Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa: Performed Under the Direction and Patronage of the African Association, in the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797
By Mungo Park
Why this book?
Beyond the occasional adrenaline rush, one of the chief attractions of risky travel is that it enables us to see how we and others behave under challenging circumstances. For readers whose exposure typically comes from UNILAD Adventure posts or edgy Bruce Chatwin travelogues, this book is refreshingly unself-conscious and uniquely terrifying.
In his quest to locate the legendary Niger River as a potential trade route during the late 18th century, when most of Africa was still unmapped, Park, at 24, set off with two days’ worth of provisions and a few strategic supplies (including an umbrella – he was Scottish), relying upon his wits and native guides to complete an epic journey in which he suffered bouts of malaria, nearly starved, was held captive by Moors, got repeatedly robbed and at one point had to bang on a village gate to escape being eaten by lions.
Given modern sensibilities, we have to remind ourselves that none of this was staged or over-emphasized for effect. When Park resurfaced eighteen months later, dressed in rags and beat to hell, he had long since been presumed dead. His book became an immediate bestseller, but he basked in the glory for only a few years: His entire party later died during a more organized and hyped follow-up expedition.
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