Book Review: In a Sunburned Country

In a Sunburned CountryIf you’ve always wanted to go to Australia but haven’t had a chance, reading In a Sunburned Country is the next best thing. Bill Bryson presents a thorough and humorous look at a country that remains mysterious to most of us.

As Bryson goes off the beaten track to thoroughly explore this vast country–the cities, the deserts, the outback, the tropics–he takes the reader along, even when conditions aren’t that comfortable or convenient.

It’s obvious that Bryson loves Austrailia and I’ve now had the pleasure, through him, to appreciate its uniqueness. His historical and trivial facts are enlightening and enrich his story.

Although he’s not the most organized traveler, it’s fun to laugh at Bryson’s ineptitude and his ability to poke fun at himself. During his travels, he has at times a sidekick and those encounters add spice to the adventure.

I especially enjoyed vicariously visiting places so often mentioned such as the Great Barrier Reef, Alice Springs, the Gold Coast. At times I laughed out loud with his historical asides, observations, and wry humor. Bryson doesn’t strictly stick to the usual touristy cultural icons, but delves into the weird and wacky, too.

Reaching many of the remote places involves hours of travel by car. Searching for a radio station for distraction to while away the miles, Bryson finds only one station, a cricket match. His description of that match is hilarious.

If you want to learn more about Australia and have some good laughs along the way, read In a Sunburned Country. It’s a treasure.


An African Encounter with Hippopotamus

HippoFrom: Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

One of our big goals while serving with the Peace Corps in The Gambia was to visit Niokolo Koba National Park in Senegal. We were able to take the 3-day trip with two other couples, US AID people who had a vehicle at their disposal.

The drive getting to the park was long, hot and dusty. After some viewing, we were ready to call it a day and make the next day our main viewing day.

Camping was allowed only in designated areas and we found the camps spartan but adequate. On our first night, the riverside camp had a round grass-roof hut and a cooking hut with a bench. The hut nicely held four people so Bruce and I elected to pitch our borrowed tent outside.

After getting that hot work done, we couldn’t wait to cool off in the river. The six of us rushed into the river and gave a collective sigh of relief. I heard yelling and looked up to see the park ranger frantically waving for us to get out. “What? Get out? We just got here!”

We didn’t want to get into trouble, so we reluctantly climbed out of the river and up the bank, not yet really cooled off. Once he saw us safely out of the water, he pointed upriver. There, we saw a family of hippos, their tiny ears and eyes reflecting red showing just above the surface of the water. Oops. Guess it was the wrong time of day to be cooling off in the river.

As we climbed into our tent later that night, I said to my husband Bruce, “I don’t suppose this little tent is much protection from those hippos.”

“There isn’t room for two more in the hut.”

“I suppose we could set the tent up in the cooking hut.”

“Forget it. I don’t have the steam.” With that, he fell sound asleep.

Oh, well, I thought, and immediately drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, we saw dozens of big, flat hippo footprints leading from the river through the campground. Those huge animals had walked within two feet of our little tent, leaving footprints the size of turkey platters.