"It was necessary to sleep in hastily raised shelters made of banana leaves."

From my New York Times piece this past weekend on Laos’ Plain of Jars and Madeleine Colani, who explored them:

Before setting out on my trip, I obtained “The Megaliths of Upper Laos,” Colani’s great contribution to archaeological literature. It is hands down the best guide to the jars — that is, if you don’t mind carrying around a 719-page, two-volume hardcover available only in French. Though it is packed with scientific detail and richly informed theory, it was the introduction, where she shares glimpses of her own adventure, that I found most captivating. On one expedition she set out chasing a tip that there was a single field of 1,000 jars: “Abominable voyage, on tracks that often followed the summits, hardly trodden … frequent violent storms,” she wrote. “At night, with little or no village, it was necessary to sleep in hastily raised shelters made of banana leaves.”

Sir Edmund Hillary on what motivates astronauts.

You know I find nowadays that if you’re going to take an expedition somewhere, you really have to have a scientific excuse in order to get off the ground at all. I firmly believe that although this may be true, and although the scientific program may be well worth while, the people who become involved in expeditions still do so not entirely because of the scientific work that they wish to carry out, but basically because they are explorers at heart. I do not believe that the scientists of today who explore in the unknown places of our globe and in space are any different from the explorers of the past who had very limited scientific objectives and who just wanted to get out there, have a look, and see what happened out there.

—Sir Edmund Hillary, from a speech delivered at the Explorers Club Night of Exploration Dinner, Waldorf Astoria Hotel, November 2, 1962.

"I have no difficulty in making up my mind when an escape from civilization is possible." — Isabella Bird

I wonder how this unexpected and hastily planned expedition into the Malay States will turn out? It is so unlikely that the different arrangements will fit in. It seemed an event in the dim future; but yesterday my host sent up a “chit” from his office to say that a Chinese steamer is to sail for Malacca in a day or two, and would I like to go? I was only allowed five minutes for decision, but I have no difficulty in making up my mind when an escape from civilization is possible.

-From “The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither,” by Isabella Bird. Separately: Should we revive the word “thither”?

"Adventure is just bad planning."—Roald Amundsen @outsidemagazine

I learned that he said this from “Amundsen Schlepped Here,” a compelling story about the great polar explorer by Mark Jenkins. The result of Amundsen’s obsession with planning was a successful trip to the South Pole and back with his team of five men intact.

But the quote also got me thinking about a certain absence of adventure in our day and age. Even when you don’t plan your travels, it’s hard to screw up. Yes, okay, if you don’t meticulously plan a true wilderness trip, you’re in trouble. But if you don’t plan a trip to, say, cities and towns in Southeast Asia, then you will get off a bus and myriad lists of things to do will appear on sandwich boards, packaged for a low price, requiring no imagination or effort whatsoever. A lack of planning can’t get you an adventure.

"Pay, pack, and follow."

-Richard Burton in a message to his wife Isabel upon being dismissed from his position as British Consul to Damascus in 1871.

The geographical cure, circa 1878, as executed by Isabella Bird.

Having been recommended to leave home, in April 1878, in order to recruit my health by means which had proved serviceable before, I decided to visit Japan, attracted less by the reputed excellence of its climate than by the certainty that it possessed, in an especial degree, those sources of novel and sustained interest which conduce so essentially to the enjoyment and restoration of a solitary health-seeker.

-From the preface to “Unbeaten Tracks in Japan: The firsthand experiences of a British woman in outback Japan in 1878,” by Isabella Bird.

"…as much in love with the adventurous life as the adventurer."

On Isabel Burton, wife of Richard Burton, from “The Wilder Shores of Love” by Lesley Branch:

"She was, without realizing it, as much in love with the adventurous life as the adventurer. There are frequent references [in her diaries] to Richard’s enviable vagabondage, and how well suited she would be to such a life. ‘A dry crust, privations, pain, danger for him I love…there is something in some women that seems born for the knapsack…’ It must have been particularly frustrating for her that there were now such frequent references to Richard Burton’s daring travels; while she, his soul-mate, continued the treadmill of womanly restraint in Montague Place."

Isabelle Eberhardt’s “flight from inaction and immobility.”

I’m reading about Isabelle Eberhardt, who after an anarchist upbringing, left her native Geneva for Algeria and spent the rest of her days riding horseback in the desert, smoking kif, writing, cross-dressing, and having affairs. This is from one of her diaries, as cited in “The Destiny of Isabelle Eberhardt” by Cecily Mackworth.

"If the strangeness of my life were the result of snobbishness or posing, people might be able to say: She brought it on herself! But that is not the case; no one ever lived more from day to day and more according to hazard than I do. It is the inexorable chain of events that has led me to this point and not I who have created those events. Perhaps the strangeness of my nature may be summed up in one characteristic—the seeking for new events, at whatever cost, and the flight from inaction and immobility."