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TraveLit--A blog about travel literature. 

     Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.

Book Review: The Essential Lewis and Clark

The Essential Lewis and Clark
Landon Y. Jones, Editor. Ecco Press, 2000, 203 pp.

“Long before Huck lit out for the territory, Lewis and Clark…defined the territory,” writes Landon Y. Jones in the introduction to his selection from the explorers’ journals. “During their journey, and in their journals, Lewis and Clark created an epic,” he observes, “one whose effect on our collective imagination has made it, over time, the unofficial Odyssey of American history.”

The two Captains and their band, the Corps of Discovery, set out in 1804 with instructions from President Jefferson to find “the direct water communication from sea to sea formed by the bed of the Missouri and perhaps the Oregon.” Fortunately, Jefferson also instructed them to keep journals en route, which both men scrupulously did. Indeed, they wrote nearly a million words in these journals, which have been published in a 12-volume set. For those unwilling to tackle the whole of their account—or who would like to try a sample first—Landon has edited this abridged edition, aiming to capture the essence of their experience and their prose.

These journals bring to life this extraordinary journey, which covered 8000 miles, much of it through territory unknown to white Americans, and took 28 months—so much longer than they expected that many people had given them up for dead before they returned.  Read More 

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Book Review: The Roads to Sata

The Roads to Sata
By Alan Booth. Viking, 1986, 281 pp.

To travel on foot is a lure for many people, whether they are pilgrims following in the footsteps of those who preceded them, or adventurers setting out on their own paths. As Patrick Leigh Fermor observed in his classic, A Time of Gifts, "On foot, unlike other forms of travel, it is impossible to be out of touch.”

Alan Booth clearly felt the attraction of this kind of journey. An Englishman who had lived in Japan for 7 years, was married to a Japanese woman, and spoke fluent Japanese, he set out in the eighties, at the age of 30, to walk from the northernmost cape of the northernmost island of Japan, Cape Soya, to the southernmost cape of the southernmost island, Cape Sata—the entire length of Japan.

In The Roads to Sata, he gives us a kind of journal of this journey, which took 128 days and covered some 3,300 kilometers. He walked on back roads and, if necessary, on highways, he stayed in country inns, he consumed quantities of beer (“foot gasoline,” as he calls it), and he had encounters with, he estimates, some 1200 people: from businessmen to housewives, from priests to cyclists, and from farmers to sumo wrestlers—with whom he actually wrestled. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t win!)

Along the way, he meets an elderly man, who tells him: “A country is like a sheet of paper; it’s got two sides.  Read More 

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Travel Quotation

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware."
―Martin Buber
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Book Review: Sailing Alone Around the World

The Voyages of Joshua Slocum
Collected and Introduced by Walter Magnes Teller. Sheridan House, 1958, 1995, 401 pp.

“I was born in the breezes, and I had studied the sea as perhaps few men have studied it, neglecting all else,” wrote Joshua Slocum, the first man to circumnavigate the globe on his own. Sailing Alone Around the World is his engaging account of that extraordinary 3-year journey, which takes in the world but is dominated by two characters: Slocum and his 37-foot sloop, the Spray.

After introducing us to both of these characters in his opening chapter, which details his rebuilding of the antiquated sloop—revealing at once the absolute thoroughness of the man and the strength of the boat—Slocum begins his journey. The year was 1895, he was 51 years old, and at this point in his life, says the Slocum scholar Walter Magnes Teller, he was a “defeated” man. He was unable to acquire a new ship, he was unsuccessful as a writer, and he had lost his beloved first wife. “He owned almost nothing except the home-made Spray.

But no sense of defeat emerges from this exuberant book.  Read More 
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Antiquarian Maps as Travel Writing

Seamorse

Thinking more about the stories antiquarian maps tell. This map of Spitsbergen, 1625, is illustrated with scenes of whaling as well as bear and walrus hunting. The detail below shows one of the illustrations--a Seamorce, or, as we would say, a walrus.

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Maps as Travel Writing

Maps, Antiquarian Maps
This detail from the Spitsbergen map, above, shows the Seamorce, or walrus.
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Book Review: Greater Nowheres

Greater Nowheres: A Journey Through the Australian Bush
By Dave Finkelstein and Jack London. Foreword by Philip Caputo. Harper & Row, 1988, 313 pp.

The challenge of traveling in the Australian bush is written in the names of its locations: “Skeleton Point,” “Disaster Bay,” “Foul Point,” “Disappointment Bight,” “Useless Loop,” “Point Torment.” Inhabited by lethal snakes and insects, afflicted by weatherly extremes, endowed with a landscape typically described as desolate, bleak, and stark, and so underpopulated that the unprepared traveler risks dying unaided, Australia’s vast Outback is not a destination for the frivolous tourist.

Undaunted by the challenge, Dave Finkelstein and Jack London, two “middle-aged dropouts”—the first a former lawyer and China specialist turned sometime journalist, the second a former college instructor turned fisherman—set out to tour the bush.  Read More 

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Antiquarian Maps

Barentsz map

I've just returned from the Miami Map Fair, and I've been thinking about how antiquarian maps, which are based on journeys, represent a pictorial kind of travel writing.

This is the so-called "Barentsz map" of the arctic. It's a beautiful map--my favorite in my husband's extensive arctic collection. (I especially love the sea monsters.)

This map is claimed to be based on charts drawn by the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz, containing information gained from his three voyages to the north in 1594, 1595, and 1596-7 in search of the Northeast Passage. In the last of these voyages, Barentsz and his crew were trapped in the ice and forced to overwinter in Novaya Zemlya, where they fought off polar bears and struggled to survive. In the long retreat south in the spring, Barentsz died.

There are powerful stories in these old maps.
 Read More 

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Travel Quotation

"The wise traveller travels only in imagination...Those are the best journeys, the journeys that you take at your own fireside, for then you lose none of your illusions."
―W. Somerset Maugham
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Book Review: The Path to Rome

The Path to Rome
By Hilaire Belloc. Various editions and Project Gutenberg.

First published in 1902 and continuously in print ever since, Hilaire Belloc’s The Path to Rome chronicles his journey from his birthplace near Toul in France to Rome, “the centre of the world.” An ardent Catholic, Belloc is decidedly on a pilgrimage. But, a canny writer as well—one of the most prolific writers of his era—he has also crafted a secular tale of adventure.

Like any good pilgrim, Belloc starts off with vows: “I will walk all the way and take advantage of no wheeled thing,” he writes. “I will sleep rough and cover thirty miles a day, and I will hear Mass every morning; and I will be present at high Mass in St. Peter’s on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.” He is also determined to walk by night and sleep by day, when it will be too hot to hike, and to travel in a straight line.

One of the humorous threads running through the book is how, one by one, he breaks each of these vows  Read More 

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