Tortillas To Totems – Reviews

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In the UK? Click here to order a signed copy direct from Sam.

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. Manicom is a master at making the motorcycle tour something that everyone can experience and enjoy.

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

Being North American, I didn’t think I’d be all that interested in this book because, you know… been there… done that, kind of thing. But a few pages in and I was ready for more. Perhaps it’s a point-of-view that many of us who live here share… the tendency to take our fair continent for granted. Sometimes it’s only through a ‘foreigner’s’ eyes that can we review this silly notion and are forced to refocus our attentions…

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… Now, just because an adventurer travels through interesting places doesn’t necessarily mean the story will be compelling. I’ve read too many authors that can make a trip to the moon seem boring. But Tortillas to Totems is 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.

His impressions as he crossed the border from Mexico to the U.S. are especially interesting and possibly controversial to some. I’d have to say that probably the last place I’d pick to cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. would be at Tijuana. Anyone knows that — anyone except a “foreigner” I guess. Like it or not, we Americans have a certain…shall I say “reputation” that may or may not be deserved. But as Sam later finds out, this is a big country with a lot of people of different ideas, backgrounds and feelings that go way beyond stereotypes — yet another traveler’s lesson learned. …this is a very good “you are there” read and a must-have for anyone considering a serious adventure tour in your own backyard. You’ll learn about the types of situations to expect and the surprises that make it all worthwhile. And, as always happens when you travel, you’ll bring something back with you that will never be forgotten. – Click here to read the full review

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.

TBM – 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 inovative 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 truly interesting account of Sam and his partner Birgit’s experience of riding their motorcycles across the vast and diverse countries of Mexico, the United States and Canada. There is 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 pondering the experiences and absurdities. And 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.


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 encompases 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.

I had really high expectations after reading Sam’s last books and 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. It’s actually really therapeutic reading the book after a hard and mad day at work, you can escape with Sam, unwind and join him on his journey as he discovers new things. Sam has a wonderful way of story telling 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 and it really amazes me, as it does Sam, generally how kind people are. That really comes across in the book and regenerates your hope for mankind. Perhaps we aren’t all setting out to kill each other and could get along??

Sam 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 as I’ve had in some travel books where I haven’t got past Chapter 1. Oh and as per the other books in the series the pictures included are award winners. Each one. Really really stunning. You just want to look and stare at them and imagine what it must have been like to be there and how it would feel.

When I got to the end I was actually really sad. I was sad that the adventure was at the end. I wanted to read more… 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! If there’s any book to go on your Christmas list please do put this one down you will not be disappointed.

Honda XRV Forum – Click here to read the full review

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

There is no one better qualified to offer up good advice on every aspect of long distance motorcycling than Sam Manicom. Subtle advice on dealing with surly border guards is the order of the day here! … Wrap your mitts about this book and Sam will make sure this never happens to you.

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… – Click here to read the full review

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

When I do a review of a book I do like to be honest about it’s content so I was a little wary when I started reading this latest travel tale, after all, just how interesting can a ride up through Mexico and the US be?? I needn’t have worried though because, once again, 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

This book is Sam’s 4th book about his mammoth trip, as documented by his previous books ‘Into Africa’, ‘Under Asian Skies’ and ‘Distant Suns’.

Tortillas to Totems is written in the same style as those previous ones, 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! – Click here to read the full review

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…”, getting under the skin of each country he visits…

The Riders Digest

It’s not often when we ask a magazine to review one of my books that they set two reviewers to the task. MAG’s ‘The Road’ magazine have done just that, and as they are the first reviews to be published, and we are so pleased with them, we decided to post them pretty much in full…

Review #1

When the call went out for someone to review a book in a week, I offered to try even though my hectic personal, MAG and work lives leave me few minutes… Imagine my dismay when the 297 page ‘Tortillas to Totems’ by Sam Manicom with Birgit Schuenemann, neither of whom I had heard of, landed with me.

Another Over Landers travels book at that, not my favourite type. I definitely thought this was going to be a chore. However, much to my surprise I found myself instantly swept up in the travels of a couple who were not doing this as famous people out to add to their collection of ‘things we’ve done, aren’t we great – more money in the bank’, but as a couple of normal people who wanted to experience the world with a realistic budget and on ordinary motorbikes with the sort of personal modifications any of us could do if we set our minds to it.

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…

This book was not a chore to read, far from it. 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.

Review #2

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Tortillas to Totems’. I found it very well written, which made it easy reading. I enjoyed the descriptions of some of the views and the areas travelled through. It is not the first overlander book I have read and it is interesting to read of the joys and trials and tribulations some people suffer to make a dream come true.

The book is all about fulfilling a dream, and sometimes how hard that is, but how very worthwhile. It does inspire you to consider the dreams you have and if you could possibly fulfill them.

There are several places that make you smile and a couple that make you laugh out loud. The descriptions of the people and friends met will resonate with any biker that has had himself/herself or machine come unstuck whilst in the middle of nowhere. For Sam and Birgit this was anywhere in Mexico, the USA and Canada.

There is quite a lot of historic detail about some of the places and the countries traveled through. I learnt a lot I didn’t now about some countries I had very wrong conceptions of. A lot of Sam’s thinking about how insular some peoples are were interesting, and in places very thought provoking. I agreed with most of his thoughts and musings.

This is not a book just for overlanders to read. I would recommend it to anyone as a holiday read and I will be reading the others he has written.

‘The Road’ magazine (MAG)