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Canoeing the Congo: The First Source-to-Sea Descent of the Congo River Paperback – 6 May 2013
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'An exhilarating account of former Royal Marine Commando Phil Harwood's epic solo journey from the Congo's source in Zambia through war-torn Central Africa.'(ABTA Magazine)
'Harwood's epic tale of his solo journey from the Congo's source in Zambia through war-torn Central Africa.'(National Geographic Traveller (UK edition))
'Harwood's book is proof that the path less travelled is still out there for those brave enough to seek it out.'(Soldier Magazine)
'Succumbing to malaria, arrested, chased and harassed, he nevertheless emerges triumphantly alive, ready to entertain those of us who would rather read about than canoe the Congo.'(The Good Book Guide)
About the Author
Phil has worked all over the world as an ex-Royal Marine Commando, ski-guide, expedition leader, outdoor instructor and development trainer. He is qualified as mountain leader, a level 4 canoe coach, a level 3 kayak coach, a rock climbing instructor, a wilderness emergency medical technician and a first aid instructor. Phil's passions are adventure and challenge, in particular canoeing remote wilderness rivers - the more wild the better!
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The book is actually more about a detailed account of African beggars than a description of the Congo river. So you lost a couple of hundred dollars to beggars......boohoo!
One question for you Phil, How do you think Africans feel about the west plundering African resources?
Only difference is that the west does it diplomatically and stealthily.
Your experience of beggars is peanuts to the plundering of African resources.
With regard to international trade, the west determines what its prepared to pay for African raw materials. Africa on the other hand does not have a say in how much we have to fork out for European imports.
Don't even get me started on this subject. Happy to debate anytime.
I have took one star off for one or two things that irked me a little bit about the book, his lack of writing experience may have contributed to this though, so it is forgiveable. Firstly, Tim Butcher comes in for a bit of stick twice in this book. I really don't see the justification for this, Tim Butcher's Blood River is a completely different book to this... and also a fantastic read to boot. In Butchers book, he spends more time in the Eastern provinces near to where the post Rwandan genocide refugee crisis was centred (And what is still by far the most dangerous part of the DRC). I won't go into the other thing that got on my wick, it's probably irrelevant to most readers anyway besides I've already spent too much of this review highlighting my point about Tim Butcher and i don't want to detract from what is a fantastic story and achievment.
In a nutshell, what Harwood accomplished is of no less importance than any of the recent polar/mountain/sailing expeditions that get so much media exposure.
Phil's greatest strength as a writer is also his only weakness. His humour is tremendous - matter-of-fact, witty lines, that had me in stitches at times. This style also means that he gets right to the essence of things a succinct manner, with no fluff, which is great and often has the effect of driving the point home in a far more eloquent manner than if he'd taken a more long-winded approach. This 'matter-of-factness' also means that, occasionally, short sections that would benefit from a more poetic hand get a similar 'dry-ish' treatment. I'm writing this now, because I feel like I should get my only (very small) criticism out of the way before moving on to the LAVISH praise.
This book represents a collection of incredible and, except for an extremely tiny percentage of people who have walked this planet, truly unique experiences. It also represents an incredible achievement. When you read this book, you'll see why.
Some might say he's quite lucky to be alive, others would say he's not so much lucky, but survived through skill and being hard as nails. You decide.
Being in such a remote environment with no means of backup if his kit was stolen or lost, Phil had to rely on his own skills, wits, and mental and physical toughness to survive and complete this trip. What makes this book stand out from (I hate to say it, but it's true) the 'usual' mountaineering books, is that this adventure had the added challenge of dealing with many difficult and hostile locals. Perhaps this was a greater challenge than the river itself?
For me, as someone who has read many mountaineering books, this book was a breath of fresh air.
By the time you get to the end of the book, you're left thinking far more about the Congolese people, and indeed all people (including yourself!) than about the river. And I think that's how it should be, not from some sort of principled standpoint, but it's simply more interesting. Phil's reflections on the people are extremely thought-provoking and I honestly believe that there's golden nuggets of lessons within these pages. They're peppered throughout, but by the end they all add up to some pretty big things for us all to ponder; about life, materialism, adversity, and people in general. Through his experiences on this trip, Phil's buried right down to the essence of humanity and what it is to be alive. Not through philosphising about it, but by witnessing it first-hand. When it's there in front of your face, people displaying qualities in a unique environment (to us), you can't argue with it. It's these real and visceral experiences that Phil has, luckily for us, shared through his book.
It's impossible to sum up a book but I'll have a go. For me personally, it's an amazing account of someone choosing to undertake an incredibly risky and difficult task on his own. And to get a bit philosophical, for me, it's an account of people (including Phil during the trip) who have virtually nothing material-wise, in a lawless land, and how they behave as a consequence. You see people stripped down to their primal essence in this book, including Phil, and that is something we very rarely get to see in our society. Although you're not there (you're reading about it), Phil does a great job of conveying it.
How often in your life do you only have yourself to rely on? Are you ever a phone-call away from the police, or an ambulance? What would it be like if you were somewhere with none of these luxuries? Add to that, extremely hostile and sometimes dangerous people squaring up to you on a regular basis. How would you behave? Read this book and find out what it's like!
It would be remiss not to mention the other side to all this too, which are the wonderful displays of kindness, generosity, integrity and dignity that Phil encountered on this trip. Indeed, he concludes it was still only a minority who were anything but nice. It must have been a real privilege for him to have his trust rewarded so many times by some truly great people. To witness such morally sound behaviour and integrity, in a lawless environment that does not demand it, must have been extremely rewarding and is something we simply never get to experience in our normal lives.
It goes without saying that this book is an absolute essential for any fans of wilderness canoeing, but I would recommend this book along with any other of the best 'adventure books' out there. It's got everything. The film's great too, and if you could only have one or the other, the book or the film, I would recommend the book. But why would you do that? Do both! The film's a must-see too!
PS I'd buy the paperback, rather than the Kindle edition if you can, because the photos are tremendous.
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