Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 18, 2021

More Than Halfway to Somewhere, by John Burbidge

Travel […] opens doors, challenges stereotypes. builds bridges and expands the mind.  As travel writer and guide Rick Steves put it ‘It moves around your furniture.’ It also taps into something more fundamental in our lives, as author Bruce Chatwin — who rejected the label of being a ‘travel writer’ — said, ‘The act of journeying contributes towards a sense of physical and mental wellbeing, while the monotony of prolonged settlement or regular work weaves patterns in the brain that engender fatigue and a sense of personal inadequacy.’ (More Than Half Way to Somewhere, p.174)

Well, after a year of travel restrictions that prevent all but a privileged few from leaving the country, Australians don’t need to be convinced about the monotony.  Even when my next trip is a year or more away, I’m still buoyed by the saving, the planning and the dreaming about it.  The absence of any trip anywhere on my horizon makes me feel very fed up.

However, it is what it is, and all we can do is enjoy a good travel book every now and again.  But such books must be chosen wisely or else they just make me gnash my teeth in frustration.  Last year I read six, though two of them were only about destinations in Australia, which—I’m sorry, Tourism Australia — simply doesn’t count as travel.

More Than Halfway to Somewhere is a fascinating glimpse into the kind of travel I’ve never done.  While The Spouse and I are flexible and adaptable independent travellers, we plan our itineraries meticulously.  We know in advance where we’re going, where we’re staying, what museums and galleries we’ll visit and sometimes even which restaurants we want to go to.  But John Burbidge’s travels have been much more adventurous and infinitely more serendipitous.

John’s decision to make his career working for an NGO that doesn’t pay salaries has allowed him to travel the world, but it’s been on a very tight budget.  Taking those super cheap flights that are super cheap for a reason, and relying on grace and favour accommodation from hospitable folks who support the organisation’s aims.  The scariest journey seems to have been with Nigerian Errways, though he also had a narrow escape taking the train across the Nullarbor.

His most far flung destination was Tierra Del Fuego.  In a chapter aptly named ‘Uttermost Part of the Earth, it’s clear that such remote places do have their drawbacks indeed.

Assuming we would find somewhere to stay the night we kept driving, but  after checking two more locations without success we grew concerned.  Our only option was to head back to Tierra del Fuego via the narrow crossing at Purita Delgada.  Once back on the island we headed for the only town in the entire northeast, Cerro Sombrero (Hat Hill), operated by the Chilean national petroleum company. According to Lonely Planet there was accommodation in this town, but what this meant didn’t sink in until we arrived at the Hosteria Tunkelen.  Not only was this the only place to stay in town, its restaurant was the only place to eat.  Moreover, the restaurant had a set menu, mostly for company employees.  Next morning when we went to fill up our car for the long drive south, the only gas available was at a single pump operated, of course, by the company. (p.171)

From the US to India, across Africa and the West Indies where he assumed the role of reporter in order to get into a cricket match, John travels with good humour and respect for the people he meets.   It’s people, he says, that makes travel worthwhile.  He’s not a man to entertain the foolish notion of having a bucket list of places to ‘tick off’ as he goes.  While I thoroughly enjoyed reading about his adventures, what I liked best was his afterword where he talks about cultures that value hospitality and really welcome visitors, not least because a guest can play many roles, as the bringer of news, the teller of stories, the curious outsider, the interested listener and more. 

A different conception of tourist, eh?

You can buy the book, print-on-demand from a range of booksellers around the world.  They’re listed on John’s website here.

Author: John Burbidge
Title: More Than Halfway to Somewhere, Collected Gems of a World Traveller
Publisher: Wordswallah Publishing, 2020
Designer: Robert Lanphear
ISBN: 9780578698144, pbk., 216 pages
Source: review copy courtesy of the author

 


Responses

  1. LOL! Although I like to read about that kind of travel, like you I think I would be more planned…

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    • I can’t imagine getting on a plane, with nothing more than instructions that someone will meet you and look after you. But his point is that trusting to strangers is enriching, and I must say that the times when our plans have gone awry and we’ve been ‘rescued’ by strangers have been wonderful.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If I’d been born at a different time I would be like him. On my last overseas journey it would have been awful but for the kindness of strangers. Am not a big planner. Too late to change. But longing to travel again after this long spell of restriction. And I like to travel alone.

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    • Yes, that yearning is like an ache that just won’t go away.

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  3. While travelling around Italy by train I hopped out at a place south of Naples, found a cafe open but no hotel. The cafe owner (with no English) persuaded his mate to open up his posh-ish rooming house for the night so I would have somewhere to sleep.
    I might never get to Europe again, but a Eurail pass and no set destination is my idea of heaven.

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    • Yes, that would be fantastic. Because we’ve got a dog, we always have a time limit on how long we can be away for, but I’d love to have an open-ended trip with no deadline.

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  4. This sounds my type of book. Just ordered it.

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  5. We lean more towards the planned approach to travel – flights, car hire booked in advance and usually hotels. We had quite a few holidays early in our married life when we just got a ferry to France and made up our route as we went. Problem was we seemed to spend too much of the day looking for a hotel. I threw a hissy fit in Eperney when told that we didn’t have time to do a champagne cellar tour because we had to find a hotel. I got my way!!!

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    • I hear you, I would have thrown a hissy fit too.
      I wonder if it might have been easier to rely on serendipity before the age of mass travel and the marketing of cultural events for tourism? I mean, for example, there would have been a time when you could stroll into Hay and find a bed for the night, but these days you’d have to check when the festival is. And now, you need to plan any trip that’s vaguely coastal to avoid those horrible cruise ships which disgorge thousands of tourists into a place so that everything is crowded and unbearable.

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