From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego: Across the Americas in Two Years by Michael Boyny

fromalaskaAnother gift from Fil, and another winner!

This is a coffee table book that is part travel narrative and part photography or art book. Author Michael Boyny tells us that he and his partner, Sabine, are travel junkies. They conceived of this road trip from tip to tip of the Americas and planned it well in advance, buying a 1985 Ford F250 with motorhome cab in their native Germany, fitting it out and test-running it on a trip through Scandinavia before shipping it to New York and setting off across Canada. Chapters each detail a segment of the trip and run, oh, 4-8 pages each: quick descriptions of places that struck them in terms of natural beauty, culture, physical activity, or other item of interest (good and bad). Whole states may be covered quickly or require more time, depending on how they struck Boyny. Two years of travel are covered in under 200 pages, and a number of those pages are devoted to photographs (on which more in a minute), so the text is necessarily a little cursory here and there; but no matter. It is less an in-depth study of anyplace in particular and more a travel journal: just the highlights. I took my time reading this book in bursts of just a few pages or chapters at a sitting – at my coffee table, in fact. And it was very enjoyable.

Boyny’s English is perfectly fine, but sometimes a little odd; he is very fond of adjectives. Perhaps someone told him that an adjective for every noun was a good method of descriptive writing? At least that was my impression in the opening pages; either he settled down or I stopped noticing. Call it a nuance that I noted, but didn’t get in the way too much. Another funny item I noticed was the exhaustive translation of kilometers to miles (centimeters to inches, etc.), which I appreciate very much in theory but which sometimes turned downright amusing in practice:

240 becomes 230, like magic!

240 becomes 230, like magic!

Michael and Sabine see Alaska; Canada; the Western United States; Mexico; Central and western South America. They are outdoorsy types (perhaps this goes without saying: they’re living in a truck for two years!) and often camp outside, sometimes rent rooms or hotel rooms, even occasionally a more permanent dwelling (seven weeks in a rented house in San Miguel de Allende taking Spanish lessons). They also do quite a bit of hiking (overnight backpacking included), and outings (again sometimes overnight) in the canoe they carry on top of the truck; a scooter racked behind allows for easy short trips as well. The physical activities they undertake set them well apart from your average (American) RV dweller. They compile a fine list of places they could live, across both continents, and are kind in their sparse criticisms; the coast of Peru gets a poor rating but the highlands of that same country become a highlight just pages later.

But oh, the photographs. Don’t get me wrong: Boyny’s narrative of two years spent traversing 15 countries was well worth reading, an interesting education in snippets, even within my own country or places I’ve visited, because he enjoys his own unique perspective. But the photographs alone make this book a special find. Boyny is a passionate amateur photographer (maybe I shouldn’t say amateur; it’s how he makes his living when he stays in one place) and his photos share roughly equal space with text, including a good number of amazing two-page spreads. These photographs include portraits of the inhabitants of various places, wildlife (toucan! quetzal!) and scenes of commerce and lifestyles; but the strongest, unsurprisingly, are landscapes. The largest spreads include views of the Yukon; Monument Valley; the Grand Canyon (naturally); Bryce Canyon; the Mayan ruins at Tulum (Husband and I have been there!); the Galapagos; Machu Picchu; and Patagonian lakes. I can’t say enough about his captures of some of the most extraordinary views on the planet – they alone make this trip worth it, both for Michael and Sabine, and for his readers.

A major hit for photos alone; an an interesting travel story to boot. Thanks, Fil!

Rating: 8 muddy tracks.

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