Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Long Way Round

I really want to see the TV programme of the trip taken by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman across Europe, what was the Soviet Union and the USA, but have to wait my turn for the DVD at the library. In the meantime, I have taken the chance to read their book: each takes it in turn to narrate, so it really is their book.

I suspect the trip itself is a little more adventurous than any I would care to take: I could obviously deal with the first and last component, and maybe even the central sector, but I'd have trouble with the motorbikes they were riding. Big heavy 1150 cc BMW Adventures,
laden with huge amounts of equipment, around 40 kg of which turned out to be unused. I don't know how many times there is a casual mention of "dropping" the bike: the idea of being caught under such a bike as it fell on me, or just trying to stand the thing up once it had fallen over freaks me out. Then there's the section where Ewan is writing of his earlier experiences of riding motorbikes, of having the bike leaning over, with his "backside nearly scraping the tarmac", having to tell his brain to ignore its natural instincts when cornering (presumably to slow down, to not lean over so much): it is not for me. Maybe one of these:
would be more my style! It is a Kamaz truck - their motto is apparently "No Roads? No Problem!" At one point, as they were crossing Siberia, the authors run into several rivers they simply could not pass on their bikes, but were able to hitch rides on a Kamaz driven by a fellow called Vladimir (of course he was - most of the guys in the book are called Vladimir).

There were some annoyances in reading this book: mainly because the authors would get so grumpy! At each other, at the difficulty of the travelling, at their support crew for not leaving them to ride their own trip, at the people they encountered who wanted to make a big thing out of Ewan McGregor being in town. This last criticism particularly annoyed me, as McGregor had traded on his celebrity status to get the funds to make the trip (he had sponsorship deals and a wad of money (over a million) thrown in by a TV company) and then objects to be treated as a celebrity. He doesn't seem to appreciate that his coming to small town Russia or Kazhakstan might be huge news for that town, or that its inhabitants might see it as important to honour their guest.

But there was lots to enjoy as well - I'll just mention two things. They get pulled over for speeding by a policeman (called Vladimir) in the Ukraine, who offers to put the authors and their entire crew up in his house. His wife seems to be ashamed of their humble quarters,, so instead, they stay with a fellow called Igor, who has an enormous mansion. A different Vladimir turns up:
All I knew for sure was that I was in a house where I'd already seen a machine gun. Now a man built like a bull was taking off his handgun and putting it down right behind me...

More men arrived, all with bulges under their jackets or sweaters. Menacing men who would be even more intimidating in other circumstances, but were on best behaviour in Igor's house. A small guy with a shaved head walked in. I could see the butt of his pistol poking out... A few hours earlier, we'd been on the open road, heading for the Russian border. Now we were in a room surrounded by men with heavy duty weaponry, while the top dog's wife cooked us dinner in the background. I felt very ill at ease.
They both stayed uneasy for the two days they spent with Igor, who was the local Mafia boss. It seems that he and his men were just relaxing and having a good time with their important visitors, unsuspecting that their guests were half scared out of their wits the whole time.

Now, the authors kind of moaned the whole way across Europe and Russia, pausing every so often to say how wonderful the landscapes were. And yes, the trip was obviously a difficult one to make, so some moaning is to be expected. The weird thing is that when the trip was at its hardest, when they had to dig tracks into and out of rivers in Siberia, and tackle rivers that could just as easily sweep them away, the moaning stopped. They seemed to most enjoy this part.

Getting across America was, obviously, the easiest sector so very little of the book talks about that: their main problem was in staying awake.

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Blogger owens valley tomatohead said...

You will probably enjoy the visuals in the DVD. I was gobsmacked by some of their river crossings in Siberia.

Yes, celebrity whinging can get on one's nerves, but I reckon I'm the one who can go anywhere and everywhere without being bothered.

Claudio, the Swiss cameraman, was endearing in a weird way.

Glad you got to see the Phoenix Foundation twice and got extra long sets! Beer at a wine festival. Excellent.

10:49 AM  
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3:42 PM  

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