There comes a stage at which a man would rather die cleanly by a bullet than by the unknown terror of the phantom in the forest.
I was no longer troubled when he pulled out a machete in a crowded bar, tried to pick up schoolgirls, or threatened to scalp us, then rip off our heads and scoop out our brains.
In the world of the Machiguenga, sadness could be equated with anger, and anger was a perilous emotion, by which a foreigner could lose his life.
Enlightenment, and the death which comes before it, is the primary business of Varanasi.
As a travel writer I’ve specialized in gritty, fearful destinations, the kind of places that make a reader’s hair stick on end.
The quest for a lost city erodes your body, damaging you beyond all reason. But it is your mind that bears the heaviest toll. Listen to the doubters, the worriers and the weak, and the vaguest hope of success evaporates.
Previous journeys in search of treasure have taught me that a zigzag strategy is the best way to get ahead.
I felt sure we could gain the upper hand by putting ourselves in the mindset of the Incas.
Contemplation is a luxury, requiring time and alternatives.
Time spent in India has a extraordinary effect on one. It acts as a barrier that makes the rest of the world seem unreal.
The inertia of a jungle village is a dangerous thing. Before you know it your whole life has slipped by and you are still waiting there.
The rain of Madre de Dios is similar to that of the Amazon, but there is a petrifying aspect to it, as if it seeks to wound rather than to nurture.
There can be few situations more fearful than breaking down in darkness on the highway leading to Casablanca. I have rarely felt quite so vulnerable or alone.
Any man who has ever led an army, an expedition, or a group of Boy Scouts has sadism in his bones.
Once in a very long time you come across a book that is far, far more than the ink, the glue and the paper, a book that seeps into your blood.
When I am about to embark on a difficult journey, I comfort myself by reading the accounts of the great nineteenth-century travellers, men like Stanley, Burton, Speke, Burckhardt and Barth.
For me, a journey to Damascus is an amazing hunt from beginning to end, a slice through layers of history in search of treasure.
[T]hrough bitter experience I have learned that it is best to promise little and then to reward hard work with generosity.
For me, nature is something you watch on the Discovery Channel, or on the evening news — as you learn how much more of it’s been savaged to make way for the Blackberry realm that is my home
A cross between a foreign legion boot-camp and a secret-society initiation ritual, the ordeals were grounded in pain. One thing was obvious: the agenda, which was dedicated to grave discomfort, had been drawn up by a passionate sadist.
There is nothing quite as unpleasant as wearing a pair of briefs which have been trailed through a Calcutta courtyard. Nothing, that is, except having one’s elbows and knees lacerated by unseen slivers of glass and discarded razor blades.
Money spent on good-quality gear is always money well spent.
Running an expedition can bring out the worst in a man. It can make you a power-crazed monster.
Experience has taught me the power of trophies. You may have every knick-knack and useless contraption ever devised, but while they weigh you down, a simple trophy can go a long, long way.
In India an explanation is often more confusing than what prompted it.
Believe, and what was impossible becomes possible what at first was hidden becomes visible.
On a hard jungle journey nothing is so important as having a team you can trust.
The last thing we wanted was for the Machiguenga to be sad again. Sadness appeared to bring out their violence.
To Succeed, you must reach for the stars, and let your imagination find its own path
We had the kind of conversations that only great friends can ever share. They were touched with magic.
The very fact that a Frenchman was prepared, after tow minutes of conversation, to be so friendly towards anyone, especially one who had come from England, made me restless.
Move to a new country and you quickly see that visiting a place as a tourist, and actually moving there for good, are two very different things.
Usually, there is nothing more pleasing that returning to a place where you have endured hardship.
The idea of my heart dancing with delight was far too good to pass up.
On a harsh expedition, there’s no space for anyone who does not intend to finish.
It was an awkward moment. We were burning down our host’s house, a situation which any guest seeks to avoid.
In moments of great uncertainty on my travels, I have always felt that something is protecting me, that I will come to no harm.
In some peculiar way, indeed, the rules were now beginning to seem quite logical. It was then I knew that I had been in India long enough.
I believe that Marrakech ought to be earned as a destination. The journey is the preparation for the experience. Reaching it too fast derides it, makes it a little less easy to understand.
There’s nothing like a pack of mules to give one a sense of entourage.
As anyone who’s ever taken an Ethiopian bus knows, there is an unwritten rule that the windows must remain firmly closed.
I had learned years ago never to give original documents to anyone if I could help it.
One senses that, in these conditions, no amount of wet-wiping could bring true hygiene.
A journey of observation must leave as much as possible to chance. Random movement is the best plan for maximum observation
Calcutta’s the only city I know where you are actively encouraged to stop strangers at random for a quick chat.
Where does one go in a tremendous city like Calcutta to find insider information? I recalled India’s golden rule: do the opposite of what would be normal anywhere else.
Foras Road has a sordid reputation (…) Old crones sat in doorways, while their daughters were pushed out to earn money. It is intriguing that a society which is very covert with sexuality should be so straightforward about prostitution.
I was becoming addicted to Bombay. There was squalor and poverty, but I had begun to realise my good fortune and would never again forget it.
I struggled to think pure thoughts, as Hector sucked out my psyche with his eyes.
The ability to tell a good route from a terrible one is a valuable skill when leading an expedition. Unfortunately for us all, it was a skill I did not possess.
As the head of an expedition, you can’t pussyfoot around being polite to everyone. You have to show your teeth once in a while; a little growling goes a long way.
Searching for a lost city is a particularly European obsession.
Through a strange kind of geographic arrogance, Europeans like to think that the world was a silent, dark, unknown place until they trooped out and discovered it.
There are two ways to find a lost city. The first is to rely on luck alone, the second is to control all the information.
The situation was different in the jungle. Every inch of ground had to be earned, and was done so through much exertion with the blade.
Normally I would have been the first to go in search of cannibal monks, particularly as I had heard of a similar tradition at a nunnery in the Philippines. It’s the sort of quest I can’t resist.
Only a man who has his health, a full stomach and wears clean clothes would ever entertain the notion of tracking down the greatest lost city on Earth.
In some warped way, having an embalmed body with us made perfect sense.
Previous experience had taught me that any expedition marches on its stomach.
The porters could always be coaxed to continue a little further through driving rain by the mere suggestion of a Pot Noodle at the end.
Ours was not going to be a clone of the usual expeditions, oozing with sleekness. It was clear from the start that oddity was our advantage.
My journey to the land of the Shuar tribe had taught me the importance of practical gifts.
If hot food is they key to maintaining an expedition’s stamina, then low grade gut-rot alcohol is the key to sustaining its sense of pleasure.
My father used to say that stories are part of the most precious heritage of mankind.
For my father there was no sharper way to understand a country than by listening to its stories.
At the dealership, I pulled out the sieve and toyed with it threateningly. When the salesman was ready for me, I held it up, told him I was not a tourist and demanded a large discount.
The ants are bad” The Bear”the ants?”Tahir”Do not be fooled. They look very small, so harm you don’t think of then at all. Then years. Then one day you wake up, and your home has fallen down.” Osman.
A journey, I reflected, is of no merit unless it has tested you.
Most journeys have a clear beginning, but on some the ending is less well-defined. The question is, at what point do you bite your lip and head for home?
The first rule of an expedition is that everyone should stick together.
A man who embarks on a journey must know when to end it.
Previous journeys had taught me the danger of taking too much stuff.
Spend sixteen weeks in the jungle and you being to question your own sanity, especially when you are the one goading everyone else ahead.
There’s nothing quite like a good quest for getting your blood pumping.
As far as Samson was concerned I was just another foreigner in pursuit of a lunatic quest.
The only thing they valued higher than ammunition were Man United footballs.
My father never told us how the stories worked. He didn’t reveal the layers, the nuggets of information, the fragments of truth and fantasy. He didn’t need to — because, given the right conditions, the stories activated, sowing themselves.
Respect was one thing. Survival was another. It was important that I kept my priorities in the right order.
But in Africa bureaucrats are usually too proud to accept a bribe, something I admire when I’m not the one being arrested.
The Occident has never found it easy to grasp the strange netherworld of spirits that followers of Islam universally believe exist in a realm overlaid our own.
Venture to a remote corner of a faraway land and, from the moment you get there, every person and every thing becomes an obstacle, designed to entrap you, to stop you proceeding on your way.
The taste for glory can make ordinary men behave in extraordinary ways.
With an enthusiastic team you can achieve almost anything.
The forest did not tolerate frailty of body or mind. Show your weakness, and it would consume you without hesitation.
In any case, a little danger is a small price to pay for ridding a place of tourists.
As far as I was concerned, a little danger of head-shrinking is a small price to pay in return for a people who have remained true to an ancient code.
As I see the world, there’s one element that’s even more corrosive than missionaries: tourists. It’s not that I feel above them in any way, but that the very places they patronize are destroyed by their affection.
Because there is no challenge, there is no reason to work hard. And with no reason to work hard, we all have become lazy. Lazy people are like cancer. They spread. Before you know it, the entire country is destroyed.
There is nothing like a train journey for reflection.
The pursuit of illusion is not about studying for prizes, or for study’s sake. There’s no right or wrong, no pass or fail.
My father looked on in disbelief, overwhelmed that his son had been taught to eat glass and relish it.
It is almost impossible to overemphasize the importance with which ancestry is held in the Middle East and North Africa.
Bombay is a city where gossip is treated as a commodity.
Explorers like to pretend that they are a select breed of people with iron nerve and an ability to endure terrible hardship.
These days no one challenges us,’ he said. ‘And because there is no challenge, there is no reason to work hard. And with no reason to work hard, we have all become lazy.
The first few hours in the cell were quite stimulating. I’d never been in a prison cell before and was quite enjoying the experience.
In Morocco,” said Osman, “word spreads like a fire tearing through the depths of Hell.