Times have changed when Chris Scott offers a book as a Kindle edition.
It’s not as though the desert travel veteran is un-tech-savy—his authoritative Sahara Overland Forum has been on the Web for what seems like eons. But Chris’s participation in threads there always had sort of a message-from-the-wilderness mystery to it—one imagined him typing on a gritty Panasonic ToughBook from the top of a sand dune, sending the signal via satellite using a generator powered by a camel harnessed to plod in circles, or maybe hooked up to the rear wheel of a knackered Yamaha XT500.
However, the advent of a Kindle edition of his Desert Travels means he must have snuck back to his flat in London for at least long enough to arrange the appropriate technology transfer. In any case, for the price of a cup of coffee ($2.99) you can now have the book downloaded to your Kindle, or a device that can read Kindle books (such as an iPad).
Desert Travels covers some of Chris’s earliest explorations in the Sahara, beginning with his disastrous initial foray and precipitous retreat on an XT500, ending with a fractious ride alongside a pseudonymed companion from Algeria to Mauritania, and centered around a foray into vehicle-supported (via a dodgy 101 Land Rover) guided motorcycle trips, on which “five set off . . . only one came back riding.” This period in the 1980s, just before the nomad rebellions began to make travel in the central Sahara, and Algeria in particular, hazardous in places for foreigners, is what Chris refers to as the Golden Age of Saharan Exploration, when anyone with the experience and/or commitment could undertake truly epic trans-national journeys across an area the size of the United States.
Of course, every explorer since Mungo Park has felt he participated in “The Golden Age of Saharan Exploration,” but in Chris’s case he might have a point. Especially given recently resurgent violence toward tourists in Mali, the days when all one needed to worry about in the Sahara were minor risks such as dying of thirst or heat stroke are, at least temporarily, over.
Any first-person travelogue runs the risk of self-glorification, or at least self-indulgence—unless it’s written by Chris Scott (or his Saharan compatriot Tom Sheppard). Chris is so modest, the cover of the print edition of Desert Travels shows a motorcycle, period. Nary a sign of the author posing in front and looking off into the distance with steely-eyed determination. The self-effacing attitude pervades the book, and renders it not only insightful but hilarious. There’s one extensive but interesting diversion into the history of the tragicomic Flatters expedition of 1880—it’s almost as if Chris included it to say to the reader, So, just in case you’ve decided I’m inept . . .
No one even close to inept could have survived 30 years of Saharan exploration into some of the most remote regions of the desert, frequently solo. Trust me, for three bucks you’ll get a lot more enjoyment from this book than you will from a cup of Pike Place Roast. Find it here: Desert Travels