Catherine Ryan Howard prefers bath robes to bed bugs, lattes to lizards and mini-bars to malaria. So why is she going backpacking? Catherine isn’t the backpacking type. Working for one of the world’s biggest hotel chains, she and her employee discount have become accustomed to complimentary bath robes, 24-hour room service and Egyptian cotton sheets. As for holidays, Catherine likes places that encourage lying – lying on the beach, by the pool, in bed… She’s been on what feels like one long holiday in Florida when her fearless best friend, Sheelagh, announces plans to backpack across Central America. With Catherine’s US visa about to expire, her having no desire to return home to Ireland just yet and her common sense, evidently, on a day off, she agrees to go along. After all, how bad can this backpacking thing be? Um… very bad, actually. Catherine soon finds herself showering with the threat of electrocution, living with mutant cockroaches, sleeping on wooden planks, suffering from all but one of the side-effects listed on her bottle of anti-malarial tablets (liver failure, in case you were wondering) and riding a horse up the side of a smoking, lava-filled volcano. And that’s just the first week. Picking up where her bestselling memoir, MOUSETRAPPED: A YEAR AND A BIT IN ORLANDO, FLORIDA left off, BACKPACKED is the wry tale of what happened when one very reluctant backpacker hit the backpacker trail and discovered that beyond the mosquitoes, bad coffee and flea-infested hostels lie bigger mosquitoes, even worse coffee and flea-infested hostels whose bathrooms have no doors.
Earlier this year I won a copy of Catherine Ryan Howard’s non-fiction book Mousetrapped on Catherine’s blog. It was just before I got my Kindle and if I hadn’t won a copy (thank you, Catherine) I was going to purchase it for my Kindle when I’d decided to get one. I’m not a big travelogue fan, for no other reason than I prefer fiction. I mean, there’s rarely a happy-ever-after, let’s-skip-off-into-the-sunset ending on a non-fiction book is there? But I really enjoyed Mousetrapped and was inordinately pleased when Catherine sent me an e-copy of its sort-of-sequel Backpacked and I finished up my current book quick as you like and dived eagerly into Backpacked.
I’m not really known as being a traveller. I’ve been on holiday to Florida – twice – to Alicante in Spain and to Tenerife, where I now live. However I would love to be a traveller. I dream of doing a road-trip across America; of visiting Australia; South America intrigues me as a place to travel, but I certainly would never go alone, that would be miles too terrifying. Backpacked allowed me to travel to South America all in the comfort of my own home! I went to Costa Rica, to Guatemala, to Honduras, to Nicagura and to Panama. It allowed me to visit all of those countries in South America and it seriously whetted my appetite for wanting to go to those countries.
Catherine Ryan Howard is our intrepid traveller, someone who prefers chilling in a 5-star hotel to backpacking through South America. But with no job, no home and nowhere else to be, Catherine figures going backpacking is going to be an adventure. And she’s going with her best friend Sheelagh, who can save Catherine from all kinds of terrible things since she’s a seasoned traveller herself! What follows is a 9-week adventure that is highly readable. At times when I was reading Mousetrapped (the predecessor to Backpacked) I found myself a bit bored with some of the longer ramblings from Catherine (I mean that nicely; the ramblings just weren’t my kinda ramblings!) but in Backpacked it’s as if Catherine has stream-lined herself and it all flows brilliantly. I was thoroughly ensconced in the book and couldn’t wait to see where Catherine and Sheelagh were going to next.
Catherine is an excellent writer. She’s scaled back on the more information-heavy paragraphs, only giving us the bare basics from books about the countries they’re visiting and it’s a much more personable read than Mousetrapped was. Catherine injected such humour into the book that I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions, particularly when Catherine travels up a mountain on a HORSE! There are many brilliant moments during Backpacked and every page was brilliant. I felt as if I was part of Catherine’s journey and she writes about the places she and Sheelagh visited so thoroughly and with so much passion that I’m tempted to hop on the next flight to Guatemala. Backpacked is just brilliant, I thoroughly enjoyed it and despite Catherine was indeed a reluctant backpacker, you can tell she did on some level enjoy it and I enjoyed reading all about it. I’d hugely recommend it to anyone, but mainly to backpackers thinking of going to South America ‘cos Catherine really knows her stuff!