Travels with a Tangerine: From Morocco to Turkey in the Footsteps of Islam’s Greatest Traveler

"I don't like traveling in itself. I would much rather stay here and chew khat. But when I do travel, I have been blessed with good luck."
Tim Mackintosh-Smith
Tim Mackintosh-Smith
Travels with a Tangerine

Book Info

Author: Tim Mackintosh-Smith

Year Published: 2001

Geographic Area: Middle East


Tim Mackintosh-Smith is a British writer who has been based in Yemen for years now, and as such has a unique perspective into a culture that can seem highly alien and foreign to westerners. 

A name that may also not be familiar to most westerners is ibn Battuta, a Tunisian traveler of the 14th century. By all accounts, he probably traveled farther than anyone else in history at that point. This dude left on the hajj (a journey to Mecca that all able-bodied Muslims are required to take) around the year 1325 and…well, just kept going. 29 years and 75,000 miles later, he wrote down his experiences in The Rihla, often translated as The Travels of ibn Battuta, or just The Travels.    

Mackintosh-Smith marries his knowledge of Middle Eastern cultures with his fascination with ibn Battuta to create one of the most eloquently-worded travelogues/biographies I’ve ever read.

Ibn Battuta / Image courtesy of
Ibn Battuta / Image courtesy of

Why It’s a Great Travel Book

What Mackintosh-Smith does here is follow in the footsteps of the eponymous Tangerine (that is, a native of the city of Tangiers). He starts in IB’s hometown and follows him across much of the Middle East, utilizing his deep understanding of the local culture and language. Along the way he meets some very interesting people, to say the least, and casts a gimlet eye on notable events from IB’s life. Even if IB isn’t the most interesting person in the world to you, it’s an incredible work of Middle Eastern travel, culture, cuisine, customs, and history.  

Keep in mind that IB was traveling for the better part of three decades; Mackintosh-Smith only completes about half his journey in this volume, and that’s using modern transportation. 

Other Thoughts

I only have one criticism of this book: sometimes it’s written too well. What I mean by that is that it seemed like every few pages I was reaching for the dictionary. As a man of expansive vocabulary myself, I was impressed; as a reader, I was annoyed. I used to be a journalist and I was taught to write at an 8th grade reading level so you don’t alienate any readers. The onus is on you to get the information across in a clear and concise way. Mackintosh-Smith, on the other hand, never met a two-dollar word he didn’t like.  

Otherwise, he’s an incredible writer. 

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2 Responses

  1. F. P. Dorchak says:

    Nice post—AND you “gimlet”in a sentence!

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