“Walking the Nile”
By Levison Wood
Atlantic Monthly Press (338 pages, $26)
In becoming the first person to walk the Nile River’s length of more than 6,500 kilometers, explorer and ex-British soldier Levison Wood does more than cross footsteps with noted Victorian predecessors such as David Livingstone and Richard Burton.
He also traces a nine-month journey through the contradictions of African life -- cacophonous cities and expanses of barely trod landscapes offset by the greed and corruption of those with power. He treks past haunting reminders of Rwandan genocide. He yields extortionate fees for supplies. He deplores national preserves stripped illegally for timber or wildlife. He laments the taming of stretches of the river for hydro power. He threads his way through tribal and civil conflict, counseled by a changing cast of local guides.
The Nile cedes its wonders grudgingly. Wood wades paddies and hummocky swamps for days. One of two freelance journalists who join him dies within days of hyperthermia as temperatures hit 120 degrees in the Ugandan savannah. The small party with which he crosses the Saharan desert comes perilously close to expiring for lack of water. He learns to dodge a rhino charge by climbing upward. He and a guide run a gauntlet on a strip of beach as crocodiles dash out of the underbrush.
Wood survives these trials to bring us the initial first-person account of the Nile from spring to delta with a travelogue vivid enough to feel the burning sands in our soles.(TNS)