Every evening after the day’s walking there was a meeting where part of the agenda was dedicated to the book he wrote after his trip, Viaje a pie, (Journey by foot). It was interesting to listen to excerpts read by the organisers of the walk, which pertained to the section of the walk we had completed that day, and this motivated me on my return to look into his life in more detail.
A fragment from Viaje, a pie translated into English can be found here.
Fernando Gonzalez Ochoa was born in Envigado on April 24, 1895. He was a writer and existentialist philosopher also known as "el filósofo de Otraparte", after the name of the villa where he lived in Envigado. He is considered one of the most original Colombian writers of the 20th century. His ideas were controversial and had great influence on the Colombian society.
He was the second of seven children born to Daniel González and Pastora Ochoa. His father was a school teacher, and the inspiration of one of his books, El Maestro de Escuela, (The School Teacher). He was expelled from the Catholic school he attended in Envigado because he insulted one of the nuns after being punished.
In 1922 he married Margartia Restrepo Gaviria, the daughter of former Colombian president Carlos E. Resprepo, and in 1928 he started working as a Judge in Medellín where he met Benjamín Correa, who became one of his best friends. Together they visited several towns in the counties of Antioquia, Caldas and Valle de Cauca, and.it was from these trips that he got the inspiration for one of his most popular books, Viaje a pie (Journey on Foot), published in 1929.
The book was banned by the Archbishop of Medellin, calling it a mortal sin. As you can see he wasn’t that popular with the Catholic Church, in fact I have the impression of him being somewhat rebellious and outspoken.
In 1932 Fernando Gonzalez became consul of Colombia in Genoa, Italy, where he went to live with his family.
In 1933 the Italian police found notes for a book criticising Benito Mussolini and Facism and he was moved to Marseille. Those notes were the origin of his book El hermafrodita dormido (The Sleeping Hermaphrodite).
In 1934 he returned to Colombia, living in a villa in Envigado, called Bucarest Villa. From there he published the Antioquia Magazine until 1945. In 1935 El Remordimiento (The Remorse), an essay in theology written in Marseille was published.
In 1953 he became consul of Colombia in Europe, residing most of the time in Bilbao. In September 1957 he returned to Colombia, to Otraparte, where he lived until his death in 1964, aged 68. In 2006 Otraparte was declared part of Colombia’s heritage and the house is now a café and museum.
If you are in Medellin, you should make the effort to visit Otraparte, it’s a beautiful house and they have interesting activities every month, including; wine tasting courses, film shows, and yoga classes. The café is a welcome change from the majority of cafés here, and has a very Bohemian atmosphere.
For those who understand Spanish you can find more information about Fernando González Ochoa and Otraparte here.
He was largely responsible for completing the section of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India extending from southern India to the north of Nepal, a distance of about 2,400 kilometres.
I studied land Surveying and Cartography, and worked as a land surveyor in Britain and Iraq. For me working in the cities, towns, and deserts of Iraq at the age of 22, was a real adventure, but nothing to compare to that of Sir Everest.
In 1865, despite his objections, the Royal Geographical Society named Mount Everest in his honour.
For some years he owned a house in India called Mussoorie House, which still stands though in rather derelict conditions. The house overlooks the Doon Valley on one side and the Aglar River valley and the snow-capped Himalayan ranges on the other. He died December 1, 1866.
Another intrepid explorer from Wales was the sailor Perce Blackborow who was born in Newport, Monmouthshire in 1896,
Perce Blackborow and a friend, William Bakewell, sailed aboard a ship, the Golden Gate, which was wrecked on the shores of Montevideo, Uruguay. From there they travelled to Buenos Aires in search of new employment. Bakewell was employed by Sir Ernest Shackleton on his ship Endurance, which sailed for the Antartic on the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Blackborow, however, was not hired, as he was only 18 and inexperienced.
Believing that Endurance was shorthanded, William Bakewell and another man, Walter How, helped Blackborow steal aboard the Endurance, hiding him in a locker. On the third day at sea he was discovered.
Initially Shackelton was extremely angry at the stowaway, but later repented saying,
“Do you know that on these expeditions we often get very hungry, and if there is a stowaway available he is the first to be eaten?”
“They’d get a lot more meat off you, sir.”
Shackleton hid a grin, and after chatting with one of the crew members said
"Introduce him to the cook first."
Blackborow proved an asset to the ship as a steward and was eventually signed on.
Three years later in the Weddell Sea off Antarctica, Endurance was crushed by ice and sank and the crew relocated to Elephant Island.
On April 24 a rescue party set sail in the James Caird, one of the surviving lifeboats, and headed for South Georgia, hoping to return within weeks. The remainder of the crew stayed on Elephant Island, almost all of them in poor health and spirits.
Blackborow had gangrene and on June 15 had to have all the toes of his left foot amputated, the surgery lasting 55 minutes. It’s hard to imagine how the surgery must have been, but apparently Blackborow was a model patient. I know people who fret about having an injection!!
The rescue party were able to reach South Georgia, and all the shipwrecked sailors on Elephant Island were rescued without loss of life.
Blackborow returned to live in Newport, South Wales and received the Bronze Polar Medal for his service during the trip.
He died in 1949, of chronic bronchitis and a heart problem aged 53.
When I read these stories it makes me wonder what it is that inspires some people to push through the barriers of conformity and comfort to discover what lies beyond, and what makes others quite content to remain within the relative safety of their perceived and self constructed comfort zone.
If you would like to receive email notifications of updates to this site click here, fill in the relevant details and press submit.