Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
William Carroll now resides in the mountains of New Mexico, but when I met him he lived in a small town just north of San Diego. He’s a very approachable and humorous man with a tenacious will to experience life. Carroll was a journalist and photographer for automotive magazines and a hot rodder at heart. I asked him about his past and he jovially kept me in tears with his stories, until that is, he got to the 1950’s, which he skipped over. “What happened then,” I asked. “If I tell you then I will have to kill you,” he said with a twinkle in my eye. I did manage to get out of him that it had something to do with Central America and my imagination soared to subjects about smuggling, spies, wild affairs and worse. Carroll’s book Aventura, Alaska, Brasil is partially set in those areas he refused to talk about and recounts a journey of exploration that any hot rodder could appreciate. The book is a soft-cover edition on non-glossy paper containing 230 pages. The size is 6 inches by 9 inches and has 4 color photographs on the covers only, with 2 maps. Aventura, Alaska, Brasil is written in the style of a travel journal but has the feeling of a mystery novel. It is hard to believe that it isn’t a novel had I not known Carroll. There is no index and yet the lack of one should not seriously deter the reader. Since this is not a pictorial, it will interest the serious reader who enjoys travel adventures.
Carroll has a style of writing that easily goes from event to event in a seamless way. The book is a series of adventures that the foreign traveler will appreciate. The events proceed from story to story, country to country in an even and interesting way with humor spread throughout.
It is obvious that by the time he has reached Central America that this is going to be a long, hard, tiring and frustrating trip. Carroll’s wife, Renee, accompanied him on the trip. The purpose was to road test-drive a new 1968 Mercury coupe under all conditions and then report the results. Carroll received sponsorship to make the trip from Ford Motor Company, Morton International, STP and Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. To make things even more difficult, he did not change the oil or parts, only adding oil when it was low. Some countries drew raves from the couple, while other nations proved to be unbearable. Roads might be paved and well taken care of in one area and dirt tracks later on. Mudslides, lack of gas stations and hotels made some stretches of the trip very difficult and the distances traveled, long and tedious. In some areas there were rock cairns deliberately placed on the road forcing motorists to detour around them on to side roads. Border patrol guards could be friendly, fair and hard working or slow, contentious and dangerous. Some guards spoke English and some only a dialect their mother’s could understand. Nowhere does Carroll tell us what year he went on this saga, but we can infer that it was late 1967 or 1968 based on his statement that he was going to test drive a ‘new’ 1968 Mercury coupe. Forty years has passed and travelers still encounter similar experiences when they undertake the ‘Pole to Pole’ trek along the spine of the great mountain chains that make up North and South America. It wasn’t all hardship. The Carroll’s talk excitedly about their short cruise when they reach the Panama Canal. It is obvious by the reading that there are many stretches of the intercontinental road network that tourists should avoid.
There are twenty chapters in the book, 18 of which correspond to the country that they traveled through. The shortest chapter was on their trip into and out of the nation of Honduras, which took them only a short time and covered a third of a page and only 4 hours to drive. Ironically, it was also one of the most pleasant places they saw. Nicaragua proved to be very difficult and not much has changed since then. The same thing was true with Venezuela, Peru and Brazil. The Carroll’s found Costa Rica, Chile and Panama to be enchanting places, just as tourists today find them to be. Carroll remarked that the most beautiful women on the trip were found in Costa Rica. Customs inspectors in Brazil locked up the Carroll’s believing that their documents were forged. It was days before they could be freed and the problem turned out to be that the inspectors were unlearned and could not understand the car registrations and other documents. The lesson in all of this is to fluently speak the language and stay out of small border crossing areas. Pares, or the border guards, is a word that pops up continually in the story and they vex the traveler’s whether the guards are honest or not. They would be stopped anywhere, sometimes hundreds of miles from the border. But travel is about discovery and the Carroll’s found new friends and experiences all along the 24,876-mile journey from Anchorage to Rio de Janeiro. The book is fascinating and hard to put down. From Alaska to Brazil is truly a wonderful experience and Aventura, Alaska, Brasil is a wonderful book. Aventura, Alaska, Brasil is published by Coda Publications, P.O. Box 71, Raton, New Mexico 87740, or send an email to Carroll at Newmexicobooks@bacavalley.com, for a copy.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS2@JUNO.COM.