There's more than one way to travel. One way, and probably the most popular, is to have a start and finish time and place, and just see what happens in between. It allows freedom, total flexibility, and a lot of fun. If you visit somewhere you like - great, stay a while. Likewise, if it's a dump, move on the next day. There is no commitment, except for following your nose.
In 2001, that's what myself and a good friend, Simon, did. We started in Frankfurt in August and finished in Cairo in December. In between we packed in eleven Eastern European countries, as well as Turkey and Israel. It was, to quietly understate it, great.
Yet ever since then, we've chosen an entirely different means of travelling: travelling on a mission.
Travelling on a mission takes the form of travelling to specifically visit a place or places, to fulfill an ambition or complete a project. It is a far more dedicated form of travelling, requiring a lot more planning and is much less freeform. Depending on the mission, it can be very time and money consuming. It is certainly not necessarily easy, though involving travel it is still great fun. A difficult mission is, when completed, extremely rewarding. Is that why we do it? I really don't know. When asked why he wanted to climb Everest, George Mallory simply replied, "Because it's there." I imagine that your appreciation of any seemingly mindless project can probably be summed up by your appreciation of Mallory's simple response. If you don't get it, you probably aren't interested in climbing mountains.
My mission, as any readers here have probably figured out, is to choose the seven best man-made structures from what is effectively an arbitrary list of candidates. Ultimately, it's subjective. Simon's chosen mission, however, is ultimately entirely objective - but also far more esoteric. He has decided to visit every place in the world that contains the word "mullet".
Simon far better explains the reasons for this mission on his own page, which I absolutely recommend checking out. Yes, it is ridiculous, but it's also tremendous. Why do it? Because he can. It has led him through England, Ireland, Albania, and Australia, as explored in his debut book published by Sandstone Press in 2010: Up The Creek Without A Mullet.
But I'm not here to review that book - it's been around for years now, and the Amazon reviews speak for themselves. It's a great read (and not just because I get mentioned heavily in the first five chapters). I'm here to review the sequel, which is out on Monday (December 2nd), the appropriately named - "The Return of the Muller Hunter".
"The Return of the Mullet Hunter" is one sense is a direct continuation. The basic premise of the book is: Simon visits more mullets. But of course, that's like describing football as a bunch of men kicking a ball, or a cathedral as a bunch of stones of top of each other. Simon very much goes down the Bill Bryson way of travelling, giving a thoughtful, funny, and intelligent account of each place he visits, but also some musing about the nature of his mission as well as its highly disruptive effect on his life. It's definitely something I can relate to: how much time and money can be justified on a personal project? Or are personal projects precisely what time and money should be used for?
But I don't mean to sound like the "The Return of the Mullet Hunter" is an existential read - anything but. I use the above comparison with Bill Bryson deliberately, because Simon has a highly readable, light touch which makes the stories fly by effortlessly. Every place Simon visits is researched, with background given to all his mullets as well as other places he stops by at en route. He visits Canada, a couple of farms in England, becomes a media darling in New Zealand, and suffers setbacks on the west coast of America, all the while trying to balance a normal life back home in Scotland. Simon is one of the most honest and unpretentious people I know, and all this shines through, as well as a wholehearted enthusiasm for travel.
And it's the travel parts that are the highlights. Becoming a micro-celebrity in New Zealand is entertaining, but my favourite part is the two week road trip in America, especially the search for the highly elusive Mullet Island. Whereas the majority of my travels are to pretty big headline acts, the majority of Simon's mullets are deeply obscure backwaters, entirely off the beaten track and unheard of by anyone except locals. With Mullet Island in California, there really is the sense of "where the hell am I?"
As a good friend of Simon's - yes, of course I'm biased. But I'm quite able to be a little impartial too. Reading "The Return of the Mullet Hunter" is a charming diversion, quite literally a journey as Simon darts from unusual place to place. As a reader, any interest in the actual mullet hairstyle is pretty much irrelevant, you just need an interest in the nooks and crannies of the world. Because that's what Simon's book is about - the uncelebrated edges of the earth.
Final rating: I'll hand it over to Eddy Grant.
"The Return of the Mullet Hunter" is available on Kindle from December 2nd, and can be bought here.