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My Mercedes Is Not for Sale: From Amsterdam to Ouagadougou - An Auto-Misadventure Across the Sahara Paperback – 24 Jul 2008
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Noël Coward once said that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Journalist Jeroen van Bergeijk, whose chronicle of an auto-misadventure across the Sahara, piloting his used 190D from Amsterdam to Ouagadougou inMy Mercedes Is Not for Sale, is Dutch. You do the math. Crazy-making is also often funny-making, and van B's musings on subjects like the state of African commerce (Things in Africa come in two forms: broken or almost broken. ) inform the armchair traveler about the real on-the-road experience in ways Baedeker and Lonely Planet never could. In a place where border delays may be measured in days rather than minutes, our explorer has learned to pass his idle time wisely: not only do we hear digressions, related in some detail, about the history of the Paris to Dakar Rally and the disastrous expeditions to map out the desert in advance of a never-completed Trans-Sahara Railway, we also meet every previous owner of his humble Mercedes and travel to the factory in Bremen where it was built two decades ago. Places like Mauritania, Togo, Burkina Faso and Benin will likely never rank with France, Mexico, The Bahamas or even China as a potential vacation destination. But thanks to a crazy Dutchman who boldly went where few men ever go, entertaining us every kilometer of the way, I m dusting off the old passport and thinking . . . maybe a visit to Disneyland would be nice this summer. --Thane Tierney, BookPage magazine, July 2008
An inspiring and accessible old-school adventure story...A classic road trip tale of a Dutchman driving a clapped out Mercedes across the Sahara to West Africa to sell it at a profit. --Adventure Travel Magazine, September 2008
About the Author
Jeroen Van Bergeijk is a journalist based in Amsterdam and has written for The New York Times, Wired, and many other publications in Europe and the United States.
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The book has a little bit of everything, from the author's semi mid-life crisis, to an examination of the ideas of form, function, and quality as expressed in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Western aid to Africa, the quest for authenticity in tourism, and old-fashioned descriptive travel narrative. The underlying premise is an interesting one: a used car that would be destined for the scrap heap in Western Europe, due to the relative cost of repairing it vs. the overall value, can be sold at a profit in Africa, where the labor cost to repair such a car is minimal and the need for transportation is high. There is, in fact, a booming trade in such scrapheap cars, and along the way, the author finds himself in one of the continent's largest auto-repair zones, a sprawling industrial enclave in Ghana.
At times the book reads like a depressing catalogue of African cliches (the border guards and other corrupt officials), the smug European expats, the slimy middlemen, the inevitable coup -- however, there's enough else of interest to keep it interesting, and the tone is generally pretty light. Interspersed are brief chapters in which the author tracks down the previous owners of his car in order to discover its history, which are interesting, but a little too intrusive. I pretty much enjoyed the book as a light read, but was left with a sour taste at the end when the author's note reveals that the "trip" described in the book was actually portions of several trips woven together, and that he had travel partners never mentioned anywhere in the narrative. I don't necessarily have a problem with that approach (putting the "creative" in creative non-fiction), but it could have been expressed right up front, instead of hidden in the back, where it cheapens the entire story.
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