By Laura Hubbard
The disadvantages of living in a city that is also a country are suddenly apparent now we can no longer jet away for the weekend. Singapore is wonderfully lush and green, but, no doubt, many of us are missing being able to travel to see wide vistas with no people in them. While we wait out the pandemic, I have been absorbing myself in stories of others’ travels and adventures. In case you are also looking for some distractions to sate your wanderlust, here are some favorites:
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is an absolute classic. Krauker was a member of an expedition to climb Mount Everest that ended in disaster in 1996. His amazing account describes the characters and decisions involved in the ascent, which ultimately resulted in eight deaths on the mountain. At times a harrowing read, experiencing the ascent alongside Krauker and his companions is a thrilling armchair journey.
Krauker’s most famous book, Into the Wild, also deserves a mention in any list of adventure tales. The book relates the life and travels of 20-year-old Christopher McCandless who cut contact with his family and gave away his college fund to travel through the Western United States and Alaska. A philosophical read, McCandless is obsessed with finding true freedom, which leads us to consider the value of material wealth and work.
Opinions are divided, but I love Bill Bryson’s book Down Under (published as In a Sunburned Country in the USA). While not the most in-depth historical account, Bryson is wittier than most tour guides and gives a good introduction to Australian history. I first read his account right before moving to Australia and was most struck by his description of seeing stromatolites; ancient rocks formed by some of the earliest life on Earth just off the beach in Western Australia.
In my first week in Singapore, I picked up a copy of The Unconquered by Scott Wallace from Littered with Books, Duxton Hill. Perhaps it was because I was adjusting to the heat of the tropics myself, but I was enthralled by this true story of a trip deep into the Amazon. Wallace travels with a group from the Brazilian government which aims to gather information about uncontacted Amazonian tribes. Wallace describes in detail their long journey by boat and foot, and the characters of the party. The effect is a real sense of the hardship and danger they experienced.
As a beginner surfer, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan reminds me that it takes a lifetime to learn to surf well, as well as having a screw loose to surf big waves. Finnegan tells his life story through his surfing experiences, from growing up in California and Hawaii, to surfing an at the time unknown wave in Fiji and the epic waves off the cliffs of Madeira. His story is long and a little self-indulgent; like many surfers Finnegan sees his addiction to the thrill and danger of surfing as a “path”. Nevertheless, his vivid descriptions of the physical and emotional sensations of time in the water offers a window into another world.
Although The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W.E. Bowman is a satire, rather than a true story, it warrants a mention. This novel is not nearly as widely known as it should be and is a great read, especially if you like mountaineering stories. Bowman was an amateur mountaineer who in 1956 pieced together this side splitting fictious account of an idiotic group of climbers who aim to climb the 40,000-and-a-half-foot Rum Doodle peak. Binder, the expedition leader, describes each ridiculous character through his own lens, coming to the conclusion that it is his excellent leadership, rather than the help of the 3,000 “Yogistani” porters, that gets the party back down alive. What lesson did I take from this book? That plenty of champagne can solve many problems, even five men stuck down a crevasse.