How To Walk A Puma

How to Walk a PumaI should preface this blog with the disclaimer that I’ve never really liked reading travel-writing books. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I prefer to experience travel firsthand rather than vicariously. So it’s testament to a writer’s storytelling skills that I actually went out and bought and read his book.

I’ve heard Peter Allison speak now three times on Conversations with Richard Fidler, an hour-long ABC Radio broadcast that is my equal favourite podcast (it shares the honours with NPR’s This American Life, and if you haven’t yet listened to either, stop reading this and go podcast them now). All three times Allison’s had me laughing so hard I almost burst my bladder.

Seriously, Allison is a masterful storyteller. He’s like a thinking woman’s Steve Irwin. And he has fantastic stories to tell, having spent many years as a tour guide in Africa. The first book I’ve read of is his most recent, How to Walk a Puma: My (mis)adventures in South America, but his breakout book (if you like) is Whatever You Do, Don’t Run.

The latter documents his time in Africa with wildlife and wild times with tourists who often provide rich storytelling fodder. The former shows how Allison, who had returned to Sydney to attempt to live a ‘normal’ life, decided 9–5 wasn’t for him and escaped to South America.

As he put it:

It felt like being slapped awake from a long sleepwalk. It felt like coming home. Only then did I realise that I’d been turning grey from the inside out, and had become the cliché of the dissatisfied worker bee. I’d spent most of the last seven years waiting for five o’clock, hanging out for Friday, going on holiday only to stress out because I couldn’t relax fast enough.

Whatever You Do, Don't RunHaving returned from South America myself recently and absolutely itching to get back, Allison’s book proved irresistible: a funny guy and animal advocate exploring the very places that had gotten under my skin—what’s not to want to read?!

The short answer is that I enjoyed the book and would definitely recommend it. The long answer is that I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped. But that’s more likely collateral damage of my annoying inability to enjoy reading about travel as much as experiencing it (not to mention the fact that managing the latter would be much easier and cost effective).

Much of the book concentrates on Allison’s relationship with a puma not so aptly named Roy. A puma that he is strapped to and has to run through the jungle with for many, many kilometres daily. A puma that he is strapped to, has to run many, many kilometres with daily, and that bites him … but that’s a story best heard from Allison himself. You can read it here and hear it here.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.