Recommended reading on the subject of South America
Keep the River on Your Right by Tobias Schneebaum. Grove Press, 1969. $10.95
In 1955, armed with a penknife and the instructions “Keep the river on your right,” Brooklyn-born painter Tobias Schneebaum set off into the trackless jungles of Peru in search of a tribe of cannibals. This classic account of his months with the Akaramas–shaving and painting his body, hunting with Stone Age weapons, sleeping with his brother warriors in the warmth of the
body-pile–is a fiercely beautiful journey into the uncharted habitations of the flesh and spirit.
The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness by Peter Matthiessen. Penguin, 1961. $12.95
For 20,000 miles, Peter Matthiessen criss-crossed the South American wilderness, traveling from the Amazon rainforests to Machu Picchu high in the Andes, down to the edge of the world at Tierra del Fuego and back. In the course of his journey he followed the trails of old explorers, encountered river bandits, wild tribesmen, and the evidence of ancient ruins, and discovered a
fossilized snout of a giant unknown crocodilian hidden in the depths of the jungle on the wild mountain rivers of Peru. Filled with observations and descriptions of the people and the fading wildlife of this vast world to the south, The Cloud Forest is Matthiessen’s incisive, wry report of his expedition into some of the last and most exotic wild
terrains in the world.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin. Penguin, 1977. $11.95
In Patagonia is Bruce Chatwin’s classic account of his journey through “the uttermost part of the earth,” that stretch of land at the southern tip of South America, where bandits were once made welcome and where Charles Darwin formed part of his “survival of the fittest” theory. Chatwin’s evocative descriptions, notes on the odd history of the
region, and remarkable anecdotes make In Patagonia an exhilarating look at a place that still retains the exotic mystery of a far-off, unseen land.
Eight Feet in the Andes by Dervla Murphy. Overlook Press, 1983. $13.95
“Eight feet in the Andes” refers to the celebrated but restless feet of Dervla Murphy, her nine-year old daughter, and the equally intrepid hooves of the mule that accompanied them on their 1,300-mile journey through the Peruvian Andes in the footsteps of Pizarro, the ruthless conquistador. For centuries the strong hold of the Inca, this mountain range encompasses some of the
most formidable terrain on earth. In this book Murphy is both an explorer of great courage and endurance and a writer of gracious sensitivity and compassion. The spectacular extremes of geography and climate, the Peruvian people and way of life, and the various mishaps, wrong turns, and unplanned dramas are all exquisitely rendered with her special brand of Irish
understatement and wit.
Savages by Joe Kane. Vintage Departures, 1995. $13.00
The Huaorani Indians live in one of the most remote regions of the Ecuadorean Amazon, and they are so fearsome that they had driven off generations of invaders. Then oil was discovered in Huaorani territory, and suddenly everyone–from petroleum companies to missionaries and environmentalists–wanted a piece of them. Into this maelstrom stepped the writer and adventurer Joe
Kane. In the course of reporting the conflict between the Huaorani and the forces they call the cowode–or “cannibals”–he got to know his protagonists in a way that few outsiders ever have. An epic tale that sweeps us from the vastness of the Amazon to the political encampments of Washington, D.C., Savages is both a
riveting adventure as well as a book that challenges our deepest assumptions about the nature of civilization.
Running the Amazon by Joe Kane. Vintage Departures, 1989. $12.00
The voyage began in the lunar terrain of the Peruvian Andes, where coca leaf is the only remedy against altitude sickness. It continued down rapids so fierce they could swallow a raft in a split second. It ended six months and 4,200 miles later, where the Amazon runs gently into the Atlantic. Joe Kane’s personal account of the first expedition to travel the entirety of the
world’s longest river is a riveting adventure in the tradition of Joseph Conrad, filled with death-defying encounters with narco-traffickers, Sendero Luminoso guerrillas, and nature at its most unforgiving. Not least of all, Running the Amazon shows a polyglot group of urbanized travelers confronting their wilder
selves–their fear and egotism, selflessness and courage.
In Bolivia by Eric Lawlor. Vintage Departures, 1989. $12.00
When he was growing up during the fifties, Eric Lawlor discovered that his father was obsessed with a revolution taking place in Bolivia. Just why he found political turmoil in this land-locked, preposterously corrupt nation so tantalizing (after all, there have been more than 250 Bolivian governments in the last century or so), Lawlor didn’t find out then, but 30 years later,
he endeavored to unravel the secret. In an odyssey that takes him from the bizarre, decaying capital of La Paz through the forbidding countryside to such ghost towns as Potosi (in the 17th century it was as large as London) to the suspected site of the Incan city of gold, El Dorado, Lawlor’s wit and keen eye sustain him through a series of peculiar misadventures. Aging hookers
try to seduce him, shamans attempt to cure his ills, soldiers fall drunk at his feet, and petty bureaucrats relentlessly try to convince him that Bolivia is both the place to be and the place to escape from–as quickly as possible.
Road Fever by Tim Cahill. Vintage Departures, 1991. $11.00
Engine trouble in Patagonia. Sadistic troopers in Peru. Document hell in Colombia. Ice-slick highways in Alaska. These are some of the perils that Tim Cahill braved in the course of driving the 15,000 miles from Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay in a record-breaking 23-and-a-half days, all in a valiant attempt to find out how far you can go and how fast you can get there. Cahill
documents this epic road trip in a fiercely adrenal and breathlessly funny book that tells us everything we ever wanted to know about low-budget counter-terrorism; what the psychic effects of a diet of beef jerky and Farmer’s milkshakes are; and how professional adventurers can coax General Motors and The Guinness Book of World Records into
subsidizing their high-speed wanderlust.
Other recommended books:
Chile Insight Guide. Wonderful pictures and background essays.
South American Insight Guide
Ecuador Insight Guide
Peru Insight Guide
Backpacking in Central America by Bradt
Lonely Planet Central America
Lonely Planet South America. These books have the personal information and great maps that have made them the lion of the travel book industry. Individual country guides also are available, but impractical for long-term travel.
Medicine for Mountaineering and Other Outdoor Sports. An essential reference.
Altitude Illness and Prevention by Stephen Bezruschka
Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue. Excellent, thorough coverage.
Climbing and Hiking in Bolivia and Peru by Bradt
Backpacking and Trekking in Chile and Argentina
Climbing and Hiking in Ecuador. The two best general mountaineering and hiking books for these countries.
Miles from Nowhere by Barbara Savage. Nan’s favorite. An inspiring account of Savage’s bicycle journey around the world with her husband.