The Lunatic Express

Carl Hoffman

The Lunatic Express

“I can't say I'd ever had much of a desire to go to Bangladesh, but its ferries were the stuff of legend. There were a lot of them and they sank. All the time. The statistics were horrific, some 20,000 ferries plying 24,000 kilometers of inland waters and only 8,000 of which were registered, and of those, only 20 percent were officially 'fit to operate.' More people died on ferries in Bangladesh than on ferries anywhere else – some 1,000 a year (between 1904 and 2003 there were exactly zero passenger fatalities on U.S. Ferries)....It was one thing to read about Bangladesh and those ferries and another to see it and experience it firsthand.”

So writes Carl Hoffman, author of The Lunatic Express, one man's tale of spending five months circumnavigating the globe by way of it most dangerous means of transportation: the deadliest trains, the slowest buses, the most crowded ferries, and the statistically most dangerous airlines. He did this, according to the book's dust jacket, in order to gain an understanding of what travel really means to 99 percent of the world's people in the farthest reaches of the planet.

He continues writing about his time in Bangladesh:

“But the river. The Burganga River fulfilled my image of a romantic eastern port like nowhere I'd ever seen. You could almost walk across it on the thousands of wooden pinnaces powered by a single scull. Boats are form and function, their vernacular – if untainted by fiberglass, as these weren't – are design perfection borne of local water knowledge. Seventy-foot carriers with high bows and waists nearly at the waterline puttered past equally small wooden water taxis packed with women in blue and gold and red saris. Crumbling slums elbowed hard against the banks, 500,000 souls, our boatman said, in the immediate area. Heat and smoke. Laundry drying on the concrete banks. Incomprehensible numbers of people....But to pass the days with the poor was something else. I sat up, gazed into the darkness. We slid past a boat with no lights at all, just a black shadow, its gunwales underwater, the dim outlines of figures standing in the stern. The deeper I pushed, the harder it was to know them, the more ignorant, curious, and powerless I was. Each was a world unto its own that I could glimpse but never know.”

If you've ever had the desire to get away from the familiar, the known, and travel into the wholly foreign, this book might be a good introduction. Take a ride on The Lunatic Express, and be sure to read all about it!

Copyright 2010, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.