The King of Pontus, Mithradates, was a ruthless polyglot genius, who spoke 22 languages and established the basic principles of bio-warfare
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Those with travel in their blood will let little stand in their way. As I write this, my deeply diabetic father is exploring Dubrovnik, armed with travel packs for his daily dialysis treatment. Similarly, Frank Gardner refuses to let being wheelchair-bound hinder his desire for adventure.
Gardner’s story is well known: he is the BBC Security Correspondent and fluent Arabic speaker who was shot by al-Qaeda militants while on assignment in Saudi Arabia in 2004. He lost the use of his legs, but not his thirst for travel.
His book is Far Horizons: Unusual Journeys and Strange Encounters from a Travelling Life, which documents his travels before and after the attack, opening with a description of skiing in the Alps as part of a teenage military training course, and winds up with a wheelchair-bound backpacking journey (of sorts) in Cambodia.
From volcano-climbing in Sumatra to visiting a Tokyo S&M club, Gardner has a deft, lightly humorous touch when it comes to retelling travel anecdotes. Thanks to copious note-taking, he takes us deep inside what it was like to be a Brit travelling in Warsaw Pact-era Budapest, in Moscow as glasnost was beginning to take hold, and Djibouti, just months after the Black Hawk Down incident in neighbouring Somalia.
The book is peppered with detailed drawings, revealing Gardner to be as adept with a sketchbook as he is at storytelling. Best of all, his yarns are never laboured nor overdone: his stories are like having a conversation with a quietly witty friend.
He touches on the events surrounding his injuries — something he delved into more deeply in his first book, Blood and Sand — but it’s an unsentimental, unemotional retelling. For anyone to be cut down like this is an immense tragedy, even more so for one as active and adventurous as Gardner. It takes solid determination and grit to do what he’s done since that fateful day in 2004: scuba diving in the Sinai, exploring Angkor Wat, an assignment on kidnapping in Colombia. While he acknowledges none of this has been easy, nor dignified, he quietly makes the point, via his actions, that there is life beyond disaster.
“This book does, I hope, carry some message of inspiration to all those who have taken a terrific knock backwards that despite a catastrophic blow like being shot and paralysed, life does go on and you can still take an active part in it,” says Gardner in the foreword.
Far Horizons is neither melancholic nor emotionally draining, nor is it intended to be a self-help manual. Rather, you are left feeling quietly affirmed and in awe of the stoicism and courage of those who've been greatly tested.
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