Michele Mele reviews Jupiter’s travels, by Ted Simon
In the era of coronavirus, when lockdown and social distancing measures have changed our perception of time and space, the world appears even bigger and more scary. But many of us have rediscovered the desire and the pleasure of travelling from the comfort of our own homes: is there anything better than books to contemplate faraway places that we might never visit in person?
From the colonial Zimbabwe to the multifaceted cities of India, from the boiling revolution of Mozambique to the still very actual situation of native South American populations: this was the more than 100,000 km trip that English journalist Ted Simon undertook during the roaring 70s on his Triumph motorcycle. The route he designed around the globe started and ended in London, after four years of incredible adventures and life changing experiences. Masterfully collected in Jupiter’s Travels, this sadly underestimated book has always been considered merely a work for bikers, but it is much more than that.
At a first sight, Simon’s journey could seem simply a challenge to human resistance, a non-needed proof of resilience. But the author himself points out on various occasions that the aim of this experience is not just drawing a rough circle on the surface of our planet, but the journey itself. He wanted to feel the breath of the earth under his feet, or the wheels of his bike; he was looking for true images, meetings and landscapes that no plane could offer.
The generosity of the poor people of Sudan, ready to share every grain of the little food they had with him; the absurdity of the oppressive white fist on the former African colonies of European countries; the damages of extreme capitalism and the shameful racism against indigenous peoples. All effortlessly flow through the pages on an enchanting and atmospheric carousel of vividly painted landscapes from the five continents. It is not a grim reading; indeed, it sparks a light, not only on the aspects of humanity that seem always to be the same, but also on everyday psychology.
The effects of this once-in-a-lifetime journey on the traveller’s mind are beautifully delivered without getting repetitive, maybe because they cover the whole spectrum of familiar sensations we could feel during our perhaps not-so-adventurous lives. The sublime beauty of deserts and mountains and the kaleidoscopic music of changing languages sets the stage for a profound reflection on who we are and where we want to go, which kind of society we want to build and how we might achieve it.
Of course, Simon’s route was full of misadventures and scary moments – such as being trapped in a Brazilian prison for weeks – but a sense of universal gratitude oozes from the entire work. He toured the world on a bike and came back to share his experiences with us; the gratitude must be reciprocal.
There is no better moment to come across this hidden masterpiece of contemporary English literature. It reminds us that, whilst grounded at home, everyone can step back from reality for a while and follow the twists and turns, the ups and downs of this unbelievable trip – accessing myriad inspirations that could help to reshape some of the misconceptions we might have, and to provide inspiration for future travels when the world will once again look safe and accessible.