This is SPCK’s pick of the month for their book club – I have been reading it throughout the month of October and it has been one wild ride…
As someone who has travelled independently on a gap year, studied Geography with International Relations and loves to meet different people, this book really appealed to me. Admittedly, I haven’t travelled so close to Mosul by bike, nor have I been in some of the remotest parts of the world, but through the words of Charles, I felt like I could have been right there with him and his best friend Gabriel de Lapinau. It has whetted my appetite to read more travel writing – I would love to say I would like to embark on a similar journey, but I do not have the guts or the stamina!
They are two Catholics who are best friends and decided to travel after university. They would not pay to spend a night at a single hotel – that was their rule, but relied on the Providence of God and the hospitality of strangers at different locations to welcome them. This was one of the most inspiring aspects of the book – there was often a warm welcome wherever they went. This was not always the case, but it certainly made me think how we are suspicious of strangers in the West and how we can be more welcoming to those who are not like us.
Travelling around, they had contacts from various Catholic churches who helped them on their journey. Although at times they would not know anyone or have anywhere to stay, they were always able to come across somebody who could assist them in some way. It was great to read the different descriptions of the people they encountered and the buildings and homes they found themselves in. It is an amazing world in which we live with so many cultures. At times I felt a little uncomfortable with how the author described certain people – it was at times quite blunt and honest, sometimes commenting on their size or behaviours – I couldn’t imagine writing about someone in that way! However, it doesn’t make the author seem callous; he is just reporting the details!
Charles describes encountering persecuted believers in isolated communities and retells their experiences which brings fresh understanding to what life is like in different parts of the world. They leave Paris behind and trek by bike and on foot through places in Turkey, Syria, Iraqi Kurdistan, India, Nepal, China, Tibet, Thailand, the Amazon, Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco and Algeria. It’s fascinating to see what it is like to be a Christian in these areas and the different challenges that they experience.
Although I am not a Catholic and do not understand certain aspects of their tradition and worship, it was insightful to gain a deeper understanding of their faith. It was wonderful to see the Catholic community across the world being a presence in often challenging and difficult circumstances.
The book is filled with photographs from their trip which is another way to connect with their journey. It has given me the travel bug, although I do not think I would have it in me to complete such a trek with so few possessions, so little money and just a bike! My fitness alone would fail me! However, Charles writes with such clarity that I felt part of a very special adventure. He is also open throughout about how his travels have shaped his faith as he is tested to the limits physically, spiritually and emotionally and as he encounters different climates, terrain and people.
If you like travel, this book will be a winner and will add a richer dimension to your knowledge of the world, faith and culture. It is written from the Catholic tradition which I didn’t realise before reading, however, it has provided me with new understanding of their faith and worship and gave me fresh insight to the wider church family across the globe. It may not appeal to readers who are not of that tradition, but I think there is a lot that can be learnt from crossing cultures, countries and Catholics!