Chloe Osborne reviews the next big hit in travel literature, The Jolly Pilgrim by Peter Baker
The Jolly Pilgrim is the debut of travel enthusiast and worldly philosopher Peter Baker, and is the perfect reading material to get any travel fiend’s blood pumping. This meaty travel memoir chronicles Baker’s fascinating two year journey across Europe by bicycle, to Istanbul, through Asia to India, hitch-hiking through Australia, South America’s highlights, and finally ending in Guyana. Along the way Baker recounts tales of the strange mix of eccentrics and dreamers that he meets, of the friends he makes, of the books he reads, and of his growing attraction for making small talk with inanimate objects in his lonelier moments, firstly his bike Nelly and then his tent, Nguthungulli, meaning “father of the whole world” in Koori.
A collation of emails that Baker sent home during his long journey, and inserts from the Big Black Diary that he carried along with him, the narrative progresses with his own sociological, anthropological and philosophical musings about the state of human kind, our increasingly globalised societies, our ancient history, and his own infectiously optimistic argument that basically, it’s all going to be ok. Baker concocts his thesis during moments of isolation along his journey, and narrates how he began to put The Jolly Pilgrim together as his ideas came together, and as his experiences of the modern world fed into his growing hypothesis about the future of human civilisation.
As he travels further and further out of his comfort zone Baker is able to lead the freewheeling life of a travelling “neo-hippy” and explore the far flung corners of the earth with the locals. On route, he makes it his mission to read the key religious texts, which he evaluates objectively, and ponders about their places in the modern world. His wonderfully evocative descriptions of Machu-Pichu, Sydney, Tuscany, Angkor Wat, Calcutta and Buenos Aires are enough to make the readers want to book themselves onto the next plane to anywhere and immerse themselves in the cultures and colours that he so eloquently portrays in his book. The sheer magnitude of experiences that he describes seems incredible, as does his ability to apparently remember the names and appearances of over 1000 people that he met along the way... but I guess that’s what the Big Black Diary was for.
Baker’s narrates his pilgrimage in such an amusing, optimistic and high spirited fashion, that it will surely inspire a new generation of travel fans to follow his lead, and decide for themselves that not only is world travel a fascinating, mind opening, stimulating experience, but that an active interest in the history and trends of global population is a worthwhile and enthralling study. Despite enduring theft, dehydration, loneliness, heartbreak, and even unexpectedly contracting a bee allergy, when Baker emerges in Guyana, he has fulfilled a pilgrim’s destiny, and is happily expectant of a better future for humanity.
This was a truly, mind blowing read, and I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in travel, although do take care, as it may cause a tendency to throw down your nearest ring binder and declare that you must leave immediately for similar travel experiences. Baker’s evaluation of the world today is both fascinating and insightful, and I can certainly see this becoming a Bible in its own right for anyone with a tendency to see themselves as a world citizen, eco friendly hippy type. This book really is going to go places...