The opening chapter of Into Africa is just that. It describes a harrowing incident in a remote part the continent where things go badly wrong, but Sam somehow manages to prevent them getting much, much worse.
I won’t spoil it for you, suffice to say that the first section invites you to ponder how would you cope with the same situation, and what you might do differently?
The charm of this book derives from the fact that Sam is very much a novice at the outset of the tale. Not to travel, but to motorcycling. The early chapters include taking his test, buying a bike and learning how to ride it before scuttling rapidly across Europe and a boat to Egypt in the 1990s.
None of these things are to be taken lightly, but Sam learns as he goes; by experience, by failure and often by asking the right questions of the right people at the right time.
I admire Sam’s journeys because they are honest. He isn’t sat alone in the bush barbecuing road-kill with a 40-person film crew stood quietly out of shot. This adventure was not primarily a charity-fundraiser, nor intended as a potential revenue stream. In fact, it took many years to become a book. Sam simply went because he was inquisitive. These are real tales of self-financed derring-do carried out either alone or with friends met along the way.
Africa has a permanently changing political landscape, and the book captures a period shortly before the fall of Apartheid in South Africa and end of the Eritrean conflict, when motorcycling through Sudan was very touch and go. Subsequently, for every famine, war or disease that is resolved in the cradle of man, others come to add more trauma to the Dark Continent.
What I found reassuring is that Sam proves that any obstacle can be overcome if you have persistence, patience and luck; though it would be wrong to say he comes away unscathed. Never mind, chicks dig scars!
Sam’s writing style is vividly detailed; offering descriptions that easily conjure images in your mind’s eye of the full African experience from unbridled natural beauty to pitiful squalor. Hidden within the imagery are valuable insights about life, happiness and the pros and cons of different societies.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book. If you are ready for the pleasures and pitfalls of starting a massive trip taken from absolute zero then Into Africa is a gripping rodeo ride.
Be warned, Sam’s journey didn’t stop at the Cape and you won’t want to either. There are three more books explaining what happens next…
You can find his books here