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on 17 April 2014
Upon reading this book I was struck by the fact that the traveller and Author, Tom Coote, clearly did not have endless funds and that for him this made the trip far more realistic. He gives a fascinating insight into the real West Africa in this book, but not from the usual tourist viewpoint. His accommodations are never in a typical hotel but almost inevitably in a budget type hostelry and not necessarily with a lockable door.

Almost everywhere he goes to he is accosted by a guide. These guides are plentiful wherever he travelled and are there to greet the traveller and take him somewhere touristy, usually for a fee of some sort, whether or not he felt he actually needed a guide. Some of these guides also managed to produce various `relatives' which causes some hilarity along the way. One particular `relative' that comes to mind is, of course, Janet.

If you want a West African holiday in which you sit on a beach all day then this is not the holiday guide for you. Tom described a real Africa that the more discerning traveller will appreciate and probably connect with as his wit and gritty sense of realism is demonstrated throughout. He also gives fascinating insights into local customs, such as in voodoo, fetishes and slavery as well as interesting narratives about various local conflicts and political inferences pertinent to the particular area in question.

Having enjoyed the book immensely I can certainly appreciate the perils and pitfalls that Tom went through to bring us this book and it is thanks to writers and travellers like Tom that you and I can gain an understanding of an area before deciding whether or not we would like to go there ourselves and if so, would we like to travel in the manner that he did. Are you up to it?
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on 30 March 2014
Voodoo, Slaves & White Man's Graves by Tom Coote

If you ever fantasised about flying to West Africa and exploring all its charms - read Voodoo, Slaves and White's Man Graves first. You may well alter your plans. Pithy, witty, acute observations peel away any illusions and any tourist organisations over in Benin, Togo or Ghana may want to buy up all the copies of this book and hide them. I like Tom Coote's honesty. He doesn't big himself up. Tells it as it is. Pink white man on a budget vacation in West Africa and he's well prepared for the sanitation issues, the culinary surprises, the desperate urge to purge from either end. He knows the danger of walking out alone in cities such as Accra or the sheer frustration of trying to get a visa for Ghana, or a bus in Mali. He does all this for us so we don't have to. Through these pages I have travelled West Africa, felt every bump, met complete strangers and persistent beggars and avoided needles on the beaches. And although I enjoyed every moment from the comfort of my sofa, never once did I feel jealous or an urge to fly Burkina Faso (the third least developed country in the world) and watch flies crawl over the meat.

Interspersed with his text are wry comments of the legacy of history, not only the consequences of slavery, but how much of it is still going on. I learn that 1.8 million children are involved in the cultivation of chocolate. At least 71 countries use slave labour to produce the stuff. Add observations such as, how hard it is to get a good cup of coffee in Ghana, despite this being where it is grown and this is no mere travel book. It is a lesson in economics and history. Coote notes on how rare bookshops seem to be in West Africa. Even in a city of half a million such as Tamale. Or how many western people 'pay' to look after orphans on brief visits to this region and other scams that enrich locals and absolve westerners of 'guilt'. We get to meet stray westerners who visit or work over there and lively portraits of locals keen to 'help or guide' and one gets the impression one needs deep pockets to survive, even on a budget visit.
Tom visits curious cultural sites - the Sacred Crocodiles of Paga, for example and has to purchase a live guinea fowl to feed one before he can sit on its back. These things don't happen when you visit Paris.
I thoroughly enjoyed Voodoo, Slaves... lively, personal, entertaining and educational, just like Coote's brilliant 'Tearing up the Silk Road', his journey in West Africa is compulsive reading and so vivid you may need some quinine with your tonic to wash it down.

© Sam North April 2014
Editor of Hackwriters.com

author of Diamonds - the Rush of '72 and other stories
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on 14 January 2014
Having spent many years living in West Africa 40 years ago, I was interested to read this book to find out how things had changed... or not changed. I was not disappointed. The book describes the author's journey from Cotonou in Benin, through Togo, Ghana and Burkina Faso to Bamako in Mali. He travels on a restricted budget, staying at budget hotels and using local transport. This colours his views of West Africa, with many of the local people he meets being bar staff, taxi drivers, guides and sellers of tourist tat. The author is initially disappointed with what he sees. It is only towards the end of his trip that he finds more attractive and interesting places to visit, such as the Great Mosque in Djenné in Mali. This book is a lot more than a travelogue. As the title suggest, the author looks at some of the darker sides of West Africa. Its information on voodoo and slavery is well-researched, as is its background information about recent conflicts in the area. A map and some pictures would have been enhanced the text, but overall I very much enjoyed reading this book and learnt much from it. I recommend it to anyone who intends to travel to West Africa, or has ever spent any time there, or simply has an interest in this fascinating part of the dark continent.
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on 20 October 2016
A fantastically enthralling read, both shocking and thought-provoking interspersed with witty commentary from the author’s experience in West Africa. I couldn’t put this book down when reading it, I felt like I was on the journey with Tom, eager to find out what would be round the corner next and was never met with disappointment! Tom is a true adventurer providing a fascinating insight to travelling off the beaten track and immersing yourself in local culture. Brilliantly amusing and real, this author is a comedian as well as an explorer and has the gift of bringing his experience to life with some great toilet humour we can all identify with! Highly recommend!
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on 1 April 2014
I enjoyed ‘Voodoo, Slaves and White Man’s Graves’ very much and had difficulty putting it down. Tom Coote’s descriptive prowess gives the reader the feeling of actually being there as he moves through West Africa, never shying away from the gritty side of the dark continent. In addition to detailing his adventures (which are often laced with humour), Coote discusses the history of various aspects of African culture, as well as the current state of the place. This gives the book an edifying aspect that is so often lacking in books of this nature. All in all, an excellent book and a must read for any would-be African adventurer.
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on 18 April 2014
This is a book that should be read by policymakers not just travelers. An incisive, intelligent and depressing account of how a combination of globalization and local traditions have adversely affected people living in West Africa. How do you reconcile protecting the local environment with the desire of individuals for the lifestyles they see on tv and the internet and how can peoples' standard of living be raised in the face of the vested interests of local elites and the ideological preconceptions of international charities and aid agencies
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on 27 May 2014
A fascinating study of budget travel in West Africa, on a relentless diet of mainly omelettes and stale biscuits! There is laugh out loud humour in his day to day adventures and piercing insights on foreign aid, the big business of volunteer agencies and politics. There is much that is factual - slavery, disease, history - but all of it presented in an interesting, accessible way. I enjoyed it enormously. It came to me as a freebie but after reading it cover to cover I shall be seeking out Tom's previous book, Tearing Down The Silk Road.
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on 26 August 2014
Having recently completed a 4 week trip/slog through East Africa, I was interested to see how West Africa compared. Seems it's not a lot different!, with tales of poor food, pointless bureaucracy, crappy infrastructure and an overpriced tourist industry. On the plus side, it's an entertaining read, delivered with a dry sense of humour, mixed in with a decent amount of historical fact, without becoming tedious. I'm sure a lot of the situations in the book seemed funnier in retrospect than at the time though!. All in all a good read.
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on 9 May 2014
I loved this book. Anyone who likes to read about the ups and downs of travelling abroad - the difficulties of getting visas, finding somewhere to stay, finding transport and guides to assist - will enjoy this book. It reminded me of my travels there - though not backpacking as Tom did. It is very easy to read and there is just sufficient history and background to absorb without being bogged down with facts. Thoroughly recommend. Am now on the look out for his book about the Silk Route.
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on 9 October 2015
A great read for anyone going to west Africa. Very trenchant observation of what is going on and how things function there. Amusing, too, although the abrasive humour might not be for everyone. Things don't seem to have changed since I was there years ago.
One is also given a good sense of the countries and the feel of where the author was.Should be prescribed reading for all who are thinking of visiting.
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