Tortillas to Totems

Tortillas to Totems : Motorcycling Mexico, the USA and Canada. Sidetracked by the Unexpected

4.62 (63 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author)  , Illustrated by  , Illustrated by  , Illustrated by  , Photographs by  , Edited by 

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Sam's girlfriend Birgit is no longer a novice motorcyclist - riding through southern Africa and South America turned her into a rider capable of facing any challenge. But Sam was worried.
As they arrived into North America they had been travelling around the world by motorcycle for six years and he was beginning to think that North America was going to be easy; too easy in fact. Were all the challenges of travel in the developing world countries going to be missing? Sam couldn't have been more wrong.
Join Sam and his girlfriend Birgit as they ride from Guatemala into Mexico. You'll travel with them as they head east towards the Yucatan, exploring ancient Mayan ruins and finding new challenges as they ride. Sam, a notorious magnet for mishaps almost kills himself within minutes of riding over the border.
Woven into this two and a half year story are the surprises, the tales of the completely unexpected and Sam describes the constant learning curve that every adventurer wants to be on.
Samuel Johnson wrote, 'The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them how they are.' After all, aren't these some of the main reasons for going travelling? To experience as many different things and ways of life as possible? To discover new and wonderful things, but also to have preconceived ideas challenged.
This true life story has more twists and turns than a Rocky Mountain Pass, and as it did them, at times it could challenge you too. Woven into this surprising story are canyons, cowboys, idyllic beaches, bears, mountains, Californian Vineyards, gun-toting policemen with grudges, glaciers, exploding volcanoes, dodgy border crossings and some of the most stunning open roads that a traveller could ever wish to see.
Magazines have described him as, 'One of the foremost and most readable adventure motorcyclists writing about their adventures on two wheels.'
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Product details

  • Paperback | 320 pages
  • 140 x 210 x 22mm | 450g
  • Exeter, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 22 colour photos, 7 b&w photos, 83 line drawings inc 3 maps
  • 0955657334
  • 9780955657337
  • 176,074

Review quote

'They say he's had more adventures than Marco Polo and covered more miles than Thomas Cook. All we know is that Sam Manicom is the best adventure bike writer in the world. Tortillas to Totems is the story of another epic journey covering the length and breadth of North America. You could be his pillion, so well does he describe the sounds, sights and smells of the road. If you like bikes, riding and people watching, Sam is your man.'- The Scottish Daily Record; 'The writing style is engaging and steady - that horribly addictive style that leaves you realising you've been reading for 10 hours straight and just can't put the book down. The stories he tells don't just transport you there - they encourage you to get on your bike and ride. For me - that's the best thing a travel book can do.'- The London; 'This book is a brilliant account of touring on a motorcycle and the journey taken, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually too. If you want to know why motorcyclists get out into the big world and ride across it then it's all here.'- Motorcycle Sport and Leisure Magazine; 'Globe-trotting biker Manicom's a natural storyteller. Although this trip may sound like a standard ride through familiar country, be assured, it isn't.'- Adventure Bike Rider Magazine; 'Manicom is one of the world's great travellers and thankfully for the rest of us is able to put what he sees into words that allow a reader to become at least an armchair traveller as well!'- Ian Kerr; 'What I enjoy most about Sam's method, is his casual way of describing the moment. You feel it, smell it, you freeze, you sweat, and you see what's before him like you're along for the ride. You are very much there. It's a rather intimate, honest style that easily carries you from chapter-to-chapter. Their trip is 'financed as they go' for the most part. And that means the occasional itinerant job, or resourceful purchasing in one area to sell at higher prices in another to cover a few more days of petrol, food and repairs. A good education for those who may wonder "how they do it". I highly recommend that you add Sam's books to your reading list.'- ADVMoto Magazine; 'There are few real adventurers left in the world and fewer new roads to explore, but (Sam's books) are a sort of throwback to the glory days of exploration. They're all excellent reads, but Tortillas and Totems is my favorite. It's compelling, with a combination of diary, narrative and commentary that really makes the reader feel like you're right there in front of the campfire with Sam, listening to the tall tales as the coyotes howl in the background. Sam and Birgit, his riding companion familiar to readers of his other books, are not Americans or North Americans. So it is very interesting to get their take on a land that I thought I knew. This is a very good "you are there" read and a must-have.'- WebBikeWorld; 'It's a great read. Although it deals with relatively few countries - Mexico, the USA and Canada - the distances involved, and the scrapes that he and his partner Birgit get themselves into mean that there's plenty to regale us with. And on top of that, because of a genuine desire to learn more about those around him, Sam adds to it with some social commentary, and adds a huge amount of detail about his surroundings. Those who already own Sam's earlier books will doubtless want to add to them with this, whilst those who're new to his work will find it a fine place to start.'- Trail Bike Magazine; 'The fourth book from motorcycling itinerant Sam Manicom and an account of his adventures across Mexico and the US on his BMW. It's an inspiring tale.'- Bike magazine; 'This is an engaging book from the first chapter to the epilogue. Written so beautifully you feel invited to share the highs, the lows, the joy and sadness and the overall human experience of wild travelling on a motorcycle... From dodgy policemen and troublesome awkward border crossings, to new friendships, cultural adjustments and innovative coping strategies this is a gripping read... A natural story teller, Sam captures the imagination... This journey of discovery is full of surprises from the onset and as with life itself, nothing ever really goes to plan or how it might have been imagined, which makes the book more interesting, funny and engaging.'- The BMW Club Journal; 'A wealth of information, facts and historical background sprinkled throughout, which all adds to the fast flowing chronology of the story. The book has numerous examples illustrating human nature, although some not so positive. These connections with people be they funny, fearful, kind or simply surprising, give feelings that will stay with you for ever. If you are interested in motorcycling, adventure, travel, different cultures or even a touch of geography and history, then I recommend From Tortillas to Totems as a really good read.'- Moto Guzzi Club GB; 'I quickly found myself once again at ease with the narrative. Sam naturally drifts back and forth between factual information and his personal take on both the historic and the political. But the overwhelming fact remains that this is a motorcycle adventure. In short this book is recommended, in fact all four books are recommended, they make essential reading for both motorcyclist and traveller alike.'- TRF Devon; 'After years of riding through the developing countries of Africa, Asia and South America, moto-trekking across Mexico, the USA and Canada should be, well ... easy, right? Well...uhhm...not-so-much. Toss out any preconceived notions about riding in 'developed' countries and prepare to be sidetracked by the unexpected. For example, unlike the situation across Central and South America, there were no cheap roadside barter-deals to be had in the United States. But with resourcefulness and some 'odd' jobs picked up along the way, Sam and his sweetie adapt, even thrive, without conforming to a first world lifestyle. You'll find yourself learning from the marvelously offbeat way of looking behind just about everything. It is all quirky fun that engages reader and author alike in unforeseen opportunities for adventure, education and self-discovery. This is the fourth motorcycle journal by Sam, who with his partner, Birgit, shares a unique outlook on riding, adventure and squeezing every last drop out of the peaks, valleys and open roads that are life. His best story yet.'- Aerostich; 'This book is rather like riding pillion with Sam, or Birgit and seeing first-hand the sights and sounds of Mexico, from ancient Aztec and Mayan cities to the beautiful beaches of the Baja California. After a potentially disastrous border crossing, the US proves to be just as full of adventure as the rest of the world. Sam and Birgit's fears of having a far too easy ride back in a first world country and worries about their very tight budget, are put to rest... The back routes lead the intrepid pair through some amazing countryside and are a reminder to us Europeans of what it's like to live in a vast country that encompasses nearly every type of terrain known to man, from deserts to snow covered mountains, prairie to rain forest, you can experience it all just by driving from the south to the north...If you're a fan of travel writers, bikes and stories of endurance - you'll love Sam's books.'- Intrepid Optimist; 'I had really high expectations after reading Sam's last books. I love his writing style. So there was a sense of trepidation with getting the latest book. Would it be as good as his others? Sam is a hugely positive individual and has a zest for life which really comes across in the book. He has a wonderful way of storytelling that enables you to put yourself as his riding partner and paints a vivid picture in your mind of where he is and what he's seeing. The experiences come thick and fast. He strikes a good balance by providing just enough relevant historical information so that you can understand the relevance of where he is with a few interesting facts thrown in without it getting too overpowering. Oh and as per the other books in the series, the pictures included are award winners. All in all a stunning and inspiring book, an absolute pleasure and even dare I say it a must read for anyone that would like to escape the humdrum 9-5 life!'- Honda XRV Forum; 'There is no one better qualified to offer up good advice on every aspect of long distance motorcycling than Sam Manicom. Along the way you'll be treated to tales a plenty that will both intrigue and delight in equal measure. Drawing on his travelling diaries, Sam has been able to populate his many adventures with minute and telling observations that often give the reader the real story behind the narrative. You'll be taken down roads, along trails and through towns and every step of the way you'll have Sam describing the scenes, characters and yes, even animals, they encountered. It's these informative and often telling insights that really make Sam Manicom's books what they are...'-; 'At first I didn't think Tortillas to Totems would be as exciting as previous works, but by avoiding highways and hotels, Sam proves that there is many an adventure to be had in 1st world countries like the US. Sam's books not only offer a wealth of information (as well as things to hopefully avoid) but bags of inspiration to take on a trip yourself. I love the DIY ethic he has and its worth noting that before his journey he had no experience with motorcycles. Wonderful.'- South East Biker Magazine; 'Sam's uniquely descriptive style of writing, along with his love of the people and the places shines through. I've come to the conclusion over the years that one of Sam's main attributes is that he's a 'people watcher' and his vivid descriptions of those he meets along the road are one of the main things that make the books work. Once again this was a superb read and has the reader travelling with him...'- BM Riders; 'Tortillas to Totems is written in the same style as his previous books, and that's a good thing. Sam has a very casual and easy way of narrating his adventures as if he is relaying his day's travels over a cold beer in some dusty bodega. Not only is there interest to be had in the geography he goes through, but also there's good travel advice. Be sure to read all of these 4 books and read them in order. They'll make the perfect Xmas present I'd say - it's one helluva journey!'-; 'Sam Manicom's appeal is that he's the ordinary guy doing extraordinary things. He's incredibly modest for someone who's been so far, sometimes in the face of highly unfavourable odds, which can occasionally make you scream at the book: "Give up now! Go Home!" And that's the difference between Manicom and most of us: he rises to the challenge. This is his fourth book and focuses on Sam and partner Birgit's travels through Mexico, the USA and Canada. Great stories...'- RiDE Magazine; 'Any good travel book must involve the reader as well as inspire and Tortillas to Totems does just that with vivid descriptions of the roads, places and people that Sam and his partner Birgit travelled and met. By the end of the book I was definitely itching to get out on the road on an adventure like this - in my opinion, the best compliment one can pay to a story like this. Sam is a natural storyteller going way beyond we went here and did this.'- The Riders Digest; 'Their tale dipped in and out of their travels from Central America to Alaska, and gripped me from the start. It was written in an easy to read form that got across the whole experience. Sam managed to finely balance the tales of sadness and joy, with history, geography, personal thoughts and reminiscing comparisons of the previous years on the road. It told tales of the kind of friendships that are forged, the troubles at some of the borders, and includes some useful travel tips for anyone who decides to take time out of their lives to discover, by bike, the wide world that exists out there. At the same time it reminds the reader that even when you think you have an open mind you may still have to fight off your own preconceptions. He paints in the mind, vivid pictures of the places travelled. I enjoyed it from start to finish and would heartily recommend it. It has also left me with a desire to track down the other books he has written about his travels across Africa as a rooky rider, and then his continued journeys.'- The Road magazine
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About Sam Manicom

Sam Manicom, overlander, traveller and author of 4 motorcycle books, was born in the Congo in Central West Africa where his parents worked. His family returned to the UK when he was 10 and he has been travelling for much of his life.
His first solo trip was age 16 by bicycle into Europe. Many backpacking, hiking, cycling and hitch hiking journeys later, and back in the UK but wanting to do something completely different, Sam learned to ride a motorcycle. Within 3 months of starting to ride, he set off to travel the length of Africa. This 1-year trip turned into an 8-year, 200,000 mile, around the world motorcycle adventure across 55 countries.
Sam's 4 books take the reader travelling through the different sections of the eight-year journey. Africa - 'Into Africa', Asia and the Middle East - 'Under Asian Skies', Southern Africa and South America - 'Distant Suns', and North America - 'Tortillas to Totems'.
He now works full time in the world of adventure travel. He's a keen advocate of motorcycle travel in particular and when not writing his books, magazine articles and conducting multimedia travel presentations within Europe and the USA, he's very much involved with travel related organisations. Sam is a co-host for Adventure Rider Radio RAW. He was the first Adventure Bike TV 'Under the Visor' interviewee.
In 2017 he was awarded the Overland Magazine 'Spirit of Adventure' Award for his contribution to Overlanding.
When he isn't writing or presenting, Sam and his partner Birgit are usually off riding somewhere.
Sam's latest book 'The Moment Collectors' - released in February 2022.
Catch up with Sam on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
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Rating details

63 ratings
4.62 out of 5 stars
5 75% (47)
4 14% (9)
3 10% (6)
2 2% (1)
1 0% (0)
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