Someone you should know...

Well, since we aren't exactly on the road, yet, and just testing out the system, this week, we haven't had many Tuesday encounters to share. But I am not beyond pulling something up from the past. So, here's one that gave me some of my most distinctive impressions of the character and personality of Mary Kingsley: that most amazing woman explorer that inspired me to write GOLD TRAP. 

Mary Kingsley
I think it was her courage that impressed me most. Which was almost always linked with stark honesty and rare sense of humor. Considering only one way tickets were sold to West Africa in her day (because most people didn't survive the journey), you would think only a woman of steel would have even considered it. But, no, she was far from it when she started out. Here are some of her first impressions of the place in her own words…

First when she arrived by ship…
"The mangrove-swamp follows the general rule for West Africa, and night in it is noisier than the day.  After dark it is full of noises; grunts from I know not what, splashes from jumping fish, the peculiar whirr of rushing crabs, and quaint creaking and groaning sounds from the trees; and - above all in eeriness - the strange whine and sighing cough of crocodiles.
Available free at Gutenberg.org
Five times have I been now in Bonny River and I like it.  You always do get to like it if you live long enough to allow the strange fascination of the place to get a hold on you; but when I first entered it, on a ship commanded by Captain Murray in ’93, in the wet season… a sense of horror seized on me as I gazed upon the scene.
While your eyes are drinking in the characteristics of scenery you notice a peculiar smell --  that’s the breath of the malarial mud, laden with fever, and the chances are you will be down to-morrow.  If it is near evening time now, you can watch it becoming incarnate, creeping and crawling and gliding out from the side creeks and between the mangrove-roots, laying itself upon the river, stretching and rolling in a kind of grim play, and finally crawling up the side of the ship to come on board and leave its cloak of moisture that grows green mildew in a few hours over all."  
And later when traveling by canoe with native paddlers, through unexplored cannibal country...
"The mangrove-swamp may be only a fringe at the mouth of the river, or it may cover hundreds of square miles.  The clay cliffs may extend for only a mile or so along the bank, or they may, as on the Ogow√©, extend for 130.  And so it is also with the rapids: in some rivers, for instance the Cameroons, there are only a few miles of them, in others there are many miles; 
Mary and her native paddlers
We hadn’t gone 200 yards (from a native village) before we met a current coming round the end of a rock reef that was too strong for us to hold our own in, let alone progress.  On to the bank I was ordered and went; it was a low slip of rugged confused boulders and fragments of rocks, carelessly arranged, and evidently under water in the wet season.  
I scrambled along, the men yelled and shouted and hauled the canoe, and the inhabitants of the village, seeing we were becoming amusing again, came, legging it like lamp-lighters, after us, young and old, male and female, to say nothing of the dogs.  Some good souls helped the men haul, while I did my best to amuse the others by diving headlong from a large rock on to which I had elaborately climbed, into a thick clump of willow-leaved shrubs.  
They applauded my performance vociferously, and then assisted my efforts to extricate myself, and during the rest of my scramble they kept close to me, with keen competition for the front row, in hopes that I would do something like it again.  But I refused the encore, because, bashful as I am, I could not but feel that my last performance was carried out with all the superb reckless abandon of a Sarah Bernhardt, and a display of art of this order should satisfy any African village for a year at least.  
From a domestic with no formal education, to
an explorer of world renown
At last I got across the rocks on to a lovely little beach of white sand, and stood there talking, surrounded by my audience, until the canoe got over its difficulties and arrived almost as scratched as I; and then we again said farewell and paddled away, to the great grief of the natives, for they don’t get a circus up above Njole every week, poor dears."
The most valuable thing I learned from Mary Kingsley? That even the most inefficient of us can become strong if we do not give up our aspirations to follow our hearts.
Something that still holds true in 2012.


  1. I love a real glimpse of a traveler in Africa, especially one so bold as Mary.

  2. Me, too, Dave... such memoirs are my favorite kind of inspiration. Thanks for stopping by!