THE BACK OF BEYOND: TRAVELS TO THE WILD PLACES OF THE EARTH. David Yeadon. HarperCollins.
449 pages. $25. Travel writer David Yeadon's strongest suit is his nose for the undiscovered, from Goa to Haiti to Mongolia. Many a trip will no doubt be inspired by the 20 essays in "The Back of Beyond."
*The Nicoyas Islands, off Costa Rica: "Lovely lonely places wher you could live out beachcomber fantasies among the butterflies and orchids, eating the always-abundant wild fruits, fishing whenever the mood was right, and generally bidding farewell to the fripperies of the high-tech life."
*Thailand's Phi Phi Islands: "Here on the eastern side of th [Phang-gna] bay, there's no one -- no distractions, no girlie bars, nothing but these beautiful beaches, the occasional junk sailing by from Penang or Singapore, a few fishermen, and dozens of scattered offshore islets, jungle-shrouded and mysterious. . . . Limestone karst pillars, the largest . . . over a thousand feet high, great grey monoliths, receded into the heavy haze of the bay like solitary hooded monks on some strange and lonely pilgrimage."
*The Djemmaa el Fna, the legendary market of Marrakech: "An the smells! By midday the whole place shimmers with the aromas of the mini-spice mountains displayed by merchants on the edge of the square and the broiling lamb from open-air kitchens set up by Berber cooks."
A Briton now living in rural New York, Mr. Yeadon focuses o geographic description and his own mental landscape. Traveling companions and local people, however, are described superficially at times.
For example, in Venezuela, he travels by canoe to an area o flat-topped mountains called tepuis, much like Devil's Tower in Wyoming, guided by two Pemon Indians. The reader learns little of the guides beyond "it was hard to tell what they were thinking while guiding this odd white man through territory that was once entirely their own."
The remote river journey echoes Redmond O'Hanlon's delightful Into the Heart of Borneo." But Mr. O'Han
lon clearly reveled in the company of his brave and merry Dayak guides, Leon, Dana and Inghai, who sprang to vivid life.
Mr. Yeadon brings relentless good cheer to some dire situations He seems always able to look on the bright side whether he is being felled by dysentery, jailed by Saharan bandits or soaked to the bone in a Scottish hailstorm.
This sunny temperament, though admirable during the event, seems Mr. Rogersish in print.
Still, there are many out-and-out winners here. Perhaps m favorite essay is "Gran Canaria: On Becoming a Native" -- an interlude bound to have enormous appeal to any wage slave.
"Luck and I were on very amicable terms," Mr. Yeadon begins. Finding himself in dismal winter weather in Spain, he loads his camper on a ferry, disembarks at Gran Canaria's Las Palmas, and serendipitously heads along narrow roads to a tiny white village.
El Roque was huddled "Greek island fashion on top of a rock promontory that jutted like an ocean liner straight out into the Atlantic." A villager lent Mr. Yeadon a lovely cottage at the edge of the village, owned by a brother fortuitously away in Madrid. He happily unpacked his books and paints in his new home, perched atop cliffs overlooking 50-foot breakers. A brief visit stretched into four months of painting, writing and Thursday-evening dinners and folkfests for all his neighbors.
His wife joined him in the idyll and "for the two of us, it bought
peace and a pace of creative energy that we had never experienced before and only rarely since."
Ms. Belliveau is an assistant business editor at The Sun and an avid traveler.