I’ve travelled with Jo Carroll (virtually) a couple of times before, so I knew I was in for a treat when she decided to take a trip to Laos. Not that I had much of a clue where Laos was. No matter. It was costing me nothing (or simply the price of an ebook) and I was about to be whisked off to Laos (near Vietnam) via Thailand.
Jo has been something of an independent traveller in the past, having undertaken an exciting (sometimes too exciting?) round the world ticket gap year as a retiree; followed by a trip to Nepal, where she nearly bit off more than she could chew (or did it nearly bite her?) These trips are covered in the excellent Over the Hills and Far Away and its all too short follow up Hidden Tiger, Raging Mountain (both available and highly recommended as ebooks). In Bombs and Butterflies, because her time was short, she took the executive decision to go along (to an extent) with a tour group. Which somewhat changed the dynamics of her journey for her and gave her perhaps more restrictions than she is used to or feels completely comfortable with.
However, it didn’t change the interest for the reader. Because (at least for me) one of the most compelling things about Jo’s travel writing is that she doesn’t just wax lyrical or informative (though she’s good at both of these) about scenery and history of a place; her journey is at least as much about the people she meets as the places she goes. And I’m interested in people. All kinds of people. Be they Aussie ‘backpackers’ or Buddhist monks. Bombs and Butterflies introduces you to your fair share of both.
One of the things that puts me off travelling is the very transiency of the experience and the sense that unless one spends a lot of time in a place (something I am unable to do) you don’t really get into the skin of a place, you don’t really get to ‘know’ anything, or make anything other than superficial connections. But at one step removed, travelling vicariously with Jo, I find that I get to know more than I ever imagined (and probably more than I’d do if I travelled on my own.) I don’t think this is just because Jo is a more ‘intrepid’ traveller than I would be, I think it’s because she is as she styles herself now a ‘writer and traveller’ and she knows how to convert her experience into words that take the reader straight to the heart of the matter – be that place or person. Her observational skills are good and her eyes are 20:20! She doesn’t try to give you anything other than her own experience but that’s part of what’s so captivating. Reading Jo’s work you feel you get to know her as well as the people she’s meeting and share in her experiences along the way (all from the safety of your own couch!) That’s no easy feat.
So I can highly recommend Bombs and Butterflies as yet another episode in the ‘adventures’ of Jo Carroll. I can’t wait to know where she’s going to head off to next. I don’t go on holidays any more. I don’t need to: I travel with Jo Carroll every step of the way. Keep travelling Jo. Keep writing about it. There are two places I’d like Jo to go next: Cuba (where I’ve been) and Bolivia (where I haven’t). She’ll need to get saving those pennies.
Review by Cally Phillips