The One That Got Away by Ken Haley, Review: Refreshing outlook

Ken Haley’s The One That Got Away: Travelling in the Time of Covid is a refreshingly told tale of a Caribbean escape unlike no other. Read my full review.

The One That Got Away Book Synopsis

The One That Got Away: Travelling in the Time of Covid by Ken Haley

In 2020, Australian author Ken Haley mapped out an enticing menu of travel destinations, comprising the Caribbean island states for main course, with Central America for dessert. Main course soon turned into obstacle course. Cuba was a breeze, but then the world went into Covid lockdown mode and he had to decide whether to push on. As a pioneer wheelchair traveller, Haley knew exactly what to do. He took the brakes off. 

After an unplanned detour to Trumpian Florida, he returned to the tropics intent on dividing his time between sun worship, historical exploration and observation of life’s realities for the community of West Indian nations. In a year that wasn’t long on fun, Haley had his share but he also met his quota of hardship and risks – from developing hurricanes to a no-longer-dormant volcano, from robbery to an acute health crisis that had him wondering whether he might have been wiser to buy a one-way ticket in advance. 

2020 was the year most of us stayed at home. Ken Haley turned an accident of timing into a rollicking, but dangerous adventure. The result is a triumph: a humorous and penetrating insight into a world grappling with an unforeseen calamity and a rare and empathetic travel book.

‘A moving and funny chronicle of questing and courage in the age of coronavirus.’ – Margaret Simons, author of Cry Me A River  and Penny Wong: Passion and Principle  

 ‘Travel books are often entertaining but Ken Haley’s book is both entertaining and edifying: not many other writers manage that nowadays. He follows in the footsteps of those great adventurers before him … Stevenson, Newby, Chatwin and Bryson.’ – Phil Brown, author of The Kowloon Kid and Travels with My Angst.

(Transit Lounge Publishing, November 2021)

Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction

Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.

Book Review

I certainly never expected to be reading a new release travel memoir two years into a global pandemic, and written by an Australian (in a wheelchair) no less… But life really is full of wonderful surprises.

The recurrent theme within Ken Haley The One That Got Away: Travelling in the time of COVID is that of making the most of whatever life throws at you… From his perceptive observations of both the societies (cultural and governmental) he experiences and individual colourful characters he meets along the way, to how he navigates the ever-changing hurdles placed in front of him, whether COVID-related or a flight of steps to a hotel room or tourist vista, Haley’s is a refreshing outlook from which to ride shotgun.

Forgive my conceit but I don’t consider myself an intrepid traveller — it’s nice to hear the compliment from others, as I do from time to time, by my view of the matter is more prosaic: I’m in a wheelchair and I love to travel, so the question is not, Will I? but How do I get from A to B with the least fuss?

While to his great credit Haley eschews the terms brave and intrepid, you have got to admire his faith in relying on the goodness of strangers to lend a helping hand when needed. I think readers unfamiliar with the day-to-day experiences of wheelchair users will find it an eye-opener just how front and centre such considerations must be when travelling. Phrases like ‘hoisted me up the steps’ and ‘accessible toilet’ feature in this travelogue almost as often as descriptions of historically significant architecture. And, so they should, because they all form part of this traveller’s experience.

There exists one excellent reason for travel: to correct one’s abstract impressions by exposure to reality. Cuba may be like a city of tents whose flaps have been raised just enough to let the world peek in and think it knows what is going on in there. But until you hear a middle-aged man in a Havana public square predict a Chinese-style capitalism after the current leadership generation departs, or a teenager in Santa Clara vilify Che Guevara, who is buried there, as ‘nothing but a murder’, you’re only guessing.

Haley is clearly very well-read; literature and non-fiction. An erudite cultural observer, he conveys fascinating insights into the historical pasts of the locations he visits. His dry wit and the cultural linkages he makes in often Russian doll sentences may not be to everyone’s tastes. But, I found The One That Got Away a highly informative and enjoyable read.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

Get your copy of The One That Got Away from:

Amazon Booktopia AU Transit Lounge
More fascinating travel memoirs:

UPRISING: Walking the Southern Alps of New Zealand by Nic Low / Mr Snack and the Lady Water by Brendan Shanahan / Little Princes by Conor Grennan / Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert / The Blind Masseuse by Alden Jones

About the Author, Ken Haley

Ken Haley is one of Australia’s most widely travelled authors. To date, he has visited 143 countries at length. He became a paraplegic in 1991, but as far as Ken is concerned the only difference this has made is that he now observes the world from a sitting position. A Walkley Award-winning journalist, Ken has worked on the foreign desk of The Times, Sunday Times and Observer in London, at the Gulf Daily News in Bahrain and on the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Ken has also worked at Melbourne’s The Age and as a newspaper sub-editor in Athens, Johannesburg and Windhoek, Namibia and as a university tutor and freelance editor. His previous books are Emails from the Edge: A Journey Through Troubled Times and Europe @ 2.4km/h. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.

This review counts toward my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2021 and the Nonfiction Reader Challenge 2021.

* My receipt of a review copy from the publisher did not impact the expression of my honest opinions above.