Book Cover

Improbable Journeys

Last week, I wrote about armchair travel. Here is a review of a book which includes true adventure travel, for the British Columbia Review.


Improbably Journeys: From Crossing the Himalayas on Horseback to a Career in Obstetrics and Gynaecology by Dr. Bernard A.O. Binns and Ron Smith (Rock’s Mills Press, 2020) takes the reader on several different journeys, as the title suggests. In the first quarter of the book, Binns and his family crossed the Himalaya Mountains by caravans of pack animals including horses, yaks, camels, and donkeys from Northern India (present-day Pakistan) to Chinese Turkestan (present-day Xinjiang), where his father was posted as the medical doctor at the British Consular Service in Kashgar. Binns’ family followed one of the ancient Silk Routes once travelled by Marco Polo. On their way to China, nine-year-old Bernard Binns and his four-year-old sister Marjory might have been the first English children to cross the suspension bridge over the Indus River near Nanga Parbat mountain.


The trips were made perilous by the possibility of fierce storms that produced strong winds, rain, and snow that could wash out narrow mountainside trails; extreme altitudes that could bring on altitude sickness; attacks by wild animals, and; the presence of bandits and soldiers during a time of civil war in China. It was interesting to see life through his perspective as a child, with memories such as packing his long-eared stuffed rabbit, playing with local children, the aftermath of his first monsoon storm, raising pigeons, and kite flying. He and his sister had a facility for picking up local languages, including Malayali, Urdu, Hindi, and Turki, and he would get a glimpse of the adult world by translating for his father and his father’s employers.


When the family returned to England, Bernard and his sister continued their formal education, while their father (joined by their mother) was posted to Nigeria. It was while on a summer holiday in Nigeria that Bernard became interested in training in medicine himself. His wife Dr. Elaine May (née Parker), was a year ahead of him at medical school. She became an anaesthesiologist. They were married for almost 65 years.


His career would take him to Winnipeg, Manitoba; back to England; Uganda (during the dictatorship of Idi Amin); London, Ontario; back to Winnipeg, and; finally “retiring” to divide their time between Vancouver Island and New Zealand (where they both worked for 20 years at a clinic). He chronicles the difference in training and practice between England and Canada, as well as the strides in the treatment of gynaecological issues. Of particular interest were his observations of working with Indigenous communities in the Northwest Territories.


You can read the full review here:


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