I’ve been a big fan of Scottish actor Ewan McGregor since first seeing him in the movie Shallow Grave in 1995 and discovered his best mate Charley Boorman, son of English film director, John Boorman, in the movie he made with Ewan (where they first met) called The Serpent’s Kiss (1997). Of course I didn’t know that the two men were best friends until I saw their television documentary series about their first motorcycle journey around the world together called Long Way Round on DVD. Being a motorcycle (although I admit I don’t ride but would like to learn) and travel lover, I was very excited by their 20,000 mile trip from London, England to New York City via Europe, Siberia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Alaska and Canada and became absolutely enchanted with the obvious love, humor, respect and camaraderie between these two incredibly gifted, spirited and adventurous motorcycle enthusiasts and UNICEF ambassadors.
When I heard that Charley and Ewan were going to film a second television series called Long Way Down about their almost 15,000 mile ride on May 12, 2007 from John O’Groat’s, Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa (in 85 days), I couldn’t wait to see it! It aired on the National Geographic channel earlier this year and sadly I don’t get the channel so I had to wait until I could get the DVD which I now have. I still can’t wait to see it because this time I decided to read the book, Long Way Down, first and then watch the DVD.
The book (and DVD), available through Chapters.Indigo.ca, is a very well written, extremely interesting and enthusiastic travel journal with Charley and Ewan taking turns sharing their impressions of and emotions about the various places they visited on their trip, including France, Italy, Sicily, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia (Ewan’s personal favourite), Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. It also has 48 pages of beautiful colour photos which document many important moments along the way including their stop at the ancient city of Leptis Magna in Libya, the great pyramids in Alexandria, Egypt, meeting an Ethiopian man named Teslu who lost his leg when he stepped on a mine buried on his doorstep, reaching the Tropic of Capricorn and Ewan meeting a baby rhino named Lola.
We discover that Ewan is an animal lover who would love to have his own wildlife sanctuary but he doesn’t care for riding through sand and Charley, the stronger bike rider of the two (he rode the Dakar, don’t you know!), popped a wheelie at the border crossing into every new country they entered. Ewan’s wife Eve joined them in Malawi to ride with them for a week, much to Ewan’s delight, and Charley’s wife Ollie and his daughters Doone and Kinvara met them at the finish line in Cape Town along with Ewan’s parents and brother Colin. We also learn about their favourite charities and some of the people assisted by them who touched their hearts, as they stopped to visit and raise awareness for them along the way, including the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland, Riders For Health and UNICEF.
An excerpt from the final chapter, A Motorcycle Diary, courtesy of Charley:
CHARLEY: On the outskirts we pulled over and draped the Scottish flag Ewan’s nephew had given us across the back of Ewan’s bike. I could hear him singing ‘O Flower of Scotland’ and then we were on the last leg, cruising through the streets to the Arabella Sheraton. I thought about a final wheelie but strangely perhaps I was more reflective. The enormity of what we’d been able to achieve began to sweep over me, brought home I think by the little bit of gravel we’d ridden to get to the very tip of the continent at Cape Agulhas. I was suddenly humbled, a little bit of dirt where we stood on the pegs and stuck our elbows out. I thought of the Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, I thought of Zambia, Tanzania: all those gnarly, muddy, sandy, potholed roads. It occurred to me that ten years from now, five even, those roads would be gone, buried for all time under tarmac. The Africa Ewan and I had ridden through would be changed forever.
I defy anyone who loves travel, motorcycles and adventure to not utterly love this book, as well as the television series, and if you haven’t already fallen in love with the beautiful souls that are Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, you will! There are rumors of a possible Long Way Up series which their fans will wait for with anticipation and in the meantime, Charley has already filmed the hit BBC show By Any Means in which he travels by various modes of transport from Wicklow, Ireland to Sydney, Australia. Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor have changed the face of television travel documentaries forever!
YouTube brings you a 9½ minute preview of Long Way Down: