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Finally, a review

You may have noticed that I haven't written any reviews lately. I have, as a matter of fact, been suffering from a highly specialised form of writer's block known as reviewer's block. The symptoms consist of an inability to write reviews due to feeling that you must be objective and ready to rationalise your reasons for giving a book a particular rating. Which of course is nonsense. It is nearly impossible to write objectively when reviewing - at least, I think the best reviews I have read have to some extent been based on feelings rather than on objective criteria - and as to defining the why of a rating, "I liked it" or "I didn't like" should be enough when I don't feel like explaining in detail. While the author and potential readers may feel better knowing why the reviewer liked or disliked the book, a reviewer like myself – who is not writing for a defined or large audience and only rarely about new books – really has no obligation to anyone but themselves. That knowledge does not in the least change the feeling, but I am trying to overcome it.

And now for the review:

Title: Eight Feet in the Andes: Travels with a mule from Cajamarca to Cuzco
Author: Dervla Murphy, with interjections from her daughter Rachel
Year published: 1983
Genre: Non-fiction, travel
Setting & time: Peru, 1980s

Dervla Murphy is one of the world's best-known adventure travellers and has written several books about her journeys to various, often remote, corners of the world. This one is about her four month Andean journey on foot along the Peruvian Inca road known in Spanish as the Camino Real, from Cajamarca and southwards to Cuzco. She was accompanied by Rachel, her 9 year old daughter (who turned 10 during the journey), and Juana, a mule whose original purpose was to serve as a mount for Rachel but ended up being almost exclusively a pack animal. They were unable to follow the Camino Real completely, as long stretches of it no longer exist, and they would often find themselves scrambling up and down steep mountainsides in search of trails or shortcuts to make the journey easier, and taking what seemed like the right way, only to have to turn back when the way was blocked by landslides or deep ravines. They both seem to have tolerated the hardships of cold, heat, snow, rain and the occasional unfriendly locals with equanimity, both being experienced travellers.

Dervla Murphy is an excellent writer and her descriptions of their daily travails along the trail are interspersed with descriptions of the breathtaking landscapes of the Andes, nature, weather, and the people and how they lived and their reactions to seeing two apparently crazy females appear in their villages (sometimes people would even refuse to believe that the deep-voiced Murphy was a woman). Murphy is the kind of writer who can make every description of a sunset or sunrise interesting and unique (there are several in the book) and is able to look with a certain amount of humour at even the most difficult situations. She shows great sorrow for the lack of environmental foresight and the abuse of natural resources and the mismanagement of power that was rife in Peru at the time (and probably still is), and it would be interesting to see how the situation appears to a person visiting the country now, more than 20 years later.

Rating: An excellent and interesting story about a crazy journey through the Andes. 4 stars.


Anonymous said…
Hello again,
I have visited Peru, Cuzco and Machu Picchu and environs; still the most haunting place I've been over my extensive travels. I must read Murphy's book! I travelled with my 21 yr old son; cannot imagine going with a 9 yr old! Is Dervla Murphy still alive and travelling? I read a good chunk of her book on Zimbabwe and South Africa. I'll post thoughts after I read the Andes journey. Thanks for review.
aka Explorer Mom
Bibliophile said…
Do read the book - it will give you an interesting perspective of the country that short term visitors rarely if ever see.
Murphy is in her mid-seventies now and the last journey I she wrote about was in 2002, so I suppose she is still going strong.

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