Safari na Paka
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
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
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
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.