Bad Lands: A Tourist on the Axis of Evil

31 Aug 2007


Tony Wheeler, Lonely Planet, US$14.99

We are bombarded daily with images from the mass media of hardship, hatred and hideous scenes of people killed in conflicts around the world. More often than not, these pictures are from countries that have, post 9/11, been branded by Mr Bush as belonging to those nations in the Axis of Evil. Tony Wheeler, co-founder of the hugely successful travel publishing outfit, Lonely Planet, recently set out to provide a different point of view, personally visiting these countries to see really how bad they were.

Bad Lands is Wheeler’s first-hand account of his experiences as “a tourist on the axis of evil” travelling through some of the most maligned and misunderstood nations in the world.

Taking into account each country’s attitude to human rights, terrorism and foreign policy, he asks: “What makes a country truly evil?” and “How bad is really bad?” – all the while engaging with a colourful cast of locals and hapless tour guides, ruminating on history and debunking popular myths.

Equal parts irreverent travelogue and incisive social and political commentary, Wheeler visits nine nations – Afghanistan, Albania, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Saudi Arabia – and documents the challenges and delights of travel in these “bad lands” in his customary no-nonsense style.

The result is a hilarious and fascinating glimpse into countries that many of us will never visit in our lifetime, and one that provides a perfect adjunct to the way in which they are typically portrayed.

And while it is true that the people of these countries have lived or continue to live under the regimes of mad despots, a real sense of faith in humanity comes through as he meets such great collection of people during his travels.

But it is Wheeler’s jaunty style that makes the book so entertaining, providing bags of quirky information along the way – such as on one of the lesser-known dictators of our time, a certain Mr Hoxha of Albania, whose extreme paranoia led him to build over thousands of concrete bunkers throughout the country. By the time he died in 1985, there was one for every four people.

David Johnson

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