Reviewed by Carmen Madrid
The thought of arriving in Kabul and getting kidnapped right from the airport seemed ridiculous but also more possible than any Peruvian bus plunging off a cliff or Bangladeshi ferry sinking. I took a few paces, rifled through my bags, found my Indian knife, and slipped it up my right sleeve....
To learn what "travel" truly means for 99 percent of the human population, journalist Carl Hoffman spent five months seeking out the world's most life-threatening modes of transportation. From bone-rattling trains across India, to dangerously overcrowded river boats down the Amazon, to an outrageously odiferous bus traversing harrowing roads straight out of Romancing the Stone --all part of the journey.
Hoffman tells tales of some 17,000 islands that stretch across 3,100 miles and the ferries that tie the disjointed nation of Indonesia together. Not just ferrying people, but cars, refrigerators, and anything else too big (or expensive) to fly. And don't forget the pirates!
After so many days on crowded buses and boats, it was becoming clear that more than anything else, money bought insulation and protection. From wind and rain and heat, from other people, from noise, from pollution. The deeper I went, the clearer this became.
The Lunatic Express is not about getting from point A to point B, then describing the journey in the most sensational manner possible. Hoffman immerses himself in the lives and cultures of the people who brave the danger surrounding the "ride." He uses his skills as a reporter to seek out the stories behind these everyday travelers while drawing you in with his evocative descriptions of the vehicles in which they move. The look, the feel, the smells... it's all there.
Rolling through snow and naked brown trees and under white skies, and over frozen rivers, a landscape without end that never changed.... A taste of Russian nature on a four-day train ride from Ulan Bator to Vladivostok; a piece of the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Guindo arrived a few minutes later in a taxi so broken I had to hold the door shut.
At once inspiring, distressing, eye-opening, and shocking, The Lunatic Express takes you on a journey like no other. Buckle up for the ride!
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