othing teaches us more about a person’s true self and soul than travel. I’ve had friendships end on long trips. Perhaps because we see how our acquaintances react to stress, or that we see them out of the context of their typical background, who knows? All that matters is that we’ll see them in a new light.
Following the Equator was a travelogue by Mark Twain of his trip around the world in the late eighteen hundreds. The unwritten background is that he was in financial straits through bad investments, forced to go on a world-wide speaking tour (which he loathed) and to tie in this book to the feat (I can only guess what he might have through about writing, not from his heart, but from necessity).
So we follow him west, from Paris across America (not much there) then on to Hawaii, the Fijis, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, Mauritius, Mozambique, and South Africa. At each stop he describes his experiences, often journeying out by train if possible to see (and record) as much as possible. And in between these places, he describes his travels by steamship, the good and bad.
So yes, you will truly see the world as he saw it, the people, the places, the poverty and the politics. Its as if you are at his shoulder, listening to his commentary about the shortfalls of his Indian servants, the heat of Australia, the native clothing, the interactions of races, all of it. I found it fascinating when he described the crazy rituals along the Ganges at Varanasi (which I’ve been to, and which I found easily recognizable through his pen). And what is lost to us, the tropical Pacific cities of broad streets and gardens we can at least see for what they were.
While sometimes it is hard to determine his facts from his tall tales (he said he shot thirteen tigers in northern India), this occasionally skirts what we (in our era) think of as basic human decency. All across the globe at that time, the empires were expanding and colonialism was in full force. To see, as he seemed to, the destructions of peoples as inevitable is to simply throw up one’s hands at any other solution. At one point (and forgive me if I misunderstood the old pilot) he claims that aborigines being poisoned and Africans being sealed up in caves and smoked to death as “mercies” compared to the painful deaths they might experience otherwise is shocking to someone in the twenty first century. In essence, he’s placing the profits of concerns such as the East Indian Company (and diamond concerns, and plantation efforts) above the life and livelihood of native people. To hear it spoken of as bluntly as Twain does is shocking – it’s why, I suppose, we no longer speak of politics around the Thanksgiving table.
But I’m off topic. In a nutshell, it is an interesting (if not rather scattershot) book about traveling around the globe before one could do it so easily. Well worth a look for the historians out there. And best of all, it’s free HERE.
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