Monday, April 07, 2008

Aussie via Armchair

Research is the best way to prepare for any endeavor, and my pending trip to sun-drenched Australia is no exception.

Despite the fact that none of my plans is set in stone at this point (I have yet to get my visa), I've invested in some travel guides about the world's biggest island and its people. Sure, the internet is a treasure trove of free information, but books will always be my first love. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for my meager savings), very few books about Australia seem to be available in the Philippine market today.

"The fact is, of course, we pay shamefully scant attention to our dear cousins Down Under - though not entirely without reason, I suppose. Australia is, after all, mostly empty and a long way away."

So says author Bill Bryson, in his engrossing travelogue "Down Under," which I managed to read from cover to cover in a little over two days.

I bought got this book on the recommendation of another fellow doc who is also planning to give life in Oz a go. After weeks on the hunt - and several Fully Booked branches later - I finally found a copy at Gateway Mall last Friday.

It was a good thing I didn't hit any of Bryson's laugh-out-loud adventures while I was still on the train home. And, believe me, there were a good number of hilarious moments - mostly involving the author and his horrified encounters with the exotic Aussie wildlife.

In "Down Under," Bryson writes about his visits to some unusual and fascinating places around Australia. This is no Lonely Planet travel guide. It has no accompanying photographs of the tourist hot spots, no detailed how-to-get-there travel tips. Nonetheless, Bryson's prose is in itself fun, engaging, and informative. His narrative smoothly shuttles back and forth between history and present-day, from stories of early explorations to his own attempts at navigating the vastness that is Australia.

Bryson is wry, straightforward, and funny as he recounts his experiences and observations moving from one end of the continent to another. He writes with an outsider's candid irreverence about the people he meets along the way and appropriate terror at the myriad natural hazards that Australians seem to deal with matter-of-factly on a daily basis. But underneath it all is the appreciation and awe he has for this continent he has all but fallen in love with.

This man is no tourist - he is an honest-to-God traveler. And while all his rambling about the dangerous creatures that abound in Aussie has me a bit unnerved, to say the least (for example - did you know that ALL of the 10 most poisonous snake species in the world are indigenous to Australia?), his enthusiasm for the place has stirred in me the beginnings of excitement. There is just so much to see and do.

If you are planning on traveling to Australia any time in the near future - or you're a frustrated wanderlust with just enough of a budget to travel that far by book this summer - grab your copy of "Down Under" ASAP.

But wait... I think I already got the last copy.

(On a completely off-tangent note, just a thought... I wonder what he would have to say about the Philippines.)


Other travel books by Bill Bryson (for fellow armchair explorers):
A Walk in the Woods - US
Bill Bryson's African Diary - Kenya
Neither Here nor There - Europe
Notes from a Small Island - UK


Vanessa said...

Have you checked out the Lonely Planet books?

dr_clairebear said...

i have the "perth and western australia" one. :) there is so much to see! i hope i'll have time (and money)to see the highlights at least. :)