I’m not much of an “outdoors” type of person. Bugs creep me out and spiders of any size have me running for backup. In other words, you’ll not find me putting myself in a position that will involve a prolonged exposure to creepy-crawlies. But I have a lot of respect for people who aren’t bothered by nature’s creepier side. And Colonel Percy Fawcett certainly wasn’t.
A good part of Exploration Fawcett covers Fawcett’s boundary-survey work and the adventures he had while completing that work. With all the obstacles he and his teams had to face, it’s surprising that he was able to finish any of it!
Naturally, there are a lot of cities and areas named when describing the work and it’s easy to just skim over them if you’re not careful. One review I read before I bought the book suggested that you read it while having Google Earth open. It does help to get the full scope of what Fawcett was doing, especially if you are unfamiliar with the area.
Fawcett’s survey work took him on many expeditions between 1906 and 1914 and it was during these journeys that he became convinced there was a lost city. In 1915 he returned to Britain for active service in World War I, but after the war was over he was right back at it. In 1921, he set off on another expedition, this time to see if he could find the lost city, which he called “Z”. By the end of that journey he was by himself and spent the last three months traveling alone! It didn’t seem to bother him though: “Loneliness is not intolerable when enthusiasm for a quest fills the mind.” And the result of the expedition?
“I found enough to make it imperative to go again. The hints that follow may be sufficient to indicate the extraordinarily interesting nature of the research. With the right companions, the right organization, and knowledge of the way to go, it can, I am confident, be brought to a successful conclusion. I have probed from three sides for the surest way in; I have seen enough to make any risk worth while in order to see more, and our story when we return from the next expedition may thrill the world!”
After that expedition was over, he returned to England with his family while he tried to raise support for another trip. It was during this time in England that he wrote the book. He never really elaborated on what he found that made it imperative to go again except a few mentions of stories he had heard. But he must have been sure because in 1925 he set off again. The “right companions” for this trip were his eldest son Jack and Jack’s friend Raleigh Rimell. The events leading up to the final expedition is covered in the book by his younger son Brian and includes quite a few snippets from letters that were written by the travelers.
Fawcett was right; his last expedition did thrill the world… just not in the way he was hoping. After they disappeared, there were several rescue attempts which all ended in failure. A lot of rumors emerged as to what exactly happened and Brian Fawcett talks about some of them. The mystery remains to this day and it seems likely that we’ll never know what their fate was.
Going into the final journey, Fawcett knew it would be difficult and extremely dangerous. But again, he didn’t let it get to him. In his last letter, his final words to his wife were: “You need have no fear of failure.” As uncertain life is for any of us, I think that is a pretty good attitude to have!