So it Goes: travel writer who said tourism is ‘a rotten affair’

Dervla Murphy took many of the same paths on Nicolas Bouvier’s lively chronicles

Nicolas Bouvier in  1991. Photograph:  Ulf Andersen/Getty

Nicolas Bouvier in 1991. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty

The Geneva-born writer Nicolas Bouvier (1929-1998) spoke several languages including fluent Japanese but always wrote in French. As with our own Hubert Butler, his fame came late but has spread far since his death. Other points in common are obvious: original thought processes, mislabelled “inconsistency” by a few cranky critics, a wide-ranging curiosity about the more obscure trends in other peoples’ histories, and an easy adaptation to unfamiliar (in every sense) environments.

Jeju is one of the “places in between”, a tropical island of some 1,200sq kms overlooked by its volcanic cone, Halla-san. During the first millennium BC humans arrived from the Korean peninsula, only a few days’ sailing away. Eventually a tiny, well-organised society emerged, matriarchal and shamanic but unrecorded until 477. Then its ruler sent a gift of pearls, amulets and pheasants to Paekche’s court on Korea’s southwest coast and received a thank-you letter. Eight centuries later, Kublai Khan introduced horse-breeding – small compensation for deforesting half the island to build a fleet for the invasion of Japan.

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