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Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred Miles To Timbuktu Hardcover – November 1, 2004
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The 600 miles solo kayak trip on the Niger River in Mali, West Africa - from Segou to Timbuktu - stands out for her as the "cruellest journey" she has undertaken so far. Some people have called her crazy to attempt this project and, at times, she wonders about it herself. But the drive to finish the challenge and to see the fabled city at the edge of the Sahara provides her with levels of endurance and strengths that are difficult to imagine. She lives off what she can pack into her little red kayak. She has to rely on villagers along the way for food and shelter... The obstacles are enormous. Traveling the Niger is hazardous even to the locals - and their long dugout boats are better designed to cope with the changes in currents and wind patterns, hippos and more. Then, traveling as a white woman alone in a country full of traditions that don't take necessarily kindly to Western tourists, least to a single boat-woman. "Tu-bab! Cadeau!" (White! Present!) follows her like a constant echo, the intonation and accompanying gestures reflecting the level of kindness or hostility.
Still, Kira faces each hindrance with skill, sometimes luck, and an increasing sensitivity for what is safe and what is not. Her description of the adventure makes fascinating reading, her fluid style engaging.Read more ›
Mostly, it's a well-written tale of an American woman, Kira Salak, and her quest to continue living an extraordinary life. "If a journey doesn't have something to teach you about yourself, then what kind of journey is it?" she writes. This book takes us along for the ride. The tone is conversational, very readable, honest, and refreshing.
The Cruelest Journey is aptly named. Indeed, Salak recounts a grueling journey inside an inflatable red kyak, 600 miles along the Niger River in the West African country, Mali. She encounters both friendly and hostile villagers, calm and stormy weather, hunger, injury, sickness, potentially dangerous hippos, and incredible uncertainty. Using the Scottish explorer, Mungo Park, as a mentor of sorts, she attempts to reenact his adventure some 200 years earlier. She finds that not a lot has changed from what she read in his memoirs, which she holds close throughout the trip and quotes often.
Before I picked up this book, I didn't know where to point on a map to tell anyone the location of Timbuktu. It's a mysterious place, often used to describe the outskirts of the world. Salak's journey doesn't dispel this myth.
I found this story fascinating and highly recommend it.
Michele Cozzens, Author of A Line Between Friends and The Things I Wish I'd Said.
While in this instance, the publisher chose not to include pictures, photos were taken and can be found at [...]
The National Geographic photographer, Rémi Bénali, had this to say about the experience:
"Kira and I made a deal that I would not interfere with her adventure-I had a big boat, with a crew. She had to experience Africa by herself. So we would only meet for a few hours every four days.
"As you can see, everybody's on the banks of the river, looking at her leaving. It's so interesting for them-it's the first time they've seen such a kayak. The first time I saw it, I thought, She's not going to make it! It's too small, like a toy."
I'm glad Kira Salak made it.
And I'm glad National Geographic at least made those photos available on-line, if not in the book. It was nice to be able to glimpse some of the scenes she described in her compelling writing.
The short section on Salak's efforts to free a pair of slaves, while interesting, does not seem to connect with the theme of the manuscript, that is her 600-mile journey on the Niger.
The major fault with this book, as with many contemporary travel books, is the lack of photos. The publishers were kind enough to include a map, and apparently, there were photos scheduled for the manuscript but they never made it to print. A book of this nature demands illustration. Mungo Park's original work Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa, upon which Salak based her journey, was illustrated with maps, charts, and engravings. Salak's publisher is the National Geographic, known for high quality photography. A photographer met the author at various points along the Niger for photo opportunities and yet there is not a single photograph in the book. This reviewer has visited Mali and Timbuktu and has a sense of what travel on the Niger involves, what the villages are like, the local architecture, the Dogon country and general sense of the locale. Alas, many readers will only have a vague idea of the land and most readers will be left adrift. Salak must feel let down by her publishers.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
One of the best true adventure books I have ever read. Highly recommend to anyone
who loves to read.
Don't miss this brave strong woman's exploration in the current world. Chilling and spectacular.Published 5 months ago by Carol M. Furpahs
Having read Ms. Salak's previous nonfiction book, FOUR CORNERS, I was so pleased to find a level of maturity and wisdom in this book that was lacking in the other. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Kristine McCaffrey
Kira Salak's harrowing journey down the Niger River is the perfect piece of nonfiction travel adventure writing to quell any reader with an irrepressible sense of wanderlust,... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Angele Maraj
Great read! Very inspiring. Kira is a true traveler and wanderer and I love how she is genuinely concerned with humanity in general (Case in point: She freed two slaves in Mali... Read morePublished 15 months ago by G.
Kira is not only a great athlete, but is also a fantastic writer, who puts herself in danger frequently. Read morePublished 17 months ago by matthew
Kira Salak is the bravest writer I know. There's not only danger in the journeys she takes, but physical and mental hardships to the point where you have to wonder how she manages... Read morePublished on January 17, 2014 by Sharon Fratepietro
The author always writes the most interesting adventure books, and she always makes these solo adventure trips herself! The most exciting true stories I have ever read! Read morePublished on December 16, 2013 by Janet
Real fun read!
A real fun summer read of adventure. Its good to read about women explores as opposed to the usual man.