studies in travel writing

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Fremantle, Tom, The Road to Timbuktu: Down the Niger on the Trail of Mungo Park (London: Constable and Robinson, 2005).

In the summer of 1795 a 24-year-old Scot with an optimistic heart and an unforgettable name docked on the Gambia River. So began one of the most extraordinary journeys of exploration in West Africa. Tackling fever, starvation, wild beasts and curious natives, Mungo Park soldiered on to his prize, the mysterious Niger, finally proving that the great river flowed to the east. The young explorer returned home a hero, his journal an instant bestseller.

Over 200 years after this ground-breaking trip, Tom Fremantle - having long been inspired by Park - decides to follow in his doughty hero's wake. And so with a dugout canoe, a slothful ox, a donkey called Che and various motorised jalopies, Fremantle blazes his own haphazard trail down the Niger. En route he visits Timbuktu and Dogon country, dodges hippos and camps with desert Bedouin. His journey ends in the heart of Nigeria where Mungo Park lost his life on an ill-fated return expedition to Africa.

Fremantle, like Park, puts his trust in strangers on the road and whether Senegalese prostitutes, Bozo fishermen or Malian chiefs, he brings their stories, their hopes and fears, vibrantly to life. This is a book that fuses past and present and reveals the spirit of Africa in a whole new light.

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