Freak Show Without a Tent by Nevin Martell

Freak Show without a Tent

Freak Show without a Tent
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Star Rating: ****

Pages: 173

First published by Possibilities Publishing in 2014

Have you ever been embarrassed by your parents? If so, this is a book for you.

This is a heart-felt, warm memoir of one man’s family holidays from years gone past. Now, when I say family holidays, images may be floating past of relaxing days resting by a pool, eating ice cream whilst walking along the beach or playing in an amusement arcade. For this individual however, none of these simple leisurely delights took place. His family holidays were on far more of an adventurous scale; able to challenge most modern-day adventure seekers: crossing unknown places to far-flung lands that none of his classmates had ever heard of.

When I was 6 years old I know I had never heard of a place called Nevis and yet Nevin’s book opens with him as a 6 year old on a flight to this exotic Island in the Caribbean. Idyllic you may be thinking. In actual fact this prologue sets the scene brilliantly for the tone of his travelogue – one minute he is intricately describing the contents of his fanny pack whilst the next he finds himself trapped in a claustrophobic toilet, his short life flashing before his eyes as the airplane plunges towards earth. Cabin pressure fortunately rights itself and the plane regains its equilibrium meaning that Nevin thankfully is able to go on to explore some of the more unusual places the world has to offer with his parents, Ralph and Alison, and sister, Josephine, in tow.

Ralph liked to explore the unknown, didn’t like to follow the crowds and hated to read a guide book. The only thing he did seem to take his lead from was National Geographic, which as you may know often promotes highly unpopulated, remote areas of the world. Add to this the quick decision he made to move from New York to New Zealand and you will be able to see the rationale behind Ralph’s first holiday choice: Vanuatu, in the South Pacific.

Not one for wanting tourist excursions, Ralph wants a true local experience on every vacation they take so when someone suggests a trip to a nearby Island to watch a local ceremony he jumps right in and signs the whole family up. The following morning, the Martell family pull up in front of a tiny plane that had clearly seen better days. Questioning whether this would be a fateful flight Nevin jumps aboard, trying not to focus too heavily on the duct tape holding parts together. Landing on the tiny island, with nothing more than a mud slide for a landing strip, they are greeted by an individual that does nothing to alleviate Nevin’s concerns about cannibalism. Fearful for his life – would he end up in someone’s cooking pot that evening? – he pulls himself into the jeep and heads off to see what they have come for – the land vine jumping.  

Their next trip see them heading to Fiji, which many may say is better known however, they actually stay on a small island called Matangi Island, 20 minutes from Taveuni Island. Not quite so well-known after all! Here they go deep-sea fishing, explore the local fauna and flora, find poisonous toads and take part in a local Kava drinking festival – and not the ‘Cava’ you may be thinking with the heady bubbles. This Kava is made from the yagona root, “…looks like raw sewage” (pg 55) and is drunk out a of coconut shell.

Nevin then goes on to reveal more about his family during their trips to Tonga and Western Samoa, Savai’i, the Azores and Trinidad and Tobago. By the age of 13 he had seen more of the world then many people would come to see in a life time, even his mother muses that:

‘”It’s amazing to think that a year ago, we were in Fiji,”… “A year before that, we were on Shelter Island for the summer waiting to leave for New Zealand. The year before that we were living in Chadds Ford Pennsylvania.” That didn’t even include all the trips in between – Western Samoa, Tonga, a quick nip over to the Cook Islands, traveling the length of both New Zealand’s Islands, and several diaries more worth of destinations that were so small that they didn’t appear on most globes.”’ (Pgs 100-101)

As the reader, by the time you are full immersed into this memoir, reading about the latest embarrassing moment, you won’t even realise that you are laughing out loud at the description of Ralph parading around naked on the beach in Tobago, introducing himself to others as Robinson Crusoe – I can only imagine the sinking feel that both Nevin and Josephine must have been feeling as teenagers experiencing this.

Through all the funny moments however, there are a few raw ones; occasions where emotions reach breaking point and relationships are close to falling apart. Lack of planning is often exciting but at times can lead to disastrous outcomes. Reading about their river cruise expedition along the Orinoco River in Venezuela is one of those trips. Kamikaze attacks by mosquitoes, staying in hammocks on a place called Rat Island and dropping Ralph’s coveted bottle of whiskey into piranha infested waters turns this family trip into the holiday from hell.

After this doomed trip family holidays become less frequent. One or two less adventurous trips take place but nothing as drastic is suggested again.

Fast-forward to 2012 and Nevin begins to understand his father’s desire for adventure; his own wanderlust is craving a break with traditional holidays and he wants one last epic escapade before family commitments take over. For him, there is just one person he wants to travel with – his Father. This is one last trip that they will remember and repeat in stories for years to come – I promise it is well-worth waiting to read about.

Everyone reminisces about their holidays but I am not sure that they are as adventurous or as funny as the Martell’s. This is a travelogue that will not only educate you about smaller, unknown places around the world but will have you laughing out loud at some of the scenarios described. An easy to read, funny memoir that I read in one sitting. I guarantee you will not regret adding this to your reading list.


Nevin Martell


If you are interested in finding out more about Nevin himself, check out our Author interview: Nevin Martell

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