3.5 out of 5 stars

Arabia. Just the name sounds exotic, and it is a place of ancient history with human traces going back some 7000 years. The northern part of this land is considered the birthplace of civilisation and it is where three of the world’s religions. More recently though it has been the place of wars, either from external enemies or internal conflict. This makes it one of the most dangerous regions on the planet to travel in. When Levison Wood mooted the idea of travelling in the region to his friends he was met with either stunned silence of lots of swearing whilst questioning his sanity. They didn’t manage to persuade him to drop the idea though so he began to plan. Syria seemed a good place to start…

He wanted to follow in the steps of some of the great explorers of the Peninsula like Lawrence of Arabia and Wilfred Thesiger and he was aiming to visit safe countries like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates as well as venturing into the riskier ones like Yemen and Iraq. He has to take a minor detour on the route to Africa travelling across the Arabian Sea in a tiny dhow to Somalia. Through the tiny country of Djibouti and then onto Saudi Arabia where he was accompanied by a government representative through the country. Even with his chaperone, he still managed to get a good flavour of the country.

Next up was Jordan, where he spent the time hitchhiking from town to town across the country and seeing ancient ruins and dining with shepherds. The next country beckoned; Palestine. A chance meeting with a man called Saleh opened the opportunity for him to walk from Jericho to Bethlehem where he was to be reunited with his family for Christmas. After the celebration, he was back on the road and heading to the West Bank. The tension in Israel and Palestine is palpable and could be cut by a knife and walking through would give him the briefest insight into the situation there. That left one country to go back to go complete his journey around the region, and that was back to Syria…

This is an enjoyable book about his journey around the Arabian peninsula where he almost goes back to basics with travelling, relying on people that he meets to get him from one place to another. In his travels, he finds the common threads that link the cultures across the region as well as the significant differences in each of the peoples that make them unique. As with all of his other books it is worth reading for a perspective on our world that most people won’t get to experience.

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