Travel: Time Travellers

From Viking longboats to the lunar module, Phil Haines chooses the 50 greatest journeys of the past thousand years
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The Independent Travel
About AD1000, Leif, son of Eric the Red who colonised Greenland in 984, became the first European to land on North America, at Helluland, or Baffin Island. According to the Scandinavian Sagas, he continued to Markland, Labrador and Newfoundland before staying in Vinland, between Cape Cod and Nova Scotia. Archaeological digs in this area have produced remains of fortifications, weapons and drakkars - the longboats distinctive to the Vikings.


Idrisi travelled extensively in his youth - between Asia Minor and England- but from 1145 worked as court geographer to Roger II, the Norman King of Sicily. His book, translated as The Pleasure Excursion of One Who is Eager to Traverse the Regions of the World (also known as The Book of Roger) was completed in 1154 and accompanied a planisphere and map on a silver tablet.


The Supreme Mongol ruler, Genghis Khan began his conquest of the world in 1206. Until his death in 1227, his roving hordes had gained an empire stretching from the Black Sea to northern China and the Sea of Japan.


Pope Innocent IV dispatched Carpini in 1245 as an envoy to the court of the Great Khan of the Mongols, hoping to convert him to Christianity or, at least, to form an alliance. The 60-year-old Franciscan monk revealed to Europeans hitherto unknown Central Asia - the Black, Caspian and Aral seas on his way north of the Gobi desert to the shores of Lake Baikal - in his Book of the Tartars.


In 1271, Marco Polo accompanied his father, Niccolo, and uncle, Maffeo, on their second expedition to Cathay (China)- they were the first Europeans to reach Cambaluc (Peking) on their earlier 14-year journey across the Silk Route.

The Venetians travelled via Jerusalem, Persia, the Hindu Kush and the Pamirs to Peking and Kublai Khan's summer palace at Chandu (the Xanadu of Coleridge's poem). They remained as advisers and made extensive diplomatic journeys throughout the East until returning to Venice, via Sri Lanka, in 1295. Imprisoned three years later with a writer, Rusticello, Marco Polo recounted his adventures. The account opened disbelieving European minds of the Dark Ages to other older civilisations.


The Franciscan friar, beatified in 1766, began his 12-year mission to the Orient in 1318. Odoric baptised 20,000 people on his journey, visiting Persia, India, Java, Sumatra, Guangzhou and the Hindu Kush, and was the first European in Lhasa. William of Solagna recorded Odoric's extraordinary memoirs.


The pious Moslem traveller left Tangiers in 1325 on his first pilgrimage to Mecca. Over the next 30 years he travelled 121,000km to most of Arabia, East and North Africa, Timbuktu, Asia Minor, India, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and China. Along with Marco Polo's accounts, Ibn-Battuta's record, the Rihlah, stimulated the zeal for adventure and exploration that followed in Europe.


From 1419, the Venetian merchant Niccolo Dei Conti travelled by caravan from Damascus to Baghdad and Babylon. He voyaged as far as Java, Sumatra and Burma. Returning to Venice in 1444 with his Indian wife, he was obliged to recount his exploits as a penance for renouncing Christianity.


Columbus spent many years trying to persuade the Portuguese and Spanish courts that by sailing west you could reach the East. He set sail, under Spanish colours, on 3 August 1492, and landed in the Bahamas on 12 October 1492. He explored Hispaniola and returned to a hero's welcome believing he had reached the Far East of Asia. His later voyages to the West Indies took him to Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad, Honduras and the Panamanian Isthmus or "Mango Province", which, he said, was "next to that of Cathay".


In 1497, Vasco da Gama left Portugal with Bartolemeu Diaz, who had rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, to chart the sea route to India. Using a pilot from Malindi, Kenya - Moslem traders had long been familiar with this route - to guide him across the Indian Ocean, he arrived in Calicut in 1498 and landed in Goa.


Between 1499 and 1502, Vespucci led two expeditions along the coast of South America. He controversially claimed that the New World was not Asia but a new continent. The Florentine merchant's achievements were not great but with two continents named after him his reward surpasses that of any other traveller.


In February 1519, the conquistador Cortes embarked on his mission to the Mexican Aztec empire. Aided considerably by his Indian slave mistress Dona Marina, he was received with honour by Montezuma at Tenochtitln. In 1521, he besieged the city, Montezuma was killed and it became the capital of New Spain.


In 1519 Magellan's fleet sailed from Spain and discovered the Magellan strait separating Tierra del Fuego from South America. He was killed in the Philippines and Juan Sebastian del Cano completed the Victoria's circumnavigation of the globe in September 1522. The first man believed to have circled the globe was on board the Victoria, the Sumatran slave Henrique, purchased by Magellan in the Indies. On 28 March 1521, Henrique spoke in his native tongue with a Philippine ruler and was probably unaware of his unprecedented achievement.


One of the first seven Jesuit missionaries, Xavier, leaving Rome in 1542, took Christianity into India, the East Indies and Japan. He was the first European in Japan, unless the Peregrinacam by the Portuguese Pinto (dubbed the "Prince of Liars"), who travelled throughout Asia in 1537-52, is to be believed.


In 1540 Orellana left Cusco, the Inca capital, for Quito. He followed the Coca and Napo rivers until he was swept along into the Amazon and, eventually, reached the Atlantic where he sailed to Trinidad. The Dominican friar, Gaspar De Caravajal, recorded the dramatic voyage, and the description of their encounter with the Amazonas tribe of warrior women led to a renaming of the river Rio Santa Maria de la Mar Dulce.


Apart from being the first captain to circumnavigate the world, from 1577-1580, Drake began the English tradition of discovery. He found that Tierra del Fuego was an island, unattached to Terra Australis, then plundered ports in Chile and Lima, claiming California as New Albion. Failing to locate the North-West Passage, he sailed the Golden Hind across the Pacific and Indian oceans to Plymouth. In 1588, he routed the Spanish Armada.


A pioneer of Arctic voyaging, Barents, in 1595, discovered Bear Island, Spitsbergen and rounded the northern tip of Novaya Zemlya. In 1596 his ships became ice-bound and they wintered farther north than anyone on record. Most of the crew survived under his inspired leadership but he died after the thaw in 1597.


Between 1642 and 1643, the Dutch navigator Tasman discovered Tasmania, New Zealand and Fiji and sailed in territory previously believed to be the southern continent Terra Australis. However, his traveller's luck was poor and he narrowly missed discovering Bass, Cook and Torres Straits.


From 1679 to 1681 La Salle explored the Great Lakes of Canada and in 1681 he sailed the length of the Mississippi, claiming the whole valley for France, as Louisiana.


From his first voyage, commencing in 1768, to his death on Hawaii during the third voyage in 1779, Cook saw and surveyed more of the world than anyone before. In 1770 he claimed Australia for Britain. In 1773 he was the first to cross the Antarctic Circle and break the myth of Terra Australis. He discovered many islands, including South Georgia, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and New Caledonia and rediscovered and charted many more, sailing as far north as the Bering Strait (naming Vancouver island after his midshipman).


In 1795 the Scottish explorer Mungo Park reached the Niger at Segou and followed it 130km downstream, eastwards as he discovered, then returned to Bamako. He fell ill and eventually journeyed to the Gambia with the aid of a slave trader. He returned in 1805 with 40 Europeans. Decimated by disease, the 11 survivors built a boat and left Sansanding, near Segou, by the Niger. Witnesses reported they passed Djenne and Timbuktu until they were attacked in Hausa territory. They probably drowned in the Bassa rapids 1,600km downstream.


In May 1804 they left St Louis on one of the longest transcontinental journeys ever undertaken, arriving at the Pacific in November 1805. They returned in September 1806 with news about their pioneering route across the Rocky Mountains.


Between 1831 and 1836 HMS Beagle made the longest scientific voyage in history. This long, very physical

voyage around South America stimulated a mental voyage for a

young naturalist. Darwin's interpretations of his observations led to his theory on evolution, published in On the Origin of Species.


Between 1847-55, the German Barth covered over 16,000km of the Sahara Desert, Central and West Africa including the Niger, Timbuktu, Lake Chad and the Libyan Fezzan. His

five-volume Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa is still considered an important anthropological, historical and linguistic work.


From 1849, the courageous Scottish missionary crossed Africa from Luanda to Mozambique, was mauled by a lion, and made many discoveries - including Victoria Falls and Lake Malawi. Exploring the central African river system from his base at Ujiji, on Lake Tanganyika, Livingstone was "found" by Stanley in 1871. He died on 1 May 1873, still seeking the source of the Nile.


Burton was enormously and variously talented: geologist, leading ethnologist, soldier, poet, and he spoke over 25 languages (he translated the Arabian Nights). His exploration searched unknown aspects of cultures (he was fascinated by eroticism, translating the Kama Sutra) as well as unknown places- such as the source of the Nile.

He discovered Lake Tanganyika, with John Speke (who also discovered Lake Victoria) and entered Mecca undetected in the guise of an Afghani.


From 1860-1, Burke and Wills made the first south-to-north crossing of Australia. On their return to Adelaide they separated at Cooper's Creek and both died.


Between 1865 and1882, these two pundit-explorers were employed by the British to help map the Himalayas. By counting their footsteps they measured vast areas of southern China, Nepal and India, covering the Taklaman desert, Leh, Tibet, Kashgar Darjeeling and Chengdu.


Stanley went as a reporter to Africa to locate Livingstone. Finding him at Ujiji in May 1871 and travelling with him inspired Stanley to return to East Africa in 1874. He circumnavigated Lake Victoria, confirming it to be the Nile's source. Reassembling his 12m-long portable boat he followed the river Lualaba to the Congo. The total journey lasted 999 days and 114 lives were lost. From 1879-84 he ascended the river Congo in the service of the Belgian King Leopold II. He travelled the Congo again in 1888, losing half of the 700-strong expedition.


In 1888, the Norwegian Nansen made the first crossing of the Greenland icecap. In 1893 he attempted, in the Fram, to reach the North Pole by drifting in pack ice from Siberia. Nansen left the Fram by dog-sledge but turned back four degrees short of his target. He was picked up by a British expedition in 1896 and the Fram escaped the ice that August.


Joshua Slocum, a non-swimmer, made the first solo marine circumnavigation of the world in an 11.2m yawl between April 1895 and July 1898. Robin Knox-Johnston completed the first non-stop journey in 312 days in 1969.


In 1903 Amundsen sailed from Oslo and succeeded in navigating the North- west Passage to Alaska. He then joined the race to the South Pole in 1911 and wintered in the Bay of Whales - 95km closer to the pole than Scott at McMurdo Sound on the other side of the Ross Ice Shelf. Amundsen reached the South Pole with four companions and 50 sledge dogs on 14 December 1911.


Scott's second expedition to Antarctica followed Shackleton's 1908 attempt to reach the South Pole, which had ended 156km short. Believing it cruel to use dogs, they set out from McMurdo Sound in October 1911 with motor sledges, that soon broke down, and horses which were soon shot. The small group dragged their provisions and arrived to find Amunsen's Norwegian flag already flying. Their heroic struggle through endless blizzards was recorded in Scott's diary, ending 29 March 1912, 11 miles from the refuge of their supply dump.


It is widely regarded that the American expedition led by Robert Peary - with Matt Henson, four Eskimos and 40 dogs - was first to reach the North Pole on 6 April 1909. They had left Ellesmere Island, Canada on 1 March 1909 on sledges.


On 28 October 1924, eight teams of half-track motor vehicles set out from Colomb-Bechar, North Africa, opening a new era in overland travel. The Croisiere Noire (black cruise) organised by the automobile magnate Andre Citroen, split up in Ubangi-Shari and headed for Djibouti, Dar es Salaam and the Cape of Good Hope. In 1931, the Croisiere Jaune sent 14 of these caterpillar vehicles along the Silk Route, previously travelled only by caravan.


Earhart was the first person to fly solo across the Pacific, from Honolulu to California, and the first woman to make a solo transatlantic flight in 1932. She died on 2 July 1937 after flying 35,400km in a circumnavigation attempt.


In 1930, Freya Stark travelled from Baghdad to the little-known Valley of the Assassins in Iran. Until this time, individuals had explored in the name of Christianity, science, to claim new territories or for fame and fortune. Stark began her 60 years of travel "single-mindedly for fun"; her mission was to feel, observe and write about the world and human nature.


In 1934 Mao and his Communist forces undertook a 10,000km trek from south- east to north-west China under harassment from the nationalist army. Of the 100,000 people who started out from Jiangxi province, only 8,000 lasted the year-long march to Shanxi.


In 1945-6, Thesiger - the last of the Arabian explorers before the discovery of oil industrialised the region - traversed the uncharted eastern region of the Empty Quarter, or Rub'al Khali, from Salalah to Liwa Oasis and continued to northern Oman. He made further crossings from the Yemen and Oman until 1948.


On 27 April 1947, the Kon-Tiki, a balsawood raft, left Callao, Peru, landing 97 days later in the Tuamotu archipelago in Polynesia and proving the feasibility of the Incas voyaging across the Pacific. In 1970, Heyerdahl sailed the reed Ra II across the Atlantic and in 1977 the reed Tigris, built to replicate an ancient Sumerian vessel used by Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq, to Karachi and Djibouti. His great contribution was demonstrating how the world was "discovered" long before European charts, caravels, carracks, astrolabes and compasses were made.


From 1951 to 1958, Ben Carlin circumnavigated the world in an amphibious Jeep. The Australian covered 62,765km by land and 15,450km by sea and river. This is the only recorded circumnavigation by amphibious vehicle.


In January 1960 Dr Jacques Piccard and Lt Donald Walsh reached the lowest point on the earth's surface (10,911m), the Challenger Deep of the Marianas Trench in the Pacific Ocean. Piccard's father, Auguste, had invented the style of submarine, the bathyscaphe Trieste, allowing this descent. August Piccard also made the first balloon flight into the stratosphere, in 1931, and his grandson, Bertrand, made the first balloon circumnavigation of the globe in 1999.


On the 12 April 1962, an official Soviet communique announced that Colonel Yuri Gagarin, aboard the spacecraft Vostok, had taken off from Baikonur Aerodrome and was in elliptical orbit of the earth. The first man in space made one revolution of his home planet during the 40,868km flight of 108 minutes.


On 18 March 1965, Leonov stepped out from Voshkod 2 and became the first person to engage in "extra-vehicular activity". The Russian cosmonaut travelled from the Crimea to Siberia while he space-walked for approximately 10 minutes.


Neil Armstrong, command pilot of Apollo 11, became the first man on the moon on 20 July 1969. The dazzling white mass of the Sea of Tranquillity appeared on television screens worldwide as he stepped down from the lunar module Eagle and uttered the words: "That's a small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."


Sir Ranulph Fiennes, accompanied by Charles Burton, performed a longitudinal circumnavigation of the globe. They left Greenwich on 2 September 1979, crossing the South Pole on 15 December 1980 and the North Pole on 10 April 1982, and returned to Greenwich, arriving on 29 August 1982 after trekking 56,000km. Sir Ranulph also made the longest unsupported trek in Antarctica, 2,170km via the South Pole, with Dr Michael Stroud, between November 1992 and January 1993.


Emilio Scotto made the longest motorcycle journey around the world leaving Buenos Aires on 17 January 1985 and returning 735,000km later on 2 April 1995. The Argentinian visited 214 countries, became Moslem and married in India.


Arthur Blessit claims to have walked 53,350km since 25 December 1969 through 277 nations; his wife Denise has accompanied him to 224. He has carried a 3.7m wooden cross and preached throughout his 30-year walk. Between 1983 and 1994 Ffyona Campbell walked 31,521km around the world.


Hempleman-Adams became the first person to achieve the Adventurer's Grand Slam of climbing the highest peak on every continent and visiting all four poles in May 1998, after 18 years, when he reached the North Pole.


On 20 March 1999, the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon reached Mauritania, having travelled 42,810km in 19 days, circumnavigating the globe non-stop.

In 1997, at the age of 35, Phil Haines became the youngest person to visit all of the world's 192 sovereign countries.