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The Sea and the Jungle

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Considered a masterpiece of travel literature for nearly a century, The Sea and the Jungle is a wise and witty book of firsts: ostensibly a lighthearted story of a Londoner's first ocean voyage, it is also a carefully crafted journalistic account of the first successful ascent of the Amazon River and its tributary, the Madeira, by an English steamer. First published in 1912, The Sea and the Jungle remains one of the most popular accounts of a traveler's experience in Amazonia. As Peter Matthiessen observed fifty years later, " The Sea and the Jungle is one of the few level-headed works in the literature of this region. . . . accurate and difficult to improve upon."

258 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1912

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H.M. Tomlinson

39 books4 followers
Henry Major Tomlinson

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5 stars
55 (30%)
4 stars
60 (33%)
3 stars
41 (22%)
2 stars
17 (9%)
1 star
6 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews
Profile Image for Daren.
1,280 reviews4,361 followers
July 8, 2017
Perhaps I had too high an expectation going into this book.
The opening of the blurb on the back cover was so appealing:
"Suppose you were a quiet, respectable, sedentary business or professional man, and the captain of a tramp steamer bound to South America and up the Amazon suddenly dropped into your peaceful office, invited you to go along with him, got your acceptance by a clever trick, and had you at sea before you could stop to think — wouldn't you expect to find 'something doing'?"

The book didn't really grip me, instead I found myself zoning out.

Other reviewers provided high praise, so perhaps my lack of enjoyment was environmental - too tired, too much going on at work this week, to take it in and absorb the subtleties of the book.

Originally published in 1912, we are provided with the story of the authors travel by ship from London to Brazil, and on up the Amazon River and a tributary, the Madeira River to such exotic towns as Para and Porto Velho , and excursions further afield by foot and mule. For me too much was made of the voyage to Brazil - around 85 pages.

For me the narrative contained too many of the authors sideline thoughts, which he expanded on into paragraph after paragraph of unnecessary information. Never a fan of long paragraphs, here we are regularly treated to 3/4 page ones, which also contributed to my zoning out I think.

Perhaps some of the more interesting parts of this book for me were the recounting of stories from other people. Being something of a novelty in Porto Velho, the author was sought out by various men exploring or working in what was at that time a wilderness. There stories they passed on are recounted by the author.

Overall, only 3 stars from me.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
974 reviews357 followers
May 28, 2013
A most fascinating travelogue of a man, who in 1910, upped and quit his London clerical job to embark on a boat journey into the Amazon River wilderness. Tomlinson’s descriptions of the voyage across the Atlantic and then the journey up the Amazon are exquisite.

His style – to some extent - is like Melville. His anecdotes of individuals encountered are like Somerset Maugham. The book is highly personal and Tomlinson brings us with him to the Amazonian. The sheer primeval jungle and remoteness in early 1900’s is well worth the read. Tomlinson does not glamorize – there are abundant insects, bad food with a visually growing forest. His humour is whimsical and topical. Has the drudgery and meaninglessness of work changed much over the last 100 years? Even today Tomlinson would find the mundane work world much the same and would want to head out – don’t we all need to now and then?

Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews504 followers
August 12, 2012
In the Preface (1989) to Tomlinson's The Sea and the Jungle (1912), Evan S. Connell wrote:
According to the redoubtable traveler and storyteller Mr. Somerset Maugham, during the early part of the nineteenth century there were fewer amusements than there now are, one result being that readers did not mind if their fiction moved at a deliberate pace; they would accept with no reluctance "a dilatory exposition and a sauntering digressiveness." These days, however, in an age of multiple amusements, alarums and distractions, we have little patience with leisurely authors.

It's been 23 years since Connell wrote those words, and it's just as true today as it was then. Readers tend to like a little more flash and sparkle in their reading these days, probably because we're all a little more accustomed to a faster pace - our games are flashier, our movies are more explosive, our stories are snappier, our minds race to keep up with the internet, cell phones, e-readers.

But there is something to be said about slowing down. It's not just a matter of stopping to smell the roses, though there's a certain degree of truth behind that as well. Think back to a time before you had the internet, before you had a cell phone, and before you had an e-reader. As a child you probably spent more time outside, going on adventures of your own devise, dreaming of what lay beyond the neighborhood streets you knew so well. Still, at the end of the night you likely went home to have a nice dinner with your family in the safety of your house, maybe watched some TV before bed, and continued the days' adventures in your dreams.

In 1909 Henry Major Tomlinson left on an adventure of a lifetime. He kissed his family goodbye, boarded an English steamer, and traveled from his safety in London to the unknown on the Amazon. In 1912 he published this book about his experiences. He wrote about his adventures both on the steamer, on the river, and with the natives, interspersing the occasional story he heard from others along the way. He experienced an adventure as per the dictionary definition (An unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity) and the sort that we could only imagine as children in our wildest dreams.

This makes me want to travel! I'm a good traveler. Except I would suck in the Amazon. I don't deal well with heat and humidity (I tend to wilt and pout when the temperature rises above 80-85 degrees F), and under those circumstances I wouldn't be an especial fan of giant bugs and other creepy-crawlies. I can rough-and-tumble with the best of them. But probably not as well below the equator. Let's just be honest. I tend to whine going south of the Mason-Dixon.

Tomlinson wrote about 20-foot long snakes with 3-foot wide stomachs. It sounds pretty neat, and I would probably like to see one... so long as it was, I dunno, maybe sedated. He talked about animals I've never even heard of, but that's what I love. Since I'm never going to go to the Amazon, go ahead and tell me all about it. And take a picture of a sloth for me too, thanks.

As Connell intimates in the Preface, the story doesn't move quickly. There's a nice pace to it, perfect for reading at a speed similar to that as being on an English steamer (I would imagine). Tomlinson wasn't going anywhere, so he wrote about his experiences, and we all get to benefit from that. Tomlinson's eyes were opened by his adventure, and that's what travel is really all about, isn't it? At least that's what it is for me.

I'm a big dork for travelogues anyway because of all the places in the world they can take me; Tomlinson's recollections are no different. It's surprising to me how this is one of those that seems to have fallen out of popularity. I hadn't heard of it myself until I found it in a clearance section. But now, through some research, I've found that Tomlinson wrote a bunch of stuff after publication of The Sea and the Jungle. I imagine they're all going to be difficult to find, but I plan to keep my eyes peeled. I don't know if he went on other adventures like this, but I can't imagine being disappointed.
In some places the river widened into lagoons, and we seemed to be in a maze of islands. Canoes shot across the waterways, and river schooners, shaped very like junks, with high poops and blue and red sails, were diminished beneath the verdure, betraying the great height of the woods. Because of its longitudinal extension, fining down to a point in the distance, the elevation of the forest, when uncontrasted, looked much less than it really was. The scene was so luminous, still, and voiceless, it was so like a radiant mirage, or a vivid remembrance of an emotional dream got from books read and read again, that only the unquestionable verity of our iron steamer, present with her smoke and prosaic gear, convinced me that what was outside us was like a flame. Dragon flies were suspended invisibly over our awning, jewels in shimmering enamels.

Profile Image for Jim.
2,029 reviews666 followers
June 30, 2011
The travel gene is dominant in my make-up. (That's what comes of having been born in Cleveland.) I had heard of this book for decades: When I saw it on the shelf in the Santa Monica Public Library, I picked it up and checked it out. It took about three pages for me to get totally hooked, and that despite Evan S. Connell's warning about a possible "dilatory exposition and a sauntering digressiveness." Warnings like that, I take as a challenge.

The Sea and the Jungle is the story of H. M. Tomlinson's voyage from Swansea in Wales to Porto Velho, a thousand miles up the Amazon and its tributaries, close to the Bolivian border, in 1909-1910. There, a railroad was being built to ... somewhere or other, if it was ever finished. It was not long into the book before I had the very unusual feeling that I wanted to start reading it again -- more slowly -- and savoring every word. There was something about Tomlinson's way of seeing things, as a rank amateur who knew how to describe both what he saw and how he felt about it. About his first few days at sea, he writes:
For as to the sea itself, love it you cannot. Why should you? I will never believe again that the sea was ever loved by anyone whose life was married to it. It is the creation of Omnipotence, which is not of human kind and understandable, and so the springs of its behavior are hidden. The sea does not assume its royal blue to please you. Its brute and dark desolation is not raised to overwhelm you, you disappear then because you happen to be there. It carries the lucky foolish to fortune, and drags the calculating wise to the strewn bones.
This is a different point of view from Joseph Conrad's, as he was an old pro who had seen the sea in all its moods. Tomlinson, on the other hand, was a talented amateur who saw quickly to the heart of things.

There is a comparison that can be made with The Heart of Darkness and its colonial "pilgrims": The same types are to be seen in Porto Velho and the surrounding camps. They have come to throw their lives away in search of some remote commercial gain. Tomlinson tells the tale of a man who is plunked by a company in the middle of nowhere, to be placed in charge of a pack of sick slaves by a jetty on the Madeira River:
An unknown Somebody in Wall Street or Park Lane has an idea, and this is what it does. The potent impulse! It moves the men who don't know the language of New York and London down to this desolation. It begins to ferment the place. The fructifying thought! Have you seen the graveyard here? We've got a fine cemetery, and it grows well. Still, this railway will get done. Yes, people who don't know what it's for, they'll make a little of it, and die, and more who don't know what it's for, and won't use it when it's made, they'll finish it. This line will get its freights of precious rubber moving down to replenish the motor tyres of civilisation, and the chap who had the bright idea, but never saw this place, and couldn't live here a week, or shovel dirt, or lay a track, and wouldn't know raw rubber if he saw it, he'll score again. Progress, progress! The wilderness blossoms as the rose. It's wonderful, isn't it?
The tale of the poor sap who winds up in the jungle takes up Chapter IV and is, in many ways, the heart of the book.

One thing I know for sure, however much I love strange new places, I will take a pass on the jungle. I wouldn't mind the Atlantic near as much -- but those insects, those tropical diseases and strange fevers. No, I'll take a pass on them. But I thank Tomlinson for seeing the jungle clearly, with its effect on the legions of Americans, Europeans, and Brazilians who were caught up in its grips. Today Porto Velho is a large city, and much of the jungle has been chopped down to make room for other dreams of empire.

No sooner did I finish reading this book than I ordered a copy for my library. Something this good deserves another look.
1,062 reviews92 followers
October 23, 2017
Death by Chocolate---in print!

Well, an Englishman decides his work and family can be jettisoned for a few months and he heads off aboard a coal freighter from England to a town in the heart of the Amazon, down the Madeira River to a dot on the map called Porto Velho, almost to Bolivia. This is in 1909-1910. The sea is often rough, the life as "purser", not too demanding. He spends a great deal of time describing the moods of the ocean. Then they get to Brazil. The giant, unending forest amazes him; its enormity, its silence, its heat and insects. He befriends the crew of the ship and the odd Anglo-Saxon here and there. Brazil is a total blur, laced with terms that nowadays are deemed politically-incorrect. And are, but not in those days. He waxes enthusiastic about his experience. He takes a trip with an odd American deep along the construction of a railway line, then starts to worry that he's going to miss his ship home, stranding him for months. There's an adventurous dash through the forest and by handcart along the railway to Porto Velho. It's all rather interesting, if not so informative about Brazil. At that time the rubber boom was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Indians, slavery was rampant. Not a single word here.

But ! He writes as if he's on a permanent high ! Colorful, extravagant prose covers every page. This is a man with adjectives. Example on page 69 as they crossed the Atlantic: "We were the Argonauts, and our world was bright with the veritable self-radiance of a world of romance where the things that would happen were undreamed of, and we watched them from the argosy's side, calm and expectant, my fellows were transfigured, looked huge, were rosy and awful, immortals in that light no mortal is given to see." Dude! I suspect that if you like that Death by Chocolate ice cream, you'll be able to read a lot of pages like this and you will love this book.
Profile Image for Sohail.
472 reviews11 followers
October 14, 2022
Not merely the best piece of travel writing that I have ever read, but also a literary masterpiece that can stand out when competing with books of other genres. Honest, keen, witty and full of grace, this is one 'paradise' of a book.
Profile Image for Mel.
392 reviews
May 21, 2020
This is a good read! Abenteuer pur. The way it was and why we need to protect the environment.
Profile Image for Rachel.
56 reviews2 followers
March 4, 2021
Beautiful descriptions of nature and travel. But the author was incredibly racist. I really got sick of his horrible attitudes.
Profile Image for Aaron.
26 reviews3 followers
January 30, 2011
Never having heard of H.M. Tomlinson, and never having read a travel book, it was Time Life's meager introduction which compelled me to purchase this volume for 75 cents. I both liked that it took place mostly on a ship, the Capella, and that the Amazon was visited.

The prose of Tomlinson was not at all that which I had expected it to be. I don't understand why he isn't more recognized. His writing is hauntingly poetic, eloquent, and descriptively detailed. He is never boring. His personality, his most intimate thoughts, his humor, are all offered to us. He gives us the illusion that he holds nothing back from us, hides nothing.

Here is an audio sample of his prose:


I admire Tomlinson's rebellious spirit, which was an Orwellian (Orwell wouldn't write 1984 for another 39 years) result born of his eyes being opened to the chains of modernity. I can't help but notice that Tomlinson was ready to reemerge into society with a new spirit, after having been witness to the desolation of peril-haunted equatorial forests.

He often relates to us that he felt as if within the Amazonian foliage something dark and sinister and nameless sat in wait; that it could afford to wait, being timeless. He sees the building of the railway as futile, but praises the men who carelessly sacrifice their lives in the joint endeavor.

Back in England, Tomlinson notes that the trees seem as toys to him; all greenery seems blunted in contrast to the swelling Jungle.

I felt that Tomlinson was a very empathetic man—he tells us much of animals, and their treatment. Many had "pitiful ends". He tells us too of the "pitiful ends" of many of the workers who had been duped into coming to the Amazon by "the Company". It's postmodernist puerility to think that the cruelties Tomlinson reveals to us are a thing of the past. Horror goes on daily; and unlike many 'evil philosophies', I believe they are collective horrors. It is a defensive mechanism which supposes that the world is not tragic, that tragedy can only happen individually—that the holocaust was no more significant than the event of a single Jew being tortured by the Nazi doctors. I believe that this is the reason why Nietzsche's mind snapped at the moment he saw the old horse being beaten in the street; the reason Tomlinson saw himself reflected in the terror filled suffering eyes of the mortally wounded monkey which was to be dinner. Tomlinson was a Darwinian evolutionist, but no materialist, which explains the despairing beauty of his prose.
Profile Image for Glenn.
7 reviews5 followers
June 20, 2009
From the Publisher

Considered a masterpiece of travel literature for nearly a century, The Sea and the Jungle is a wise and witty book of firsts: ostensibly a light-hearted story of a Londoner's first ocean voyage, it is also a carefully crafted journalistic account of the first successful ascent of the Amazon River and its tributary, the Madeira, by an English steamer. One rainy morning in November 1909, Henry Major Tomlinson bid farewell to his family and set off to find his berth as purser aboard the Capella, where he would spend many storm-driven days until landfall at Para on the Brazilian coast. But his travels had only begun, as the steamer continued its journey 2,000 miles up the Amazon. Encountering tiny jungle villages and exotic flora and fauna of awesome beauty and ferociousness - the meddlesome insect life in particular attracted his attention - Tomlinson recorded all he saw in cleverly humorous style: never condescending, but always aware of the inherent inappropriateness of his presence in this strange land.
Profile Image for Jack.
177 reviews1 follower
May 30, 2013
The story of a man, who in 1910, left behind his London newspaper job to take a journey across the Atlantic and into the Amazon River wilderness. Tomlinson’s description of the trip across the Atlantic and up the Amazon is extraordinary. Tomlinson's accounts of his life at sea and Amazon River travel are unsurpassed. The Sea and the Jungle is a classic of its kind. It tells an engaging story of a journey away from the monotony of everyday life and is an exquisite example of travel writing at its best.
Profile Image for Dave.
526 reviews7 followers
December 31, 2015
Reminded me of the Bill Bryson travel book- Walk in the woods- some nice humor at times. Nothing as bleak or dangerous as River of Doubt- Teddy R's adventure the Amazon a few years later. The Atlantic trip was something else...hard to believe people traveled that way. Not a very scientific book, but good descriptions and details- which really brought the last half of the book to life. I sense this was pretty exotic in 1912...not so much in 2015.
622 reviews21 followers
August 19, 2020
After you get past the "old" poetic, heavy language sometimes with unknown words and expressions since this book was written 108 years ago, it opens us up to a world that no longer exists. He says "I had the fortune to go when the route was still much as it was in the first chapter of Genesis" pg. 145. Tomlinson, a newspaper leaves job, home and family in London and boards the ship "Capella" in 1909 for an adventure to the "Brazil's " because he feels he's "undutiful towards a city man's sober destiny. He writes about his likes and dislikes of this voyage: the people, the work aboard the ship, creatures, flora, the weather, disgusting moments, beautiful moments. He keeps a diary of his observations and thoughts, sometimes very philosophical and the stories told to him. Imagine this: 122 degrees Farenheit outside and no air conditioning! How would you fare?
Profile Image for Jeannette.
Author 3 books15 followers
June 28, 2018
I bought a paperback version of this book decades ago after reading that it was one of the great classics of travel literature. But I could never get into it; the writing was too dense. Only on the brink of a trip down the Amazon did I return to it -- this time in audible form. It still took me a while to accustom my ear to the florid and complex language, but once accustomed, I was dazzled by Tomlinson's power to describe the natural world. I've read few writers who are better at it. And it certainly was the perfect prelude to experiencing this astounding part of the planet.
Profile Image for Andrea.
874 reviews70 followers
January 30, 2022
The classic travel tale. In 1909, Tomlinson resigns his office job in London to serve as purser on a tramp steamer bound for the Amazon. By turns sarcastic and meditative, Tomlinson is perhaps only a moderately keen observer of humans, but he is an incredibly fine observer of nature and of his own thoughts. While Tomlinson recounts plenty of strange tales told by others, his own encounters with the sea and the jungle are recorded in poetic but carefully accurate description. The contradictory yearning for the familiarity and comfort of home and the desire for change and adventure are really the deepest theme of the book. Tomlinson, unlike more recent travel writers, makes no pretense of regret at returning home. Travel is an adventure, and as he describes it, adventure must have an ending point. A slow read but well worth the time.
154 reviews
July 27, 2017
A book you'll want to savor. On an impulse a young desk bound Englishman runs away to sea on a tramp steamer. High adventure for sure and for real. Descriptions of being at sea are quite vivid, you can feel the roll of the boat, the heat below decks, but also the glory of the open ocean. And then the mystery of heading up the Amazon when so little was known of it. This book is a like finding a lost emerald gem.
Profile Image for Abdullah Almuslem.
387 reviews38 followers
January 29, 2022
I rarely dislike a book on traveling… This one did not click with me… There was also some offensive language that I did not like which made it worse for me .. The book is well advertised but has not much meat in it!
Profile Image for Jewell isabelle.
122 reviews1 follower
February 22, 2022
(3.5) this book goes into extraordinary details and I love the writing style. It was very informational and Interesting to read.
Profile Image for Mark.
Author 2 books10 followers
May 16, 2019
A great travelogue recounting a sea voyage from Britain to Porto Velho on the Amazon river system in 1909 - 1910. I found it through James Mustich’s 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. It was published in 1912 and is free as an e-book. As much as I liked it, be warned that I sometimes struggled with the author’s florid Edwardian prose. He can wax poetical when describing the Amazon, but also when discussing not much at all. His sentences may run on and sometimes run backward. There are scattered words that are no longer used much, if they were then, and a few are not in the dictionaries I have access to. You may need to bear with him until he is well at sea. Here is a suggestive example:
From our narrow and weltering security, where the wind searched through us like the judgment eye, I know, looking out upon the wilderness in turmoil where was no help, and no witness of our undoing, where the gleams were fleeting as though the very day were riven and tumbling, that I saw the filmy shapes of those things which darken the minds of primitives.
Watch out for the story within the story that reads like a miniature version of Heart of Darkness.
Profile Image for Zaya.
1,055 reviews1 follower
September 17, 2022
Cover Art: 🥕🥕
Title: 🥕
Review: 🥕🥕
🐰 I could not get into the sailor talk.
I skimmed around for something interesting, spoiler alert, I never found it
First Page Nibble:
🐰 Though it is easier, and perhaps far better, not to begin at all, yet if a beginning is made it is there that most care is needed. Everything is inherent in the genesis. So I have to record the simple genesis of this affair as a winter morning after rain. There was more rain to come. They sky was waterlogged and the grey ceiling, overstrained, had sagged and dropped to the level of the chimneys.
🐰 The world was very quiet, as though it were exhausted after tears. pg.1
Format: Paperback
Date Read: July 11, 2020🐇
Profile Image for Lee.
856 reviews23 followers
February 5, 2019
Tomlinson is an incredibly good writer. He writes like honey taste, though sometimes his writing is too saccharine and can become verbose. I can see why Hemingway, writing just a decade later, moved as far from this kind of writing.

More problematic is Tomlinson's racism, which is omnipresent in all the writing from this period. However, the more I read the more I began to think that Tomlinson was dealing with race in a more complicated way. He uses racist language, but it is not entirely clear he is judging people on the criteria of race. I think it is debatable, but I would just say that he is not as bad as his words suggest he would be.
Profile Image for Clark Hays.
Author 15 books130 followers
November 21, 2011
A cool, casual trip through a "green hell"

This is one of my favorite books of all time. His casual almost deadpan descriptions of the Amazon, the horrors of the rubber trade and the realization that the "civilized world" is but an outpost on the very fringe of an always seething and always apathetic nature are illuminating and deeply enjoyable.
723 reviews64 followers
Currently reading
October 26, 2011
{Mine is the 1964 Time Incorporated reprint of the 1912 ...Like all these early Time editions it is all but useless. Open it anywhere and it will crack into two separate pieces. ......Yes, yes...musn't grumble. Still...}
Profile Image for Rachel.
159 reviews
May 30, 2012
This was one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read.
622 reviews21 followers
August 21, 2020
See H M Tomlinson. Earlier edition. Wrote review under that listing
428 reviews25 followers
April 20, 2017
I read the 1971 edition of this book by the Imprint Society that included an engaging introduction by David McCord. The book recounts the 1909-1910 voyage on a cargo steamer from England to the Amazon River and its tributary the Madeira River, at the center of the South American continent. Tomlinson was a Fleet Street journalist who was lured away from his desk and office by an offer from the captain of the Capella which was to carry a cargo of coal to the Amazon to fuel a railway then under construction.

Tomlinson writes articulately, but in a sometime orotund fashion, about the arduous Atlantic crossing and the subsequent trip up the Amazon and the Madeira Rivers. He describes the life on board and the crewmen of various nationalities, the climate of the Amazon Basin, the landscape, jungle, and the commercial enterprise to penetrate the unexplored jungle. His depictions of the people he encounters are as full as his accounts of the land itself.

It is both descriptive and reflective, speaking to both the experienced traveler and the one who travels by literature. He writes with humor as well as with an observant eye about not only this trip but about travel itself. He notes, in a commentary that might appeal widely to those of goodreads: "The sea is at its best at London, near midnight, when you are within the arms of a capacious chair, before a glowing fire, selecting phases of the voyages you will never make."

There are losses taken through travel only by books, however. Tomlinson warns: I myself learned that the treasures found in travel, the chance rewards of travel which make it worth while, cannot be accounted beforehand, and seldom are matters a listener would dare to hear about afterwards; for they have no substance. They are no matter. They are untranslatable from their time and place; ... the traveller cannot prove the dreams he had, showing us only pebbles when he writes."

A further loss may come when the reader becomes confused. "We borrow the light of an observant and imaginative traveler, and see the foreign land bright with his aura; and we think it is the country which shines." This is a thoughtful guide we have found, one who provides about a dozen or so travel books for those who wish to retain him as a globetrotting companion of "bright aura," indeed.

Profile Image for Mike Phelan.
158 reviews5 followers
September 8, 2017
This might be the most absurd book I've ever read. In 1910 an English businessman makes a snap decision to leave his family behind in London and set sail (the next day!) for a journey up the Amazon and Madeira rivers. The book recounts the long journey of the Capella, the first steam ship to make this trip, and all of Tomlinson's encounters along the way. Apparently it's a classic of travel writing, though I doubt I'd recommend it very strongly.
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