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••• The International Writers Magazine: Travel Writing

Shadow Trails
Adventures in Dark Tourism by Tom Coote
Publisher: Wicked World (Hardback)
ISBN: 978 -1-78808 -765-0
• Sam North review

Chernobyl may not be your first destination of choice in the Ukraine and if you ask anyone about it they remember abandoned fairgrounds and nuclear meltdowns.  What they may not know is that only 31 people died on the day when the nuclear reactor blew its head off (due to gas explosions).

Shadow Trails

They claim less than 50 of the firefighters and nuclear workers died trying to cap the reactor. (Although there are many unknowns I suspect years later).  That Tom Coote wants to go on holiday there is interesting.  It’s a place taken over by wild animals that seem to thrive without people there to disrupt their lives.  Martin Cruz Smith wrote a pretty decent Renko novel set in Chernobyl (Wolves Eat Dogs 2004) and Tom’s Coote account of the locale seems to chime well with the fiction.  Only now instead of forbidden there are tours of the exclusion zone (130 Euros a trip) and you can traipse around the abandoned schools and fairgrounds in kind of dystopian daze or as Tom calls it  - a live Call of Duty experience.
Whether it’s a week in the Turkmenistan capital city Ashgabat – certainly not a tourist hotspot and do check to see if the toilet you are sitting on is connected to the sewer system… or a trip to Bogotá, Columbia, newly fashionable in a post-Escobar situation – these are not necessarily places that are good for your health.  However there are now Escobar themed day tours – see where they killed their victims, pose with guns for the cameras.  Bogotá is also a city of 5000 graffiti murals – officially sanctioned now and perhaps because of that lose their power.

Tom also visits Sudan and the Meroé Pyramids where riding a camel seems to be compulsory and there are more ticket sellers than tourists – Tom just being the one.  I particularly liked his article on Algeria – written well before the latest unrest in the region – starting with a manic taxi ride along a cliffside whilst the driver is trying to fix his phone.

Shadow Trails is witty, well observed, nicely photographed with striking images – these are adventures in hell and I for one am happy that Tom Coote is willing to go there on our behalf so we don’t have to.  The last and longest piece if his take on the Promised Land in Israel. Thoughtful, not afraid to be critical and he's there the moment an attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem had just taken place, he remains the determined tourist and gives us a good background to why and who is actually living there.

Tom has written a compelling travel book that is refreshingly candid to read.  His travel, whether alone or with his wife, is not sponsored by anyone but himself.

Tom Coote is the author of the splendid Tearing up the Silk Road and Voodoo Slaves and White Man’s Graves.

© Sam North - Author of Another Place to Die: Endtime Chronicles
December 2017

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