The Armchair Wanderer

A review of The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy

(and a way of following in his footsteps without all the scary bits)

Andrew McCarthy is a travel writer. He was once a film star, a teen idol and a sensitive teen; he still acts and directs. But reading his biography The Longest Way Home you realise that he is a traveller at heart and has a wonderful way with words. This is more than just a biography following his search for intimacy and a sense of belonging (as well as the courage to actually face his demons), this is a travel book. Reading it you can see how he has come to be a prize-winning travel writer and editor-at-large at National Geographic Traveler magazine. If you’ve ever read any of his travel writing you’ll know how passionate he is for immersing himself in the world. Now don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderfully readable biography, if a little uncomfortable to read at times (it really is like reading his diary), but the highlight for me is his travel writing.  From Patagonia and the Amazon to Dublin, McCarthy gives you a real feel for the places he visits.

Now…I’m stuck up here on the Edge of the World (at least that’s how I see it at times), so even travelling back down south to “civilisation” can be a major undertaking (well, that’s how it feels anyway…120 miles to the nearest decent shopping is WAY too far for my liking). So it brings a sense of wonder and, I have to admit, a teensy bit of jealousy, to see how easy it seems for Andrew to hop on a plane and land in an exotic location without a second thought. Yes, I think he is searching for a sense of belonging with his writing assignments, but overall I just felt that I wanted to sit alongside and actually experience what he did. That he can go wandering on his own, through sometimes inhospitable climates, leaves me with a sense of inadequacy in the “freedom to roam” department (and I suppose may also hint at my own psychological blocks and freedom issues). In fact I wanted so much to see the places he did that I did what any self-respecting pseudo-gypsy would. I hopped over to GoogleMaps.

Now bear with me…this really only works if you follow me…go on, open another browser window and get GoogleMaps up (I’ll wait here while you do that)

El Calafate is his first stop in Patagonia, zoom in to follow in Andrew’s footsteps and zoom out to see just where this place actually is in the world. But remember, it’s MUCH better in satellite view! Look at all the snow…don’t you just want to jump down and into the picture?

Move on to El Chalten, isn’t it beautiful! Just type El Chalten from here and the map will take you there. Go on….zoom in and out. And I thought I lived in a remote place!

Rugged huh?

One place I’d never heard of is the Osa in Costa Rica…so you zoom in to see the country  and move down to see the Osa itself, look at Puerto Jiminez, then just wander around the place…and to think McCarthy actually went wandering inland on his own. He either has nerves of steel, is supremely confident, or is out of his mind!

Finally…the Amazon. Nip over to Iquitos, Loreto Region, Peru…click on the photo to have a look at the Plaza de Armas. Who’d have thought there was such a large city on the Amazon? Now leave Iquitos and head for Nauta and mosey on up the Amazon.

So, you have the idea now…you just wander around virtually to see the places he saw. It certainly won’t give you the real experience, but it does add an extra dimension. You can wander around with our intrepid traveller and wish you were actually there with him. Well…..until you realise you’d probably find yourself alone after he’s wandered off the beaten track and left you to your own devices!

But let’s not finish there…let’s go back to GoogleMaps…

Duncansby Stacks… can you find them on the map?

Type in Caithness. Zoom in and out…ok, it’s not as spectacular as the Amazon but we have our strong points. Zoom in near Castletown…there’s a lovely long beach there, perfect for just relaxing, and it’s never crowded. Zoom back out and you’ll see all those lovely little lochs and the countryside beloved of the hunting, shooting and fishing fraternity. We have the Flow Country, Europe’s largest peat landscape and there’s more archaeology than you can shake a stick at (you’d get very sore arms). Oh…and it’s one of the best places in the UK to see the Aurora Borealis.

So…where are you going to go next?

(As for the book…go buy it! I loved every minute of it)

One Comment on “The Armchair Wanderer

  1. Pingback: Read books, it’s good for the soul | Northern Editorial

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