Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo (Vintage Departures Series)

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Overview

Eric Hansen was the first westerner ever to walk across the island of Borneo. Completely cut off from the outside world for seven months, he traveled nearly 1,500 miles with small bands of nomadic hunters known as Penan. Beneath the rain forest canopy, they trekked through a hauntingly beautiful jungle where snakes and frogs fly, pigs climb trees, giant carnivorous plants eat mice, and mushrooms glow at night.

At once a modern classic of travel literature and a gripping ...

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Overview

Eric Hansen was the first westerner ever to walk across the island of Borneo. Completely cut off from the outside world for seven months, he traveled nearly 1,500 miles with small bands of nomadic hunters known as Penan. Beneath the rain forest canopy, they trekked through a hauntingly beautiful jungle where snakes and frogs fly, pigs climb trees, giant carnivorous plants eat mice, and mushrooms glow at night.

At once a modern classic of travel literature and a gripping adventure story, Stranger in the Forest provides a rare and intimate look at the vanishing way of life of one of the last surviving groups of rain forest dwellers. Hansen's absorbing, and often chilling, account of his exploits is tempered with the humor and humanity that prompted the Penan to take him into their world and to share their secrets.

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Editorial Reviews

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Our Review
In the charismatic prologue to Stranger in the Forest, Eric Hansen depicts himself as a precocious, imaginative eight-year-old, stalking rhinos with a spear in his yard. (In grown-up talk, that means attacking flower bushes with an old bamboo pole.) Many years later, Hansen's fantasies of jungle adventure came true when he entered the rainforests of Borneo, undertaking a near-impossible journey across the entire island on foot. After struggling through 1,500 miles of dense forest, enduring leeches, innumerable cuts and bruises, and a harrowing tribal attack, Hansen emerged with an amazing story and a transformed sense of self.

The inaccessibility of Borneo's interior -- a vast expanse of towering rainforest, tangled rivers, and high mountain ridges -- prevented Hansen from entertaining thoughts of making the trek alone. Locals told Hansen the best guides would be the Penan, a tribe of nomadic jungle-dwellers who seldom leave their rainforest home. It took several days of hiking into the forest with two villagers before the shy Penan revealed themselves, suddenly, by stepping out of a bush right underneath Hansen's nose. Over the next several months, Hansen began learning how to survive in the rainforest, a world where the leaves are so tightly packed overhead that the sun never reaches the ground, while connecting with the culture of the forest dwellers. As in most travelogues, Hansen's focus on the beliefs, folklore, and rituals of the native Penan and Kenyah tribespeople he meets allows his own identity to shine through. Hansen is a friendly, witty traveler who refers to the importance of laughter throughout the book, claiming "I could do without a map, but a sense of humor was essential." The uselessness of maps is another recurrent theme, as the disorienting rainforest world places Hansen entirely in the hands of his guides. Free from the burden of navigation, Hansen fills his journal with incredible descriptions of the forest. Hansen is not the first traveler to describe the rainforest as a living creature, but his words are particularly evocative: "It made me feel as if I were traveling through the intestinal flora of some giant leafy creature."

Although the overall thread of the book is Hansen's journey into the magical rainforest world, there is a sense of tragedy lurking around the edges of the narrative. As exhilarating, inspiring, and unforgettable as it is, Stranger in the Forest is a snapshot of a world that, to a large extent, no longer exists. In the sobering epilogue, Hansen describes the development projects and timber companies that have transformed the forest, scarring the leafy expanse with roads and patches of tree stumps. Stranger in the Forest takes on a whole new meaning in this context -- it is a vivid record of a vanishing culture.

--Julie Carr

From the Publisher

"[A] book in the highest tradition of travel writing, encompassing grace, curiosity, and fear."—The Washington Post

"[A] gracefully written and passionate—account of a strange world made palpable, written with disarming modesty and rare sensitivity."—The New York Times Book Review

"One reads it and simply marvels."—Outside

Library Journal
Hansen's adventurous walk across Borneo took place in the 1980s, but the forest and culture that he encountered have changed little during the past century. Though he documents his reactions to isolation and to the tropical forest environment and its culture, he is not successful in describing the indigenous people or the forest; a more sophisticated treatment would have enriched the reader's experience. Despite this weakness he conveys the drama of the adventure, not least his navete in undertaking such an effort with such little planning. James R. Karr, Smithsonian Tropical Research Inst., Balboa, Panama
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375724954
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Series: Vintage Departures Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 465,840
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric Hansen lives in San Francisco, California.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 11, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Eric Hansen is a consummate traveler. I loved this book. While i

    Eric Hansen is a consummate traveler. I loved this book. While in a different part of the world, another book I read recently and had the same feel of a traveler/adventure truly immersed in his place was Arctic Adventure (recommended on side). Enjoy both.

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  • Posted November 18, 2008

    A great book I've read and recommended many times.

    This is probably the best travel book I have read. Eric's style isn't about the romance of travel aimed at exciting the couch potato, it is about the adventure and unexpected surprises that travel brings you. <BR/><BR/>Really a great book. Buy it now.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2007

    Worth the effort to find & read

    I heard the author speaking of his journeys on NPR radio. Intrested me enought to find a copy and read it. Very well worth the effort and I am reacommending it to family and friends. Must check out more of his books!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2005

    One of my favorite books

    Stranger in the forest was lent to me by a friend in preparation for a much less ambitious trip to Irian Jaya and SE Asia. Over the 10 years since then, I have read it at least 4 times and have lent it to everyone I can.

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