The Trail to Titicaca, Rupert Atlee

While the pantheon of travel literature is filled with accounts of journeys in, to and from Asia and the Silk Road, Latin America is less well covered. Perhaps it’s because writers have only ventured there more recently, or because it is perceived to lack much of the exoticness of India, China, Afghanistan et al.

Trail to Titicaca is part of the limited range of available Latin American travel literature. It’s an account of a cycle journey from Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, at the southern tip of the continent, to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, which took almost a year to complete. The three participants took part to raise money for the Leukaemia Research Fund, although the journey took place long before today’s wide range of charity-related organised ‘expeditions’ sprung up. Attlee comes across as something of a pioneer in this respect.

The route is not an easy one, climbing through the Andes and crossing the Patagonian desert, and the hardships of the trip are always evident. But Attlee brings the diversity of the continent to life – crossing jungles, the high plains of Bolivia, climbing mountains, navigating various ‘shortcuts’ and visiting a range of villages, towns and cities. There is also plenty of human contact. Attlee and his companions were recipients of Latin American generosity on many occasions, and there are plenty of colourful characters met en route.

Attlee mixes the ingredients of his travel book well: the worthy cause, spectacular scenery, kindly locals, the team dynamic, meetings with other travellers, local history, national quirks and the existential questions that accompany the end (and possibly the beginning and middle) of most big trips.

The result is a very enjoyable entry point to Latin America. But don’t expect much more than that. Rupert Attlee is no Paul Theroux, and at 300 pages of large-ish print, the book lacks the space to make any meaningful comments about the countries visited. But he’s an enthusiastic writer and he transmits his enthusiasm for the region well. This is one of those travel books that may have you reaching for the passport, Lonely Planet in hand, to plan your next trip. That’s something that the mass of Silk Road related tomes stopped doing long ago.

Overall verdict: Refreshing, engaging, and worthy
Summersdale, 1999

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