Famed Travel Writer Eric Newby Dies at 86

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English travel writer Eric Newby died Friday at the age of 86. The iconic adventurer, whose journeys were often fraught with mishap, was best known for A Short Walk Through the Hindu Kush, a book about travels through central Asia. Melissa Block talks with Wanda Newby, who often went along on her husband's journeys.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Eric Newby was a British adventurer who first saw the world as a teenager from the decks of a finished grain ship in 1938. He later escaped from a POW camp in Italy during World War II, trekked through Afghanistan's Hindu Kush and navigated the Ganges River.

Those stories eventually became his profession. He went on to write a host of travel books.

SIEGEL: We learned today of Eric Newby's death last week. He was 86. I talked with Eric Newby and his wife Wanda in 1988 when they'd recently spent a blustery winter cycling through Ireland.

Mr. ERIC NEWBY (Travel Writer): We're getting older, you see, too. I mean, well, you know, what the French would call (French spoken), you know, geriatrics, I guess. You know, we're and - a considerable (unintelligible) on Wanda's part to sort of agree to do this cycling bit around Ireland.

Mrs. WANDA NEWBY (Eric's Wife): Actually I think the toughest was on the Ganges because we always slept on sand banks and in the middle of nowhere. Frightened of tigers or whatever. That's just tough.

BLOCK: Today we spoke again with Wanda Newby. She told me about meeting her husband in Italy in 1943. He was a recently escaped prisoner of war hiding from fascists. She was a village girl bringing him food.

Mrs. NEWBY: He was always laughing even in difficult circumstance - you know, when he escaped from the (unintelligible) and thing. And when he was always very careful really. And I thought of him as very eccentric.

BLOCK: Eccentric.

Mrs. NEWBY: Yes. Then I said, well, why don't I help him? And the local doctor and my father took him to the hospital. So I ask to meet him to go and see him. And I went there every day. But unfortunately there were a lot of fascists around. So somebody, a spy, told them and he was taken to Germany again.

And when the war finished he was liberated. Luckily he survived. And he came back and we got married in Florence.

BLOCK: Your husband strikes me as something of an accidental traveler. He was working in the fashion industry as a buyer of women's dresses as I understand it.

Mrs. NEWBY: Yes. First he worked for his parents' firm and then for the John Louis Partnership, which is a big shop. But he didn't like it. His heart wasn't in it. And it was then that he sent a telegram to his old friend who was in the embassy Rio de Janeiro and they went to climb this mountain. And they (unintelligible) to climb it because they didn't know how to use clampons or anything. At any rate, he wrote his first book about his climb there.

BLOCK: A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.

Mrs. NEWBY: Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.

BLOCK: Well, when he told you I'm going to go to Afghanistan, I'm going to climb these mountains, I'm not a climber but I'm going to go, what did you say to him?

Mrs. NEWBY: Well, I thought he was mad but here you are. I would have liked to go with him really but at that time it was very difficult because women were not accepted in those countries. (Unintelligible)

BLOCK: What was it about travel that ignited him so much, do you think?

Mrs. NEWBY: I think he was very curious how the world worked. I mean he just wanted to see places and people. But whenever he went, he always learned about the country he was going. He would do a lot of preparation, a lot of study of the country. And the more impossible the country was to go to, the more it attracted him.

And he never ever wanted to - even when he traveled for the government to put us in hotels, he never wanted to go, because he said if you are in the Hilton, you can have the Hilton in London. So we always stayed in very modest hotels where you could meet the people. That's what he really liked.

BLOCK: Well, Ms. Newby, thanks very much for talking with us today. We appreciate it.

Mrs. NEWBY: Thank you very much. Good night.

BLOCK: Wanda Newby talking about her husband, the British travel writer Eric Newby. He died Friday at the age of 86.

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