With a companion the English novelist William Somerset Maugham was able to travel to a large part of the world in the first half of the twentieth century. Although meagre in his output, Maugham has left us with some accounts of these travels, more travel notes than travel writing. These notes offer us some insight of European eyes and attitudes on parts of the world not long before the rise of mass tourism.
A fourteenth century traveller who rivalled the wanderings of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta is largely overlooked and ignored, his destinations and experiences are beyond what many of us could hope to accomplish in the modern day. But one must be wary of the writings of Sir John Mandeville.
From the tenth century port city of Siraf trading vessels sailed the seas from the coast of Africa to the ports of China. Goods from all coasts were traded here and the sailors and merchants who came to Siraf had stories to tell. Fortunately Captain Buzurg thought to record these stories and has left us ‘The Books of the Wonders of India.’
The Atlantic Middle Passage was the journey that millions of Africans were forced to take to the Americas from the 16th through to the 19th centuries. Into slavery most were sold to the mines and plantations of the Americas, although many were to perish upon the seas, few of their voices ever to be heard. One exception is that of Olaudah Equiano, his Interesting Narrative recounts his capture from present day Nigeria and experiences as a slave and upon the seas during the second half of the eighteenth century.