Shedding a little light…

Tony Wheeler’s Dark Lands is interesting and useful travel writing. Lonely Planet is the publisher, which is not surprising: Wheeler is the founder of the travel guide company.

Some years ago he wrote the best-selling Tony Wheeler’s Bad Lands, based on his travels in nine countries – Afghanistan, Albania, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Saudi Arabia –  chosen on a simple criteria: how each country treats its own citizens, if it is involved in terrorism and if it is a threat to other countries. Wheeler mixed in questions such as ‘what makes a country truly evil?’ ‘How bad is really bad?’ with witty and clear-sighted travel writing. Now he’s done it again…

Dark Lands is about a variety of troubled nations. Wheeler travels to Colombia, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Congo, Israel-Palestine, Haiti, Nauru and Papua New Guinea. He is always interested and curious about the realities behind the myths built by a 24-hour news cycle looking for excitement and government travel advisory warnings, and is also interested in how to travel in such countries, how to make friends with locals and see the amazing things each country contains.

It is very useful that he has done so much travelling already as he is often able to compare things to the last time he visited – especially as many of us will never get to go to these so-called Dark Lands. In amongst the often crazy-seeming behaviours/agendas of governments and their instruments, almost everyone he meets is friendly, curious about him, helpful and just trying to get on with their lives, often within life and mind distorting bureaucracies and shonky infrastructures that most resemble a hall of fun-house mirrors.

Wheeler’s writing is witty, warm and personal – I particularly liked the accounts of Papua New Guinea (the Bougainville part tied in nicely with Lloyd Jones’ Mr Pip) and Nauru, seeing as how they are sort of in New Zealand’s back yard, so we probably hear more about them, little as it is, than the rest of the world. Wheeler doesn’t have all the answers but at least he is asking some interesting questions and showing us what is out there in the dark: like all such dark-habiting things, not nearly as scary once some light is shone on them…


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