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At the Mercy of the River: An Exploration of…

At the Mercy of the River: An Exploration of the Last African Wilderness (edition 2005)

by Peter Stark

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323532,465 (3.67)10
Even in this age of extreme sports and made-for-TV survival games, there still exist places on earth where the most intrepid among us can plunge into truly unknown territory. The acclaimed adventure writer Peter Stark had waited all his life for just such an opportunity. But when he was invited to Africa to join a small expedition kayaking down Mozambique's Lugenda River, he balked. The 750-kilometer river course was largely uncharted-dotted with rapids, waterfalls, and home to deadly crocodiles and hippos; two of his four travel companions were not skilled kayakers; and he had a family to think of, (not to mention that at forty-eight, he himself was feeling a bit old for the life untamed). Suppressing inner doubts and driven by that most human of urges-to see what lies beyond the next bend-Stark signed on for the adventure of a lifetime. At the Mercy of the River is Stark's harrowing, insightful account of this venture into the unknown. "Why," he muses between capsizes in the Lugenda's croc-infested waters, "are humans compelled to explore?" The expedition's five distinct-and sometimes clashing-personalities provide individual answers to that question. Equipped with only the most rudimentary comforts and lacking the customary explorer's gun, the party encounters breathtaking natural splendor, rich wildlife, and villages little affected by modern life. Ever aware that they are following in the metaphorical footsteps of great explorers of the past-Vasco da Gama, Mungo Park, Ibn Battuta, David Livingstone, and other men of adventure who bridged Africa and the West-Stark shares these explorers' stories with us, finding a common thread linking his experience with theirs. Using their accounts, his travails on the Lugenda River, and the insights of wilderness philosophers such as Henry David Thoreau, Stark attempts to understand the very nature of "exploration" while pondering the question, Where will we go when our wilderness vanishes? At the Mercy of the River is at turns inspiring, heart-thumping, and even amusing. But most of all, it is a riveting adventure story for a time when adventure is in danger of losing its meaning. Stark chronicles his trip down Mozambique's Lugenda River past expected and unexpected hazards, wondering what drives man to push beyond the boundaries of civilization. He uses diaries, letters, and historical accounts of past explorers to understand man's urge to explore.… (more)
Title:At the Mercy of the River: An Exploration of the Last African Wilderness
Authors:Peter Stark
Info:Ballantine Books (2005), Edition: 1ST, Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:africa, travel, Mozambique

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At the Mercy of the River: An Exploration of the Last African Wilderness by Peter Stark



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A well-written story of Stark's 14-day kayak journey down the Lugenda river in Mozambique in the company of four other kayakers. Before leaving, he considered many of the risks in such a trip in an uncharted area. In reality the hazards were more numerous: relationship with others on the team, the lesser skills of some members, health problems, conditions, and even being scared. Stark is contemplative throughout the journey and his honesty is refreshing without being navel-gazing. The journal is interspersed with accounts of historical exploration in Africa that adds interest and comparisons. In some respects, little has changed in this area. Recommended. ( )
  VivienneR | Dec 10, 2014 |
I have always been in awe of people that can set out upon the unknown, take themselves into the wilderness and survive, and At The Mercy of the River delivered all these things and then some. Peter Stark writes of the fifteen day expedition when he and four others set out upon Mozambique’s Lugenda River on a kayaking trip. Their goal was to be the first party to make the first descent of this unpaddled river.

They succeeded in their goal, and his written account relates both the good and the bad. His descriptions of this unspoiled wilderness and the wildlife they encountered along the way painted a picture that brought this land to vivid life. The river itself was a force to be reckoned with as they contended with rapids, waterfalls, and gorges that would try all of their strength and endurance. Travelling with five strong personalities meant that there were clashes, and the author battled with both control issues and his own insecurities.

Being aware that they were caught up in an adventure much like the African explorers that went before them, the author often found himself contemplating on the stories of some of the greatest African explorers. Throughout the book, he sprinkled tales of Vasco de Gama, Mungo Park and David Livingstone along with others which helped both himself and the reader to better understand the “hows and the whys” of exploration.

At The Mercy Of The River is a well written adventure story that is riveting and informative. This was a life changing fifteen days for all members of the party and is a book I highly recommend. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Sep 21, 2013 |
This book is the log of the author's two-week excursion down the Lugenda river in the company of four other Caucasians. There are some suspenseful encounters with rapids, waterfalls, crocodiles, hippos, snakes and finally illness. His writing style reminds me a lot of Jon Krakauer. He is introspective, constantly rationalizing his reasons for making the trip and analyzing the impact that he and civilization are making on these relatively uncharted areas. What is especially poignant are the many parallels that he intersperses throughout the book recounting the historical precedents for what he is experiencing on this trip. He harkens back to the the great explorers who all had their various reasons for confronting the wilderness; the Portuguese, James Bruce, Stanley, Livingstone, Speke, Thoreau, and Ibn Battuta among many others. The book offers some very good arguments for why we need to preserve wilderness areas in our modern world. ( )
1 vote mwhel | May 25, 2009 |
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