Francis O’Donnell and Denis Belliveau are two American adventurers who followed the trail of Marco Polo by horseback, camelback, on foot, and by jeep. This was in the mid 90s when much of their route was either in the middle of a war or was off-limits to Americans. They made their journey on a small budget, with no official support, and were damned lucky to escape with their lives.
These are not laid-back travelers taking a nice trip through Asia. They got into a knock-down fistfight with one another, another one with a group of Russian gangster wannabes in Tajikistan, basically told a Chinese security officer to go f**k himself, shattered the glass in a hotel door when the desk clerk wouldn’t let them in (it was accidental, sort of, and they felt a little badly about it) and then flooded their hotel room when they forgot to turn off a tap. They also were kidnapped by a warlord in Afghanistan and came within seconds of being executed. Oh, they also hitched a ride across the secret Chinese nuclear test-site, driving at night, because that was the route taken by Marco Polo.
They knew enough Turkish and Russian to make themselves understood, and seemed to manage OK with Mandarin as well.
They had tremendous difficulty getting into Iran, because they were American. They did finally manage to get in, after months of bureaucratic delay, on condition that they stay with the government-imposed driver and translator. They ditched the driver and translator after a week, and made the rest of their trip on their own.
The book is well illustrated with color photographs, and has frequent quotes from Marco Polo’s journals, showing how much and how little has changed in the culture and landscape.