Sunday, May 22, 2011

Couch potato

I blame it on the Kindle. A few months ago I decided to buy one, then proceeded to trawl through the websites that allow you to download ebooks for free. Alot of these books are quite old, and amongst them I've found some great travel literature. I'm thrilled to have found Alfred Russel Wallace's book, which means on my next Indonesian trip I'll be able to take it with me. It and the other few hundred books I've so far loaded.

I've also found some great travel literature from China, much of which I've had to borrow through the local library. Having discovered Peter Fleming (he's Ian Fleming's younger brother) I've had a wonderful time reliving his rather superficial forays through Russia and China during the early to mid 1930s. He has a wonderful way of writing about the people he meets, especially the other westerners, mostly missionaries, and what he has to say about travel wouldn't seem out of place on an internet travel forum. Having travelled overland through the Stans and Mongolia to Peking, he then joined force with a Swiss lass called Ella Maillart (nickname Kini) and they attempted an amazing cross country trip in 1935 skirting north of the Tibetan plateau trying to reach Kashgar then on to Srinagar in India, all the time avoiding/ misleading the official authorities as foreigners had been denied access since civil uprisings in Xinjiang had occurred in 1933. Seems nothing much has changed!

The best thing is, both Peter and Ella wrote a book each about their trip. Both were travelling as "special correspondents" for European newspapers, both essentially had sweet talked editors into paying them in order to fulfil their individual desires to travel. Both were fiercely independent solo travellers, but they had no trouble getting along well with each other. And so I sit there with both books in hand, reading alternate chapters from each of them, and feel like I'm having a lovely chat with two intrepid travellers, recounting a fascinating trip.

It sure makes the travel we do these days seem like a walk in the park. Very few roads, railroads were still being constructed, and the Communists were fighting the nationalist government of Nanking. And we think negotiating the local buses is being adventurous! Ha!

Must get back to my mates Kini and Peter.....

(For those interested the books are: News from Tartary by Peter Fleming, and Forbidden Journey by Ella K Maillart)