Noel Coward once said that only "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun." Journalist Jeroen van Bergeijk, whose chronicle of an "auto-misadventure across the Sahara," piloting his used 190D from Amsterdam to Ouagadougou in My Mercedes Is Not for Sale, is Dutch. You do the math.

Crazy-making is also often funny-making, and van B's musings on subjects like the state of African commerce ("Things in Africa come in two forms: broken or almost broken.") inform the armchair traveler about the real on-the-road experience in ways Baedeker and Lonely Planet never could. In a place where border delays may be measured in days rather than minutes, our explorer has learned to pass his idle time wisely: not only do we hear digressions, related in some detail, about the history of the Paris to Dakar Rally and the disastrous expeditions to map out the desert in advance of a never-completed Trans-Sahara Railway, we also meet every previous owner of his humble Mercedes and travel to the factory in Bremen where it was built two decades ago.

Places like Mauritania, Togo, Burkina Faso and Benin will likely never rank with France, Mexico, The Bahamas or even China as a potential vacation destination. But thanks to a crazy Dutchman who boldly went where few men ever go, entertaining us every kilometer of the way, I'm dusting off the old passport and thinking . . . maybe a visit to Disneyland would be nice this summer.

 

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