You might have born a true traveller and love to grab a plane and just fly to the end of the world. Or you might have always have had the burning desire to wander paradises such as South East Asia, Tropical forests, the heart of Africa or remote Pacific Islands. But have you ever wondered how was it for explorers and pioneers to step into these landscapes for the very first time? Hundreds of dangers were waiting for them: unknown diseases, wild animals, extreme climate conditions, anthropophagous tribes and pirates. It might sound as something from a Netflix serie, but this is how it was for the adventurers who dared to travel the world and draw maps of the unknown.
Among all the bold men who got their spot in history thanks to their unique discoveries, accomplishments and traveling books they wrote, there are not less brave women who left everything behind and reached fame at their time. They had to fight twice as tough as men, put up with social criticism and, in some cases, dress up as men or use male pseudonyms to publish their experiences in the papers. And history has never granted them the same recognition it has to their masculine colleagues.
Lord George Curzon, president of the Royal Geographical Society of London, in 1913, stated something like “[women’s] sex and training make them incompetent when it comes to exploration, and this kind of ramblers (…) is one of the greatest horrors of this end of 19th century. So this is why, from Analogias, we want to give a little spot to some of these explorers who, sometimes, stepped beyond what any other men had been before.
At the past, any woman who wished to travel alone would be called, at least, “excentric”. Or worse. In the 19th century is when we find more examples of female globetrotters, ladies who would escape from an oppressive society, boring routines, boundaries, limits and home-linked duties. Some of them, would travel the world without losing their strict Victorian moral and British elegance. Mary Kingsley, for example, traveled to the heart of Africa several times, when it was considered “the grave of white men”. And she did so always dressed with tight corsés, heavy underskirts, long dresses, stockings, ankle boots and an umbrella.
May Sheldon lead an expedition to Kenya without leaving behind her zinc bathtub and she was always carried in a wicker palanquin, with a flag at the front reading “Noli me tangere” in latin, meaning “Do not touch me”. Even that, she took extra care of all the 150 carriers who were part of her expedition. Gertrude Bell, one of the most renowned travelers, was an archeologist who become friend and adviser of kings all around the Arabic lands, and was the main consultant of Lawrence of Arabia. She never give up the pleasure of eating with her porcelain dinner service and cristal glasses in the middle of the desert. The Dutch Alexine Tinne and her mother, the baroness Harriett spend all their enormous fortune traveling as true queens, in an expedition to the Nile fountains.
Other ladies were more practical. Alexandra David-Néel was the first Occidental woman to penetrate the forbidden city of Lhasa, in Nepal. She did so dressed as a man, after some of the hardest expeditions through the Himalayan mountains. She never stopped traveling the world, and she renovated her passport for the last time when she was 100 years old “just in case”. Freya Stark lived for a 100 years too. She perfectly spoke nine languages, travelled her whole life and wrote more than 30 travel books. She explored, on her own, the Arabic lands, from Persia to Yemen, and discovered lost or forgotten ancient cities, mountains and was able to correct mistakes in the British government maps. She was known as the Queen of Irak, since she was part of the creation of the modern nation of Irak.
Anne Blunt, Lord Byron’s granddaughter, was the first European to wander the Arabian deserts. Ida Pfeiffer completed two travels around the globe and fought the Borneo tribe of head hunters. Isabella Bird was the first woman accepted in the Royal Geographical Society of London, after three travels around the world. Margaret Stevenson, mother of the explorer Robert Louis Stevenson, travelled with him and his wife Fanny Vandegrift in a two years “cruise” through the Polynesia. This victorian widow was 60 years old when she learned how to ride a horse, so she could attend a Catholic mass, and happily lived in the Pacific islands without corsé, barefoot and dressed as a Samoan.
The passion and the spirit of these ladies paved the path for all the following women who love traveling. Next time you are in a remote paradise or enjoying a safari, comfortably dressed in one of your Analogias dresses, take a moment to think of them. How amazing and exciting would have been to live their life?