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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 22, 2006

Travel rough but enjoy wonder, too

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Books Editor

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There's a gene, they tell us, that causes some people to want to jump from airplanes and scale impossible peaks. Perhaps there's a gene, as well, for those who relish rough travel. I mean really uncomfortable, to the point of almost unbearable travel. I mean travel that is so far from pleasant that most of us would catch the first transport home. If there is such a gene, Brandon and Cheryl Wilson of Maui have got it.

Brandon Wilson is the author of 2005's "Yak Butter Blues: A Tibetan Trek of Faith," about a 65-mile trek he and Cheryl took across the Himalayan plains. That was difficult enough, though it seemed to have some spiritual point.

"Dead Men Don't Leave Tips," about the couple's hellish, seven-month excursion right down the length of Africa, from Morocco to Cape Town, is just — I'm sorry — painful.

Wilson begins the book by differentiating between "tourists" (bad because they're insensitive shallow exploiters of the host culture, spreading "global kudzu") and "travelers" (good because they take the time to "go further" and "give" and bring home more than "tacky souvenirs"). He writes a lot, and sincerely, about why he prefers to travel on the edge — on foot, in dirty clothes, with nothing on his back, for example, as he does at one point in Zaire (now Congo — the trip took place in 1990). He wants the "process of getting there, the journey," and he wants the "sense of accomplishment" at the end of the day (or year, or whatever) that comes from, well, from literally having survived, apparently.

There are elements of humor in the Wilsons' predicaments (having chosen what was clearly the world's least trustworthy trekking company), and we can sympathize with their frustrations with oddball traveling companions. Wilson offers great advice for the road (always ask three people the same question; if their answers agree, you may just have the truth). And his concerns about the ecological and social woes of Africa are shared by the many who love the continent that Paul Theroux has called the "Dark Star."

What was lacking for this reader was something to balance the unremitting reportage of the dirty details — cretinous trek guides, bacteria-tainted food and water, importunate beggars, squat toilets, mossy shower stalls (when you could find one), bugs and beasts. Even when Wilson describes a mesmerizing encounter with a lioness, the poor animal has one diseased eye. Some will say, no doubt, that this is Africa; the darkness and danger are part of the attraction.

But the pictures clustered in the center of the book — even poorly printed and in black and white — spoke to me more strongly of Africa's allure than the narrative, convincing me that there was wonder and power in this trip that Wilson's words hadn't conveyed. But perhaps the problem comes in a concept that is threaded throughout: poli poli (to move slowly, like "ma–ana" or "Hawaiian time"). Perhaps I read too fast, searching, without success, for understanding of that elusive rough-travel gene.

Book talk and signing: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Kahului Public Library, Maui.


If you're not sure you're getting every bit of value from your frequent-flier miles program, if you fear that your miles (or your program) will expire before you reap any rewards, this is the book for you.

Petersen edits Inside Flyer magazine, runs FlyerTalk.com and founded the Mileage Donation Center. Winship is a travel-industry veteran who has designed and implemented reward promotions, founder of Frequent Flier.com and author of the Frequent Flier column (seen every third Sunday in The Advertiser's travel section).

The two collaborate to tell the history of flier loyalty programs, explain how the programs work and how to manage and redeem miles, cover elite status, upgrades, airline alliances, convert miles to money, even how to handle flier mile issues on your taxes. If your time is short, concentrate on Chapter 16: 52 ideas that make up "The Best Frequent Flyer Advice You Will Ever Get."

Reach Wanda A. Adams at wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.