Michael's journey along the 30-degree east line of longitude encompasses 17 countries and both hemispheres -- from Greenland in the north to Kenya, South Africa and Chile in the south. Along the way communism collapses, ap... more »artheid ends, and a civil war is sparked as Michael meets Santa Claus and Lenin, goes shopping for camels in Omdurman and makes a final hectic dash to the South Pole.« less
"In this, the best of his travel works (see also Around the World in 80 Days and Full Circle), Palin travels along the 30 degree longitude line, which takes him to many rarely-travelled places, including Chernobyl and parts of Africa where there simply are no roads to travel.Throughout, Palin is witty and insightful, and one wishes they were with him (except for the scene with the maggots). While travel writing might seem boring, Palin makes it interesting, and exciting. I devoured all his travel books within a very short period of time, and was left wanting more."
On top of the world, and underneath it
Allan M. Lees | Novato, CA USA | 10/24/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After the success of Around the World in Eighty Days, Michael Palin embarked on a highly successful career as an adventure tourist. Each of his journeys has a hook: circumnavigating the Pacific Rim, going across the Sahara Desert, or in this case making the journey from the north pole to the south pole following as best as possible longitude 30 degrees.
Along the way, from snow to savannah, from Norway to Nairobi, the charm of Palin's travels comes from the unassuming way he interacts with the people he meets on route. His personality carries the relatively unstructured travalog along on a sea of well-meaning interest and curiosity. He tells us when he's tired, anxious, and bored. We are touched by the genuine friendships he makes, however fleetingly, and the partings are often touching. In Pole to Pole the meat of the journey is Africa and we travel from relatively cosmopolitan Egypt to what in politically incorrect days was referred to as Darkest Africa. Even in 1991 witchdoctors outnumbered the western kind, and random violence was never far from view. Indeed, at one point Palin stays with a European estate owner in Zambia and his family and after the visit is concluded we learn from the voice-over that they were slaughtered six months later.
I spent a few formative years in southern Africa and it was shocking to me to see how little had changed since last I saw it. If anything, most of the change was for the worse: the old trains and buses simply have grown older, the disorder greater. Only in South Africa did time seem to have moved on. For the casual viewer the sheer range of experience in Africa should be fascinating, even though we get the merest glimpse. How can one capture a continent in just a few minutes of video? Like many people, I suspect, my favorite moments were of Palin sitting on top of the slow train creaking its way through Sudan, talking with those who can't afford to travel any other way, and seeming perfectly at home. Somehow Palin makes us forget how unlikely it all is: a well-paid BBC personality squatting among the illiterate and impoverished, interacting with them as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Perhaps no other TV presenter could really pull it off convincingly.
In the end the "hook" seems a little forced: Palin flies in to the north pole and he flies in to the south pole. It's not really much of an epic journey but it was more hazardous than it might seem: when he made the trip to the South Pole there was inadequate navigation and infrastructure and it would have been all too easy for him to have perished due to half-baked preparation and execution on the part of those tasked with ferrying him around. Fortunately all survived and went on to make several other telejourneys to various parts of the world; journeys which are now slowly being remastered onto DVD and released by the BBC. If you don't have the chance to travel much beyond the usual tourist haunts, by all means pick up a copy of Palin's travels and experience the sights, sounds, and people you will otherwise never know of.
A superhappyterrific fun-time video series
Allan M. Lees | 09/14/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Michael Palin takes us on a voyage from North to South Pole and along the way introduces the interpid couch-traveller to some great sights, inateresting people, and the usual Palin humor. Highlights include the fjords of Norway, Russia and the Ukraine before the general's coup and a crazy long trip through the heart of Africa. Lots of fun...a great way to spend a cold autumn saturday."
Best of the series
Allan M. Lees | 05/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This time, avoiding the obvious too-much-time-at-sea problems of "Around the World in 80 days", Palin's team becomes a marvel of light travel and problem-solving in this somewhat dangerous, honest and good-natured tour of 1990 Eastern Europe and Africa. The music's better too. The best of his series, without a doubt, and possibly the best of this genre of travelogue."
"This review is based on watching the DVD version of "Pole to Pole", the BBC TV program made in 1991 that showed Michael Palin traveling from the North Pole to the South Pole.
The trip was based on several rules. The use of aircraft was only allowed when surface travel was not possible, and public transportation was used as much as possible. The trip attempted to follow the 30 degree east longitude line, down through Scandinavia, the then-existing USSR, Turkey and all the way down through the continent of Africa.
The trip took five months and was quite arduous at times. Transportation was almost non-existent in central Africa, parts of Africa had to be avoided due to civil war and Michael Palin was hit by several health problems including two cracked ribs.
The wonderful thing about Michael Palin's travelogues is the enthusiasm, wit and charm that Mr. Palin shows. There are many impromptu encounters with the local people that are humorous and interesting. And, of course, there's the beautiful photography showing the stunning nature that was found along the way.
On the down side it was depressing to see the poverty and hints of political repression and social unrest in parts of Africa. The AIDS epidemic in Africa was also mentioned, and Michael Palin visited an evacuated village near Chernobyl.
This trip was made in 1991 and already when the trip was over world history had changed the landscape, in that the USSR completely unraveled shortly after Michael Palin traveled through it. The years that have passed since 1991 can be noticed in other ways too. For example, the situation in most of Africa has unfortunately gotten worse rather than better. And Antarctica, almost completely inaccessible in 1991, now has a tourist trade with 23,000 landed tourists during the 2004-2005 season!
The DVD version of this trip consists of three discs. These contain eight 50-minute episodes (total of six hours 40 minutes) and, as extra material, a 30-minute interview with Michael Palin. I found the interview to be very interesting and am glad that it was included.
Highly recommended, as is the book version of this trip and all of Michael Palin's other trips, both in DVD version and as books.