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Everything you've always wanted to know about exploring but forgot to ask


Savages rarely murder new-comers; they fear their guns, and have a superstitious awe of the white man's power: they require time to discover that he is not very different to themselves, and easily to be made away with." These comforting words for the would-be explorer are on the opening page of Sir Francis Galton's Art of Travel, first published in 1855 and now reprinted (Stackpole Books, $6.95) as perhaps an inducement to the investigation of remote regions. But what remote regions?

Galton, a distinguished explorer of southwest Africa, collected during a lifetime of travel a broad assortment of hints, tips and maxims and published them in a volume whose subtitle is Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries. Sir Francis would be anyone's sensible choice as a companion on a desert island or in darkest Africa. He could make gunpowder, boats, louse powder, pemmican, poisoned arrows, fishing line, bullets, tar, sundials, needles, glue, candles or indeed almost anything out of local materials. His book tells how.

Want to cross a deep river with a horse? Hold on to his tail, splash water in his face with the right hand to steer left and vice versa to steer right. Break in new boots? Pour in a raw egg. Make a bed of wood shavings? You need eight pounds, which will take 3½ hours to cut with a spokeshave. To find honey, catch a bee, tie a straw to it, and the creature then flies slowly enough to follow. (Question: What do you tie it with?)

A full-scale expedition to the heart of an unknown jungle, Sir Francis says, requires 95 pounds of general stores including two gimlets, a corkscrew, an iron, a clothes brush and a blunt-pointed bistoury, which turns out to be a sort of surgical knife; 30 pounds of stationery, including six pounds of sketching books, colors and pencils; 61 pounds of mapping and natural history equipment. For a six-month trip, a further 109 pounds is needed for each white man but only 47 for each black man, including "an abundance" of trinkets, preferably in bright colors.

"A frank, joking, but determined manner joined with an air of showing more confidence in the good faith of the natives than you really feel, is the best," he starts his section on Management of Savages. Keep your reserve supply of tinder in your armpit; to light your pipe in a downpour, do so under the belly of your horse; to repair your shattered gunstock, stuff it inside the freshly flayed skin of an ox's leg and let the hide shrink in place; to stop an ass braying, hold its tail down; your main arteries roughly follow the inside seams of your sleeves and trousers and flat fish-bones make decent pens.

Are you listening, Neil Armstrong?