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To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism    by Chuck Thompson order for
To Hellholes and Back
by Chuck Thompson
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2009 (2009)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Chuck Thompson's definition of hellholes includes the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Mexico City, and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Like many readers who are attracted to this paperback by its garish cover (a hot orange background highlights a human skull peering through binoculars and decked out in a straw hat), I don't necessarily agree with the hellhole label the author pins on three of these four locations.

That doesn't mean, though, that I didn't find this fast flowing travel memoir an enjoyable read. Thompson's conversational tone coupled with his acerbic wit and the sardonic, often off color commentary make this a very entertaining book.

For example, the author's description of riding on a camel compares the experience to 'sitting atop a washing machine that's churning with an uneven load'. And, in his diatribe about Disney World, Thompson describes the amusement park as 'a fabricated dream patch plopped in the middle of a morally rudderless state of bogus elections with half-baked citizenry who think absolutely nothing of supporting an idiotic fifty-year embargo of Cuba'. Ouch!

After reading a quarter of the book, it becomes clear that the author's hellholes are not as bad as one would think. Yes, the Congo does present some interesting challenges, but India, Mexico and Orlando are far from the extreme venues that the title promised.

Although he expects to encounter kidnappers and other dangerous situations in Mexico City and is prepared to sneer at Disney World's attractions, Thompson actually tempers his criticism as he describes his experiences in these places.

As he looks back in the book's epilogue at his year of travel and derring-do, the author says that he found his African sojourn the Most Memorable. Correspondingly, India was the Most Exotic place he visited while Mexico City was the Most Fun. The biggest surprise of all, though, was designating Disney World as the Most Congenial of all the hellholes he visited.

Armchair travelers as well as seasoned travelers will revel in Chuck Thompson's adventures and his candid commentary. Obviously those who have actually been to the Congo, India, Mexico City or Orlando's Disney World may take issue with some of Thompson's assessments but, no matter, this isn't a travel book about where to stay or find the best restaurants and stores.

It is certainly not necessary to agree with the author's opinions to enjoy this narrative. He's a talented storyteller with a wicked sense of humor and that's more than enough to make this a highly enjoyable read!

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

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