A review of “Dreaming of Jupiter” by Ted Simon.

Summary: 25 years after he first set off around the world on a bike, Ted Simon goes off at the age of 70 to do it all again, this time on a BMW. But the result is still a Triumph. 

Dreaming of Jupiter is a must read for anyone who has read Jupiter’s Travels (I reviewed it here), Ted Simon’s classic account of how he spent 4 years going around the world on a motorbike in the mid-1970s. In large part this later book takes its prompts from the earlier one by trying to answer the essential question: just how much has the world changed in the intervening time?

This time around Simon had family ties to bear in mind, so instead of 4 years, this second journey took a ‘mere’ 2 and half. That’s still no mean feat at any stage of life, but at 70 that’s still noteworthy.

The main difference between this book and its predecessor is that it has a far brisker and more businesslike tone to it. It’s inevitable that if you’re going somewhere again for a second time, then you’re going to want to find out what’s remained the same, whether your memories still bear any resemblance to the reality, and whether any of the people you met first time around are still where you encountered them first time around and still  remember you. The desire to answer questions like these give the book a sort of spine and plenty of ‘drive’ as it were.

While the narrative never becomes unbalanced by the inevitable jaded views in the face of irrevocable and inevitable change, there are points where Simon readily admits that his disappointment overwhelmed him. In Phuket in Thailand, for example, his memories of the paradise it was in the 70’s jarred terribly with the sight of the crowded and commercialised resort it has become. Bureaucracy is another complaint he has compared to the relatively straightforward nature of crossing borders back in the 70s (although this was never that simple in all cases if the original book is anything to go by). Sitting in an Indian customs office trying to arrange for his bike to be airfreighted to Turkey, Simon admits to wanting the journey over right there and then, so ground down was he by the endless form filling and buck passing.

These remain isolated moments, though. As with his account of the first journey, Simon concentrates on the stand-out experiences that he had along the way, and these seem to have been overwhelmingly good. Above all there are a number of very warm and heartening descriptions of meeting up again with people he’d met the first time around, a good number of whom it seems were inspired by their meeting with this inspirational stranger on a motorbike.

There are of course also plenty of new people he meets along the way second time around, many of whom enter the picture when Simon is in need of help. Modern BMW’s are no more immune than their 70’s Triumph counterparts to the hammering that the varied roads of the world can dish out, and there are the familiar accounts of difficulties with the bike and the terrain. For good measure Simon also managed to break bones on two separate occasions on his second trip.

To re-enforce the notion of perhaps the most significant way the world has changed politically in the intervening decades, as recurring motif towards the end of the book sees Simon describe watching the TV at some of the places he stops towards the end of the trip, watching CNN chart the build up to the second Bush/ Blair driven invasion of Iraq.

The final chapter and the epilogue of this book is well worth pondering in detail, in order to get the thoughts and reflections of this well-travelled, urbane and wise man. In Simon’;s case, travel undoubtedly seems to have broadened the mind, but it has narrowed his focus as to what ails the mankind and the planet. Overall he seems to be saying that as a race we seem to lurch from one disaster to another and seem collectively determined to reach the final end which is our own (and the planet’s) oblivion.

But- and it remains a very big but- he retains faith in the goodness and essential helpfulness of people, as shown in the many good and kind people he has met on both journeys around the world.

On a lighter note, I can confirm that this book is every bit as dangerous as Jupiter’s Travels, in that it will make you want to go out and get a motorbike licence if you haven;’t got one already, just in case you ever get chance to travel in Jupiter’s tyre tracks.