Equator: A Journey (1988)
[An] extraordinary book… rich substance — color, variety, humor, Mr. Clarke is an observer with a keen eye for oddity and the significant detail.
—The New Yorker
Widely considered a jewel of contemporary travel literature, Equator is Thurston Clarke’s magnificent, witty account of his solo journey along the Earth’s torrid midsection—a grueling, 25,000-mile odyssey that spanned three years and four continents. His was a perilous trek across an almost surreal landscape—where a first-class hotel appeared in the middle of a leper colony and a one-time Pacific island paradise stood as a hideous bomb-blasted testament to nuclear folly. Along the way Clarke encountered the world’s heaviest rat, the Earth’s highest volcano, and the king of a Micronesian island wearing flip-flops and a novelty t-shirt. Throughout, Clarke’s unflagging sense of humor and wonder make Equator a classic of its kind.
More Reviews of Equator
“Clarke is cosmopolitan, his book dazzlingly rich and humorous — with just that shade of awe and folly seen in all the best travel books.”
—The Sunday Times (London)
“It is hard to convey the flavor of this lively, stirring, challenging, well-written book… You simply dive in and emerge…quite breathless with admiration.”
—The Bulletin (Australia)
“Clarke’s writing is magnificent and his mesmerizing account is sure to become a classic of American travel literature.”
—Dallas Morning News
“Clarke writes with a fine combination of wit, grace and attentiveness… There is a rare sense of having learned more about our world, of gaining in wisdom. This is a fine book…”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“One of the most vivid, incisive and witty travel books in years… an endless succession of racy, clear-sighted, entertaining and informative sketches.”
—Times Literary Supplement (London)
“The writing is brilliant: seething with vitality, swarming with portraits of unforgettable equatorial inhabitants.”
“A splendid read — well written, packed with adventure, oddities, graphic descriptions and serious musings.”
—Sunday Express (London)
“Glorious travel reporting… a vital description that ranks with the very best of travel writing.”
“Wonderfully evocative prose… tales and impressions delight even the most jaded armchair traveler.”
“At last a book in the glorious tradition of prewar travel reportage. No newspapers, and certainly not television, have given us such vivid testimony… Since Hemingway, no one has really. Bravo.”
My clothes are exhausted, thin as silk from being slapped on rocks and scorched by irons heated over charcoal. I slip them on and smell, I think, the equator: sweat, charcoal, and low tide.
I liked our stops for fuel and beer. We paused in a courtyard where three generations of a family swung in identical hammocks, singing in unison with the radio. We threw dice in a country store that filled with children who begged sweets and swung on my legs. We blinked our headlights to summon a ferry. It carried us across a black river that upstream, the captain said, ran thick with gold. He unknotted a handkerchief displaying a ‘nugget’ the size of a peppercorn. We ate omelets in a candlelit bar where Jose filled one yellow jerry can with better and the other with alcohol fuel and insisted it did not matter if he confused them. He and his truck could run on either.
At night Mbandaka was cooler, darkness hid the decay, and I saw only what was white or lighted: the white paint on the trunks of the royal palms, the lamplit faces of the boy merchants sleep on their cigarettes and gum, and people sitting in witches’ circles around the fires of outdoor restaurants in Revolution Park. Everywhere I smelled laundry soap—on other pedestrians, near the stalls where it was sold in unwrapped blocks, in alleyways hung with drying clothes. If you gave the citizens of Mbandaka a handicap based on the price of soap and the erratic water supply, they might rank with the Dutch in cleanliness.
Muqdisho was a city impossible to confuse with any other, the only Italianate, Muslim, nomadic, desert, coastal city in East Africa. Being both coastal and desert, its steady wind was gritty with sand and sticky with salt, and everywhere I heard a chorus of dry mouths coughing and spitting. Being Muslim, it had crenellated walls, thick-walled houses with peephole windows, purdah screens ratting in the wind, a dark-skinned and traditionally abused slave caste, strings of colored lights, and nasal songs booming from its radios. Having been Italian, it had twin campaniles on a small cathedral, a triumphal arch dedicated to King Umberto, and houses stuccoed in faded pastels. ..It was the most attractive capital I have seen in Africa, and also the most exotic, a place where narcotic-chewing nomads in skirts mumbled ‘ciao’ and ‘buona sera’ while squatting underneath a sign saying HA DHUMIL XAQAAGA EE DOORD, an exhortation to vote.
We drove to London (Christmas Island) on an asphalt road covered with squashed crabs. Tekeira was a Buddhist about them, swerving to avoid hitting them, although the next day I learned the fishing guides often wagered which crabs their trucks would miss, so perhaps he was playing solitaire. London was a desert oasis, with palm groves, a limitless sky, and stifling silence. Every rooster, crying baby, and motorbike shocked like a fire alarm. Everywhere was proof that a satisfying life could be fashioned from coconuts and military scrap. Women baked bread in petrol drums, using coconut husks for fuel. Boys played tennis on the abandoned court of the officer’s club, dashing barefoot across its crushed coral surface. Men earned wages cutting coconuts and storing copra in warehouses still bearing signs like MOTOR POOL. People lived in cottages sided with salvaged wood and roofed in salvaged tin. Outside each was a heap of coils sheet metal, and lumber.
At the beginning, I had imagined the equator as a circle of monuments, the center of a shrinking green frontier, or a heavy rope connecting volcanoes, jungles, and atolls. But now I would remember it as a necklace of people, all scheming how to make the best of their ‘one and only precious lives.’