Book review: Tortillas to totems by Sam Manicom



I have now read all of Sam Manicom’s books.

A lot of my articles try to get rid of this myth that travel is all glamour. There are far too many Instafreaks out there who make travel look easy. One of the things I always wonder while looking at their posts is, who took the damn pictures? I don’t know of any “normal” human being who constantly travels with a photographer, while actively trying to hide/ignore his presence.

Travel is not a leisure activity, unless you are a tourist on a weekend getaway. Travel takes motivation, sacrifice, compromise, planning, and long-term thinking, and there’s nobody I know who is better at these qualities than Sam.

Imagine yourself in his shoes. You have to travel the world on a tiny budget, deal with all the issues on the way, being shot at, crashing in the middle of a desert, and almost getting infected by HIV. On top of this day-to-day fun you have to maintain a journal, plan ahead to book flights and ferries, keep your bike in shape, and arrive at decisions that could completely alter the direction of your life. Once this is all done somehow, you have to compile the journals into books, find a publisher, publish the books, narrate them yourself to publish audiobooks, and promote yourself to build a living.

If he had applied this incredible level of motivation and discipline to a “normal” job, he’d be a billionaire.

He doesn’t depend on sponsors, he doesn’t do controversial things to gain fame, and he sells stories, not himself. There aren’t many like him in today’s motorcycle travel ecosystem, and the number of his kind is depressingly going down.

I read a lot of books, and I am a quick reader. However, I don’t think I have ever finished a book this quickly. The time spent between downloading Tortillas to totems on Audible and finishing it was roughly 24 hours. It’s not a small book by any standard, but that should tell you a bit about how interesting it is.

I will not detail the details of the book here, you should read it yourself. What I can assure you is that it’s an easy book to absorb, with simple language, structure, and expression. I wish I had read the physical book, audiobooks can’t show you pictures and sketches, but I couldn’t have read the physical book the way I listened to the Audible one, while on a 1200 km drive in my car. I think that was part of the reason why I enjoyed it so much, being on the road put his words into perspective. I was sad when it ended, I had another 300 kms to go, Nietzsche’s philosophy did improve the mood a little, but I missed the simplicity of Sam.

Read this book for the adventure, read it for the knowledge, and read it for the harsh reality of travel.

You can pick it up from his site, or buy it on Audible like I did.

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  1. Roger Spackman

    Sam is a incredible storyteller, and the fact that he narrates his own audiobooks just shows how great he is at it. While Sam does show the difficulties faced by travelling, what I consider the greatest aspect of his stories is how great people are in general. How many times a complete stranger offered to help Sam out of a bind, or just shared a special moment in some way.

    1. AK

      He has some special skills for sure.