The Dark Heart Of Africa! Paul Theroux’s “Last Train To Zona Verde” – His Personal “Heart Of Darkness!”


Anyone Up For A Safari?

It is, without a doubt, one of the world’s last great adventures…a trip to Africa to head out on safari and see the animals in their natural, beautiful habitat…

south african safari

It is a trip I will make one day…while the savannahs still teem with life…


I will, however, keep in mind that we I will see on a safari is NOT what the continent of Africa is…instead, I will remember the words of Travel Writer Paul Theroux:

“I became conscious of entering a zone of irrationality. Going deeper into Luanda meant traveling into madness…”

south africa slums

It is the other part of Africa – Africa’s dark heart…cities with massive slums and 90% unemployment…a land of the destitute and the diseased…where all hope is gone…

Crowded-Oshodi-Market africa

There are two very distinct parts to Africa, and iconic travel writer Paul Theroux has been to both – and he writes a brilliant travel book about his descent into the heart of darkness:

“The Last Train To Zona Verde”!

paul theroux book

Paul Theroux is the Author of some of the greatest travel books of all time, and I have written about him before: he has paddled the south pacific…

Happy Isles Of Oceania

Theroux has also taken a train across Eastern Europe, India, Asia and Russia – TWICE!

And his books are filled with keen observations on the trials and tribulations of the people he meets…because he never flies over a country, we travels through it like a regular person – with all of the bumps and bruises to show for it…

paul theroux train book

As The Washington Post said in their sterling review: “He is drawn to the road not by run-of-the-mill wanderlust but because, for Theroux, travel resembles nothing so much as writing:

“a groping in the dark, wandering into the unknown, coming to understand the condition of strangeness.” To pit yourself against the strange is never easy — but the strangeness is why you go.”


As you can see from the ads, Africa is a beautiful place to explore, and Theroux sets out to discover how much of that beauty remains – and what is putting it all at risk…

This is trip to the darkest heart of Africa…as he writes at one point in the book:

“It takes a certain specialist’s dedication to travel in squalid cities and fetid slums…”

world's worst slums

But in South Africa, you can do both! You see, rather than hide these terrible conditions from tourists, they have tours that take you to them! Yes, you can go into one of Cape Town’s most notorious slums to experience the squalor first hand…and that’s just one of the many fascinating parts of Theroux’s trip…a trip that shows him the best of Africa – and increasingly, the worst…

cape town slums

The End Of Africa….

In the book, Theroux plans to travel from South Africa up the western coast of the continent – he sets no official travel itinerary, just where the roads take him…and he sees many beautiful parts of Africa on his way…


The ads always showing gorgeous sunsets and natural beauty – and South Africa is a country with amazing beauty – but what Theroux discovers – as he travel north – is country after country that is falling apart and bursting at the seams with people living in the worst poverty imaginable…

angola slums

“It saddened me,” he writes, “to think that so much in Africa had been lost – the skills of building and farming, the arts of carving and ornamenting, of music and dance, of storytelling.”

african bushmen

Theroux spends time away from the slums as he tries to find the soul of this continent – with its tribal customs and rich history – and does get to see some of it firsthand. However, he also finds that these traditions and culture are fast disappearing…


And these are some of the locations where the latest ebola outbreak is happening, a frightening addition to what Theroux already sees as a continent in chaos…

africa travels

Amid all of this, Theroux also meets the people who are trying to save Africa.

He introduces you to an amazing array of people – both locals as well as transplants – all with different reasons for making Africa home…he spends time with a friend who now run an elephant safari…where tourists go out on safari riding elephants!

african elephant safari

These are fascinating people, captured beautifully by Theroux as he travels north through the continent…always looking to experience life as it is lived by the people there…


As a myriad of safari photos from the internet will attest to, this is a gorgeous continent – if you are sheltered away from the realities of life there = and that is what saddens him as he pushes deeper into the heart of darkness…


Things reach their nadir when he reaches Angola, which he describes as one of the worst places in the world. Officials insult him. He discovers the credit card fraud that has taken place in Namibia. He endures a terrible trip with a drunken taxi driver on potholed roads populated by corrupt policemen. The car breaks down and all he has to eat is fly-encrusted pieces of chicken.

As he slowly makes his way to Luanda, Angola’s capital, he more and more echoes Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.”

“I became conscious of entering a zone of irrationality. Going deeper into Luanda meant traveling into madness,” he writes.

travel writer paul-theroux-author-photo-580

Theroux is a terrific writer, and his stories of elephant safaris, slum tours, and tribal adventures deep into the bush are eye-opening – this is a great great book!

Paul Theroux Africa trip

Theroux’s Lifelong Love Of Africa!

If this seems a bit heavy, it is due to the writer’s lifelong love of Africa, and the huge impact it has had on his life. Theroux lived in Africa for years, teaching there as a young man, and he wrote about the continent before – a different sort of journey:


“Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town” by Paul Theroux

Theroux’s previous trip through Africa was captured in “Dark Star Safari”, where his itinerary takes him from Cairo to Cape Town in a fascinating journey that goes down the Nile, through Sudan and Ethiopia, to Kenya, Uganda, and ultimately to the tip of South Africa.

Going by train, dugout canoe, “chicken bus,” and cattle truck, Theroux passes through some of the most beautiful — and often life-threatening — landscapes on earth.

This isn’t a safari – this is a look at a continent struggling for survival…

This is travel as discovery and also, in part, a sentimental journey. Almost forty years ago, Theroux first went to Africa as a teacher in the Malawi bush. Now he stops at his old school, sees former students, revisits his African friends. He finds astonishing, devastating changes wherever he goes.

“Africa is materially more decrepit than it was when I first knew it,” he writes, “hungrier, poorer, less educated, more pessimistic, more corrupt, and you can’t tell the politicians from the witch doctors. Not that Africa is one place. It is an assortment of motley republics and seedy chiefdoms. I got sick, I got stranded, but I was never bored. In fact, my trip was a delight and a revelation.”

Seeing firsthand what is happening across Africa, Theroux is as obsessively curious and wittily observant as always, and his readers will find themselves on an epic and enlightening journey. Dark Star Safari is one of his bravest and best books.

travel writer paul theroux

As much as I imagine an African Safari to look like this, the book is a fascinating journey through a land trying to change, adapt and survive…this is travel writing at its best!

Together, these books frame a continent in disarray – one filled with squalor, shantytowns, disease and poverty – with people under the grip of corrupt governments, terrorist militia and general mad men…and in writing these books, he is in a way mourning the death of a culture…


There is also a website dedicated to all of his work – so much great writing to check out!

Let me know what you think!

Categories: Books / Media, Exotic Travel, Politics, Talent/Celebrities, Travel, Travel Adventures, Travel Memoir, Uncategorized

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5 replies


  1. Africa’s “Crazy River!” Richard Grant’s Dangerous African Adventure! | johnrieber
  2. Living In Paradise – With Cannibals! Incredible “Faraway” South Seas Adventures! – johnrieber
  3. Travel The “Deep South!” Two New Memoirs Capture Life Down South In Dixie! – johnrieber
  4. A Train To The “Roof Of The World!” Fascinating Paul Theroux Book! Incredible Tibetan Pictures! – johnrieber
  5. “Behind The Beautiful Forevers”! Fascinating Book About Life In A Mumbai Slum! – johnrieber

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