Monday, February 10, 2014

The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari by Paul Theroux

With The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari, I am starting at or near the end of the long line of books by Paul Theroux, who has been traveling the world for over fifty years. In his subtitle, ultimate means last, not maximum or greatest. He states that he will not be going on another bus and train trip through Africa's most disturbed states. Readers can certainly see why he has come to this difficult decision. Though he has been able to deftly cross borders and mingle with rural people around the world for decades, at his current age he is an obvious target for criminals or other desperate individuals. On his trip through South Africa, Namibia, and Angola, angels guided him through threatening situations to safety. He says he will not take such risks again.

Theroux was somewhat hopeful for the places he visited in the initial parts of The Last Train to Zona Verde. He found that conditions in some of the townships around Cape Town had improved since his previous visit a decade earlier. Sadly, new shantytowns have appeared outside the improved places, but they too would eventually improve he surmised. His subsequent trip through Namibia was more difficult, but he still found that most rural people welcomed strangers.

Everyone warned Theroux not to visit Angola, which ironically encouraged him to go. He was aware but still somewhat surprised by the despair and cruelty he encountered there. He found Angola is not a poor country. It is filthy rich with money from oil and diamond companies, but almost none of that money trickles down. There is little surviving wildlife and nearly total deforestation. Most people live in slums. Unemployment is 90 percent, as foreign companies bring their own employees. He suggests that the government is totally corrupt. There is little hope anywhere in Angola.

Theroux reports that Angola does not allow tourism or visits by foreign journalists. Theroux essentially snuck in by arranging to teach some English classes. With little reporting about the corrupt state, Theroux's story takes on more importance.

As I said, I am starting near the end. I thought that I had read some of Theroux's writings, but I find no titles in the database I have kept since 1989. Maybe I read a couple of books before that. Maybe I read some of his journal articles. Whatever, I enjoyed his storytelling and analysis in The Last Train to Zona Verde and will try his other travel adventures.

Theroux, Paul. The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 353p. ISBN 9780618839339.

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