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Walking the Nile by Levison Wood

Walking the Nile

by Levison Wood

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At one point, Levison Wood says that “exploration has always been about more than pure discovery or of being the first to do something." His travelogue, WALKING THE NILE, speaks to that thought. Despite his obvious admiration for the explorers who preceded him, his focus on this 4,000+ mile, 9-month adventure is about much more than geography. In fact geography seems to be incidental in the age of Google Earth. Instead he gives us a fascinating collection of stories about the history, culture, climate, terrain, fauna, and especially the people of the region.

There is much to admire about the people Wood met on his journey. They are struggling under incredibly adverse conditions including kleptocracies, civil strife, disease and poverty. Yet one can’t help but agree with Wood’s sentiment about their hospitality and concern for his welfare. "I also saw how incredibly hospitable they were to a man walking through Africa.” Villagers offered to build him a house and find him a wife. On the last Saturday of every month, the people of Kigali perform service to maintain their city. Refugees from the Sudanese civil war do more than just make due. As one porter tells Wood, "Life goes on." Wood’s journey would not have been possible without the assistance of several pretty amazing guides and porters, the most notable being Boston Beka. In addition to providing the services for which he was paid, Boston welcomed Wood to his home and became a dear friend. He clearly wanted to travel with Wood to the Mediterranean, but was sent home for his own safety.

Of course not all that Wood encountered was pleasant. The death of the American journalist, Matt Power, from heat exhaustion was indeed tragic. It shook Levison’s resolve to its core. “I wanted to be anywhere but here, thinking of the man who had died so that he could write about me on my indulgent, pointless, selfish trek.” Other bad experiences can be viewed as minor by comparison, but seen together, they demonstrate a level of commitment to adventure that few could match. Trekking in the Sahara with little water, camping in an abandoned prison that was a massacre site, bypassing the Sudd swamp because of the obvious danger from a very hot war, the need to bribe corrupt officials just to walk in Egypt, and interrogation at every border crossing by secret police or child soldiers serve as examples of hardships that exceed the challenges of just walking 25-30 miles a day through some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet.

The narrative is simple and often too matter-of-fact. Levison, after all, is not a seasoned writer but an ex-soldier. He still manages to convey a sense of adventure few would want to miss. ( )
1 vote ozzer | Nov 27, 2016 |
A fantastic adventure as the author walks from the furthermost source of the Nile to the point that it reaches the Mediterranean (almost 4,000 miles). Wood expertly shares some of the highest and lowest points of the journey which started in November 2013 and continued for 9 months into 2014.
His experiences with the people of African nations through which he traveled combined with the danger, death and frustrations make for a compelling read. ( )
  PhillipThomas | Sep 15, 2016 |
Why walk the Nile? ( )
  mlhershey | Jun 20, 2016 |
The experts say Africa is where life started. The Nile River has throughout time held the amazement and fascination of everyone who has witnessed its power as it is the Nile that transformed the way humans came together. Africa as seen through the eyes of the west is often portrayed as one big hopeless mess of a continent. And in many ways it is. Countries that were colonies of the major European powers were handed back to the people with little or no guidance on how to run a country. The government's of these countries are busy doing or or two things almost exclusively; looting and pillaging every last cent whether from money from the West or selling out any natural resources they have to the highest bidder. Or they are in-prisoning, and killing their rivals.
Now Africa has a new problem to add to those already listed. Religion. The upper portion of the continent is Muslim the lower portion Christian and a variety of other religions, only the Muslim religion of 2016 and beyond is not the old one that allowed people of other faiths. No this new version is, death to anyone who doesn't see things and do things our way.
But what about the people?
Walking the Nile in many ways answers the question what about the people. Throughout the authors trek from a burbling spring in a forest in Rwanda to where the Nile empties into the Mediterranean, the people by and large are just doing whatever they need to survive. And continue to go out of their way to help this walking explorer on his quest, to walk the length of the Nile.
1. Rwanda, a country who will forever be known for one of the worst genocides of it people ever committed.
2. Uganda a country still remembered for it dictator of the late 20th century Idi Amin, and all of the atrocities he committed.
3. South Sudan- barely a country before it broke down into a massive civil war.
4. Sudan the beginning of Islam as far as the trek of the Nile is concerned. A country whose people constantly outdo one another in showing their kindness and generosity, while having to contend with a government who Trusts no one.
5. Egypt. A country who goes from good to bad to worse consistently throughout history and currently is in a very bad way. A police state, who doesn't trust its people or foreigners. And it is the people who suffer the most.
Reading Walking The Nile, you get all of this along with humor, human insights, history, some hope for the peoples of Africa, and a negative view of their governments. This is a fantastic book. ( )
  zmagic69 | Feb 15, 2016 |
Levison Wood, right at the beginning of his travelogue, echoing the mountaineer George Mallory's raison d'être for climbing Mt. Everest, states that he wanted to walk the length of the Nile "Because it's there." He then amends that statement, saying that he wanted to follow in a great tradition, to achieve something unusual and inspire others, but that much of his motivation was selfish - to go on a great adventure, to test himself. (Kindle location 67) Later he further refines those objectives to a more external, less personal, focus: "to see how [the Nile] shaped lives from the ground, day by day and mile by mile." (Kindle location 137)

He starts his story not at the beginning of his trek, but in the middle as he encounters the front lines of the Sudanese civil war, where he witnesses rocket fire and an angry mob who wants to kill anyone who may be associated with the United Nations (and, as a white Britisher, he could easily be mistaken for one and shot on sight!) The story then moves back in time to the beginning of the trek, in December, 2013, in the Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda, to a tiny spring sprouting a trickle of water from a hole in a rock, claimed by an agent of the National Tourist Board of Rwanda to be the source of the furthest tributary of the Nile. Wood provides a bit of history, linking his forthcoming journey to Alexander the Great and the Roman Emperor Nero, to Stanley and Livingston and Speke, and rooting it in historical and geographic controversy (Lake Victoria is the commonly accepted origin of the White Nile.)

And so, Wood sets off, determined to walk every step of the entire 4,250 mile length of the Nile (measured from the Rwandan spring.) We learn quite a bit about the guides and friends who accompany him through different stages of the trek, and the history and details of the living conditions of the villagers and inn-keepers whom he encounters. We learn about the physical difficulties he and his compatriots face - searing heat, blisters, thirst - but actually little about his own personal discomfort. In the manner of the notable British explorers who preceded him, he soldiers on.

That doesn't mean that he isn't affected by those travails. After all, the group faces many dangerous circumstances, from single-minded crocodiles and hippos in the deep jungle to heat exhaustion in the Sahara Desert to AIDS in the villages to war. Indeed, death does overtake the party, causing some soul-searching in Woods. He wonders if continuing the pursuit of his goal at the risk of the lives of his compatriots is too selfish.

While the physical difficulties of the trek are discussed, the majority of the focus is on the societal difficulties Wood faces and that the people met along the way endure - the problems at the borders as he passes through Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt, the collapsing economies and infrastructure, famine, war, and the greed of the police and military personnel.

On the 30th of August, 2014, after 271 days of trekking, he reaches the Mediterranean port of Rashid (the place where the Rosetta Stone was discovered), in Egypt. Here the Nile waters complete their long journey and a changed Wood realizes, in contrast to his attitude at the beginning of the venture, that he had only gotten through his journey due to the kindness of strangers, the normal people that he had met day to day - a most unselfish understanding born out from all of the events experienced in his story.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  TempleCat | Sep 28, 2015 |
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Levison Wood's journey was 4,250 miles long, and he walked every step of the way, camping in the wild, foraging for food, and fending for himself against multiple dangers. He passed through rainforest, savannah, swamp, desert, and lush delta oases and crossed seven very different countries. No one had ever made this journey on foot. In this detailed, thoughtful, inspiring and dramatic book is recounted Levison Wood's walk the length of the Nile, during which he uncovered the history of the Nile. Through the people he met and who helped him with his journey, he came face to face with the great story of a modern Africa emerging out of the past. Exploration and Africa are two of Wood's great passions -- they drove him on and motivated his inquisitiveness and resolution not to fail. Yet the challenges that the terrain, the climate, the animals, the people and his own psychological resolution threw at him were immense.The dangers were very real, but so was the motivation for this ex-army officer.… (more)

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