More than 180 Latin American travelogues reviewed with excerpts

        Travelogues about Latin America have always been an area of intense interest to me, having travelled to nearly every country in the region. I first visited Mexico in the early 1980s, and worked in Colombia for four years; altogether I have spent more than a decade in Latin America. I think my interest in this area can be traced back to a childhood reading of Tintin and Prisoners of the Sun by Herge, a kind of comic book travelogue for kids, set among the Incas of Peru. Also I have published one travelogue myself. I decided to list my book collection alphabetically and write a brief review and synopsis of what the books are about to help people who have a similar interest. There are more than 180 books in this list - a few of them are a little difficult to get a hold of. Some are very old and out of print, and several were never sold in North America, but only a couple of them are true 'rare books' - I can't afford them! Nearly all the titles listed here can be found and purchased over the internet by using Abebooks, Bibliofind, Alibris, or other web-based book finding services. The year of publication and page references for the extracts refer to the editions I have - often they differ from later or earlier editions, as do the inclusion/exclusion of photographs; American and English editions, even if published by the same publisher in the same year, can be significally different. I found many of the books in second hand bookstores, though many still are in print. Don't forget you can usually obtain almost any book through your local library, even if they don't stock a copy, through various inter-library exchange schemes.
        This may seem like a large list, but its really only the tip of the iceberg of books written in English. There is an even larger body of work in Spanish, Portuguese and other languages, going back 500 years, many of these are yet to be properly translated. The travelogue genre is very old but it is getting added to right up to the present day. In this list you will find several travelogues written by women (two of whom were nuns), one by an American President, several by archaeologists and scientists, another is by a paraplegic; others were written by travellers who walked, rafted, canoed, drove cars or rode horses, mules, bicycles or motorcycles. One book describes a journey by flying-boat, another by amphibious jeep while yet another is by hovercraft!

        NB: you might like to bookmark this site,since you probably won't read it all at once - it prints out to well over 100 pages. Send me an email if you want to be notified when new reviews are posted; I regularly update this page. 

Updated / travelogue review # 190 added: 30th October  2012


20,000 Miles South, Helen and Frank Schreider

Across Unknown South America, A. Henry Savage-Landor

Aguirre, Stephen Minta

Along the Inca Road, Karin Muller

Along the Parana and the Amazon, Frank G Carpenter

Along the Peruvian Andes, John Sayle

Amazon Fortune Hunter, Paul Gregor

An Account of a Voyage up the River de la Plata, Acarete du Biscay

Andes, Michael Jacobs

Around South America With a Sample Case, J Frank Lanning

At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, John Gimlette

Back On The Road: A Journey to Central America, Ernesto "Che" Guevara

Baja to Patagonia, Larry Rice

Beggars on Golden Stools, Peter Schmid

Beyond Lake Titicaca, Angela Caccia

Beyond the River of the Dead, D.G. Fabre

Beyond the Silver River, Jimmy Burns

Bluestocking in Patagonia, Anne Whitehead

A Brief Memoir of James Wilson, James Wilson

The Bolivian Andes, Sir Martin Conway

Bolivian Diary, Ernesto Che Guevara

The Bolivian Times, Tim Elliott

Brazilian Adventure, Peter Fleming

Brazilian Interior, Kenneth Matthews

Brazil on the Move, John Dos Passos

The Burial Brothers, Simon Mayle

The Capital of Hope, Alex Shoumatoff

Casual Wanderings In Ecuador, Blair Niles

Chasing Che, Patrick Symmes

Circling South America, Isabel Anderson

The Cloud Forest, Peter Matthiessen

Cocaine Train, Stephen Smith

Coleman's Drive, John Coleman

The Condor and the Cows, Christopher Isherwood

Coups and Cocaine, Anthony Daniels

Cusco Tales, Richard Nisbet

Cut Stones and Crossroads, Ronald Wright

The Darien Gap, Martin Mitchinson 

Death, Dreams and Dancing in Nicaragua, Penny O'Donnell

A Death In Brazil, Peter Robb

Digging Up Butch and Sundance, Anne Meadows

East to the Amazon, John Blashford Snell and Richard Snailham

Ecuador the Unknown, Victor W von Hagen

Eight Feet in the Andes, Dervla Murphy

Enchanting Wilderness, Hans Tolten

Exploration Fawcett, Col. P.H. Fawcett

Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, William Herndon

Explorations of the Highlands of the Brazil, Richard Burton

The Explorers of the Amazon, Anthony Smith

The Explorers of South America, Edward Goodman

Exploring the Amazon, Helen and Frank Schreider

Forty Years in the Argentine Republic, Arthur E Shaw
For Science and National Glory, Robert Ryal Miller
Four Faces of Peru, W Byford-Jones
Four Kiwis and a Falcon, David Harford
From Sea to Sea in South America, W. T. Blake
From the Andes to the Amazon Basin in Ecuador, Heinrich Goldschmid
The Fruit Palace, Charles Nicholl
Full Circle, A South American Journey, Luis Sepulveda
Ghost Train Through the Andes, Michael Jacobs
Golden Wall and Mirador, Sacheverell Sitwell
Grandmother Drives South, Constance Jordan Henley
Green Dreams, Travels in Central America, Stephen Benz
The Green Horizons, Gilbert Phelps
The Gringo Trail, Mark Mann
Gringos in the Mist, Greg Gordon
Half a Dozen of the Other, Sebastian Snow
Hans Staden, The True Story of his Captivity, Hans Staden
Head-Hunters of the Amazon, FW Up de Graaf
Heart of the Amazon, Yossi Ghinsberg
High Cities of the Andes, Celia Wakefield
Highway of the Sun, Victor W von Hagen
History of a Voyage to Brazil, by Jean de Lery
House of the Tiger King, Tahir Shah
The Impossible Adventure, Alain Gheerbrant
The Impossible Ride, Louise Sutherland
In and Out the Andes, Maria del Rey
In Bolivia, Eric Lawlor
In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin
The Incredible Voyage, Tristan Jones
In the Amazon Jungle, Algot Lange
In the Realms of Gold, Quentin Crewe
In Trouble Again, Redmond O'Hanlon
Inca Kola, Matthew Parris
Incas and Other Men, George Woodcock
The Incas of Pedro Cieza de Leon, (Cronica del Peru) Pedro Cieza de Leon
The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey, Salman Rushdie
The Journal of an Expedition Across Venezuela and Colombia 1906-1907, Hiram Bingham
Journey Along the Andes, Christopher Portway
A Journey In Brazil, Louis Agassiz
Jupiter's Travels, Ted Simon
Journey to Ollantaytambo, Ethan Hubbard
Journey to the World's End, Hakon Mielche
Keep the River to Your Right, Tobias Schneebaum
Kota Mama, John Blashford-Snell and Richard Snailham
The Last Great Journey on Earth, Brian Branston
Latin America on Bicycle, J.P. Panet
Lieutenant Nun, Catalina de Erauso
Lizzie, A Victorian Lady's Amazon Adventure, Tony Morrison, Ann Brown, Anne Rose
Llama for Lunch, Lydia Laube
Lonesome George, Cest Moi!, Jorge Sotirios !!! LATEST REVIEW !!!

Lonesome Rhodes, Ashley Rhodes
The Longest Walk, George Meegan
Looking for Mr Guevara, Barbara Brodman
Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of South America, David Hatcher Childress
Manhunting in the Jungle, George M Dyott
The Mapmaker's Wife, Robert Whitaker
Markham in Peru, Clements R Markham
Matto Grosso, Waclaw Korabiewicz
Mi Moto Fidel, Christopher P. Baker
The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto Che Guevara
My Amazon Adventure, Sebastian Snow
My Colombian Death, Matthew Thompson
My Jungle Book, Herbert S Dickey
A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, Alfred Russel Wallace
A Naturalist in the Gran Chaco, Sir John Graham Kerr
The Naturalist on the River Amazons, Henry Walter Bates
Northern Caballero, William N. Merryman
An Odd Odyssey, Glen David Short
Off the Map, John Harrison
The Old Patagonian Express, Paul Theroux
On the Trail of the Feathered Serpent, Gene Savoy
On the Trail of the Unknown, G. M. Dyott
One River, Wade Davis
Over Andes & Amazon, Alan Hadfield
Paddle to the Amazon, Don Starkell
The Panama Hat Trail, Tom Miller
Pangoan Diary, Ruth Harkness
The Pantanal, Vic Banks
Paradise Mislaid, Anne Whitehead
Paradise With Serpents, Robert Carver
Passage Through El Dorado, Jonathon Kandell
Peru Illustrated, E. George Squier
Rafting the Amazon, Francois Odendaal
Reality is the Bug that Bit Me in the Galapagos, Mark Watson and Charlotte du Cann
Rescuing the Spectacled Bear, Stephen Fry
Return to La Paz, Thomas Reissmann
Riding With Ghosts: South of the Border, Gwen Maka
The Rivers Amazon, by Alex Shoumatoff
The Road Gathered No Moss, Hayman Chaffey
The Road to Buenos Ayres, Albert Londres
The Road to Extrema, Bob Reiss
Road to Osambre, John Ridgway
Roof of the Americas, John Warburton-Lee
The Rough and the Smooth, Robin Hanbury-Tenison
Rough Notes Taken During Some Rapid Journeys Across the Pampas and Among the Andes, Captain F. B. Head
The Rucksack Man, Sebastian Snow
The Saddest Pleasure, Moritz Thomsen
Sangay Survived, by Richard Snailham
Searching for Isabel Godin, Celia Wakefeild
Short Walks from Bogota, Tom Feiling
Silent Highways of the Jungle, George M Dyott
Sons of the Moon: A Journey in the Andes, Henry Shukman
South America More or Less, Robert St John
South America Overland, Iain Finlay and Trish Sheppard
South America Revisited, Kenneth L. Miller
South By Thunderbird, Hudson Strode
Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon, Peter Lourie
Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon, Jack Pizzey
A Sword in the Air, David Tipton
Three Men in a Raft, Ben Kozel
Through Jaguar Eyes, Benedict Allen
Through the Brazilian Wilderness, Theodore Roosevelt
Ticket to Paradise, Ben Subbs
Timewalk: A Bolivian Journey, Robert Rauch

To Infinity and Beyond, Stephen E. Holmes 

To the End of the World and Back, Ian Middleton 
To the Heart of the Amazon, Valerie Miekle
Trail of Feathers, Tahir Shah
The Trail to Titicaca, Rupert Attlee
Travelling With Che Guevara, Alberto Granado
Travels in a Thin Country, Sara Wheeler
Travels in Brazil, Henry Koster
Travels in South America, Paul Marcoy
Travels With My Father, Daniel and Feliks Topolski
The Treasure Hunter, Robin Moore and Howard Jennings
Tschiffely's Ride, A. F. Tschiffely

Turn Right at Machu Picchu, Mark Adams 

Two Against Cape Horn, Hal Roth
Up the Creek, John Harrison
Vagabond Fever, Karl Eskelund
Walking the Beaches of Ecuador, JG Cardenas and KM Greiner
Valverde's Gold, Mark Honigsbaum
A Wanderer In Inca Land, Christopher Sandeman
White Water, Brown River, Alan Holman
The White Rock, Hugh Thomson
Working North from Patagonia, Harry A. Franck
A World on the Wane, Claude Levi-Strauss 
World Safari, Alby Mangels and Marie Appleton


20,000 Miles South, A Pan-American Adventure, Helen and Frank Schreider, New York, 1957. This is a classic adventure tale. Imagine you and your wife and your pet German Shepherd travelling the length of the Americas, from Circle, a tiny Alaskan town inside the Arctic Circle, to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego - in your own vehicle. That sounds adventurous enough, but the Schreiders' mode of transport, in a 1942 Ford Amphibious Jeep, makes it even more remarkable - the route included ocean legs from Panama to Colombia, Patagonian lakes, and across the Strait of Magellan. As Frank notes in the beginning, the vehicle chosen was not reknown for its reliability - during the war only a few thousand were built when it was realized the 60hp engine was overtaxed by the heavy body, 4 wheel drive, transmission-driven propeller and bilge-pump, and during WWII a good sized wave sent many straight to the bottom of the ocean. Schreider bought the jeep for scrap value, repairing and modifying it in his spare time. After years of planning and saving money, the three set off in June, 1954. Early on, they face difficulties on unsealed mud tracks in Guatemala, where Helen contracts typhoid. Trying their luck off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, they are forced to turn back due to heavy seas, and try to continue by going up a river and then follow a railway track; the latter route shredded their tyres and forced them to get a lift on a railway flat-car, the only part of the journey not completed under their own power. The trio cross the Panama Canal and then comes the best part of the book, about the Caribbean coast of Panama. Beautiful photographs taken from the air among the San Blas islands by US Air Force planes are included, some were used by the US Information Service in a publicity campaign about the Pan-American Highway, which in the 1950s contained numerous gaps. One photo shows the vehicle, nicknamed La Tortuga, or 'The Turtle', sailing past a tropical isle, another from the air shows it surrounded by natives and bark huts, in a desert-island village square. Caught in heavy seas off Uvita Point, using an 1885 hydrographic chart, Schrieder wrote: "...With the accelerator floored we entered the breaker line. There was the same surge toward shore as the first unborn breaker passed under us, and then the same thrust from the stern. The bow nosed down. Again we surf boarded out of control. Standing almost on her nose, La Tortuga rushed forward, caught on the crest with the trough twenty feet below. I felt as if we were in the front ear of a roller coaster at the top of the first drop. Terrified, thinking we were going stern over bow, I let up on the gas, hoping the comber would slip under us and we would straighten out. Instead, with no propeller wash past the rudder, we lost the last bit of control. La Tortuga spun broadside to the waves, heeled over on her side. The engine sputtered and died. For an eternity we hung there while wave after wave slammed against the bottom of the hull, wondering why the jeep didn't go over, praying it wouldn't and knowing it should. The whole portside was completely submerged, water streamed in through the seals around the doors. Dinah and Helen scrambled for something to hang on to and tried to keep out of my way as I frantically worked the throttle and ground on the starter..." (page 109) Fortunately, La Tortuga made it back to shore. The San Blas Indians, many of whom had never seen a wheeled vehicle before, scattered when they first saw it, thinking it was some sort of sea monster as it crawled from the waterside to the beaches, where it could attain a better speed. Word of the 'sea monster' spread ahead of them, but after initial fear was overcome banquets were arranged the locals fought each other for a closer look. Gasoline was problem on the San Blas leg, and supplies had to be purchased and deposited ahead, as to carry more than a day or two's supply would sink the vehicle-vessel. Near the mouth of the Rio Atrato, an unmarked vessel, probably modern pirates, begins chasing them but they make good their escape by turning onto a long beach where they can make 45 miles per hour, as against La Tortuga's top water speed of 6 knots in water. Hidden in the jungle they waited till the pirates were out of sight. Back on dry land in Colombia, the pair face Customs hassles because they entered as a boat rather than as a car - each subsequent country wants to know how they got so far without the correct papers. Various mechanical problems manifest in the high Andes but Frank's training as an engineer saves the day. Right at the end, in the Strait of Magellan there is more drama when they are caught battling strong cross currents, when 8ft porpoises appear, and through some incredible luck manage to make Tierra del Fuego. Guests of the Argentine Navy, the trio and their vehicle are offered a lift back on the Les Eclaireurs to Buenos Aires, from whence they make their way over than Andes once more to Santiago, at a turtle's pace, as only first gear was functioning, where the journey ends more than a year after they left Alaska.

Across Unknown South America, A. Henry Savage-Landor, New York, 1913. This book was originally published in two volumes, having 434 and 504 pages respectively. I did not know this when I requested it through an inter-library loan service, and I must admit I found the telephone-directory thickness of them to be a little daunting. However, I soon became engrossed in the books, and finished them in less than a week. There is, I am sure, a market for this book if it could be abridged to a single volume, though I myself prefer unabridged editions. Savage-Landor's route is almost as monumental as his journal: arriving at Rio de Janiero by boat, he treks inland to the northern Matto Grosso and descends the Tapajoz River, continues to Belem, then goes upriver to Peru, crosses the Andes to Lima, thence over the Andes again to Cusco, La Paz, and back to the Pacific to Antofagasta, by boat to Valparaiso, thence overland to Buenos Aires. He calculates the distance he covered from Rio to Lima as 22,000kms, or 13750 miles, (not counting his return to Rio via Santiago and Buenos Aires). Much of Volume 1 is made up of Savage-Landor's geological observations of the southern Brazilian highlands and rivers; he sees a rock formation described as a natural Sphinx, and includes photos of an incredible rock wall called Paredaozinho and a formation that resembles a church tower. Savage-Landor hires an unruly band of porters, whom prove to be most unreliable, ditching his possessions and stealing provisions whenever they can. Several times they mutiny, and demand to be released from his employ; Savage-Landor always offers to discharge them and pay them on the spot and they usually change their minds when they realise that abandoning the party in the middle of the wilderness would not be in anyone's interest. Savage-Landor mapped the Arinos River, and took a lot of scientific equipment, including sextants, thermometers, barometers, and cameras; he also made astronomical observations, and describes seeing strange phenomena such as a star discharging red and green flashes (page 297, Vol 1). Although many of his glass negatives were lost, damaged or abandoned, he was able to salvage a good number of them and include them in the book. Most interesting are the images of some strange fossil skulls he found on hilltop; another of a large snake, its belly swollen by the deer it was digesting; and ancient Inca artefacts for sale in Cusco. Many images show the men hauling a heavy dug-out canoe that was their main mode of transport, over hills and down embankments, avoiding rapids that they could not descend. The canoe must have made a curious sight: Savage-Landor in charge of a crew of varying skin colours, himself wearing his pyjamas because they were cooler and dried quicker, with the Union Jack flying from a post at the rear. Some of the people he meets in the virtually uninhabited regions are destitute: "... In the Jangada valley we found two hot springs emerging from the side of the plateau from which we had descended. I discovered there two miserable tiny sheds belonging to a family of escaped negro slaves. They had lived seventeen years in that secluded spot. They grew enough Indian corn to support them. All the members of the family were pitifully deformed and demented. Seldom have I seen such miserable-looking specimens of humanity. One was demented to such an extent that it was impossible to get out of him more than a few disconnected groans. He spent most of his time crouched like an animal, and hardly seemed conscious of what took place round him. Another was a deaf and dumb cretin ; a third possessed a monstrous hare-lip and a deformed jaw ; while two women, dried up and skinny, and a child were badly affected by goitre. For a single family that seemed a melancholy spectacle.
It was really pitiable-everywhere in the interior of Brazil-wherever you came across a family, to find that all its members were cretins, and deformed to such an extent as to make them absolutely repulsive. Frequently I had noticed among the common abnormalities supernumerary fingers and toes. One child at this place, in fact, had six toes to each foot, besides being an idiot, deaf and dumb, and affected by goitre. The only one of the family who was able to realize what took place was terrified at our approach, and never got over his terror as long as we remained. He suffered from the illusion that everybody wished to murder him. For some reason or other he believed that I had come specially, all the way from my own country, in order to search for him and kill him. All the most considerate words on my part, the showering of presents, had no effect upon him. He sat some way off, watching me attentively all the time, and whenever I moved my hands in any direction he dashed away shrieking, thinking that I should attempt to strangle him-for his mania was death by strangulation. After a while he returned, and in his broken, almost unintelligible language-his tongue was nearly paralyzed and he had difficulty in articulating properly-begged to be spared..." (pages 360-361, Vol 1) 
In the next paragraphs Savage-Landor describes further moral degeneration in the form of incest and zoophilia. On another page he desrcibes meeting a German who spoke 5 languages, but down on his money, had entered into the rubber collecting business, and unwittingly through the debt system, ended up a white slave. The journey north to the Amazon is so difficult his men split into separate groups while his vanguard party forges forward and, without food, he is ready to die: "...As we had now been four entire days without eating anything at all, I thought it was high time to open the valuable tin of anchovies-the only one in our possession. We had a terrible disappointment when I opened the tin. I had purchased it in S. Manoel from Mr. Barretto. To our great distress we discovered that instead of food it contained merely some salt and a piece of slate. This was a great blow to us. The box was a Brazilian counterfeit of a tin of anchovies. How disheartening to discover the fraud at so inopportune a moment! I had reserved the tin until the last as I did not like the look of it from the outside. We kept the salt-which was of the coarsest description..." (pages 309-310, Vol 2) . One night a jaguar rests his paws on him and sniffs him as he lay sleeping in his hammock, then runs off. Almost at the end of their strength after 16 days without food, the men find some large glass demijohns in an abandoned hut, which were used to provide buoyancy for a raft they built. The glass bottles begin to break when they hit rocks, and slowly the raft begins to sink, and Savage-Landor believes it is the end, as they are many miles from the nearest known settlement, but miraculously a rubber-trader's boat appears on its once-a year trading voyage, and they are rescued. But his journey, in terms of distance, is less than half accomplished. Further adventures and dangers continue right up until the last page, when, aboard a train only a few miles from Buenos Aires, he is struck by a rock thrown at the train's window by striking employees.

Aguirre : The Re-Creation of a Sixteenth-Century Journey Across South America, Stephen Minta, New York, 1994. This is part travelogue, part historical essay. I think I like the historical part the best, since Minta and his female companion abandon their re-tracing of Aguirre's route after she contracts malaria near Manaus. Minta soon becomes fatigued with Amazonia:
"...We describe certain scenes from our urban world as 'concrete jungles': the way odd clusters of shapes reduce us to mere spectators in the face of a greater power. The metaphor is apt. Here, in the vegetable jungle, one is confronted by a reckless geometry that is beyond one's capacity to control. Which explains our passion for destroying it, for sweeping it all away..." (page 139) 
Minta draws upon the several surviving chronicles of Lope de Aguirre's ill-fated expedition down the Amazon, to create an interesting vision of this incredible journey. Even before it started, the expedition seemed doomed. Most of the boats sank as soon as they were launched, and nearly all of the horses, cows and goats had to be left behind. Indian villages they came upon were usually deserted and bereft of food when Spaniards arrived, leaving them starving and desperate. Aguirre's crazy leadership and murderous deeds in some ways reminded me of William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Aguirre was a murderous and maniacal leader, but one cannot deny his genius when you read his rebellious yet reasoned letter to the King of Spain. This story makes Braveheart look sedate - Werner Herzog made an acclaimed movie regarding this bloody tale that I am looking forward to watching one day. Interesting historical side notes include a brief biography of Roger Casement, an early and staunch defender of Amazon Indians' human rights, who was later hanged by the British for treason.

Along the Inca Road, by Karin Muller, Washington, 2000. Books written by adventurous women always offer a different perspective to your average macho travel book. Muller travels the ancient Inca highways system, the longest in the ancient world. In one part she suffers an ancient Incan ritual that involves sacrificing a guinea pig, in another she goes boating in the Pacific on a reed fishing canoe. I have a strong suspicion that the German motorcyclists described as Andi and Martin in the text are the same men I met and befriended, and wrote about in An Odd Odyssey. She decribes this scene in a church in Copacabana: "...Several hundred faithful packed the pews in reverent silence. Incense floated skyward from the swaying lamp in the priest's hand. Several black-robed women - blood cousins to the beer-drinking dancers outside - knelt near the nave with flowers in their hands. Tears ran down their cheeks. It looked like a thoroughly modern ceremony - until I glanced toward the back of the church and noticed a fringe of feathers and a skull grinning back at me. Gradually I picked out other costumes - a man in a leopard skin and buffalo horns, four young ladies in silver body sheathes and the shortest skirts I'd ever seen..." (page 266)

Along the Parana and the Amazon, Frank G Carpenter, New York, 1934. Don't expect too much adventure from Carpenter: he produced a whole series of travel books and travelled with a stenographer by his side. But the book has merit in its black-and-white photographs of the working class people of Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil; his observations and opinions are informative and interesting. Beginning the narrative while steaming up the Parana River to Asuncion, he travels by steamer, canoe, train and ocean-going ship. He often recalls his earlier visits to South America, harking back more than 30 years. The narrative is not geographically continuous, chapters skipping from one zone to another, but it is written in an informal and readable manner. Bahia, Manaus, Belem, Asuncion, and Montevideo are described as they were in the 1930s. Rio's famous Butantan snake farm gets a whole chapter to itself, as do the Chaco, Matto Grosso, and Iguazu Falls regions. The Santos coffee export industry is described, including how to tell if ground coffee has been adulterated with indigo or other additives. On page 187 he tells of a ship of German immigrants, bound for Australia, who, upon putting ashore in Rio de Janiero, became so enamoured with Brazil they decided to found a colony there instead. He describes a scene in southern Brazil, where German enclaves were common: "My room in the hotel overlooked a public school, and at the noon recess I saw the master, a tall, gaunt German in old-fashioned clothes, come out and walk up the street between two rows of beautiful palm trees. He had in his hands a cheese sandwich that must have been a foot long and about eight inches wide. Out of this he bit gargantuan mouthfuls as he walked along. Behind him came his pupils, a hundred or more, each consuming a similar though smaller sandwich. Thus eating their lunch, they walked up the avenue and back again and then returned to school" (page 188)

Along the Peruvian Andes, A Travel Adventure, by John Sayle Junior, New York, 1953. Despite the book's promise of adventure, it came up short in my view; I struggled to finish this book. Although Sayle has a smooth and simple writing style, it is full of irrelevancies and waffle. Basically the book is his travel diary written in the present tense. It seems as if he has recorded every thought and muse that entered his head without considering its worth to the reader. Surely he could have clarified this confusing passage, about his climb of Mt Misti: "The view across the crater toward Picchu Picchu was magnificent. I started shooting pictures at once. The crater is not at the very center of the summit, bit off to the southeast side. Possibly I should call this inner crater and the outside rim the outer crater; no, I shall continue to call the inside part the crater, and the large outer part the summit. Actually this outside edge, which I call the summit, is the rim of an ancient crater, and the west-northwest part is the highest point on Misti. The outer part of the summit is roughly half a mile across, while the crater itself is not over half this diamater" (page 50) Sayle came to Peru with several cameras as an avid photographer; much of the book is concerned with his efforts to secure the best light and angles for his shots, around half of which contain himself in the foreground. He also devotes too many words to the failings of various development labs. Perhaps he knew his book would not impress, for on page 67 he wrote: "I have been reading over parts of my notebook with the idea of spotting ways to improve future copy. I am quite enthusiastic about much of what I have read, including the Misti climb. If I ever get the manuscript published, I may go so far as to read the book myself!" Some passages read like soliloquies put to paper: "Rain, rain, rain. I'm going to be glad to say goodbye to this place. I'm leaving at four o'clock in the morning in the truck in which I didn't come down to Quincemil. Now maybe I should clarify that statement. It's the same truck I intended to take down here, the one whose owner I talked a few days before leaving Cuzco, the one that I could not find when I started to look for a ride to Quincemil last Tuesday afternoon" (page 160). The book's few merits are the photographs, which are superb but somewhat repetitive; a description of tourism around Machu Picchu in the 1950s; and a very brief interview with legendary bullfighter Lorenzo Pascual Belmonteno.

Amazon Fortune Hunter, Startling True-Life Adventure in the Nightmare World of the Brazilian Jungle, Paul Gregor, London, 1962. Translated from the original French this 158 page book is an enthralling read, packed with short, punchy lines, straight to the point, though after a few pages you start to wonder if the anecdotes related within are a tad exaggerated:"...There are tribes who exist today at the source of the Tapajos... who frequently kill the hunted stag with gold shot... These Indians are familiar with the gold bearing rivers and, knowing there is little other use for gold without a great deal of trouble, they use it this way. To try and sell it would mean undertaking a long journey of sixty to eighty days on foot through the almost impenetrable jungle, followed by another journey in a canoe over highly dangerous rapids ...they prefer to remain at home and use the grains in more practical ways..."(page 10). In a subsequent chapter he writes of a terrifying yet hypnotizing night-time encounter with a sucuriju, a beast he says has dark blue eyes 18 inches apart, huge in size with a long mane like a horse, writing: "... I saw what I can only describe as a 'thing', before shooting the beast dead with his rifle. The author is more believable in his tales of life as a gemstone dealer, where he doesn't quite make his fortune in trading aquamarines, and as a timber-getter in search of jungle cedars which yield him a ten-fold profit, albeit experiencing the many dangers such a entrepreneur faces in the deep jungle. Most of the book is concerned with his worries that his lumberjack mateiro employees are going to rob or murder him, but his paranoia ends up being misplaced - it is not he who receives an axe plunged in the back, though he is witness to one such savage murder and describes it in grisly detail on pages 112-113. In other parts he recounts the time he came upon a giant snake strangling a cow, the "snake with a cat's head"; later he came upon the corpse of a murdered man with mutilated genitals - a victim of the evil Donna Julia, a ruthless landowner. In a chapter titled The Secrets of the Macumba he vividly writes of the black-magic ceremonies the cabolco Brazilians practice, and how he is ready to defend the life of Consuelo, one of three females in his work-camp, whom he had fallen in love with and he believes is about to become a human sacrificial victim.

An Account of a Voyage up the River de la Plata, and Thence Overland to Peru, Acarete du Biscay, North Haven USA, 1968. (originally published in England in 1698)Written by a man who sailed under an assumed identity to South America, it contains fascinating details of what it was like to be travelling in Bolivia and Argentina in 1657, at a time non-Spaniards were prohibited doing so. He makes his way to Potosi and twice sails from Spain to Buenos Aires, giving account of the smuggling that was going on. Only 79 pages long, it is packed with interesting anecdotes such as the following advice on how to cross a river if you don't know how to swim: 
"...The way was this, my Indian kill'd a Wild Bull, flead his hide off, stuffed it with straw, and ty'd it up a great bundle with thongs of the same Hide, upon which I plac'd my self with my Baggage; he swam over hawling me after him by a Cord ty'd to the bundle, and then he repass'd and swam my horses and Mules over to me..." (page 26)

Andes, Michael Jacobs, London 2010. An account of a modern-day north to south traversal of the Andes by a traveller who not only speaks the language - a huge advantage for any travel writer - but, refreshingly, also done his homework. Some travel writers over-imply they are doing something novel, unique or daring; good ones like Jacobs frequently refer to previous explorers, travellers and adventurers, modestly placing their own experiences in historical and geographical context. While some readers might feel bewildered at the inclusion of mini-biographies and historical anecdotes of others in a travel book, Jacobs mostly quotes the giants among them: Humboldt, Darwin, Guevara, Neruda et al. To my mind, these and others that are included only add interest to the book, as they give valuable background to an already interesting subject: the longest mountain chain on earth, and the people who live on it's slopes. Andes is illustrated with interesting period engravings accredited to his Andes-exploring predecessors, a few maps and a bibliography.
Beginning in Venezuela, Jacobs paints an interesting, if somewhat dark picture of towns little changed in almost 500 years. He makes an effort to visit local artists, writers and historians in each place he visits, and sometimes makes remarkable discoveries: in Ecuador, for example, he visits a collector of pre-Columbian artefacts who shows him a necklace made of scorpion eggs, allegedly of Inca origin (p 158). In Ecuador, after visiting a 'Chapel to Mankind' by noted Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamin, he speaks with a woman who knew him well, becuase she was one of his models. Her opinion of Guayasamin was he was an alcoholic and wife-beater (p185). In Guachala, a man shows him a bloodstained white shirt, said to be the same one Ecaudor's President Garcia Moreno was wearing the day he was assassinated. Also in Ecuador, he stays at the same hacienda where the French Geodesists stayed; his host on this occasion is a well connected Ecuadorian woman, herself previously romantically linked to Luis Miguel Dominguin. Entering Peru from the north, he visits Chachapoyas, where he finds the recently 'discovered' Gocta Falls not entirely worthy of its current reputation. In Cajamarca he retells the story of the capture of Atahualpa, weaving it in with a visit to Jaime Valera, a local historian-cum-musician who tells how the town square boasted statues of famous native 'Indians' in the 1930s, but Cajamarca's Mayor was seen as too progressive and the statues had been removed.
Further south, in the Peruvian village of Chacas, he stays with Padre Ugo, and a group of Italian Salesian priests. Fluent in Italian - where he was born - Jacobs gains some first-hand insight into the clerical view of remote Andean communities, a view often given perfunctory, if not outright hostile coverage by non-Catholic foreign visitors. On a bus trip that sounds perilous to say the least, he gains little pity from a fellow passenger: "I was wondering later that day if God also reserved a special place in Heaven for the victims of earthquakes, landslides and buses that fall off cliffs. We were returning to the Callejon de Huayalas the way we had come. There was no alternative. The bus left late, and storms overnight had muddied the road and blocked it with stones. One stretch was now so rutted that we all had to get out walk for a couple of kilometres, to lighten the bus's load. It was dark and sleety as we neared the top of the pass, and foggy and rainy as we descended the other side. The woman across the aisle from me, a Marxist school inspector highly critical of Padre Ugo, noticed my fear. She accused me of being a closet bourgeois egoist, and said I would be a more relaxed person if I thought less about my own safety and more of the horrendous sufferings of all those revolutionaries prepared to sacrifice their own blodd in the Andes just to make the world a tiny bit better. (page 361) "
On the road to Hunauco, Jacobs partakes of a pachamanca feast, pork slow-cooked in a hole in the ground covered with leaves, like a Moari hangi. Pages 392-393 contain a harrowing eyewitness report of the execution, several years previously, of two German backpackers by the Sendero Luminoso, by a woman who was on the same bus. Jacobs visits Machu Picchu and Bolivia's Death Road, two of the most famous attractions in the Andes, but does not dwell too long on them. In La Paz, he meets at the Presidential Palace with Cancio Mamni Lopez, Evo Morales' "Master of Ceremonies", who conducts what some would describe as a theatrical coca-leaf ceremony before an altar in his office and talked a lot about the Inca earth Goddess Pachamama and an imminent 'fourth unification' of Andean peoples. Not long after, he is holed up in a hotel in Sucre, and halfway through delivering a historical society speech on Simon Bolivar when striking miners start throwing sticks of dynamite around; despite tear gas in his hotel lobby and general mayhem, somehow he manages to retain his equanimity, and records the atmosphere surrounding the resignation of Bolivia's then President Vaca Diez. The final part of the book deal with the far south: Patagonia. Jacobs acknowledges he is following on the heels of Bruce Chatwin; as some other writers have noted, Chatwin is not popular in Patagonia due to his over-use of poetic licence:
" 'And what about Chatwin?' I asked. I had yet to hear a good word about him in South America, though he had merely done in Patagonia what travel writers generally do: exploit confidences, publish material without permission, misrepresent, misquote, exaggerate for literary effect, use people, and pormise to stay in touch then go away, never to be heard of again.
The anger Clery felt about Chatwin had obviously been building up for years. She, as a bookish and sophisticated person, had every reason to feel upset by Chatwin's portrayal of her father as a course drunken buffoon who called out 'Horse piss!' every time he wanted another beer. She told me that Chatwin's grasp of Spanish was so poor he got everything wrong.
'But what was he like as a person?' I continued. 'Insignificant,' she replied without hesitation, 'a small man, dull and charmless. He was interested in people only if they could help him, or supply picturesque material. Or if they had good bodies like the Bolivian.' "(page 512)

Jacobs tries hard not repeat Chatwin's sins, and I think he succeeds.

Around South America With a Sample Case, J Frank Lanning, Richmond, 1920. The author was a travelling salesman. The story follows him as he does his rounds through the major cities - his route was by Grace Liner to the west coast of South America, with overland excursions to the inland cities Cusco and La Paz. Transferring from a train at Puno to cross Lake Titicaca in the steamship Inca , he continues on various ships around Cape Horn to Buenos Aires, Rio and Para (Belem). In Lima, he inspects the ruins of Pachacamac, travelling by mule. On pages 59-61 he devotes some paragraphs to an Argentine political speaker, whom he described as "...a blooming Bolshivic from Buenos Aires... It was most unfortunate no ink well was available or bricks lying around..." and adds disparaging comments about the man's dandy style of dress. In La Paz, Lanning gives good account of the market women: "...we inspected one of the markets. The venders sit on the pavement with their stock in trade in little piles on their ponchos. If they fail to dispose of their stock they tic it up and tote it back home. I witnessed a sale today and cannot do justice to the description, but will try. First let me say a word about the useful poncho. It is a blanket with a hole in the center for the head to go through, and is so worn during the day; the women making a market basket or baby carriage out of the back end, as occasion demands. Well, an Indian squaw came up to the general merchandise stall with her poncho a la market basket. She held it open as she made known her wants to the market woman who skillfully shot her sales into the bag on top of a ragged piece of meat that had been purchased elsewhere. There was no measuring, but as the order was called out the old woman sent two hands full of frozen dried potatoes, half a hand full of peppers, a quarter section of cabbage and three carrots. The market woman then put a table spoon full of lard into a cabbage leaf, tossed that in, and the transaction was complete. As I figured it out, all the lady had to do was to have the pot boiling, dump the purchase in just as it stood, and produce her dinner. Had this deal been put through in the States, there would have been four perfectly good paper bags and a wooden saucer used, but down here nothing is wasted..." (pages 99-100) Also in La Paz, he is introduced to the famous archaeologist Arthur Posnansky, who shows him some incredible relics: "we went into the room where the treasures of the ancients are kept, and I was permitted to handle the ceremonial cups from which the priests poured libations to their gods. On the ones used in the sun worship, figures of the Macranchenis (giant llama, now extinct,) were drawn. On cups used for the wife of the sun (the moon) the puma is shown, and over the rude figures is thrown a glaze that has resisted the action of time and contact with earth for centuries. One of them is particularly well preserved, and was used for some special purpose or in the worship of some minor god. It was the same shape, but instead of the llama or puma, it had coiled about the stem, and partly up the bowl, a well-defined rattlesnake and, cunningly concealed in the stem is a set of rattles, which sing as clearly as they did when the original owner sent out his friendly warning. I was then shown bands of gold, silver and copper, with which the heads of the children were bound in order to elongate the skull. The three metals representing the classes in Tihuanacuan society..." (page 103-104) Lanning was charged with selling babbit metal and industrial belts, and his description of the copper extraction and refining process at Chuquicamata is enlightening. Rounding Cape Horn, his vessel receives some unexpected visitors: "...It was after dark before we reached an anchorage, and it called for cautious handling to bring the ship to safety, as the night was inky, and no friendly lighthouse to show us the way. Some Indians came alongside about 9 o'clock, and the quartermaster turned the searchlight on them. They were in the crudest kind of bark canoe, and in all my travels I have never looked upon such God-forsaken wretches. There were two women, one man and a child, and they belong to the "Yahgan" or Canoe Indians. They were sending up a plaintive cry of two words "Galleta Galleta" (biscuit) and "Wachiki Wachiki" (whiskey). The purser gave them a bag of stale bread, and one of the passengers brought them a bottle of wine. When the woman climbed up the side of the ship to get the wine, the ragged man's coat she was wearing fell open, being buttonless, and revealed her body, absolutely nude beneath, and this condition when I was shivering under a woolen union suit, heavy woolen clothes and ulster. I have seen the "native" in many parts of this old world, but the picture last night will live in my memory as one of the saddest. .." (pages 161-162) In BA he is laid up with a serious case of anthrax, with a large abscess opening on his neck, but a kindly woman nurses him to health, writing '...for a while it was a neck-and-neck race between "the Pale Horseman" and myself...' noting the survival rate at the time was a mere 5 per cent. The final chapter attempts to give some advice to Americans who want to do business in South America, recommending that one learns the language, speak in hushed tones when in restaurants, refrain from calling the locals "damn liars", and advises it is a folly to compare the Lima Cathedral with St John's in Morningside Heights: "...These people know full well they do not have a Woolworth Building or an Edgar Thompson Steel Works. The do not have to be told our nation overshadows them in art, science and industry. They know it, and our boastful comparisons are more than odious..." (page 248).

At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, Travels Through Paraguay, by John Gimlette, London, 2003. Despite the frivolous title, this is a serious yet highly readable volume. The author divides the book into three regions: Asuncion, Eastern Paraguay, and the Chaco. He visits each region personally digging into Paraguay's sad, murky and often bloody past - at one point he explored a battle-field carrying photocopied 19th century war maps. It is more of a history book than a travel book, but Gilmette has done his homework and has distilled a rip-roaring tome. All the major Paraguayan personalities are profiled: the natives, the Jesuits, Martin Bormann, indefatigable Madame Lynch, Elizabeth Nietzsche, vagabonds, colonists, and the dictators Lopez, Dr Francia, and Stroessner. A London lawyer and self-confessed Paraguay-phile, Mr Gilmett fills the book with nuggetty anecdotes of such as this one, which was the prelude to the US sending 15 warships to besiege Asuncion in 1859: 
"Hopkins bought himself the job of US Consul in 1852. Using money raised in the United States and a loan from President Carlos Lopez, he then set up a cigar factory and an ambitious industrial colony. But the Paraguayans had grossly overestimated Hopkins' abilities and he'd grossly underestimated the President's pride. Hostilities commenced when Hopkins refused to doff his hat at Don Carlos. At first, the two skirmished in the courts and all the 'Yanquis' were expelled. Then things got out of hand. Hopkins persuaded the commander of an American gunboat, the 'Water Witch', that the pride of the United States had been insulted, and they steamed back up the Rio Paraguay to demand from the savages a little respect. The Paraguayans responded by peppering the 'Water Witch' with cannon-fire, crippling its steering gear and forcing it to float back limply to Buenos Aires..." (page 88)

Back On the Road: A Journey to Central America, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, (translated by Patrick Camiller), London 2002. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. But it is very unlike his more famous Motorcycle Diaries and I would only recommend it to people who have some understanding of Latin American history and politics, and an interest in Che Guevara himself, since this book is really a collection of journal entries and letters to his family and friends, never intended for publication (though three short essays appended at the end were published in Latin America - one about Che's visit to the Yaguas in the Peruvian Amazon, the second about Machu Pichu, and the third a political commentary titled The Dilemma of Guatemala). There are several black and white photographs of Che, then in his twenties, handsome and beardless, very unlike the pop image where he is bearded and wearing his trademark beret. The foreword written by Che's great friend Dr Alberto Granado and the introduction by Latin American scholar Richard Gott both give a good overview of the context of these letters, covering the years 1953-56. One can sense Che's burgeoning desire to get involved in armed revolution, as he volunteers to go to the front during the Guatemalan coup, and his letters to his mother contain vivid descriptions of the civil unrest sweeping the country (for which Che firmly lays blame on the USA). We read of Che's first meeting with Fidel Castro in a brief, 2 sentnce passage, and how Che discovered a gold Inca idol on an island on Lake Titicaca. Disjointed as this book is, there are some intriguing insights to Che's thoughts, such as: "We had to take a jeep to Guatemala City, which cost $5 for the eight of us. I spent the next day, today, writing, eating at de Holst's, playing canasta and looking through the gringo's books (all in English but very interesting). My progress in that language has not been enough for me to plunge into those hefty tomes, but I have a number of journals as well as Pavlov's physiology of the nervous system..." (page 49), and writing about the air raids suffered by Guatemala: "...A little shamefully, I have to tell you that I have thoroughly enjoyed myself during these days. That magical sense of invulnerability about which I told you in another letter made me lick my chops when I saw people run madly as soon as the planes appeared or, at night, when the blacked out city was filled with gunfire..." (page 68) A useful auxilliary edition to this lesser known second perigrination of Che has recently been published in Spanish by his travel companion Carlos Ferrer, under the title De Ernesto al Che (Buenos Aires, 2005).

Baja to Patagonia - Latin American Adventures, Larry Rice, Golden Colorado, 1993. The mini-chronicles of the author's expeditions that mainly concerns the logistics of camping and boating in the great outdoors, coupled with a fair amount of nature information. The book covers Chilean Patagonia, Lake Titicaca, Costa Rica, Baja California, and the VenezuelanTepuis: "...We spent the entire next day exploring the fog-shrouded tabletop, gaping at the surrealistic stone sculptures that created a giant fantasy land. They were shaped like Mesozoic creatures, giant insects, toadstools I could sit under, dwarf elephants, apples of rock chewed down to their cores, castellated ramparts and Roman pillars, all grown stiff for eternity, all blackened by algae and fungi that grow on the gritty sandstone. 
Occasionally we traversed boot-sucking quagmires, where we stopped to examine tubelike pitcher plants and sticky, ruby-colored sundews - carnivorous species well adapted to the acidic and nutrient-poor soil. In the fissures between the rocks grew sunken gardens of mosses and lichens; most if not all of which exist only on Roraima's summit. The tepuis have been called 'natural laboratories' for studying the adaptation of species to harsh environments. Of an estimated ten thousand plant species thought to exist in this isolated ecosystem, half are unique to the tepui region..." (page 163)
 Rice goes on to say how tour groups are endangering the ecosystem, by inadvertently bringing in seeds and spores in their clothes, and how one large area deemed 'the catbox' was littered with human excrement and toilet paper.

Beggars on Golden Stools, a Journey Through Latin America, Peter Schmid, London 1956. The very title of this book - 'Beggars on Golden Stools' - gives you a big pointer to the tone its content. Translated from German, it would interest someone who wishes to read a German viewpoint of Latin America, dated though it now is. The author gives rather opinionated views of the political situation in each country he visits, sometimes amusing, sometimes cynical the extreme. His penchant for economic and political analysis overshadows its value as a travelogue, but it still is an interesting book. He travels through Mexico, and every country in Central America except Belize, and all but Paraguay and the Guyanas in South America, devoting a chapter to each. He tells of the friction between Catholics and Protestants in the Colombian village of Borbosa: "...On Easter Saturday at midday a preacher had collected his small protestant community in their chapel. The village catholic priest arranged a procession in front of this spiritual pest-spot. Stones began to rain through the windows, but this did not prevent the preacher from continuing his sermon. On the contrary, he raised his voice even louder, so that his attackers should hear that that he was only preaching the true word of God. Thereupon the mob broke down the closed doors. At their head came the priest, who proceeded to tear down the Colombian flag from the wall - this was unjustifiably regarded as a catholic symbol - and began to fulminate against the heretics while his flock took benches, tables, hymn books, bibles and everything they could lay their hands on into the street and set them on fire. But where were the police whose duty it was to keep the peace? They merely stood by and looked on. When one of the anxious protestants turned to the captain and began to remonstrate with him,the latter merely shrugged his shoulders and replied, 'My job is to support the government' ..." (pages 139-140)

Beyond Lake Titicaca, Angela Caccia, London, 1969. The author was the wife of a British Consular Officer posted to Bolivia in the 1960s. If you ever thought a life in the diplomatic corps was luxury, well, you had better read this book first! The book bounces along, condensing several years' residence into entertaining anecdotes. Written from a woman's point of view, the hardships were not really physical, more of a social nature, but Caccia does not fall into condescension. Someone steals their recently imported Land Rover, while her hapless colleague Allenby receives his crates of household effects after many delays, to find them completely empty, robbed of all content. It is only with some difficulty she comes to understand her own maid, though in the end a strong bond is formed. Charged with reforming the Bolivian Customs Bureau, one reads of the priests of Guayaramerin threatening to excommunicate Allenby if he doesn't leave town, in the interests of the welfare of the town's contrabandistas. In another chapter, they are sent on a tour of Bolivia with an ancient film projector to promote Shakespearian culture with free town hall screenings of Olivier's Hamlet, which was done more or less successfully, despite the film being in English with no subtitles. Caccia describes a journey along the La Paz - Coroico road with some lucidity (today it is better known as the 'Death Road'): "... The road was tortuous and frightening. Simply a platform blasted out of the mountain, it was only the width of one vehicle..." Caccia lived through the most tumultuous period of Bolivia's recent past: the 1960s, the Oruro tin riots, the Che Guevara insurgency, and the book ends with a military coup, wherein lies the appeal of this book. It is not often you read of the fears and machinations of a foreign woman inside a country with so great a political drama as the backdrop. Yet by the end of it all the reader is left with a warm sentiment for Bolivia and its people.

Beyond the River of the Dead, D.G. Fabre (translated by Eric L. Randall), London, 1963.The story of Uruguayan anthropologist Fabre's sojourn among the Xavante tribe of Brazil in 1956. Fabre's problems begin even before he leaves civilization, as he finds government authorization to enter Xavante territory almost impossible to obtain. Overcoming the bureaucratic obstacles, Fabre first stays with a tribe who has been in contact with whites, who, after a period, lead him to the 'parent-village' in Brazil's Roncador range. Fabre was accompanied by his wife Norma, who, bitten by a venous snake, is cured by a witch doctor who sucked the poison out, applied a poultice of chewed red leaves, and lanced her leg several times. The white couple become a tribal novelty; however they soon discover they are despised by one and all, save the chief, who becomes their protector. Most hostile were the young warriors, eager to improve their warrior status by killing them. With time they overcome the hostility, though they never quite fully integrate with the tribe. Fabre tells of how the Xavante kill to avenge, sometimes killing an entire family so as to pre-empt further vengeance killings. One memorable passage recounts the funeral of a 6 year old girl: "A man and his wife were advancing and stopping, weeping and lamenting, followed by other Indians. The woman was carrying something wrapped up in plaited fibre. When they came to a pit, on one side of which the tribal council was assembled, the woman set the bundle of fibre matting on the ground, and, unwrapping it, revealed the body of the six-year-old child. With a heart rending howl she seemed to go crazy, and flung herself upon the corpse. The husband took her by the arm and for a moment they were locked in a struggle. Those who were accompanying them laid down the pieces of wood and stones they were carrying and busied themselves with covering the little girl again and wrapping her carefully in a doubled up position in the fibre matting. The mother went on moaning and the husband restraining her, while the other members of the funeral party placed the body in the hole and covered it with sticks and stones, afterwards smoothing over the grave with earth. 
The funeral was over. The group dispersed without ceremony, and man and wife walked back to their hut to complete the ritual by waling and weeping for two more days.
Nobody intervened or showed any curiosity. As soon as the ceremonial ended, they emerged from their huts and went on with their occupations as if this pathetic interlude had nothing to do with death." (page 50) 
Page 51 describes the Xavante's amusing reaction to seeing the author lather up with a bar of soap. Fabre was shown an airstrip by the chief of the Xavante parent-village, which contained a blunt message about the practice of gift-giving to open friendly relations between un-contacted tribes and white Brazilians: "My disappointment that this was not an Indian cemetery vanished at the sight of the chief's attitude. His eyes gleaming at the recollection, his bow raised menacingly and his body vibrant with energy and rippling muscles, he said time and time again: "White man bad; gifts bad; bird bad." 
Scattered about and half buried in the landing-ground were all kinds of utensils: rusted metal saucepans, picks and shovels, and a sort of sharpened blade for clearing undergrowth. 
The chief was calm again, then he ordered me, rather than suggested: "Give this message to your tribe." " (page 111)

Beyond the Silver River, Jimmy Burns, London 1989. A series of short travelogues written by a British journalist who made trips out of Buenos Aires to surrounding republics between 1982 and 1985. His book could loosely be compared to Chatwin's In Patagonia, though Burns is more prosaic. In Patagonia, however, completely lacks anything like this passage: 
"Tilcara is an Indian town surrounded by strange fables. As we approached it that evening, the sun was dipping behind the hills. For an instant its rays rested on a white horse. We stopped the car and watched the animal, still as a statue, grow luminous in the night. A few hundred yards down the road two women covered in shawls were crouching in a ditch. As I walked towards them, they got up and ran away. In the place where they had been, I found a skull, the hollows of the eyes illuminated by a lighted candle. Nearby was a roughly stacked pile of coca leaves. We drove into Tilcara along a muddy track... Once an old woman, dressed in what seemed to be a black cape, walked out of a hut, crossed the track and quickly ran through another doorway. 'She's the Black Widow' Pereira said. 'No one knows if she really exists. But they say she brings bad luck. She has long fingernails painted with silver.' " (page 12)

Bluestocking in Patagonia: Mary Gilmore's Quest for Love and Utopia at the World's End, Anne Whitehead, London, 2003. This book is part travelogue, part biography. Mary Gilmore is perhaps not too well-known outside of her native Australia, where she features on the current $10 bill. Even within Australia, few people are aware of her achievements: poet and short story writer, a regular contributor to The Tribune; campaigner for the rights of workers, women, Kooris and prisoners; dedicated socialist; Dame of the British Empire, and friend of Henry Lawson. Even fewer people, however, know she spent 6 years in South America. At first, she was a school teacher at the Australian socialist colony Cosme in Paraguay, (comprehensively dealt with in Whitehead's previous book, Paradise Mislaid, but also covered in the first chapter of this book). Bluestocking fills in the gap between Mary's time in Paraguay and her return to Australia, the years 1900-1902 spent in Buenos Aires and Patagonia, suffering from dysentery in lonely boarding houses, as a teacher and governess, mothering her infant son on an isolated farm, worried about war clouds gathering between Chile and Argentina. All of it is amply chronicled by Mary's prodigious letter-writing to her husband who was often absent shearing sheep on the huge estancias. Anne follows her footsteps, uncovering clues to Mary's life, including how she crossed the paths of some famous figures like General (later President) Julio Roca, and Captain Herman Eberhardt, discoverer of the Giant Sloth bones that Chatwin wrote about in In Patagonia (incidentally, Anne encounters some resistance to her enquiries due to the locals' perceived grievance with the way they were portrayed by Chatwin). Visiting Argentina during its 2002 economic crisis, Anne encounters a road block set up by unemployed workers from Chascomus, and found, sadly, social conditions had gone backwards in the century since Mary Gilmore lived there: 
Ahead of us a dozen men stood right across the road, blocking it to traffic. There were other men at the sides. They had red flags and rough signs with desperate messages in Spanish: 'Por los ninos es necesito comida' 'Our children need food' - Please you must help us. No jobs. No food. We are starving' and 'Trabajadores via extincion'-'The working class is on its way to extinction' But there was a threat in their stout sticks and a couple of the men had knives in their belts.
"Who are they?" I asked.
"Highway robbers! Piquiteros! I'll handle this. Don't you say anything."
The men surrounded us and peered into the car...(page 87)
Needless to say Anne survives this encounter to go on and deliver the Patagonian missing links in the biography of one of Australia's national icons.

The Bolivian Andes, Sir Martin Conway, London, 1901. An account of mountain-climbing in the area around La Paz and Sorata, Conway begins his narrative with a lengthy and interesting description of the then abandoned Panama Canal, correctly foreseeing that only a tunnel or an artificial lake with a lock-canal would be the best solution. While in Panama in 1898, he witnesses a revolution, with Colombian troops advancing and retreating, with many dead and wounded. Conway takes refuge at the home of the British Consul, and makes haste for Lima. Continuing overland to La Paz by train, mule and a bullet-holed steamer on Lake Titicaca, he makes a successful first ascent of Illimani with his two European guides, who showed uncommon courtesy: "...The ascent recommenced. Slowly, very slowly, we mounted the wide and easy snow-ridge, conscious only of heart-breaking toil and entirely possessed by a fixed determination to get the work done. The lifting of each foot in its turn was a tragic effort. Presently everything became unreal and dreamlike. I fell into a semi-comatose condition, but plodded on all the same. Twice I came to myself with a start; I had been walking in something very like sleep. One apparent summit was succeeded by another, but the true one came at last. "Monsieur, a vous la gloire," said Maquignaz, as he moved aside for me to stand first upon the highest point of snow. The altitude was 21,200 feet. It was half an hour before noon. The moment was one of satisfaction, in that our toil ceased; but we had no sense of triumph, nor was there breath enough left in any of us for an exclamation of joy in the hour of victory. Nothing was said or done for several minutes; we just sat down and rested. But five minutes later we had recovered, and were as comfortable as at sea-level, so long as we neither moved nor attempted to do anything, though I had lost my voice and the others were quite hoarse. The cane flagstaff we had brought up in sections was planted in the snow and a little Union Jack set waving; but, alas! none but ourselves could see it, for most of the lower regions were buried in a sea of clouds, and La Paz in particular was hidden. A flag-staff erected in snow will not stand many hours. This one fell before clear weather returned, and never showed itself through the telescope of the Jesuit Fathers at La Paz, who looked out for it at the first opportunity..." (pages137 -138) Conway then turns his attention to Mount Sorata (Illampu), and makes an ascent, but wisely decides to turn back just below the summit in the face of dangerous conditions and his companions' frostbite. The most interesting parts of this book pertain to Conway's clashes with the suspicious locals when he was attempting to survey the mountains with a theodolite - they openly rebel, and destroy his stone cairns as soon as he builds them, fearing he was trying to steal the power of their sacred mountains, or loot Inca treasure. After increasingly hostile encounters with the natives, Conway has no option but to return to La Paz to secure a police escort, and is finally able to complete his survey. He describes an interesting high-altitude mountain shrine: "...The altar was placed against a wall of native rock, in which, about thirty feet above the floor, was a natural hollow or small cave. The mouth of this cave was decorated with a withered wreath, and there was an artificial star within it. On the floor of the chapel were some seven-branched candlesticks, and numbers of withered flowers and small offerings..." (page 282) and includes a photograph of several such shrines. He also describes the rubber and gold mining industries of the Sorata area, in particular the Yani gold mine. Conway also gives an eyewitness account of the public execution of a convicted murderer in a plaza in La Paz, where the defiant criminal, charged with abetting the killing of his own wife and daughter, faced a firing squad while a military band played mournful music to a watching crowd: "...He was allowed to stand forth and make a speech, in "which I am told he expressed himself quite satisfied with what he had done. "The woman," he said, "merited the death brought upon her, and so did the children." He in nowise regretted the action he had taken. When he had finished he took his place on a sort of little stool with a post for a back, while great cries and shrieks arose from the assembled Indians. The firing party did their work without delay, and the culprit was killed instantaneously, among the lamentations of the people of his race. The body was left for many hours where it fell, and the Indians were encouraged to go forward and inspect it, the object of the whole ghastly performance being to strike terror into them..." (pages 289-290)

Bolivian Diary, Ernesto Che Guevara, New York, 2000. OK, it might be stretching things a bit to class this book as a travelogue, even though the man does a fair bit of travelling - usually stealthily under cover of darkness. But this diary gives an insight into the region's most famous guerrilla, his men, their hardships and their aims during the ill-fated 11-month Bolivian campaign. I prefer this diary much more than his more celebrated holiday diaries. This is Pathfinder Press' 6th edition, a new translation which contains the missing pages that the original version lacked. It also contains diary notes written by his men, speeches by Fidel, Che's instructions to urban cadres, the communiques released by the guerrillas during the war, and many useful maps and footnotes. Included are relevent parts of the diaries of other combatants, most importantly Inti Peredo. No-one can say they really know Che without reading this book: how many people know that he carried around 300 books during the campaign and mandated study time of history, Quechua and higher mathematics with his soldiers? Or what happened to the other 40-odd guerrillas, a handful of whom made it back to Cuba? Or the extent of Che's compassion for his men: "We brought them rapidly to the house so we could operate on them with what we had. Pombo's wound is superficial, and will merely result in headaches for us due to his lack of mobility. Tuma's wound had destroyed his liver and he had suffered intestinal perforations. He died during the operation*. With his death I have lost an inseparable comrade and companion over all the recent years. His loyalty was unwavering, and I feel his absence almost as if he were my own son. After he fell he asked that I be given his watch, and since they did not do so while he was being treated, he took it off and gave it to Arturo. Behind this gesture was the desire that it be given to the son whom he did not know, as I had done with the watches of many comrades who had died in the past. I shall carry it throughout the entire war. We loaded the body onto an animal and will bury it far from here. 
Two new spies were taken prisoner: a lieutenant in the carabineros and a carabinero. They were given a lecture and set free in their underwear, due to a misinterpretation of my order that they be stripped of anything of value..." (pages 218-219)
.*Che was a qualified doctor.

The Bolivian Times, Tim Elliott, Sydney, 2001. A love story with a difference! I read this book in 3 days. I don't know what it was, but something in it kept me turning the pages. The author is a 25 year old Australian reporter working for a La Paz newspaper who happens to fall in love with a Bolivian female reporter at a rival newspaper. He describes corruption and drug trade in some detail, but he also gets quite personal in parts, abstract in others. A light and enjoyable read. When he comes down with the obligatory travellers' diarrhoea, he consults a doctor who tells him how eating bread can introduce amoebas into one's intestines:
"...'Bread? But I thought bread was safe?'
'Normally it is. But the bread here is often made in conditions that are - how can we say it? - somwhat less than satisfactory. When the corn is pounded into flour they use horses. They, - the campesinos, the peasants - pile the corn around a fencepost, tie a horse to the post and walk it round and round, through the corn, till it's all broken down into flour. Often, as you can imagine, the horse will - how you say? - de, defe...'
'Yes! Defecate! The horse will defecate into the flour. The flour is then baked, but sometimes the ovens don't go high enough to kill all the germs. So,' he said, patting his tummy, 'that is how the amoebas get into your stomach.'
'What a revolting concept.'..." (page 105)

Brazilian Adventure, Peter Fleming, London 1998. Originally published in 1933, Peter Fleming (the brother of James Bond creator Ian Fleming) goes looking in Amazonia for clues as to the fate of his predecessor, Colonel Fawcett. His conclusion is that Fawcett was murdered by Indians. He describes many hardships and leaves the reader feeling he has read an unembellished story of what the expedition was really like. Marooned in a small village because one Colonel Raimundo Tola, who Fleming describes as a 'Seedy-Looking Individual', seems incapable of organizing transporation downriver, he writes of his unhappy situation: "...How we hated Maraba! For me, this was the only stage in our journey where disenchantment got the upper hand. There was nothing to do. Every afternoon it rained. Most of the time we lay on our blankets on the floor, glumly enduring delay. The room in which we lived ( it was more of a verandah than a room) was dark and very dirty; the smell of it was vile. We grew terribly restless. We envied (when we did not curse) the ants which marched and counter-marched across the floor, all blissfully preoccupied, all armoured with a purpose: big 'sauba' ants, and fire-ants, and many other kinds. The bites of the fire-ants were painful. 
The hours passed slowly in that shoddy place. Urubus scavenged in the yard outside with a buffeting of wings. Occasionally a rat ran along the beams in the roof. Bob, with the fever on him, tossed and muttered in a corner; his clothes and blankets were sodden with sweat, and it was difficult to dry them on account of the rains. Roger developed an abscess in his ear and was very nearly speechless with pain; I applied lethally unhygienic compresses and made all the capital I could out of his plight in my interviews with Tola, pointing out, what indeed was true, that we stood in urgent need of a doctor..." (page 326) 
I read an interesting article in the South American Explorers Magazine (issue 34) by Loren McIntyre which claims Fleming's irascible character Major Pingle was actually an Australian, Captain John Holman (his source was George Dyott, himself a great explorer of South America, who also concluded that Colonel Fawcett was killed by Indians.)

Brazilian Interior, Kenneth Matthews, London, 1956. A well-written account by a British journalist who divides the book into two sections: 'The Colonists' and 'The Aboriginals'. Both sections are fascinating, and not entirely unrelated. Mr Matthews describes meeting several Brazilian leading lights, including architect Rino Levi, writer Antonio Callado, General Rondon (then 90 years old, but still working), and the Villas Boas brothers, champions of the Indians' cause. Matthews also relates the tragic tale of Diacui, a Kalapalo Indian maiden whose marriage to a city-dweller was Brazil's headline news because authorities tried to stop it, quite rightly, as it turned out, because before the marriage was one year old she died. Watching girls at Rio's Copacabana beach, Matthews wrote: "Population? Surely there must be some livelier word to describe that fascinating mixture of races! It was the people, most of all, who set me wondering whether I had not strayed outside my own planet. When at last the sun came out I saw the second glory of Copacabana, the girls in bloom under their beach umbrellas, I wished that the system of the Botanical Gardens could have been a little extended and a label attached to each bikini, saying, for example, "Hybrid Portuguese x Indian", so that I could know exactly how such unusual and diverse beauty was made up. Or perhaps, since the process of cross-fertilization had obviously gone a long way, the chemist's method would have been more satisfactory: N2PJ, meaning two parts Negro, one Polish and one Japanese blood..." (page 30) Matthews himself has a romance of sorts with a Rio de Janiero dancer called Mariana. But once into the 'Aboriginal' section of the book, Matthews is more serious. Flying into a remote Indian village with the Villas Boas brothers, he witnesses this exchange: "...We saw nothing. But in the distance, two Indians were calling each other, exchanging first the elemental cries, then, as they drew nearer, a rapid, sing-song stichomythia of challenge and response. Who are you and of what tribe? I am so-and-so of such-and-such. Do you come in peace or war? In peace and with presents. What presents are you bringing? This, that and the other thing. The wild timbre of the calls, the howling rhythm of the antiphony, the darkness and the actors' invisibility all combined to shake the flimsy superstructure of the civilized mind and uncover the paleolithic memories beneath. Through a gap in the trees I could see the moonlight on the wings of the Lodestar. It looked to me like Wells' Time Machine..." (page 188)A few pages later, armed with a movie camera and tape recorder, he is dismayed that a Kalapalo warrior won't sing for him; even Claudio cannot entice the recalcitrant to vocalize. Undeterred, Matthews bellows 'God Save the Queen' at the top of his voice, and ignites a choral contest that lasts all night.

Brazil on the Move, John Dos Passos, London, 1964. Despite his Portuguese surname, Dos Passos was an American. This collection of anecdotes begins in 1948, when he toured south-east Brazil in a Studebaker on assignment for Time-Life, and ends in the arid north-east, in September 1962. The intervening years were a period of great upheaval in Brazil. Roads were being built, the population was exploding, health and education programs were initiated (often in an ad hoc way) and communism was making its presence felt. The latter part of the book delves in some detail to the machinations surrounding Vargas, Lacerda, Goulart and Kubitschek's political agendas, and gives his interpretation of how Che Guevara came to be awarded a top Brazilian medal by President Janio Quadros (page 165.) He profiles Indian protector Candido Rondon and the great road builder Bernardo Sayao, and the planning and construction of Belo Horizonte and Brasilia. In Manaus, he makes this succinct observation of Brazilian economic law; "...The city of Manaus, when you walk around by day, does show a few signs of new construction. A new electric light plant, which is to operate on crude oil brought in from Venezuela and Peru, is about to go into operation to furnish much needed power and even light for the city streets. The explanation of why this plant had to be bought entire was not without interest. A good deal of the component machinery could have been manufactured in Brazil, but the result of the laws passed by the federal congress seeking to insure the use of Brazilmade products was that if any item were bought in Brazil the whole inventory of things that had to be bought abroad: generators, various sorts of piping and tubing, copper wire and all the rest, would have had to be approved item by item by the interested government bureaus. Every purchase would be endlessly obstructed by the appropriate bureaucrats. The result would have been interminable delay. To buy an entire plant abroad only one authorization was necessary. A neat case of selfdefeating legislation..." (page 119) Yet Brazil was in the grip of a great economic expansion. One cannot fail to sense the same breezy optimism the Brazilians impressed upon Dos Passos. In the town of Maringa, which Dos Passos describes as a Wild West town where 'the pioneers rode jeeps instead of horses', he relates how the town Bishop 'was promising the coffee planters five years without a frost if they put up the funds' for a new cathedral. Even the red dust had its advantages: "...Inside the city the dust had been bad enough but in the outskirts you strangled in it. Our handkerchiefs were stained red from trying to wipe it off our sweaty faces. Our guide noticed that we were choking. We must not worry about the dust he told us consolingly. They had a doctor there, a very good doctor, who had discovered that the dust of Maringa was rich in terramycin. Maybe we had some infection; the dust of Maringa would cure it..." (page 100) There is also an interesting chapter about Dos Passos' visit to Iquitos, Peru.

A Brief Memoir of James Wilson, Extracts from his Journal and Correspondence, Written, Chiefly, During a Residence in Guatemala, the Capital of Central America, ('Wilson Memoirs'), New York, 1983 (a xerographic reprint of the original which was printed in London in 1829). Few English speakers were privy to the period of Guatemala's independence, and even fewer wrote about it, as Wilson did (Guatemala at that time encompassed a much larger area, sandwiched between Colombia and Mexico). But that is not the only unique feature of this book. As a journal and collection of letters, it traces his personal trials and tribulations, his inner thoughts and prejudices. A devout Christian, he frequently notes variations in religious customs. The tale begins with his ill fated plan to go west from his native Scotland and join the homesteaders in North America, where he becomes disillusioned after only a few days and decides to return to Scotland, via rafting downriver on a raft some 1200 miles to Jeffersonville. Back in Scotland, he returned to his old trade of drapery, and a friend suggested emigrating to Guatemala to try his hand at business there. After some thought, Wilson agrees to accompany him, not for the thought of making money, but as a missionary. His journal contains some interesting descriptions of the Caribbean islands, but once one the mainland, he is shocked by the lawlessness: "...July 25th.- The day of Santiago, and, according to the phraseology of the Catholics, 'a double cross day', or one of particular sanctity. These crossers are observed more strictly than the Sabbath itself. It is reported that there were three murders yesterday; one of the perpetrators was female, and the object of her vengeance one of the same sex. Mr. - stated that an individual of his acquaintance asked this poor creature what had induced her to accomplish such an awful deed: she said that the woman had provoked her. It was urged that that was no reason for depriving a fellow-creature of life: she added, with an air of callous indifference, but she 'tore my shift'. The annual average of individuals received into the hospital, who have received injuries from lethal weapons unlawfully used, is stated to amount to 475; and this, I conjecture, exclusive of those murdered outright. Individuals guilty of this most heinous crime are merely punished by a short imprisonment. One person is said to be going at large who has committed seven murders. There has been another murder committed tonight; a woman in a state of pregnancy is stated to have been the unfortunate object, and a soldier the perpetrator..."(pages 135-136)

The Burial Brothers, Simon Mayle, New York, 1996. A light-hearted, some might even say self-deprecating, account of a 6-week 1993 trip in a 20 year old hearse from New York to Rio de Janiero. Mayle writes in a warts 'n all style describing his own shortcomings as a well behaved traveller. He and his companions get involved in such unwholesome activities as drunk-driving, drugs and prostitutes, which makes interesting reading for the reader sitting in an armchair a safe distance from all the trouble... like when he crosses the Guatemala/Honduras border: 
When I tried presenting my papers, the officials wouldn't take them - not unless I used one of the sanctioned border dogs. The border dogs on the Honduran border were teenagers with $200 Air Jordan hi-tops and American basketball T-shirts. They had nice watches, new jeans, and they wanted a hundred dollars, up front, in exchange for the correct documents to drive for six hours through the countryside to the Nicaraguan frontier. I wasn't paying a hundred bucks to get the paperwork to drive through the country, and I told one of the boys this. He went and snitched to the Comandante. The Comandante told me that one hundred bucks was what it cost to drive in Honduras. Standard rate. I pointed at my guide book. It said I had to pay something like six. Not a hundred. The Comandante pointed at my car. It's one hundred dollars, he said, or you have 'problemas'. I told him I was paying six and that was all. He got his boys to strip the hearse. Everything came out of the car doors on to the dirt - futon, boogey-boards, empty bottles of mescal, beer, Tylenol, the coffin - all of it, on the dirt, while the Comandante stood with his arms crossed, smiling broadly, very happy with his work..." (pages 107-108)

The Capital of Hope, Alex Shoumatoff, New York, 1980. Not a travelogue in the conventional sense, because the book is centered around the Brazilian city of Brasilia. But since that city was built from scratch in just a few years, all its citizens travelled from somewhere else. So in a way it is a travelogue of memories of the migrant workers, architects, and government officials who flooded in to fill the new, purpose-built capital. He begins with a brief introduction of the history of the city, including how its construction was prophesised by an Italian mystic in 1883, and why the site was chosen over others on short list drawn up by American civil engineering consultants. Interwoven into Shoumatoff's narrative, between his meetings with diplomats, planners and artists, is his courtship and subsequent marriage to a Brazilian woman; his observations of Brasilia's social customs therefore offer an intimate, yet outsider's, perspective. He describes his in-laws' community in the outskirts of Brasilia: "...They are not so much communities as groups of friendly families. Each house, each family plot, is heavily fortified, as they were in Iberia, with unscalable outer walls, often tipped with broken glass, screening off the garden and courtyard, bars on all the windows, locks on all the outer doors, and often a mangy emaciated dog who has attached himself to the household in return for the bones and leftovers and will bark his head off at any interloper. Each family stands against the world..." (page 95) Shoumatoff writes of foreign embassy parties, where Brazilian guests don't show, arrive very late, or bring uninvited friends along; a weapon against such protocol-ignorers was found to be sending out RSVPs followed 15 days later by a pour memoir. However, some Brazilians accepted and never attended, others thought nothing of switching seating arrangements to suit themselves. Although a futuristic city in terms of Oscar Niemeyer's superquadras, many of Brasilia's citizens' customs are decidedly primitive. Many still believe in evil spirits: "...The macumbeira agreed to do some trabalho, some "work," for Waldemar, and in the next weeks she came often to Terezinha, demanding payment. "The spirit wants a skirt of such-and-such a color; the spirit wants a hundred cruzeiros she would say, explaining that unless she was given these things, she couldn't perform the service. Terezinha complied, but there was no noticeable change in Waldermar's condition. At last refused to give her further payment, and the macumbeira said, "I will put such a spell on you, that on Saturday you will step in front of a car and be killed." Terrified, Terezinha waited for Saturday to come, but on the day before she was supposed to meet her end, word swept through the street that the macumbeira and her twelve-year-old daughter had been found dead in the cemetery, buried to their necks with a goat's foot placed beside them..." (page 186-187). The macumbeira in question had such a backlog of "work" she had subcontracted it out to another man versed in voodoo, who agreed in exchange for her daughter, to whom he was attracted. When payment time came and the macumbeira refused to let him have her daughter, he had flown into a rage and killed them both, burying them in the ritual fashion - probably as a further way of gaining publicity, and fueling people's fear of black magic.

Casual Wanderings in Ecuador, Blair Niles, New York, 1923. Niles travelled to Ecuador by ship, direct from New York, accompanied by her husband, who took the photographs included in the book. The first chapter concerns their voyage via the Panama Canal and small ports of Colombia's Pacific coast. Disembarking at Guayaquil, she describes the pestilences that had ravaged the port in the recent past, and the Rockefeller Foubdation's successful eradication campaigns. They leave Guayaquil by train, and other parts of their journey are made by mule and horse. She relates visits to Chimborazo, Tunguragua, Riobamba, Ambato, Quito, Banos, and ends with an encounter with a tribe of Jivaros in the Ecuadorian Oriente. In Riobamba, she describes Chimborazo emerging from the clouds: "We wanted to see Chimborazo, not only in the evanescent allure of dawn and twilight, but also in the broad steady light of noon. 
We waited two days for this to happen, and then one day when we came out after breakfast there it was: the entire mountain boldly outlined, with nowhere any suggestion of cloud! It seemed in its clarity to have advanced, to have approached so much nearer. And it was dazzling in its white brilliance, powerful in its mass, strong in its contour. It illuminated little Riobamba. In the cold, clear, thin air, there was a throbbing sense of excitement. The air was singularly light, as though all impurities had been refined away, leaving an etherealised medium in which we moved with a vibrant exhilaration, a feeling of amazing freedom. We seemed to have been miraculously lifted up through clouds to a luminous region beyond." (page 107). 
In Banos, then a small village of 100 houses, she notes you can buy two and half acres of good land for 25 cents (in 1921 cents, that is). Near Ambato she visits a poor family said to be directly descended from an Inca princess; in Quito she visits churches and convents, and on pages 162-3 describes an apparent miracle involving the sandals of a religious statue which save a condemned man. In the eastern Ecuadorian jungle she describes meeting a band of Jivaros, carrying dyestuffs in baskets. At first they scatter away from the trail, but then: "When finally our smiles and their own curiosity prevailed, they came slowly out form the undergrowth, coming furtively as animals leave cover. We saw them to be of a warm clear brown, very lightly built and graceful. The lower part of their faces, from above the mouth back to the ears, was stained black. I have seen many elaborate fashions of paint or tattoo, but never any so effective as this velvet-black mask. It lent to their faces an expression of indescribable wildness. Their long, loose hair was black, too - inky black. So was their clothing. And, being without jewelry, there was nothing to detract what Whistler might have labelled, "An Arrangement in Brown and Black"." (page 226).

Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend, Patrick Symmes, New York, 2000. A book that was obviously written by a Che aficionado, it would mainly appeal to readers with the same interests - he interviews people who knew Che and frequently cross-references to Che's Motorcycle Diaries. Yet an account of riding solo through the South American countryside is probably interesting enough for anyone. The most interesting part for me was Symmes' tense interview with Che's ex-girlfriend, Maria "Chichina" del Carmen Ferreyra. Upon seeing a poster of Che: "It is an icon" she said acidly. "It has nothing to do with him." The students milled past us. "It's just a way of saying which side you are on, that's all." And then, as she slipped out of the darkness of the passageway, so faintly that I could barely hear her, she spoke one last time. "They don't even know who he was," she muttered. (page 49)

Circling South America, Isabel Anderson, Boston, 1928. This book is unique because it chronicles the circumnavigation of the South American continent by the cruise ship "Laconia" in 1925. As such, it mainly concerns coastal cities, though the author makes several interesting and extensive inland excursions. Of the natives near the Straits of Magellan she wrote:"The smaller, Canoe or Fuegian Indians are the most primitive. They use bows and arrows and pointed spears. Their canoes are dug out of logs or made out of bark and hide, and they not only build their fires and cook on board these craft, but live in them entirely. They acknowledge no chief or laws and indulge in several wives. They are said to have been addicted to the gentle practice of throwing their womenfolk overboard to lighten their canoes in a storm..." - page 118. Contains nearly 100 black and white photographs.

The Cloud Forest, Peter Matthiessen, New York, 1996. One of my favourites. Written in diary form in 1960, it tells the story of a man who sails to South America and becomes infatuated with locating a fossil of a giant crocodile deep in the Amazon. He crosses the infamous Pongo de Mainique in a wooden raft, but the jungle's dangers do not end there: 
"The only murderer Clayton knew of who was punished by the community was the husband of a woman we talked to the following night, at the Anapolis station. This fellow, having killed his eighteenth victim, was judged to have gone too far and was hunted down in the woods and killed by a committee of his townsmen." (page 122)
In the same paragraph Matthiessen recounts the tale of a journalist who was dragged out of a cafe into the street and executed by a local jefe simply because he had reported that the jefe had arranged for the town's electricity to be switched on so the jefe could have a dental operation. The man was never charged and the newspaper didn't carry that story.

Cocaine Train: Tracing My Bloodline Through Colombia, Stephen Smith, London, 2000. A journalist sets off through Colombia looking for a long lost uncle, and in the process explores the Colombian railway system. He gives an Englishman's view of Colombia in the 1990's: 
"With a view to minimising my kidnappability, I had been in touch with the British Embassy. There had been a series of harrowing telephone conversations with a security officer, in the most recent of which he had advised that if I was determined to travel the railways of Colombia, I should seriously entertain the idea of going with a unit. 'I'll have to see if we can put you in touch with a unit,' he went on, perplexingly. A unit? A travel agency, did he mean? 'An armed unit,' said the security officer. 'Two or three guys with guns.' " (page 57)

Coleman's Drive: From Buenos Aires to New York in a Vintage Baby Austin, by John Coleman, London, 1962. John Coleman had his eye on a certain 1925 model Austin for some time before seeing it abandoned in a ditch without its motor or drivetrain. Inspired by reading Tschiffely's Ride and books about the Incas, he decides rebuild it and emulate Tschiffely's route in the Austin, then already a 35 year old car, against nearly all the learned advice of English motoring experts (with the exception of his school-friend Stirling Moss). Bandits, deserts, quagmires, landslides, and flooded rivers stand in the way of the tiny Austin. His endeavour proved a colourful one, especially the ingenious running repairs he made, though his lack of Spanish possibly lessens the tale's full potential: most of the people he quotes are British or American ex-pats, and his interaction with the locals is usually marred by a lack of communication. He seems paranoid about snakes, to the extent of tapping on the bonnet of the car before opening it in case there are any serpents hiding in there. Crossing the Andes, he has to resort to reversing up blind hairpin bends (stretching his neck backwards to see in a right-hand-drive vehicle) in order to conquer the steep grades in his underpowered jalopy. His initial disdain for Latino mechanics slowly turns to admiration after seeing them effect improvised repairs, especially one old hand who resurrects his dynamo from a ruinous state. The journey wasn't all peaches and cream however: "I turned into Duran, a shack town on the east bank of the river, and instead of asking for Guayaquil I asked for 'El Centro'. I was directed over rough earth roads past open-fronted timber dwellings. Fires blazed on the floors of many of them and their unfortunate inhabitants seemed to be about to begin a mighty orgy. A former British Consul in Guayaquil, who had travelled extensively throughout the world, described it as being entirely unparalleled in his experience for savagery and debasement of every description. Now at the immediate approach of Easter carnival it was a seething cauldron of savage emotion. I caught only fleeting and confused glimpses of the disgusting scenes that flitted past my eyes on either side, and it was not long before a wild mob was streaming behind my car. Then suddenly two men from either side sprang on to the running-boards and two more on the luggage grid and smashed it off, or rather left it trailing behind on the ground. Hands came in on either side and all the loose small articles with the luggage disappeared. I knew that if I offered the slightest opposition I would be knifed on the spot, so I made the car struggle on. I promised one youth on the running-board that I would pay him if he would show me the way to Guayaquil. He shouted to the others but some way they took no notice..." (page175). In contrast to this small town encounter, nearly every large city he enters news of his journey preceeds him and welcoming crowds, invitational dinners and media interviews await him. Bypassing Colombia, he puts his Austin on a boat from Ecuador to Panama. In Costa Rica he meets two whisky-drinking Irish brothers who were the sole survivors of an Irish ship wrecked on the coast of Nicaragua. Without any papers, they had been refused assistance by diplomatic missions in Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica, and survived by working as farm labourers hoping to save enough money to buy Nicaraguan citizenship (pages 216-217). In Mexico he relates a funny story about two overweight campesinas who force their way into his car along with their baskets of produce to cadge a lift, but Coleman is able to outfox and leave them behind after a short distance (page 234). When he finally arrives in New York, he appears on a TV quiz show, is feted by millionaire car collectors and briefly meets Henry Ford.

The Condor and the Cows, Christopher Isherwood, London, 1949. Isherwood was an accomplished poet, Hollywood screenwriter and novelist; he was commissioned to write this book shortly after WWII. Written in diary form, Isherwood undertook a route not possible today: he arrives by boat in Venezuela, then disembarks at Cartagena, travelling to Barranquilla where he ascends the Magdalena by passenger ferry. From Bogota he continues south, into Ecuador, then Peru, through Bolivia and finally Argentina, where he tries to arrange an interview with Eva Peron, without success. Isherwood's companion was William Caskey, a professional photographer, whose accomplished black and white images are a valuable adjunct to the text. There are photographs of native festivals, society people, a bull being butchered by gauchos, prisoners inside Quito's Garcia Moreno jail and a haunting image of a poor soul undergoing electric shock therapy, gagged and restrained, the patient's eyes rolling back. Isherwood sees the Colombian leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and offers some candid, mostly uncomplimentary comments (Gaitan was assassinated not long after). Guayasamin, Westphalen and Haya de la Torre are some of the other leading lights of the period he meets and describes; a portrait of Borges is included, but Isherwood allocates a mere two sentences to their meeting. In Amazonian Ecuador, he sees writes of sheep and pigs being parachuted into clearings in the jungle, destined to become stock for remote camps that don't yet have airstrips, noting that "...The animals seem to have taken these jumps very calmly. Within a few moments of alighting, the sheep had already started to graze..." (page 86) As a reminder that tourist scams in Cusco were already entrenched by the 1940s: "...We went shopping with Sarita Cisneros. She wants to buy one of the Spanish Colonial paintings which are still to be found in private houses here. As we were crossing the square in front of the cathedral, we were accosted by a polite and charming boy who looked like a college student. He told us that he knew of a family who had pictures for sale and offered to take us to their home. We agreed. When we arrived the lady of the house astonished us by flying into a violent rage. 'Get out of here,' she told the boy. 'How dare you show me your face - after what happened last time? We don't want any more trouble. Get out!' There was much arguing back and forth, after which the lady calmed down and Sarita explained the situation to Caskey and myself. It seems the Government has passed a law forbidding foreigners to buy and remove antiques from the country or even from Cuzco itself. (This doesn't, of course, apply to Sarita as a Peruvian citizen.) This law is certainly quite reasonable, but the local police have turned it into a racket. They employ 'agents provocateurs' - this boy is one of them - who waylay foreign tourists, urge them to buy something, and promise to arrange a secret sale. In due course, the tourists are denounced to the authorities and heavily fined. The boy didn't seem at all ashamed of himself. Proudly he showed us his official permit to ply this dirty trade. I'm only sorry I can't remember his name and write it here, as a warning to the unwise..." (page 135) The book has frequent references to Germany, (where Isherwood lived prior to the war, giving him first hand experience to the rise of the Nazis), and the tensions in the west that a nuclear war was looming with Russia; as such his observations of the Peronist and APRA movements are informative. The weakness of Isherwood's book is that he relied on an interpreter, and much of the book is concerned with visits to Anglo-American expats and Cultural Attaches. However, an expat can often be an excellent source of information and Isherwood's keen ear for a good story and competence as a writer combined with Caskey's great photographs more than compensate. Imagine this scene, in Ecuador's steamy eastern jungle: "... This evening, we had a drink at the club which is owned and operated by the Shell-Mera pilots - most of whom were in the Royal Air Force during the war. It is called Ye Finger Welle Inn, and is built out of the fuselage of a dismantled Budd plane, with a bar, a piano, seats from old aircraft and curtains of parachute material. Torn neckties - relics of the favourite R.A.F. tug-of-war game - hang from the ceiling. The place was rather quiet; tomorrow will be a big night, in celebration of Philip's marriage to Princess Elizabeth..." (page 88-89) Isherwood's conclusion, which runs several pages, includes this prophetic prediction of South America's future: "...The immediate prospects are appalling. Decades of upheaval. Military rule. Mob rule. Endless violence, relieved only by periods of exhaustion..." (page 191)

Coups and Cocaine, Two Journeys in South America, Anthony Daniels, London, 1986. Daniels' two journeys cover different regions. The first is a tour of the Ecuadorian, Peruvian and Bolivian Andes, with a side-trip to Iquitos; the second is an overland traversal from Rio to Antofagasta, passing through Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Chile. In Cusco, he recounts seeing Lady Diana's wedding on Peruvian TV being interrupted by commercials for toothpaste that insinuated social ascendancy came with good teeth. In Quito, he visits the famous artist Guayasamin, and inspects private collections of Pre-Columbian artifacts that included sheaths for arrow shafts made of gold. In La Paz he visits the infamous San Pedro prison, interviewing its foreign inmates. Refused a visa to enter Argentina - the Falklands War still a fresh memory - he crosses Paraguay via Filadelfia, a Mennonite colony in the remote Chaco region, where the locals seem even more suspicious than the Argentines: "...I waited several days in Filadelfia for my lift. I explored every corner of the small town and my figure soon became recognized, a little sinister perhaps because no-one was quite sure what I was doing there. I visited the large and modern Mennonite church, built on the assumption that the whole town would worship there on Sundays. I changed a hundred dollar bill in a small workshop run by a man who resembled exactly Dr Ludwig Erhardt, down to the cigar protruding from the jowls. He did not trust me, but in the end his greed overcame his suspicion..." (page 185) Includes passages about each country's political history.

Cusco Tales: A Side Of Cusco You Won't Find In The Guidebooks, Richard Nisbet, Cusco, 2003. Centred in the Peruvian tourist mecca of Cusco, Nisbet also describes several journeys to the surrounding areas: to attend a wedding, to investigate a mysterious 'Inca wheel'carved from stone, or to take advantage of a free lift to La Paz. Nisbet does not hold back in the humour department, and is self-deprecating most of the time, but the book comes across as an honest effort and has its serious sections. As a long term resident, he has an insight few transient writers can match. The frontispiece contains the telling disclaimer: 'No chamber of commerce would sanction these stories' Very true, but every tourist town should have a book like this written about it!
There are eighteen short stories in all, including the introduction. Each story is unique, though certain characters and hangouts make recurring appearances. Nisbet's best talent is describing people, whether they be tourists, locals, or re-located expats like himself. One story, 'Flaco' describes a would-be drug dealer; another, a nutty professor; 'Popcorn Boy' tells the story of a young street vendor; 'Christmas in Cusco' will have you reconsidering your travel plans, while the story entitled 'Brichera', nominally about an older American's romance with a younger Peruana, has a surprise ending. The chapter entitled 'Mad Max' is one of the best. Glenn, the Aussie protagonist - whose photograph does indeed bear an uncanny resemblance to Mel Gibson - takes Nisbet on a ride to Bolivia he will never forget, breaking through several road blockades and across dodgy bridges: "The bridge! I had expected logs laid transversely across beams. Nothing nearly so sophisticated! The bridge is six eucalyptus logs laid longitudinally across the water, two groups of three logs with a nice gap between them. Glenn guns the engine and aims the truck. Don't slow down!" he shouts, presumably to both himself and the trailing car" (page 150) Each chapter has at least one colour photo, and the book is sold with a CD-ROM entitled 'The Ancient Walls' a compendium of colour photos of Inca ruins and stonemasonry. Some of the photos date back to 1975; the wide panoramic shots are breathtaking.

Cut Stones and Crossroads: A Journey in the Two Worlds of Peru, Ronald Wright, New York 1984. Wright wrote this memoir in the present tense as he wandered around Peru, amazed at the ruins he saw - he visits nearly every major ruin, plus many lesser known ones - commenting on both their historical and contemporary significance. Many times he finds the ruins in danger of imminent destruction, such as in Wanay Wayna, where ignorant campers have lit fires in the ruins which have caused the moss which protected the ancient mortar from erosion to die back, and he notes severe deterioration since his first visit a decade earlier. He spends time on Titicaca's island ruins, the rock quarries of Kachi Q'ata and the infrequently visited (in the 1980s) ruins of Kuelap. Fluent in Runasimi (Quechua), the original language of the Incas, he includes a useful glossary, as well as the lyrics of many huayno love songs in both Runasimi and English in the text. This book puts forward an alternative line of thought about the Incas and their demise under the Conquistadors: Wright says they weren't really an ancient socialist state even though they used a successful work-brigade system called the mit'a. On page 79, in a conversation with a Canadian anthropologist, he reports that in some ways the rural classes were better off under the Spanish Crown, as it gave legal recognition to communal and aboriginal land title, only to be abolished after Independence in a frenzied land-grab by the criollos. Later in the book he describes how the bullfight was used as weapon against the Spanish who introduced it:
Bulls are also recognised as symbols of Spain; in some regions there is enacted a bizarre contest, involving a condor, that turns the bullfight into a rejection of Spanish culture. The giant vulture is captured in a baited pit by a man who waits to grab the bird's feet as it lands. It is carried to the village, given alcohol and coca, and tied to the back of the bull, who of course tries throw it off. The condor weakens the bull, tearing into his flesh with its beak and talons; toreros further vex him with prods and firecrackers. In these ceremonies, the bull is always killed - often dispatched with a final charge of dynamite - but the condor, totem of the Inca and the Sun, is returned victorious, inebriated, to his mountain crags...(page 175)
The Darien Gap: Travels in the Rainforest of Panama, Martin Mitchinson, Madeira Park, 2008. First-hand travel books on Panama's Darien Gap region are rare; books like this one, well written, researched and illustrated are even rarer, especially since in the last decade or so, the zone has been off-limits due to the activities of guerrillas and other unfriendly groups; at the present time (2010) the Darien Gap is actually less accessible to outsiders than it was in the 20th century. As Mitchinson points out, some of the danger warnings are without basis, but others certainly are worth heeding. At first, Mitchinson sails from Canada to Panama in his own yacht, the Ishmael, a vessel he admits not well suited to Panama’s Pacific maze of estuaries with their huge tidal differences. Sensing the astounding beauty of the coast is just a prelude to what lays inside the mountains, he sells the yacht, which had been his home for seven years, and settles down in a Darien village. His trek from coast to coast doesn’t begin for quite some chapters, as he describes his life and those around him, and, quite succinctly, the complicated history of the Kuna and other ethnic groups who populate the Darien today. In fact, although his aim is to cross the isthmus from one ocean to another, initially his biggest obstacles are the local police and village leaders, who fearing for his safety, refuse necessary permissions. An amusing thread running through the narrative is the sale on credit of his outboard motor, and his attempts to recover money owed to him; similarly his battle with leaf-cutter ants who periodically devour his vegetable garden. One passage which might surprise some readers is Mitchinson's precis of a US plan to make a new canal in the Darien using nuclear bombs as excavation tools, an obviously 
eco-unfriendly method actually pioneered by the Russians to re-route several rivers in the old Soviet Union; the American plan called for 275 piggybacked nuclear explosions, each one many times more powerful than Hiroshima. The scheme envisaged a sea-level canal, 300ft deep and 1200ft wide, allowing much larger ships to pass in quicker time. The indigenous Kunas opposed the plan, yet preliminary exvcavations began. Only after 14 years and tens of millions had been spent on feasability studies, and a nuclear contamination accident during a test explosion in Nevada, was 'Project Plowshare' discontinued by the Nixon administration in 1970. Mitchinson attempted his trek a mere four months after Robert Young Pelton, author of ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Places’ had been kidnapped by Colombian  guerrillas in the same area, and Mitchinson tried to hire the same guide (p 154). In the end, he hires two old men as guides, and although the trek only takes a few days, the bond that develops between the men is interesting. As Mitchinson observes, the whole notion of gift-giving and doing favours is expressed in a completely different manner by local people, a difference sometimes misinterpreted by gringos as ungratefulness. Woven into his narrative are various tidbits about the geology and biodiversity of the Gap, its colourful history of Conquistador gold mining, pirate attacks and inter-tribal rivalries, and a tragic attempt at colonization by a Scottish group in the late 1690s; interesting too are his short biographies of the fraudulent makers of Darien maps which led several expeditions of exploration to disaster and death. While most of the book is set in small Darien villages, some of it is set on a Venezuelan’s yacht which he boarded in the urban dock town of Colon, geographically adjoining the Darien, but due to the lack of good roads, racial and language differences, and political isolation, practically in another country. In Colon, home to the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal, he wrote:
“One evening, while I was lingering in the main street after daylight had started to slip away, two black schoolgirls with pigtails skipped up beside me and talked to me while looking in the other direction. We acted like secret agents, passing information while  pretending to be just standing casually in the street. 
 “Some bad men are waiting for you at the end of the block,” one girl said while playing a hand-clapping game with her school friend. “They have knives and they’re going to take your money.” ” (p189) Mitchinson discreetly thanks the girls and escapes a mugging. I really liked this book, with its informal writing style, pertinent bibliography and re-telling of selected native myths. It seems to strike the perfect balance between historical precedents and Mitchinson’s personal story, relating small observations that add realism but quickly returning to the main narrative in the next paragraph. The photographs – some in colour – add even more to its appeal.

Death, Dreams and Dancing in Nicaragua, Penny O'Donnell, Crows Nest, Australia, 1991. An Australian journalist who went to participate in a 1985 Peace March through Central America, O'Donnell met Daniel Ortega, and saw first hand the optimism the Sandinistas exuded in building a socialist economy in the face of looming war with the US-backed Contras. She returned a year later to teach at a school for radio journalists. As such she was in a position to see and hear what was really happening beyond all the superpowers'propaganda, as opposing stations beamed out their messages. She also tells how radio stations both local and from neighbouring countries were used in the propaganda war: the goings on at Radio Universidad, La Voz de Nicaragua, Radio Zinica, Radio Impacto, Radio Participativa and Radio Insurrection are succinctly dealt with. Her narrative begins with some anecdotes about life as a chele - a Nicaraguan word roughly equating with 'gringo', or white foreigner: "...All 'cheles' carried day packs. And they brought with them a hotch potch of ideas about social justice and development picked up in street protests or tertiary studies. The bottom line that everyone angrily agreed upon, was that the United States should stop its war against Nicaragua. But then you only had to be in Managua a few days - where the soldiers were boys and the guns antiques - to wonder if the Pentagon was completely insane of the military threat posed by the Sandinistas..."(page 11). She tells of how the opposing sides used the disaster of Hurricane Juana to further their propaganda; the 'internacionalistas' or foreign volunteers who came and went; and, oddly enough, how the Sandinista Television network had broadcast episodes of the old ABC drama Boney. In another section, she writes of the 'proudest moment of her life' when her students elected her as the best teacher (and honorary Nicaraguan). Later she recounts the harrowing ordeal she witnessed of a 14 year-old girl's home abortion, and tells of a young soldier castrated in a war crime. Her observations of the Sandinistas' election defeat ends the book. Contains a map and political timeline to help orient the reader.

A Death in Brazil, A Book of Omissions, Peter Robb, Sydney, 2003. A gem of a book and a true pleasure to read. A combination of Brazilian history and politics are presented among Robb's travels between Rio de Janeiro and Brazil's northeast. The disparate elements of Robb's tale flow together in a seamless narrative spanning five centuries, but he never leaves the present for long. The book begins with a life-and-death situation in his Rio apartment which Robb faced with equanimity; it serves as an introduction that the book will not be a sugar coated take on Brazil, nor sensationalized hyperbole. While it does not cover the entire spectrum of Brazilian history - only the parts relevant to Robb's experience are covered - the reader will feel intrigued, even enamored, with certain aspects of Brazilian culture. He writes of the classics of Brazilian literature, and how they fit into the historical perspective; Robb's unconventional use of italics grows on you, and smoothes his own writing style. The passages on cuisine will leave any gourmet's mouth watering - he makes even goat intestines sound enticing. Mind you, the places Robb patronizes are not up-market restaurants but ordinary eateries where the working folk congregate. One of these places, and the family that own it, become central to his story. Robb lived in cheap apartments where the lifts rarely worked; he decided to move after a bullet smashed his window in a random shot. Violence is never far away. He traces the bloody history of Brazil and his precis on the Canudos massacre is particularly poignant. The war and total annihilation of Canudos, a remote township led by a self-styled prophet Antonio Conselheiro, would make an excellent Hollywood blockbuster. Robb takes the time to visit to the original site: "The old Canudos, wiped out, remained a wasteland for many years. Local people buried some of the thousands of bodies and the orphaned children were taken away into domestic service. Bones, bullets, shell cases, all the hard stuff lay scattered all over the district for decades, slowly being broken up and trodden into the stony ground. A little rain always turned up fresh skulls. And since drylanders who do not die young of violence or disease are indestructibly tough and live long lives, until quite late in the following century there were old and then ancient people in the district who remembered the last days of the Counsellor's people. An ending of a kind came as a final act of desecration long after the event itself, in the flooding of the river valley in the nineteen-seventies to make a dam which covered the cemetery and unburied remains and drowned the one part of Canudos which remained, the massive ruined hulk of the Counsellor's new church. Very occasionally, the water level gets so low the submerged ruin reappears, like a dreadful memory returning..." (pages 238-239) . The book's main thread, the rise of President Lula, is prefaced with details of his predecessors' corrupt, criminal and murderous deeds. It is almost unbelievable these goings-on could happen in the late 20th century at such a high level, but Robb, a foreigner who lived in Brazil for many years, gives his interpretation how and why these crimes occurred under Fernando Collor. A useful timeline and bibliography are included.

Digging Up Butch and Sundance, Anne Meadows, New York, 1994. Anyone who has seen the famous movie starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman may be wondering just exactly what really became of the infamous pair of outlaws, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Anne and her husband Dan Buck go searching for the truth. After trips to Argentina and Bolivia and a lot of detective work in various archives, they are convinced the answer lays in an unmarked grave in San Vicente, a remote Bolivian mountain village. I don't know what is more incredible: the ineptitude of earlier researchers who overlooked such obvious sources as Hiram Bingham's books, or the "outlaw historians" who showed scant regard for the facts when writing their own tall tales about the robbers. In any case, Anne builds a great story about how they prove virtually beyond doubt how the duo finally met their end in South America. A very interesting book.(note: there is a later revised edition of this book with new information)

East to the Amazon: In Search of Great Paititi and the Trade Routes of the Ancients, John Blashford Snell and Richard Snailham, Manchester UK 2002.This book recounts an expedition that set out from Guanay, a small Bolivian mountain village on the upper reaches of the Beni River very near Lake Titicaca, all the way down the Amazon River to the Atlantic port of Belem. The objective of the voyage was to prove that Inca totora-reed boats, such as those used on Titicaca, could have made the same Andes-to-the-Atlantic voyage in pre-Columbian times. Beginning with a trek through the mountains in search of the lost city of Paititi - guided by writings of the enigmatic Nazi Hans Ertl - they seek and find many hitherto unknown ruins, native graveyards, petroglyphs, and large lomas or mounds of earth which once supported villages who utilized the seasonal floods to create canals, ponds and backwaters used for agriculture and to raise fish. Although the lateen-rigged boat Kota Mama 3 could only carry a small number of crew, a large number followed in a support boat - there is a list of more than 80 'Dramatis Personae' included - which meant Colonel Balshford-Snell had to arbiter some unpopular decisions. As a consequence, the book sometimes reads like a military report: "...Before dinner I established a pattern which was followed every evening for the next four months and gave a briefing... I would say where we were and what we had done that day (with some participation from those who had done it), what we were going to do on the morrow, who was going to do it, and when..." (page 37) When the reed trimaran capsized in the Ribeirao cataracts the expedition appeared doomed as the boats could not be found and were assumed to have sunk, but this is where Blashford-Snell's leadership saved the day. Along the way, the expedition dispenses tooth extractions and health services to the small villages en route: "...As usual, much of our intelligence came from our medical team's patients. The three doctors and our dentist gave assistance wherever it was needed, and often this took them to some very odd places. The most unusual was a huge raft of 600 cedar and mahogany logs being brought downstream. A young man aboard this heaving platform had a double-abscessed front tooth. Without hesitation, Graham, our intrepid dental surgeon, went aboard, moving like a lumberjack from log to log. Perched on the most stable part, he proceeded with some difficulty to extract the tooth..." (pages 92-93) (Over the course of the voyage, Graham performed a total of more than 1100 extractions). An interesting sub-plot to this tale is a shadowy group who attacked the expedition in the press and tried (somewhat feebly) to sabotage the expedition on the ground.

Ecuador the Unknown, Victor W. von Hagen, London, 1939. Von Hagen was only in his twenties when he visited Ecuador, staying for more than two years; he spent his time studying the ecology of the Galapagos, the peoples of the mainland, and the history and economy of the country. This book is just one of the published works that resulted from his visit - he also wrote a book about the Tsatchela Indians and several scientific papers on zoology. It established him as an authority on the region, though it is through his later books his erudite reputation was consolidated. In this book, the Von Hagens begin by trying to hire a boat to take them to the Galapagos; interminable delays meant they kill time by visiting a balsa-wood plantation, several highland cities, taking the Duran train, capturing two condors for the Memphis Zoo, and investigating the Panama hat industry. In Cuenca he records the following anecdote: "...There is a Canadian Protestant missionary here now, sent down to convert the Catholics to 'Christianity,' which you might imagine does not go over very well in this city. This missionary, who is a good fellow at heart, used to go out every Sunday and harangue the crowds of Indians, dealing not too kindly with monkish superstitions. I don't know if the padres urged them or not, but one day the Indians got hold of the missionary on his return from picking up a few neophytes and stoned him. They left him lying in the road for dead, and we found him later that day pretty badly mussed up."
" That must have just about ended his conversions, didn't it ? " I questioned.
" No, no," answered Brandon, " he didn't stop, but he doesn't go out on the road any more. He has installed a loud speaker in front of his house, and when he sees a group of Indians nearby he lets go on the radio system and with his amplified stentorial tones the Indians think it is the voice of God. After three years he has one faithful convert."..." (page 33)
 When they finally do make it to the Galapagos, they island hop and describe the ecology as it then was, before mass-tourism arrived. At one secluded beach on Indefatigable Island, von Hagen finds a human skeleton. The skull had silver fillings in its teeth; von Hagen guesses that it is one of the sailors form the ill-fated 1906 marooning of the Norwegian boat the Alexandra. Before returning to the mainland, von Hagen commissioned a local mason to build a monument topped by a bronze bust of Charles Darwin, and von Hagen begins a campaign to have the Islands declared a nature sanctuary, a campaign that eventually succeeds after much bureaucratic inertia. Back on the mainland, he climbs Pichincha in Quito, and while driving along a road crowded with Indians walking to Otavalo, has this to say about his 'cholo' chauffer: "...Into this throng our driver burst, sending the Indians hurtling to one side. He even deliberately manoeuvred his car to the left of the road and bore down on some natives leading a cow, letting go a blast on his horn. The natives jumped aside, and the cow galloped madly on ahead down the road. The Cholo chauffeur burst out laughing and, when I chided him for such a useless procedure, he laughed even more broadly, raised his shoulders in an annoying gesture, and said : 
" Que importa, senor? - they are only Indios brutos."
" What difference does that make that they are only brutal Indians. Since you, yourself, are half-Indian, it would seem that you should have some feeling."
The Cholo gave me an icy stare and returned to his driving and I knew that I had been led to touch on something that everyone feels without expressing audibly in Ecuador : the question of colour, race nostalgia, the longing for the heritage, the prestige of white blood. The Cholo-a half-caste-keenly feels the distinction that the man with pure blood places between him and the life he would imitate. Behind his smooth exterior, something feline lurks ; he is likely to perpetrate extreme cruelties and . . . where one might least expect them, as I had just seen ... on the Indian himself. This attitude is curious, for one might think that as the Cholo knows he is, after all, flesh of the Indian's flesh, a physical sympathy might exist sufficient to create the desire to push the Indian forward; to ameliorate his existence. Yet the typical Cholo is more cruel to the Indian than the white man. He is callous toward his suffering and he will, many times, go out of his way to impress the Indian with his position as raza conquistador..." 
(pages 245-246) Von Hagen goes on to study the natives of Santo Domingo de los Colorados, and travels by mule to the northern coastal town of Esmeraldas. En-route he meets an Austrian, who relates the little-known story of how a large number of his countrymen were enticed into emigrating to Ecuador in the early 1900s but were soon disillusioned.

Eight Feet in the Andes, Dervla Murphy, New York, 1986. Story of an Irish woman who set off to cross the Andes on a donkey with her young daughter. It is unusual because her daughter co-authored the book. Full of descriptive narrative from an adult, and a child's impressions:
"...When the blizzard started at 2:30 Rachel agreed that we shouldn't complain becuase the wind was behind us. As she put on her waterproof poncho I covered the load with our cape and wrapped myself in a space-blanket. Then for two and a half hours we plodded on through swirling soft snow that restricted visibility to about fifty yards. It wasn't intolerably cold but soon our feet were numb. And poor Juana, with her head down and ears back, was misery personified. At last Rachel began to crack up; for the first time she complained, of cold feet. I knew the agony she was enduring - you might say we were in the same boot - but as the sky was lightening slightly I urged her to keep going in the hope that soon we could set up a dry camp. Then the snow became rain/sleet and soon there was a lull, though the clouds remained low and unbroken. We rushed the tent up and were just putting down the last peg when the sleet started again.
As I was writing this Rachel drifted back from the edge of sleep to say drowsily - 'Do you know what you're like? You're like those Spartan mothers who left babies out all night on mountains to see if they were worth rearing!'..."(page 167)

Enchanting Wilderness, Adventures in Darkest South America, Hans Tolten, London, 1936. (Translated from German by Ferdi Loesch). A book covering a settler's peregrinations from northern Argentina, to the heart of the Paraguayan Chaco, set in the 1920s. Tolten espouses opinions well ahead of his time in wanting to prevent cruelty to animals and the maltreatment of indigenous peoples. A poignant and subtle book, simple yet powerful in its accurate predictions as to the ultimate fate of the Chaco Indians, Toltens' notions as to the differences between 'civilized' whites and the 'savage' Chaco Indians stands forever as a reminder that such definitions are based on very shaky foundations. His anecdotes capture the all but vanished friendly spirit of tribal life, as well as the genocide committed by Argentine troops in the Napalpi massacre (of which this book provides one of the few eyewitness accounts). Despite seeing his entire farm ruined by the Mocowis during the rebellion, he decides to start over again in Paraguayan Indian territory to the north, and en-route stays for a while at a remote mission, successful, he says, because it kept the corrupting influences of the whites out of reach. His description of Ismael, a backwoods hunter who later became his guide, is timeless: "A weirdly-apparelled fellow came out to meet us. The upper part of his body was only scantily covered by a much too short, grey shirt-blouse. The trousers were practically invisible, his legs being laced up from ankles to thighs in leggings of black peccary skin, while the upper part of the trousers were concealed by the red-and-white chequered Indian faja (scarf), carefully wound round his hips and body. Over the scarf a belt of handsomely spotted-and-striped ocelot fur had been strapped, and in this stuck a long- barrelled revolver and a bush knife. On his feet he wore Indian sandals, while his head was uncovered." (pages 169-170) In some instances he provides dramatic black and white photographs of such characters. Ensconced among the uncontacted Sanapanas, he falls in love with one of its maidens, yet periodically reminds himself the situation could not last, unless steps are taken to save the village from outsiders. On page 236 Totlen relates how the Indians could distinguish whether a deer or a human had passed by a dew-laden bush; on pages 244-245, how to distinguish the type of animal hunting dogs are pursuing by listening to their barks. His plans to buy title to the land on behalf of the tribe are well intentioned, but doomed to fail. In the end, nearby egret nests and otter colonies become metaphors for nature's bounty, plundered by the white man's greed; 'idle' Indians were seen as a labour resource to be exploited in much the same way.

Exploration Fawcett, Colonel P. H. Fawcett, London, 1953. This book, a best seller in the 1950s (my copy is the seventh 1953 impression) was re-titled in the USA as Lost Trails, Lost Cities: An Explorer's Narrative. It was published posthumously in autobiographical form by his son Brian, who drew on his father's manuscripts, journals and letters, many years after his father's disappearance; so it is really his son's interpretation of his travels, not a travelogue written by the Colonel himself. It covers several expeditions in various parts of the continent, including the initial stage of his last, ill-fated foray in southern Brazil. Brian worked for many years in Peru, in railway construction, and one wonders if some of the Colonel's tales have been augmented by Brian's own experiences. The book will always be one of the classics of South American adventure books, but some of the claims are of borderline credibility. A 62ft snake, manatees that kill crocodiles, a herb that dissolved rock, a man who survived 8 volleys from a firing squad and a condor that carried a man off are some of his more extravagant anecdotes. Yet other, equally incredible stories the Colonel wrote about were later borne out as factual: the sweet stevia plant, dog-excrement as a curative, copaiba balsam and Indians that lived in fox-holes and who filed teeth being just some of them. 
On page 195 he writes of the atrocities committed by rubber plantation owners, but a few pages later he notes that life was brutal for all classes of Bolivians at that time: "...When we arrived in town a mutiny had just taken place in the Madre de Dios, at the mouth of the River Heath, where the solders of a small detachment murdered their officers and fled into Peru. One soldier - an Indian - returned to Riberalta, and said that he had refused to take part in the affair. He was tried by court martial, found guilty, and sentenced to 2,000 lashed with the cat..." (pages 52 -53). Fawcett describes how the unfortunate man fainted seven times, and how those assigned to flog recived 50 lashes themselves if they failed to 'lay in hard enough'. Though the man's flesh was cut to the bone in several places, his wounds were salted and he miraculously surivived. On other pages Fawcett describes gruesome torture by stingray and biting ants; on page 252 he describes stone throwing poltergeists and declares his belief in their mysterious powers. In fact it was Fawcett's belief in the supernatural that led to his disappearance: he based his final expedition on a basalt idol given to him by Sir H. Rider Haggard, claiming it gave an 'electric current' to any who held it. Consulting a psychic, who held the idol and allegedly beheld a vision of a great city in the Brazilian wilderness whose occupants worshipped 'on the border of demonology', its priests wore breastplates similar to the one on the small basalt idol. On the basis of this consultation, Fawcett, about to turn 58, sails once again for South America with one of his sons, heads north from Cuiaba looking for this city and is never seen again.
In the final chapter, Brian Fawcett lists some of the many theories regarding the fate of his father and brother, who disappeared during a search for the 'lost city' near a place called Dead Horse Camp. Fawcett's son does not accept any theories that they died, though the prevailing opinion today is that his party was annihilated by hostile Indians.

Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon 1851 - 1852, William Lewis Herndon, (foreword by Gary Kinder), New York, 2000. This is an abridged version of a report made to Congress by an officer of the United States Navy, charged with making an investigation of the Amazon with regards to trade possibilities. Kinder has edited out most of the scientific figures and tabulations to leave us with a fascinating distillation of Herndon's expedition, even so the book runs to 342 pages. The expedition began in Lima and ended almost a year later in Belem, at the mouth of the Amazon, his canoes packed with live and preserved zoological and botanical specimens. When originally published, it was a bestseller - highly unusual for a Congressional report - and it is not hard to see why it was republished several times. Mark Twain wrote that Herndon's report inspired him to descend the Mississippi with the intention of continuing on to the Amazon, but when he arrived at New Orleans he was unable to get a boat to Belem. The report is in diary form and is filled with observations like this one: "...A narrow island lay between us and San Regis, a small pueblo on the left bank, whence we could hear the sound of music and merry-making all night... The Fiscales, cooking their big monkeys over a large fire on the beach, presented a savage and most picturesque night scene. They looked more like devils roasting human beings than like servants of the church..."(pages 191-2) The book is not only about the Amazon, the first 140 pages is concerned with the crossing of the Andes by mule-train. At San Jose de Parac, he describes how silver ingots are refined by crushing the ore in water-mill and smelted using dried animal dung as fuel, making it sound so simple that anyone could do it in their backyard. He also writes how the natives used arrows with strings attached to hunt fish, a float attached to the string facilitating the capture of the fish: "...An Indian in a canoe discharges his arrow in the air. It describes a parabola, and lights upon the back of a fish, which the unpractised eye has not been able to see... The plunge of the fish shakes the arrow clear of the barb; the cord unwinds and the arrow floats upon the water... an impediment to the fish, and a guide to the fishermen, who follows his arrow till the fish or the turtle is dead..." (page 87). On page 216 he records how the Sencis tribe on the Sarayacu made astronomical observations, and had names for the planets and stars. Some of his observations were not scientific, such as when their canoes pulled in at the village of Juan Comas: "...We were quite objects of curiosity, and most of the people of the village came into see us; one man, a strapping fellow, came in, and after a brief but courteous salutation to me, turned to one of the women, and drove her out of the house with kicks and curses. He followed her, and I soon after heard the sound of blows and the cries of a woman; I suppose the fellow was either jealous, or the lady had neglected some household duty to gratify her curiosity..." (page 166-7) Although stridently opposed to slavery, Herndon says this of the natives: "...The mind of the Indian is like that of the infant, and it must grow rather by example than by precept. I think that good example, with a wholesome degree of discipline, might do much with this docile people; though there are not wanting intelligent men, well acquainted with their character, who scruple not to say that the best use to which an Indian can be put is to hang him, that he makes a bad citizen and a worse slave, and (to use a homely phrase) - "that his room is worth more than his company." I myself believe - and I think the case of Indians in my own country bears me out in the belief - that any attempt to communicate with them ends in their destruction. He cannot bear the restraints of law or the burden of sustained toil, and they retreat from before the face of the white man, with his improvements, till they disappear. This seems to be destiny. Civilization must advance, though it tread on the neck of the savage, or even trample him out of existence..." (pages 233-4). At then of his journey Herndon meets Bates, the English naturalist. Herndon returned to the US, and was appointed captain of the SS Central America, a side paddle steamer which started taking in water when it sailed into a hurricane off Carolina. He heroically kept afloat by organising the men to bail for 30 hours. He was able to transfer all the women and children to another ship before she sank, taking him and hundreds of men with her. A tragic ending for a true American hero.

Explorations of the Highlands of the Brazil, With a Full Account of the Gold and Diamond Mines. Also, Canoeing Down 1500 Miles of the Great Rio Sao Francisco, From Sabara to the Sea, by Captain Richard F Burton, New York, 1969. Originally published in London in 1869, this 2-volume opus describes a long journey Burton undertook in 1867-68. Better known for his work in the Arab, African and Asian cultures, Sir Richard Burton - at that time only a Captain and FRGS - travels first across the Minas Gerais region of the Brazilian Highlands, mainly by horse and mule. The second half of the journey, more than 1150 miles, was down the Rio Sao Francisco, on a raft christened 'The Brig Eliza'. While scholars of Burton and 19th century Brazil will find the book useful, much of the text relates fairly dross facts and tabulated figures about trade on the river and the economics of mines, timber mills, sugar refineries and farms. Often Burton's turn of phrase is hard to follow, with his frequent use of untranslated French and Latin, and obtuse references to Africa, Asia and classical Europe; sometimes his extensive footnotes help explain, other times they add to the general tediousness. An example of his tangential style is illustrated in this paragraph, where locals are sceptical of Burton's chances of reaching his destination: "We anchored in sheltered place behind the rock-pile fronting the church; here however the river is broken by two islands, the Ilha do Torres to the south and the Ilha do Giqui (Jequi) hard by the left bank. We had scarcely made fast, when a report spread that a steamer had arrived. Rushed down the bank a posse comitatus of notables, mostly "bodes" and "cabras," in black coats, paletots (a word which here becomes pariatoca), and white etceteras. Only one man approached whiteness; he was probably the Professor of First Letters, and he squatted, Hindu-like, upon a stone, washing his face with both hands, and towelling it with his pocket handkerchief. The disappointment caused by the "Ajojo" elicited peals of laughter, and the smallest jokes bawled in the loudest and coarsest of voices. I seemed to hear once more the organ of African Ugogo. Exceptionally in the Brazil all ignored the presence of strangers, and they made unpleasant remarks about the certainty of such a craft never reaching Varzea Redondo. I have, however, been threatened with drowning ever since leaving Sabara. Presently, hearing a bullock was being slaughtered, all rushed away, eagerly as a flight of turkey-buzzards." (page 384, vol II)Though his wife Isabel accompanied him, and she wrote the Preface, she receives scant mention in the text. The 2-volume set contains a couple of good maps but very few illustrations, save some interesting sketches of rock inscriptions he saw on the lower stretches of the river. Burton made it a point to visit local churches, asking about the foundation dates and obtains information about the founders and a few local miracles, about which he is usually skeptical, though he does point out that at schools in England children are taught thunder is God's voice, the dying must suffer, animals kneel on Christmas day. On pages 352-353 of Vol I Burton provides a grim description of the execution of Tiradentes, though he himself was not a witness; on page 10 of Vol II he describes a method called 'Gold of the Beard' whereby gold is panned from sods of grass recovered after two years of seasonal flooding, by a method likened to shaving.

The Explorers of the Amazon: Four Centuries of Exploration Along the World's Greatest River, Anthony Smith, London, 1990. Not a travelogue in itself, but a summary of nine other Amazon adventures, from Pedro Cabral's first sighting of the coast of Brazil in 1500 to the bizarre and grisly tale of Lope de Aguirre in 1559-61, to the incredibly cruel trade carried on by Julio Arana in the first half of the 1900's.

The Explorers of South America, Edward Goodman, Oklahoma, 1992. Written by a professor of history, it is a very scholastic summary of hundreds of early explorations, by land and sea, spanning 400 years. As such it doesn't go into much depth about each individual expedition, but it has an excellent bibliography and maps which can point the reader in the right direction should you want to research the original accounts in more detail.

Exploring the Amazon, by Helen and Frank Schreider, Washington, 1970. The Amazon is the mightiest of the world's rivers, and when Helen and Frank Shreieder - the same couple who wrote 20,000 Miles South - decided to make a complete descent, from the village of San Francisco in Peru to Belem on the Atlantic coast, they knew it was no casual undertaking. At the time the book was written, geographers still argued whether the Amazon was longer than the Nile; assembling navigation charts from various sources, their route map measured an astonishing 200ft. The Schreiders' voyage, especially the early stages in Peru's Upper Amazon, witnessed some strange scenes: on page 70 they relate how when approaching a new village their native pilot Poli would don a special gown and blow a conch-shell trumpet to announce their arrival and friendly intentions. One photo shows how the Indians caught small fish that try to jump rapids simply by placing a lattice-work blind at the top of the rapid, with a basket to catch the fish who simply fall into it; another shows Achual Indians blowing through the muzzles of their rifles in a bizarre welcoming ritual. In Pucallpa, the Schreiders exchange their crude balsa raft the Mamuri for a proper boat, the Amazon Queen - a custom built 30-footer with a cabin and 12hp motor. In Iquitos, they meet a smorgasbord of international drifters who have settled in the town, including " international commune of hippies who were growing marijuana on a houseraft and experimenting with hallucinatory jungle drugs in the floating village of Belen..." (page 117) It is in Iquitos that they were surreptitiously untied from the wharf one night and cast away while they were sleeping. Sponsored by the National Geographic Society, the book has a similar style to that of the Society's magazine - amply augmented by superb colour photographs, many of them taken from the air. One photo shows a girl lying across the leaf of the giant water lily, proving that they can support the weight of a small child. The Amazon's amazing animals, history, and people are profiled, in particular the American entrepreneur Mike Tsalickis, who started eco-tourism and jungle lodges in the Leticia area, and the Brazilian gold miners, working alluvial deposits. In a Brazilian village near the island of Majaro, they come upon a pitiful scene: "...Lost in a labyrinth of channels, we stopped a canoe for directions. A wan and frail little girl of 5 or 6 lay limply under the palm canopy. Her parents had paddled all day to Breves to find a doctor, but the doctor had been away. We wondered if he could have saved the child even had he been there. Her fleshless limbs, pinched face, splotchy, translucent skin, and distended stomach signaled advanced malnutrition. I asked how long the child had been ill. Two weeks, a month, the father wasn't sure. We gave them canned milk and vitamins, but the child was too weak to swallow. Helpless, frustrated, we watched them paddle away. A few days, a week earlier ... but what are days or weeks or even months on the Amazon? Time is when the river rises or when the sun sets or when the rains come. Time is when a child dies. ..." (page 185). There is some drama near the very end when they run into stormy weather as the Amazon opens up to the Atlantic, but arrive more or less unscathed at Belem's yacht Club along with their pet German Shepherd Balty.

For Science and National Glory: the Spanish Scientific Expedition to America, 1862-1866, Robert Ryal Miller, Norman, 1968. This Spanish expedition was a resounding success in terms of the scientific bounty it returned to Spain: some 80,000 natural history items. However, a concise and articulate chronicle of the expedition did not exist until this book appeared due to a variety of factors, including untimely deaths, political bickering and loss of manuscripts. Miller, drawing on disparate memoirs, letters and diaries, has written their travelogue in chronological sequence. Their story is well worth telling: "...the Spanish naturalists covered thousands of miles of America, scorning dangers and illness, difficulties and fatigue. With bold tenacity they scaled Andean peaks, descended mine shafts, and penetrated desert, forest and jungle, observing, analysing, collecting, and writing... And what other group of scientists in Latin America met with the Emperor of Brazil and the presidents of six republics during the course of their expedition? Or which other one crossed the continent of South America at two different latitudes, gathering plants and animals along the way?" (page 174) Ferried to South America on two Spanish naval frigates, the Resolucion and the Triunfo, difficulties arose almost immediately between the civilian scientists and their naval escorts, who were pre-occupied with a looming war with Peru. Their route went via the Canary Islands, Pernambucco, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Buenos Aries, the Falklands, Cape Horn, thence to numerous ports along South America's Pacific coastline. California and Central America were also visited - the book contains interesting black and white photographs of San Francisco taken by the official photographer. The friction with the naval commanders meant the scientists looked forward to shore excursions. One expedition went overland from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, another through Bolivia and Peru, and the most arduous, a complete descent of the Amazon beginning in Guayaquil and ending in Belem. In Quito, some members of the expedition decide to explore Pinchincha's crater, with almost disastrous results: "... Very early on December 12, with a new guide, the naturalists tried to descend into Pichincha's crater, in spite of threatening weather and a recent snowfall. The guide, Martinez, and the others soon turned back, but Espada continued on alone, chopping steps with an ice axe. When he did not return to the top by late afternoon, his companions went back to the shack, leaving the guide at the top of the crater. For the next three days rescue parties searched for Espada, while others notified authorities and went to a near-by ranch for food and more Indian guides. Finally, on December 16, Espada met a search party and walked back to the shelter with them. While lost in the immense crater he had slept under a large rock ledge. For food he had only the loaf of bread and a quarter of a chicken in his knapsack. It snowed, rained, and there were earthquakes, but during those four days Espada explored the geological formations, gathering evidence to prove that there was stability and life in the basin, contrary to the published opinions of La Condamine and Humboldt. His notes, written under those trying circumstances, do not show that he was worried about his chances for survival or about what his companions would think or do. Perhaps even stranger was his desire to return to the carter alone, which he did six weeks later, that time without getting lost..." (pages 128-129)

Forty Years in the Argentine Republic, Arthur E. Shaw, London, 1907. A book of reminiscences from a British engineer who worked on the surveying and construction of Argentina’s burgeoning rail network in the late 1800s, with some short excursions to neighbouring countries. Shaw witnessed the war against Paraguay, and describes his surveying days with no uncertain nostalgia. However, life in a railway gang on the Argentine plains was pretty Spartan, and even in the towns there were perils: “The war brought cholera in its train and the scourge was severely felt from Rosario northwards ; in fact, I think it was bad only in that region. In Cordoba, where it was exceptionally severe, the deaths reached 300 in one day, in a population 10,000 only. The rest had fled the city. Two thousand victims were simply shot into a huge square well in the cemetery, and were visible years afterwards - a gruesome sight of bones and everyday clothes.” (page 21) Many years were also spent in Cordoba, Rosario, Patagonia and Buenos Aires. Shaw describes a meeting with the infamous imposter ‘Sir’ Roger Tichborne, who stayed a while at one of their work camps; locust plagues that smothered the very air; local balls where the better class of girls would only dance with men who held power of attorney; losing his savings in a lime-kiln business; and of age-old customs in Paraguay: “I omitted to mention that, owing to the teaching of the Jesuit Fathers, there were at that time many medieval customs which were interesting in this age of short politeness and unbelief. Thus at about sunset the church bells were rung (I suppose this was the Angelus), and every person within hearing either removed his hat, or knelt (if a woman) until the tolling ceased. Again, at dawn the children used to come and kneel before their elders, and even visitors, to receive the old world blessing by a touch on the head from the palm of the others hand. Fancy a "holy terror" Yankee boy in such surroundings ! These customs were rural. I don't think they obtained in Asuncion.” (page 71) Much of the text is concerned with the fortunes of various railway companies, their profits, losses and eventual amalgamations; an appendix lists his forecasts regarding the building of railways to various (at that time) sparsely populated agricultural regions.


Four Faces of Peru, W Byford-Jones, London, 1967. The ancient Incas saw their dominion as the Kingdom of the Four Quarters. Wilfred Byford-Jones augments this concept as he divides the country into the four regions of Lima, the Andes, the desert coast, and the Peruvian Amazon. He travels by train, plane and boat. Beginning in Bolivia, he enters Peru via the Puno rail line. Early on he befriends the charming Peta de la Torez, Peruvian wife of an archaeologist, who claimed descent from Inca royalty. Many of the archaeological theories he writes about may have seemed sensational in the 1960s, but much of it has been superseded by more recent studies. However his observations of the altiplano Indians is interesting. He talks with official of the United Nations organ the International Labour Organization, and sees glimmers of hope in a sea of poverty. The ILO programme had been in operation for a decade, but progress was slow: "...I saw Indians in 'modernized' Andean houses, which, although they would have been seen as slums of the worst kind by Westerners, were regarded by the Indians with great pride... I saw Indians who had been used to backbreaking toil in the 'fields' from dawn to sunset using for the first time simple farm implements made by Indian trainees at a community centre for carpentry and the metal trades. One man had a wooden hoe which was Biblically primitive, yet he and his wife who had hitherto turned up the land to sow corn and potatoes with the oldest implements known to man - the bare hands - beamed with sophisticated pride and pleasure..." (pages 87-88). A few pages later he waxes lyrical about a beautiful young woman sitting across from him on a Cuzco-Lima flight. The teenage beauty, we are told, was the child of a highland tribe who hid from white men, but an artist and his wife spotted the girl on a mountaineering expedition. The girl is described as being filthy, clothed in rags, with matted hair down to her waist. Her father summoned her from hiding with an animal call. The artist and his wife found the girl exotically attractive, and offered to adopt the girl and give her an education in the city and a career as a model. The parents agreed, and "...the girl had been transformed from a little barbarian into a fashionable young lady in under a year. She's even been taught some Spanish. She has had lessons in speech, manners, deportment and been given elementary education, of the kind infants would be given. She was absolutely ignorant, was not even house trained. She mastered half a dozen cliches, such as some girls today use at every social occasion. The photographer did not tell me the worst, but I gather it was very much like bringing up a puppy, teaching it how to go about things. Now, they can't keep men away from her. All kinds of men try to date her, even one of the celebrities in Lima. They have had to refuse to let her out of sight. They fear they will not be able to hold her back for long. Under her warpaint she still something of a savage, and she's getting to know her way about and is developing all the feminine guile for luring men..." (page 133) The girl is now one of the highest paid models in South America, writes Blyford-Jones, without revealing her name. He reports a jungle battle between the USA and Peru's Mayoruna Indians near the Galvez River, as they were attacking a group of Peruvian prospectors: "...Days later a US plane flew overhead, obviously seeing the concentration of Indians converging on the Peruvian camp, and opened up with all weapons at their disposal. The area was machine-gunned and peppered with anti-personnel bombs... Exactly how many Indians were killed no one knew..." (page 176).

Four Kiwis and a Falcon, David Harford, London, 1970. Anyone driving through 50 countries in mixed company is bound to have a few amusing tales to tell. David Harford's round-the-world tour in a Ford Falcon station-wagon began in September 1964; fully half the book is set in Latin America. Right from the start they are in the thick of chaos: shipping their car to Singapore, they find it in the grips of a political uprising, and they narrowly escape a rioting mob. The first half of the book relates their westbound leg from Singapore, though Thailand, India, the Kyhber Pass, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Europe. In the text Harford refers to the Falcon as 'Robin'. In India they cooked up a home-baked repair for the Robin's 'sealed for life' clutch bearing, which had lost all its grease after a river crossing: "...Firing up the camp stove, he boiled the bearing in a tin of grease, leaving it to stew for several hours so the lubricant could soak right in. That evening, as we refitted the clutch and dropped Robin off the blocks, I was worrying about how effective and permanent our improvised repair would be. Silly of me. It lasted a us the rest of the way round the world without a murmur, and at the time of writing, thousands of miles later, it is still as good as new. In fact better, because it doesn't mind the odd bit of water in it now and again..." (page 41) The bearing may have held up well, but it was just the beginning of their clutch and tyre problems. In the UK they are hounded by journalists but escape by loading 'Robin' onto the ocean liner Canberra heading for Florida. After a few adventures in the US and Canada, including a snub by the Ford factory in Detroit, the Kiwis head south. They don't spend much time in Central America: "...The heat and squalor of the banana republics held little attraction to us, so we raced through El Salvador in one day and Nicaragua the next..." (page 107) In Panama the vehicle is loaded onto a ship and Harford picks it up in Buenaventura, Colombia: "...Buenaventura, in spite of its romantic name, was the end of the world. Paintless buildings sagged into the streets. Filth was everywhere. The stench of damp and decay was nauseating. People were standing around in a trance. There was nothing else to do. And the merciless sun beat down, hurting my eyes. The shipping office was like the town. The walls were cracked. Papers littered the floor. Cockroaches swarmed on the ceiling. Two filthy dogs slumped near the door. And two clerks slumped at their desks. One gazed into space. The other gazed vaguely at me..." (page 110) The Kiwis spend the next three months driving around South America, and manage to visit Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. It is a rushed itinerary, and Harford's impatience with border officials reads a little arrogant. At one border he tells a guard 'Get lost mate!' At another border, in Chile, an official does them a favour by changing some money at a good rate, and helps them obtain gasoline from a remote sulphur mine. In return the official was hoping to gat a lift to his home, some hundred miles 'along our way'; the Kiwis drove off as soon as their passports were stamped. It is in this manner the Falcon Four manage to cover an incredible amount of territory, often along roads so bad the three passengers have to get out and walk - in one instance, for 90 miles! At flooded creek crossings, they have to build their own fordings with rocks and boulders. In Bolivia, the engine coughs and splutters due to the altitude, so they disassemble and de-coke the head, improvising sand and water for valve-grinding paste. Another time they get bogged in a salt lake and demolish a ruined building, hauling adobe bricks for miles to utilize as foundations to stop the Falcon sinking into the mud. In Uyuni, a place Harford describes as 'a bleak and inhospitable wild frontier town', the locals tell them there is no gasoline for sale, nor food of any sort. The hapless four are forced to camp in freezing temperatures at the town's rubbish dump. Two days later they were able to buy some gasoline, Harford noting 'it was there all the time'. Enduring incredible hardships, none the least of which were numerous flat tyres that they somehow resurrected even after they were torn to shreds, the Falcon Four make it from Tupiza in Bolivia to Ollague in Chile via a road described as 'for fanatics only'. In the end Harford seems to have grown to like South America, wishing he had more time to explore the Amazon region. After a mad dash back to Lima, the four kiwis and their Falcon finally secure a ride on a freighter and their 21-month, 94,000 mile adventure ends where it began, in New Zealand.

From Sea to Sea in South America, W. T. Blake, New York, 1952. (published under the title 'The Pampas and the Andes' in the UK). A retired Royal Air Force Major sets off gung-ho in a 1950 model Standard Vanguard to cross the South American continent from Rio to Santiago to La Paz and back. Readable if not for the historical black and white photographs, then for his amusing politically-incorrect comments about the locals, such as these gems:
"Unfortunately, Pueblo Hundido turned out to be simply a mine surrounded by the usual handful of derelict hovels, inhabited by people of very limited intelligence"( page 74) and "The whole area seemed fairly well populated, but the larger proportion of the people whom we passed were either negroes or half-castes. They seemed very dull mentally and their reactions were slow..." (page 164).

From the Andes to the Amazon Basin in Ecuador: Diary of an Explorer 1939-1946, Heinrich Goldschmid, Quito, 2005. Few outside of Switzerland have heard of Karl Theodor Goldschmid, an indefatigable geologist who explored the eastern region of Ecuador in his capacity as a geological surveyor. This book will ensure that his contributions will not be entirely forgotten. Barely escaping WWII, Karl Theodor Goldschmid – or KTG as he is referred to in the text - had the foresight to invest in several modern cameras and experimented with the recently invented Kodachrome colour film, which in those days had to be sent from Ecuador to New York for developing, a round trip that took up to six weeks. When he returned to Europe after seven years of explorations, he carried with him more than 2000 documents and photographs, the nucleus for what is now called the Goldschmid Archive. The best of his photographs and parts of his journals have been collated and edited by his son Heinrich, who adds a few personal anecdotes. Goldschmid’s photos document the difficulty of travel in those days, both in the Amazon and the highlands. His journal entries describe difficulties with the weather, native helpers, and rugged terrain. His most constant problem is rain, he notes on one expedition, it rained for 38 out of 47 days. Their clothes, half-dried by the campfire overnight, ‘smell like smoked ham’ and are still damp in the morning. Interested in the natives, he tries to learn their language and something of their customs, passing through Jivaro and other tribal lands. Sometimes their canoes capsize, other times they must be dragged for several kilometers between watersheds, other times his guides desert him overnight. His travel companions included a faithful servant called Baca, a pet monkey and some tame birds. Often his expeditioners relied on hunting game to feed themselves. Principally surveying for petroleum for Shell Oil Company, KTG nevertheless took an interest in everything around him, and mapped previously unmapped rivers. On the Napo River he was shown a gold ‘grain’ weighing 9 grams. On the Santiago River he made this grim observation: “The gold washers, called miners here, have many accidents on the river. If they do not know the waters well, they are dragged into eddies, and they lose the contents of their small canoes. The day before yesterday we saw a human skeleton with trousers still covering the bones.” (page 85). One evening in 1943, on his seventh expedition, the camp dog – the last surviving one from an original four – started barking at a jaguar. By dim lantern light, the expedition cook shot the cat with his shotgun. KTG finished it off with his pistol, noting ironically in his diary: “Some weeks later, the cook who shot the jaguar turned the gun at himself. He left behind two letters explaining it was as a result of deception in a love affair.” (page 115) Book includes several colour maps, and an interesting photo-essay of KTG’s 1940 ascent of Reventador volcano. The text is triplicated in Spanish, German and English within the one volume; it may be catalogued in libraries under the titles Von den Anden in das Amazonasgebeit Ecuadors or De los Andes a la Amazonia del Ecuador.

The Fruit Palace: An Odyssey Through Colombia's Cocaine Underworld, Charles Nicholl, New York, 1985. A tale recounting the intrigue surrounding the illicit drug trade in Colombia. Nicholl includes in this book facsimiles of telexes from drug dealers and the recipe for refining coca into cocaine to add authenticity to his story. Much of the book is set in Santa Marta.

Full Circle, A South American Journey, Luis Sepulveda, Hawthorn, 1997. This book was translated from Spanish, and perhaps because of that, reads a little differently to your average travelogue: it is the travelogue of a native son, and in true Latino style, he uses a lot of imagery.

Ghost Train Through the Andes: On My Grandfather's Trail in Chile and Bolivia, Michael Jacobs, London, 2007. The basis of this book begins when an English Michael Jacobs inherited a collection of his late grandfather's letters, all addressed to his grandmother. They are filed in chronological order, and date from the early 1900s, when Bethel Jacobs was a railway engineer in Chile and Bolivia, and sorely missing his paramour and first cousin Sophie, who remained at home. On the whole they are formal letters as Sophie's family are against the marriage to someone closely related. However, the snippets included in his grandson's narrative show Bethel's hopes, dreams and prejudices are clear enough to be of interest to the modern reader. Deciding to see the region for himself, Michael Jacobs follows his grandfather's footsteps, using the letters as a guide. He finds some things have changed, but many have not. Michael begins his journey in Chile. He is better prepared than most first-time visitors, as he is fluent in Spanish, having lived many years in Spain. However, speaking the same language did not prepare him adequately for the region's pronounced differences. After admiring the mountainous landscape near Catapilco he writes: "But behind all this undeniable beauty I began soon to be conscious of an element of menace. Plants of seductively exotic appearance were explained to me as 'insect-eating', or liable to produce extreme allergic reactions in humans; and then I was told this was the part of Chile with the highest concentration not only of earthquakes, but also of the dreaded Chagas beetle, whose bite caused AIDS-like symptoms that were not often apparent until twenty years later. Trying not to think all of these things I jumped into the swimming pool only to land on a giant, decomposing rat." (page 48)Although he is not a true trainspotter, Michael goes out of his way to travel the rail line and bridges surveyed and built by Bethel, inspecting them on foot, by jeep, or railway car. Some of the lines were recently closed, but already suffering from severe water damage and theft of the iron fittings. While inspecting the line near Orcoma, he and his assistant get caught in a lightning storm. Running back to their jeep, they passed many distressed locals who seemed to know something ominous was about to happen. As Jacobs and his two assistants sped away, they saw "...what looked like the whole mountain falling into the river, entirely obliterating the patch of land where he had been parked just seconds before." (page 230) Four villagers died in the same landslide. In Sucre, his narrative takes a more humorous tone when he is mistaken for a priest: "At least three women genuflected in front of me, and one of them touched my black T-shirt in case it might confer on her some of my holiness. Another woman asked me for my blessing, which put me in a particularly difficult position. Unwilling by this stage to be exposed as an imposter, I eventually made the sign of the cross, muttered some words in Latin, and told her to go away in peace. She went off with a beatific smile." (page 247) At times the book is very personal, and Jacobs cites small, often irreverent links to his ancestor which may leave the reader scratching his head as to their significance. Other passages, like the one that describes his visit to an abandoned Chilean concentration camp at Chacabuco where he meets a former prisoner who is now a guide and guardian of the site, are poignant reminders that history always has its human side. The book includes many period photographs, all of which date from his grandfather's time, including one of a curious sail-powered rail-car.

Golden Wall and Mirador, From England to Peru, Sacheverell Sitwell, London, 1961. Sir Sacheverell Sitwell was an established art, architecture, music and literary critic when he published this, one of his last books. While the book would mainly appeal to the art and culture lover, it is a travelogue too. Sitwell travels through Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Central America, though his observations are often from the comfort of first class hotels, aircraft windows, or, in the case of the trip to Machu Picchu, a private rail car. Don't expect much outdoor adventure. One can only smile at Sitwell's long-winded complaints about squeaky hotel beds, poor restaurant service or the high prices charged by taxi drivers in Chichicastenango: "...Of course, it is cheaper if several persons share the car. But there is no alternative. There are no railways serving these towns; and one cannot travel a lot of luggage in a motor-bus full of Indians, however beautiful their costumes may be..." (page 245) One characteristic of Sitwell's writing style is his habit of going off at a tangent, devoting many words to comparing the art and architecture of the Incas and Spaniards with those in other parts of the globe, which he himself has invariably visited. Sitwell's descriptions flit from ancient Rome, to Egypt, to the Incas and Mayas, and back to London. At times this becomes a little tedious, such as when he compares the Maya frescoes at Bonompak with a 17th century Japanese screen-painting by Sotatsu, or Lima's slums with those of Arkwright Town, Derbyshire. However he captures the reader's attention on many pages. Of Puno, Bolivia he is not very complimentary, but paints a vivid picture: "...The same handful of carrots or bunch of mushrooms was still lying on a cloth in front of the same woman at four o'clock in the afternoon; by which time most of the menfolk had drunk themselves half-silly. There was a good deal of clumsy half-hearted dancing, and a wild-looking boy of about fifteen ran past chasing somebody and brandishing an open knife. But many cholas and cholos were already on the way home, and there was the unpleasing sight of men relieving themselves drunkenly against the wall of the hotel, and a chola with her babe on her back squatting on the ground, defaecating. Their insanitary habits are conducted in public without shame. It was no surprise when we were in La Paz to be told that diseases like infectious haepatitis were practically endemic in the city. The chola women never take off their clothes; the most they will do is to wash their top skirt and put it on again underneath the others. But they are 'hat-conscious'to inordinate lengths; and there are time-honoured stories of Indian or chola women who will undress for once in their lives to be examined by the doctor but refuse on any account to take off their hats..." (pages 140-141) Sitwell is more at home describing art, such as the stone lintels of Yaxchilan, in Chiapas: "...In one of them, which has become famous in illustration, a kneeling personage in an enormous and complicated head-dress, with many rows of necklaces, is making a blood offering by passing a cord strung with thorns through a hole in his tongue, a painful process which must have ended with a tongue badly swollen. The drops of blood dripped from the mouth onto strips of bark paper which were offered to the deity. The sting from the tail of a stinging ray was used for the same purpose, but this was only by priests, and sting-ray spines have been found buried with the bodies in Mayan graves. The deity at whose feet he is kneeling holds some object over him which is like a flowering cactus pole, and both of them, god and man, have the sloping profile, 'front fuyant', to a pronounced degree. In another of the stone lintels from Yaxchilan, a man holding a jaguar head is in converse with someone, quetzal-plumed, of major importance, and the head deformation with both of them is so marked that it has become freakish. Visually, the Mayan must have been one of the oddest of all human cultures. If one is to think of it in terms of aesthetics one cannot but prefer it to the stereotyped Egyptian, according to the same canon by which we rate the temples of Angkor higher than those of Luxor. It is one of the supreme losses to human experience that there is no account at first hand of the Mayans. This is hardly to be endured when we are told that at Tayasol, the island in Lake Peten where the Mayans from Chichen-Itza were undisturbed by the Spaniards until 1697, there was living, shortly before its capture, a red-haired man, married to an Itza woman, who had a book with him conjectured to have been a Bible, and it is thought that he may have been an English buccaneer from the pirate stronghold at Belize..." (page 279) The book contains some historical snippets, his sources are cross-referenced by bibliographic footnotes. The black and white photographs are of merit. Several feature the Mayan site of Tikal before restoration, while another shows a religious procession coming out of a church portal in Guatemala, where the float is of a large model aircraft with silver-foil skin marked Pan Am. A life-size wooden statue of a Catholic saint sits in the cockpit.

Grandmother Drives South, Constance Jordan Henley, New York, 1943. A grandmother in her late fifties drives an Oldsmobile 'woody' station-wagon around South America and back to the States during WWII in a 30,000 mile odyssey that took nearly two years. The basis of her story is founded on adventure, but unfortunately the book doesn't quite live up to its potential. While Ms Henley enthuses about the warm welcomes she encounters and the fun she is having, too much of the book is devoted to repetitious descriptions of how she and her co-driver pushed, shoved or cannon-balled their vehicle out of bogs, swamps, over goat-tracks and through river-crossings. Sometimes she employed men with machetes and shovels to clear roads, or used oxen to haul her out of tight spots; some river crossings were done on planks laid across parallel canoes. These mundane hardships are the core of the book. But some other passages, and good photographs, liven it up. Constance begins her narrative in Rio, where she and her nephew Joe first shipped the car, nicknamed 'Oldsie'. Joe is soon called up to enlist, as the US enters the Second World War, and he is replaced by a very capable Chilean, a bilingual former diplomat and engineer. In Tucuman she witnesses the sugar workers' unrest; and the next day, driving along a track to inspect a mine 16,000ft up in the mountains, 'Oldsie" gets caught in a dynamite blast but they somehow emerge unscathed (page 165). Caught in a snowstorm near Oruro, they meet a man who almost froze to death in his vehicle; in La Paz she hears about Nazi plotters expelled from the country. While visiting the archaeological site of Tiwanaku:"...a guide spotted us and tempted us with the promise to show us some other ruins that few if any tourists ever saw. We took him on. Clinging to the side of our car, he guided us through the little town and out toward the distant mountains. We bumped over the trace of a road, almost got stuck in crossing a stream, meandered here and there, and finally came to a lonely field in which sat three square-hewn figures of stone, strangely impressive in their stolid silence. They made one feel vaguely uncomfortable, with their sightless eyes looking past us as if we were creatures beneath their notice..." (page 183). But of the magnificent city of Cusco Constance scarcely says a word; Mexico and Guatemala receive a scant three sentences. Witness to the border clashes between Peru and Ecuador, she reconnoitres deep into captured territory, under a Peruvian escort, because she felt it her duty to see as much as possible of the Pan American Highway so she could report on it when she returned to the US (even though she had not been commissioned to do so.) She used a letter with a Californian Gold Seal to cut through bureaucracy in Venezuela when grounded on census day. In Barranquilla her co-driver is arrested for taking photographs without a permit. In the US she drives from Los Angeles to Washington alone. After all the dangers and dire predictions of failure in South America were proven wrong, the plucky grandma is arrested in New Jersey for a minor licence plate infringement, browbeaten and jailed for 45 hours.

Green Dreams, Travels in Central America, Stephen Benz, Hawthorn, 1998. The main thrust of this book is whether eco-tourism is really a good idea in a Central American context. The best part is about his adventures in Mosquitia in 1983. There is also a chapter about Peru.

The Green Horizons, Gilbert Phelps, New York, 1964. (published as 'The Far Horizon' in the UK). Phelps excels in many areas in this book. For one thing, he doesn't get bogged down in quoting figures and statistics. He includes interesting historical summaries that blend seamlessly and relevantly with the narrative. In southern Brazil, he is lucky to escape from the clutches of a group of dishonest gypsies. His description of an abattoir is sure to make most readers consider becoming vegetarians. The pages describing a macumba ceremony includes a good explanation of the pantheon of African gods and their Christian equivalents. Rather than portraying himself as an expert on all matters, Phelps records when his own preconceptions are wrong. At the mouth of the Amazon, he finds the maze of channels confusing: "I knew that we were heading for the Narrows, which separate the southern point of Marajo Island from the mainland, but fixated still on my puny English scale I had envisaged this as the equivalent, say, of a trip from Portsmouth to the southern end of the Isle of Wight, or from New York to Oyster Bay on Long Island. I saw a shore line in front of me and thought it was Marajo. Then I realized it was merely one of the islands off Belem. Beyond was open water with no land in sight, and I thought for some reason we were heading back for the open sea. An hour later I again saw the land ahead and - by now thoroughly confused - imagined we were heading for the opposite end of the estuary, forgetting that this was over 200 miles across. It was, in fact, Marajo Island, and I had to make a fresh adjustment to the word "island" It had nothing in common with my homely conceptions. Marajo was as big as Wales, or Switzerland, or Belgium. I watched it from the upper deck in the company of a new acquaintance, an elderly little man with a bald head and a flat nose pitted with blue marks, like tiny enamel inlays, who had joined the ship at Belem. Like me he was bound for Manaus; after fifty-odd years in the export trade in various parts of Brazil, he was going there to spend his retirement. He had been born in the state of Amazonas, of an English father and a Brazilian mother. It had not occurred to me that anyone would live in so remote a place from choice -in our arrogance we assume that we are the only ones who know what the word 'home' means..." (page 42)

The Gringo Trail, Mark Mann, Summersdale, 2001. A book that delves deep into the reason some backpackers come to South America: cheap drugs: "...Mark was beside the pool table in the Gran Casino 2, as he'd promised, chalking his cue. He introduced his opponent, a rugged, long-haired New Zealander called Campbell. I ordered a couple of drinks from the bar. Behind me, I heard a loud thud, and looked to see Campbell lying unconscious on the floor beside the pool table, pool cue in hand. Everyone else in the bar turned to look, too. Mark dragged him out into the fresh air. 'Too much dope' Mark explained..." (page 176) But the book also carries a subliminal message: sure you can let your hair hang down in these laid back Latin countries... but it will come at a cost, as the reader finds out in the final chapters. The book covers Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. It is not only about the trials of being a backpacker, as Mann uses a lot of quotes from other historical and socio-economic writers to augment his own somewhat acerbic observations.

Gringos in the Mist, A Naturalist's Journey Through the Amazon, Greg Gordon, Cascade, 1995 While not in the same league as Bates, Spruce or Wallace, Gordon's contribution to naturalist literature is very entertaining, a light and easy read. The problems of saving Ecuador's unique ecosystems is manifold; Gordon discusses the problems in layman's terms, the natural history he includes is very interesting. Much of the narrative, however, is not about the environment, eco-politics, or even Ecuador; in some parts Gordon muses over the motives and intangible rewards of travelling. In the mountain spa town of Banos, he contracts a well known condition aka the 'travel blues': "I don't know how people spend so much time traveling. I've only been gone a month and I'm already tired of it. Traveling alone, there's just too much time for thinking. There's also no one else to blame, no one else to get upset with. All this drifting through other people's lives, just looking in. All this transience seems so shallow. I'm failing Tourism. 
What is traveling other than floating along from one place to the next? If I feel restless while traveling, I move on to the next locale. What about restlessness in one's own place? Does restlessness come from a lack of fulfilment? Is fulfilment necessary for the human spirit, or is it a disease? I feel like a shark who has to keep swimming to move water through its gills or it dies. 
I keep going through these weird mood swings between hating this place, being depressed and wanting to go home and speak English, to having a great time and thinking about staying longer, surprising myself that I can carry on a conversation in Spanish. 
The rains finally stop. The sun is out and there's a very sexy German girl in the room next door..."(page 78) 
In Otavalo, he describes the sad irony involving the local creek: Skeins of white and black wool dry on the hillside. A creek runs along the edge of the village where three women wash their clothes, standing in the cold water beating them against a flat rock. The creek is not only the Laundormat and bathtub, but also the village's drinking supply. 
High on the hill overlooking Carabuela sits a water tower. Empty. Built with foreign aid. Somehow the money ran out before the pumps and filter system were installed. This morning's paper announced 500 cases of cholera in Imbabura province. Rodrigo tells us there's a 30 percent infant mortality in these villages." (page 53) 

Gordon goes on to discuss teenage pregnancies, rampant malnutrition, ecological devastation and corruption, and draws a parallel with the United States' inner cities. On page 152 he describes a tree root that glows in the dark, pale green in colour; on another page he contemplates CIA conspiracies and complicity in narcotics trafficking. The final part of the book tells how four of American environmentalists, fighting the oil companies on behalf of the Indians who lived in the Huarani Reserve and Yasuni National Park, were arrested charges of being involved in 'subversive activities' Gordon visits the men in prison. The US Embassy ignored their plight, and refused Gordon an interview, the story received scant coverage in the US, even though the arrests were front page news in Quito; it was left to the British Embassy to negotiate the Americans' release. It is difficult not to be cynical when one recalls that most of the oil companies in the area are US-controlled.

Half a Dozen of the Other, Sebastian Snow, London, 1972. Six separate South American adventures are described in this 222-page volume, a very entertaining book, if you don't mind a dash of sharp British sarcasm. The first is his journey along the entire Amazon River (covered in more detail in his previous book My Amazon Adventure, reviewed below). The second is about his ascent of the 'Pair of Giants' - Cotapaxi and Chimborazo. While descending Chimborazo, a foot-long boulder falls next to their tent, missing his head by six inches. Unperturbed, but probably affected by soroche, he throws it off the precipice, watching it bounce down the steep slope, musing: "...I wondered if a human body would career down with such momentum, would bounce as far into the air as that boulder... the thought was compelling; it fascinated me. If I were to leap of that narrow ledge of ice and follow it...? ..." adding he was 'completely unafraid to die' and that 'it was practically a temptation' to jump off. 
The third story is about his successful trek to find the lost city of Paititi, though the ruins he finds are difficult to gauge because they were so overgrown, they uncover ancient bronze implements. Such jungle expeditions can be dangerous for wholly unexpected reasons - he tells of one Archimedes Toullier, a previous expeditioner, who was bitten by a poisonous snake hidden in his bedding by a disgruntled porter. Part four is about his quest to prove a connection between the Orinoco and Plate river systems. He went as far as Manaus with Robin Hanbury-Tenison, whereafter they parted ways, Snow suffering blackouts and the prescribed therapy was hypnosis.(The first half of this expedition is also related in Hanbury-Tenison's bookThe Rough and the Smooth, reviewed below). The fifth section of the book chronicles two successful ascents of Sangay volcano, en route to which he encounters a German who had obvious plastic surgery, begging the question if he was a Nazi. The sixth and final adventure was an attempt to recreate Orellana's descent of the Napo. That journey ended in a capsizing that nearly killed him: stranded on a river island with the waters rising, he and a companion had only the clothes they stood in, but as usual Snow's incredible luck holds out and they manage to survive.

Hans Staden, The True Story of his Captivity, (first published in 1557, but has been translated and republished in many languages over the last 400 years. It was republished in New York in the 1960's by Burt Franklin. Or, you can read it serialised in issues #26, 27 and 28 of the South American Explorers Magazine) A short but amazing account of a German who was taken captive by Brazilian Tupinambe Indians. He describes his attempted escapes and other ordeals in incredible detail, and with a non-Catholic eye: Staden was a Lutheran. He chronicles their customs, especially their cannibalism with succinct clarity: many times he barely escapes the cooking pot, a fate many of his companions suffered. 
...then the man came up, to whom the Cario had been given, and beat out his brains, after which they left him lying before the huts ready to be eaten...they cut off the head, for the man had lost an eye from his disease and his appearance was horrible, and throwing away the head, he singed the body at the fire. After this he cut him up and divided the flesh equally as is their custom. As I went to and fro in the huts I saw them roasting here the feet, and elsewhere a piece of the trunk..."

Head-Hunters of the Amazon, Seven Years of Exploration & Adventure, by F. W. Up de Graff, with an introduction by R. B. Cuninghame Graham, London, 1923. A truly rip-roaring tale. Beginning in 1894, Up de Graff recounts his time in the Amazon region with a fluidity that makes it easily readable to this day. He left New York bound for Colon (then part of Colombia) in search of "...Adventure! That was the keynote of my life, the note to which my youthful, untamed spirit vibrated in sympathy. Here was my chance, then. To South America with its vast tracts of unexplored territory, holding Heaven knows what strange secrets, I would go..." (page 25). In Colon he sees the abandoned French canal excavations, "tropical growths sprouting from the stacks of the steam shovels ... a dismal spectacle", and soon embarks for Guayaquil, thence Quito, and on to the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazon. If it was adventure he was seeking, he soon gets an overdose. He witnesses an anaconda eating a deer, pans for gold, hunts for fish using poison wood, encounters a column of soldier ants 3 miles long, shoots the Pongo de Manseriche rapids (more than once), eats monkey meat (including the partially-digested contents of their stomachs), and encounters hostile tribes on which he must rely if he and his companions are to survive. He records with cold detachment a raid on the Huamabisa tribe by the Aguarunas, with whom he was travelling: "...The woman lay where she had been borne down by the spear-thrusts. The Aguarunas, eager to collect her head, went to work while she was still alive, though powerless to protect herself. While one wrenched at her head another held her to the ground, and yet another hacked at her neck with his stone-axe. Finally I was called upon to lend my machete, a far better implement for the work at hand. It was a truly hideous spectacle... Interference on my part would have been tantamount to suicide..." (pages 259-260) . Up de Graff continues with gruesome but informative description of how the decapitated heads are processed into shrunken heads. Ever weary of the natives, he frequently writes in awe of their ability to survive in the jungle while simultaneously deriding their savagery. Yet in the jungle all men are equal - savagery on the natives' part is met with savagery on his. Suspecting the natives they were travelling with were going to murder them, the four white men "...Foreseeing trouble, arranged the night before that in case of a hostile move on the part of the savages, the signal should be two shots fired in rapid succession..." Travelling in separate canoes about a mile apart, "... Two shots from downstream in quick succession roused us from our reverie. In a flash I had swung my rifle to the right, and fired full into Tuhuimpui's stomach. The chief wilted and slid into the bilge water in a heap. I turned to see Game grappling with the nearest canoeman, his Winchester gripped at the muzzle by the savage. Before I had time to jump to his assistance, he too had fired and put an end to the scuffle. In a trice the remaining two slipped into the muddy torrent and disappeared. Meanwhile the canoes stretched out ahead, seeing what had happened, shot forward in a sudden effort to escape our fire. A few shots sent after them convinced them of their folly, and they took to the water, swimming and diving like a school of porpoises at play. Once in the water they presented a very difficult target. Swimming below water, they would feel for the surface with one hand, bob up for an instant to take a breath, and disappear once more. And so they made their way ashore, abandoning everything in panic-stricken flight..." (pages 271-272). The next paragraph reveals that the warning shots were fired on dubious grounds, by a lone member of their party left on the riverbank, who was sure 'they were up to some devilry or other', Up de Graff showing no remorse but adding "...I am convinced that sooner or later what happened had to happen..." His treachery towards the natives turns to gratitude and admiration when, lost and starving on the Morona River, an Indian maiden by the name of Breginia guides them to food and, using 'certain leaves', cures a leg infection that Up de Graff deemed ready for amputation. Somewhat prophetically he wrote "...There are medicines hidden in those forests which would make any man's fortune, could they be but found and marketed..." (page 305). Food was not usually a problem because the travellers hid caches of provisions at strategic points and planted corn and bananas in the knowledge that they would pass by again later in the season. Towards the end of his narrative, however, he spends some months alone in the jungle, and almost starves to death, but saves himself by making a canoe and floating downriver for 'a week or ten days', to civilization, ultimately exiting the Amazon and arriving back in New York seven years to the day after he left.

Heart of the Amazon, Yossi Ghinsberg, Sydney, 1999. (Released under the title 'Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival' in some countries.) What do you say to yourself when you think you are doomed to die? A man and his companions become lost in the Amazon. He begins to starve and then hallucinate. The story of his survival is quite suspenseful, and traumatic:
"...I slipped and tumbled, landing on my backside right on a big, dry branch that lay on the ground. My weight snapped the branch in two, and its sharp, broken end penetrated my backside, cut through my underwear, up the anus, and deep inside. I was paralysed by the pain. I screamed in agony and then raised myself up, groaning. The pain was excruciating. I lay back, writhing on the ground, my eyes brimming with tears. My underwear was drenched with blood. I screamed when I pulled the spear out, then felt around the wound, and tried to stop the bleeding. It was impossible to bandage. I lay there for another half an hour, and after the bleeding stopped, I began walking slowly with clenched teeth in anguish and enraged..."(page 166).

High Cities of the Andes, Celia Wakefield, San Carlos, 1988. Wakefield travelled through Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia by road, rail and air. Lavishly illustrated with black and white photographs on nearly every page, it is a very light read, and more of a primer to Andean history than a travelogue. Many Inca legends are recounted and she includes a 57-book bibliography. Despite being resident in lofty Mexico City for many years, she has trouble adjusting to La Paz' altitude: "I crawled into bed in the Gloria, a delightful hotel in every respect, after an unsuccessful effort to eat supper in the rooftop restaurant. Nothing was wrong with the food; it was just that I couldn't eat it. A mouthful and I'd had enough. This lack of appetite stayed with me all of my three weeks in Bolivia and I happily lost ten pounds. I learned that other visitors couldn't eat either, a result of altitude. Also, when I had momentary sharp twinges in my jaw, I was told that the change in atmospheric pressure was making the fillings in my teeth contract (or maybe expand?) and I need not rush to a dentist..." (page 60)

Highway of the Sun, Victor W. von Hagen, London, no date (circa 1956). Von Hagen was an erudite scholar who contributed greatly to Latin American archaeology and history; he is the author of numerous books on the Mayas, Incas, Aztecs and other cultures, and biographies on the great naturalists, Spanish chroniclers, and the infamous Manuela Saenz. But in this book von Hagen and his young wife Silvia are the main protagonists; the travelogue chronicles a two-year archaeological expedition beginning in 1953, exploring and surveying the Inca road system. Progress was by jeep, horse, on foot, and by airplane: near Chala, on Peru's southern coast, they are forced to make an emergency landing. In another place, von Hagen drives off approaching bandits with gunshots aimed above their heads. In another instance their vehicle becomes buried in a sandstorm. Despite these mishaps the expedition was a great success: they discover the ancient road system, though ruined in many paces, is far more extensive that previously believed. Von Hagen performs experiments with native runners to ascertain how quickly messages could be sent between the major cities, and is able to confirm the legend that the Inca King dined on fresh fish in Cusco, carried by Chasqui relay-runners from the coast; von Hagen discovers from the air the actual road the runners used. The expedition also identified forgotten townships and bridges mentioned in old chronicles. At one point they nearly lose their jeep over a precipice. Here is what happened when they were using horses on a narrow mountain pass between Carabaya and Pukuta, Peru: "...The road along the chasm now became so treacherous that Sylvia, preferring to trust her safety to her own two feet, dismounted. Hung over the edge and narrowed now to less than four feet, the trail made a tumble off into space very possible, and very soon I followed her sensible example and together we walked gingerly along that narrow way, hugging the rock wall. Landslides, the result of the torrential rains, had destroyed sections of the road, and avery now and then a gap appeared. Picking our way carefully across the disarranged stones, we came to one place where the gorge was most precipitous and the road all but gone. Our guide, Cutimbo, went first, holding the rope of the lead horse. Silvia's mount followed with difficulty since some of the large paving stones which once formed the road were perched on end. The vertical wall to the right went straight up, only spined cactus grew in the interstices of the rock, and our left was the void of the chasm. I crossed next, and then it was the turn of the our lead cargo mule. It carried two large boxes and our canvas bags containing our beds and sleeping-bags. An intelligent mule, it sniffed at the situation and, not liking it, hesitated for a moment before it moved rapidly across the uncertain road. In the centre a rock slipped. Frightened, the beast doubled its hind legs into a leap and so gained our side. The next mule, equally terrified, stepped onto the loosened stones, which began to slide. The startled beast leaped toward a narrow edge, but one of the boxes it carried struck against the cliff, throwing it completely off balance. There the poor creature hung for a moment; then with a terrific crash it slid back onto the trail, pushing out a loose section of the road. Both dropped over the edge, to disappear below. It was an awful moment. First there was a dull thud, then the splinter of boxes, flowed by the rattle of cooking gear striking the cliffs..." (page 68). The book contains several maps and von Hagen skilfully stitches his own narrative with those who preceded him; a useful bibliography of mainly Spanish texts runs to more than six pages.

History of a Voyage to Brazil, by Jean de Lery (intoduction and translation by Janet Whatley), Los Angeles, USA 1992. Originally published in 1578, this book is one of the most complete and comprehensive travelogues written in any language, it had been long overdue for a modern English translation. Whatley has done an excellent job: along with the helpful introduction and bibliography there are extensive footnotes and endnotes. Lery's enthusiasm for description are soaked in a freshness of prose that what he is seeing is new, fantastic, and other-worldy. The author knows his words will be met with disbelief, so he uses guarded language to introduce his observations of the native's strange customs and the incredible wildlife of Brazil - on pages 81-82 he writes of a lizard "...much bigger than a man's body, six or seven feet long..." Lery begins with the actual voyage - in its day a terribly dangerous undertaking - and writes about flying-fish and sharks. He stays for several months near present day Rio de Janeiro, then a French Protestant outpost. Much of the book is concerned with religious argument, especially against his nemesis Villegagnon, leader of the Calvinist colony. Lery also admits he wants to debunk misinformation published by a contemporary book by Friar Andre Thevet. Villegagnon originally welcomed Lery to Brazil but later expelled him from the colony and plotted against him. The chapters are arranged to describe the inward and outward voyages, native food, marriage, and funeral customs, and includes an extensive Tupi colloquy. Lery is eyewitness to some grisly cannibal rituals, and provides this unique insight into the mindset of an ill-fated captive: "...Although these barbarian nations have great fear of natural death, nonetheless such prisoners consider themselves fortunate to die thus publicly, in the midst of their enemies, and are utterly untroubled. In demonstration of this I will cite and example. One day I unexpectedly found myself in a village on the big island called 'Piraui-jou', where there was a woman prisoner all ready to be slain. I approached her and, trying adapt my speech to hers, told her to entrust herself to the care of Toupan ("Toupan" among them does not mean God, but rather "thunder"), and to pray to him as I would teach her how to do. Her only response was to shake her head, and to say to me in mockery, "What will you give me if I do as you say?" I answered, "Poor wretch, soon you will need nothing more in this world, and therefore, since you believe the soul to be immortal" (which they all confess, as I will recount in the next chapter) "think what will become of it after your death". But she merely laughed again, and was felled with a blow and so died..." (page 125) On the same page he relates: "...For as one says of the crocodile, that having killed a man, he then weeps just before eating him, so too after the woman has made some or other lamentation, and shed a few feigned tears over her dead husband, she will, if she can, be the first to eat of him..." A few pages later he describes how infants are consumed as soon as they are born, or sometimes allowed 'to get a little bigger before taking that step'. Lery often favourably compares the natives to the Europeans; even in the matter of cannibalism he reminds his readers of the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and the siege of Sancerre, (which he witnessed and wrote a book about) where the Europeans ate each other (page 132). The chapter on Lery's miraculous survival of the disastrous return voyage would make a thrilling short story in its own. That this book was ever written is a miraculous too: his first draft (written in Brazilwood ink) were lost by a friend when the work was confiscated, the second draft was lost in his haste to seek refuge from the religious wars when his possessions were ransacked. By good fortune the first draft was located and returned to him 13 years after it was lost.

House of the Tiger King: A Jungle Obsession, Tahir Shah, London, 2004. The ancient city of Paititi has been a quest for South American explorers for more than a century. Some claimed to have found it, others say it does not exist, while others say it is still undiscovered. Tahir Shah is of the latter school, but he manages to find a native guide who says he knows the location. His fellow expeditioners include a Swedish film crew and a Russian millionaire. They actually make two attempts. Using a 36 year old rubber dinghy he bought in London and a stash of Pot Noodles for sustenance, the first expedition whets their appetites when they find some carved stones deep in the Peruvian jungle. The river is too flooded, he realises his equipment is not up to scratch, and neither are his men, and turns back. The second attempt, 5 months later, brings them to the petroglyphs of Pusharo, and beyond, but several factors start to weigh down on their progress, none the least of which are the superstitions of his recalcitrant porters. This book gives a good account of the difficulties of jungle travel. The ruins are being sought after by other teams, whom Shah claims sabotage his. The Peruvian Government discourage his search, because is it said to be sitting on rich oil reserves. Plagued by mutinies, theft and phoney shamen, this book is more about the psychology of an expedition than the ruins of Paititi. One member of his team, Hector, constantly warms of an approaching a 'place of negative energy' then produces a compass which inexplicably spins back and forth as proof. (page 143). Several members go mad en route, but the reader soon questions the sanity of continuing, as Shah does himself during his soliloquies. Several times Shah invokes images of the great explorers of yesteryear, such as when he writes of a dream where the legendary Colonel Percy Fawcett speaks to him: "...The Colonel's deep-set eyes regarded me studiously. He looked down at my filthy clothes, my sunburnt face and wounded feet. Then, in a raspy voice, he ordered me to get rid of half of my men, and to keep tighter control of those I retained. 
'But who will carry all the gear?' I asked.
Colonel Fawcett stiffened his back, narrowed his eyes, and barked:
'Throw it on the fire!'..." (page 171)

The Impossible Adventure, Journey to the Far Amazon, Alain Gheerbrant, translated by Edward Fitzgerald, London, 1953. In 1949 large areas of maps of the interior of South America (such as the one on page 270 of this book) were still marked 'Unknown Territories'. Three French and one Colombian formed an expedition to cross the Sierra Parima between Colombia and Venezuela, then head south to Brazilian Amazonia. The mode of travel was mainly by dugout canoe, with exhausting trekking between the watersheds of the Orinoco and Amazon. Their expedition lasted over a year and along the way they encountered the hitherto hostile tribes of the Piaroa, Guaharibo and Maquiritare, filming them with a movie camera (which was unfortunately lost in a canoe capsizing). They photograph the rock paintings of Guayabero, and reproduce the paintings in the book, commenting that one figure looks like a llama, despite the Inca Empire being 1000 miles distant, suggesting a trade link of some kind. This book has a surreal feel to it, anthropology writ large, especially the section that describes the incredible 'ant ritual' where stinging ants are locked into a type of wicker gauze specially made by the natives in such a way that the ants cannot escape but are locked in to form a square panel of biting heads: "... The old man picked up one of the squares of wickerwork with the ants. The masked priests no longer chanted. In the absolute silence which now prevailed one could hear the wild clicking movements of the legs and pincers of the ants. But apparently the insects were not sufficiently excited to sting at once and altogether as the ritual required, so the old sorcerer dipped the wickerwork into the calabash of liquid at his side. Then, taking a lighted cigarette, he gently blew smoke over the ants. The blue fumes filtered through the wickerwork and rose up to the roof of the hut. The wild excitement of the ants caused the sound of their struggles to increase in volume like crackling of a fire as it flares up... Several men stepped forward and seized the boy by the wrists and the head, and the old man then placed the square on the boy's chest. This time 200 abdomens of the giant ants touched the boy's flesh and 200 stings penetrated simultaneously, injecting their venom. The boy's body suddenly contracted and he forced himself back. A large hand closed over his mouth firmly to prevent him from crying out. 
Slowly the old man moved the wickerwork square over the most sensitive parts of the boy's body. He performed the operation with great care and a minimum of movement. It went on for two, three, four minutes, and then the finally the ants were passed in a last slow, caressing movement over the cheeks and forehead of the boy... His eyelids opened slowly and a somnambulistic look filtered between the lashes..." (pages 147-148)
 The author goes on to describe how the tribal leader, given an extra going over because he was the chief, fainted halfway through his ordeal yet the women 'affected a complete indifference to the pain', not wincing and even chatting to their friends while the ants bit their bare breasts, before they 'walked over to their hammocks with a firm tread and then collapsed into a coma'. The author includes a close-up photograph the terrible ant-holding instrument and another of a boy undergoing the ritual.

The Impossible Ride: The First Bicycle Ride Across the Amazon Jungle, Louise Sutherland, Waihola, New Zealand, 1992. A truly wonderful book. Louise Sutherland set herself a mighty challenge when in 1978, already in her fifties, she sets off on a bicycle to do a west-bound traversal of the Amazon region, along the Trans-Amazonica road from Belem to Cruzeiro do Sul. Much of the road turned to mud after rain, and having to walk the bike through the mires was in fact her greatest handicap. Towards the end of her journey, weak and suffering from broken ribs, she progressed through the mud by leaving her panniers beside the road, walking the bike forward a few hundred yards, then returning for the panniers. But mud was not her only barrier: "...Now Maria was stretched out on a couch in Najila's living room looking pale and shocked, her left arm swathed in bandages. The early part of the evening at the club had been a big success. There was music, dancing, and a festive supper - then at ten o'clock a gate-crasher had arrived, so drunk he could hardly stand up. He had been refused admittance and there was an ugly scene at the door. The drunk pulled out a pistol and demanded to be let in. He staggered through the doorway and began to fire the pistol at random. People started screaming and crying and the drunk had, finally, been overpowered. Seven people had been wounded, including Maria. 
'Did you call the police?' I asked Najila.
'We couldn't, she answered bitterly 'The drunk is the chief of police'..." (page 22)
 Even when seeking the haven of a church as a place to sleep she encounters problems: "...sleep was impossible. The roof was alive with rats. I could hear them squeaking and squealing all through the night... as soon as the light went on, hundreds of cockroaches - at least three inches long - went scurrying around in all directions..." (page 24) Stoically, she continues on, passing new frontier villages known as agrovillas, hostile Indian lands, miners' and road gang camps, missions and uninhabited jungle. She faces a jaguar and snakes, forest fires and the theft of her bike. At every turn, she is told by locals her journey is doomed, and that she should hitch on a vehicle. But in the end she succeeds. While not aspiring to any literary heights, The Impossible Ride is a delight to read, suitable for young and old, one of the better books reviewed on this web page. The final chapter of the book details her life post-trip. Her dream of getting the book published suffers many rejections, until she decides to self-publish. The book eventually went to a second printing - once again she proved the doubters wrong. Her other objective, of setting up mobile health clinics along the route she cycled, is achieved as well after a lot of effort on her part. Louise never loses her optimism and rarely writes a critical word of the Brazilians. Just as I was thinking 'this woman deserves a medal' I noticed the copy I bought in a 2nd hand bookstore was autographed 'With best wishes, Louise Sutherland Q.S.M.' Investigating 'QSM' on the internet revealed she had been awarded a Queen's Service Medal from the New Zealand Government. Her book leaves no doubts she is a worthy recipient.

In and Out the Andes, Mission Trails from Yucutan to Chile, Maria del Rey, New York, 1955. Though the early Jesuits were frequent authors of travel narratives, a travelogue by an American nun is rare fare indeed. Sister Maria, of the Maryknoll Order, has written chapters covering Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Panama, Curacao, Nicaragua and Yucatan. The text contains a little proselytising - would not be a very authentic account if it didn't - but the preaching is limited and tinged with humour and practicality: "...The Sisters tell the story of Old Tomasa who made her First Communion when she was sixty. Tomasa had no idea of time. On the night before the big event, Sister gave Tomasa an alarm clock and set it for a half-hour before Mass. "When you hear this thing make a noise," she said, "you should start for Church right away".
Tomasa was so excited, she didn't wait. She put the clock on her head under her hat and came to Mass very early. And, as Sister was talking to her outside the church door, the alarm clock went off. The poor old woman nearly died of heart failure. In her panic, she threw the clock and the hat on the ground. The hat survived for it is very light; the clock was ruined for life..." (page 28)
. Sister Maria does not lose hope while bearing witness to great sufferings and misery, though lesser mortals around her do: "...A Spanish doctor with splendid ideals came to Cobija a year ago. He was fired with the thought of bringing the Faith as well as bodily health to these children. He set up a clinic in connection with our school. Here, he exulted, was a fitting field for a medical apostolate. But after three months...
"It's useless,"he protested. "I get a child all cleaned out of worms and, within a month, he's back again infested worse than before. Pedro is dying for lack of vitamins, and his mother won't feed him anything rice and charqui. If everybody in this town should be flat on his back in a TB sanatorium were there, only the Sisters and me and a few others would be out of bed. I can't take it any longer."
So, he too went away. 
All of which shows that you need pity and compassion to be a missioner, but you also need patience and a sense of humor..." (page 54)

In Bolivia, Eric Lawlor, New York, 1989. This book covers several regions of Bolivia. The author gives an interesting introduction to Bolivian history, particularly the 19th century despot Mariano Melgarejo. He falls in with dubious characters in Santa Cruz, and gets questioned by the police. Much of the book is quoted conversations with ordinary Bolivians - some of whom have highly eccentric views of their own country. In Potosi, he records this conversation:
"...More curious still was the 'tinku' - a simulation of the ancient clan wars enacted not far from here, in Macha.
'Two communities are involved,' said Dr. Browne. 'They've hated one another for as long as anyone can remember. No one knows why anymore. Anyway, once a year, each puts up its best fighter, and they slug it out.
'It's incredible. They look like crazed bikers. Leather helmets and breastplates. Even their arms are covered. And they wear leather gloves with brass knuckles. It's made to look like a sporting event, but it's really very vicious. As often as not, they fight to the death.'
'And no one tries to stop them?'
'On the contrary. Death means a good harvest. They're encouraged to kill one another. And when its over, everyone gets very drunk, and there's a free-for-all'..."(page 101)

Inca Kola - a Traveller's Tale of Peru, Matthew Parris, London 1990. The author was a British politician. His vivid descriptions of the gritty poverty the Peruvians live under is the book's main strength. Contains photos, and a bizarre passage about an native woman trying to sell the author her own excrement. In the Peruvian town of Puno, he describes this scene:
"...Drawing back from the cannon, John noticed a little group of townspeople gathered round something hunched back by the wall. We went closer. 
At first it appeared to be some kind of animal. But when we reached the group, we saw it was human. A little boy, on all fours, on the ground. He seemed to be cowering, but the spectators were not threatening: just curious. Beside him was a placard, neatly printed in Spanish. It read thus: 
TO THE PUBLIC: The Observer of Minors places at your disposition a boy of less than 13 years of age; certifying of the same, that he was abandoned by his family at the age of 4, lived in different households and places, and was taken away by the authorities and brought to this town. Thus he has nothing. 
'Whoever might wish to adopt him would need only to provide him with the means of life, food and study, and take rfesposiblity for him. Any such person should present himself to the Overseer within 90 days at the Center for Minors at Happy Forest.
'We would be grateful for any contributions towards his food, until somebody claims him. Thank you. The Overseer.'
The little boy, who seemed to be speechless, and perhaps mentally retarded, shrank away from the crowd, his eyes darting from left to right, like some kind of vermin at bay..."(page 119)

Incas and Other Men, Travels in the Andes, George Woodcock, London, 1959. Woodcock begins his narrative with a lilting description of his Canadian Pacific flight from Vancouver, stopping at Mexico City, Guayaquil and finally Lima. Once in Peru, he explored the South coast, Titicaca, Huaraz and Trujillo regions; and made an overland trip to the eastern river town of Tingo Maria. Spurred on by limited time, I feel, the book projects a slightly rushed, superficial tone. But Woodcock makes up for this with competent writing and informative passages. He and his wife were eager to travel by any means available: "The tarma bus was a small, beetle-shaped vehicle which seemed already full, but Latin Americans are expert at packing a vehicle beyond all probable capacity, and the ayudante - the jockey-capped adolescent who travels with every Peruvian bus as porter, conductor, and tireless general factotum - shouted excitedly at the Indians inside until, after much shuffling of bundles, a little space appeared. We struggled on board, assisted by the hands held out to us by three Creoles in the front row. Once we were seated we recognised them as the men who had stared at us so assiduously on the train from Lima and in the hotel at Huancayo. They stared at us again, two with sorrowful spaniels' eyes in course round faces, and the third with that involuntary and rather gay ferocity that goes with a certain type of aquiline Roman profile."(pages 60-61) Of Nasca's residents and standards of hygiene he pulls no punches: We went through the town around midday and stopped to eat lunch in a chifa - a Chinese restaurant - run by a mummified old man and a family of sluttish girls. It was, I think, the dirtiest eating house I have ever entered; the table cloths were stiff with the spilt food of innumerable past meals, and the flies crawled over them like an Egyptian plague, so numerous and so persistent that in the end, knowing they would always return, we gave up trying to whisk them away. We ate what seemed to us moderately safe dishes, Creole soup and scrambled eggs, and hoped for the best. As it happened there were no after effects; indeed it was one of the ironies of our journey when, later on, we suffered from dysentery, we could never trace it to the more filthy restaurants where we so often had to eat." (page 139). Woodcock visited in the 1950s, during the final days of President Odria's term; free elections had seen Odria's candidate defeated, and a fear of another coup was in the air.

The Incas of Pedro Cieza de Leon, translated by Harriet de Onis, edited with an introduction by Victor W. von Hagen, 1959, Oklahoma, USA. Originally published in 1553 asCronica del Peru, with this seminal work Ceiza de Leon established his place in history as a great observer, historian and traveller. For seventeen years he wandered around South America, chronicling everything he saw, in the end a donkey had to be employed to carry his copious notes and journals. At a time when the Conquest was still within living memory, he recorded Inca customs, history of the Inca Royal Family and their intrigues, place names, and cultural achievements, and the effect of Spanish rule had upon them. Cieza de Leon was the first to publish a description of Lake Titicaca and the silver mines at Potosi. He had an eye for anthropology, art and even recorded the distances between towns he visited. Of the Inca penchant for gold and human sacrifice, he writes: "...The fourth temple the Incas and natives of the provinces esteemed and frequented was that of Aconcagua, were, too, there was an ancient oracle held in high regard. It lies alongside the province of Hatuncana, and at times they came devoutly from many regions to the vain replies of this devil. There were great treasures in it, for the Incas and all the others brought them there. And it is said that aside from the many animals sacrificed to this devil, whom they held to be a god, they did the same with Indians, men and women, just as I have related of Huana-cauri. And there was all the treasure reported in this temple is believed to be true, for more than three years after the Spaniards had won Cuzco, and the priests and caciques had taken away the great treasures all these temples possessed, I heard from a Spaniard by the name of Diego Rodriguez Elemosin got from this temple over thirty thousand gold pesos; aside from this, still more has been found, and it is said that there is a vast sum of silver and gold buried in places nobody knows of, unless it be God, and it will never be found unless it is discovered by chance..." (page 151) and 
"...In the course of this history I have often alluded to the fact that in the greater part of this kingdom of Peru it is a very widespread custom generally observed by all the Indians to bury with the bodies of the dead all those possessions they most prized, and certain of their most beautiful and best-loved women. And it seems that this was the case throughout most of the Indies,. (for in the) Sinu in the province of Cartagena, where I happened to be in the year 1535, there was found in a bare field, near a temple which had been built there in honor of this cursed demon, such a number of graves that it caused amazement, and some were so old that tall, thick trees had grown up in them. And they found over a million in these graves, aside from what the Indians looted from them and what was lost in the earth itself. In other places, too great treasures have been found in graves, and will be found each day..." (page 369).
Contains 3 fold-out maps, black and white photographs and facsimiles of woodcuts in the original editions.

In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin, London, 1998. This book is divided into 97 chapters, all of them very short, some of them only a paragraph long. Chatwin worked for Sotheby's Art department in London for eight years and was a journalist for The Times: perhaps these two jobs forced him to mould his writing into the condensed historical vignettes which distinguishes him. He goes to Patagonia to investigate the story of a giant sloth, whose skin his grandmother's cousin discovered in a cave. But not much of the book is about the sloth: Chatwin weaves a lot of local history into his own narrative in a highly entertaining fashion. It has been described as one of the greatest travel books ever written, but later writers following his footsteps have questioned the accuracy of some of the passages in this book. However, it is still a great read.

The Incredible Voyage: a Personal Odyssey, Tristan Jones, Kansas, 1977. The author of this book wanted to set a sailing record with a difference: the "vertical sailing record". He was the first to sail a yacht from the lowest large body of water, the Dead Sea, to the highest, Lake Titicaca. The voyage took six years. I include it here because parts of the book are set in Panama, the Amazon and the Andes. The importance of his feat was not lost on the Bolivian Navy: they organised an official function for him, in recognition of the that Bolivia lost its access to the sea in a war with Chile. More than half the book is set in Latin America: Jones' route takes him along the northeast coast of Brazil, 1340 miles up the Amazon, back down aagain, then around the shores of Guiana, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Peru, thence overland to Lake Titicaca and finally down the Paraguay river to the Atlantic. In the Bolivian village of Suriqui, on the shores of lake Titicaca, Jones finds someone has stolen his mooring lines. A farcical meeting takes place: "...Speaking slowly, so that Huanapaco could translate from Spanish into Aymara, I told them that I had come to their island in peace. I wanted nothing from them; I had touched nothing on the island; I had taken nothing from the island; I had come to see how the boats were built. Huanapaco was my friend; he, too, had done nothing against the Aymara. We had not looked with covetousness on anything they had. We had not insulted their women; we had not walked abroad after sunset; we had respected their customs; we had saved two of their men from drowning when their boat overturned. Why, then, the theft of my line, the line which safeguarded my craft from the devil wind? Why the jeers? Why the insults? If any one of them, any one, wished to fight me alone, then let him speak up now. I had my weapon (I shook my cutlass in the air), and they had theirs.
There was silence. I looked around hoping to Christ no one would take me up, for a tougher mob of cutthroats cannot be imagined. Silence. I waited, then I demanded that the thief step out. No reply. I called the thief a coward, not fit to sit with the women. Their faces cracked when they heard this, some even grinned. I carried on, looking toward the group of women gathered to overhear us at the side of the crowd. "Maybe it was a woman. Maybe she wanted to tie her skirts up?" More of them broke out into guttural laughter. "Maybe she wanted to tie a man up to her, maybe she couldn't keep him any other way?" By now they were laughing uproariously. "Maybe she, this desperate woman, wanted to tie two men up; one man was not enough for her insatiable appetite?" By now Huanapaco could hardly get the Aymara words out for laughing; the whole place was ringing with mocking laughter. Suddenly there was a stir at the back of the assembled crowd and a man was pushed roughly through. He fell on his face at the feet of the alcalde, where he whimpered and groveled in the dried mud.
The alcalde spoke to the thief, then with a tremendous kick on the head, sent him rolling to one side. He then turned to me and told me that this man had admitted stealing my line and that he would be banished from the island forever. I asked about his family. The alcalde told me that they would be looked after by the ayllu.
It was touch and go as Huanapaco and I walked back through that armed crowd to the boat. When we got there I sat down and wrote out for them the last treaty made between American Indians and a white man in the Western Hemisphere..."

In the Amazon Jungle, Algot Lange, New York, 1912. Anyone exploring the upper reaches of the Amazon around 100 years ago would almost certainly face innumerable dangers, among them the fevers, cannibals, snakes, spiders and piranhas - as Lange did. The story begins with Lange arriving fresh from New York in the Peruvian Amazon town of Remate de Males. The river is in spate; his lodgings are invaded by the rising waters, as well as a trader's canoe. He describes the death of a three month old infant, and the funeral which takes place, also held in his lodging house; the post mortem gave the cause of death as indigestion, as the mother had fed the baby beef jerky and black beans. A giant spider that shares his room proves impossible to kill, as it seemed to posses a sixth sense that allowed it to jump away every time he attacked it; eventually, he shot at it with his Luger pistol, but it still managed to escape. A local later advises him to use a saucepan next time. He is obliged to share his hammock-pole with a woman whom he describes as "...part Brazilian Negro and part Indian. She had her teeth filed sharp like shark's teeth, wore brass rings in her ears, large enough to suspend portieres from, and smoked a pipe continually. I found later that it was a habit to take the pipe to bed with her, so that she could begin smoking the first thing in the morning. She used a very expensive Parisian perfume, whether to mitigate the effects of the pipe or not, I don't know..." (page 122) But this inconvenience soon pales in comparison to his next adventure. Arriving at Floresta, a rubber-tappers' village further upstream, like many white men before him all assume him to be a medical doctor, and he is called upon to treat a woman with gangrene on her arm. His prognosis is only an emergency amputation can save her, and is pressed to perform the operation, despite his protestations that is not qualified. Using chemicals he intended to use to develop photographs to sterilize a rusty hacksaw, the woman stoically suffered the crude procedure, and survives. On page 213 he describes how piranhas were employed to 'clean' corpses of recently deceased Indians of all flesh, before being painted with a natural dye, as was their custom. On page 234 he kills a boa-constrictor he measured as being 56 feet long; when the skin dries, it is still a massive 54 feet long (however, there is no photo of the snake among the dozens in the book). Later, Lange joins a 6 man team of rubber tappers who are press-ganged into exploring deeper into the jungle to look for new rubber trees. 150 miles from their base, the men find the trees, and Lange also discovers a large amount of alluvial gold, but lacks containers to carry it away. Food begins to run out, and the jungle starts to extract a toll. Only 4 return; one dies of fever, while the leader, bitten by a venomous snake, undergoes a ghastly gunpowder cauterisation, but dies a few hours later. Lange, separated from his three companions, ill with fever, resigns to his own death, injecting himself with quinine and 'arsenical acid'. But he is found by a group of Mangeroma Indians, who nurse him back to health. He spends several weeks with the tribe, and witnesses their cannibal rites, and how, to keep the enemy at bay, poisoned their river with Lonchocarpus roots and built traps along the trails. The enemy they most feared were the Peruvian rubber trappers, half Indian themselves, who raided at night, shooting the men and abducting the women. Lange accompanies a war party that lies in wait to meet a group of twenty Peruvians. The ambush used three waves of attack: poison blowdarts, arrows, and hand-to-hand combat with clubs studded with jaguar teeth. The tribe loses 4 men to the raiders' guns, but not a single raider survived. A cannibal feast of the enemy's hands and feet ensues, but Lange correctly foresees that the day will soon come when the tribe will be overrun by larger, better organised raids. The most interesting part of this book is the claim by Lange that the tribe used a type of morse-code to communicate with 4-note wooden drums, and his description of a booby-trap that employed a trip wire and sapling to 'fire' a poison blow-gun automatically.

In the Realms of Gold: Travels Through South America, Quentin Crewe, London, 1989. The scope of this book is geographically larger than most: a clockwise tour of South America by car visiting Venezuela, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and returning to Venezuela. Quentin was accompanied by a driver and interpreter as he was wheelchair bound, but if he hadn't specifically mentioned the fact, the reader would not have guessed. As a distant relative of British hero Lord Cochrane, Crewe adds a few nautical vignettes, and as a result his observations of the history of the harbours of Brazil, Chile and Peru carry more authority than most. He meets several notable people en route, including Thor Heyerdahl, then 73 years old, whom he described as having a happiness that 'came from having looked for something and found it.' Crewe also meets an Indian bartender by the name of Sam, in Ecuador. Sam was the son of Dayuma, an Auca- Huaorani woman whose life is the subject of a separate book. Sam's views on the missionaries' interaction with the Aucas make interesting reading, especially in light of his mother Dayuma's tale. Four chapters of the book are concerned with Brazil; Chapter 6 provides a good precis of the Braganza period. In Bolivia, he met author and long-time resident Peter McFarren, who recounted miners' superstitions and starnge mask dances: "...At one private mine, which Peter knew, belonging to four men, their mother had always offered a bull to the mine, in August and in February. The year after their mother died, the owners sacrificed only a sheep. Soon, six miners died in an accident. No one would work in the mine. The following year, one of the owners was killed in a car crash. The miners went back to work, happy that the debt to Tio was now paid.
Peter had a collection of masks, like the ones we had seen in the parade. Some were old, others quite new. Tio, it was said, came to dance once a year and it is for this reason that the masks were made.
In the rural tradition, the masks were made of any material, often a kind of parchment. In the city, they were made by constructing a plaster-cast mould, putting hat-felt soaked in cow-glue over the mould and then painting on several thin layers of plaster of paris. The designs were Indian, Negro and Spanish in origin - a whole mixture of styles, which even included Chinese dragons copied from tea cartons.
One of the most intriguing was a mask of death. It came from a district in north La Paz. In their festival, the most beautiful and healthy member of the group was given anything he wanted for seven days - food, drink and virgins to caress. At the end of that time, he must dance and dance and dance, until he dropped dead. Peter assured me that this custom, which came originally from Spain, was still practised today..." (page 181)
 When Crewe undertook his trip, in the 1980s, Pinochet and Stroessner still held power, and his travels through Peru and Colombia would not have been without peril. In Medellin he and his driver are charged with being smugglers, then terrorists, when the police mistake his electric wheelchair, charger and batteries for bomb parts, but with good humour and patience, the travellers are able to defuse the situation and continue.

In Trouble Again, A Journey between the Orinoco and the Amazon, Redmond O'Hanlon, London, 1988. Written in a humorous tone, this book will make anyone who considers a conoeing trip through the tropical forest is easy think twice. Contains a lot of information about tropical wildlife, especially birds. He details how, preparing a Howler monkey for eating, the hair is scalded off with boiling water, turning the monkey's skin white, "like a baby's". His friends cook monkey soup and O'Hanlon's portion contains the skull. His friend Chimo says it is an honour to be offered the monkey head and that the eyes bring good luck:
"The skull bared its broken teeth at me.I picked it up, put my lips to the rim of each socket in turn, and sucked. The eyes came away from the soft stalks and slid down my throat"(page 244).

The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey, Salman Rushdie, London, 1987. More known for his fiction, Rushdie's account of his 3-week visit to Nicaragua adds a completely different dimension to his works: he arrived in June 1986, a time of political and social turmoil. He interviews Daniel Ortega and Violeta Chamorro, among others. The book is divided into chapters which read like literary essays. He offers this observation of Bluefields, on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast (where a Creole English is the native tongue):
"Bluefields was as poor as mud. (Only dry places could be dirt poor.) It was too poor build a waterfront. A few jetties, all loose planks and holes, stuck out into the bay. The wooden houses with their verandahs and balconies looked attractive, but when you got close you saw the rot, the poverty. Children played hoop; Creole ladies lounged on barrels, ample-bottomed and well buttoned-up. 'Vote for Yazima & Fatima' the walls insisted. I went into a bar in which a mestizo sailor, Pancho, was holding forth. 'I've been everywhere' Pancho stated. 'Miami, Mobile, Alabama. I've been all over. Let me tell you something: I liked Mobile, Alabama, better than Miami, Florida. People don't bother you in Mobile. It's like here, in Bluefields.' The rain began to belt down and Dylan started to sing 'Stuck inside of Mobile' in my head. 'Is there any beer?' I asked, and the small jelly of a woman who ran the bar said, 'No. Beer finish.' But when she left the room, Pancho winked and fished out a bottle of 'Cerveza Victoria' from the cold box. 'Be my guest.'
The proprietress returned and blew her stack. 'Where you find that? Pancho, you no good. These days you got to look after reg'lar customers,and those beers is reserve. They is reserve. I need meat and ting, I gotta keep the butcher his beer. You got beer at your house, you get me one.' Pancho made mollifying, insincere noises. I didn't enjoy the drink..." (page 125)

The Journal of an Expedition Across Venezuela and Colombia 1906-1907, Hiram Bingham, New Haven,1909. Hiram Bingham will forever be remembered for being the man who brought Machu Picchu to the world's attention. However, before he ventured into Peru, he embarked on a much more arduous trek, from Caracas to Bogota, following the footsteps of the liberating army of Simon Bolivar. While the book contains a precis of the Battles of Boyaca and Carabobo, most of the book is in journal format, and give more of a snapshot of life among the llaneros in 1906 than of Bolivar's time. Lavishly illustrated with glass plate photographs, it stands as a unique record of pack-animal travel in that region before the advent of automobiles; aditionally, the steamships and railways he described no longer run. Beginning in Caracas, they visit a hospital, where Bingham observed an operation and was aghast at the lack of hygiene. Officials at another government department allowed them to look at the latest maps, but not to make any copies, which would have been of immense assistance in their forthcoming adventure. En route he met a man who had amassed a dossier of Santander's letters and documents; Bingham gives scant details, and one wonders whether the collection ever ended up being published or given to a library. By and large, the best feature of the journal is not geographical nor Bolivarian. Some of the most illuminating passages are his descriptions of the people he meets, including this Caracas resident: "this afternoon we met a famous general who has been in many revolutions and has had a most romantic career. Cowboy and soldier, distinguished for daring and courage, he has spent many days in prison and has lived some time in exile. During the last serious revolution, he was on the losing side and was captured by General Castro's forces and imprisoned. Being by nature extremely active and energetic he grasped at an opportunity to while away his time of imprisonment which was offered by the gift of two or three silkworm eggs and some books on the subject. He told us that he raised silkworms in his cell and in four months had three thousand cocoons. From these he made silk thread and finally fabricated a beautiful sash which he sent to the President. General Castro was so pleased at this undertaking, that he pardoned him and tendered him a fine estate near Caracas, where the silkworm industry is to be encouraged. The old soldier has made a wonderful collection of Venezuelan butterflies and is as thoroughly absorbed in his cocoons and mulberry trees as he once was in guerrilla warfare..." (page 19) On page 54 he describes a curious addiction of Venezuelan llaneros: a paste made from tobacco essence and mineral salt, which they scrape onto the back of their teeth. On page 91 he recounts a sobering tale regarding the distribution of a deceased estate that included 12 Caracas houses, and how corrupt officials swallowed up nearly all the inheritance of the legitimate Colombian claimant. Once in the countryside, small villagers viewed Bingham's party with suspicion. They had an ox-cart, and despite carrying letters of introduction from the President, were accused of smuggling arms or press-ganging to an imaginary revolution; frequently only sullen women and children were to be seen. Things came to a head at the frontier, when Venezuelan soldiers were sent to detain and disarm them, but diplomatic negotiations saw them continue and cross the river into Colombia. About half way through their journey Bingham realized their was a thief among their ranks. Some suspense builds as suspicion falls on one particular character, who cannot be punished immediately due to his value as a guide. Bingham, who years later was elected as a US Senator, showed some of the same " right stuff" that Teddy Roosevelt showed in his later "River of Doubt" expedition: for example his bathing regimen: Water for cooking and drinking is drawn daily from the stream near the house. It is not very palatable as there are on the banks a number of corpses of cattle and horses that did not survive the dry season. This afternoon I ventured to take a bath on the edge of the stream and aroused the curiosity of the alligators. They fairly swarmed about me, keeping a respectful distance, none of them coming nearer than eight feet. When I finished I counted eighteen within a radius of twenty-five feet. It was difficult to tell whether they were waiting for me to fall into the water or merely curious to see what I was doing..." (pages 125-126) In the backwoods, Bingham meets various characters, including feather collectors, orchid traders, and once or twice, naked Indians. The expedition medic, Dr Hamilton Rice, is kept busy treating locals en route, mostly for free. At one village he is asked to see a priest, whose hand is so bad it needs amputation: "I have had an exciting Easter Sunday aiding Rice operate on the gangrenous hand. To interpret, run the priests' kitchen, boil in- struments and dressings, and give chloroform, kept me fairly busy. The priests have a nice, clean two-story house, with a galvanized iron roof covered with thatch to keep it cool. We took their dining-room for an operating chamber, and found the table served our purpose extremely well. The priest had suffered so much that his nerve was all gone and he made a great fuss about taking the chloroform. During a large part of the operation, he chanted the mass in a rich baritone voice, much to the astonishment of the attendants who had never before seen any one under the influence of an anaesthetic. The operation lasted nearly an hour and we had only half a tea- spoonful of chloroform left when it was over." ( page 180) Soon the expedition is besieged by so many potential patients - some of whom were not at all sick - they had to deny treatment and move on. Their journey, estimated to take sixty days, took 115, leading Bingham to remark: "How little those who have always lived within the bounds of civilization know of the vexful delays and incredible obstacles of the wilderness." In Bogota, Bingham's party is granted an audience with General Reyes, the Colombian President, who no doubt appreciated the expedition's achievements, as he himself was an explorer of some repute; he lost two of his own brothers in the Amazon, one to fever, the other to a cannibal tribe. As the left, Reyes gave them some mysterious pills called "Pildoras Andinas" given to Colombian soldiers when in "unhealthy regions".  Bingham's journal does not end in Bogota however, as he describes the journey down to the Caribbean coast via the Magdalena valley, partly by river steamer, partly by train. In Barranquilla he witnesses a huge locust swarm. The last city he visits before boarding a vessel for New York is Cartagena, whose fortified wall and streets he lauds thus: "...their strength and width are marvellous. The streets are narrow and picturesque. The houses look as though most of them went back to the time of "Westward Ho." Altogether it is a fitting link between Old Spain and her quondam colonies..." (page 267). The book ends with a synopsis of the main battles fought in the places Bingham visited, and his opinions as to why they were won or lost.

Journey Along the Andes, from Bolivia to Colombia, Christopher Portway, London 1993. This book details two British men trekking along the Royal Inca Road, or what remains of it. Portway, then in his 50s, is accompanied by the younger David Taylor and they follow the road by walking, mule, horse, bicycle, or whatever transport is available, for more than 3,000 miles. They slept in their tent or on barnyard floors, jail cells and in one case, a railway boxcar. At times they take detours to seek interesting ruins or lesser roads, and in one instance are pressed into service as tomb-raiders. Towards the end they abort an attempt to reach Sangay, but do reach the summit of Chimborazo, though that almost ended in disaster when they got lost and had to sleep in the open above 5000m. 
"...Occasionally a climb was necessary where the road had dipped too far or a shoulder of rock needed avoidance. Here, above the 10,000-foot mark, the going became tough. We would climb fifty feet, rest five minutes, climb again, rest. In this manner we found we could cope with our loads but with Yanahuanca in sight after three days of such travelling we were nearing the point of exhaustion... Our entry into the township triggered a minor revolution. Within seconds we were trapped inside a tight knot of upwards of two score people, mostly children. It was as if they had never seen a foreigner, though few exhibited fear. We pushed through to the central square intent upon replenishing our depleted stocks of food since Yanahuanca was likely to be the last centre of any size for hundreds of miles..." (pages 64-65)

A Journey in Brazil, Professor and Mrs Louis Agassiz, Chur, 1976. Originally published in 1879, this journal was mainly written by Mrs Agassiz, as her Swiss-born husband Louis was busy preserving natural history specimens and going on expeditions to observe geological strata. Mr Agassiz, a prominent lecturer in his own time and known as the father of Ice Age theory, went to Brazil and was welcomed by the then Brazilian Emperor, who became one of his major sponsors; several letters by Louis are included along with extensive footnotes. Their journey took them from New York to Rio de Janeiro, up Brazil's coast, thence up the Amazon and back via steamer, as far as Tabatinga. Many of Mr Agassiz' comments regarding his glacial drift theories and the taxonomy of fish will bore the lay reader, but Mrs Agassiz' observations are very interesting, especially regarding the abolition of slavery. At a farm that had two thousand slaves, she wrote: "The kitchens, with the working and lodging rooms of the house negroes, enclosed a court planted with trees and shrubs, around which extended covered brick walls where blacks, young and old, seemed to swarm, from the withered woman who boasted herself a hundred, but was still proud to display her fine lace-work, and ran like a girl, to show us how sprightly she was, to the naked baby creeping at her feet. The old woman had received her liberty sometime ago, but seemed very much attached to the family and never to have thought of leaving them. These are the things which make one hopeful about slavery in Brazil; emancipation is there considered a subject to be discussed, legislated upon, adopted ultimately, and it seems no uncommon act to present a slave with his liberty. In the evening, while taking coffee on the terrace after dinner, we had very good music from a brass band composed of slaves belonging to the estate. The love of the negroes for music is always remarkable, and here they take pains to cultivate it. Senhor Breves keeps a teacher for them, and they are really well trained. At a later hour we had the band in the house and a dance by the black children which was comical in the extreme. Like little imps of darkness they looked, dancing with a rapidity of movement and gleeful enjoyment with which one could but not sympathize. While the music was going on, every door and window was filled with a cloud of dusky faces, now and then a fair one among them; for here, as elsewhere, slavery brings its inevitable and heaviest curse, and white slaves are by no means uncommon" (pages 120-121) On page 192 she describes the terrible conditions of an orphanage for Indian children; on page 290 the terrible conditions under which natives are conscripted into the army; on page 208 she mentions meeting the members of the Spanish Scientific Expedition at Tabatinga (covered extensively in Robert Ryal Miller's book For Science and National Glory, reviewed above.) The book has several wood-cut illustrations, the most astounding of which is on page 245: 'The Head of Alexandria' a native girl, whose hair stands on end as if receiving an electric shock. Although espousing enlightened views - for her time - regarding abolition, Mrs Agassiz says this of mixed race people: "The natural result of an uninterrupted contact of half-breeds with one another is a class of men in which pure type fades away as completely as do all the good qualities, physical and moral, of the primitive races, engendering a mongrel crowd as repulsive as the mongrel dogs, which are apt to be their companions, and among which it is impossible to pick out a single specimen retaining the intelligence, the nobility, or the affectionateness of nature" (page 298) On page 373 she writes about an Indian mother and father, who giving their young son to the Captain of their expedition to take to Rio for education, showed complete indifference to the boy's departure, opining that the parents attended the departure Rather for the sake of seeing the ship, and having a day of amusement, than from any sentiment about the child She goes on to state "It is impossible to rely upon the affection of an Indian, even though isolated cases of remarkable fidelity have been known among them."In Rio de Janerio the Agassiz visit the Misericordia Hospital where children whose parents die are taken in by the staff and educated until ready 'to marry or enter into service' At the Botafogo mental asylum, they relate how funds to keep the hospital functioning were raised by selling baronage titles to wealthy Brazilians. The book has several appendices on topics as varied as flying fish, the Gulf Stream, the Dom Pedro Segundo Railroad, and an essay on the 'Permanence of Characteristics in Different Human Species'.

Journey to the World's End, Hakon Mielche, translated from the Danish by M. A. Michael, London 1945. The author spent months exploring the wilds of Patagonia, visiting sheep estancias, a coal mine, and the prison at Ushuaia. He participated in a sea-lion hunt and sailed extensively, including around False Cape Horn during a snow storm. With chapter headings such as 'The White Man Again Proves His Superiority' you might assume this book would be another of the euro-centric accounts with little space given to the native inhabitant's achievements. But in fact, between such dated rantings the book has some anthropological value, even highlighting one way the Ona tribe were actually superior to the Europeans: weathering the cold - "...It is unbelievable how hardy these Indians must have been. It is hard to understand how they could have withstood the harsh climate of Tierra del Fuego with its driving snow and howling storms, in clothes which as a rule consisted of nothing but a piece of guanaco skin slung across one shoulder, a pair of moccasins and a kind of fillet of the same material, which was only worn when the Onas were on the warpath or out hunting, as a sort of camouflage which made them merge even more with the grey-brown colours of their surroundings... In this garb these men roamed about in the hardest frost from place to place on the trail of the guanaco. When they grew tired, they lay down to sleep in the snow without any shelter in the shape of blankets or a tent; their naked feet lay in the snow drift and under their heads they usually placed some of the day's booty, a piece of guanaco flesh. Their children never had any clothes but ran about naked in the snow; only the very delicate ones being wrapped in a piece of skin and carried from place to place on their mother's backs as the little family lived its nomad existence..." (pages 164-5)

Jupiter's Travels, Ted Simon, 1996. This book is not only about Latin America, but an around the world trip on a Triumph the author did in the 1970s which took 4 years to complete. He shipped his bike from South Africa to Brazil, where he started his Latin American tour, which included Brazil (where he was jailed for a while), Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and then on to Central America and Mexico before putting his bike on a boat from San Francisco to Sydney. The book appeals on many levels: on the bike rider level, the geo-political level, not to mention his personal aspect. A bestseller for many years, it was inexplicably allowed to go out of print in the US. Ted has now brought out a new, expanded version with more maps. Incidentally Ted later repeated this journey on a BMW, completeing his journey in July 2003 at the age of 71, and will be writing another book which will show how the world has changed in the last 30 years, by someone who can truly say he has "been there."

Journey to Ollantaytambo – In the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Ethan Hubbard, Post Mills, 1990. Hubbard spent several months in the late 1980s in the Ollantaytambo region; his book contains dozens of quality black-and-white photographs of the locals. His journey gets off to a bad start when his backpack is stolen from under his nose at the Cusco markets. Undeterred, he warms to the region and its people. He befriends some interesting Peruvians, one of whom defrauds him of a large amount of money; another who claims to be 120 years old, and another homeless man who lives off the refuse in Cusco rubbish heaps, oblivious to his poverty and seemingly very content with his situation. Hubbard also meets other travelers, who exhibit a measure of bravery by visiting Peru when it was in the grips of Sendero terrorism: at the time, there were army tanks in Cusco’s main plaza. Hubbard witnessed and describes the local’s reaction to Ollantaytambo’s first TV broadcast; in some parts Hubbard’s musings read like an anthropological report, though readily digestible by the lay reader:“There is a table in fromt of us where the alcalde and a priest or shaman of some kind bestow blessings upon the twelve men assembled there. Chicha is served to each, then petals of flowers are festooned on their heads, and finally two women from a nearby house bring each a bowl of meat and corn. On the small, hand-hewn table are peaches with flower blossoms stuck to their meaty pulp, each about a foot from each other. One man has fallen over backwards from the bench, drunk, and lies sprawled out in the very position in which he fell, arms akimbo, head facing skyward.” (p 122) More travel books should be like this one. Hubbard’s excellent photographs, and vivid descriptions of the hardships the peasants endure almost without complaint, combined with succinct observations about the personal faults and attributes of various characters he meets, leave the reader feeling like he too has been on a ‘Journey to Ollantaytambo’.

Keep The River On Your Right, Tobias Schneebaum, London, 1972. The author was an American artist who travelled to a remote area and lived several months with a tribe of Peruvian Amazon Indians. A sub-plot concerns a Catholic priest and his interminable efforts to convert the natives. This book describes first-hand accounts of homosexual Indian customs and cannibalism: "...Calm and silence settled over us, all men. Four got up, one picked a heart from the embers, and they walked into the forest. Small groups of others rose, selected a piece of meat, and disappeared in other directions. We three were alone until Ihuene, Baaldore and Reindude were in front of us, Reindude cupping in his hand the heart of he who lived in the hut we had entered to kill. We stretched out flat upon the ground, lined up, our shoulders touching. Michii looked up at the moon and showed it to the heart. He bit into it as if it were an apple, taking a large bite almost half the heart, and chewed down several times, spit it into a hand, separated the meat into six sections and placed some into the mouths of each of us. We chewed and swallowed..." (page 70) . Contains some long monologues.

Kota Mama, From the Andes to the Atlantic, John Blashford-Snell and Richard Snailham, London, 2000. The idea behind this expedition was to build reed boats like those used on Lake Titicaca, and descend the lake via the Desaguadero, Parana and Paraguay rivers, to demonstrate that the Andeans could have descended to the sea and crossed the Atlantic. The crew included military personnel, archaelogists, doctors, dentists, a native reed boat builder who had worked for Thor Heyerdahl, and Jim Allen, who theorized that the Bolivian altiplanowas the location of Atlantis, based on a Roman style amphora found in Bolivia and aerial surveys that show a grid-work of canals, which he interpreted as corresponding to Plato's description. A quick look at a map shows that the Desuguadero ends in Lake Poopo, and there is no river connection between Poopo and the other rivers; so the rafts had to be portaged on the back of trucks for hundreds of kilometers. Bureaucratic delays and shallow waters plagued the expedition by day; a female crew member with a harp serenaded them by night. Even in the river, going downstream with the aid of lateen sails, they utilized a motorized boat for support, more than once called upon to tow them. But not all their problems were on the water. Even going shopping in Santa Cruz was an adventure: "...On a sudden whim Richard turned the station wagon up one side of the plaza, but was immediately blocked by a log-jam of cars and a mass of demonstrators shouting 'No Pasa!' It was just what he wanted - a chance to be stationary, a perfect parking spot. The shoppers nipped out. Soon a policeman approached. Richard played, convincingly, the dumb foreigner. Papers were demanded, so he helpfully handed over the international license, open at the Spanish page. Soon the campesinos grew restless and began milling around the front of the car, batting the bonnet with their gnarled hands. As chance had it, a tape in the car was playing 'Rule Britannia' from the Last Night of the Proms. As a demonstrator moved one of the cars in the log-jam, Richard turned up the volume, raised his right arm in a clenched-fist salute, shouted 'Vivan los obreros!' ('Long live the workers!') and drove straight through the narrow gap. It had been a bit of an ugly moment..." (page 113). The expedition cost 80,000 British Pounds, and the authors relate how some of the sponsors were not happy with the way the expedition unfolded, but eventually the rafts made it to Buenos Aires. The same group made a similar descent from the Andes via the Amazon, covered in the book 'East to the Amazon', reviewed above.

The Last Great Journey on Earth: Two Thousand Miles into the Heart of the Amazon, by Brian Branston, New York, 1971. In 1968 - a year before man landed on the moon - BBC reporter Branston was one of several Brits who took a Winchester-class hovercraft up the Amazon from Manaus. They travelled via the Rio Negro, against the flow and over some rapids, to the Casiquiare Canal, and down the Orinoco to Trinidad. It is an incredible tale, not only from the point of view of machine versus the forces of nature, but because Branston takes time out from the expedition to integrate with the Aura, Waika and Makiritari Indians. This is probably even more interesting than the hovercraft part of the book. He starts off very critical of the American missionaries he meets, but admits towards the end that he and his party quickly degenerated into the same beads-for-barter mentality just like all those who came before. In chapter sixteen he provides a compelling argument that the legendary tribe of female warriors known as the Amazons actually existed. He even recounts a tale, on pages 203-4, of how an Indian shaman predicted the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He writes about jungle brutality, Indians who kidnap and kill, white men who shoot Indians on sight, and the missionaries who are caught in the middle... and who, in the 1960's, frequently were the victims... 
The South American jungle certainly isn't neutral. It is hostile - from its diseases, noxious animals and plants to its wild men. And if you stay long enough sooner or later it will get you. (page 183).

Latin America on Bicycle, JP Panet, New York, 1987 The first part of this 156-page book is concerned with general advice about planning a bicycle tour, what to take, and how to get there. The rest of the book documents bicycle tours of the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Argentina and Chile. Each chapter begins with a short introduction to the specific country, followed by a daily log; tours lasted between eight and seventeen days. Here are his thoughts at the end of Day Three in Costa Rica: "...There were no decent accommodations in Cartago, but we did not want to go to San Jose by bus, if, indeed, any operated at that hour. Our lodging place was the Hotel Familial, the name of the establishment deriving, I have no doubt, from the families of cockroaches that dwell therein. The manager was drunk, and we thought we had walked into Beirut, to judge by the jagged holes in the walls. We brought our bicycles into the room, and slept in our clothes, sort of. In the morning I took a shower in a stall that had probably been used for other purposes..." (pages 112-113)

Lieutenant Nun, by Catalina de Erauso, translated by Michele and Gabriel Stepto, Boston, 1996. This book should be required reading for any serious scholar of Latin American travel narratives. Some of the tale may be embellished in the picaresque tradition, as explained in the excellent Foreword and Introduction, but we know that Catalina was a real, living person as other documents corroborate her existence; Pacheco's portrait of her on the book's dust-jacket attests to her masculine countenance. The adventures this Basque woman endured, or in some cases instigated, would leave many a red-blooded man feeling inadequate. At least that's my impression after reading this short account of one of the 17th Century's most remarkable personalities. Running away as a teenager from a convent to escape its cruel strictures, Catalina cuts her hair short and fashions her own male clothes. After various adventures in Spain, Catalina sets sail for the New World, employed as a cabin boy. Off the coast of Ecuador her ship founders; she is one of a handful who survive. Her story thus far may not be that unusual, as several laws were proclaimed at that time specifically prohibiting women to dress as men, indicating it must have been a common problem; what sets Catalina's account apart is her daring, swashbuckling deeds in combination with the text's ever so subtle lesbian undertones, some of which is by definition lost in the translation into gender-neutral English. Catalina learns how to use a sword, and puts her knowledge to good use many times - her swordfight anecdotes frequent end with the refrain 'and down he went'. Such was her fighting prowess that she was promoted to Lieutenant in the wars fought against Chile's Auracanian Indians, where she served for many years with distinction, 'eating, drinking and sleeping' in her armour - all the time masquerading as a member of the male sex. In Spain her mother and father did not recognize her, and neither did her brother in Chile, with whom she kills in a night-time duel, not realizing his real identity. Having enough in Chile she decides to make a hazardous crossing of the Andes from Concepcion to Tucuman: "...I set out along the coast, suffering a good deal, especially from thirst, for there was no fresh water to be had for miles around. Along the way, I fell in with two other soldiers, deserters both, and we continued on our way together, determined to die rather than let ourselves be arrested. We had our horses, our swords, our firearms, and the guidance of God on high. We ascended into the mountains, climbing for more than thirty leagues, and in all of them and the three hundred more we traveled, we didn't meet up with a single mouthful of bread, and only rarely some water or a clump of rough herbs, or some small animals, and now and then a gnarled root to keep us alive, and now and then an Indian who fled before us. We were forced to kill one of the horses and dry its meat, but we found that it was little more than skin and bones-and as we pressed onward, step by step, mile after mile, the others met the same fate, until we were left with only our feet to carry us and barely enough strength to stand.
The land grew cold-so cold we were half-frozen. One day from a distance we saw two men leaning against a rock and this gave us heart. We pushed on towards them, calling out as we came, asking what they were doing there, but they never answered. When we came to the spot, we saw they were dead-frozen through, their mouths hanging open as if they were laughing, and this filled us with terror...(pages 26-27)
 Catalina's two male companions die, but she manages to continue a while longer, confessing she wept 'for what I think was the first time in my life', until she collapses and says a final prayer, and is miraculously found by two men on horseback. In Tucuman she is courted as a possible groom by two of the town's leading spinsters, but leaves both at the last minute to ride north to Bolivia. Catalina, when cornered or outnumbered, flees to the sanctuary of the church, a tactic she frequently employs to buy her time for friends to abet her acquittal or help escape. But eventually her luck runs out and, under arrest in Guamanga she confesses to a bishop her transvestite secret - and even submits to a medical examination which proclaims her an intact virgin. The Bishop is so moved he cries, and Catalina re-enters the cloistered world of the convents. Upon her return to Europe she is granted a military pension and an audience with the Pope. The final paragraph of her account, which ends in Naples, is hilarious, but Catalina's days end in Mexico, where she allegedly lived out her days as a muleteer.

Lizzie, A Victorian Lady's Amazon Adventure, compiled by Tony Morrison, Ann Brown and Anne Rose, London, 1986 Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Hessel's letters home form the base of this book, together with some photographs and maps, interspersed with the editors' comments. Written by the young wife of a man sent to manage a rubber plantation, she took a circuitous route that was fraught with danger at nearly every turn: up the Amazon almost to its source, then over a muddy 'isthmus' to join another tributary, where rich, untapped rubber-trees grew. Sometimes Lizzie's letters read like a Mills and Boon romance; at other times the brutal world of the jungle can be sensed. Her letters record her anticipation at finally arriving at their destination, her disappointment when their financier drowned, her hopes about returning to England for a holiday, her enquiries after the health of her family - all build up a picture of an innocent young Englishwoman of the Victorian age, thrust into a world she found frustrating and dangerous at times, amusing at others. Lizzie battled loneliness by writing in her diary, creating a garden, keeping a veritable menagerie of animals, and taking in young Indians (whom she called 'savages' as servants. But her diary was lost in an accident, insects attacked the plants, and the animals were poached or died, a fate shared by one of her charges: "That poor little savage girl I wrote to you about, died the other day; she would eat her clothes, also dirt, until she was almost a skeleton. In one night she would eat nearly half her chemise and it is impossible to cure them." Initially sympathetic to the plight of the natives, the same letter shows how much she had been desensitised to their inhumane treatment: "It is true that you at home cannot realise the true state of things here. It wants a tremendous lot of patience to civilise the people here; they always have a longing for their old way of life, they run away for 3 months, 6 months and very often longer. We send after them, and then give them 100 lashes; it is the only remedy, of nothing else are they afraid. If you are kind they take advantage and steal everything possible. I have been very fortunate, the only thing my woman steals is to eat; they have tremendous appetites." (pages 135-136) The most poignant letter was written by her husband, informing her parents if her sudden death from an unspecified fever; his grief is almost tangible. The final chapter gives an overview of the stormy political events that engulfed the region in the years immediately following her death.

Llama for Lunch, by Lydia Laube, Kent Town, Australia, 2002.This is the tale of a woman who travelled solo from the USA into Mexico, then to Miami where she caught a ship to Lima via Cartagena, the Panama Canal and Guayaquil. From there she makes her way to Rio de Janiero via the Andean Altiplano and Amazon River. Although she says she is a seasoned traveller, she still seems a little shocked at some of the bathrooms and toilets she comes across, and frequently writes disparaging comments about them. There is almost zero quoted dialogue in the book. But she candidly lets her feelings be known through her own muses... here is what she has to say of the women of Belem, Brazil:
One day I saw a sign on a shop advertising 'tartlets', and pondered whether they trained young tarts inside. If you judged purely by the manner of female dress, you'd say every second woman was a tart." (page 210)

Lonesome George, C'est Moi! A South American Odyssey, by Jorge Sotirios, Newport, 2012.  A Francophone, cricket-loving Greek-Australian initially travels to Argentina for a romantic reunion - which we read ends somewhat unsuccessfully, partly due to the common Spanish-speaker's error of mixing up 'he' and 'she' when they speak English. But his failure to connect with Maria gives impetus for our intrepid journalist to explore further afield. With frequent references to Camus, Borges and Greek classics, offbeat footnotes, mixed in with a good dose of caustic metaphors, one gains the impression this book, like all good travelogues, is intended to amuse as well as inform. Early on Sotirios investigates a counterfeiting ring run by Greek migrants, an investigation that is revisited in the final chapter. On pages 26-28 he succinctly summarizes the causes of Argentina's financial crisis; on page 29 he contemplates the wax effigy of Borges wile dining in Buenos Aires' luxurious Cafe Tortoni. But not long after Sotirios is humbly eating rice and beans a world away, boarding the SS Deniss David, a boat in the Amazon, en route to a leper colony: " En route to San Pablo, the beef invasion of the Amazon consumed my overnight dreams. I imagined cattle bellowing along embankments, and could literally smell their stinking presence. The next morning, I realized why. Down a flight of stairs from where I had slept, a herd was tethered to the railing, bellowing alongside poor Peruvians in torn hammocks. My boots dripped with urine, which sloshed from side to side." (page 104) In San Pablo, Sotirios interviews aging lepers who were present when leprosy specialists Doctors Ernesto Che Guevara and Alberto Granado visited. Not surprisingly, he finds their recollections confused, and very much posthumously coloured by Che's later exploits. Later, Sotitirios' jungle guide - who calls himself 'Tarzan' and meets then denigrates Colombia's real-life version, 'Kapax' - gets arrested for possession of drugs. After failing to secure his release, Sotirios is forced to continue downstream into Brazilian territory without a translator/guide/Mr Fixit. Here Sotirios visits the Amazon ghost town of Fordlandia, formerly a company town built by Henry Ford to supply rubber-tree latex for his cars and trucks. From Sotiros' description, Fordlandia would make a good set for a post-Apocalypse film: " The doors were barred, so I entered the main building via a broken window. The interior was vast, cold and practically empty. From what I could tell, judging by the holes drilled in the floor, some machines had been unbolted and and sold off as scrap. Large green turbines sat next to idle electricity meters with wires dangling from them. I swiped a layer of dust off the metal casing and sneezed over the words 'Wesson of Chicago'. Dials and switchboards with burnt-out fuses in squealy boxes were the last vestiges of a lost world. A hoist in the corner was surely where the chassis had once been welded. In another corner, bric-a-brac was piled together: a wheelchair, a pram, a filing cabinet. The Ford factory was a resting place for aged metal. The air seemed as heavy as the machinery, as though weights were holding down my lungs when I breathed. The tin roof amplified the drizzle to a thunderous rattle, yet it didn't awaken a sleeping cat who had curled up beside a damaged lathe. I noticed graffiti scratched into the pylons that must have been done by the former workers. A figure in overalls was poking his tongue out at a suited boss." (pages 183-4) This part of the book is very interesting; his ensuing conversation with a young local man who opened a bar in Fordlandia reveals a surprising level of optimism many people share in spite of their relatively limited future prospects.
Also in Brazil, Sotirios voyages to a remote and mysterious lake, called 'The Mirror of the Moon', the lake from which Amazon greenstones are said to be procured; however, cabin-fever, rainstorms and forgetting to check a lunar almanac meant this venture was not all smooth sailing.
In a remote town called Ruropolis, the journalist in him asks too many questions and he is advised to leave town asap; when he demurs, his hosts are so fearful for his safety they virtually abduct him and ship him out; gunmen were rumoured ton be looking for him. From this point on one gradually one gets the feeling Jorge is losing his senses... or is it a joke, a literary device? As Sotirios seeks out an eponymous giant tortoise in the Galapagos, the last surviving example of his sub-species, and prepares to attack it, the reader might wonder, as I did, has he 'gone troppo', or is it all tongue-in-cheek? You will have to read Lonesome George yourself before deciding!
As well as a bibliography, colour photos of the main protagonists and a short glossary, the book contains eclectic appendices: one is an interview with Jon Lee Anderson, author of a best-selling biography of Che Guevara; another is an interview with Tariq Ali; while another is a short essay on ths history of cricket in Buenos Aires.

Lonesome Rhodes: One Man, Two Wheels and 19,000 Miles, by Ashley Rhodes, Cheshire UK, 2002. Anybody who rides alone through the heart of Colombia on an expensive motorbike these days deserves a medal either for bravery or foolhardiness. Ashley Rhodes was an experienced long-distance motorcyclist, and did a lot of research prior to embarking, so I guess he qualifies for the former. His trip started in Ushuaia, and wound its way up all the way through South and Central America, the United States and Canada, to end in Anchorage, Alaska. He leaves behind him a wake of bribe-asking traffic cops (where his counter-claim was that he himself was a British policeman, a total lie, in fact he was hairdresser) and in almost every town he wines and dines exotic-sounding local women. His rides are not without incident, coming off the bike a few times and at one point a begruntled youth hammered a nail through his new rear tyre. But that was not his greatest danger:
"...I stopped at an isolated village to buy a freshly-squeezed mango juice from a road-side vendor. The usual gaggle of interested villagers gathered around, asking questions and peering at the bike. I amiably answered their probing questions, enjoying the fresh mountain air and the warmth of the sun, when, suddenly, I felt a perceptoble shift in their questioning: where did I keep my money? And how much did I carry on me? A shifty looking youth was trying to persuade me to enter a dark hut to "look at a gold detector". Older, more sinister-looking men gathered round. I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I had given away too much information too freely, lulled into a false sense of security. I knew the 'Sendero Luminoso', the Maoist guerilla group known elsewhere as the Shining Path, had been very active in this region, and I was sensitive to the fact that, while not particularly active at the moment, they had not become model citizens overnight..." (page 64)
This book contains 8 pages of colour photos and many more in black and white.

The Longest Walk – An Odyssey of the Human Spirit, George Meegan, New York, 1988. Between 1977 and 1983, Meegan undertook a record-breaking walk from the southern tip of South America to the end of the road on the shores of the Beaufort Sea in northern Alaska. (280 of the 394 pages of the hardcover edition’s text is set in Latin America). At certain points, he was accompanied by his Japanese girlfriend Yoshiko, whom he married en route and fathered two children before his epic trek ended (the first born was a girl christened Ayumi – Japanese for ‘walker’.) Meegan dragged his meager belongings behind him in a small shopping cart, nicknamed ‘Yoshicart’ – the wheels fell off several times in his 19,019 mile journey. Meegan didn’t take the shortest route, skirting the Gulf of Mexico and east coast of the US up to Washington, before heading due west again to Alaska. The first half of his trek followed the route of his compatriot Sebastian Snow, whom he consulted before leaving (Snow’s book about his walk, The Rucksack Man is reviewed below). The second half of his trek followed, in part the route taken decades earlier by Aimee Tschiffeley (Tschiffely’s Ride is also reviewed below). More than once Meegan fights off bandits; in Panama he is attacked by a gang with a knife but miraculously escaped unscathed. In the US his reception by police authorities is mixed. Some regard him with suspicion, as his appearance after so many years is one of a vagrant. He managed to meet Jimmy Carter when he was in Georgia and a photo of the two together helped him in some situations. Meegan’s expedition was virtually unsponsored, so to save money his sleeping arrangements were usually on the floor of schoolrooms or police stations, although one remarkable photograph shows him sleeping inside a giant Inca urn he chanced upon along a roadside in Peru. Near Puno, on the frigid altiplano, Meegan sleeps in a tent but feels the cold so badly he is forced to buy an alpaca-wool pullover: “It came in handy, for as hot as it was during the day, the instant the sun set at this great altitude all the warmth seemed to disappear from the universe. For three nights I camped out in appalling cold. (Months later I met a man who complained of the intense cold in his Juliaca hotel bed, despite four blankets.) Come nightfall, I would climb into the tent and wrap myself in two pairs of socks, two trousers, two shirts, two pullovers, and hooded coat plus gloves and woolen ski mask. Steeling myself for the long hours of darkness, I would blow out the candle and reach up toward the apex of the tent to catch the last updrafts of warmth in the palms of my hands. Soon the tent would stiffen with frost and I would wait out the night, intermittently shivering in my icy pyramidal tomb, waiting for the morning, waiting for the sun. Like the Incas, I became a sun worshipper. Sometimes it was only when the sun finally rose that I could get enough warmth for a couple of hours’ sleep. No wonder the Peruvians called their money soles (suns).” (pp 92-93) Meegan’s feet blistered, and he frequently suffered bouts of intestinal cramps and fevers. He became so emaciated that police viewed him as a drug addict, while border officials though his passport was false because he looked 40 years old when he was actually 27. In Guayaquil, he boards the British ship Ortega, with the idea of sharing some of his experiences with its British crew. Instead, he is bluntly told via four-letter words that he is unwelcome. It shakes Meegan’s faith in human nature, and is but one of several similar instances – one British Consul and various officials were almost as rude - yet he soldiers on. Balancing his negative receptions, Meegan is often the recipient of unexpected gifts of money, food, and shelter, sometimes from people who can barely afford any such thing. In Ecuador someone even tossed him some money from a passing bus. Sometimes physical exhaustion or seasonal rains forced Meegan to stay in hostels for weeks or months. One such stay, in Brownsville, saw him receiving ‘indecent phone calls of a gay nature.’ The phone calls persisted until Meegan recognized the caller’s voice as that of a local who had done a voiceover for a TV commercial. When Meegan let the caller know his identity was known, the calls ceased. In some ways the North American leg of his walk is harder, as hotels cost a lot more and vagrancy laws more rigorously enforced; traffic was also a problem. The end of The Longest Walk is unconventional, but ultimately more authentic than his press conference could convey. When he eventually arrives at the end of the road, almost seven years after he began, his emotions are mixed, for reasons best described in his own words.

Looking for Mr Guevara: A Journey Through South America, by Barbara Brodman, Lincoln New England, 2001. The idea of a 54 year old blonde woman re-enacting Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries adventure demands attention. Barbara, a Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies, takes off on a modern road bike (Che used a 1950's Norton 500) and gets caught in all sorts of crazy situations, including building her own raft and rowing it down Amazon, seeing Lady Di's funeral on TV in Osorno Chile, and attending the 30th anniversary of Che's execution at La Higuera in Bolivia (where she fends off several over-amorous students). Similar to Patrick Symmes' book, she follows Che's original trip more closely, but Brodman's book is in a much more light-hearted vein.

Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of South America, David Hatcher Childress, Stelle USA, 1986. The value in this book is in the narrative of his travels, since some of his theories about the ancient ruins, though entertaining, are a bit far-fetched.

Man Hunting in the Jungle, George Dyott, Indianapolis, 1930. There are numerous theories as to the ultimate fate of the British explorer Colonel Percival Fawcett. They range from the possible (drowned, self-exile, malaria or died of hunger) to the ridiculous (abducted by extraterrestrials, or entered a portal to a lost civilization). Most of the authors of these theories overlook the clear and resolute conclusion made by Commander Dyott, veteran of many arduous South American treks, commissioned to lead the first search party: Fawcett and his son were killed by hostile Indians. The evidence presented by Dyott is pretty convincing, and would almost certainly satisfy a modern coroner, but then, a sensational mystery is guaranteed to sell more newspapers than a simple disappearance. The first part of the book is very funny - Dyott's expedition gained widespread publicity, and he includes some applicants' hilarious reasons for wanting to be recruited. Some were soldiers of fortune, others dreamers, others down on their luck, one was in jail. Another wrote: "No terror of the jungle can faze me. I have been married for twelve years." (page 26) Dyott's expedition ran into problems even before it reached the search zone, as reports that they were looking for 'a mountain of gold' discovered by Fawcett were circulated in towns ahead of their arrival. At Cuiaba, he hires Bernadino, a guide who was with Fawcett almost to the end. Dyott's search begins with 26 men and several bullock teams, needed to carry heavy Morse-telegraph generators and batteries. At night they listened by short-wave to Macmillan's Polar expedition, while they sweated under the bites of tropical mosquitoes. The short-wave broadcasts galvanize Dyott to conclude there is not so much difference between the concrete jungle and the Mato Grosso: Outside of our own messages sent and received from far-away places like New York, we kept in constant contact with the affairs of the world through the broadcasting station of the New York Times which, late at night, distributed the news for all those who wanted to listen in. We listened in - and what do you think we heard! A woman's hair had been found in a man's trunk and on this slender thread of evidence someone was to be hung... Such a piece of news would come as a great shock to us five thousand miles away in South America. I was struck by the similarity of news in the U.S.A. and in the wilds of Brazil. 
Thirty thousand dollars' worth of whisky had been lost in the Atlantic... A bank had been robbed... A murder of a terrible nature had been perpetrated... Life seems much the same the world over. Jack lost some spoons yesterday in the river... A man at Bakari was robbed of a few milreis... Indians have butchered some enemy tribesmen on the plateau... What is the difference? Brown Indians in Brazil are no worse than white Indians in North America, - probably better, as their outrages are committed in self-preservation and not for some trifle. (pages 128-129)
 Dyott soon realizes Fawcett's 'Dead Horse Camp' was not where Fawcett stated it was - though whether by Fawcett's intention or mistake he does not say. After an arduous overland section, the party transfer to river canoes, using collapsible canvas canoes and bark canoes of their own making. Dyott arrived in the region to find Indian tribes had massacred 55 people just weeks before. He meets an Indian chief who describes Fawcett's death at the hands of a neighbouring tribe in intimate detail, and finds several articles he purported to be Fawcett's in their possession, including his trousers and a luggage badge. Handing out gifts of knives and fish-hooks, more and more Indians arrive expecting handouts, some of whom were outwardly hostile. Dyott hears of a plot to kill him, but makes good his escape at night, though a perilous journey lies ahead of him before he makes it downstream to the Amazon river, and back via steamer to New York. The book contains many good photos - including one of Captain Miranda, one of Prestes' officers during Brazil's civil strife, and another of the cacique Aloique, whom Dyott considered the most likely suspect as Fawcett's assassin.

The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder and Survival in the Amazon, Robert Whitaker, Sydney, 2004. The story of Isabel Godin and her perilous 1769 descent of the Amazon has been recounted before; but as her original journal has been lost, it must be re-told by others. In English, however, her fame is less than it should be, since most primary sources are in French or Spanish. Fortunately, her husband, at the request of his friend and colleague La Condamine, produced a 7000 word manuscript which ensured her incredible odyssey was preserved for posterity. Whitaker has mined this and a wealth of other documents to deliver a contemporary interpretation of - as an early publisher of the epic noted - " extraordinary a series of perils, adventures and escapes, as are anywhere to be found on record..." (page 286). The first half of the book explains the history and importance behind the French Geodesic Mission which sought to settle a mathematical dispute between Newton and Cassini, on the true shape of the earth. Newton calculated it bulged around the equator, while Maupertuis thought it was narrower. Maupertuis' team was sent to Lapland, La Condamine's to Ecuador, to make scientific measurements to determine the answer to that question, as well as many others. Whitaker succeeds in rendering many of these abstract scientific concepts readable to the lay reader, as well as the human pitfalls that beset the expedition along the way. One memorable chapter relates the slaying of Dr Senierges by an angry mob in Cuenca. The machinations behind the murder reveal an intriguing insight into Ecuadorian social mores of the time.
The second half concerns Isabel Grameson, the Ecuadorian woman who married one of the French expeditioners, and her extraordinary efforts to re-unite with her husband after circumstances left him stranded on the other side of the continent, in French Guinana. Communication was by letters which arrived years after posting, if at all. After years of separation a plan was hatched in which Isabel and some of her family were to descend the Bobonaza, a tributary of the Amazon, and canoe her way down to the mouth. Hers was a large expedition which met with disaster almost at the start: "...They spilled into the river, and so too did the woven baskets with all of their goods. Isabel, pulled under by the weight of her heavy silk garments, came up gasping for air and grabbing for the overturned canoe, as did everyone else. They were not far from the river's edge, and by clinging to the upside down boat, they were able, with great work, to arrive at a beach ..." (page 245). Unfortunately, this was not the last mishap, and things do get a lot worse. However, Isabel manifests an inner courage that will forever mark this story as one of the classics of Amazon survival. That the author could only find one guide to accompany him while researching this book speaks of just how untamed the Bobonaza is still today.

Markham in Peru: The Travels of Clements R. Markham, 1852-1853, edited by Peter Blanchard, Austin, 1991. Sir Clements Markham is famous for his translations of early Spanish and Peruvian chronicles and his Presidency of the Royal Geographical Society, but he was also a traveller and diarist. This particular journal covers Markham's extensive tour of Peru. Beginning in Lima, he travels mainly by mule to Nazca, then over the Andes to Cusco via Ayacucho, then back down the Andes to Arequipa via Ocoruro, catching a boat back to Lima. Often the guest of local dignitaries, in each place he stays, Markham inquires about the local history, both Colonial and Inca, and studiously records everything he hears. Markham has a penchant for recording family histories. However, though undoubtedly well-read, Markham was only 22 years old at the time, and the editor has included footnotes noting Markham's errors. Early in the book, he narrowly escapes being robbed and killed by a gang of bandits. He also survives an earthquake in the following chivalrous circumstances: "...Mr. Brandon introduced me to his wife's family, the Rospigliosis, where I sometimes dined and passed the evening. One night a young lady named Villanueva was there, a fresh rosy girl, rather fat, daughter of a very rich farmer who made his money in alfalfa or lucerne, so she was called "La Senorita Alfalfina" or Little Miss Clover. We were sitting talking when there was a violent shock of earthquake. Miss clover plunged shrieking into my arms. I clasped her to my breast and dashed with all my force to the glass door, bursting it open and smashing all the panes to pieces. In another second we were all huddled together in the middle of the street, Miss Clover still screaming. We waited for the second shock, which was slight, so we went back. "How the earth's tremor has broken the glass!" said the old judge. "No wonder! Replied I..." (page 10) He describes in some detail the guano industry of Peru's offshore islands, and in Quinua, he explores the battlefield of the Battle of Ayacucho in the company of Colonel Mosol, who served in the actual battle, and devotes several pages to it. In Huancarama he describes seeing a ghost - wearing a poncho - in his room. Included are several of Markham's sketches, copied from his diaries. One that is very interesting is the sketch of children sliding down toboggan slides cut from solid limestone at Rodadero, near Cuzco (page 93).

Matto Grosso, Waclaw Korabiewicz, translated by M.A. Michael, London, no date (circa 1954). The author was a Polish doctor, who, according to a note in the text, once paddled a canoe from Warsaw to India. His familiarity with canoes came in handy when he decided to accompany two others on a hunting expedition deep in the Brazilian Pantanal, where they canoed and camped for more than 5 months on the banks of the Piquiry River. Korabiewicz begins his tale in Rio de Janeiro, where he devotes a few paragraphs describing his neighbour, a beautiful young mulatta - and then tells us statisticians have identified an annual baby boom that occurs in the period 9 months after Carnival. A Rio man approaches him with a business proposition: Brazil's colleges and museums were in dire need of stuffed animals for science lectures, in particular birds. A fortune was to be made supplying the market for these stuffed specimens, he believes. After a crash course in taxidermy, Korabiewicz signs on as a part of the 3-man syndicate, loaning a substantial amount of money to the expedition leader, a man he refers to as The Hunter, and the ill-prepared trio set off. What transpires makes entertaining reading, a kind of Dr Doolittle meets In Trouble Again. Thrashing jacares surround their canoe, and they at first expend much of their ammunition trying to exterminate them, but the rotting carcasses only contaminate their drinking supply, and attract piranhas and vultures. Though the piranhas flesh was inferior to that of its frugivorous cousins, they proved a bountiful and easy food resource: "...any child can catch piranhas, anywhere and with anything, even with a bit of rag."(page 105) Eventually the humans and the crocodilians reached a kind of truce, and the trio even adopted one, calling it Cuba, which followed them from camp to camp. No other book describes the weird noise a flock of emas produce, nor detailed instructions on how to capture a bird-eating tarantula, and preserve it intact; they cleaned bones and piranha jaws by placing them on ant hills to let the ants do their work. If you ever wanted to know what it is like to be a field taxidermist, this passage gives you some idea: "Our stuffing was academic stuffing, exclusively for the use of museums, and so we stuffed each bord in a stereotyped attitude, that of flight, but with shut wings, legs crossed and beak outstretched. We wrapped them in cloth, like Egyptian mummies, wrote a hieroglyphic sign and laid them in the case. Every week or two Tadeusz inspected the state of the collection and always found something wrong: either the feet had oozed grease, or ants had eaten a nostril (too little arsenic), or the feathers had become dishevelled. 
Stuffing can be very hard work, especially when you come up against a hawk. There is no need to fear going through its skin; it is tough as shoe leather, grown to the flesh and very difficult to separate. 
As for the ururbu, it is better not to speak of it. And God preserve you from puncturing its stomach or entrails. These will be stuffed with a stinking mass of decomposed crocodile carrion, and the revolting mess will fall out over your hands and spread out over the table. Ugh! 
Parrots, again, have unforgivably large beaks which make it impossible to draw the skins over their heads. You have to cut a nick in the neck and work the beak through the hole, which takes a lot of doing. 
There's no disguising it - taxidermy is a mean occupation. Tadeusz and I both stuffed. He did it far more artistically than I, but he was dreadfully slow. He even did it with a certain relish, breathing and blowing into the feathers, smoothing and inspecting them against the light, as though he were making a doll. " (page 118) 
Nevertheless, Korabiewicz has a deep love of animals, and his passage about the death of a parrot and its mate's reaction will have you believe they are more intelligent and emotive than humans. He describes how they shot a small monkey, but did not kill it, and how he develops empathy for its wounds, laying it in specially made box padded with grass and rags until it died: "All day we refrained from looking in the box so as not to disturb the poor monkey. There was nothing we could do for it. Not till the following morning did I cautiously open the lid. The little monkey lay in the same curled up attitude as before, its face on its poor wounded paws, but it had stopped breathing. I picked it up by the tail, brutally and ruthlessly, as though taking a log for the fire. Death had reduced the macaco da noite to something for me to stuff, and nothing more. In a short while I should be skinning it, and then it would lie on the table like a real live monkey, with the one small difference that instead of having large tea-coloured eyes, it would gaze at me with plugs of impregnated cotton wool." (page 183)

Mi Moto Fidel: Motorcycling Through Castro's Cuba, Christopher P. Baker, Washington, 2001. Mr Baker arrives in Cuba along with his Paris Dakar BMW motorbike via a freighter from Key West. His problems with the Cuban bureaucracy began even before arrival, and follow him to the last page. He doesn't pull any punches in his political views about Castro's rule, though about three-quarters through the book he has a change of heart and does an about-turn. Political machinations happening at the time such as the Helms-Burton Bill, the Elian Gonzalez and 'Brothers to the Rescue' affairs add ammunition to his views. But there is more than informed political opinion to this book. Baker mixes it with the locals very well - to the point of recounting his sexual encounters with Cuban women (of which there were many). He talks with supporters and detractors of the regime, and loses his temper occasionally railing against the poor service in shops and eateries. He is heavy on complimentary metaphor describing the countryside which whizzes by, but doesn't lose his compassion mixed with a critical eye for the ordinary citizens such as the one he saw in a cafe in Camaguey: "...An old woman enters. Her skeletal frame is wrapped in wrinkled parchment corroded with festering sores. Her clothes are disintegrating around her. She holds in her upturned palm a few meager coins for a cup of coffee. It costs 90 centavos, but even this paltry sum - one cent at official exchange rates - is beyond her means. The young counter maid mocks her, then orders her out..." (page 157).

The Motorcycle Diaries, A Journey Around South America, Ernesto Che Guevara, translated by Ann Wright, London, 1997. This book has achieved immortal fame due to the author's exploits later in life. However, it is a worthwhile read even if you are ignorant of who "El Che" became, because it is more than a travelogue - it contains Che's burgeoning ideas about politics, history, economic theory, and one cannot deny his compassion for the indigenous underclass. Che and his friend Alberto Granado initially travel on a single motorbike, which soon gives up the ghost. They continue by hitchiking, stowing away, and building their own raft to float down the Amazon. Their lack of funds was compensated by their devious ingenuity in cadging; there is also a humorous side: "...Still reaping the benefit of the letter of recommendation from the press, we were put up by some Germans who treated us very well. During the night I had a bad case of the runs and, not wanting to leave a souvenir pot under my bed, I positioned myself at the window and delivered up the contents of my aching guts to the darkness beyond. The next morning I looked out to see the effect and saw that two metres below was a large tin roof with peaches on it drying in the sun; the spectacle added by me was impressive. We beat a speedy retreat..." (page 44) If you have already read this book, you might be interested in picking up a copy of the diary kept by his travelling companion, Doctor Alberto Granado, which is now available in English, under the title Travelling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary, which is reviewed on this webpage. Note also Ocean Books has published a more recent expanded edition of 'The Motorcycle Diaries', it is a new translation and contains some interesting photographs taken by Guevara. Also check out my review of The Motorcycle Diaries - Walter Salle's cinematic interpretation.

My Amazon Adventure, Sebastian Snow, London, c.1953 This book begins with a curious foreword which states that the Snow's enterprise and courage "...have placed Anglo-Saxon race in the forefront of the world's explorers" (page 9). Snow sets off at what he believes is the source of the Amazon. Many months later, after numerous setbacks, he exits from its mouth, travelling part of the way by pack animals, other parts by canoe and balsa raft. At one point he has to wait as a guest of a hacienda owner for several months while the floods recede. Much of the way he is accompanied by his sidekick Pacchioni. At one village along the Maranon he describe this scene: 
Inside the shelter, with his head against a large earthenware cauldron, lay an Indian boy, his legs covered with verrugas, or warts. They were hardly distinguishable because they were so covered with blood and flies, with hundreds of mosquitoes circling above. The poor chap had been lying in the same position for weeks, letting Nature do its worst and getting weaker and weaker all the time. His legs were like matchsticks, his cheeks hollow and his eyes large and brilliant. He seemed remarkably philosophical about his condition and accepted his fate with a stoicism which I greatly admired and envied. He had no fear of death; he certainly had little will to live.(page 96)
Snow then gets to work with some ointment, knowing it wouldn't cure the verrugas, but perhaps ease the pain of the sores. Pacchioni refused to help him, saying the verrugas were too contagious. Later in the journey Pacchioni falls ill, and Snow writes he heard Pacchioni was sick with verrugas for 5 months. Snow is not always praising of the natives. He writes of other villagers on the Maranon: 
"...In addition, the Indians here were incredibly indolent. This is difficult to account for as the air is bracing. Their indolence was probably inherited..."(page 107)

My Jungle Book, Herbert S Dickey, Boston, 1932. Doctor Dickey relates some of his South American adventures including his expedition which pinpointed the source of the Orinoco. Dickey worked as physician on various projects in several countries including the notorious Peruvian rubber plantations - he counted Roger Casement as a friend. In the first chapter, he pours vitriol on self-styled adventurers whom he says spend very little time in the wilds, returning to make extravagant claims that bear no resemblance to the truth to packed lecture halls. As a part-time explorer who spent more than three decades in remote parts of South America collecting artifacts for the Museum of the American Indian, Dickey can speak with some authority; he was a lecturer himself. In a thinly-disguised attack on Royal Geographical Society, he bemoans 'stunt explorers': "...Newspaper fame, wealth, position, however, await the stunt explorer. Find a buried city filled with jewels, in some place the which the scientific archaeologists have raked over for years, kill a few Indians, make the acquaintance of a pink-eyed sloth. And if you can, with these manifestations of high endeavor, combine a British accent, you are a made man..." (page 21) But he does not reserve his criticism only for the Brits: he relates more than one story about Americans behaving badly, both in the United State's failings in foreign policy and rogue individuals, including a Kentucky-born sawmill foreman in the Peruvian Amazon, an alcoholic who beat his native wife almost to death (page 106). Dickey makes some valuable anthropological observations, including a chapter on Maquiritari folklore. On page 65 he tells of the Guahibo tribe who left the body of their chief on top of an ants' nest, returning a while later to collect the 'clean and polished' bones, whence they are placed in a wooden cradle in the middle of the floor of the deceased's hut. On page 230 he tells of how the Maquiritari tribe catch crocodiles with balls of tightly-bound bamboo quivers that explode in the animal's stomach when its digestive juices dissolve the fish-gut bindings. Despite his many anecdotes attesting to Indian barbarity in the text, Dickey writes: "...I am confident that a small, unarmed party can travel about anywhere among savages, penetrating to the villages of even those who bear the most unsavoury reputations, without harm. I have proved the later contention, I think, in a trip to the home of the Coreguajes, on the river Caqueta, Colombia, when I went alone, and in a journey among the Jivero head-hunters of Ecuador, when Mrs Dickey and I were accompanied by only three other white people..." (page 130-131) The last chapter chronicles his successful Orinoco expedition, finally pinpointing the source of the river after his previous expeditions had failed.

My Colombian Death, Matthew Thompson, Sydney, 2008. Thompson’s book is different to most travelogues reviewed on this page. It is gritty, down to earth, fast paced, and doesn’t dwell on romantic local legends or tourist attractions. The American-born, Australian-raised author seemingly knows what he’s getting into when he decides to travel to Colombia, leaving behind a job as foreign news editor at a respectable newspaper, also leaving his wife and baby daughter. His account, as it unravels, depicts a man who starts off with good intentions, but, mixing with the wrong crowd – the drug dealers, hustlers, pimps and assorted military types – he views the country from the bottom up, rather than most tourists, who look top-down. Beginning in Bogota, he then moves to Cartagena, before visiting various Colombian cities, each one presenting more dangerous scenarios than the next. Thompson’s non-tourist itinerary includes the Darien, a dangerous no-mans land. He notes one major city is so far off the tourist trail it isn’t even mentioned in his guide book. Frequently warned by locals, including his Spanish teacher, not to speak of the guerillas in public, he does so later several times, a somewhat suicidal folly: soon complete strangers are offering to arrange a meeting. But his suicidal tendencies do not end there. He takes to the ring in a correlajas at Arjona, where fatalities are the norm, and in fact witnesses one. He buys drugs from hustlers to gain their confidence so they will take him to meet the paramilitaries – but soon is in so deep in self-inflicted peril he has to flee. Eventually he fulfills one of his objectives by meeting and interviewing the paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso. This part of the book is probably the only section which will be quoted by historians in the distant future: though their dialogue is informal and pretty basic, Thompson makes some succinct observations about Mancuso and his young wife. Other parts of the book document his always difficult and bristly dealings with shadowy characters, street people, and an intriguing outcast called El Gringo who turns out to be not quite the bad guy he at first appears. In Medellin, Thompson visits the grave of Pablo Escobar, and records a sincere but somewhat unconventional valedictory by El Gringo, a self-confessed drug addict. All the while Thompson gets deeper into drugs – though most of his friends are in even deeper - culminating with a hallucinogenic yage session, which both enlightens him and almost kills him. Apart from the street hustler passages, Thompson gives a pretty good layman’s explanation of the current political situation in Colombia, usually gleaned from acquaintances. On one occasion, an elderly woman selling fruit from a cart offers a simplistic, but accurate explanation of why gang shootings had declined in a certain suburb which previously was something of a war zone: the army and paramilitaries ‘came and killed so many boys. Then the fighting stopped.’ In Chapter 16, El Gringo explains a macabre ritual performed by narco-traffickers so shocking many readers might find it unbelievable. But such atrocities, and worse, can and do happen in Colombia. Another passage where Thompson strikes the mark is describing fellow travellers in his hostel in Cartagena’s infamous Calle Media Luna, who nonchalantly flick through guidebooks: “So much time here is spent reading those damned things, but nobody reads the local newspapers. Last Wednesday an Austrian man was waffling on to a pair of Norwegian women about how Colombia is largely a ‘post-violence’ nation. I handed him a newspaper open to the story about the five men shot dead in a Cartagena pool hall the day before, mentioned the crowd cheering a knife fight out the front last week, and described the corralejas crowd laughing it up as men were mown down.

‘Yeah, but you have to looking for that sort of thing’ said the Austrian.” (page 143). As someone who lived in Colombia for many years, I agree with Thompson’s underlying message: no you don’t. It is easy to find yourself in trouble anywhere simply by being the wrong place at the wrong time. But as most backpackers are neither able nor inclined read local newspapers, the trend of travellers’ ignorance is set to continue. However, reading this book would be a start.

A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro -, Alfred Russel Wallace, New York, 1969. Originally published in 1896, Wallace was a friend and colleague of Charles Darwin, with whom he is jointly credited with outlining the Theory of Evolution. Wallace spent several years in the Amazon beginning in 1849, contemporaneously with two other noted naturalists, Bates and Spruce. Though written in conservative Victorian prose, the reader cannot fail to be infected with some of the same joy and wonder these men experienced: everything their inquisitive eyes saw was new to them, in sharp contrast to England's temperate and biologically sparse forests. Wallace doesn't limit himself to biology, but relates interesting anecdotes of tribal customs, geology and the Portuguese colonists, and includes some sketches of native rock paintings. He writes of the custom of one tribe who wore white cylinders: "...I now saw several of the men with their most peculiar and valued ornament - a cylindrical, opaque, white stone, looking like marble, but which is really quartz imperfectly crystallized. These stones are from four to eight inches long, and about an inch in diameter. They are ground round, and flat at the ends, a work of great labour, and are each pierced with a hole at one end, through which a string is inserted, to suspend it around the neck. It appears almost incredible that they should make this hole in so hard a substance without any iron instrument for the purpose. What they are said to use is the pointed flexible leaf-shoot of the large wild plantain, triturating with fine sand and a little water; and I have no doubt it is, as it is said to be, a labour of years. Yet is must take a much longer time to pierce that which the Tushaua wears as the symbol of his authority, for it is generally of the largest size, and is worn transversally across the breast, for which purpose the hole is bored lengthways from one end to the other, an operation which I was informed sometimes occupies two lives..." (pages 191-192) On page 346 he writes of tribes who disinter their dead, burn the corpse, and pound the charred remains into a powder for making a ceremonial drink. Other pages tell of natives who commit suicide by eating earth; how a 'bent' blowgun can be rectified; a tree which produces a drinkable 'milk', and the cruel way freshwater manatees are slaughtered (he himself dined on manatee flesh, saying it made an agreeable change from fish.) The final part of the book is perhaps the most poignant. Hearing his brother had died of fever in the Amazon, he decides to return to England with his extensive collections. His ship the Helen caught fire in the Caribbean and he had to watch his maps, journals, specimens and caged monkeys and birds get engulfed first by the flames then by the waves. Only a single parrot survived, flitting over to his lifeboat. After being adrift for six days, another ship picked the survivors up and delivered them to Deal in England.

A Naturalist in the Gran Chaco, Sir John Graham Kerr, Cambridge, 1950. This book relates two expeditions the Scottish naturalist Sir John Kerr undertook in Paraguay. The first, and longest, was up the Pilcomayo River in 1890. Kerr was invited on board an Argentine mapping expedition, as the Pilcomayo formed the ill-defined Argentina-Paraguay border. His vessel, the paddle-steamer Bolivia, soon found the river too shallow, even though it had a draught of only a few inches; the captain raised the water level artificially by building a series of dams. Written in journal form, Kerr's account includes many candid observations of wild animals and the local Indian tribes. On page 52 he describes agreen phosphorescence permeating the forest at night, which he ascribes to luminous bacterium or fungi; on page 68 he describes shooting a South American wolf (Canis jubatus) which, after he had dissected its internal organs, became dinner for the starving crew. The expedition soon becomes endangered by Indian attacks, malaria, desertions, mutiny and starvation; at one point they run out of drinking water, as the river had turned saline. At regular intervals, the crew would set up camp and build small forts. This gave Kerr an opportunity to got hunting, collecting, and meeting the Natokoi natives. Of their strikingly European countenance Kerr remarked: "In fact after my return home I was quite startled of a former Dean of Westminster to one of the Indian Caciques" Much of the journal is dedicated to descriptions of native fauna, especially birds, and this interesting passage: "Two species of bats attracted special attention on the Pilcomayo. One a large Noctilio (N. leporinus) was to be seen at dusk hurrying up or downstream in flocks of thirty to fifty towards their feeding area, or later flitting about with noiseless flight just above the surface of the water, every now and again dipping down to the surface and rising again with a captured small fish - surely a remarkable habit to have been developed in a flying mammal.(pages 86-87)"When the crew begin to mutiny and fight among each other, Kerr's taxidermic talents are employed to treat some of their battle wounds. Eventually Kerr leaves the boat and makes his way back to Asuncion overland, guided by Indians. On his second expedition of 1896-7 Kerr went in search of lungfish. Kerr kept a pet bird called Tum-um-hit: "During siesta Tum-um-hit would sit on my pillow, keeping up all the while a continuous friendly cheeping. At night he roosted on a beam just above the foot of my bed. It was amusing to see his reluctance to get up in the morning. On seeing me active he would rise on his perch with a determined expression but after a moment would flop down again and shut his eyes firmly. Then he would repeat the performance, perhaps more than once, but at last he successfully roused himself, flew down from his perch and then treated himself to a good chase after the missionaries' fowls, which fled in all directions, scared by his hawk-like appearance. 
Poor Tum-um-hit came to a sad end. One morning he was found lying dead by the side of the pool in front of the hut. One of the Indians related how he had seen him come down from his perch and drink deep draughts of water; and the post-mortem disclosed in his gizzard the skin of a rat which had been preserved with arsenical soap. Tum-um-hit had in fact been the bane of my colleague Budgett's life, for as he sat at his laboratory table, making specimens or preparing some rare specimen, Tum-um-hit would keep walking around at a distance, watchfully regarding him the while. Then when Budgett, having turned away to consult a book, turned back again to his dissection, he would find it gone, snapped up by Tum-um-hit whom he could see disappearing in the distance." (pages 87-88). 
Although Kerr laments the new-fangled celluloid film shot on the second expedition spoiled before it could be developed, his book contains many photographs of historical importance. Of particular interest are the diagrams of Indian weapons and a photograph of a fossil venom-fang from an extinct giant serpent.

The Naturalist on the River Amazons, Henry Walter Bates, London, 1969 A classic Amazonian account written in the 1850s, capturing the great river at a time of many changes - the first steamships were plying the river. Bates took the time to describe tribal and Portuguese customs among his notes on botany and zoology; some of the tribes were never seen again after fevers decimated the villages. Bates spent more than 11 years in the Amazon region, fully seven and a half were spent in the interior, exploring many areas that even today are void of human habitation. Bates begins in Para (Belem) with another noted naturalist, A. R. Wallace, but they go their separate ways after a while. Bates ascended as far as Sao Paulo de Olivenca, spending years at Santarem and Ega; remitting a massive collection of some 14,000 specimens to London, 8,000 of which were new to science. As a biology primer, this book is excellent; as a travelogue, it is outstanding. Bates is never one to complain, even under the most arduous circumstances, he only returns after a serious bout of fever. His biological descriptions are rarely overwhelming to the lay reader, his observation that certain ants have a 'playtime' is amusing, like these notes on the 'cow tree' "...We had already heard a good deal about this tree, and about its producing from its bark a copious supply of milk as pleasant to drink as that of the cow. We had also eaten its fruit in Para, where it is sold in the streets by negro market women; and had heard a good deal of the durableness in water of its timber. We were glad, therefore, to see this wonderful tree growing in its native wilds. It is one of the largest of the forest monarchs, and is peculiar in appearance on account of its deeply-scored reddish and ragged bark. A decoction of the bark, I was told, is used as a red dye for cloth. A few days afterwards we tasted its milk, which was drawn from dry logs that had been standing many days in the hot sun, at the saw-mills. It was pleasant with coffee, but had a slight rankness when drunk pure; it soon thickens to a glue, which is excessively tenacious, and is often used to cement broken crockery. I was told that it was not safe to drink much of it, for a slave had recently nearly lost his life through taking it too freely..." (page 35) Bates thinks nothing of killing a monkey or manatee to procure their skins, but was very sympathetic to the lot of the wretched natives. In Ega, he recounts the tale of a twelve year old boy, brought from a remote village and sold like a slave to anyone wanting a servant. Bates befriended him, treated him for fever, and noted he had an 'almost invincible habit of eating earth, baked clay, pitch, wax, and other similar substances' which he attributed to his meager diet of fish and madioca. Bates noted this habit was not unknown among white, Indian and Negro children in the Upper Amazon. The boy, christened Sebastian, did not mix with the other boys and did not seem impressed when taken to Belem to see his fist big city. However, the boy showed sharp mechanical aptitude, and became a goldsmith apprentice. The boy's successful integration contrasted with that of a little girl called Oria: "...The fate of the little girl, who came with a second batch of children all ill of intermittent fever, a month or two after Sebastian, was very different. She was brought to our house, after landing, one night in the wet season, when the rain was pouring in torrents, thin and haggard, drenched with wet and shivering with ague. An old Indian who brought her to the door said briefly, "ecui encommenda" (here's your little parcel, or order), and went away. There was very little of the savage in her appearance, and she was of a much lighter colour than the boy. We found she was of the Miranha tribe, all of whom are distinguished by a slit, cut in the middle of each wing of the nose, in which they wear on holiday occasions a large button made of pearly river-shell. We took the greatest care of our little patient; had the best nurses in the town, fomented her daily, gave her quinine and the most nourishing food; but it was all of no avail, she sank rapidly; her liver was enormously swollen, and almost as hard to the touch as stone. There was something uncommonly pleasing in her ways, and quite unlike anything I had yet seen in Indians. Instead of being dull and taciturn, she was always smiling and full of talk. We had an old woman of the same tribe to attend her, who explained what she said to us. She often begged to be taken to the river to bathe; asked for fruit, or coveted articles she saw in the room for playthings. Her native name was Oria. The last week or two she could not rise from the bed we had made for her in a dry corner of the room; when she wanted lifting, which, was very often, she would allow no one to help her but me, calling me by the name of "Cariwa " (white man), the only word of Tupi she seemed to know. It was inexpressibly touching to hear her, as she lay, repeating by the hour the verses which she had been taught to recite with her companions in her native village: a few sentences repeated over and over again with a rhythmic accent, and relating to objects and incidents connected with the wild life of her tribe. We had her baptised before she died, and when this latter event happened, in opposition to the wishes of the big people of Ega, I insisted on burying her with the same honours as a child of the whites; that is, as an "anjinho" (little angel), according to the pretty Roman Catholic custom of the country. We had the corpse clothed in a robe of fine calico, crossed her hands on her breast over a "palma" of flowers, and made also a crown of flowers for her head. Scores of helpless children like our poor Oria die at Ega, or on the road; but generally not the slightest care is taken of them during their illness. They are the captives made during the merciless raids of one section of the Miranha tribe on the territories of another, and sold to the Ega traders. The villages of the attacked hordes are surprised, and the men and women killed or driven into the thickets without having time to save their children. There appears to be no doubt that the Miranhas are cannibals, and, therefore, the purchase of these captives probably saves them from a worse fate. The demand for them at Ega operates, however, as a direct cause of the supply, stimulating the unscrupulous chiefs, who receive all the profits, to undertake these murderous expeditions..." (pages 280-281)

Northern Caballero, Adventures in the Unexplored Country of the Amazon, William N. Merryman, London, 1945. (published in 1940 in the US under the title Yankee Caballero) Earl Parker Hanson's introduction lauds Merryman's classic tale: "...This book makes no pretence to importance, and there is no reason why it should. It tells a series of interesting adventures in a setting that has body and honest character. It does not take its author too seriously as an heroic public figure, which may well be the one thing that distinguishes a good adventure yarn from a shabby, press-agented, Hollywood imitation..." After reading this book, I wholeheartedly agree. Merryman writes succinctly and without hyperbole; his escapades would have been gained more fame had not the fisrt edition been published at the beginning of WWII. Even when Merryman is taken prisoner by a feared tribe of Chavante [Xavante] Indians on Brazil's 'River of Death' he is able to make light of the situation, while at the same time leaving no doubt how grave his plight is. The story begins with his days in Chile working in the mines. He comes up with a plan to drive 500 sheep across the Andes from Argentina to Chile. He has no droving experience, and the idea nearly costs him his life when his men and sheep are caught in a blizzard. He saw warning signs but did not recognize them as such: "...I was riding in front when I stopped to see what had scared the animal. Then I jumped almost as badly as my mount had, for grinning up at me was a human face. I dismounted to examine it. It was a frozen cadaver, covered to the waist in snow and ice..." Further examination showed the deceased was carrying coca-leaves, salt, and a quantity of human flesh for sustenance. Merryman does not deliver the sheep, but somehow makes a profit on the venture. Later, they stumble upon a rich vein of silver, but the lode is so remote from roads and rivers they cannot get any finance to develop a mine. On page 64 he describes a report of mysterious 300ft-long serpent with horns that lurks in a lake on a Englishman's ranch, but assigns little credence to it, other than to say he heard many such giant water-snake stories, especially in the Tocantins River area of Brazil. His money running out in Buenos Aires, Merryman lucks out when he wins the lottery - to the tune of US$43,000. He decides to see more of South America, and in Quito falls in with Mendez, an Ecuadorian claiming descent from a conquistador, who produces an old map that pinpoints the location of hidden Inca gold deep in the Ecuadorian Oriente jungle. A few days into the expedition, he realises his informant is a con-man, and they abandon the search, but continue their descent of the Napo River, where they stay for while with an Australian living rough miles from civilization. A little further downstream they come upon grisly evidence of hostile Indians: "...We came upon them on the other side, the bodies of a man and a woman, pinned to the ground with numberless wooden spears. Their faces had been disfigured horribly by the urubus [vultures] which we had scared away..." (page 145) On page 150, he falls into the river and grabs hold of 'branch' - in actual fact the 'branch' was a 26ft long anaconda, which they kill and skin. In Iquitos he befriends a German professional butterfly and plant collector who made a living by travelling the Amazon buying interesting specimens and selling them in Europe and the US. Between Manaus and Belem, at an Amazon town he does not name, he has an interesting discussion with a local who tells him about a Mr Stone, the recently deceased American who founded the town. Mr Stone had been a participant in the Californian and Australian, Peruvian and Brazilian goldrushes, always arriving too late, but was able to make a fortune from cacao and tobacco. The same informant says he knew Col Fawcett from his Bolivian Boundary days, and offers his opinion that Fawcett is dead. 
It is after leaving the Amazon that Merryman's adventure begins in earnest. In the south of Brazil, enticed by tales of gold and silver in the 'River of the Dead', he and his friends drive as far as the village of Rio Verde. Here they encounter a boy prisoner in his own house, chained around the neck, his widowed mother explaining he had fallen from his horse, hit his head and gone mad. The boy had knifed his own brother to death. The mother added she needed him to make packsaddles, her main source of income, and there were no institutions in the area anyway. Somewhere on the 'River of Death' the Chavantes tribe takes he and his party prisoner. They are in danger of being executed when Merryman dazzles them with his flashlight, and comes up with the idea of letting off a Roman Candle firework; the chief is so impressed he spares them, but still doesn't allow them to leave. Intriguingly, the tribe knew a few words of French, thanks to a Frenchman whose fate he never ascertained. After demonstrating the use of firearms for hunting, the tribe present a boy they want dispatched by firing squad, one of their own tribe, which Merryman manages to avoid by firing blanks, consulting a sextant, and proclaiming "the spirits have protected him". Another time, he teaches the tribe the words to the song 'Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Baby Mine' which they find highly amusing. Eventually inducted into the tribe and forced to marry the chief's young daughter, Merryman and his companions get permission to scout outside the village, where they find placer gold and extract 30 pounds of the stuff in 25 days, and make plans to escape. When they finally achieve their escape, Merryman writes nostalgically: "...What was in store for us? I could return to the United States and take my place among the eleven million unemployed. Marcel had a jail sentence to look forward to. Pablo? Antonio? Who knew?
Antonio said what was on all our minds: "I'm sorry now that we did it. I wish we'd taken the Indians along, and taken our gold, bought what we needed, and returned to old Maharon."
"Too late, Antonio, too late. We should at least have stayed until we had enough gold to last us a few years." 
The green jungle slid past us on both sides of the dreaded black River of the Dead. 
For us it had been a River of Peace..." (page 288)

An Odd Odyssey: California to Colombia by Bus and Boat Through Mexico and Central America, Glen David Short, Victoria Canada 2001. Since I'm the author, I'm biased, and shouldn't comment. However, one reviewer compared it to Plato, while another said it was 'better than Chatwin'; The Rough Guide to Central America included it in its list of recommended books, saying it was "lively, occasionally gung ho yet down to earth... breathing life into eccentric characters." My book contains passages about Hurricane Mitch, a love-struck would-be Swedish guerrilla, volcanoes, a giant crocodile, a pet monkey, ancient ruins and rock paintings, museums and historic houses etc... not to mention being robbed twice in 24 hours and crossing the Panama Canal with a Playboy Bunny. I have set up a colour 'slide show' which includes excerpts from the book - view it by simply clicking here. (individual slides in higher resolution by clicking here. ) Some excerpts and reviews can be read on, click here.  Or, order direct from the publisher in printed or eBook form, by clicking here


Off the Map: the Call of the Amazonian Wild, John Harrison, Chichester UK, 2001. This book is a must to read if you enjoyed Harrison's earlier book, Up the Creek. In that book, he made several attempts to cross the watershed between the Jari and Maroni rivers; he failed, and narrowly escaped death by malaria. In this latest expedition, he draws upon his considerable jungle experience and also brings his wife along. Their route was Molocopote in Brazil to Maripasoula in French Guiana. They argue a lot, get stung by insects, capsize their folding canoe, and became lost in the wilderness while trekking between the rivers. They are forced to hunt for their food and barter their belongings for their lodgings. In one passage Harrison describes in gory detail how his wife had to extract the dreaded botfly larvae from his scalp. On page 201 he tells of one of the lesser inconveniences one encounters during prolonged jungle trips: 
"...As I undressed, sinking slowly into the mire, a sudden rank odour of wild beast made me whirl around in fear. It was one of those gamey whiffs that waft out from zoo cages where carnivores lie asleep in concrete corners and gnawed bones litter the floor. Was I being stalked? I scanned the undergrowth for a crouching beast. Nothing there that I could see, but the odour still hung in the air, animal and pungent. Only later when I lifted my arm to soap the armpit did I realise the wild animal pong was coming from me..." (pages 201-202)

The Old Patagonian Express: by Train through the Americas, Paul Theroux, New York, 1980. Theroux travelled from Boston all the way to Esquel in Patagonia in the 1970s. Even then it was not possible to do the journey without flying certain sections. Today even less of those tracks exist. This book has been described as "the best train-travel book ever written". Others say that Theroux is condescending and too cynical of the countries he passes through. Well, the astute reader will notice that he is just as critical in the beginning, travelling through his own country. And regarding his observations in Latin America, I would say he merely calls a spade a spade. Of Barranquilla, Theroux writes: "...Why so many guard dogs, air-conditioners, coils of barbed wire? It helps to look at the map to find the answer. Barranquilla is strategically located. It has a port. Between the mountains to the east are many flat hidden valleys, where planes can land and take off without being detected. The mountains rise to a high peninsula called the Guajira. The weather is perfect on the Guajira for growing marijuana, and the Guajira is a one-crop economy. Pot smokers the world over recognize the taste of this product, known as Colombian Gold. Most of the houses in that Barranquilla suburb belong to farmers who have made their pile in the drug trade. The profits are vast for both the farmer and smuggler. It is not unusual for a plane to leave with a ton of raw marijuana, and the smuggling has become such an institution that Barranquilla is the center of the cocaine trade as well. The coca leaves are grown in Peru, smuggled into southern Colombia, processed in Cali, packaged in Bogota, freighted to the coast, and by the time they arrive in Barranquilla they are ready for consumption as nose candy. A kilo is worth half a million dollars in the States. The risks are high, but so are the rewards..." (page 278) Theroux then goes on to detail the US side of the trade, and how wealthy drug dealers buy properties in Miami, and one who imported a $400,000 Rolls Royce was prevented from driving it on the streets of Barranquilla by other dealers who thought it would attract too much attention. In neighboring Cartagena, tools displayed in a pawn shop made him comment: "...There were enough tools in the shops to rebuild Colombia, and enough idle people too. But it was a smuggling, thieving society; a hammer or a saw was not a tool - it was a form of currency, an article of trade..." (page 280) The appeal of this book is on several levels: his converstaions with other travellers, his meetings with Jorge Luis Borges, and not the least of all his recounting of the actual joys and discomforts of train travel. Theroux is a writer's writer: he wrote about what he was reading on the train and what he thought about it, particularly Edgar Allen Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

On the Trail of the Feathered Serpent, Gene Savoy, New York, 1974 Savoy was already famous for his discoveries of ancient Peruvian cities when he wrote this book, setting out to prove that there were sea-faring links between the Incas of South America and the Aztec and Mayans in the north. He documents the building of a traditional reed raft, with a lateen sail, and sails north from Salaverry along the Peruvian coast. Things don't go smoothly, though he and his crew sail as far as Panama, far enough to prove that such voyages could be made; accidentally running aground on a reef cut short any further progress. As further evidence of cultural links, he cites architectural similarities between Mayan architecture and that in Peru. Discussing northern Peru's white inhabitants, he writes: "...The light-skinned Chachapoyas of Peru do not suggest a sea landing any more than does the presence of the Ainus in northern Japan. Americans were simply here, possibly before the continents began to drift apart..." (page 10) - an unlikely scenario, since the continents drifted apart millions of years before homo sapiens evolved. Yet Savoy provides references to a white race in Chachapoyas which pre-dates the arrival of the Spanish. On his main emphasis, whether there were maritime links between the two cultures, Savoy is very convincing. Copying watercraft portrayed on ancient Peruvian ceramics, be plans a vessel with two hulls: basically, a reed-and-bamboo catamaran. He travels to Huanchaco, a coastal town near Trujillo, where fishermen still use caballitos (little horses) which they build from Totora reeds and use as a canoe to go fishing with. Here he runs in to his first of many difficulties: local boat-builders tell him the reed rafts must be upturned on the beach to drain and dry everyday, in order to prolong their longevity to between six weeks and two months; he could not do that on his planned vessel because it was too large. But the disintegration of the reeds was just one of several problems he was able to overcome. Once at sea, navigation and steering was the main problem, and the entire expedition nearly came to grief at Talara: "...At 0300 Segundo entered the deckhouse in a great state of great nervousness, shouting that we were getting close to the shore. Opening my sleepy eyes, I became instantly aware of the roaring of the sea. It was terrifying. I leaped from my bunk and went out on deck in a frenzy. What I saw turned my blood to ice. The open beach was but a few yards away. The 'Feathered Serpent' was precariously close to being caught in the big, breaking trachoidal waves rolling down on the beach at a velocity of 15 to 18 knots. The sound was deafening. I swore at myself for not having heard it before. A sinking feeling came over me as I imagines our beautiful craft breaking up on the beach. I guessed the deep-water waves were coming from a storm somewhere at sea. The interval between them was around twelve seconds. There wasn't much time to act. Once the waves got hold of us, no power on earth could get us away from the pulling force of so many tons of water..." (pages 118-119) The book contains many interesting photographs: one of an ancient Peruvian statuette of bearded man, several showing the construction stages of the reed craft, and others showing some mysterious cross symbols Savoy postulates are proof of a link between Peru's 'Feathered Serpent' deity and the Aztec's symbol for Quetzalcoatl.

On the Trail of the Unknown: In the Wilds of Ecuador and the Amazon, G.M. Dyott, London, 1926. Commander Dyott travels from Guayaquil, on the Pacific coast, over the Andes and descends the Amazon to exit in the Atlantic. Most of the book relates to Ecuador. Dyott fills his pages with anecdotes about hunting, exploring and native customs, but he does have a tendancy to waffle. The one story that really had me eating up his words, a horrendous tale about a raft he intercepted on the Amazon carrying decaying corpses, is later revealed as nothing more than a bad dream. However, there are a few very good passages among the mundane, such as this one, which happened somewhere on the Payamino River in Ecuador's Oriente: "One of the men, the fellow who had first hailed us as we drew up in our canoe, turned out to be quite a good sort, and by way of appreciation for what he did we presented him with an old watch. It was quite useless as a time-piece because it had suffered from a prolonged immersion in the river water, but as the man seemed to be very much taken with it, we strung it on a cord and hung it about his neck with a certain amount of ceremony as if conferring some order of merit. The recipient of our favour took it off, laughed and after examining it gingerly, handed it back, whereupon I again put it about his neck saying, "ali-runa, ali-runa," (good fellow) patting his back and pointing to some fine fish he had brought us just to indicate how pleased we were with his efforts. Even then, he showed no signs of accepting our priceless gift, for he grinned and once again handed it back. "Give the thing to me" said Johnston. "I will make him accept it. If we put it in his hand, he will understand that it is a present." So Johnston took the watch and laid hold of the man's right hand, firmly pressing the watch into the palm and closing the brown fingers over it. Whether the jar started the watch ticking or what, we did not know, but the next instant the man let out a yell that could have been heard a mile. Dropping the watch, he leapt back a dozen paces and looked at the innocent piece of metal in horror, as if it were some venomous snake. The dividing line between tragedy and comedy is sometimes very finely drawn, but our picking up the watch and laughing at the man's confusion turned the scale in our favour. "It is alive and bites" was all the astonished fellow could say, and after that not a soul would ever go near that bundle of gear wheels which Mr. Ingersoll had stamped out of so much harmless metal for the price of one dollar." (page 246) The book also contains chapters describing his ascent of the Sangay volcano and Mt Sumacu, but Dyott himself admits, as they trudged over frozen volcanic ash: "We were the crudest, most ill-prepared lot of amateur climbers that ever set foot on a mountain slope"(page 86) From Sangay he witnessed an eruption of Tungurahua. One passage mockingly tells how easy it was to shoot mountain tapirs - he killed eight, one 'the size of a donkey' - today they are an endangered species. On pages 127-130 Dyott paints an amusing character sketch of Enrique Feyer, "the mad German", an insect collector living alone 15 years in the Ecuadorian Oriente, at Huilca, between Chanala and Macas, catching butteflies he claimed could bring up to 20 pounds each in Europe, earning him 70 pounds a month, an enormous amount in Ecuador at the time. While this book has its moments, of the three Dyott books I have read, this one is not the best; however it does contain a map and several pages of photographs, including one of a shrunken head.

One River, Wade Davis, New York, 1997. Davis makes his own excursions deep into Amazonia, sometimes with his colleague, Tim Plowman, other times alone; but the main thrust of this book is the extraordinary expeditions of Richard Evans Shultes. Usually working alone, Shultes did pioneering botanical work, with particular emphasis in the fields of rubber vines and hallucinogenic plants. Davis weaves his narrative between Shultes' forgotten contributions to science before, during, and after WWII, and the political machinations that saw them largely squandered. The US needed a reliable supply of rubber closer to home than the Asian plantations - a Sherman tank used 20 tons of steel and half a ton of rubber. Shultes discovered high-yielding species of rubber plants whose disease resistance could have restarted the plantation industry back in the Americas, unfortunately bureaucratic short-sightedness saw his labours of many years wasted. His explorations were mainly in the Colombian Amazon, an isolated and remote area even today. On the Rio Piraparana, he discovered a granite boulder with a petroglyph - the 'rock of Nyi' situated precisely on the equator. Shultes was intrigued by the plants used by the natives; he traced a rare variety of Yerba Mate (Ilex guayusa) a proven cure for venereal disease, via a bundle of 1500-year old leaves found in an Andean tomb to an abandoned Jesuit plantation, to a living bush (page 187) - just one of the many discoveries and re-discoveries he made. Several times Shultes chanced with death on his perilous expeditions into forests inhabited by fevers, snakes, and ferocious Indians. He nearly died of malaria and beri-beri, and by fortuitously missed airplanes that crashed on his planned flight. Davis' own expeditions add interesting threads: "...On the day before I left Quiwado, Jim and I poled upriver with young Geke and Kento to collect bark cloth, a specimen of yam bean, and a number of other plants I had yet to find. Kento pointed out the places on the bank where animals had drunk that morning, and a clearing where an old man had died and been buried, accompanied by his three-year-old son, who was buried alive. We passed a youth fishing on the shore and watched as he lunged his spear into the water and then whipped it out, a bright fish spinning on the sharp tip. Around the next bend in the river we came upon a red caracara perched on a branch. Kento shot it with a dart. 
"I thought you said they were taboo" I said to Jim.
"You're not allowed to eat them. That doesn't mean you can't kill them..." (page 293)
 (br) Just outside the town of Huancayo Davis witnessed Peruvian police in action: "At the first roadblock south of the city, two policeman came onto the bus to check papers. Both were of Indian descent, elevated into the ranks of mestizos by uniforms and rations that left them plump and sweaty. They insulted the Indian women, abused an old man who could not read, and ignored the foreign travellers. I handed the first of them my passport, acknowledged their perfunctory nod, and turned just in time to see my companion torn from his seat and pistol-whipped in the face. The next moment he was off the bus spread-legged against a mud wall. The police beat him savagely and laughed as he fell to the ground. No one else on the bus noticed. No one saw him get up and sprint down the alley of mud bricks. No one heard the gunfire and the shouts of rage from the police. In a moment it was all over. The youth was gone. The police appeared once again in command. The placid tone of the Andes had returned, as innocent as a guidebook."(page 424) (br)Davis' book includes an extensive annotated bibliography that credits each subject chapter by chapter.

Over Andes & Amazon: A Schoolmaster's Summer Holiday, by Alan Hadfield, Horrogate, no date. At only 58 pages long, Hadfield's travels in published form are more of a booklet than a book. It moves swiftly, just as Hadfield had to, as he was on summer vacation from his school in Jamaica and had limited time and limited funds. Nevertheless, he manages to see Panama, Lima, Cusco and Iquitos, before taking a flying boat to Manaus and thence on to Jamaica via British Guiana and Trinidad. In Iquitos he meets several interesting characters, including Mr Becker and Mr Wong, German and Chinese tour operators, and a Frenchman, whom he initially suspected was a French rebel on the run from Algeria. In reality the Frenchman was on an even stranger mission: after reading a magazine article about the apocryphal Pamela Hawkins, he flew from South Africa in search of the Australian-born "Jaguar Princess" "..I must find Pamela Hawking," he repeated, and (let jaguars beware), he reached out with determination for his gun. "And it must be soon. I haven't much money, and only a return ticket. I feel like she does. I want to escape from civilization. I want to propose to her . I must find her," he said. "Well, she may admire you for having come so far in search of her," I replied, "but she may not feel like marriage. You may have to accept that." This shook him a little, but he remained resolute. "I must stay down here until I find her," he said...(page 49)More level-headed companions on his Iquitos-Manaus flight inlcude the American author John Dos Passos and his daughter.

Paddle to the Amazon, Don Starkell, edited by Charles Wilkins, London, 1989. Don Starkell is obviously not a man to do things by halves: he and his sons Dana and Jeff paddled a canoe from Winnipeg Canada, down the Mississippi, around the Gulf of Mexico, up the Orinoco, down the Casiquiare Canal to the Amazon to its terminus at Belem, Brazil. Some clues as to what drove him to this superhuman feat can be found in the introduction, where he relates his troubled childhood and family life. In terms of physical endurance, they journey ate up an estimated 20 million paddle strokes. But the real achievement was psychological - most mortals would have given up when faced with the numerous setbacks and problems encountered along the way. Starkell paddled an incredible 12,000 miles, half of it in the ocean, taking nearly 2 years. (There are maps in each chapter to assist the reader). His problems are great and small - at one point they begin to starve and die of thirst as they are marooned on a reef off Venezuela's Golfete de Coro, unable to beat contrary currents. Waiting on a wharf in Alvarado, Mexico, they encounter just one of many problems with officialdom: "...A police official appeared and demanded that we pay 500 pesos for entering port. I pretended not to understand, and he ordered me to follow him to the police station to talk to the chief. Documents in hand, I walked a quarter of a mile in bare feet and presented our letter of safe passage to a police captain who quickly released me..." (page 102) Another time a Guatemalan gunboat tows them out to sea for a 'search', then cuts them loose, well offshore. Danger is never far away: sharks, capsizing, salt-sores, and in the Amazon, all sorts of venomous life forms. In one village they are accused of being freeloading imposters, since nobody believes their story that they came all the way from Canada. Some locals are distinctly hostile, others are incredibly friendly. In Sao Agostinho, Brazilian Amazon, Starkell sees a deserted hut, and they camp inside; the occupants arrive in astonishment, but after a short discussion the Indians paddle off to let them enjoy it in peace! Other times poor locals offer food and shelter with no expectation of payment. But near the end of the journey, at Santarem, they encounter a group of five men in a 40ft launch who try to ram them, threaten them with a shotgun, and try to tow them back to town. "... Four of the men were young fellows, but the fifth, the leader, was a man of perhaps 60 with thick white hair and a beard - he was pretty fair ringer for the ageing Ernest Hemingway. When this older guy saw the machete, he calmly reached for his shotgun, and I immediately placed my weapon across my lap. But within a minute the younger guys were again trying to rope us, and I had the machete up and flashing. They were determined to haul us back to Santarem. Our escalating argument with them took a course that we've known far too many times - demands, threats, counter-threats, hollering, until the energy of the thing began to wind down. In the face of our stubbornness, there was little they could do but shoot us or leave us alone. They seemed to think that if they tried to take us captive, they'd lose their hands to my machete, and I was glad to have them think that way. After 45 minutes of harassment, they began slowly to back away from us, muttering and shaking their heads. Refusing now to even look at us, they coiled up their rope, put their shotgun away, and swung back up river, convinced we were crazy. Our wilfulness had carried the day..." (page 295) When they finally reach Belem, they are so dishevelled looking, a sympathetic streetwalker discreetly hands them some money to buy dinner. In the editor's preface, Wilkins tells us Starkell's original handwritten manuscript ran to 1400 pages, or around a million words in length, written on stormy beaches and in jungle hammocks. He initially rejected the proposal because Starkell's writing was illegible. Undeterred, Starkell showed the same gritty spirit that got him to Belem - he typed it out over the next three months. With the book now published, I for one is glad that he didn't give up either endeavour.

The Panama Hat Trail, Tom Miller, Washington, 2001. This book was originally published in 1986 before being reprinted by Vintage and later National Geographic Society's Adventure Press. Miller follows the path of Panama hat production all around Ecuador, from the harvesting of the straw of the toquilla plant to the sale of the finished hats in New York. In the process we learn how the hat got misnamed 'Panama' when they mostly originated from Ecuador, the working lives of the straw buyers and the weavers, the bleachers, the shapers, the middlemen and the exporters. But it is not only about Panama hats; Miller adds amusing anecdotes culled from Consular reports and the memoirs of forgotten correspondents like James Orton and Alexander von Humboldt. Much of the story is captured in first-hand interviews with people he meets along the way, from Jewish exiles to jungle oilmen. He adds this tale about the custom of climbing trees, cut down and re-positioned in town with its trunk greased to make climbing it difficult. Boys climb the trees to get the prizes of fruit, tools, toys and other knick-knacks hung from its boughs. On this day he witnessed around ten boys climb a tree which promptly toppled over, severely injuring many: "...Lifeless bodies were crammed inside a makeshift ambulance. Musicians continued playing songs where they had left off. 
A crowd formed around the fallen pole, inspecting its jagged end. The part that remained rooted appeared no more than a foot in the ground. 
Friends and next of kin traded nervous words outside the Pujili clinic, where some fifty people crowded around the door. "The two most seriously injured youths were taken to the hospital at Latacunga" said a nun wearing a beatific smile. "At Latacunga," twenty minutes away, "they may get better treatment." 
Then again, they may not. Either way, as I recounted the tragedy in the days that followed, I was assured that if any of the boys indeed hemorrhaged to death, which seemed very probable, they were the lucky ones, because now they didn't have to grovel and suffer for the rest of their lives, and they probably went straight to heaven because they died during the Fiesta de Corpus Christi. Their families now had one less mouth to worry about feeding, and only one more tombstone to lay flowers upon - in all, a considerable saving..." (page 196)

Pangoan Diary, Ruth Harkness, New York, 1942. Ruth Harkness will always be remembered for her exploits in China more than her later sojourn to Pangoa in the Peruvian jungle: she was the first person to bring a live Panda to the United States, beating many big game hunters who were active in China before and during her time there, including the Roosevelts and her late husband. Although basically a New York socialite, her expeditions deep into the mountains of Asia were good training for her tough Peruvian expedition. Bored with publishers' rejections of her manuscripts, she moves from the US to Lima, where she again becomes bored with the exp-pat's cocktail parties. Hearing reports of a rare Andean 'silver bear', she decides to try and capture one, perhaps hoping to snare acclaim similar to that gained with the Panda. Her guide, Esteban Sandoval, proves his mettle on many occasions, but the bear remains elusive throughout the book. The reader is rewarded, however, with many anecdotes and folk tales, mostly told through Sandoval's voice; each chapter recounts a different tale. Peruvian legal manoeuvres, child slavery and petty politics are recurring themes; giving imagined voices to animals is another. One chapter tells of a German-Jewish family who adopt a Campa girl, saving her from slavery, only to send her to Lima to work as a spy; her early death is there predicted. The book was written during World War II; some passages denigrate Fascists and Nazis, others decry war in general. Another chapter describes a session of black magic where the witch-doctor uses a shrunken head and a mirror to allow supplicants to view events in a far away location; others speak of using the hallucinogenic potion ayahuasca as an aid to find misplaced valuables. But the best passages are when Sandoval tells of his unhappy life as a widower, and the simple but harsh reality of life in Pangoa. In one conversation with Sandoval, she muses: "New York in some ways, I told him, did resemble a jungle; that the fierce competitive struggle for existence in a great city has many aspects of forest life, but there the parasites lacked the beauty of, say - the orchids, which are also parasites." (page 183) A few passages hint of Harkness' depression; malaria forced her return to Lima and the US (she died alone 5 years after this book was published, almost forgotten by the public who once feted her and her baby pandas). Yet the book's overall tone is not negative, but rather simple and uplifting. Illustrated with some good photos of Campa Indians in their traditional cotton cushmas.

The Pantanal, Brazil's Forgotten Wilderness, Vic Banks, San Francisco, 1991. When it comes to South American wildlife, the Amazon region gets all the spotlight. But as Vic Banks points out, many documentary makers (such as Jaques Cousteau) film their scenes in the Pantanal, which contains many of the same animals, but is a distinct ecosystem. The Pantanal is cradled by rivers which drain away south of the Amazon basin, in Brazil and Paraguay. Inundated by floodwaters annually, the flat Panatanal then suffers a dry season when most of the animals stay close to shrinking water supplies in open areas, making them easy to film. The Pantanal is home to some large cattle ranches, slowly encroaching on virgin land. It has also been the focus of several gold rushes; Banks relates the tale of how Pocone's historic mud-brick church was demolished, its adobe put through a sluice and enough gold was extracted to pay for the construction new church. In the course of his investigations, Banks travels all over the Pantanal, interviewing ranchers, park rangers and politicians. However, the animals of the Pantanal are the book's main attraction: $B%J%*(Bhe pacu (Colossuma species) is a relative of the razor-toothed piranha and ranges up to twenty-seven kilos. Oddly enough, this large fish is completely vegetarian, lacking the sharp teeth of the piranha. In its mouth, the pacu has evolved flat teeth adapted for crushing nuts and fruits - and they look surprisingly like little human molars..." (page 39) On another page, he has an encounter he would rather forget: "Suddenly, a furious zoology lesson is underway. Somehow I've blundered past a bee hive's territorial threshold, with one of the swarm's sentinels spotting me as a threat to social harmony. Without a millisecond's consideration for my enormous size, it's engaged me - the enemy - in a life-or-death battle, using its witch's brew of chemical warfare. The insect has unsheathed its raspy, spearlike stinger, punctured my flesh, and engaged more than twenty muscles to pump the toxic venom deep into the wound. The attack was a complete surprise. I hadn't a clue it was coming, not so much as a buzz. This was my body's Pearl Harbor..." (page 65)
Banks continues to recount how he had to flee for his life, sprinting, screaming, and performing the 'wild gyrations of the dumb-jerk-under-killer-bee-attack dance'. Invited to a dinner with university lecturers in the city of Cuiaba, Banks is verbally attacked by a local geology professor who has an axe to grind with Americans, it seems, because when he was the US, someone mistook him for a Mexican (pages 165-166.) ; Banks describes the hostile dinner-table clash with alacrity. In other parts Banks entertains us with tales of crab-eating foxes, mud-burrowing owls and a photo of a Teju; a strange creature with the head of an iguana and the body of an alligator. The final chapter describes Banks' visit to an illegal wildlife market near Rio de Janeiro. When he tries to film the cruel conditions under which the animals are kept, his guide suggests he put his camera away leave: "Alexander says, "You must realize that Duque de Caixas is one of the most dangerous places in Brazil. It's more violent than Beiruit. It's true. They take about fifty dead bodies out of here a day. Thieves, murderers, the destitute live here crammed together in favelas. The politicians just look the other way. There's no infrastructure - the same as in the Pantanal. It's a wilderness..." (page 244)

Paradise Mislaid: In Search of the Australian Tribe of Paraguay, Anne Whitehead, Queensland, 1997 Australia is often viewed as a country of immigrants, not emigrants, especially when the destination is Paraguay's backlands. But such an unlikely exodus did occur, in July 1893, when the Tweed Heads-built ship the Royal Tar set sail from Sydney Heads with an ambitious contingent of settlers looking to begin a colony with money raised through subscriptions and the trade union movement -some of the men had served time in jail following the Great Shearer's Strike of 1891. Disaffected with their lot in Australia, they sought to set up a self-sufficient socialist community led by William Lane with a land concession given by the Paraguayan Government of the day. Among the later arrivals at the colony was Dame Mary Gilmore who became the community's schoolteacher. After a few years a leadership schism led to the colony splitting in two, and in the end most of the colonists - but not all - returned home or dispersed to other parts of the world. One reason the colony failed was due to a shortage of women (in a country where most of the men had died in a recent war, the colony's rules forbade marriage with local women). Anne Whitehead recounts the story of Cosme colony, calling on Gilmore's prodigious letters, her stories in the 'Cosme Monthly' and the often cynical newspaper articles that appeared in Australia at the time, while exploring Paraguay herself a hundred years later. Uncovering the various factors which led to Cosme's demise, she also interviews the colony's descendants, with their Anglo surnames and white skin, but who cannot speak a word of English. Whitehead estimates some 2000 Paraguayans of Australian descent survive and records this meeting with a couple of them at the unveiling of a commemorative plaque: "...'Si, si! Australianos tambien!' they chorused, and pushed forward two of their number, a girl with freckles and carrot-red hair and a boy with the Paraguayan milk-coffee complexion but clear blue eyes. Peter David Kennedy was fifteen and Sady Karyna Smith-Coherone two years younger. Neither spoke any English, but they seemed pleased, if a bit bemused to be descended from the Australian colony. They had heard that their great-grandfathers were socialists - or something like that..." (page 210). Whitehead includes interesting biographies of some of the descendants - soldier Douglas Kennedy, anthropologist Leon Cadogan, and cartoonist Robin Wood.

Paradise With Serpents, Travels in the Lost World of Paraguay, Robert Carver, London, 2007. Travel books focusing on Paraguay are rare. The country's isolation, both geographic and political, are two reasons; a third, more recent reason would be the personal danger all foreigners face when visiting the country. Carver underscores this with his eyewitness account of a tourist shot dead as he stepped off a bus in the main terminal in the capital Asuncion, and by his own mugging in broad daylight in the city center. During his first days in Asuncion, he muses: $BE1(Baraguay was very different to anywhere I had ever been before. It was quite simply one of the most remote countries in the world, about which almost no one knew anything, which almost no one went to, and almost no one came from $B!&(Bor indeed anyone came back from. I felt heartened by this, but also daunted. I felt very much alone and friendless. If anything happened to me out here no one would know or care. Paraguay was a place in which one could disappear without a trace.$B!&(B(page 23). Carver lost a relative, Charles Carver, who disappeared in South America looking for the lost city of Paititi. The Paraguay Carver describes is in great turmoil. With the dictator Stroessner long gone, corruption, coups and counter coups are in the air, law and order barely function, though he praises the efficient way the Asuncion police handled his mugging case. Lepers, the destitute and deranged roam the capital$BCT(B streets, many locals carry handguns for self-protection. A severely bloated public service is straddled with a workforce it cannot sack. According to one of Carver$BCT(B informants, there are 25,000 employees still working for the Paraguay railway department, which has only an occasional tourist train operating. Smuggling, tax evasion and land-title fraud are endemic; salaries of essential public servants are months in arrears. Some locals privately long for a return of a strongman like Stroessner, so there might be some stability; his secret police, who went by the euphemism $BA5(Bechnical Service$B!&(B were notorious for their human rights abuses, but the streets were safe. With a white, Caucasian complexion, Carver wins are measure of respect from some locals, who assume he is a member of this $BAT(Bervice$B!&(B However, with an exiled military officer said to be organizing a coup, protests, blockades and anarchy looming, Carver takes a friend$BCT(B advice and flees the capital by riverboat. Away from the capital, the pace slows, and danger recedes, though never entirely. One night, in a hotel room in Concepcion, despite using a prophylactic net, his toes are attacked by blood-sucking vampire bats, which become infected. Befriended by a mysterious 50 year old European, he accepts an invitation to fly by light aircraft to his remote farm deep in the western Chaco, close to the Bolivian border, only to discover all is not as it seems; the $BAG(Barm$B!&(Bhas a dark secret. Carver weaves a quick summary Paraguayan history into his narrative, along with tangential paragraphs comparing Paraguayan political problems with those in other countries. Carver, who once lived in Australia, espouses blunt views of Australians, both of days gone by and contemporary. Describing equestrian games at the annual horse festival of Nuevo Londres $B!&(Bformerly called Nueva Australia, where Australian colonists settled a century ago $B!&(Bhe says $BE*(Bt was a far cry from anything Australian $B!&(Bthere were no violent drunks, foul-mouthed hoons, or swag-bellied larrikins $B!&(Bthough we were on the same latitude as Rockhampton$B!&(B (page 294). Of the original settlers, he writes $BE5(Bhese settlers were, after all, career agitators, revolutionaries and extreme radical communists who had spent their whole life in revolt against the bosses, capitalism and the government. Opposition, sedition, revolt and protest, not to mention physical violence with fists, knives and even guns were their meat and drink, and had been all their lives.$B!&(Bpage 299). While undoubtedly some of them fit this description, there were some accomplished individuals among the Australian colonists, including Mary Gilmore; I would encourage anyone interested to read Anne Whitehead$BCT(B Paradise Mislaid (reviewed above) for a more balanced view. Finally, after witnessing the murder of a tourist at the bus station, Carver decides to leave Paraguay, vowing never to return. His anxiety-tinged description of the difficulties he faced trying to secure a seat on a flight out of the country reads very honestly, and is probably the best part of the book.

Passage Through El Dorado, Traveling the World's Last Great Wilderness, by Jonathan Kandell, New York, 1984. This is a great book! Many of the best travelogues are written by people who not only travelled, but lived in the places they describe. More time equates with greater understanding of the customs, language and history of the area in question. Kendall certainly fits this profile, having spent both his childhood in Latin America and working there as a news correspondent; a useful bibliography at the end of the book attests to his scholarship. Kendall skillfully mixes relevant history and politics with his interesting on-the-spot travel anecdotes. He touches on his childhood learning in Mexico, contrasting the way North American and Mexican teachers portray Native American Indians; an oil worker's camp in Peru; rubber-tappers in Acre; the machinations of a DEA sting operation against Bolivian cocaine dealers - and why the arrest and prosecution of some big fish ultimately backfired. A common thread linking his stories is 'Belaunde's Highway' - a planned road across the western foothills of the Andes, linking Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. On bus heading to Colorado d'Oeste in southern Brazil, a zealous evangelist tries to convert him, but is interrupted when: "...Our bus slowed then stopped. Just ahead of us was an overturned truck, its wheels in the air and its load of lumber sprawled across the road. Its driver, his right arm bloodied and apparently broken, asked for help. At his feet, a tarpaulin sheet covered the body of his riding companion. The evangelist minister raced off the bus. Kneeling next to the corpse, he prayed loudly for the young man's soul with an almost unseemly gusto..." (page 183) Kendall covers the political wranglings of Captain Silvio's crusade to open up Brazil's Ouro Prieto area to settler families while keeping the land speculators onside - the author's skillful portraying of the lot of the Brazilian poor is illustrated in this passage regarding coffee picker Jesuino da Silva: "... Jesuino was twenty-two years old when he joined this exodus in 1951. He faced a choice back then of between heading for the factories of Sao Paulo, or moving even further south, six hundred miles from his hometown, to the new agricultural frontier in Parana, where virgin forests were being cleared for coffee and soybean plantations. Because his father had been a coffee sharecropper in Minas Gerias, Jesuino wanted to remain a farmer. His plan was to work as a coffee picker for a few years, and eventually save enough money to buy a plot of his own. But the coffee boom in Parana had sent the price of land soaring. No farmer could make a profit with fewer than two hundred acres. Try as he might, Jesuino could not save enough money to afford even a few acres. The years turned into one, then two decades. In the meantime, he married Durvalina, the teenage daughter of another Northeast migrant. When their eighth child was born, Jesuino was still a coffee picker..." (page 153) Kendall goes on to write how Jesuino bought title to some land at Espigao d'Oeste on the frontier with the jungle, hacked out some farmland, only to find out they were victims of fraud, the dispute between the fraudsters and the government simmering for several years, eventually solved by calling in the military. In 1977 he was forced to move again, to Cacoal, where they had to start hacking farmland out of virgin jungle all over again, despite the arrival of their ninth child.

Peru Illustrated or, Incidents of Travel and Exploration in the Land of the Incas, E. George Squier, New York, 1877. Squier was a travel writer of rare talent. Although he chiefly set out not for the sake of travelling itself, but to survey Peru's ancient ruins and report his findings, he produced a book filled with line drawings, maps and plans, interspersed with entertaining anecdotes that could only have been written by an eyewitness. I don't know if he intended his book for general readership, but it certainly falls into that category. In addition, his drawings and plans form an important historical record, as many of the ancient relics he described, mapped and measured, particularly the Inca-built bridges, are only known from his efforts. His journey begins and ends in Lima. He catches a boat north to the Trujillo area and records in some detail the looting of ancient ruins which continues to this day - many times his survey marks were taken by the grave-robbers who believed they marked the position of buried treasure. Returning to Lima he begins a long overland journey by horse and on foot to Cusco and the Titicaca area. In Ollantaytambo the local priest bursts into tears when told Squier found no treasure (page 511.) He meets the celebrated Professor Raimondi on the lake, and nearly dies in a snowstorm that strikes them while crossing it in a boat. One of Squier's most amusing anecdotes is when he was lodging at a tambo near Curahuasi: "...Towards daylight, but while it was still dark, we were startled by a loud pounding on the door. Supposing that it proceeded from our missing companion, I rose hastily, struck a light, and removed the brace against the door, when the strangest figure entered that I ever saw in my life. It was that of a man, tall and skeleton-like. His limbs were bare and deeply scarred, and his long, tangled hair was bleached by sun and weather. Beneath his left arm he carried a miscellaneous collection of sticks, bones, pieces of rope, and other rubbish, and in his right hand a long and gnarled stick. Altogether, with his deeply sunken eyes and parchment skin, he might have passed for one of Macbeth's witches, and was not a pleasant object for one to encounter when just waking from sleep. I perceived at once that he was insane, but, as insane men have disagreeable freaks, I was not sorry to find that my friends were also awake and at my side. Our visitor, however, showed no violence, but commenced talking rapidly and incoherently. 
We thought for a while that he intended to communicate to us something about H-, but we could extract nothing coherent from him. He seemed to comprehend that we were foreigners, and repeated frequently the word "Ingleses" (Englishmen). We gave him the fragments of our supper, and he left. Next day we ascertained he was a Spaniard, who at one time had been largely engaged in mining in the vicinity, but had become completely demented some years ago in consequence of death in his family and financial troubles." (pages 550-551) 
The man referered to as 'H-' was Squier's artist, whom had last been planning to swim a river and whom he never saw again, but survived. The extraordinary story of what happened to him is included in the final pages.

Rafting the Amazon, Francois Odendaal, London 1992 This man is infatuated with completing a descent of the Amazon, and it shows in his writing. He does not complete the descent in one or two attempts, but three, over the space of several years. Much of the book is concerned with his disdain for another crewmember, and he is especially galled when the other man completes the full descent, and gets his photo in the National Geographic Magazine. Anyone who has been on an arduous camping or canoeing expedition will know only too well that such personality clashes frequently occur. But the book is not only about the infighting: there is plenty of excitement in shooting the rapids and capsizings.

Reality is the Bug that Bit Me in the Galapagos, by Mark Watson and Charlotte du Cann, London, 1994. A pair of Brits wander Latin America, visiting Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Colombia. In Bogota, Mark is aghast: 
Sacha drives Liliana and me in her car out to a restaurant in the zona rosa area of Bogota. I notice that there appears to be at least two armed guards per establishment. A quick shudder goes down my spine. 
'This is Bogota' says Liliana. 'At night it's even dangerous to stop at a red light - thieves shoot drivers through the window, dump the body and make off with the vehicle..." (page 134). 

Things brighten up a few pages later, when he goes to Cartagena, on Colombia's sultry, laid-back Caribbean coast:
I arise early the next morning and go for a walk along the Bocagrande beach, removing my espadrilles and letting the soft sand massage my feet. The black women selling fruit are already up, large baskets of coconuts, papayas, mangoes, figs and melons balanced on their heads as they move languidly along the shore by the softly lapping sea. Coconuts hang heavy on lightly swaying palms and the warm morning breeze lifts up the hairs on my arms and legs. Ecuador seems a million light years away. A digital clock-cum-thermometer flashes 7.10 a.m. and 20 deg C alternatively... it will be a hot day. I drink fresh papaya and carrot juice at a stall by the harbour and refuse to worry about the dubious ice the man has added to the delicious concoction..." (page 137)
This book includes some original poetry and black and white photographs.

Rescuing the Spectacled Bear, A Peruvian Diary, Stephen Fry, London, 2002. Written in large type and a light vein, Fry's dry sense of irony is balanced by a genuine concern for the plight of the South American Spectacled Bear, an endangered species, and real-life inspiration for Paddington Bear. Fry's diary recounts the trails and tribulations his film crew experiences in Peru. Although working for an independent film company, many of his contacts at zoos and government agencies invent fees and inflate costs when they hear the program is to be shown on BBC. A Spanish-speaking 'Mr Fixit' on their side somehow manages to clear each bureaucratic hurdle as they appear. Two female bears are rescued from inhumane cages and transported by rail to a zoo, with the hope that they might become breeding stock. In the interim, Fry is able to visit disparate parts of Peru, including the desert, Andes, and Amazon areas, and the ubiquitous ruined Inca city of Machu Picchu: "What waited beyond for us, of course, was the town of Aguas Calientes. If Machu Picchu is the crown on the top of Peru's head, it's a shame that just about the only way to get to it is by way of Peru's arsehole. For I'm afraid that that's what Aguas Calientes is. It takes its name from the hot springs close by and is a shambolic collection of hideous buildings thrown up with no thought or consideration for the Eighth Wonder of the World above it. INRENA won't let the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Hotel fit a water purifier without a year-long wait for permits, but it will allow any citizen of AC to despoil one of the world's most wonderful places. (Polly, our stillsman Rob Fraser's partner, aptly calls INRENA the institute for national perks.) The citizens fight the plans for a cable car which would be one of the most sensational and beautiful experiences imaginable, because they fear for the monopoly they hold on bus-rides up the mountain. The whole place should be bulldozed and a town of which Peru can be proud should be put in its place. (pages 180-181)" 191 pages, illustrated throughout with full-page colour photographs.

Return to La Paz: Tales of Travel, Meditation and Ayahuasca, Thomas Reissmann, Mumbai, 2004. The first few chapters of this book relate Reissmann's formative years: born in the former East Germany, witness to the Fall of the Berlin Wall, exchange student in California, followed by stints of work and study in the UK and Australia. However, inspired by the writings of kinsman Karl May, he has a calling for the wilds of South America. Installed on that continent, no adventure is off bounds to him: he describes visits to Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Bolivia. Most of the time he carries a bottle of Ayahuasca around with him, of which he takes a swig whenever he feels under pressure. In fact, most of the book is devoted to his somewhat unique spiritual beliefs, and the way various narcotics shaped his unconventional view of the world. In between, the reader is entertained with anecdotes about meeting hippies, drug-runners, obstructive border officials and natives. Written in a smooth style, the book is an easy read, and I ended up agreeing with some, but not all, of his off-beat conclusions. In Lima he has this discussion with a fellow German: "Just think if people freed themselves from the obligations and roles assigned to them by society, we would live in a better world." 
"Yeah, right, if everyone lived like you, there would be no airplanes that you could fly around the world with," my friend Tobias said. 
"I don't say 'Live like me', I say 'Live freely'." 
"So just travel around the world and do nothing, is that it?" 
"No, 'Do that which fulfils you'. It fulfils me to travel and observe the world and one day I will write about it, but someone else will be really into aerodynamics and build more efficient and cleaner jet engines, because that is his service to the world and this would be a great service, because right now air traffic is the number one contributor to green-house gas emission." 
"So why don't you stop using them?"
"Because right now I don't really have another option available, except of course staying home, but it is never useful to stand outside the mainstream and shout at others for destroying the planet. That doesn't change a thing; it just causes opposition. Like at the beginning of the environmental movement, when ecologists were just anti-development. But that has changed now; people are pro-sustainable development." (page 175)

Riding With Ghosts: South of the Border, by Gwen Maka, Bridgenorth UK, 2001. Be warned: Gwen espouses some strong political opinions in the pages of this book. And anyone who thinks a bicycle trip through Mexico and Central America would be easy had better read her account first. Gwen was 45 when she undertook the trip, which began in Seattle. This book details the 3,500 miles she covered in the second half of her journey, through Mexico and Central America. She cycled alone and usually camped in a tent. At times she was in relative danger: 
That first day in Guatemala revealed extremely localised disparities in attitude to the foreigner - that is, myself - and I recalled the warnings. One village would be friendly, the next - just five miles down the road - aggressive. As I cycled past a work site, the men began shouting at me and ran towards me throwing stones, two hitting my arm. In another village, the children did the same, running after me screaming indecipherable words of hate. I feared what would have happened if I had been on foot, and I dreaded being found camping by such an angry people... (page 159)

The Rivers Amazon, by Alex Shoumatoff, Century, London, 1986. I recently picked up this book and started reading it for the second time. It really is a good book. Shoumatoff traverses tha Amazon by beginning at its mouth, and follows it all the way to its source in the Andes. The book contains erudite passages about the process of integrating the Amazon natives into the modern world, and the incredible biology of the jungle: 
"...The marine past - remember that between sixty and fifty million years ago much of the basin was an inland sea - and the vastness of the present system are reflected by many of the species. Great pelagic sawfish, twenty feet or more in length, enter the Amazon River and have been reported as far upstream as Obidos; they are probably the largest fish in the system. Freshwater bull-sharks have been found as far upstream as Iquitos, Peru. I saw at INPA the skull of one with five nasty rows of replacement teeth waiting behind the active row. The shark measured over three meters. Three species of stingray, shark relatives, lurk in the shallows, hidden in the sand. A flick from their serrated stinging spine can inflict a serious wound and excruciating pain for twenty-four hours. One species of sole and three of sardines have also adapted to the sweet water of the Amazon system..." (page 116)
 But its not all about science. In a Peruvian village, Shoumatoff records amusing social interaction with the natives: "Even though Yauri is the biggest town in the valley, the sight of a gringo was for many of the inhabitants a first, and people with all sorts of questions approached my table at the pension where I kept waiting vainly for promised trucks that never came. One man asked me when the world was going to end. Another offered to sell me the Plaza de Armas, Yarui's main square, for $50,000. A woman handed me a scrap of paper that said, "Can you tell me something I can take to make my eyesight better?" An old man asked me if I wanted to buy a little girl cheap, and when I said no he said I could even have her for nothing. A young man asked if it was true what he'd heard on the radio that the U.S. was supplying arms to foment a conflict between Chile and Peru, and if he went to America what could he do there? How much did a bellhop make? There were many questions about the price of things in the United States; I had five offers for my guitar; a teen-age boy taught me a beautiful song, and an old man recited a poem in Quechua, declaiming the strong rhymes and lilting lines with such fierce pride that I could not help being moved even though I couldn't understand a word of it..." (page 199)

The Road Gathered No Moss, Hayman Chaffey, London, 1959. Armed with numerous visas, lots of enthusiasm but insufficient funds, British Chaffey and his wife and two children set off from Mexico City south, initially by train, where their large amount of luggage causes much inconvenience; a tardy realization that most of it is superfluous sees him pack most of it home. A writer, artist and photographer, he somehow manages to earn enough money from magazine articles and art exhibitions to finance their way through South America: often the British Ambassador arranges exhibitions at the British Institute or a gallery, where his paintings and photographs were sold. Travelling from Panama to Venezuela by ship, they hold a profitable exhibition and obtain sponsorship from the Rover company in England for a Land Rover, their transport and home for the next several months. In Cali, he is given an assignment to photograph the scene of an accidental explosion of army trucks laden with nitro-glycerine that levelled the city; he toured the deadly devastation with the then Colombian President Rojas Pinillas. In Sucoa, Ecuador, he is shown no less than fourteen shrunken heads, including one allegedly of a German missionary (there is a black and white photograph of a bearded shrunken head included.) Later that evening the Jivaro tribe held a ceremony that incorporated dancing around a shrunken head mounted on a pole: "For an eternity Jivaro men, women and children chanted and danced with the most primitive movements, with little or no rhythm, accompanied monotonously and incessantly by a drum and bamboo cane whistle-pipe. The sun balanced on the green sea of trees. A shrunken head was mounted on a grey wooden stake. The cries of a thousand voices swelled to a crescendo, and spears and arrows jabbed fiercely at the head as with hate upon their faces the Jivaros relived the story of their past." (page 121) In Lima he is involved in a traffic accident that is not his fault, yet Peru's corrupt wheels of justice force him into a nightmare situation he is lucky to escape. In Bolivia, he arrives at Tiquina Straits after the ferry had been closed for the day, but summons a raft from the other side by flashing his headlights, and the Land Rover is loaded aboard and carried across Titicaca by sail power. After visiting Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, the family return home to England from Rio de Janeiro on a ship via Cape Town.

The Road to Buenos Ayres, Albert Londres, introduction by Theodore Dreiser, translated by Eric Sutton, London UK, no date, circa 1928. Around the turn of the 20th century 'White Slave Traffic' was in full swing - a pseudonym for trafficking in women and girls for the purpose of prostitution. This book was written by a French journalist who follows the 'trade route' from Marseilles to Buenos Aires, as stowaways on board liners and freighters, and into the clutches of their 'husbands', with the express intention of writing an expose about it all. In B.A. he talks to the pimps, the smuggling sailors, the Consuls, Magistrates and Police, the do-gooders and of course the unfortunate girls themselves. Those expecting erotic passages will be disappointed - this is a social commentary that tries to favour neither side. He details the bribery, tricks and lies that entice the women to leave Europe to trade a poor existence for what they dream will be a more lucrative one. Regarding women who don't submit to their handlers' rules:
"...Our women are penny-in-the-slot machines. We mustn't break the machines, we must be satisfied to shake them up from time to time... There wasn't much money in it. Mademoiselle treated herself to expensive liqueurs out of her wages. She was a bad lot. A vicious horse is sold to the army. With us a woman is like a horse: if she kicks after being beaten she must be gotten rid of. I decided to sell her..." (page 58)
He cites examples of girls who fall in love with their 'owners', and others who elope with their clients. He includes some very insightful correspondence between a mother worried her daughter has been enslaved, the French Consul who offers her a safe passage home, and the runaway daughter (who bursts into tears when she reads a letter her mother sent her, but steadfastly refuses the Consul's offer of a safe passage home until she has saved some more money). He estimates 80% of women in the profession are there due to hunger and hardship, the remainder due to 'laziness'. To the argument that women can obtain more honourable work he cites this parable:
"...Then how is it" (says a lady) "that I can't get a daily servant?" I will tell you.
"It is because the day you wanted a daily maid it did not occur to you to telephone the good news to the little unknown girl, who, besides, probably had no telephone. Moreover, you can wait a week for a daily servant and be none the worse, whereas the daily servant can't wait a week without eating. You are talking from the heights of your security to our little sisters far down the abyss of their distress..." (page 173). 

The book isn't an easy read, as much of it is written in guarded words and dated phrases intended mainly for 'gentlemen in the know' of that period. There is an undercurrent of sarcasm, however the author's conclusion is a sober one, worth repeating:
"...Enough of morality. It is not brothels and bullies that we must contend against; there is no sense in putting out the red lamps. In fact, the more light the better. Girls who really want to enlist in those marching regiments will enlist whatever you do. So much the better: volunteers are needed for that fight. But the rest? 
As long as women cannot get work.
As long as girls are cold and hungry. 
As long as they don't know where to go for a bed.
As long as women do not earn enough to allow themselves to be ill, or enough (if that is not asking too much) to buy themselves a warm coat in winter. Enough to buy food, sometimes, for their families, and their children. 
As long as we allow the bully to take our place and offer the bowl of soup. 
Burn the brothels and lay a curse upon their ashes. You will have only made a bonfire and a futile demonstration. 
The responsibility is ours; we cannot get rid of it." (pages 174-5)

The Road to Extrema, Bob Reiss, New York, 1992. The Amazon in the 1980s was headline stuff - Sting teamed up with native chiefs, Chico Mendes was murdered, the greenhouse effect and global warming was on everyone's lips. But beyond the headlines, what was really going on? Reiss divides the books into two sections, transporting the reader from one world to the other. In the Amazon, he makes a journey along a new Brazilian road being bulldozed through the jungle, BR-364, his chapter titles indicating his progress in kilometres and the people he meets. At each town he reports what he sees: new dams, ranches, burnt wastelands, gold miners, park rangers, and impoverished newcomers desperately hoping for a new start in life as farmers or bar owners. Some make it, some don't. But the big loser is the forest and its inhabitants. Reiss does not lay the blame at any one particular cause. Indeed, the other half the book is set in the USA, in the New York boardrooms of ad agencies and bankers, at conservation fundraising events and research labs racing to test medicinal plants before they become extinct. He devotes a chapter to cancer patients pegging their hopes for a cure on a new wonder drug, and what miracles the doctors have already achieved. The chapter entitled 'Kilometre 375 - The Rubber Tapper' details a fascinating description of a woman making rubber shoes by dipping a wooden mould into liquid latex. His visit to a draga or floating gold dredge is particularly illustrative of the lawlessness in the upper reaches of the Amazon, home to modern-day gold rushes. The dredges are in constant danger from floating logs, which can sever the air-line to divers working in the muddy depths. But that is only one of the risks: "Much of the danger comes from other miners. There was a dredge near Rubens' where the crew stole gold from the owner. And there was a new man on board who was paid only three percent, not six like the rest. One day the owner came to collect his gold, and the new man asked for six percent. The owner refused. The new man said, "But I'm the only one here who's not stealing from you." A crewman heard this, got a gun from a sack, and went up to the new man. "What did you say?" he said. The new man said, "You heard me. You're all stea.." The other man shot him in the head. He fell on deck, spurting blood, still trying to talk. The gunman told the owner, "This is none of your business." The body lay on deck for awhile, then was gone. The draga pulled up anchor and moved away. No none told the police" (page 107) Reiss explains how 'debt swaps' can help preserve the forest - temporarily, anyway. In 1985 activists forced the World Bank to consider the environmental effects of their infrastructure loans; funds were suspended and work on BR-364 ground to a halt, only to restart with new environmental protection clauses. But many such deals and agreements with ecological strings attached fail for a variety of reasons. He quotes one observer: "There was always the gap between what bank officials announced in the office and what really happened on the ground far away." (page 159)Reiss talks to Brazilian diplomats who express suspicions that the First World is trying to control the Amazon under the guise of ecological charity, and provides some examples where this is actually true: on page 162 he quotes a World Bank official as saying the US military planned to occupy the Amazon in the event of a nuclear war. Even if the outside world didn't buy the Amazon's tropical timbers, gold and beef, there are manifest problems within Brazil itself, from the starving peasants who clear land and squat without permission, to inter-state hostilities: "I remembered how three weeks before, when I arrived in Brazil, headlines had screamed that Rondonia had sent troops to seize Extrema and New California, a sister town down BR-364. A day later the papers had announced Acre was sending troops too. In Brasilia, a general named Rubem Bayma Denys assured me there was no danger in travelling to Extrema because federal troops had been dispatched to keep the states from fighting each other. Terrific, I'd figured. Three armies!" (page 170) The book's conclusion is far from optimistic. Only a year after visiting a modern hydroelectric complex built by the Electronorte utilty, he finds a once prosperous company town resembling a slum. The manager told him simply - 'The money ran out'. A nature reserve integral to the project was already being used by poachers, as the park rangers had been dismissed. But The Road to Extrema offers one or two glimmers of hope: the Brazilian government has begun fining illegal logging and mining companies millions of dollars, and American companies have begun replacing tropical woods with plantation timber. Only time will tell if the Amazon will survive the bulldozer and chainsaw.

Road to Osambre, John Ridgway, New York 1987 (published under the title Road to Elizabeth in the UK). Set during the height of the Shining Path's terror, he learns the friend he came to Peru to visit had been murdered. He travelled with his wife and daughter. In the village of Amaybamba, he describes the villagers' method of defending themselves:
"That evening we watched the 'ronda' prepare for the night ahead. The patrol consisted of eight men. Armed with pointed sticks, two ancient hunting rifles and a bugle to sound the alarm, they looked anything but fearsome.Proudly they showed me their weapons, which I dated at 1890 and 1930. I was horrified to see the riflemen squatting on the ground scraping the brass cartridge cases of the bullets with knives to make them fit the breech." (page 181).The author weaves some great emotion into the final pages, the ending surprised me.

Roof of the Americas, John Warburton-Lee, Shrerwsbury, 1996. A band of British soldiers set out to travel from Point Barrow in Alaska to Cape Horn in South America in several stages. Nominally they travelled the length of the Americas, though due to security reasons, they skipped Colombia, mounting a separate excursion in Guyana instead. For those who like reading about military campaigns, this book could be useful as it lists the logistical problems in some detail: the total cost was estimated at 380,000 British Pounds. Farewelled by their patron Prince Charles, the expedition's activities included dog-sledding across the Arctic, ascending Mt McKinley, kayaking the Grand Canyon, from whence the team travelled in a convoy through Mexico and Central America. Deep in the jungle of Guyana a team member has to be airlifted out by helicopter after he suffers a broken ankle. Undettered, they continue rubber-rafting the Mazaruni River, at one stage staying at a bar-come-cathouse situated on an island in the middle of the river. The next port of call was Guayaquil, from where they re-commence their southward journey, crossing the Salar de Uyuni and ascending Aconcagua. Entering Argentina to perform the first joint British-Argentine military exercise since the Falklands War, their reception was, not surprisingly, a little frosty. In the Argentine Army base at Mendoza, Warburton-Lee describes this conversation with Major Jose Hernandez: "...Having completed the introductions we were shown the into the Officers' Mess which was to be our base for the next three weeks. Having stowed our gear in our rooms we went downstairs for lunch. The Major and I talked through our intermediaries over the meal. He remained cool and dour. At one point I heard him chide Javier for referring to the Falkland Islands rather than Las Malvinas and on another occasion he made a curious comment about trying the War again. This was said with a deadpan expression..." (page 151) Despite the coolness, the Argentine/British team make the summit, as the beautiful colour photographs show. The expedition ends with a voyage around Cape Horn.

The Rough and the Smooth, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, London, 1969. This book describes two major South American expeditions undertaken by Hanbury-Tenison. The first was an east-to-west traversal of the continent. He was accompanied by Richard Mason on this latitudinal crossing. They travelled in the first Brazilian-built Willys jeep, but often had to put their vehicle on rafts to ford the many rivers. The route they took through southwest Brazil and Paraguay was difficult - and therefore more interesting reading - until they reach Bolivia, where better roads markedly speeded things up. On page 77 he describes what its like to get stung by an Amazon stingray - he lay unconscious in a hammock for two days but a native remedy saved him. At one point the jeep breaks down beyond repair, and Hanbury-Tenison has to leave Mason and seek help from 100s of miles away. In Cuiaba, he describes this social interaction: "...Do you like black, white or Indian girls best?" asked Paula with the same naivety one would have expected if she had enquired as to my favourite architecture. 
"I like everyone," I replied, dodging the issue. "A beautiful soul is better than an attractive body." 
"Do you think I am beautiful?" asked Paula, sticking to the point. 
"Yes, indeed." 
"Then will you marry me and take me back to America with you?" 
It was the first of many proposals we were to receive on that first incredible evening. It seemed that sometime before an American had passed through Cuiaba and carried off a girl to that glittering northern continent which they only knew through the pages of glossy magazines. Now they all wanted desperately to follow her and escape their home town, where, they claimed, the ratio of the sexes was one man to every ten women..." (pages 110-111)

The second part of the book describes a 1964 north-south river journey, from the mouth of the Orinoco in Venezuela, upstream until the Casiquiare, then down the Negro, then upstream again via the Madeira, Mamore and Guapore Amazon tributaries. Here he crosses the watershed and then descends the Paraguay, Parana and Rio de la Plata rivers, eventually finishing in Buenos Aires. For part of the way he is accompanied by fellow explorer Sebastian Snow, but they part company in Manaus (Snow's version of the journey can be read in Half a dozen of the Other reviewed above). Hanbury-Tenison later stayed with a rubber-tapper on the river Guapore, (whose wife served him cooked howler monkey): "... we talked far into the night and I was astonished by my host's general knowledge and interest in a tremendous variety of subjects. He was a half-caste Indian and had spent some time in Porto Velho. Apart from this and the very occasional visit to Guajara Mirim, at the most once a year, he had had no education and little contact with the outside world. For five years he had been living on the Guapore, earning his living by the desperately hard method of gathering rubber... I was the first man he had seen for five months. And yet in spite of this isolated life he talked eagerly about every sort of world problem and, though unable to read or write, had very decided views on everything from atom bombs to the population explosion. The secret lay in his one other mechanical possession apart from his gun - a transistor radio..." (page172) One feature of this book is the author's somewhat indiscriminate use of firearms. Birds, alligators, spiders and even a giant cactus get shot, though at that time this was probably the norm for Amazon explorers. A four page appendix details Hanbury-Tenison's role in a hovercraft expedition that reversed his ascent of the Orinocco. That journey is comprehensively chronicled in Branston's book The Last Great Journey On Earth, reviewed above.

Rough Notes Taken During Some Rapid Journeys Across the Pampas and Among the Andes, Capt. F.B. Head, London, 1826. The author was a British engineer sent to make a survey of mining prospects in the Andes. Travelling several thousand miles by horseback, he penned these $BAS(Bough notes$B!&(B which despite its self-deprecatory title, form a valuable record of life in the Pampas and Andes in the early 1800s. He meets many gauchos, and relates their customs and habits, including their astounding horsemanship. On page 47 he wrote how spurs are used with such vigour that the poor horses are bathed in blood, the blood $BAG(Blowing rather than dropping$B!&(B but adding the spur was necessary as the horses refuse to trot. The perils of riding mountain trails are spelled out by this passage, when a leading mule stopped on a narrow trail and refused to budge: "He was the finest mule we had, and on that account had twice as much to carry as any of the others; his load had never been relieved, and it consisted of four portmanteaus, two of which belonged to me, and which contained not only a very heavy bag of dollars, but also papers which were of such consequence that I could hardly have continued my journey without them. The peons now redoubled their cries, and leaning over the sides of their mules, and picking up stones, they threw them at the leading mule, who now commenced his journey over the path. With his nose to the ground, literally smelling his way, he walked gently on, often changing the position of his feet, if he found the ground would not bear, until he came to the bad part of the pass, where he again stopped, and I then certainly began to look with great anxiety at my portmanteaus; but the peons again threw stones at him, and he continued his path, and reached me in safety; several others followed. At last a young mule, carrying a portmanteau, with two large sacks of provisions, and many other things, in passing the bad point, struck his load against the rock, which knocked his two hind legs over the precipice, and the loose stones immediately began to roll away from under them : however his fore-legs were still upon the narrow path ; he had no room to put his head there, but he placed his nose on the path on his left, and appeared to hold on by his mouth : his perilous fate was soon decided by a loose mule who came, and in walking along after him, knocked his comrade's nose off the path, destroyed his balance, and head over heels the poor creature instantly commenced a fall which was really quite terrific. With all his baggage firmly lashed to him, he rolled down the steep slope, until he came to the part which was perpendicular, and then he seemed to bound off, and turning round in the air, fell into the deep torrent on his back, and upon his baggage, and instantly disappeared. I thought, of course, that he was killed; but up he rose, looking wild and scared, and immediately endeavoured to stem the torrent which was foaming about him. It was a noble effort ; and for a moment he seemed to succeed, but the eddy suddenly caught the great load which was upon his back, and turned him completely over; down went his head with all the baggage, and as he was carried down the stream, all I saw were his hind quarters, and his long, thin, wet tail, lashing the water. As suddenly, however, up his head came again; but he was now weak, and went down the stream, turned round and round by the eddy, until, passing the corner of the rock, I lost sight of him. I saw, however, the peons, with their lassos in their hands, run down the side of the torrent for some little distance; but they soon stopped, and after looking towards the poor mule for some seconds, their earnest attitude gradually relaxed, and when they walked towards me, I concluded that all was over. I walked up to the peons, and was just going to speak to them, when I saw at a distance a solitary mule walking towards us! We instantly perceived that he was the Phaeton whose fall we had just witnessed, and in a few moments he came up to us to join his comrades."(pages 156-158) Apart from such adventurous near-disasters such as these, there are grim descriptions of the fate of white settlers whose homesteads were overrun by Indians. On page 93 he recounts how white women, after seeing their menfolk and children slaughtered, were spirited away by Pampas Indians on horseback to be forcibly incorporated into the tribe. Years later, when offered the chance to return to $BAD(Bivilization$B!&(Band a monetary inducement to become interpreters, they refused, seemingly content to remain with the tribes; many had borne children to their kidnappers. Another succinct passage describes the fate of a condor: "We were sitting with the native miners, when one of my men called out that there was a condor, and we all instantly ran out. He had been attracted by the smell of a dead lamb, which we had brought with us, and which was placed upon the roof of the hut. The enormous bird, with the feathers of his wings, stretched out like radii or fingers, majestically descended without the least fear, until apparently he was only ten or fifteen yards above us. One of the men fired at him with a gun loaded with large shot$BMI(Bis legs fell, and he evidently had received the whole of the charge in his chest; yet he instantly bent his course towards the snowy mountains which were opposite to us, and boldly attempted to cross the valley; but, after flying for many seconds, he could go no further, and he began to tower. He rose perpendicularly to a great height, and then, suddenly dying in the air$BMT(Bo that we really saw his last convulsive struggle$BMI(Be fell like a stone." (pages 211-212) The final chapter includes his summary of why many Andean mining ventures faced obstacles unimaginable in Europe and were destined to fail $B!&(Bas indeed many did.

The Rucksack Man, Sebastian Snow, UK, 1977. Sebastian Snow reads like one of the old 'tally ho.. pip pip' type of British eccentrics who set off ill-prepared and eternally optimistic of the immense obstacles in front them. But Snow did know what lay ahead, as he was a seasoned traveler who had already traveled the length of the Amazon. Although the book is fairly recent, his references to his school days at Eton, obscure British heroes and obsolete expressions hark back to a time most modern readers have forgotten; paragraphs often end with an attempt at dry wit that has lost its effect over the years. At times he reveals a lack of knowledge of Spanish, such as when he devotes a few lines to ridicule a teacher who 'claimed he was a professor'. Snow usually camped while on the road. He writes how a cow tripped over his tent and he was caught rolled up in his sleeping bag with the zipper jammed; he managed to get out of this situation by getting the attention of a passing driver by blowing a whistle. Later he details the sexual deviation of llama herders, and towards the end he meets a friend of Roberto Arias, Dame Margot Fonteyn's Panamanian husband, who tells the circumstances of Arias being shot and crippled. Snow's original aim was to walk from Ushuaia to Alaska, but after more than a year on foot, and exhausted from traversing the Darien, he gives up in Panama City, 5 stone lighter than when he started. Yet his achievement stands as a great one: one of his legs was shorter than the other, causing him great pain, and for a large part of the journey he was without his contact lens. Many times he was nearly killed by speeding vehicles; he crossed snow, swamp, and jungle thickets, but recounts the Peruvian desert near Trujillo were the hardest: 
"...I decided to rest here for a couple of days over my birthday in order to celebrate being forty five in a garden-like ambience before hitting the desert again. For desert marching was hell. The sun made my feet swell. At the end of each day's march I spent at least a couple of hours simply rubbing out the pain, almost delectable in its intensity. The humidity sapped my energy; all day long my body was bathed in sauna-like sweat; rivulets poured down face and neck emanating bead-like from my eyebrows and sweat burned the corner of my eyes. My dry lips were stuck together, trapped by a filthy combination of adhesive glutinous saliva, salt and sweat which congealed and was the very devil to get off..." (page 147)

The Saddest Pleasure: a Journey on Two Rivers, Moritz Thomsen, St. Paul USA, 1990. This book is partly about the past of the author, his time in Ecuador and especially his sorry relationship with his rich father, and is quite depressing. The travelogue is merely the vehicle in which he delivers this sad story, but it does give good account of what a person will experience while travelling the Amazon.

Sangay Survived, the Story of the Ecuador Volcano Disaster, Richard Snailham, London UK 1978. Required reading for anyone contemplating climbing an active volcano, it also has enough real-life drama to keep a non-mountaineer turning the pages. An expedition backed by such respected bodies as the Royal Society, the Royal Geographical Society and the Mount Everest Foundation attempts to climb Mount Sangay, one of the world's most active volcanoes, to map its contours and take samples of its lava. On the way up, above the snowline at an altitude of 4850m, without any kind of warning in the form of rumbles or tremors, the volcano exploded, showering rocks and boulders on the six-man climbing party, including the author, whose elbow was smashed. Cameraman Ron Mace was killed almost instantly, while Adrian Ashby-Smith, his skull severely fractured, would die within a few hours. Another climber, Jan Iwandziuk, was in a coma. Two descend and raise the alarm, while Nick Cooke stays with the injured. But a combination of bad luck and bad weather conspired to make the rescue a difficult one: at the same time a passenger jet had crashed into nearby Mount Chimborazo and Ecuador's rescue efforts are preoccupied there. The injured had to spend a night on the mountain. Descending survivors and ascending rescuers became lost the mist and ravines of lava in their haste to find each other. Survivor Peter Chadwick, descending the mountain with a broken arm and in a state of shock: "...As he was climbing... a strange hallucination appeared on a high grassy ridge to his left. He thought he could hear shouts and believed he could quite clearly see Nick, Ron, Adrian, Gerardo and the guides carrying Jan and running away down the valley. He thought they were calling out for him to join them, and he started jogging after them back down the lava flow away from the camp, shouting to them as he went. But they seemed to be leaving him behind at an alarming rate and as it was almost evening he decided to turn and make for the tents, spend the night there alone and catch them up in the morning..." (page 86) Inclement weather forced a rescue helicopter to return to base so many times that its fuel was running out. Help eventually does arrive in the form of some guides from a French expedition and the Ecuadorian military - who provided rudimentary First Aid, food and shelter before stealing half their equipment - but raging rivers and incessant rain causes further delays. When they eventually get back to civilization the survivors then face inevitable media criticism that they were ill-prepared, though Snailham refutes most of the criticism. Back in England he had an artificial elbow fitted, and Nick Cooke was awarded the George Medal by Queen Elizabeth for his rescue effort. The book has several interesting appendices: one about the geology of Sangay and the Andean cordillera, another listing the history of its many eruptions dating back centuries and a copy of Cooke's Royal Citation.

Searching for Isabel Godin, Celia Wakefeild, Chicago, 1995. Part historical biography, part travelogue, Wakefield researches the incredible tale of suffering and survival of Isabel Godin that happened in the 1700s. This is how Wakefield describes part of Isabel Godin's descent of the Amazon:
" Isabel, stupefied, delirious, tormented with choking thirst, stretched herself on the ground by the corpses of her brothers and other companions. She remained in a stupor for a couple of days, or so she thought later. She waited to die, but instead she survived and at length felt her resolution and strength return. She suffered the horror of coming back to consciousness and finding herself in a scene from the charnel house. In the tropical jungle the bodies had already started to decompose, the vulture had come and the flies hung heavy. She was dressed only in rags and her shoes were gone...she cut the shoes off her brother's feet and fastened the soles to her own...Then she started to make her way all alone, at random, through the trackless wilderness..."(page 158).

Short Walks from Bogota: Journeys in the New Colombia, Tom Feiling, London, 2012.   The title of this book is intriguing. What is the 'new Colombia'? How is it different from the 'old' Colombia? Although the subtitle suggests it is a travel book, it is also a book on the history and future direction of modern - read 'new' - Colombia. Feiling is well placed to write such a book, because he has inside knowledge of Colombia's cultural mores and political machinations after working for NGOs, and was adviser to various UK government agenicies for several years. He quit Colombia, but is tempted back from relative safety in the UK after reading an article in Newseek that describes the country as a economic dynamo, with narco-traffickers, criminals and guerrillas on the backfoot. However, his investigations, based on interviews with Colombians from both within the political system and outside of it, paints a somewhat different picture. In one interview, with a Briton kidnapped and held hostage for almost a year by the FARC, he relates how the guerrillas may seem uneducated by Western standards - often being unable to read or write, or ignorant about the ocean, are his given examples - but in their world, the mountains and jungle, they are supremely knowledgeable and capable (p 28). Chapter Two details how two branches of the same family can end in very different circumstances: ie the McCormicks. One branch founded Mac trucks and McCormick spices in the USA, the other branch, after helping Bolivar defeat the Spanish, and building Colombia's first iron brdige (at Sube) and Colombia's first radio station, all the men died in battle - if not in the War of a Thousand Days, then fighting as guerrillas for the ELN; thus the McCormick surmame was wiped out in Colombia. Another interesting anecdote recounted by Feiling concerns Richard Trevethick, a Cornishman whose friendship with Robert Stephenson began in Cartagena de Indias, and tangentially ignited British investment and engineering booms that also saw Cornish miners stream into South America. Add in the 6500 British soldiers who fought in Simon Bolivar's British Legion, and one begins to understand there are deep links between Colombia and the UK. British interests are still very influential in Colombian oil and mining; this means there is a lot at stake when the various armed groups vying for control threaten to blow up pipelines or blockage supply lines. So it is perhaps justified most English speakers equate Colombia with narco-guerrillas; quite rightly in some respects, but this view, as Feiling illustrates, is a somewhat blinkered view. Yet, in Feiling's experience, the newest visitors to Colombia, seem to be wearing not blinkers, but blindfolds. At a backpacker hostel at San Gil he observes: "Yet no one was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude in the Hostel Macondo - or anything else for that matter. Most of my fellow travellers seemed markedly uninterested in what Colombia had been through. Those who weren't swapping travellers' stories were silently peering into their laptops. Thanks to Facebook, their friends were always close at hand, shielding them from the isolation that used to give such journeys much of their meaning. I couldn't help but wonder if they would have gone travelling for so many months in such strange places when the only news from home came in letters written on onionskin paper picked up from postes restantes... It was nice to spend an evening speaking English again, but something irked me about these young backpackers, flitting over South America like butterflies darting between exotic flowers. After so many years of intensive education and self-discipline, they were doubtless looking for a rest and an escape from routine. I'm sure they were also looking for meaningful experiences, as they rappelled down waterfalls and threw themselves into canyons from bungee ropes. But I couldn't help thinking that they treated travelling as another homework task. All those maps and guidebooks and itineraries looked more like a tribute to organization than imagination, as they granted themselves a week or two to 'do' Colombia... Carlos and I had dinner at a sandwich shop down the hill from the Hostel Macondo that an English girl and her American boyfriend had just opened. It was one of a clutch of foreign-owned start-ups in the tourist towns, and an encouraging sign of how far the country had come since 2002. When I told the proprietor that I was planning to catch a boat downriver to the coast, she asked if I meant the Amazon. When I asked about the guerrillas that who only a few short years ago had patrolled hills around us, she had no idea they had ever been present in Santander... (pp 99-100).
In Chapter 6 Feiling interviews someone who does appreciate the real situation beyond the backpacker's point of view: a former guerrilla who explains, quite candidly, how he ended up being forced to join the FARC as a teenager even though he had not wanted to: once he was seen in their company, he was a marked man from one of the paramilitary groups, who perhaps pose a greater threat to Colombia's peace process than most outsiders can comprehend. In a chapter titled NN: No Name - Feiling describes how the bereaved - often mothers - 'adopt' and tend the grave of an unidentified victim of these troubled times as a proxy for their own missing sons, fathers and husbands. While Fieling recognizes the deadly tactics of the various guerrilla movements, he notes many of the victims were not killed by the FARC or ELN. On page 191 he cites harrowing official reports which point to the number of Colombians killed by paramilitaries as exceeding 200,000 people in the last 25 years. It is not without irony that Feiling notes, Colombian politicians, the Army and the FARC all claim Simon Bolivar as their own, and listening to their 'high-flown rhetoric'it was difficult to tell them apart. A most interesting interviewee is Eishi Hayata, a Japanese former aircraft mechanic who made his fortune trading emeralds in Colombia; the way he is forced to do business is unconventional to say the least. In the same chapter Feiling also casts doubt on conventional economic theories held by elite Colombians that free trade agreements and the current commodities boom will be Colombia's long-term economic saviour. He notes dryly the same people who blame Colombia's problems on the guerrilla insurgencies will also complain about foreign imperialism, when in fact perhaps its greatest threat comes from the economy being too-tightly held in the hands of the Colombian oligarchy. To further add to the paradox that is Colombia, Feiling notes that despite the seeming gloomy outlook its people face, in international surveys Colombians are regularly ranked as one of the happiest people on earth. In the final chapter Feiling describes the convoluted course the Colombian Army has taken, from leaving Christmas trees in the jungle to encourage guerrillas to desert, to the outrageous 'false positives' scandal of 2009. While foreign influences have certainly been causes of Colombian strife - the international drug market being the most obvious - one also gets the impression Colombia needs to get its own house in order if it wants to make real progress.
If you can get your teeth into this book - not the easiest feat if political and economic commentary are not your fare - you will be much further down the road to understanding the root problems that have beset Colombia in the past, and in Feiling's opinion, probably will continue into the future; definitely recommended as background reading for anyone contemplating going there for business or an extended vacation.

Silent Highways of the Jungle, George M Dyott, London, 1924. George Dyott, or 'Commander Dyott' as he was sometimes called, is something of a legend and an enigma. A pioneer aviator, film-maker, treasure-hunter and adventurer, he worked for the British Intelligence Services in Asia and was involved in the search for Colonel Fawcett in Brazil. This book proves he is also a capable author. The trip Dyott undertook followed a route that went from Pacasmayo, on Peru's northern coast, over the Andes by mule, passing through Cajamarca, Chachapoyas and Moyobamba, thence down-river to Yurimaguas, Iquitos, returning to Paita via Barranca, the Pongo de Manseriche, Jaen and the Sechura Desert (photographs and a route map are included in the book). In the early 20th century, when Dyott made the journey, most of the towns were isolated backwaters and uncontacted tribes lived in the eastern ranges. Dyott and his equipment survive a dunking in the river; he repaired his camera with glue made form the latex from the skin of a green banana. Robbed and abandoned by his guide Munoz deep in the jungle, he is taken in and given shelter by some Aguaruna Indians, who then keep him under house arrest, asking him to fulfill the role of doctor with his dwindling supply of medicines. Once he made faux 'crowns' out of spools of celluloid that his captors found very amusing. Dyott wrote of the Aguarunas: "...Some gauge of their mentality can be gathered when I say that a photograph meant nothing to them; they were no more capable of understanding what it represented than an animal. I had tried once showing them a photograph of some Jibaro Indians, which were in general appearance identical to the Aguarunas, but they turned the picture upside down, on its side, looked at the back of it, and, with an inscrutable expression of blankness, handed it back as if to say, "That may be very interesting, but what is it all about?" It sounds incredible that, without movement or perspective, a picture conveyed nothing to them, and had it been one of themselves they would not have recognised it as such, any more than a dog would if you showed him a photo of himself..." (pages 297-298) Yet these same people whom Dyott described as being on a 'low plane of development' provided food and shelter that kept him alive - he wrote in awe of the Indians' skill in hitting a monkey, as it leapt from branch to branch, with a poison blowdart. Eventually, by offering his tattered pyjamas as payment and feigning a broken heart because he missed his wife and children, he was able to elicit some sympathy and enlisted a couple of Aguaruna men to guide him to civilization. Dyott was able to extract justice on Senor Munoz by proxy: several friends in high places 'gave him a thrashing', and miraculously, back in London, Dyott received via mail his stolen money and possessions.

Sons of the Moon: A Journey in the Andes, Henry Shukman, London, 1990. The daily life of the Andean Indians is a harsh one, arduous in labour and very monotonous in routine, save the occasional festivals where singing and dancing in costumes is accompanied by heavy drinking. Shukman describes both facets with an unbiased eye - he was 18 when he made the journey. This travelogue has no profound beginning or end, merely a series of observations the author makes along the route from northern Argentina to Machu Picchu, by bus, truck and on foot. As such, it gives a good account of the daily life and beliefs, and ancient legends of the Andean people. He spends some time with the Chipayas, an ethnic group on the verge of extinction by assimilation, but kept together by government handouts. In the village of Bolivar he witnesses the ritual fighting of a tinku; a Spanish priest who ministers the village commenting: "...'Drinking and fighting' the Padre continued, 'Drinking and fighting. But why? Why? Or when they come in for a funeral they all run into the cemetery in a great multitude, as fast as they can. You know why? It's because they're all afraid of being the last one into the graveyard. The last one is the next to die. Yes, the next to die. Then all the children have to leap over the grave before it is filled in. Why? It makes them strong. It means they'll live to be adults...." (page 75) Includes some rather haunting black and white photographs.

South America More or Less, Robert St John, New York, 1970. Robert St John and his wife Ruth undertook a flying tour of the major cities of South America including Caracas, Belem, Bahia, Asuncion, Bariloche, La Paz and Buenaventura. Although the cities themselves sound exotic, the book fails to deliver much adventure, unless reading page after page about Ruth's attacks of altitude sickness or the St Johns' souvenir shopping is to your liking. However Robert St John does bump into a few interesting characters. He manages to interview Bolivian President Barrientos, who confirms the story that he once parachuted from an airplane to prove to some reporters that Bolivian parachutes were not defective. Also interesting is a brief encounter, in a limousine they were sharing, with Hiram Bingham's son Alfred Bingham, who snapped "No!" when asked if he had ever been to Machu Picchu with his father. St John has this to say when given the opportunity to visit Buenaventura, on Colombia's Pacific coast: "...The day after leaving Guayaquil we stopped at Buenaventura, Colombia, to take on more passengers and a great many sacks of coffee beans. We would be docked long enough for anyone to go ashore who might wish to, but the purser gave us a long lecture on why we it would be best if we did not wish to. First, Buenaventura is so insignificant that it is listed in few guidebooks and is not even on maps of the country. There is no taxi service into the city. The several men with cars loitering around the docks would charge an exorbitant amount to drive anyone into town, and on the way might rob, rape or even murder. When we remarked that some members of the crew were leaving the ship for the evening, the purser smiled wryly and replied: 'Look them over tomorrow! You'll see black eyes, perhaps even a broken arm or two, and all of them will have been rolled - meaning that they will have been robbed of everything they took with them, including, perhaps, even their clothes. And worst of all, most of them will have venereal diseases during their brief time ashore. And so, all things considered, may I suggest that you try to amuse yourselves on the 'Santa Mariana' tonight..." (page 317-318). So the St Johns stayed on board with their trunks of souvenirs, although Robert goes on to say that he knew Buenaventura was not representative of Colombia, and promises his wife they would come back one day in the future.

South America Overland: from New York to Tierra del Fuego, Iain Finlay and Trish Sheppard, London, 1980. The authors were accompanied by their children, and the book is written in an engaging style that alternates between the two parents. They flew over Colombia. Interesting conversations with expats include this one, with an Australian called Barry who imported a vehicle: "...You wouldn't believe the worries we've had trying to drive through here in our campervan. First off we had to get it in at Guayaquil port. What a scene that was. Everyone had warned us not to leave the van there overnight, or it would be completely vandalised, but by the time it was offloaded it was almost the end of the day. There was this one other fellow and his wife shipping in a van and I passed on these same warnings to them. Then I just peeled off thousand-sucre bills in all directions and was through in less than two hectic hours. I could see that the other couple disapproved of my tactics and were determined to play it straight. We saw them the next day. They'd just come back from the port and looked sick to their gills. They'd left their van there overnight and it had been emptied, completely. They'd even taken the tyres, the wing mirrors and the steering wheel..." In Tabatinga, the Brazil/Colombia border town, Trish describes seeing a muscular long haired man in a loin cloth, calling him an 'Amazonian eccentric'. Little did they know it was almost certainly Kapax, a real-life Tarzan of the Amazon (page 274).

South America Revisited, selected and arranged by Kenneth L. Miller, Buenos Aires, 1946. This rare book is a collection of extracts of travel narratives written by English and American visitors. Fifty different narratives are quoted; although most are centred in Argentina, a few come from further afield, as far away as Venezuela. Among the contributors are Sir Richard Hawkins, Charles Darwin, Clements Markham, and Richard Burton; one is an anonymous Englishman's description of 'Hotels and Coffee Houses of Buenos Aires', written in 1825. Most extracts are only a page or two in length, written between 1593 and 1885. Some of the topics discussed: 'A Tertulia' (1807), 'An English Pioneer's Journey Across the Pampas' (1807), 'Beggars of Buenos Aires' (1816), 'The Carreta' (1820), 'Description of the Guacho' (1826), 'Chilian Huasos' (1830), 'The Falkland Islands' (1857), 'Quintas and Cricket' (1862), 'The Mataderos' (1866), and 'Railway travel in 1885'. Some of the more interesting extracts include 'The Discovery of the Megatherium', whose fossilized bones, we learn, are valued by the gauchos as bases for camp-fire kettles in areas devoid of stones. Also of interest are first hand reports of meetings with illustrious personages such as Dr Francia, Simon Bolivar, San Martin, and Generals Rosas and Urquiza. The most amusing would have to be Lieutenant Charles Brand's 1828 chapter on the 'Ladies of Lima', describing his disdain for the wearing of thesayo y manto, a type of elastic petticoat and hooded veil that disguises the wearer so well that 'no man knows his wife or daughter', allowing the women to go where they please, 'even at night, without fear': "...The depravity of morals in Lima is proverbial. The disgusting dress of the females in a great measure speaks of the fact... In walking it is also very striking, as for they are seldom accompanied by a gentleman, and never take the arm; their march is very stately, generally following each other in pairs, and with only one eye just peeping out, although I have used the comparison before, I could never meet them without thinking of walking mummies..." (pages 72-73)

South By Thunderbird, Hudson Strode, Rochester UK, 1937. Written in the third person by Strode who calls himself 'Norbourne' in the book, it is a unique travelogue because it is an account of an aerial circumnavigation of South America in a flying-boat named the Santa Maria. His route takes him into major coastal cities in every South American country (except landlocked Paraguay, but including landlocked Bolivia, and the interior cities of Bogota, La Paz, Mendoza and Manaus). Quoting a lot of now-forgotten personalities and political events, it would interest readers who are aficionados of the 1930s. Much of the book is in the form of conversations with locals about their attitude to the USA (some of which read a little contrived) and he follows the style of Harry A. Franck in his frequent comparisons to the USA. Trade and population statistics are written about which with the passage of years have now become fairly meaningless, but some anecdotes are timeless: "You know," said Captain Mathis, while the plane was being refueled, "Colombians who have never yet seen an automobile, a train, or a wheeled vehicle of any sort have grown quite accustomed to the aeroplane. The Indians call them 'thunderbirds.' They tell a story about an old Indian chief, who was much excited when he first saw one of the old Pan American scouting transports fly over his country. In due course, by some primitive means of smoke signals and runners, news was brought that the great bird was resting in such-and-such place. Thereupon the wily savage sent two of his most trustworthy warriors to the place where the bird was nesting. He instructed them to sneak up under it and try and get one or two of the eggs. He hoped to hatch them and use the birds in his wars against his enemies..." (page 33) Strode writes enthusiastically about the benefits of air travel, then a new and futuristic mode. His description of crossing the Andes between Santiago and Mendoza is eloquent: "...The pilot touched the controls lightly and the thunderbird obeyed his silent commands, as if it were a live and intelligent thing. The great snow-covered peaks and ridges might have been some white monster that had lain there challenging man for generations, as Moby Dick had challenged superstitious sea-farers. But now it had been outwitted. The thunderbird flew among its tempting treacheries as serenely as a dragonfly passing over a clump of white plants growing by a meadow brook..." (page 213)

Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, New York, 1986. This slim volume was originally written by Marquez in the first person as a series of 14 newspaper articles in the 1950s. After interviewing the sailor Luis Alejandro Velasco over several days, he sat down and turned what at first appears as a boring story - ten days drifting alone in a liferaft- into one of the most gripping tales of survival I have ever read. Everyday at 5pm the sharks start circling. He catches a seagull and eats it raw. He hallucinates about his drowned comrades and girlfriend. It is included here because the tale doesn't end when he washes up on a deserted shoreline. Velasco must set off into the hills looking for someone not knowing if he has come ashore in Cuba, Colombia or Panama. The articles this book was based on were controversial because it proved the Colombian Navy was involved in smuggling, and led to Velasco's dismissal from the Navy, and the closure of the El Espectador newspaper. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was forced into exile and it contributed to the fall of the Rojas Pinilla government. There is a concrete monument in Cartagena, Colombia, facing the Caribbean, in the form of a book about 12 feet long. It is a monument to this book. Photo of the monument click here

Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon: A Chronicle of an Incan Treasure, Peter Lourie, New York, 1991. Using forgotten records, old maps, lost manuscripts and a bit of detective work, Lourie leads the reader to believe that there must still be a fortune in gold hidden in Ecuador's inhospitable mountains: Lilian could remember one of Clara's father's stories. An Indian had taken him up Chimborazo searching for a cave where he had found human-sized statues of solid gold. Clara's father had gone with the man, but halfway up the mountain a great electrical storm broke and the Indian was sure God was angry. He decided then not to show Clara's father the cave and they descended. Her father went back later but found nothing..." (page 111) The treasure in question is the immense hoard of gold that was amassed towards the ransom of Atahualpa but was secretly buried after he was treacherously strangled by the Conquistadores. Lourie quotes the Spanish chronicler Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes who wrote in the 16th century that Inca General Ruminahui secretly buried sixty thousand "cargas" (loads) of gold, probably in the Langanati Cordillera.

Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon, Jack Pizzey, Sydney, 1985. Not to be confused with the book above, this large format coffee-table book was the companion to the ABC television documentary series also of the same name, the many colour photos make it a bit of a collector's item. General Pinochet is there, on page 74, in a grey trenchcoat and white gloves. Other pages have telling photos of Brazilian trans-sexuals, Cartagena Palenqueras,Santiago slums, a wealthy Colombian wedding, Argentine gauchos, a woman in leather trousers hugging the funerary statue of Carlos Gardel, the incredibly overloaded Ecuadoran porter, poor peasants smiling as they go about their work, champion bullfighters and boxers. Possibly the most beautiful photo is on page 98, of a young Yaminahua girl from the Peruvian Amazon, holding a pet monkey. The text doesn't precisely follow the TV series, its more of a tale of what happened behind the scenes while filming, mixed with some local history: on page 142 he tells how a Buenos Aires bus driver twice tries to knock down his assistant cameraman Marc (succeeding in hitting him both times), and of a Santiago fairground juggler who "...threatened that, unless we included his act in our filming, he'd report us to the secret police: he didn't say what for..." (page 96) The chapter on Chile is very interesting. They were followed by the Secret Police and children covertly passed handwritten pleas to the film-crew. Of a political meeting in Argentina, Pizzey makes these comments: "... Our last evening in Buenos Aires was spent at a rally of the Peronist Party. It gave no cause for optimism. If the Peronists ever had a political philosophy - a policy - they no longer did: they were no longer political party but had a blind faith. But they were many: half the seats in the country were still Peronist. And, to judge from this rally, they had little to offer Argentina in the way of realism. The rally took place in a football stadium and was a gathering of thugs. Everywhere drums were dully, brutishly thudded, not with drumsticks but lengths of hosepipe. And as the drums were coshed into sullen thunder, young Peronists in black leather created a vision of chaos. They started fires in the packed stands, they hurled tear gas grenades which panicked the crowd into dangerous stampedes, they urged you to jump up and down for Peronism or be beaten up, they howled with approval or derision - it was impossible to tell which - and drowned the manic exhortations of leaders who could be glimpsed but not heard giving messianic speeches from a platform behind the clouds of gas..." (page 163)

A Sword in the Air, David Tipton, Ipswich UK, 2003. David Tipton spent several years living in Peru over four decades, teaching English, writing and translating poetry. He is also the author of a biography of Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, and skilfully incorporates episodes of Peruvian history where it is relevant. His trips ranged over nearly all of Peru, from the coastal desert cities, to the Andean mountain towns to the Amazon region. An accomplished poet himself, he often mixed with Lima's intellectuals, at the same time detailing low-brow brothels. His thoughts on teaching at an exclusive Lima school say a lot about Peru's systemic corruption: "...So numerous private schools have sprung up, and these offer the best facilities yet, apart from a few, they exist for one reason: to make a profit, and cater almost exclusively to those who can pay... A teacher who fails too many students in his particular course will often find himself fired... One boy who failed the year turned up the next with his certificate; his father, a general in the army, had been to the Ministry itself and got the result changed..." (pages 48-49) Tipton's visit to a Peace Corps volunteer in the Amazon village of Yarina Cocha (near Pucallpa) is described thus: "...That night Richard and I went to one of the restaurants in the market. We sat at a wooden table feebly lit by an oil lamp, drinking beer, while on the blackest of stoves with the blackest of pans an Indian woman and her two plump daughters cooked us a meal of steak, rice, fried eggs and onions. The night was warm and the sky full of stars. Hundreds of greenflies swarmed round the table lamps, dying in scores, dropping into our beer and onto our plates. Afterwards we strolled down to the lake. Across the water, silverish now with the moon up, the jungle looked dark and sinister. Below us in a canoe two girls were giggling and chatting. We couldn't see them in the darkness, but every so often one of them shone her torch into in our faces, to attract our attention, then onto her companion. They were naked to the waist, soaping down before swilling off in the river. From time to time they shine the torch on each other so that we had a kind of striptease show. They were the girls who served us in the restaurant..." (page 84) Chapter 11 narrates a personal tragedy that befell Tipton when he was least expecting it; I found it very moving. Chapter 12 is retrospective, how the author saw Lima when he returns after an absence of many years.

Three Men in a Raft - An Improbable Journey Down the Amazon, Ben Kozel, Sydney 2002. This book relates a real adventure. How many people can say they have sailed down the entire Amazon? Would you believe until Kozel and his two fellow friends did it in 2000, only three others had achieved that feat... and none in a raft powered solely by paddles and the current. In their mid 20s, their feat was not only fluvial, because they trekked from the Pacific coast up to Mount Mismi, the source of the Amazon, an adventure in itself - in the first few pages they come across a cocaine vendor, a human skeleton and discover their maps are inacurate. This 320-page chronicle has few boring parts, its all relevant, and so interesting its hard to believe it hasn't been embellished; colour photos and maps add to its credibility. One of the expedition's big acheivements is that the trio didn't fall into disagreement as many others have. For me the good parts weren't the physical hardships, but Kozel's introspective muses:
Through dire neccesity, our skills had developed in quick time. I had learnt to read many of the river's moods - not all of them, but many. I had learnt how to survey white-water for the safest route and take the raft down that route. But there were subtleties to every set of rapids that might escape the notice of even the world's most experienced rafter. All the perfectly executed manoeuvres and everything I had learnt could never muffle the voice that said: 'Only one small mistake, one error of judgement, separates you from death.' Drowning or receiving a fatal headwound was still very possible despite every rapid we tackled successfully. - (page 153)

Through Jaguar Eyes: Crossing the Amazon Basin, Benedict Allen, London 1995. Amazon Adventures with a capital 'A'! Benedict Allen is constantly on the move in this tale of his 7-month traversal of the entire Amazon basin. At the beginning of his journey in Quito, he comes face to face with the urban poor: "...I booked into a cheap hotel, and a man with mange gave me a room with a view of a backstreet and of the people I was going to try to get to help me - people perhaps for their 501st year of hunger and misery. A boy cripple was being carried on his brother's shoulder like baggage. Other cripples inched by in home-made chariots. One girl had a skirt made of a plastic bag. A madman walked by on his knees, five keys hung from his neck on a metal collar. He was reading the day's newspaper, then eating it..."(page 21) Most of the book is set in the western reaches of Amazonia. Some of the travel was jungle trekking, some by vehicle, and some by boat. Along the way he is injured, tricked, cheated, abandoned and shot at. Native women try to seduce him and the reader wonders how he managed to continue after being robbed so many times. He was even robbed by a man whose life he had just saved. As the story progresses, one senses an inner strength growing inside the author, especially after he spends some time with an Indian called Pablito who agrees to teach him jungle survival skills. He learns more from Pablito's daughter Lucy (whom Allen refers to as 'woman-girl-child-creature' as he slowly struggles against falling in love with her), and using skills she taught him eventually is able to chase down some 'guides' who robbed him and secure the return of some of his possessions. There is no let up in the suspense of this book, if anything it grows and grows: near the end of the book two youths try to mug him in Rio, but he fights them off only to attract the attention of a drunken policeman: "...Too late. The policeman waved me to the back of his car. I sat beside the boy who had, moments ago, attacked me. The policeman jammed the knife to the boy's throat to get him to tell him where he lived; afterwards he tried his gun. It was no good at all asking a homeless boy where he lived, even at gunpoint, and after a while the policeman turned his attention to me and - just as the robber had, moments ago - asked for my wallet..." (page 286) Highly recommended.

Through the Brazilian Wilderness, Theodore Roosevelt, Geneva, 1968. Originally published early last century, this book combines several aspects which will guarantee its fame as a South American classic for many more years to come. Not only is it written in a very erudite fashion by an American President who had more than a passing interest in wilderness exploration, the book also chronicles the descent and mapping of a previously unknown river under the direction of the legendary Brazilian Colonel Rondon. Roosevelt's son Kermit and several noted scientists were also party to the expedition. After visiting the famous Sao Paulo snake serum laboratory, the party ascends the Paraguay River from Asuncion and thence treks to the headwaters of the "River of Doubt" - so called because no one knew, in 1914, where it went. It was the beginning of six weeks of hardship and peril - rapids destroyed five of their seven canoes, forcing them to build new ones. Insects, snakes and piranhas presented themselves constantly. He notes freshwater flying fish, catfish that kill men, and the 'milk tree' whose sap made a refreshing drink. Roosevelt describes the natives he encountered with an enquiring, open mind, writing of a lively game they played where they flung themselves on the ground in order to propel a hollow rubber ball forward with their heads. He notes their clothes, or lack thereof, with detached curiosity: "...Among these Nhambiquaras the women were more completely naked than the men, although the difference was not essential. The men wore a string around the waist. Most of them wore nothing else, but a few had loosely hanging from this string in front a scanty tuft of dried grass, or a small piece of cloth, which, however, was of purely symbolic use so far as either protection or modesty was concerned. The women did not wear a stitch of any kind anywhere on their bodies. They did not have on so much as a string, or a bead, or even an ornament in their hair. They were all, men and women, boys and well-grown young girls, as entirely at ease and unconscious as so many friendly animals. All of them-men, women, and children, laughing and talking-crowded around us, whether we were on horseback or on foot. They flocked into the house, and when I sat down to write surrounded me so closely that I had to push them gently away. The women and girls often stood holding one another's hands, or with their arms over one another's shoulders or around one another's waists, offering an attractive picture. The men had holes pierced through the septum of the nose and through the upper lip, and wore a straw through each hole. The women were not marked or mutilated. It seems like a contradiction in terms, but it is nevertheless a fact that the behavior of these completely naked women and men was entirely modest. There was never an indecent look or a consciously indecent gesture. They had no blankets or hammocks, and when night came simply lay down in the sand. Colonel Rondon stated that they never wore a covering by night or by day, and if it was cool slept one on each side of a small fire. Their huts were merely slight shelters against the rain... (page 179) Many times they had to portage their heavy canoes around dangerous rapids. The work soon began to take its toll: "...At more than one halting-place we had come across the forlorn grave of some soldier or laborer of the commission. The grave mound lay within a rude stockade; and an uninscribed wooden cross, gray and weather-beaten, marked the last resting-place of the unknown and forgotten man beneath, the man who had paid with his humble life the cost of pushing the frontier of civilization into the wild savagery of the wilderness. Farther west the conditions become less healthy. At this station Colonel Rondon received news of sickness and of some deaths among the employees of the commission in the country to the westward, which we were soon to enter. Beriberi and malignant malarial fever were the diseases which claimed the major number of the victims..." (pages 162-163) The expedition loses one man in a drowning, while another is murdered by a despised member of their own party. The murderer was later spotted on a river bank, but a decision was made to abandon him in the wilderness, in lieu of arresting him and conveying him to a judge, which under the circumstances would have been an immense and dangerous burden. Later the descent gets really tough: "...We had been exactly a month going through an uninterrupted succession of rapids. During that month we had come only about one hundred and ten kilometres, and had descended nearly one hundred and fifty metres-the figures are approximate but fairly accurate. We had lost four of the canoes with which we started, and one other, which we had built, and the life of one man; and the life of a dog which by its death had in all probability saved the life of Colonel Rondon. In a straight line northward toward our supposed destination, we had not made more than a mile and a quarter a day; at the cost of bitter toil for most of the party, of much risk for some of the party, and of some risk and some hardship for all the party. Most of the camaradas were downhearted, naturally enough, and occasionally asked one of us if we really believed that we should ever get out alive; and we had to cheer them up as best we could..." (pages 244-245) Eventually the party comes upon some rubber-gatherer's huts, and return to civilization on the main branch of the Amazon. After the successful mapping, the River of Doubt was renamed in Roosevelt's honour.

Ticket To Paradise: A Journey to Find the Australian Colony in Paraguay among Nazis, Mennonites and Japanese Beekeepers, Ben Stubbs, Sydney, 2012.   A 30 year old Australian ventures around Paraguay enquiring after the descendants of William Lane's 'New Australia' movement - a Utopian socialist experiment which had its genesis in the Queensland shearers' strike of the late 1800s. The colony ultimately failed, if compared to other colonies founded by Germans, Japanese and the especially successful Mennonites, though Stubbs digs deep enough to question what one should consider 'successful'. The book's chapters are in two parts: Stubbs' travels, and relevent tracts of historical passages. Stubbs began his investigation after learning his ancestor William Peat was a foreman on the Royal Tar, the sailing ship built in Nambucca Heads, ferrying Australian colonists to Paraguay in several perilous voyages via Cape Horn. Arriving in the capital Asuncion more than a century after the colony was founded - and it only really lasted for around 15 years - initially Stubbs finds little to connect with the migrant Australians; instead he finds a city where smugglers use inflated truck tyres to float contraband-laden cars across the river (p 41). Some background is provided of the devastating War of the Triple Alliance which saw most of Paraguay's menfolk killed in action - and set the stage for that government's offers of free agricultural land to white settlers for a nominal fee. This lack of local men also sowed the seeds of the Australian colonists' demise, because its founder prohibited any mixing with local women, even though the overwhelming majority of the colonists were single men. In the villages formerly occupied by the settlers, he finds perhaps not as much evidence as he hoped, but like all good detectives - he just has to be patient and dig a bit deeper before some surprising stories emerge. Most of them come in the form of candid comments. One gem comes from a descendant named Peter Wood: "Peter is a big guy in his twenties with the light skin of an Australian and the dark brow and stubble of a Latino. He seems to be the sedentary son of a rich man. Australia doesn't run through his veins like it does his father's. 'Life is good here,' he says. 'There are opportunities... but too many people study philosphy or art and then complain about not getting a job. Paraguay needs electricians, agriculturalists - not f***ing philosophers' " (p 92). Yet, one of the most accomplished of the former colonists was one such academic: Leon Cadogan, an accomplished anthropologist and prolific author who strove to understand and assist the native population. Stubbs visits the foundation that bears Cadogan's name and interviews his surviving friends. The subject of Neuva Australia has been covered over the years by a precious few authors, but few have ventured where Stubbs goes: Cerro Lambare, a huge slum centred around a rubbish dump which is home to rag-pickers and poor scavengers. Stubbs meets NGOs who are building houses for the poor of this area of Asuncion: here he discovers, among the squalor, an 'Indian reservation' occupied by the Makka tribe (p97).
The same day he arrives in the village of Nueva Londres - formerly called the 'Nueva Australia' colony - to conduct some research, he hears of the double murder of a wealthy landowner and his wife. The man's surname was Kennedy, and he was a descendant of the original colonists. The murder makes locals suspicious, but Stubbs is still able to uncover some history, albeit more covertly, and the murders are ultimately solved. In Cosme, the other village founded by Lane's followers - because there was a schism which saw the settlers argue and fragment - Stubbs finds a 70 years old member of the Wood clan who carries a gun against bandits and hears of a man called McLeod who fathered 48 children. Stubbs doesn't confine himself to the Australian saga, visiting the sites of five other colonies: the Jesuit missions, and Japanese, German, Ache and Mennonite communities, devoting a chapter to each. He even investigates a cliff face at Ita Letra, near Villarica, which has rock inscriptions claimed by some to be in Viking script, but he finds the markings less than convincing, describing them as 'squiggles' (p 268). In the Mennonite colony of Filadelfia, he finds a prosperous society marked by a type of aparthied, with the white Mennonites owning successful farms and businesses, built on the labours of the first Mennonites, but today kept turning through the work of Paraguayan and Brazilian labourers, who survive at a noticeably lower standard of living, and are officially barred from much of the decion-making processes unless they pass a blood test (pp 282-297). Significantly, towards the end of his travels, a random phone call reminds Stubbs the link between Paraguay and Australia has not completely broken: " I pass the edge of the city and I get a mobile call from Ronnie. 'How ya goin mate?' he asks in his thick Paraguayan accent. It is strangely reassuring to hear from him again. Despite the 118 years that separates us as Australians, our bond is real, and along with the other descendants who have created a life in Paraguay, he has shown me why so many decided to make this place home. (page 299) ". Book contains a number of black and white photographs, some contemporary, others from historical archives.

Timewalk: A Bolivian Journey, Robert Rauch, Mittenwald, 2004. The first thing you notice about this book is its irregular grammar and punctuation - though there are no errors as such, it is obvious it was written by an author whose first language is not English. That said, his literary eccentricities add a 'home made' air to the book, which augments Rauch's philosophy, reiterated throughout the book, of doing things his own way. His story begins with his childhood and adolescence in Mittenwald, Germany, where he learned to mountain-climb in the Karwendel ranges. He tells us he was dishonourably discharged from the German Army after three years, though he doesn't say why. Rauch comes to Sorata, a Bolivian town that is a base for mountain climbers, as part of a European expedition and decides to stay in Sorata and try his luck as a guide. 
The book begins with Rauch's search for the body of a dead British climber near the summit of Illampu, which he locates but is unable to retrieve because he cannot carry the body alone and the family declines to pay for a larger expedition. During this trek, he writes: "I can't remember how many days we've been walking. A strong feeling is taking part of me that I do not have a body but am a body moving forward in no direction. I feel like I am walking in an intensive, colourful dream of another Universe, am completely out of my mind. In spite of my suffering body I am feeling some kind of ease. The legs keep going automatically, without direct order from the brain, following an ancient survival instinct. Without feeling pain, I can completely ignore their aching..." (page 68) 
Rauch decides on a crossing of the Bolivian Andes from Sorata, via 5000m + passes, down to the tropical eastern goldfields, sponsored by German shoemaking company Lowa. He hand selects a team of locals including a man with limited use of one hand due to a mining accident. They cross Quirambaya, the Huila Kota Pass, the Illampu Glacier, and come to some beautiful alpine lakes and the goldmining town of Cocoyo. In this village a small crowd gathers to watch the expeditioners pack. A group of village elders are worried the body of the dead British climber is poisoning their water supply; Rauch goes to great pains to convince them the body is many, many miles away and frozen on a 6000m slope, and poses no contamination threat. Some of the men mention that they heard the British Consulate is offering US$5000 reward for the deceased's head, if it could be delivered in a plastic bag to their La Paz office. Rauch must also debunk that story. Another man comes forward with a different proposition: "The ruin of an old man, a human skin pulled on chattering bones, wants to see me. With a high voice he seems to speak directly from the grave, stinks and is weak - he must be sick. In his left hand he holds a shrivelled chicken that looks like a cancer victim. He wants to sell it to me! I reject it politely but definitely, I am not interested in this deal. After a fruitless discussion with me he is arguing with Pedro who sends him friendlily but emphatically away. Not knowing if he should go or stay he stands face to face with the head of the family, Pedro, for a short time. Finally he throttles up a big white clump of slime, spits it on the earth, then turns around and drags himself away. There is much need and misfortune among people. Life is tough here..." (pages 88-89) . The party then continues to the ruined Inca cities of Marcabepata and Guinapi. Here they dig around and find bronze tools, deformed skulls, and other artefacts, clearing the ruins of overgrowth by burning. Rauch never tells us by whose authority he removes the artefacts, but they cause a few problems - his team are superstitious that the artefacts are cursed. He allays their fears by asking them if they are 'girls or men' and by hanging a cross of garlic above the tent containing the skulls; back in Coyoco he affixes a sign above the tent which reads "Beware, bewitched contents".
The best part of the book is his stay with 70 year old Mrs Yanaguaya in her banana plantation in Kattuaya. He explains to the reader how her world begins and ends in the next village, she cannot grasp the concept of large cities nor, heaven forbid, atomic bombs. Rauch remembers the time he went along to a forest village where there was a first screening of a violent boxing video, and all the village women who watched ran away crying. The final days of the expedition are spent traversing the Camino del Oro to the gold mining town of Chussi, passing traders walking livestock for slaughter to feed the miners, many of whom themselves meet early deaths in accidents.  

To Infinity and Beyond, Stephen E. Holmes, Oxford, 2011.  Just when you think the buzz about Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries has subsided, along comes a British duo bent on re-enacting the ride. Che, if he were resurrected today, would be scratching his head after reading the introduction to this book, which states the author was a former punk rocker in a band who once supported the Boomtown Rats. Well, history is a series of connections, and this one, separated by more than 50 years, the connection is mainly via the bikes and geographic route taken; neither Englishman spoke much Spanish. Yet, what makes their effort serious and somewhat less whimsical than may first appear is the fact they took the time to restore authentic Norton motorbikes; very few examples are still running today. They succesfully completed the route Che and Alberto Granado planned to take, but was never completed by the Argentines, as their bike gave up the ghost very early in the journey; Holmes and his companion Pete Sandford thereafter followed the route Che and Alberto walked and hitch-hiked, guided, at times, by an old 1950s Esso road map Pete sourced on eBay. They stayed, whenever feasible, in the same places Che and Alberto did, even crashing one night in the small Lautaro Fire Station, feted by its volunteer firemen. But, while the Brits endeavoured to re-enact with as much authenticity as possible, the reader will soon realize their journey is done with more than a dash of English humour: Holmes mount is christened Kate Moss in recognition of the way she steals the limelight whenever photographers mill around. And while Guevara's original journal seemed to me a rather deadpan description of travel anecdotes, Holmes' tome exudes a good amount of metaphorical wit, like his taste of barbecued goat's testicle: "a mix of earwax, phlegm and Evo-Stik adhesive with the flavour and smell of a dead skunk" (page 66). Visiting Titicaca's Uros Islands, Holmes waxes lyrical regarding the authenticity of the local handicrafts market, but changes when he witnesses a native woman answer a call on her Nokia. On another occasion, the British pair take lodgings in a rent-by-the-hour establishment; they had to use a pickaxe to break out their bikes when the manager forgot to leave the key to their padlocked enclosure.
There were, however, a few serious moments. One was when they were caught in a sandstorm, which blew dunes across the road; visibility was low and nightfall forced them to abandon the bikes. These and other adventures do demonstrate that, even in the 21st century, such a transcontinental trip is not without its difficulties. And while the ubiquitous epithet Che Lives! has almost become a cliche, here you have an example of two men who lived and breathed like Che - for the duration of their journey, at least.

To the End of the World and Back: a Millennium Adventure, Ian Middleton, Andover, 2001. A young Englishman travels around Patagonia, Bolivia and Peru. An easy read, though somewhat weighted with the minutae of travel details, the book does convey an accurate idea of what backpacking through these countries is like: a bit of history, a bit of politics, a bit of romance, a bit of danger, a bit of humour, a bit of boredom. In Patagonia Middleton describes a field of strange, green, bubble-shaped vegetation that springs back into shape no matted how hard its is squashed (pages 70-1); while at a festival in the Bolivian town of San Juan:“In the distance we could hear the faint sound of music. As the music grew louder, the quality grew worse. It sounded more like a Salvation Army band on acid. Drums were being banged out of time and flutes and whistles sounded like the wailing of cats and that had been staked out in a row while someone ran back and forth across their tails. We rounded a corner to the sight of the town’s Indian residents staggering drunk through the street, coloured streamers tying them together and dangling from their clothing. Flour was splattered over their clothing and faces. Their eyes were sunken and glazed with the effects of so much alcohol coursing through their veins. Their children wandered next to them, literally acting as support.” (pp 204-5)   Near the end of the book Middleton visits Bolivia’s infamous San Pedro prison, guided by a convicted drug dealer called Fernando, who carried a couple of 2ft-long ice picks around for his own protection. Fernando gave this chilling description of crime and punishment within the prison: “ ‘Whenever a rapist enters the prison we know about it,’ said Fernando. ‘The flag goes up, the women and children are removed and the initiation begins. All the inmates fill this area and the rapist is brought in. He is punched, kicked, beaten and thrown to through the crowd and into the swimming pool. Then everyone cheers and taunts as ten of Bolivia’s hottest chilli peppers are shoved one by one up his arse. He is then beaten again and sent to work in the kitchen for six months. Chances are he won’t rape again.’ He went on to explain that if the rape had been severely bloody or had been on a child, then the guy wouldn’t even make it to the swimming pool. He would disappear into an angry crown. When the crowd dispersed a limp, lifeless body with many knives sticking out of it would be the only thing remaining.’ ” (page 272).

To the Heart of the Amazon: Journey of a Lifetime, Valerie Meikle, Dublin, 2004. When personal tragedy strikes, some people stop, moribund in their tracks; others lift themselves and enjoy their lives, thankful for the opportunity to be able to do so. London-born Valerie Meikle is of the latter kind. At a young age she lost a kidney. Marrying a Colombian in 1958 she then moved to Bogota, where she had two children. Separated a few years later, she continued to live in Colombia. In 1985 her 24 year old daughter and son-in-law died in the town of Armero when the Ruiz volcano exploded, along with 20,000 Colombians. A few months later she met her soul mate, Miguel, with whom she made the 1500km descent of the Putamayo River. But first they lived more than four years among the Indians in southern Colombia, ultimately settling with the Secoya tribe. When Valerie and Miguel announced their plans to paddle downstream, an elderly couple who had befriended them became indignant, seeing their departure as an insult. "Martina and Lucas, the abuelos, had tried to dissuade us from the idea of the journey right from the beginning. They warned us of all the dangers we could meet on the way. They did not want us to leave and when they saw that our intentions were not daunted by their admonitions they began to show signs of resentment. This turned to blatant hostility when they realized we were definitely leaving them..." (page 19). But they set off nonetheless, in a dugout canoe, from the village of San Berlin on the Yarica river, with the goal or reaching San Antonio do Ica on the Amazon - some 1500kms downstream. Not all readers will share Meikle's faith in things esoteric, though it makes interesting reading: on page 95 Meikle describes a curious blessing by a 17 year old mystic who called herself 'Snow White' on page 106 she describes the treatment of snakebite with a magical stone imported from Africa; on page 182 she writes of consulting her 'spiritual guides' to communicate with her through dreams. Later, when a tropical ulcer develops on her leg, she seeks treatment from a shaman who blows tobacco smoke on her and applies motor oil mixed with sulphur; another prescribes powdered snail shell. Meikle weaves shamanism, yoga, I Ching, the testament of Job and Reiki healing into her narrative. She loves the jungle and all it has to offer. But she does not portray it as a paradise: on page 136 she describes how mafia-type coca buyers exploited the people, who under threat of death. The locals sought protection by allowing some guerrillas to live among them, but the guerrillas ate all their food and ran off when the Army came. Some of the book is concerned with the misbeavviour of Colombian conscripts in the jungle, who swamp the small canoes with the wake of their powerful outboards. Tellingly, Meikle inlcudes this chilling passage: Kike talked about his life and especially about his training at military school. We were horrified by his description of how the soldiers were trained to lose their fear of killing. 
"First of all" Kike explained, "we were given a dog - a puppy - which accompanied us everywhere at all times. We had to share our bed and even our meals with our dog. We had to share our bed and even our meals with our dog. Then after three or four months of companionship, when we had become the best of friends, we were made to kill it, rip it apart, smother ourselves with its blood and even to bite parts like the heart or entrails."
He showed us photos of this macabre act: all the soldiers covered in blood and he himself licking a skinned and bloody dog.
"In another part of our training they make us enter a morgue and bite pieces off a corpse..." (page 60)
 On another page she describes a giant manta ray that caused a whirlpool to form and an embankment to collapse, threatening to sweep away their canoe. It was scared away by smashing two glass bottles above the water.

Trail of Feathers: in Search of the Birdmen of Peru, Tahir Shah, London, 2001. When I was in Iquitos, where part of the book is set, I went fishing with Richard Fowler, a major character in this book. Although it has a scholarly-looking bibliography at the end, Fowler described it as "a shaggy dog book, a mixture of fiction and non-fiction." While Fowler's photograph and true name appears, many other characters appear under pseudonyms. Maybe parts of it were fiction, or maybe Shah was being diplomatic because the truth hurts. Whatever, Trail of Feathers is a worthwhile read. Shah sees nearly all of Peru, from the deserts of Nazca to Andean Cuzco to the Amazon region researching his theory that the ancient Peruvians could fly. The book contains a lot of scientific information about hallucinatory plants and anthropology. Shah tells us early on he has a penchant for shrunken heads. Visiting a grave site near Nazca, he describes this scene: "Climbing over the top of the hill was like emerging from the trenches into no man's land. The scene was one of unimaginable devastation. Not even a Calcutta body dump could compare. There were human remains everywhere. Mummified bodies, recently hacked from their graves, their skin leathery, yet preserved. The plateau was pitted with thousands of tombs; their sides had fallen in, their contents either stolen or strewn about. The bleached-white bones were too numerous to count. They shone in the sunlight, the last remains of an ancient people, forsaken by their ancestors. I saw ribs sticking up out of the sand, femurs and jaws, the mummified spine of a child, and skulls - thousands of them, many with their hair still attached. Dozens had been deformed; others had been trepanned." (page 71)

The Trail to Titicaca: a Journey through South America, Rupert Attlee, Chichester UK 1999 . The story of three young Brits who bicycled from Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego to Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca, a distance of more than 6000 miles. The trip took the best part of a year, and the expedition almost failed several times, due to such mishaps as altitude sickness, mechanical breakdowns and, once, internal bickering. The latter problem was solved when a local newspaper compared the trio to the Three Musketeers and, so inspired, they decided they should remain 'one for all'. Along the way they experience mixed welcomes from the Argentines who bitterly remember the Falklands War, though the worst reception was from a drunk policeman in Tupiza, Bolivia, (claiming to be the grandson of one of the posse who killed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) who in a drunken rage shot a hole through the roof of the bar and then demanded their passports (pages 254-255). In Cochabamba they misplace their money belt and have to enter some extorsionate negotiations to secure its return. While cycling through the desert near the shrine of Difunta Correa in San Augustin, they come across their own minor miracle: " deep in cacti country, cacti of all shapes and sizes - round pin cushions, fifteen foot tridents and swaying tentacles - scattered threatening thorns across our path. Progress was intermittent as we received eleven punctures between us. As I was bent over yet another puncture, I was nudged in the back of the legs. I swore and turned to tell Mike or David I was not in the mood for games. I was in for a surprise; the culprit was a baby donkey. She seemed to be looking for affection, for as she stared up with big sad eyes, she nuzzled her nose against my chest. I did not feel like and returned to the tyre. I heard a plaintive whine but chose to ignore it. When I was at last on the road again, I turned and saw her with her head bowed and back turned. Just over the rise of the hill, I swerved to avoid a dark, rounded object. It was the dead mother of the baby donkey. I felt pangs of guilt and cycled back. I could hardly fit her into one of the panniers, so I decided to wait for a truck to pass. We sat in each other's company for one hour before Mike and David returned worried I was in trouble. For a further hour, we all comforted our distressed orphan, before a kindly truck driver agreed to take her away..." (page 200).
The Epilogue contains an interesting set of questions and answers by the three men about how they view the expedition 5 years later.

Travelling With Che Guevara: the Making of a Revolutionary, Alberto Granado, translated by Lucia Alvarez de Toledo, London, 2003. You should keep several things in mind when you read this diary, written by the friend of Che who accompanied him on the infamous 7-month 1952 motorcycle odyssey. One is that it was first published in Spanish in 1978, 26 years after the journey, and more than a decade after Che's execution; it took half a century for an English version to appear. It is known that Che's diary was a rewritten work, leaving it open to the allegation that it was an instrument of propaganda. The reader, however, will soon recognise in Alberto's diary the original boyish adventure has not been underplayed, nor is the political element overtly pushed; whatever re-writing went on does not lessen the value of the diary as both an entertaining narrative and historical chronicle. I would also add that by their very nature, almost all travelogues carry some political bias. Somewhat confusingly, Alberto refers to Che by different nicknames in the book, including 'Pelao' and 'Fuser'. From the outset the difference between Che and Alberto's personalities becomes obvious. Che is the bolder one, never afraid to speak his mind, even when facing arrest in Bogota, though he is not necessarily the leader, giving Alberto respect for his seniority. Alberto comes across as the polite but shrewd half, concerned with social correctness, but at the same time having the adventure of a lifetime: their spills and thrills with the Triumph motorcycle, their stowing away aboard a Chilean ship (where the crew have the last laugh when it came to assigning unpleasant chores), their rafting of the Amazon, Alberto's bloody encounter with a hungry piranha, monkey-hunting with poison darts, their exploration of museums, ancient ruins, mines, flop-houses and remote villages. On page 24 he tells of a fellow vagabond who wanders into their camp and warns them of a thief who might rob them of their bike, clothes and money, himself asking about their bike, saddlebags and leather jackets. Che at this moment pulls his pistol out and shoots at a nearby duck, roaring with laughter as the interloper bades them a hasty farewell. Alberto waxes about the people who take pity on the penniless, dishevelled doctors, and pours a little vitriol on those who don't. When a woman who gives them shelter while her husband is away, and Che shoots her pet dog dead in the belief it was a puma, the reader is left wondering what vitriol was poured upon the Argentine pair themselves by some of their benefactors. In one chapter, we read of chronic-asthmatic Che's suffering: "...Suddenly I was woken by moans. I lit a match and the sight of Ernesto made me leap to my feet. He looked as if he were in the throes of an attack of tetanus. His whole body was arched off the ground, supported only by his neck and heels, and his mouth and face were contracted. These signs, known as opisthotonos and trismus, are characteristic of tetanus..." (page 102) Alberto was a qualified doctor, (Che at that time was still studying medicine) and regularly injected Che with adrenaline, and Che never succumbs to the handicap. The best part of this book is the compassion that the men show to the lepers. They volunteer to help at clinics and hospitals, and the help is appreciated: "...At the end of our visit some of the patients got together to show us their artistic talents. Among them was a remarkable trio, who played a kind of single-stringed violin they had made themselves..." (page 107) The pair are critical of the Peruvian policy of letting lepers live with their children, risking transmission, and the Colombian policy of allowing lepers to roam the streets seeking private treatment. Their outspoken criticism among fellow specialists won some friends, but alienated others. Throughout the book, Alberto hints his political views, highlighting the at times inhumane exploitation of the peasants and labourers: in Baquedano, Chile, they are given shelter by a destitute miner and his wife who lived in fear of his life, as he had been accused of being a communist and some of his comrades had been murdered by being 'weighted down and sunk in the ocean'. "... Everywhere we saw how Indians are exploited by whites.." says Granado on page 90, offering numerous examples, but then writes this rather contrary paragraph: "...An hour later we spied a house and, despite our store of victuals, seeing a cassava patch made us think how good some barbequed cassava would be... I now faced another [difficulty]: how to make myself understood to the Indian woman whose cassava it was. After several frustrating attempts I opted for a practical way out. I filled a basket with several cassavas worth about two soles and, being quite Peruvianised by now, I offered her thirty cents. She refused. I upped it to half a sol. Reading her silence as an assent, I shouldered the basket. I emptied it and we continued on..." (page 162.)

Travels in a Thin Country: a Journey through Chile, Sara Wheeler, New York, 1995. Wheeler travels from north to south in this light and engaging travelogue. It also contains a lot of historical anecdotes. She has to fend off amorous overtures from more than one man along the way - not all of whom are Chilean. Much of her travel was done by bus:
"...The sound tracks of the US films shown on the bus were so poor that we couldn't tell if they were dubbed or not. The vehicle smelt of turpentine (this turned out to be a woman behind us eating mangoes). I managed to sleep, but James didn't, and he was in a very bad mood when we arrived, shortly after dawn, at La Serena, an affluent colonial town at the mouth of the Elqui valley. We almost immediately caught a collectivo up the valley to a village called Vicuna, where we checked in to a 'hotel' with the Tolstoyan name of Yasna. Our room was made entirely of hardboard, the bathroom locked on the outside and we had to unscrew the bulb to turn the light off. In addition, a chalked board of bar prices was propped against the doorframe, and early in the evening a drunk veered in demanding a glass of wine...(page 61)

Travels in Brazil, Henry Koster, London, 1816. A true classic, and deservedly so Koster's book has been reprinted recently (albeit in an abridged edition). I read the first edition in two afternoons in the Mitchell Library. Koster was of British-Potuguese parents, grew up in Portugal, then relocated to the arid northeast of Brazil to recuperate from a respiratory illness, staying several years. His observations about social customs and the state of Brazil are interspersed with notes about geography, agriculture, botany and zoology. There are numerous notes on the business of 'sugar boiling' and rum distillation, and he offers informed opinions regarding the cruel trade of slavery which, nearly 200 years later, seem most prophetic. African black magic, priests who wander the backlands on horseback, runaway slaves, the press-ganged Army, marriage customs - in each case, he offers one or more anecdotes to support his opinions, such as this one regarding the punishment of a female slave: "...The following occurrences took place upon the estate of a wealthy planter to the South of Recife, and the anecdote was related by the owner of the plantation himself. A negro complained to his master of the infidelity of his wife; she was immediately questioned; and other enquiries being made, and the truth of the statement respecting her conduct being proved, she was tied to a post and flogged. Her husband was present, and at first he rather received the pleasure from the sight of her sufferings; but he soon stopped the driver's hand, and going to his master, begged him to order her to be unbound, and that he would pardon her, for he added "If there are to be so many men, and so small a number of women upon the estate, how is it to be expected that the latter are to be faithfull..." (page 414)

Travels in South America, From the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, Paul Marcoy, London 1875. I have only had the opportunity to read the first volume of this two-volume chronicle, translated from Marcoy's original French account by Elihu Rich, which I chanced upon in photocopied form a library in Peru. (Marcoy was not his real name, but a pen-name used by Laurence St. Criq). But the first volume's 523 pages and hundreds of interesting engravings have ensured I will read Volume II whenever I can get a hold of a copy! Especially since I don't yet know who won a certain wager entered into a century and a half ago: Marcoy begins his tale in the southern Peru coastal town of Ilay, where he accepts the proposed bet by the captain of the Vicar of Bray as to who will first arrive at Belem, the mouth of the Amazon. Marcoy is to travel by mule and the Amazon tributaries; the Vicar of Bray is to sail around Cape Horn. Marcoy's route passes through arid deserts, thorn and cactus country, snowy passes, mountain trails too narrow for mules, and Amazonian jungle regions. Marcoy frequently alludes his precarious situations with similes from classical literature, and the modern reader will be hard pressed to recognise most of them, though they do add a romantic counterbalance to the dangerous situations he often finds himself in. The many illustrations are of real ethnographic worth - among the drawings of native and colonial costumes are those of buildings and ruins; on page 68 is a haunting illustration of the interior of a chulpa funerary tower. Marcoy's interview with Don Juan Pablo Cabrera, a priest and llama breeder who, nearing the end of his life and cared for by his elderly sisters, runs to several pages but is exceedingly poignant. The author's stay at La Lechuza, the hacienda of a woman who refuses to show her face, is almost mystical; their polite and intelligent conversations are conducted over several days through her maid or from behind a venetian blind. When she requests Marcoy to sketch a flower, he proposes that she allow him to lay eyes upon her, but the mysterious Senora declines. After leaving the hacienda he learns the truth from one of his muleteers: the woman was a nun, who, dying of a untreatable malady was saved from death's door by a French physician, who then fell in love with her. She faked her own death in a convent fire to live in sin with the doctor, but after living with him for some years was abandoned, and thus shamed, was obliged to live in alone on a country hacienda. Several pages are devoted to Cusco, with informative drawings of dog catchers, bull fights, and residents sliding down the natural stone slides at Sacsayhuaman. From the village of Echarati onwards Marcoy is joined by French Count de la Blanche-Epine, journeying through South America as a naturalist, though Marcoy cannot help but ascribe many sarcastic comments about the Count's adaptability to rough travelling. On page 416 Marcoy describes a tribe whose dogs were coloured blue and purple with vegetable dye. At almost every turn there are bandits and thieves; when they are descending some rapids the expedition loses its spiritual leader Father Bobo: "...While we were quietly admiring the fine contrasts of colour which at this spot distinguished the landscape, lighted up, so to speak, with a sinister effect by the whiteness of the water, we saw the canoe of the Peruvian commission slacken its course, then stop and turn upon itself, as if it were hesitating between several opposing currents. But immediately yielding to the most violent of them, it darted away like an arrow, describing in its course a curve which brought it near the shore. The situation appeared to us a critical one, but we did not understand its extreme gravity, until we saw the savages avail themselves of the momentary approach of their vessel to the shore to throw themselves into the water and swim to the bank. Following their example, the captain of the frigate and his lieutenant also sprang into the water and saved themselves. Left alone, the poor old chaplain rose to his feet, extended his arms, and appeared as if he meant to follow his companions; but his failing strength betrayed him, and he fell back into the canoe, which the current bore along into the midst of the rapid, where, overwhelmed by the waves, it instantly disappeared..." (page 442) Despite an extensive search, his body was never found: "Instead of the Christian burial which we had destined for our unfortunate chaplain -whom the assistant-naturalist, with that pitiless badinage of the gamin of Paris, who respects nothing, compared Jonah in the whale's belly - the poor old priest had no other tomb than the stomachs of the fishes..." (pages 444-5) there is an engraving of Father Bobo, arms raised in a capsizing canoe on the same page. Volume one ends at the village of Paruitcha.

Travels With My Father, A South American Journey, Daniel and Feliks Topolski, London, 1983. Although Feliks Topolski contributed some paragraphs and several sketches to this book, the majority of the book is by his son Daniel. The book compliments a British film shot in several countries in several stages. Daniel was in his mid 30s, Feliks in his 70s, and could not keep up with his son most of the time. Daniel travelled by boat, plane, bus, truck and train. Daniel explains his concept of the book: "...Laura, an Oxford graduate, was British through and through and had been nine months on the road. She scolded us for travelling too fast and doubted that we had sufficient grasp of Spanish to make any valid observations about South America. How could we possibly make judgements and write a book on such scant experience? I protested that we were recording experiences and conversations, things that happened to us as we travelled, and that those, with pictures too, would serve to tell our patchwork story. Our book was not intended to be an authoritative work..." (page 95). The reader will soon recognise this aim is achieved. While there are one or two attempts at social analysis, which are very interesting, mainly the book is a series of on the spot impressions, and conversations with people he meets in bars, on the street, and in busses. He confesses he strolls Brazilian streets at night with a packet of cigarettes, even though he didn't smoke, because as nearly everyone stopped and asked him for one, so the cigarettes proved a useful aid to starting conversations with the locals. In Asuncion he is caught up in the chaos of spontaneous arrests following the assassination of Somoza, and shares a jail cell with Julio Carbone, whose car was hijacked by the assassins. Later he is arrested again in Popayan, Colombia, but is released only to record the following encounter: "... Next morning I went to photograph the old town. As I loaded a roll of film near the bridge, two policemen approached and decided to search me. I turned out my pockets and emptied my shoulder bag. They wanted to open up the film cassettes too. One took a shine to my sheath knife and pocketed it; he laughed when I asked for it back. They were rude and rough, and enjoyed my visibly mounting anger. I took out my letters of 'safe passage' from the embassies and, for a change, these had a dramatic effect. Their faces fell, and they hurriedly repacked my ransacked bag. Sheepishly, the light-fingered one returned my knife, and when I suggested that I take a photograph of them to commemorate the occasion, they declined with nervous ingratiating smiles, saying that time was short and they had to get on, Then they scuttled off..." (page 162). Daniel records in some detail his amorous trysts with prostitutes and transvestites and his observations of public bacchanalia during Rio's Carnaval.

The Treasure Hunter, Robin Moore and Howard Jennings, London, 1974. Moore wrote these great non-fiction short stories along with his friend Howard, who was the treasure hunter, demonstrating that there is still plenty of treasure to be found, for those willing to take a risk. This is what happened when they went looking on Roatan: 
I handed the detector to him and he swept the area. The pattern cam in large and strong once again. Without a word, we both manned the shovels. Robin hit it first. The blade of his tool struck against metal and he dropped face first into the hole. Brushing away the dirt, he exposed about three square inches of flat metal. Within seconds we had dug out the area around the chest... With the lid removed we could see the gleam of gold among the blackened silver coins that half filled the box. It was an incredible moment for us..." (page 82) 

These stories were written before the advent of metal detectors that differentiate between gold and other metals.. think what you could do now with the right equipment! The stories are set in the Caribbean and Andes, over several years. Moore portrays Jennings in a 1960s James Bond style.

Tschiffely's Ride, A. F. Tschiffely, London, 1952. If you are looking for a gift for a horse lover, this classic long-rider-reader would be a good choice. In 1925 Aime Tschiffely rode two Patagonian Creole horses, Mancha and Gato, from Buenos Aires on a journey that would last two and half years, taking the trio 10,000 hard-won miles, all the way to New York. The story begins with Tschiffely choosing unorthodox mounts - Mancha and Gato were purchased from an Indian Chief in Patagonia, driven the 1000 miles or so north to Buenos Aires, then broken in at a very late age - 18 and 16 respectively. Undeterred by predictions of failure, he sets off alone. Tschiffely soon encounters all sorts of hazards, from hostile locals, to locust plagues, raging rivers, snow-covered passes, and the 'Matacaballo Desert' ('Horse-killer' Desert, where it is 100 miles between water supplies). The entire route was covered without mechanical assistance, save a few stretches where they went by boat: from Colombia to Panama, avoiding the Darien Gap, and Costa Rica to San Salvador, avoiding Nicaragua which was politically unstable, travelling on board the SS City of San Francisco , the horses cared for by a former US Cavalry officer. In the north of Argentina the horses have to wear leather guardamontes to guard them from thorn bushes; glare and wind in the altiplano obliges Tcshiffely to wear a balaclava and goggles. He accompanies a huaquero in searching for buried treasure, and includes a photograph of the looter holding a skull. Tschiffely suffers a mysterious infection with sores breaking out all over his body; after being told by a doctor he must return to Buenos Aires, he consults a native herb doctor who cures him. In Oruro he leaves his horses in the public corral. When he returned he find two local youths tormenting his beloved horses with a walking stick: "...I introduced myself to these caballeros in language that suited the occasion, whereupon one told me that he merely wished to see if the animals had a good gallop. I recommended both of them to go to a certain place, or at least to do me the favour of leaving the corral I had hired. One of them protested, and added that he considered these horses to be public property, and that he could do as he liked in his town, and then he turned and hit one of the frightened horses once more. I fully realise that every dog is entitled to bark in his own kennel, but it is out of place for a puppy to try to bark like a dog, and had that caballero carried this in mind, he would have saved himself a sound beating and being rolled in the filth of the corral. Before disappearing he swore that he would have me prosecuted for so vile and brutal an offence against the dignity of a Bolivian gentleman, but that was the last I heard and saw of him..." (page 73) On page 84, in a village near Lake Titicaca, he describes how a 12 year old Indian girl suffers a moral outrage at the hands of a local authority, who perpetrated the crime when she came to bring food to her parents whom he had previously jailed; Tschiffely wrote it was an occurrence which " I was powerless to prevent: it would have been as much as my life was worth to interfere..." In one section Tschiffely describes the effects of 'marihuana', which has in his opinion, along with mescal and tequila, 'caused a great deal of degeneration in Mexico' (page 260). Although Tschiffely abhors cruelty to animals and humans alike, some of his deeds would not be considered politically correct these days. The following passage, written in the Paita Valley of Colombia, is illuminating: "...Lepers are numerous, and I shall never forget an elderly negro who crawled out of his hut, his face blotched with disease. This ape-like being came right up to me and held out his hand, begging for money. He even touched one of my horses, and I took the precaution of disinfecting the animal thoroughly when I came to water. Near here occurred an incident that obliged me to shoot in self defence. 
A group of drunken negroes and mulattoes came staggering along the trail, making a great noise as they approached us. Upon seeing Mancha -whose mottled colour is unknown in those regions -the tallest and noisiest of the ragged rascals yelled, "That horse is mine, the cursed gringo stole him from me!" With this he made a wild rush towards us, but some of his companions caught hold of him and held him back. Struggling loose, the infuriated one became even more menacing, and, drawing his machete from its sheath, he shouted, "The gringo of hell will never get away with my horse, I'm going to kill him!" Once more the drunkard rushed forward, and although I raised a hand, warning him to stop, he came at me, wildly slashing the air with his formidable blade. By this time I had drawn my .45 revolver, but even this failed to impress my assailant, so when he was within four or five paces from me, I fired two shots in rapid succession, causing the man to fall to the ground like a felled ox. Whilst Victor held the horses who were frightened by the scuffle and noise, the group of drunken men made off as fast as they could, leaving their companion where he had fallen. Fearing reprisals, I did not waste time in examining the victim of his own stupidity, but, instead, mounted and hurried away..." (pages 165-166) 
Tschiffely checks on the man the next day, finds him alive but dying, and a confession by the assailant absolves Tschiffely of any fault. Tschiffely rides off 'to more agreeable surroundings'. In Chiriqui, Panama, he describes how the white people copied the Indians in the strange custom of filing their teeth to sharp points. Also in Panama, near the border with Costa Rica, he went on a shooting expedition: "...When I had a good chance I fired several shots in quick succession. I heard two or three heavy thuds and knew that some of my shots had taken effect. One monkey had been badly wounded and remained hanging high up on a branch. My second shot made him fall again, but once more he caught hold of another branch below. Thus in stages the poor animal fell lower and lower, until it finally hit the ground heavily near us. I rushed up to give it the coup de grace with my machete, but upon seeing that it was a mother monkey with a baby hanging on her back, I hesitated. Both looked at me in terror, and I felt ashamed of the crime I had committed. Presently the baby monkey let go its dying mother and climbed some ten feet up a creeper where it started to howl and lament like a human being. The mother monkey looked at me and then at her young one, all the time moaning and gasping for breath. I could no longer stand this terrible sight, and to finish this pitiful scene I stepped forward and with a sharp blow put the poor animal out of misery. I shall never forget the expression of terror in her eyes and the way she held up her hands to protect herself against the death-blow..." (page 197) An outstanding feature of this book is the ease with which the reader can imagine himself in the saddle; with the exception of the passage describing Tschiffely's visit to a Lima opium den, he never dwells too long on one subject and the story moves along very comfortably. The further he progressed northwards, the more his fame grew ahead of him. In one village a brass band turns out to welcome him, and Tschiffely relates how the drummer was blind, the piccolo player had a wooden leg, and how the group as a whole struggled to march in time. For part of the way, Tschiffely employs a young street-kid as an assistant. Black and white photographs dispersed in the appropriate chapters add a nostalgic feeling to the book, written in an age when horse travel, at least in the USA, was drawing to a close. The reader cannot help but feel a growing affinity with the two horses, especially when Tschiffely is faced with euthanizing Gato in Mexico because his knee had a terrible abscess that refused to heal. Instead he sends Gato ahead to Mexico City, literally carrying him to a railway boxcar, certain he will never see him again. But Gato recuperates, and the trio enter the United States; roads where speeding motorists play 'chicken' or throw bottles at him are now the greatest hazards. Mancha gets rubber horse-shoes to stop him slipping on sealed roadways. In West Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, a man deliberately drove at Mancha, and knocked him over, severely injuring him. The hit and run driver waved and honked his horn before speeding off. The story doesn't end with Tschiffely's triumphant arrival at Washington: a meeting with President Coolidge, an official reception in New York, and lectures that drew 5000 people fill the final pages. The 1952 edition contains a touching postscript about how the horses were returned to Buenos Aires, and how his friend Robert Cunninghame Graham, dying from pneumonia, saw them from his hotel window. The postscript tells the circumstances of how Gato, then Mancha, died at the ages of 35 and 40, and includes a photograph of their tombs on the Cardal Ranch in Argentina.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, Mark Adams, New York, 2011. For any visitor to Machu Picchu, in 2007 voted one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, or its adjacent Inca Trail, this tome would make informative reading. Not really a pure travelogue, whole chapters are dedicated to Inca history and Hiram Bingham's Andean peregrinations in the early 20th Century. Intermittently, Adams adds his own recent explorations, in the company of legendary Australian guide John Leivers, whom he favourably compares both in appearance and stature with Bingham himself (and, when he visits Adams in New York, Crocodile Dundee). Adams has done enough homework to keep the story moving at a comfortable pace - there are some good maps, a timeline, a useful glossary and bibliography listing most of the standard texts. It seems that while Bingham was off-course in his notion of what Machu Picchu ruins stood for (Bingham erroneously believed MP was the bastion of Manco Inca, the rebel, post-Conquest Inca king; that site was identified at Vilcabamba, but not until some half a century later), the consensus now is MP was built by Pachacuti around the second half of the 1400s.
After talking to experts like Paolo Greer and Johan Reinhard, Adams discusses emerging evidence Machu Picchu was Pachacuti's Royal musoleum, and may have been home to a golden statue above his crypt. Solar alignments and sacred mountains that lie in the four cardinal directions hint at why Machu Picchu was built where it was - on a rare, almost complete loop of the Urubamba River; indeed he concludes, from the Inca world-view, it could not have been built anywhere else. To his credit, Adams pays no heed to the New Age bunkum-believers who flock to the Intihuatana rock:
"Today the rock seemed to be operating as a magnet, pulling toward it the dozen or so mystical tourists who hadn't left with the rain.
"Watch this," John said. "Their guide's going to tell them to hold out their hands to feel the cosmic energy emanating from the rock."
Several sets of hands reached out toward the Intihuatana. After a second or two, the mystics turned towards each other excitedly.
"I feel warmth," said one.
"Me too," said another.
"It's a rock that sits in the sun all day," John said, loud enough to be heard in Cusco. "Of course it feels warm." (p189.)

Adams paints a picture of the ruined city that is clearer for the layman than it was only a few decades ago, but also concedes there are many facets of Machu Picchu that will remain a mystery forever. He also hints there are other lost ruins in the area just waiting to be found.

Two Against Cape Horn, Hal Roth, New York, 1978. A maritime travelogue set among the backwaters of the Chilean islands around Cape Horn. Roth and his wife set out in a small fibreglass yacht, the Whisper, anticipating a scenic cruise through protected channels in the summer months. But it ended up being a stormy passage that nearly cost them their lives. Beginning in San Diego, California, they sail for the Galapagos before heading down the coast of Peru and Chile. In all they visit 97 anchorages and cover more than 2400 miles in the Cape area. At the seaside market at Angelmo, on the Chilean island of Chiloe, he notes time appeared to have stood still: " The workboats had no engines, no lights, no compasses - nothing complicated to get out of order. The idea was to move cargo at low cost. Sails, oars and the skills of sailors were quite enough. I had the feeling that this commerce had gone on for ages and would continue long after automobiles, airplanes, and atomic bombs were forgotten. Indeed except for an occasional piece of synthetic line there was nothing of the twentieth century on the vessels at all." (page 63) At Puerto Aguirre, they received a strange visitor in the form of a couple in a half-submerged canoe who row out to enquire if they have any French perfume for sale. The woman, who seemed to be in charge of the man, had a baby with her and implied great profits were to be had if they could supply her with perfume, before rowing back quite disappointed. Roth intersperses his own narrative with harrowing tales of shipwreck, desertions and disappearances that mark the history of the cape, and the sad history of the native people, now all but wiped out (Roth adds a Cape Horn bibliography that lists 41 other books). The further south the Roths sail, the more apparent the Whisper's small 35ft size becomes, as she battles contrary winds, waves and currents. Nearing the Horn, they take on board another couple who were supposed to film the action. But the weather turned bad, and the photographer lost his nerve and became a complete zombie. Several times two anchors were not enough to hold her; in one squall the craft is shipwrecked on an uninhabited isle. Luckily they salvage enough food and water to row to a more protected island, where they are rescued by a Chilean Navy patrol after a week. The Chilean Navy salvage the boat and offer to repair it free of charge, much to Roth's relief, as the boat represented his entire worldly assets. After much improvisation and jerry-rigging, and becoming Chilean media celebrities, they are able to complete their voyage. The book is lavishly illustrated with colour photographs and beautifully detailed maps. My only complaint is that Roth did not expand the book to include his stopovers in the Galapagos, Lima, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife and Bermuda, as indicated on his sail chart. All we hear is that off the coast of Peru he had to fire two warning shots over the head of pirates who came alongside and demanded whiskey and cigarettes.

Up the Creek, John Harrison, UK, 1986. Done with nothing more than a desire to succeed, this book tells of the formidable barriers to be overcome even for the best-prepared canoe expeditions of today. Photographs used early in the book are replaced by Harrison's companion's excellent hand-drawn illustrations after his camera was dunked in the river. When he arrives at Molocopote, on the upper reaches of the Jari, he talks with a team of geologists who had dug up an Indian grave and discovered the following... "He stressed that it was not grave robbing, but more in the nature of an archaeological dig! One skull was not buried, however. He chose to hang it from a post of the hut. He found that the Indians were buried with a strange assortment of prized possessions: a hammock, a tube of Colgate toothpaste, shotgun cartridges, pots, pans, and an empty Coca-Cola bottle. He was also interested that they had been killed with shotguns rather than bow and arrow."(page 109)

Vagabond Fever, A Gay Journey in the Land of the Andes, Karl Eskelund, New York, 1954. In the 1950s, when the book's subtitle was conceived, 'gay' had a different meaning. Even so, the word seems a little out of place as an adjective for a trip that included so many misadventures and discomforts. The author is a Danish news correspondent. The first chapters of the book relate to his bad luck trying to make a living as a novelist in Guatemala and their somewhat Spartan lifestyle living beside Lake Atitlan. He and his Chinese wife Chi-yun hit upon the idea of traversing the Andes to get fodder for this volume. Leaving their young daughter behind, the Eskelund's route took them from Guatemala to Panama, then to Barranquilla, up the Magadalena by paddle-steamer, thence overland into Ecuador, where they describe meeting natives and foreigners 'gone native' alike. Then they continue to Peru, Bolivia and Chile. In Ecuador's Oriente they trek for twenty miles in the jungle to visit a Danish couple who had quit Copenhagen to set up a small farm among a headhunting tribe. Eskelund devotes a chapter to shrunken heads, describing a flourishing 'industry' in the ghastly souvenirs. He even purchases a 'matched set' of father, mother and child shrunken heads, as a gift for his young daughter, and there is a photograph of them in the book. On board the Magdalena paddle steamer, a dance is held. Eskelund says of the female participants: "...Some of the girls smoked as they shuffled around. Their lips must have been honey-sweet: Colombian cigarettes are rolled in paper which has been dipped in a sugar solution. It was interesting to watch them, for whenever they took a puff they would put the burning end of the cigarette into their mouths! Many uneducated Latin women smoke in this way..." (page 70) The book is written in an anecdotal style that rewards the reader with its swiftness at getting to the point, but one wonders if something is lost in Eskelund's haste to tell a good story - he relates this strange tale, allegedly occurring in the Colombian jungle near the Venezuelan border, without revealing his source: "...Some years ago two children - a boy and a girl - were captured by an oil expedition. As far as could be judged they were eight or nine years old. They were stark naked and bit and scratched like wildcats until they were put into a wooden box. Their language consisted of hoarse, animal-like sounds. There was an airstrip close by, and they were to be flown to the capital next morning; but when the box was opened, both children were dead - they had bitten through their own arteries at the wrists..." (page 71) A somewhat more plausible passage can be found in Chapter 17, where Eskelund writes of the conditions the guano-shovellers working on Chincha Island, who, although they earn less than 40 US cents a day, must register in a waiting list for a job.

Valverde's Gold: In Search of the Last Great Inca Treasure, Mark Honigsbaum, New York, 2004. The size, location and very existence of lost Inca treasure has haunted men for nearly 500 years. Of particular interest is the legend of a convoy of gold and silver that was en route to pay a ransom for Atahualpa, the Inca King, but news of his execution rang out before delivery. Honigsbaum quotes the respected chronicles of Cieza de Leon, dating from just three years after the Spanish Conquest, which seem to confirm the legend. Then he takes the reader on chase through a maze of secret maps, cryptic hieroglyphics, coded letters and mysterious archives that always seem to have a crucial page torn out. Honigsbaum, a respected journalist, has his interest piqued while researching a book about malaria, in particular Richard Spruce's contribution to finding quinine in the forests of Ecuador. Tracking down Spruce's memoirs, he finds tantalizing references to a fabled treasure trove. Further investigations among some eccentric fellow treasure-hunters, geologists and historians throw up more, though often contradictory clues, involving corrupt clergy, avaricious sailors, greedy bankers and deluded adventurers: "...All Moreno would tell me is that he had once shared his findings with a colonel in the Ecuadorian Army. The colonel was a cartographer and radar expert, practised at reading the topography and hydrology of the Andes. Together he and Moreno had identified the mountain where Atahualpa lay buried and had planned an expedition to it. But on the eve of their departure the colonel had suffered a heart attack and died. The next thing Moreno knew the colonel's widow had disappeared, taking the precious documents from Seville with her..." (page 170) Mindful of John Hemming's opinion that the 'lost treasure' story is a myth, Honigsbaum becomes trapped in a whirlpool of intrigue, and the reader will get sucked along too. The rugged, inhospitable mountains where the gold is said to lie is cursed by all who have tried to explore it as a nightmare - many expeditions have a fatal finale. Nevertheless Honigsbaum participates in two expeditions to these mountains, the final of which is an arduous trek that crosses the entire Llanganati ranges. Although he returns empty handed, he draws some interesting conclusions, and provides some hitherto unpublished photos of Inca stonework discovered in the Llanganatis.

Walking the Beaches of Ecuador, Jose German Cardenas and Karen Marie Greiner, Quito, 1988. An unusual account, describing a couple – an Ecuadorian man and American woman – who mostly ran the entire coast of Ecuador, covering a distance of some 520 miles. Many obstacles had to be overcome, none the least of which were rocky cliffs, thorny undergrowth and wild animals: “Almost stepping on a small poisonous ten-inch snake (equis) was the final straw. “That’s it, we’re continuing by the inland road”, we both said. After struggling up a steep hill, several large bulls were passed grazing. That was a promising sign, “civilization can’t be too far away.” But the large animals were frightened by our presence and they may have sensed a dangerous jaguar lurking about.”(page 238) Cardenas and Greiner took their expedition seriously, spending months in physical training and poring over maps and aerial photographs so as to achieve practical daily schedules. They carried no backpacks, just some drinking water and money. Fresh seafood was plentiful, caught by fishermen who still navigated by the stars and fished according to the phases of the moon. The baulked at one local catch however, a beachside tonic, made from fresh sea-turtle blood: ”…a large amount of oily blood – squeezed through the turtles throat – was collected in a glass and passed among to onlookers. According to local legend, the blood an antidote for eternal youth. The fact of the matter is that this particular animal’s blood is very rich in iron and therefore recommended for those who suffer from anemia.” (page 141). Each village had its own story to tell. At Suicide Cliff, Point Sua, near Atacames, they heard a local legend: “At the time of the Spanish conquest, a Spanish captain from Leon fell in love with Princess Sua. She was seventeen years old and the most beautiful of the indian chief’s daughters. It was said that the two met on the rocky point near Sua to observe the beautiful ocean below. On the day that the Spaniard left to conquer neighboring indian areas, she felt a sense of dreadful premonition. Some time after, news arrived that the captain had died in a bloody battle against the warring Tiaones, who were under the leadership of Prince Ton-Zupa. Upon hearing the dreadful news, the princess ran to the point where she used to meet her lover and threw herself from the cliffs. Shortly after, the captain arrived in the village to marry the princess and heard the news of her suicide. He admired her sacrifice and decided to follow her. One night he climbed to the same point and threw himself from cliffs. From then on, legend has it that when there is a full moon, the spector of two young people can be seen wandering hand-in-hand about the point, and on the beach, while notes of eerie music are heard coming from the sea.” (page 91) There is one intriguing reference to 'American Buddhas' - small statues of Buddha found on Ecuador's coast that the authors atribute to pre-Columbian contact with Asian seafarers. At the small village of Jaramijo, they describe an unusual festival: “For fifteen days, all of Jaramijo pays homage to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and participates in a type of model United Nations. Ten countries are created and their presidents are chosen from the townspeople. It is indeed a great honor to be elected into a high office and requires no small expense. But the prestige awarded to this president and his cabinet makes the expense worthwhile. The presidents of different nations (e.g., the Blanco nation and others), dressed in special costumes (and with their cabinets), give lengthy speeches extolling the virtues of their respective states and exchange keys and pleasantries. This custom is unique to Jaramijo and it appears to find its origin in feudal Spain.” (page 137) As night fell they sometimes found themselves obliged to hitch a ride to the nearest town so as to have a place to sleep. Arriving in the comparatively large town of Manta, locals eyed the couple with incredulity: “The cab driver who brought us to Hotel Las Gaviotas eyes us rather peculiarly and was surprised to hear about our travels over the past few days. But his stares couldn’t match the curious looks given by the staff of the hotel. “Where have you been”, the women asked, “You’re all covered with dirt.” And even after we described our exploits, the women still didn’t believe us. “You’re both crazy”, they said as we struggled up the stairs, heading straight for the shower to wash off the day’s grime.” (page 197). The book includes dozens of good maps, scores of black and white photos, and historical anecdotes augmented by footnotes and an excellent bibliography. Several decimos, traditional recitations, add a poetic note; some paragraphs are dedicated to the science of shrimp-farming, which only began in Ecuador in the 1960s (by accident according to the authors), but now a major industry. Appendices include a brief history of pirates, and how to prepare and train for your own jogging expeditions along the coast, should you desire to emulate their commendable effort. Note: this book, (ISBN 9978-9908-1-X) was privately printed in English in Ecuador in 1988, and is fairly rare; when I checked on WorldCat (in Dec 2009) only a handful of affiliated libraries held a copy, all of them in North America. When I checked on Abebooks, they only had a single copy for sale, at US$99.95! If you happen to be in Ecuador, the South American Explorers Club has a copy in their Quito library.

A Wanderer in Inca Land, Christopher Sandeman, New York, 1949. This book is not really a cohesive travelogue, but a loose collection of beautiful full-page black and white photographs, 89 in all, each accompanied by a brief essay. Short poems by Pope, Keats, Shelley and others accompanies the text, including a couple of French poems. In the introduction, Sandeman writes: In the reading matter, which accompanies these illustrations, an attempt has been made to amplify and make clear anything of interest in the history, geography or natural history of Peru which each photograph seemed to suggest, while the poems selected for quotation were chosen in order to intensify the atmosphere in the hope that they would help to reinforce the rhythm of the scenes depicted, too often lost or impaired in the black and white reproduction of a colourful original.." (page 9) In this regard, the book is unique and a success. The photograph and description on page 83 of the adobe Church of Santa Anna, on Cusco's outskirts, is unlikely to be bettered. Sandeman collected botanical specimens for Kew Gardens and Oxford University; many of the pages are devoted to the unusual flora of Peru. Others are market scenes, landscapes vistas and local architecture. He often quotes from the journals of earlier explorers like Squier, Fritz and Raimondi: "...A most lively and graphic account is given by Raimondi, Chapter XIX of the third volume of his 'Historia de la Geografia de Peru', of this expedition's search for the Cashibos who murdered the two officers of the previous expedition, and of how their chief was killed and his wife, described as a 'ferocious and bloody female, foaming at the mouth with fury', with a gesture of defiance flung in the faces of the invaders of the tribe's territory a necklace of charred teeth wrenched from the mouths of their murdered comrades..." (page 133) On one page, he describes Indian children as 'hideously ugly'. But on another page he quotes Raimondi again, defending their cannibal rituals: "...The Cashibo Indians in the more inaccessible parts of the forest country are of the Pachitea and Aguaytia rivers are hostile to white men. The had - and still have - a local reputation for cannibalism, although Raimondi (1826-1890) was doubtful about it and considered, if the reputation were deserved, that their cannibalism 'came from a religious superstition and was not an act of cruelty'. He cites, as an example of there being probably 'nothing malicious' about their anthropomorphic customs, a traveller's tale heard by the explorer Osculati, during their ascent of the river Napo, of an old Indian, who on his death-bed wept and lamented that he was dying a Christian, because his horrible fate would be to be buried in the earth and become food for worms instead of being decently eaten by his relatives..." (page153)

White River, Brown Water, a record-making kayak journey down the Amazon, Alan Holman, Sevenoaks, 1985. Holman's account of his 1982 descent of the Amazon from Quiteni, near Cusco, to the mouth at the Atlantic set a long distance record that made its way into the Guinness Book of Records; even today, only a handful of people can say they have travelled further. Most interesting is his preparations for the journey, which take up the first four chapters. Holman's interest in canoeing the Amazon was piqued some years earlier when he travelled by ferry between Leticia and Belem. In those pre-internet days, information and reliable maps were hard to come by. Maps, in any case, were of dubious use after a year or so, as the river changes course, forming new channels and islands with each seasonal flood. Unduanted, he wrote to missionaries and read everything he could get his ands on. He knew that mosquitos would be menace. An instrument fitter in the Royal Australian Air Force, he experimented with electronic mosquito repellers before deciding they were of no use; he built his own solar battery charger which did come in handy. In 1981 he moved to Gladstone in Queensland, working all the overtime he could to save for his dream voyage, trying out different canoes in the area's tidal swamps, and practising emergency exits from the vessel he finally decided was the most practical, a fibreglass kayak he modified with watertight compartments, a detachable fin and wave deflector, and a manual water-pump. Once on the actual Amazon, he meets several times the crew of Jaques Cousteau's Calyspo, cruising the Amazon at the same time, who invite him on board for meals and a shower. In the remote Peruvian village of Bolognesi he is surprised to discover canned Australian butter for sale; in another place, his camp is invaded by a horde of frogs. In some parts of the Amazon Holman noted there was a complete absence of bird and animal calls which unnerved him, in other places the fish were so thick in the water he could have scooped them up with his paddle. As he descends the Amazon, the locals' suspicion sometimes boils over into outright hostilty, with angry posses seeking to detain him. Some rob him and even shoot shotguns at him. Yet at other villages, just a few miles away, the villagers are so friendly they refuse payment for food. The most dangerous part of the trip was at the end, when facing treacherous Atlantic waves and currents off the Island of Majaro, he almost loses his kayak and decides to walk the rest of the way, a decsion he rescinds a while later. Despite numerous run-ins with suspicious locals, his optimistic spirit is never far away, as demonstrated in this passage: "To get the kayak up here it will have to be unloaded. To try to drag it over this beach will certainly lead to disaster. Off come the main hatches and out comes all my neatly packed gear. Once the boat is empty, I carry it across to the camp. Using two spare paddle shafts for supports and my plastic poncho as a cover, I make a crude bivvy. With my camper mat on the ground and a space blanket to cover me, I should get a reasonable night's sleep. Wood is no problem, plenty of dead stuff lying around to get the fire going. Next I put on my dry set of clothes. Apart from the navy blue shorts they're identical to the first set. It is amazing what a boost dry clothes and a fire give to morale. As night comes closer, I gather all my gear together and enough wood to last the night and fill my water containers, putting in one purification tablet for each litre. I wear the spare sheath knife and keep the flashlight handy. Now for the best part of camping - cooked meal. It is sliced lamb and peas tonight from one of my freeze-dried packs. Sling the contents into the billy can, bring the water to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. That's the style of cooking I like. Delicious. Now a cup of tea to wash it down. Paradise. I wonder what they're doing all at home. Another exciting day at work? To hell with the rat race. This is my world. This is how to live." (page 53)

The White Rock: An Exploration of the Inca Heartland, Hugh Thomson, London, 2001. This book is the culmination of Thomson's 20 years of travel in and study of Ecuador and Peru. His first visit, as a young backpacker in his 20s, whetted his appetite for more, but the rise of the Sendero Luminoso in the areas with remote ruins forced a long hiatus to further explorations. As he points out in the text, these remote areas were chosen as Inca strongholds in the years after the Conquest for the same reason the Tupac Amaru guerrillas were based there: their sheer inaccessibilty. He weaves historical information into the narrative, a touch of humour (such as his solution to the problem of a local hotelier's 14 year old daughter falling in love with him) as well as enduring a good amount of hardship trekking to the Espritu Pampa ruins in Old Vilcabamba: The mud was not the only demoralising factor. Day after day we had been descending and my altimeter had already dropped 9000 feet since we had crossed the pass: it was a punishing long descent, made longer by the constant switchbacks over the Concevidayoc's tributaries and by the knowledge that later we would be returning back up the same way. The heat, the sweat and the flies were getting to me. There are people who like the jungle, it's true, but there are people who like root beer and Swedish pickled herring. Each to his own. For my part every mile we descended from the mountains was a steady deterioration in the quality of life... (page 329) On pages 261-264 Thomson outlines a convincing case, based on research by Paolo Greer, that Machu Picchu was looted of all its gold and sliver treasure long before Hiram Bingham 'discovered' the ruins.

Working North from Patagonia, Being the Narrative of a Journey, Earned on the Way, Through Southern and Eastern South America, by Harry A. Franck, New York, 1921.This book is one of a series of more than 30 travel books by the author, a US Army officer, whose other Latin American travelogues included "Vagabonding Down the Andes"(1917), "Tramping Through Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras"(1916), "Trailing Cortez Through Mexico" (1935), and "Rediscovering South America" (1943). At 650 pages, Mr Franck is anything but frank, going into details of what it is like to be in a gold mining camp in Dutch Guiana or with the gauchos of Uruguay. Contains scores of classic black and white photographs, and this observation of Brazilian social mores:
"Naturally fecund, and of strong maternal instincts, the Brazilian woman unquestioningly accepts the tenet that her place is strictly in the home. Marriage does not bring her any appreciable increase in freedom over her closely chaperoned days of virginity. But while she is expected to conduct herself so circumspectly that not a breath of scandal shall ever sully the honor of her fidalgo lord and master, the husband loses none of his bachelor liberty. The average Carioca can, and , above the labouring class at least, usually does, keep a mistress, and not only loses nothing of public esteem, but little of that of his own women. In fact, the politician, the man of big business, of wealth, or of social pretensions, is somewhat looked down upon if he does not maintain a household or two; failure to do so is a fit subject for jesting among his friends and acquaintances..." (page 220).

Franck goes on to explain why many of the kept women are French, and reproduces no less than seven newspaper ads from men and women seeking to establish what is deemed "protective" liaisons.

A World on the Wane, Claude Levi-Strauss, translated by John Russell, London, 1961. I loved this book, but cannot recommend it, due to a notice in small print in the front pages: it is an incomplete translation of Tristes Tropiques, - four whole chapters being omitted. I now feel like I have to go and buy the complete edition to find out if I am missing out on any good passages! (There is later edition in English, translated by John and Doreen Weightman, published under the original French title of 'Tristes Tropiques', which contains the missing chapters.) The book is part travelogue, part autobiography, part anthropological study. Levi-Strauss begins with his narrow escape from the Nazis in France (he is Jewish). He describes the voyage to Brazil via the Antilles, and career as a lecturer in Sao Paulo. Most of the book is concerned with his time among the natives of the Mato Grosso. His main expedition was undertaken from Cuiaba in 1938, heading northwest, with the assistance of 15 men 15 mules and 30 oxen, not all of whom survive the expedition. Some photographs are included, along with many drawings; Levi-Strauss observes the face-painting designs of a certain tribe have not changed in the 40 years since Bogianni photographed them. At a time when entire tribes were dying off due to disease or genocide, his observations leave a unique record. Levi-Strauss finds adjacent tribes who cannot converse in a common language but decide to unite for strength. His misfortunes and hardships are many: at one point all his leather articles are eaten by marauding insects, and another time he becomes completely lost - but his privations delivered a classic of Brazilian exploration and narrative. One tribe, the Tupi-Kawahib, he describes as having white skin and Caucasian faces (page 324). Another tribe made necklaces from freshwater mother of pearl; another made turbans from detached human hair; yet another made manioc-cakes, buried them in the ground, then dug them up months later and ate them, unconcerned by their putrescent state. One chief spontaneously began reciting a native musical comedy, singing the parts of several protagonists simultaneously; on the second consecutive night of the performance, Levi-Strauss says he 'the spirits had taken control of him' and the chief grabbed a knife and tried to kill his wife. Other tribesmen restrained him, led him to his hammock, and the next day everything was forgotten. One day he bumps into emissaries form a tribe he was seeking: "...Towards the end of the morning we were working our way round a big bush when we suddenly found ourselves face to face with two natives who were traveling in the opposite direction. The older of the two was about forty. Dressed in a tattered pair of pyjamas, he wore his hair down to his shoulders. The other had his hair cut short and was entirely naked, save for the little cornet of straw which covered his penis. On his back, in a basket of green palm-leaves tied tightly round the creature's body, was a large harpy-eagle. Trissed like a chicken, it presented a lamentable appearance, despite its grey-and-white-striped plumage and its head, with powerful yellow beak, and crown of feathers standing on end. Each of the two natives carried a bow and arrows.
From the conversation which followed between them and Abaitara it emerged that they were, respectively, the chief of the village we were hoping to get to, and his right-hand man. They had gone on ahead of the other villagers, who were wandering somewhere in the forest. The whole party was bound for the Machado with the object of paying their visit, promised a year previously, to Pimenta Bueno. The eagle was intended as a present for their hosts. All this did not really suit us, for we wanted not only to meet them, but to meet them in their own village. It was only when they had been promised a great many gifts when they got to the Porquinho camp that they agreed, with the greatest reluctance, to turn in their tracks, march back with us, and make us welcome in their village. This done, we would set off, all together, by river. Once we had agreed on all this, the trussed eagle was jettisoned without ceremony by the side of a steam, where it seemed inevitable that it would very soon either die of hunger or be eaten alive by ants. Nothing more was said about it during the next fifteen days, except that a summary 'death certificate' was pronounced: He's dead, that eagle..."(pages 338-339).
 Some tribes of Indians kept eagles captive in large cages, and fed them on monkey meat, periodically harvesting their feathers. Levi-Strauss discovers the tribe had decided to abandon their tribal ways just prior to their meeting, and 'throw in their lot with civilization'. The dumping of the eagle symbolized the dramatic finale. Not all of Levi-Strauss' tales are concerned with the Indians. This aphoristic paragraph describes the women of the seringueiros, or rubber collectors: "... But life there is still given an equivocal charm by the young women who lead a precarious existence as concubines of the seringueiros. The concubinage is known as 'casar na igreja verde' , 'getting married in the green church'. Sometimes the 'mulherada' or 'womenfolk' will band together and organize a dance. Each will give five milreis, or some coffee, or some sugar, or the loan of a hut rather larger than the others, with a lantern well filled for the night. They arrive in flimsy dresses, made-up, and with their hair specially dressed, with a kiss of the hand on arrival for the host and hostess. They use make-up to give themselves the illusion not so much of beauty as of health. Rouge and powder conceal the effects of smallpox, tuberculosis, and malaria. For the rest of the year each lives, unkempt and in rags, with her 'man' in his barracao; for this one night they arrive, vivid and well got-up, in high-heeled shoes. Even so, they have had to walk a mile or so along muddy forest paths in their ball-dresses. And before dressing they have washed in squalid rivulets and dressed by night: it will have rained all day. There is a terrifying contrast between these fragile attempts at civilization and the monstrous reality which waits for them at the door..." (page 368) Towards the end Levi-Strauss becomes melancholic in his work, and dreams of Chopin, Debussy and Wagner. He devotes a chapter to the composition and description of his drama The Apotheosis of Augustus , an unfinished play. The final chapters are engulfed somewhat by abstract philosophical arguments.

World Safari, Alby Mangels and Marie Appleton, Adelaide (ISBN 0949155102). I remember being enthralled seeing Alby present his home-movie documentary "World Safari" at the Parramatta Town Hall many, many years ago. His "World Safari II" chronicled his visit to South America with former TV beauty Judy Green, and although Alby has been criticised for "staging" many of his adventures for the camera, I think that is unfair. He and Green were severely injured when their jeep collided with another vehicle on a Brazilian jungle track; Green flew home while Alby soldiered on, even after his friend Paco had to give up with his infected foot. This large-format coffee table book covers both World Safari I and II. It has been out-of-print for a decade but is about to be re-published.

My favourites? They are all good reads, but my all-time favourites are probably The Cloud Forest and Tschiffely's Ride followed by Up the Creek.

If you are a Latin American travelogue bookworm, you should bookmark this site. You probably stumbled on this page by chance and the search engines are slow at updating it. Some search engines can't even find it yet! I plan to add new books as I read them - I have a stack of more than 30 other books at home waiting to be devoured.


I have 
also reveiwed the following books, each with a connection to Latin America. Click on the title to read the review:

Un Solo Circulo Un Solo Recorrido: Cuentos Inspirados en Textos Nativos Americanos, by Carlos Torres 

The Myths of Argentine History, by Felipe Pigna.

My reviews are copyright Glen David Short 2002-2012, while the quotes and excerpts are copyrighted by the respective publishers and authors.

I am happy to discuss any book reviewed here and also like to hear about new books of the same genre; send comments and suggestions to: