Book Review
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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Safari na Paka

Safari na Paka, with the subtitle of Memoirs of a Solo Traveller by Cat Nesbit (ISBN 1-4184-0112-9, Author House, 2004) happened across the reviewer’s table, via a few hands on the way, but never mind, it got here. Not being a traveler to sub-Saharan Africa myself, I am led to believe that the book title is in Kiswahili and translates as ‘Travel with Cat’. So be it.

Early in the book, Cat Nesbit relates some dreadful traveling experiences a deux and uses this as the raison d’etre for her tripping solo, though in many chapters she does have traveling companions, although more correctly, she has other travelers heading in the same direction.

Nesbit packs an encyclopedia into every page, becoming overwhelming at times, which does also slow the reading to the point of frustration I found. She also has used a narrative style which does not follow geography or time, but follows concepts such as transport, so in one chapter the reader is transported between African countries and then arrives in Mexico and return to Burkina Faso. And all within a couple of pages.

She admits that 40 years ago, travel was in some ways easier. “Something I do know is that it was a different world from this new millennium, without the travel complications of today. Travel was cheap, backpacker friendly, and as a mass activity in its infancy so many destinations were still pristine.” There were also no problems associated with drug-sniffing dogs pointing the paw at travelers with a stash on board! However, she did fall foul of the laws in Greece and was incarcerated for a couple of months, losing 10 kg on the less than nutritious Greek prison food.

In her travels, Cat Nesbit picks up foreign phrases which she likes to dot throughout the prose, which necessitates trips to the glossary at the back, when it would have been so much simpler to just put the translation in parentheses at the time.

On the flyleaf, Cat Nesbit describes herself as being a Haight Ashbury beatnik during the 1960’s (where are you, now that we need you Jack Kerouac?) and undoubtedly much of that era’s freedom of expression movement has remained with her to this day, and I applaud such.

Complaints? This book needed a good sub-editor. The ‘Twist’ exponent was Chubby Checker, not Chubby Checkers and it is a Maserati, not a “mazerati”, Ms Nesbit. However, it is certainly a ‘travelogue’ with a difference. That a solo female traveler could experience so much in her lifetime is a real achievement. And the experiences even include being kidnapped. As she writes, “But the question is, just where have you seen any tour listings that offer exciting day trips the likes of this?” She then goes on to mention quasi-dangerous pastimes such as bungee jumping and white water rafting, which pale into insignificance by comparison. “But the titillation threshold on random optional kidnapping excursions is in the extreme.”

The book is available from Asia Books and other outlets for B. 499, but the writer’s Club in Chiang Mai is offering it at a discount.