I reviewed many cycle travel books, and like all good cycle travel books, the story isn’t about the cycling. I’d go as far as to say that cycling is only relevant, because it allows you to travel at a human pace. That simply means you experience the world you’re travelling through in a far more intense, and personal way.
Quondam is not your normal travel book, and you may as well know this from the start. To begin with, it only tells part of Devoy’s journey, but far more unusual than that, it was written decades after the journey. Quondam recounts Devoy’s travels from Cairo to Nairobi.
In this always-connected world of ours, Quondam is the tale of travels in a pre-digital world, when keeping in touch meant writing a letter, and navigation didn’t consist of simply following instructions from a GPS unit.
Devoy cycled 33 000 kilometers, over two years, from Ireland, to the far north of Norway, before turning south, heading for Cape Town. Setting off on the 1st of April, 1985, Devoy – though clearly a hardy soul – could scarely be described an experienced cycle tourist, at the start of his journey.
This book is honest – brutally so, in parts – and is far more than simply a retelling of a bike ride. Travelling on an Irish passport seemed to have been a help to Devoy, in a post-colonial world, in which those travelling on British passports received a somewhat different welcome.
What strikes me is the serenity with which Devoy took on absolutely life-threatening situations. During his journey, he caught Hepatitis, yet continued travelling. After recovering from Hepatitus, Devoy was infected with plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest strain of malaria. Diagnosis only happened at the stage at a stage where 75% of patients never survive the disease.
It’s an incredibly human story, with deep insights into the world through which Devoy travelled. Many travel book rapidly become dated, and of their time, but this one I believe will remain timeless. It tells an incredible tale of grit, determination and bloody-minded sheer stubbornness.
I have no doubt that you will enjoy reading this book, and I cannot wait until I can read the follow-up, telling the rest of the story, especially as that will involve Devoy travelling through countries and landscapes I know, at a time when I was still a schoolboy. The good news is that, when I met Devoy in May ’23, he was working on writing the next book.
Do yourself a favour and read this book.