Exploration FawcettColonel Percy Harrison Fawcett edited by Brian Fawcett
About the AuthorColonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was born in 1867 in Devon, England. At the age of nineteen he was given a commission in the Royal Artillery. He served in Ceylon for several years where he met and married his wife. Later he performed secret service work in North Africa. Fawcett found himself bored with Army life and learned the art of surveying, hoping to land a more interesting job. Then in 1906 came the offer from the Society: His ticket to adventure.
This book is based on the letters and memoirs of Col. Percy Fawcett. He traveled through the Amazon mapping the borders between Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil in the time of the rubber boom. His adventures range from encounters with savage primitives such as the Maricoxi (look for the chapter where the Maxubis warn him about the Maricoxi... "vincha Maricoxi chimbibi coco" ..if you visit the Maricoxi you will be food for the pot) to the dangers of electric eels and pirhanas!
Fawcett is best remembered for the ill fated expedition he launched at age 56. He, along with his eldest son and a friend, attempted to penetrate unexplored regions in search of a lost civilization. They were never heard from again. His disappearance has been a source of speculation ever since.
This is one of the most remarkable of adventures. You will experience the South America of the early 1900's in a way you never could have previously imagined. Try it...you won't be sorry.
(This book was published in Great Britain as Exploration Fawcett and in America as Lost Trails Lost Cities)
Brian lived many years in the region, and it is possible that some of the material was written by him. There are tall tales: a 62 foot long snake, manatees that kill crocodiles, a herb that dissolves rocks, a man who survived eight volleys from a firing squad and a condor that carried a man into the mountains. Other incredible stories are factual: the no calorie sweet stevia plant, dog excrement as a curative, Copaiba balsam oil with a multitude of uses and Indians that lived in holes and who filed their teeth. However authorship was divided, the result is a fascinating portrait of a great explorer.
A few passages illustrates the quality of the writing:
"(Cobija) had been a barraca, but was abandoned and became overgrown. In 1903 the Brazilians captured it, and then were wiped out by the Bolivians, who attacked with Indians. They fired the huts with burning arrows bound in petroleum-soaked cotton, and then picked off the defenders as they were forced into the open. Not a single Brazilian escaped. Even when we arrived there --- three years afterwards --- skeletons still littered the ground."
"...Any man who fell ill became the butt of the rest, and when he died there was tremendous hilarity. The staring corpse was tied to a pole, and sparsely covered in a shallow trench scraped out with paddles on the river bank, his monument a couple of crossed twigs tied with grass. For funeral there was a drop of kachasa all around, and ho for the next victim!"
"The man continued with a personal story about his nephew. He had walked through the thick bush to a nearby camp to retrieve his horse, which had gone lame and had been left there temporarily. He noticed, when he arrived, that his new Mexican spurs had been eaten away almost completely. The owner of the camp asked him if he had walked through a certain plant about a foot high, with dark reddish leaves. The young man said he had walked through a wide area that was completely covered with such plants. 'That's it!...That's what's eaten your spurs away! That's the stuff the Incas used for shaping stones. The juice will soften rock up till it's like paste. You must show me where you found the plants.' But when they retraced the young man's steps they were unable to locate them."
"The Indians there spoke of houses with 'stars to light them, which never went out.' This was the first, but not the last time I heard of these permanent lights found occasionally in the ancient houses built by that forgotten civilization of old. I knew that certain Indians of Ecuador were reputed to light their huts at night by means of luminous plants, but that, I considered, must be a different thing altogether. There was some secret means of illumination known to the ancients that remains to be rediscovered by scientists of today--some method of harnessing forces unknown to us."
Fawcett believed that there was once a great civilization in the Amazon Basin. His last journey was based on a basalt idol given to him by Sir H. Rider Haggard that gave an 'electric current' to any who held it. A psychic who held the idol and had a vision of a great city whose citizens worshipped 'on the border of demonology'. Fawcett died trying to find that city.
Fawcett's book is a detailed description of the region and the brutalities and wonders he found there. The strong overtones in the final pages of mysticism hint at the supernatural. It's well worth the effort to find a copy.
Note: this book was published in the US as "Lost Trails, Lost Cities" and in the UK as Exploration Fawcett.
Robert C. Ross 2008
Brazilian AdventurePeter Fleming
Amazon.com Review - While novelist Ian Fleming is best known for bringing adventurer James Bond to life, his writer brother Peter Fleming, a reporter for The Times of London, survived South American misadventures so challenging they make 007's high-risk existence seem placid in comparison. Lured by a mysterious newspaper ad, Fleming sails with an expedition to Brazil in the 1930s, attempting to answer unresolved questions about a team of explorers, headed by a British Colonel Fawcett, that disappeared in 1925. Once arrived in Brazil, Fleming's expedition falls apart, being equipped with few provisions, erroneous maps, and a despotic leader who proves to be less than fearless in the Amazon jungles. The team soon splits, with former colleagues battling the elements and competing with each other in a race for time and a search for truth. A finely crafted travel tale, with prose that's sometimes as dense and colorful as the jungles it's set in, Brazilian Adventure manages to turn the harrowing into cheeky commentary and barely contained comedy. --Melissa Rossi
Engaging, witty and a must read!,
|By||A. Woodley "Patroness, Janeites, the Austen list" (New Zealand) - See all my reviews|
(TOP 500 REVIEWER) (REAL NAME)
It starts with his blandly describing how he got involved in the expedition in the first place- answering an advertisement in the paper to go on a 'Fawcett hunt" (as he later called it). He thought he would go on a grand expedition to find the missing explorer Colonel Fawcett and get a little hunting done at the same time. There have been numerous books and studies done on the disappearnce of Fawcett in Brazil in the 1920's - to this day no one quite knows what happened to him, and as it turns out the expedition that Fleming was joining was not going to throw new light on matters either.
In fact the trip deteriorated badly the moment they hit Brazil, and Fleming's dry wit turns it all into a hilarious read - although it must have been desparately uncomfortable for them all. The expedition Leader was incompetent, the expedition split into two warring factions and they all ended up in a race back down the Amazon to try to get the banks in time.
Peter Fleming, in case you didn't know, is the brother of the 'James Bond' author Ian Fleming - a talent for writing seemed to run in the family. Peter continued his travels and writing career but I think this first book is the best of them all. There is also a wonderful biography on his life available but I think that is now out of print.
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the AmazonDavid Grann
Amazon Exclusive: John Grisham Reviews The Lost City of Z
Since first publishing A Time to Kill in 1988, John Grisham has written twenty novels and one work of nonfiction, The Innocent Man. His second novel, The Firm, spent 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, becoming the bestselling novel of 1991. The success of The Pelican Brief, which hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and The Client, which debuted at number one, confirmed Grisham's reputation as the master of the legal thriller. His most recent novel, The Associate, was published in January 2009. Read his exclusive Amazon guest review of The Lost City of Z:
In April of 1925, a legendary British explorer named Percy Fawcett launched his final expedition into the depths of the Amazon in Brazil. His destination was the lost city of El Dorado, the “City of Gold,” an ancient kingdom of great sophistication, architecture, and culture that, for some reason, had vanished. The idea of El Dorado had captivated anthropologists, adventurers, and scientists for 400 years, though there was no evidence it ever existed. Hundreds of expeditions had gone looking for it. Thousands of men had perished in the jungles searching for it. Fawcett himself had barely survived several previous expeditions and was more determined than ever to find the lost city with its streets and temples of gold.
The world was watching. Fawcett, the last of the great Victorian adventurers, was financed by the Royal Geographical Society in London, the world’s foremost repository of research gathered by explorers. Fawcett, then age 57, had proclaimed for decades his belief in the City of Z, as he had nicknamed it. His writings, speeches, and exploits had captured the imagination of millions, and reports of his last expedition were front page news.
His expeditionary force consisted of three men--himself, his 21-year-old son Jack, and one of Jack’s friends. Fawcett believed that only a small group had any chance of surviving the horrors of the Amazon. He had seen large forces decimated by malaria, insects, snakes, poison darts, starvation, and insanity. He knew better. He and his two companions would travel light, carry their own supplies, eat off the land, pose no threat to the natives, and endure months of hardship in their search for the Lost City of Z.
They were never seen again. Fawcett’s daily dispatches trickled to a stop. Months passed with no word. Because he had survived several similar forays into the Amazon, his family and friends considered him to be near super-human. As before, they expected Fawcett to stumble out of the jungle, bearded and emaciated and announcing some fantastic discovery. It did not happen.
Over the years, the search for Fawcett became more alluring than the search for El Dorado itself. Rescue efforts, from the serious to the farcical, materialized in the years that followed, and hundreds of others lost their lives in the search. Rewards were posted. Psychics were brought in by the family. Articles and books were written. For decades the legend of Percy Fawcett refused to die.
The great mystery of what happened to Fawcett has never been solved, perhaps until now. In 2004, author David Grann discovered the story while researching another one. Soon, like hundreds before him, he became obsessed with the legend of the colorful adventurer and his baffling disappearance. Grann, a lifelong New Yorker with an admitted aversion to camping and mountain climbing, a lousy sense of direction, and an affinity for take-out food and air conditioning, soon found himself in the jungles of the Amazon. What he found there, some 80 years after Fawcett’s disappearance, is a startling conclusion to this absorbing narrative.
The Lost City of Z is a riveting, exciting and thoroughly compelling tale of adventure.
(Photo © Maki Galimberti)
Non-fiction to rival the wildest adventures!,
Actually, it's two stories. The first is the life story of Victorian explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett. A member of the Royal Geographical Society, Fawcett was an explorer in the days when much of the globe was truly unknown. He came from a family of modest means, and began his career in the British military stationed in Ceylon. But he achieved worldwide acclaim as an explorer of the Amazonian jungles and river ways.
Grann's book is most concerned with Fawcett's last fateful expedition, but throughout the first couple hundred pages, he recounts Fawcett's entire career and it's enthralling. It's hard to imagine the bravery it took to strike out into the absolute unknown--with little or no communication with civilization--sometimes for years at a time. Fawcett and his companions routinely faced starvation, bloodthirsty indigenous tribes, horrific insect infestations, lethal tropical diseases, deadly white-water rapids, poisonous snakes, anacondas, piranha, and other terrifying creatures. If, for instance, you're wondering what's so horrific about insects, then you haven't been treated to a graphic description of what it's like when a living human is infested with maggots beneath their skin.
Fawcett and his men (always men) faced death constantly, and it seems that he must have lost hundreds of men in the course of his career. Perhaps not hundreds. Fawcett, unlike many of his contemporaries believed in keeping expeditions small. He was far more successful than most. The chapters that detail Fawcett's interactions with the native populations of the Amazon are among the most fascinating. Fawcett followed his own instincts which often were in direct opposition of conventional wisdom. Time after time he succeeded where others failed, and where the difference between success and failure was the difference between life and death.
Here's the other thing about Percy Fawcett: I think he was the Forrest Gump of his time. His story is touched on directly or indirectly by a truly staggering number of historic figures including Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Pickford, Ian Fleming, Winston Churchill, H. Rider Haggard, TE Lawrence, and even Indiana Jones!
As fascinating as every aspect of Fawcett's story is, the real hook is the enduring mystery of Fawcett's last expedition. Over the course of his long career, Fawcett had developed a hypothesis that there was once a great civilization in the depths of the Amazon. An El Dorado-like city that he simply called "Z." This is what he single-mindedly sought at the end of his career. In 1925, accompanied by his son and a friend, Fawcett entered the jungle determined to locate the lost city of Z--and was never heard from again.
He didn't go quietly. Readers around the world waited with bated breath to learn his fate. The story was routinely resurrected for decades. In the eighty-some years since, hundreds have entered the jungle hot on his trail. Many have never returned. Author David Grann is the most recent in a long line of would-be explorers obsessed with this mystery.
And it is Grann's tale that is the second story being told. He's an unlikely adventurer--a not particularly athletic, middle-aged staff writer for The New Yorker. But Grann does get caught up in the course of researching the book. So much so that he leaves his comfortable urban life, his wife, and his infant son to enter the Brazilian jungle. Like so many others, he seeks to find out what truly happened to Fawcett, and/or if there really was a Z. We follow Grann's progress interspersed between the chapters about Fawcett. One of the most shocking aspects of Grann's expedition is just how much the Amazon has changed since Fawcett's day. Grann doesn't dwell overly on the ecological ramifications, but the juxtaposition is disturbing.
Time and time again I had to restrain myself from turning to the back of the book to see how it ends. I was as caught up in the outcome as I have been with any novel in recent memory. Success was so unlikely; I just couldn't imagine how Grann's quest would end. And I'm certainly not going to tell you. Go read this book! Run! Now!
On of the flaws in the obsessive, leave-no-stone unturned approach to non-fiction mysteries is that after the umpteenth false sighting of or conjecture about the missing person, the stones are really not that interesting anymore.
Grann also is a little fast-and-loose. He consistently refers to Fawcett as a "Victorian explorer", when in fact Fawcett's first expedition wasn't until 5 years after Queen Victoria's death. A nit to some, but why not try harder? His style is chatty and adjective-heavy ("cold January day" is like saying "yellow canary") and adds a lot of details that may, or may not, be true, in describing every scene. And why throw in Charles Dickens' impressions of *his* ship's cabin when it was written 100 years before Fawcett's trip? For that metter, the bibliography is padded with Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and even Hobbes' "Leviathan", but is missing two of the best books about Fawcett, Harold T. Wikins' "Mysteries of Ancient South America" and "Secret Cities of Old South America". Also missing: MAPS! How can you write a book about an Amazonian expedition and not include a SINGLE map? Photos would have been nice, too.
I've been interested in Fawcett for many years, so maybe I'm overly critical. It's still a good book, easy to read and a terrific introduction to this fascinating personality. I just wish it had a lot less Grann to it.