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An Explorer's Explorer
(Books #4, March 20, 1999)

   This issue's book is a rare and controversial one that I first located in my public library. Later I was able to obtain a copy through, our online associate. My review's a little longer than usual because the book is unusual and worth the space. I haven't linked it to our online bookstore, because it isn't still in print. You may be able to special order it, though. It's an adventure collector's treasure that's worth the search.
   As always, I've also reviewed a letter from the Holy Bible—a difficult but important one for Christians.

Lost Trails, Lost Cities,
Col. P. H. Fawcett, edited by Brian Fawcett.
Lost Trails, Lost Cities
At the turn of the Century Percy Fawcett was a Royal Engineer in an army artillery unit. He was experienced in foreign service, and he needed a career change. He volunteered for a project to survey a stable frontier between Brazil and Bolivia to end their almost constant border disputes. His first survey expedition began in 1906. It would be a taxing task in extremely difficult wild country; but it would continue to generate other, similar, tasks that would consume the rest of his life.
   Lost Trails, Lost Cities (published in Britain as Exploration Fawcett) is an edition of Fawcett's manuscripts by his younger son, Brian. The book spans some years and several of Fawcett's expeditions. It was compiled after the explorer disappeared in the Brazilian forest with his older son and another companion during his 1925 expedition. Though the arrangement is Brian Fawcett's, the words are Percy's. It is his story.
P. H. Fawcett
Col. P. H. Fawcett
    Fawcett begins with the tantalizing story of Diego Alvarez, a Portuguese mariner who, shipwrecked only a few years after the discovery of America, struggles ashore in South America and begins a life filled with all the elements of any good adventure story—jungle survival, capture by cannibals, and fabulously rich gold and silver mines protected by hostile Indians in the Brazilian jungles.
   In 1743 a man Fawcett calls Francisco Raposo decided to make an attempt to find those rich mines. Instead he and his men found, on a green plain below difficult mountains, a huge, ancient, city.
   Fawcett heard this story some time after he had taken his first survey contract. Until he knew the story his expeditions were entirely oriented toward civil engineering productivity. The forest interested him keenly, and he made copious observations about everything he saw, especially the white settlers, the Indians of the forest, and the forest wildlife.
Fawcett's surveying team in the bush
Fawcett's surveying team in the bush

   To summarize Lost Trails... would be easy, but it would not do justice to the quality of Fawcett's commentary. Instead, I've quoted several passages from the book that illustrate the passion and variety of his observations.

   Fawcett was fascinated by the way civilization fell away as he went deeper into the forest. He was astonished at the barbarity of the remote rubber camps and small settlements (barracas):
  "(Cobija) had been a barraca, but was abandoned and became overgrown. In 1903 the Brazilians captured it, and then were wiped out by the Bolivians, who attacked with Indians. They fired the huts with burning arrows bound in petroleum-soaked cotton, and then picked off the defenders as they were forced into the open. Not a single Brazilian escaped. Even when we arrived there—three years afterwards—skeletons still littered the ground."
   In another example of the inhumane existence of the men who lived in these remote regions Fawcett mentions the bizarre behavior of some of his boat crew:
   " nightfall the crew were utterly exhausted. The moment they threw themselves down on the hot rocks beside the river they were fast asleep, and in consequence pneumonia was rife amongst them...
   "...Any man who fell ill became the butt of the rest, and when he died there was tremendous hilarity. The staring corpse was tied to a pole, and sparsely covered in a shallow trench scraped out with paddles on the river bank, his monument a couple of crossed twigs tied with grass. For funeral there was a drop of kachasa all around, and ho for the next victim!"
   The insensitivity to human suffering exhibited by the inhabitants of these remote regions, both native and white, is a constant theme in Fawcett's journals, and in many other books describing life in these backwaters. Even friends of mine who have traveled in this area have warned me to be very wary in South America of any contact with the army or the police. Such meetings are frequently unpredictable or hazardous. Is it a consequence of the cultures of the barbarous men who conquered these parts of South America, a result of living without controls and contact with civilization, or something else? The pattern is described so often that I think it should warn travelers in these regions to be especially wary.
   Another of Fawcett's recurring themes is the attitude of the white settlers in the forest camps toward the local Indians. They almost always found the Indians hostile and aggressive; Fawcett consistently found them friendly and helpful, with a few exceptions. Why this difference in attitude? Fawcett leaves no doubt:
   "Immediately there was a round-up, and those [Indians] who were not killed were taken away to the Beni [as slaves]. One woman carrying a new-born child was shot in the ankle, and, unable to walk, was dragged to the river to be towed down stream on a raft behind the launch. When the party in the launch were tired of this, they cut her adrift to reach the shore any way she could. The perpetrators of this ghastly business boasted openly of their doings—proud of their 'victory'! They told how children had been taken by the legs and dashed against trees to kill them. There is no doubt of these atrocities, and it is not an exaggeration on my part."
   Throughout the book Fawcett observes the living conditions in the bush. One of the diseases he reported frequently is "earth eating" (also reported in Appalachia, in modern America):
   "Many of the Indian peons at San Carlos were earth-eaters, doomed to die after a year or two of this habit. One of its victims had shortly before been sent off sick with a load of bananas and meat to keep him going, but on the way out he was caught making three mud pies for breakfast. he died before reaching his destination."
   And another case mentioned later:
   "Beside us, under the shade of the hut's eaves, a man was dying of earth eating—an emaciated creature whose stomach was greatly swollen. To those who knew the symptoms the case was obviously hopeless, and our seringero (rubber gatherer) host was wasting no sympathy on him. All the time the victim kept up a monotonous groaning and ejaculated, 'Senhores, I'm in agony—aie, what agony!'
   "'You've got to die in about half an hour,' said the seringero in answer, 'so why all this fuss? It spoils the breakfast of the senhores!'
   "'Aie!' wailed the dying man. 'I'm in agony—aie, what agony!'
   "Suddenly a woman snatched away the mosquito net. The man was dead. A wasp settled on his nose, which twitched feebly, but there was no sound from him. Within an hour his body was buried, and probably forgotten. I wondered why he had been born—what object was served by his passage through childhood to a life of hopeless misery, and finally to a lonely, agonizing and unwept exit."
   After Fawcett became familiar with the story of Francisco Raposo his attention began to shift from pure engineering toward exploration and discovery. Things he heard on his survey expeditions, and stories and lore he learned from people he met between expeditions began to seduce him. In one place He records a conversation with a man concerning an unusual forest bird that nests in perfect round holes in rock cliffs.
   "'They make the holes themselves.' The words were spoken by a man who had spent a quarter of a century in the forests. 'I've seen how they do it, many a time. I've watched, I have, and seen the birds come to the cliff with leaves of some sort in their beaks, and cling to the rock like woodpeckers to a tree while they rubbed the leaves in a circular motion over the surface. Then they would fly off, and come back with more leaves, and carry on with the rubbing process. After three or four repetitions they dropped the leaves and started pecking at the place with their sharp beaks, and—here's the marvellous part—they would soon open out a round hole in the stone...'
   "'Do you mean to say that the bird's beak can penetrate solid rock?'
   '...No, I don't think the bird can get through solid rock. I believe, as everyone who has watched them believes, that those birds know of a leaf with juice that can soften up rock till it's like wet clay.'
   "The man continued with a personal story about his nephew. He had walked through the thick bush to a nearby camp to retrieve his horse, which had gone lame and had been left there temporarily. He noticed, when he arrived, that his new Mexican spurs had been eaten away almost completely. The owner of the camp asked him if he had walked through a certain plant about a foot high, with dark reddish leaves. The young man said he had walked through a wide area that was completely covered with such plants. 'That's it!...That's what's eaten your spurs away! That's the stuff the Incas used for shaping stones. The juice will soften rock up till it's like paste. You must show me where you found the plants.' But when they retraced the young man's steps they were unable to locate them."
   In a footnote Brian Fawcett, the editor of the book, has a personal story to tell concerning the mysterious rock-softening plants:
   "'I don't believe it!' said a friend who had been a member of the Yale Peruvian Expedition that discovered Macchupicchu in 1911. 'I've seen them in all stages of preparation, and can assure you the fitting surfaces were worked by hand and nothing else!'
   "Another friend of mine told me the following story:
   "'Some years ago, when I was working in the mining camp at Cerro de Pasco (a place 14,000 feet up in the Andes of Central Peru), I went out one Sunday with some other Gringos to visit some old Inca or Pre-Inca graves—to see if we could find anything worth while. We took our grub with us, and, of course, a few bottles of pisco and beer, and a peon—a cholo—to help us dig.
   "'Well, we had our lunch when we got to the burial place, and afterwards started to open up some graves that seemed to be untouched. We worked hard, and knocked off every now and then for a drink. I don't drink myself, but the others did, especially one chap who poured too much pisco into himself and was inclined to be noisy. When we knocked off, all we had found was an earthenware jar of about a quart capacity, and with liquid inside it.
   "'"I bet it's chicha!" said the noisy one. "Let's try it and see what sort of stuff the Incas drank!"
   "'"Probably poison us if we do." observed another.
   "'"Tell you what, then—let's try in on the peon!"
   "'They dug the seal and stopper out of the jar's mouth, sniffed at the contents and called the peon over to them.
   "'"Take a drink of this chicha," ordered the drunk. The peon took the jar, hesitated, and then with an expression of fear spreading over his face thrust it into the drunk's hands and backed away.
   "'"No, no, señor," he murmured. "Not that. That's not chicha!" He turned and made off.
   "'The drunk put the jar down on a flat-topped rock and set off in pursuit. "Come on, boys—catch him!" he yelled. They caught the wretched man, dragged him back, and ordered him to drink the contents of the jar. The peon struggled madly, his eyes popping. There was a bit of a scrimmage, and the jar was knocked over and broken, its contents forming a puddle on top of the rock. Then the peon broke free and took to his heels.
   "'Everyone laughed. It was a huge joke. But the exercise had made them thirsty and they went over to the sack where the beer- bottles lay.
   "'About ten minutes later I bent over the rock and casually examined the pool of spilled liquid. It was no longer liquid; the whole patch where it had been, and the rock under it, were as soft as wet cement! It was as though the stone had melted, like wax under the influence of heat.'"
   Another tale Fawcett heard occasionally became an important point of focus for some of his later expeditions:
   "The Indians there spoke of houses with 'stars to light them, which never went out.' This was the first, but not the last time I heard of these permanent lights found occasionally in the ancient houses built by that forgotten civilization of old. I knew that certain Indians of Ecuador were reputed to light their huts at night by means of luminous plants, but that, I considered, must be a different thing altogether. There was some secret means of illumination known to the ancients that remains to be rediscovered by scientists of today—some method of harnessing forces unknown to us."
   Was it true, or was it a case of the treasure hunter succumbing to the tales of treasure he wanted to believe?
   On his last expedition, Fawcett has exploration and treasure in mind. His itinerary includes specific goals. One of these is the strange light source:
   "Our route will be from Dead Horse Camp, 11° 43' south and 54° 35' west, where my horse died in 1921, roughly northeast to the Xingu, visiting on the way an ancient stone tower which is the terror of the surrounding Indians, as at night it is lighted from door and windows."

   Fawcett's narratives are really detailed, very literate diaries; reports on each of his expeditions. They are based on simple chronological recounting of the events on his treks, augmented by a profusion of observations of almost everything unusual he experienced or wondered about on the trips. They are surprisingly optimistic; he seems never to have doubted his ability to complete a project successfully and return safely, until much later when divulging his plans for his last trip in 1925. He was clearly concerned about his physical condition and the likelihood that he would not survive this one.
   Throughout his adventures Fawcett laments not being able to find reliable, fit companions for his trips. Finally, on his last, he was accompanied by his older son Jack and Jack's good friend; and he seems to have been satisfied. Regrettably, all three men disappeared forever during that expedition.

Brian Fawcett and Indians
Brian Fawcett and Indians, during a search

   Brian Fawcett's epilog recounts his efforts to find his father and brother after their disappearance. Numerous leads got him nowhere, and he was forced to conclude that the men had been killed, perhaps even eaten, by the Indians in those remote regions.
   I wondered why Fawcett was constantly pulled toward regions whose inhabitants were reported to be hostile, savage, even cannibals. Was he attempting to prove something he had not been willing to tell? Was he following a connection he had developed between certain tribes and his lost city? Did he simply have a death wish—an explorer's version of earth-eating? All—unknown!
   I had the impression that, at the end, he had very specific goals he would not reveal until he had concluded his final exploration successfully. He may not even have disclosed his true purpose to his son.
   While reading this book one must remember that the author was writing in the early 20th Century. His British upper middle class cultural biases stamp his work at almost every turn. I say this not because that is objectionable or in any way minimizes the accuracy of Fawcett's observations or adventures, but because in our recent culture, so dominated by concern with "political correctness" and "valuing cultural diversity," many people have simply rejected everything Fawcett achieved because of his conservative (but probably very astute) racial and cultural views. I personally found his observations on the people he met important to my understanding of some of his experiences. For example, he makes frequent reference to the physical differences he observed from one Indian tribe to the next. One he describes as fair-skinned, blue-eyed, auburn-haired; another as black, hairy, primitive, brutal. A careful reader will notice quickly that Fawcett characterizes the races he encounters primarily by their behaviors, not by their appearances. But their appearances are important to him, first as tribal identifiers; second, because throughout his career in Brazil he sought a race of a certain phenotype: fair, blue-eyed, light-haired. He believed they descended from an ancient, higher civilization and might give a clue that would lead him to Raposo's lost city.
   Another characteristic Fawcett exposes is his concurrent belief in (a) the tangible, empirical world of science, and (b) a spiritual world where observations often cannot be resolved by technical measurement or analysis. In effect, Fawcett was scientist and mystic; and mystics are not "politically correct" today. It is obvious that many men felt the same in Fawcett's day; the Royal Geographic Society never took his reports or presentations seriously. This hurt him deeply and effected his later work.

   I personally don't care about Fawcett's "politics." His book is engaging, mystifying, often graphic and terrifying. It's an adventure classic treasure.
   Lost Trails, Lost Cities, or Exploration Fawcett, has disappeared from publishers' warehouses. It may still be possible to find the occasional copy in used book stores. A good possibility is to place a special order with our online associate, They still list the British title as possibly available.

And One From The Good Book
"The Letter to the Galatians"
Saul of Tarsus, called Paul
Wherever the Apostle Paul traveled he established congregations of the Lord's church. By commission from God, and through agreement with the Apostles, Paul taught the gospel to the Gentile world. In every place he went he also converted local Jews to Jesus.
   In his earlier years, Paul had severely persecuted Christians. Now that he was one, and a champion to the Gentiles, other Jewish men began to persecute him. They were always just a few steps behind him, and their technique seems to have been subtle and effective. They would not attack him physically. Instead, they caused doubt about the gospel he taught.
   "Paul has not told you everything," they said. "It's OK to be a Christian, but you must first become a Jew."
   Their particular focus seems to have been an insistence that new Gentile Christian males be circumcised, as were all good Jewish males. Circumcision was the physical sign of God's old covenant with Israel. If they succeeded, they would cheapen the spiritual sign of God's new covenant with Christians, water baptism.
   "Paul is not really an Apostle," they continued. "Apostles were directly commissioned by Jesus, himself."
   This subtle argument appeared correct, but it discredited Paul's experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus, when Jesus directly took control of his life and sent him to convert the Gentiles (see The Acts, chapter 9). Perhaps the fact that this happened after the death of The Christ was the issue. If this deception were accepted, it would discredit Jesus' resurrection in the new converts' eyes.
   There seems to have been, too, the delicate question of whether Paul was teaching Jesus for the personal profit it might bring. In all, it was a whispering campaign designed to nullify Paul's success with the Gentiles.
   John, in his first letter (John I), calls these men "the antichrist," one of the very few mentions of "antichrist" in The Bible. He correctly identifies them as having come from within the Church. Paul calls them "sham Christians."
   They taught a modified gospel based, once again, on justification through deeds of law rather than Grace, the free gift of God, through faith in Jesus. They were confusing and upsetting the new Gentile converts everywhere Paul went. It is to these converts in congregations throughout Galatia that Paul writes this letter.
   Paul effectively argues that the Jews had been under The Law only until they, as a people, became spiritually mature. The Gentiles, outside God's covenant, had never been under The Law, but had obtained spiritual maturity, nevertheless. (see Paul's letter to the Roman Church, chapter 2, verses 12-16). At just the right time, the present, both Jew and Gentile were being united as Christians. As spiritually mature children of God, no longer minors, they were now under Grace—the living spiritual principles of the old, physical law.
   "Galatians" is one of the few places in The Bible where the transition from Law to Grace is explained clearly. It is a concept at the foundation of Christianity, and it is often misunderstood by modern Christians: in our life we show our love for God by performing righteous deeds from our hearts, because we want to please Him; not from our law books, because we have to. To equip us for that work, Jesus has removed all our condemnation, past, present, and future. We trust Him fully to keep his promises to us. This is the good news that Paul preached and that his opposition sought to quell.
   His letter to the Galatian congregations, written from prison, is his long-distance way of getting those churches back on the simple track of Jesus' gospel. He also addresses the racial prejudice, even among the Apostles, that could divide the Church if it were allowed to continue. As that prejudice could separate Jew from Gentile, so could jealousy and insensitivity divide person from person.
   Some of Paul's letter to the Galatians is a rehearsal of what they already knew. How could they be forgetting things they had already mastered? Other sections seem to reveal things he had not explained before, and which are found nowhere else in The New Testament.
   "The Letter To The Galatians" should be read in company with "The Letter To The Ephesians," where Paul reveals, for the only time I've been able to find, God's true long-term plan for His people. These two letters are a remarkable basis for faith for those of us who ask "Why...?" and "How...?"

   To get the most from Paul's letters, and from all the other Bible scriptures, may I suggest that you read it in at least one modern language translation, like The New International Version, and one older translation, like the King James Version or the Revised Standard Version. In America, Bibles are easy to find; you can find several in our Online Bookstore.

   You can protect your valuable hardbound books with our crystal clear polyester book jacket covers. See the selection in our Store.

   See you next time for more reviews of interesting books. To read book reviews from previous issues see "Back Issues" in our "Library."


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