The Irresponsible Traveller

The Irresponsible Traveller Hilary’s new book is being published to coincide with Bradt’s 40th anniversary, The Irresponsible Traveller is a collection of travellers’ tales in which travel writers and celebrities  recount their exciting, and often dangerous, adventures which include being chased by a sea lion, accosted by Brazilian kidnappers and a midnight raid to free turtles on the Amazon. Featuring contributions from Hilary Bradt, Michael Palin, Ben Fogle and Jonathan Scott, the title is a perfect tome to dip in and out of.

Here are some extracts to whet your appetite:

Zoe Efstathiou – A Stranger’s Smile

The train pulls into the station and I leap off and practically run down the deserted platform. I look back and see him walking briskly after me, his knife flapping at his side. I jump back on to the train to confuse him but he follows. He is standing at the end of the carriage and casually loops his hand into an overhead handle. He looks right at me. The doors begin to close. My heart is racing. I make a dash for it and throw myself through the narrowing gap. I scan the platform. He’s not there. The doors are closed. The train is pulling away. And then through the window I see him and he smiles.

Dervla Murphy – From Bedtime Stories in Little Tibet

All went well until we came to a point some 250 feet above the water where the path simply ceases to exist. For a distance of perhaps two yards – only two brave, carefree steps! – one has to negotiate a cliff-face on which a bird could hardly perch. The rock has been worn smooth by generations of brave, carefree Mendi feet and this bulge overhangs the river so prominently that it is impossible not to look down, and my giddiness was increased by the sight of all those lumps of icy snow swirling and whirling below us. To circumvent the bulge one has to arch one’s body outwards, while keeping one’s head lowered to avoid the overhang, and there is no handhold of any kind. As I crouched there, with one foot on the slippery polished rock, trying to work out how to get by without releasing Rachel’s hand, a terrible, nightmarish paralysis suddenly overcame me. I felt that I could neither go on, nor, because of Rachel, retreat up the path, which just behind us was only marginally less appalling. I realized that I had completely lost my nerve, for the first time ever, and it was an indescribably dreadful sensation – by far the most terrifying experience of a not unduly sheltered lifetime. The next stage (I was on the very verge of it) would have been pure panic and almost certain disaster. But then Rachel asked, altogether out of the blue as is her wont – ‘Mummy, how are torpedoes made exactly?’

Adrian Phillips – The Locked Trunk in the Forest

Henry was waiting at the car with the key. ‘That’ll be forty dollars for my time,’ he said, and my smile drained into the gutter. ‘But I’ve only got twenty dollars. You know that.’ He shrugged his trademark shrug, a cigarette in one hand – and my key tucked snug in the other. The butterflies made a fresh assault upon my stomach lining. I cast a desperate eye on the ground, seeking inspiration or a twenty-dollar bill, and then dashed into the store. ‘Do you do cashback?’ ‘Cashback, sir?’ said the owner blankly, rolling the words in his mouth like a cow chewing cud. ‘Yes! Can you charge an amount on a card and give that in cash?’ The bovine owner pondered, rubbing a hand down his long face. ‘Yes, sir, we can do that.’ ‘Wonderful!’ I handed him my debit card. He stared at it for a while, the cogs of his mind turning slowly as the precious seconds passed; I imagined his tail swishing lazily at flies behind the counter. ‘But not on debit cards.’ It was the only card I had. ‘OK, OK. What if I buy something and overpay – could you give me the difference in cash?’ Again the cogs made their labouring circuit as Mr Moo considered things. ‘Yes, sir, we can do that.’ ‘Excellent!’ ‘But not on debit cards.’

Michael Palin – Camel mustering in the Outback

The camels veer off as I throw. The vehicle spins and whines, flinging up the dust. I’ve hit my lower ribs going forward. The stick feels as heavy and unwieldy as a small tree. I want just to stop. Please let me stop. Ian readjusts his course and we fire onwards again. I’m pitched forward. He screams at me: ‘Get that bloody rope out of the cab. I can’t drive with it like that!’ And that’s when I explode. That’s when all the pain and the anger and the emotion and frustration all comes out. I hurl abuse at Ian. I shriek Fs and Bs at him. I call him every foul name under the sun. But he probably can’t hear for the screech of the tires, the thumping of the helicopter, the whine of Westy’s motor bike and the hysterical revving of the Land Cruiser. It’s all pain and noise and desperation but now he has me alongside again, beautifully positioned. One last lunge, one last call on resources I don’t believe I have and the loop is over! And then I know what he meant about adrenalin rushes. I know that everything is as he said it would be. I get down and clasp his shoulder and apologise for all I said, but he just beams and rubs the back of the lassoed camel and hands me a ball of fur. ‘There y’are. Last of the winter coat.’

Brian Jackman – Close encounter with an elephant

… suddenly and without any warning a very large bull elephant exploded from the trees and came straight for us – six tons of unconstrained fury, screaming like an express train. ‘Stand still, don’t run,’ said Cecil, a singularly worthless piece of advice since an elephant can move faster than Usain Bolt, and in any case my legs had turned to jelly. Cecil stepped forward, slapping the butt of his gun and shouting obscenities at the angry tusker, which skidded to a halt just a few metres in front of us, shaking its huge ragged ears as it towered over us, blotting out the sky. There followed a brief but nail-biting stand-off which ended only when Cecil took off his bush hat and hurled it at the elephant, screaming ‘Bugger off ’ at the top of his voice, upon which the big bull span round and lumbered back into the bush from where it had come, ripping a sapling out of the ground as it did so.

Tim Cahill – The Virtue of Ignorance

But frankly, I have not always been a credit to my country while travelling and have committed any number of idiocies abroad. Most of them were due to simple ignorance. For example, at one time I did not know the Burundi National Anthem. This is of some importance if you happen to be in Burundi, loading a bush plane, and one of the songs playing on the scratchy sounding loudspeakers at the airport happens to be the National Anthem. If you know the song, you stand to attention. And if you don’t, a soldier will escort you to the broom closet where you will sit for a couple of hours learning respect.

Claire Morsman – Eyes closed, full speed ahead

Unlike any other outback vista, a wall of fire moves bloody quickly. I call out. ‘Ahem, hello! Jeff, er Julian.’ What is his name? ‘Christ!’ The flame is gorging on the scrub to the left of us. Surely we’ll be fine? It’s all around! It’s on the road! The ROAD is burning! Smoke is stinging and blinding my eyes, by now ineffectually wide with terror. Sleep, except for the eternal kind, is now far from my mind. ‘The tyres are melting!’ I scream in absolute sheer panic. I feel the van give in to the sluggish pull of the bubbling tarmac. My feet are bare. I’ll burn to death if I leave the van; I’ll burn to death if I stay put. We’re slowing.

Hilary Bradt – US versus the Broad Oppressed Masses

A lone man was drinking at a neighbouring table. We were vaguely aware of his presence and the fact that he was listening to our conversation. Fine – it was time that Ethiopians learned another side of politics. The bartender collected the empty bottles and the students drifted away to their rooms. When the last one had gone our neighbour came over and introduced himself. ‘I’m an army lieutenant.’ He waited for the implication to sink in. ‘You have been praising capitalism. That is against the law and you are under arrest. I shall come for you at six o’clock tomorrow morning and take you to the District Officer. What room are you in?’

Alex Robinson – Road Trip

‘You can have it all,’ I tell him. ‘All my cameras, I think, my database of pictures … of course we can. You think you can stop us?’ I don’t react. Soon he’s emptied the car. Then he empties my pockets, wallet, ID cards, all gone. But he doesn’t want the car and hurls the keys contemptuously into the forest. Then he turns to his friend. Guto’s gun is still pointing at my head and he says slowly and nonchalantly, ‘OK Guto. Kill him. We’ll burn his car.’ In that moment something shifts deep inside, behind the mind, deeper even than my emotions. They fade, disappear, and in a second I sense everything. The rain slows until it falls like plankton drifting through the current in deep sea. It gathers on a leaf, pools and gently drips off. Even in the dark the greens are so intense they almost seem illuminated, and my nose fills with the scent of the forest, the sharp spiciness of the razor grass, the dampness of mycelia and epiphytes, the rich, oxygen-filled air. A thousand images and impressions flood into my mind. Childhood, school, my parents, home in Sussex, Bristol, Cambridge, India, Gardenia in Hackney.

Mike Unwin – Something to Declare

I get to my feet and, for the umpteenth time, scan up and down the carriage. Nobody appears to be watching. There’s no sign of movement. The border guards are far behind us – even now staggering out of some shebeen, no doubt, or tucked up in bed, dreaming of sniffer dogs and smugglers. The aisle is an obstacle course. I manoeuvre over outstretched legs and hefty baggage, steadying myself against the sway to avoid accidentally grabbing a sleeping face. A judder prompts one snorer to grunt and shift, stopping me dead. False alarm: the carriage remains insensible to my progress. Reaching the end, I pass into the interim corridor, stepping over a film-reel blur of tracks beneath the gap at my feet, and find myself standing between the closed doors of two toilets. Mine is the one to the left. I grasp the handle. But wait. Suppose they’re watching me. Suppose they know exactly what I’ve done and are lying in ambush. One more step and the night will explode into lights, yells, whistles and uniforms. They’ll have me red-handed.

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Hilary Bradt MBE

Founder of Bradt Travel Guides

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