Book Review: Walking the Americas by Levison Wood

Copy of Book Review (13)

The countries of Central America cover a thin sliver of land that connects the massive continents of North and South America. These are some of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet with beautiful rainforests, towering chains of mountains and over 300 volcanoes covering the land, as well as tropical coastlines onto the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. Ancient ruins dot the landscape, a myriad of indigenous languages can be heard alongside Spanish across their length, while the cities provide some of the most violent and corrupt landscapes on the planet due to the power of the gangs through drug smuggling and human trafficking. Through all this, Levison Wood embarks upon an epic 1,800 mile journey to walk the length of this land!

The heart of this book is, obviously, Wood’s journey and what he discovers and witnesses throughout his trek across Central America. For me, highlights ranged from the sublime sights of this chain of countries, included stumbling across the ruins of temples built by the Ancient Maya, climbing the highest of Costa Rica’s mountains and finding the remains of sacrifices at the bottom of a Cenote in Yucatan, through to the horrifying and sad, such as being shown a torture house used by gangs or meeting group after group of immigrants making the arduous and dangerous trip towards the USA in search of a better life.

Alongside all these amazing sights, and terrifying dangers, what really brings this book to life are the people that Wood meets, and especially, his travelling companion, the Mexican, fashion photographer, Alberto. He doesn’t seem like the most natural of companions for a trip like this, as he has never spent a day in the jungle in his life, but he really shines. His charm and warmth seep through the pages, alongside Wood’s own passion for travel, and that is what really makes this book, in my opinion.

If I had any criticisms of this book, it would be opening few chapters. They go on a bit of a weird, roundabout explanation of how he ended up embarking on this journey – which read like a curious mixture of, ‘I was bored,’ and have a very brief history lesson about Central America. I honestly think that much of this part of the book could have been slipped into later chapters – especially the  history part. I didn’t like these opening chapters, but I persevered as I had faith that the book would pick up once the journey got going. This faith came from having previously read and enjoyed his Walking the Nile and Walking the Himalayas books. So I kind of knew that Wood would do the actual journey really well.

Overall, I would recommend this book to any fans of travel writing. I found it fascinating and powered through the book in a few days! Plus you’ll pick up some good facts that I can imagine would appear in pub quizzes, such as the fact that Lake Nicaragua is one of the few places in the world with fresh water sharks. I’m nerdy enough to find that interesting… Oh dear!

 

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