Have you ever dreamed of taking a gap year out of real life in order to satisfy your wanderlust? Most of us will reply yes, of course, but few of us actually have the determination – or the guts – to follow through.

Ryan Abela is one of the few who threw the usual sensible questions – Will I get my old job back? How will I afford it? What if I hate it? – to the winds and just went for it. The good news is that he has decided to share his adventures with us in the form of a highly entertaining journal, Latin American Dreams. The bad news is that reading through it will make you terribly jealous.

There are several attractions to this book. The most obvious one is the straightforward anecdotal element – you don’t need to actually want to visit Lima or La Paz or Rio de Janeiro (though who doesn’t, really?) to enjoy this book. Through Abela’s eyes, you will meander on many an adventure, vicariously enjoying the thrills of a backpacker’s life – from the sublime, like trekking up to Machu Picchu, to the more pagan-like 24-hour partying at a hostel or getting kicked out of one of the more edgy clubs in Columbia. All this, without actually needing to go through that small inconvenience of ditching your job. Neat, right?

Simply explained, the book offers an account of Abela’s travels, backpacking through South America, kicking off in Fortaleza, Brazil, moving on to Patagonia, Peru and Colombia and gradually going further away from the beaten track to include places like Ecuador, Venezuela and... the Galapagos!

Along the way he meets a number of colourful characters, embarks on myriad adventures, goes through a couple of ‘what the hell just happened’ moments, and shares with us a number of personal stories about life back in Malta.

Let me start with the obvious: the book offers an extremely useful tool to those who are actually planning on doing something similar. For starters, Abela is very meticulous in his writing. If he is telling us how to get from Point A to Point B, he will include details about the best mode of travel, which company offers the most for the least amount of money, which hostels are the most happening, which pitfalls to avoid and even what bus number to catch.

In short, Abela’s book removes the necessity of doing hours of tedious online research for yourself – and also the possibility of getting it wrong. He generously, and very amusingly I must say, chronicles every single mishap and misadventure (happily, none too serious), so that you can avoid going through the same yourself. 

The fact that the book is written by a fellow Maltese only serves to make it an extra touch more intriguing than if it were written by an anonymous foreigner. You don’t need to know the author personally to enjoy this unexpected angle of the book – although, if you do, it then takes the entertainment factor to a whole new level, of course. But the truth is that the X-factor that makes us Maltese, and which Abela recreates so engagingly in his book, is more than enough to keep that smile on our faces while reading.

Gruta Azul in Brazil.Gruta Azul in Brazil.

Through Abela’s eyes, you will meander on many an adventure, vicariously enjoying the thrills of a backpacker’s life

And so, we learn all about Abela’s love for the festa of Marsaxlokk, his hometown – or, more specifically, his love of downing Cisk with his father in honour of said feast. An activity most of us will be familiar with, undoubtedly.

There’s the touching part where he recounts how his father ends up joining him on part of his travels, and the bonding that ensues. There are the anecdotes about life in Malta, interspersed with descriptions of amazing sceneries and wonderful travel buddies – my personal favourite is learning what went down at one of Abela’s work Christmas parties.

And, if the book could have used a bit tighter editing in some spots, this is more than made up for by the sheer, and highly infectious, joie de vivre it transmits.

Abela closes off with a glossary of all the countries he visited, the specific places he stopped at and their attractions, and spots he missed out on in case a reader would like to include them. The list includes a Tricks of the Trade section, with practical advice regarding which spots are dangerous, how much money you’d need to exchange and so forth.

I put this book down wondering why I hadn’t ever taken the plunge myself, quickly remembering why (I’m lazy), but with a huge smile on my face at having been able to enjoy a highly entertaining tour of South America with zero effort on my part.


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