now.

Abandoned                  207 pages, 1935

My Journey from NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer
by Mireya Mayor

Daughter of Cuban immigrants, Mireya Mayor was raised by three strong women and it\’s really admirable how she lived her own life- outside of all expectations and stereotypes. She professes to being a \”girly girl\” but also had a strong love for wildlife and adventure, even as a child. She was a professional cheerleader (that practice regimen sounds demanding, let me tell you) but then took an anthropology course to fill a credit in college, and realized she really wanted to go to exotic places and study primates. So she did. Without giving up her designer labels or beauty products. She talks about how hard it was to break into the field due to her different background, and \”not looking like a scientist\”, how her feminine products came in handy on exploring treks in unexpected ways, how she worked for her PhD while being a mother. There\’s chapters about many different expeditions- to Madagascar to study lemurs, the Congo in search of gorillas, diving with sharks, hiking through deserts, travelling on food to the very spot where Livingston was once found (and nearly starving en route). Lots about the difficulties and hardships in remote locations, the tedium and logistics nightmares. The writing is light and conversational, a bit short on the kind of details I usually appreciate, but quick to get through and probably appeals to a broader audience, too. I did start to get tired of one final chapter where she went with a small team that was being filmed- a kind of explorer\’s survival reality show- and most of it was about their constant disagreements. I would have liked to know more about the actual research done on the various trips, and more description of the animals encountered. But that\’s just me. This book is a great inspiration for any young woman, to just go for your dreams, no matter how they match up with anyone else\’s ideas.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                   304 pages, 2011


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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