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“…and as for the husband, neither the Royal Geographical Society’s list in their ‘Hints to Travellers,’ nor Messrs. Silver, in their elaborate lists of articles necessary for a traveller in tropical climates, make mention of husbands.” – Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa

Happy International Women’s Day, one and all! Being as it was originally instituted to celebrate the contribution of Soviet women to “communistic construction” and commemorates the day in 1917 when Russian women went on strike for “bread and peace”, precipitating the revolution, it is a day off here, which is most civilised. I am celebrating with bread (well, a croissant is close enough) and peace (a long lie-in) of my own, and by dusting off my blog with the pictures, which is definitely due a resurrection.

A rundown of Tbilisi’s myriad charms will have to wait, however; since today is all about celebrating impressive women (communistic and otherwise), I want to talk about a particular hero of mine, the explorer and ethnographer Mary Kingsley. Being someone who is fond of getting to interesting places whenever possible, and inevitably doing so while being a) alone and b) female, a state of affairs that still raises the occasional eyebrow, I have long admired the Victorian ladies who upped sticks and headed with enthusiasm for the farthest corner of empire and beyond, often on the most tenuous of excuses, at a time when a woman alone faced considerably more difficulties than the odd amorous taxi driver. They wrote books with excellent titles like A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, and had unsubtle between-the-lines affairs with all sorts of interesting characters and in general lived a life full of excitement and incident, at a time when this was considered somewhat less than decorous. The considerably less intrepid nature of my own excursions notwithstanding, it is sometimes comforting to know that whatever slightly idiotic situation I may have gotten myself into, someone else has got out of much worse, often while wearing long petticoats and a corset, and Mary Kingsley is particularly useful for this.

Reasons why Mary Kingsley is the greatest )

Travels in West Africa is available for free as an ebook all over the place (for example, here and here), and I thoroughly recommend it, because it contains some fantastic writing. While I am unlikely to ever head up a Gabonese river in a canoe or, frankly, engage in any kind of similar activities even in a more congenial climate, Mary Kingsley is my inspiration in situations when I am losing my nerve, sense of humour and occasionally, both. Because in the end, if she could do it in a good thick skirt, I really have no excuse.
allochthonous: (we make the golden journey)
Strange occurences over at the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums. They used to be a superb trip-planning resource, and whether you wanted to find out if the Caspian Sea ferry took horses (seriously. The consensus was that it probably didn't, but you could try offering a bribe.) or whether the buses from Bangkok to Phnom Penh were running or not due to flooding, someone would have the answer within an hour or two at most (usually after sniffily telling you to next time search the forum before asking your questions - it was useful but not necessarily friendly). The Central Asia forum was absolutely invaluable for up-to-date visa information (not to mention locating the relevant embassies) and I would've wasted an awful lot of time without it. There's almost nowhere else like it on the web; certainly not covering the slightly more obscure destinations.

After unilaterally closing all the forums over Christmas and new year with no warning, the moderators are now reopening them a branch at a time, with all the old posts and PMs deleted. They claim they will be gradually restoring the old posts, but a lot of the community threads appear to have gone for good (I never posted there, but lots of the regulars are livid) and all new posts are being moderated, which given the posting cvolume, leads to very weird and disjointed threads. It seems a very odd decision by the BBC (who now have a controlling stake in Lonely Planet, I believe) given how popular the forums were, and it'll be a colossal shame if all the old posts aren't restored, as there is a tonne of useful stuff on there.  On a personal level, the absence of the Eastern Europe/Caucasus forum is a real pain in the arse, as I was just gearing up into full research mode. Bad form, BBC.


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April 2015



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