Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Longest Journey

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Longest Journey

Article excerpt

Since Magellan stumbled on them while in search of the East Indies, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego have long attracted other travellers with ulterior motives. Most never planned to stay; Brian Keenan and John McCarthy are among the few who truly wanted to be there. As hostages imprisoned in Beirut for four years, they fantasised about raising yaks on the distant plains of Patagonia, at the end of the Earth, to create hope in near hopeless captivity.

Five years after their release they went to Chilean Patagonia to discover what they had only dreamed about. This book unites two splendid accounts of the weeks they spent travelling from north to farthest south, through the longest country in the world. It was also the end of a much longer personal odyssey.

The most unusual episode in their journey, under the leadership of a notoriously intrepid guide, was a week's trek on horses across high Andean passes into Argentina. Heading south again across the frontier between Chile and the land of the Araucanian Indians, never conquered by Spain, the travellers eventually reached the Beagle Channel, in the extreme south of the continent, and finally the windswept (but potentially yak-friendly) shores of the Magellan Straits.

Their progress follows the natural pattern of all travel books about Chile, but much of the appeal of their account is that it comprises the views of two people who understand each other so extraordinarily well. So we have images of Chile from different angles and in different dimensions, revealing the kinds of truths about the self that often stay submerged.

The same applies to the authors' views of recent Chilean history. Strong political strands inevitably run through the book, although it was written before the arrest of General Pinochet put the issue of human rights in Chile back into the headlines. …

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