The Lunatic Express – Discovering the World… via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes

Steve Skabrat from Escape from Cube Land
India Train
Aircon Class by Peter Holroyd

About the Reviewer:

This book has been reviewed, for your reading pleasure, by Steve Skabrat of Escape from Cube Land. As described in his blog feature, Steve admits he’s a “meat & potatoes” kind of guy. He’s also one who is ready to give up the “meat & potatoes” cube life for something more exciting. Hmmm… Could be travel… Well, only if he can find tasty food, figure out directions and how to leave the very large iguana statue to fend for itself. Now we know he also likes to read (maybe to the iguana).

Lunatic Express

The Review:

Some people might think Carl Hoffman is a lunatic. Hoffman is a veteran contributing editor to various magazines. I’m not sure what his agent and editor thought when he pitched them on his latest idea, traveling around the world on the most dangerous modes of transportation. Whatever they thought, they bought it and Hoffman took off from New York City in a bus to Canada. That doesn’t sound too dangerous, depending on the time of year. However, it got worse from there, as Hoffman takes notoriously dangerous rides in South America, Africa, and Asia. I hope he had his life insurance policy fully paid up.

The trains in Mumbai are death traps for some riders on a daily basis. They even have morticians whose job is to handle the train casualties.

A few of the conveyances were fascinating. Hoffman’s day spent with a taxi called a matatu in Nairobi was the most interesting. The efforts the taxi drivers go through every day to survive are simply amazing. He rode an overloaded ferry in Senegal along the same route where a ferry had sunk some years before, taking 1,800 lives. A multi-day ferry ride in Indonesia made me shudder at the lack of comfort for the passengers. My back hurt just thinking about sleeping night after night on a linoleum covered wooden bench. Yet thousands of Indonesians ride these old ferries to move between islands. The trains in Mumbai are death traps for some riders on a daily basis. They even have morticians whose job is to handle the train casualties. Hoffman’s craziest trip involved driving across Afghanistan in a war zone.

Hoffman’s narrative bogs down in a few places, but overall this is a compelling story that reminds us that many in the world are not fortunate enough to have safe transportation. Millions of people are on the move, using whatever transportation is available and affordable. In comparison, as westerners we’re spoiled with the modern transportation available to us.

Despite the dangers, everywhere Hoffman goes he meets friendly people. No matter what the circumstances, people around the world like to meet an American. It’s up to us to respond appropriately.

Broadway Books, published 2010, 286 pages.

Editor’s notes: This article contains affiliate links.

Buy now on Amazon: The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World . . . via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes
This book is also available in paperback and Kindle versions.

About the author:

From software engineer to patent attorney to (thinking about becoming a) digital nomad, Steve Skabrat writes about his travels on Escape from Cube Land.

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Discussion »

  • #1Lisa

    This sounds like a good book. I’ll have to pick up a copy. Maybe by living vicariously through Hoffman I can experience his choice of travel modes and then, for myself, just get on a plane.

  • #2Gretchen

    Lisa, don’t forget to take Steve with you. (Then again, I’ve read his blog.) Ask to borrow his copy, unless he’s already lost it or loaned it out and it’s never to be seen again. LOL!!

  • #3Andrew

    I’ve been through Mumbai a couple times, never rode the trains but sure had some life or death experiences in the three wheeled taxis and being driven around by my crazy friend in his bald tired Ambassador.

    I live in Turkey now and have had some near death experiences on public transport in this country as well. Make sure you travel with someone you can trust no matter where you go, or take out some good life insurance :) .

  • #4Thomas

    I never have been to Mumbai but is on my list of things to do. I live in Bali Indonesia and had an odd experience getting hit by a motorbike while seated in a park car. Lucky I had great global medical insurance and a trusted driver!

  • #5Natalie

    That picture just resembles pure madness. Either that or a desperate need to get to a certain destination.

  • #6Nelly

    I can call it adventurism. I myself would like to experience it to see if i am tough enough to survive. I admire these people who are survivors in this kind of environment. Yet, no matter how unlucky they are they are friendly. They have no hatred in their hearts.

  • #7Geoff Clarke

    Great review – the photo is amazing! I saw recently that Indonesia is going to hang large concrete balls over train tracks to knock off ‘train surfers’ – rail travel just got a little more dangerous! Geoff

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