We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. — George Orwell

Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe

The Undiscovered Island of Taihatlibiati

The Baron's Arrival and Escape from It

The Dutchman, whose name was Jan van Fessel, steered towards the undiscovered island and told me on the way that it was called Taihatlibiati by the natives and was governed by a very good-natured prince, who had a special liking for roast foreigners after they had been fattened for some months on fruit. He himself had been fed up, but shortly before he was fit for eating there had been a shower of meat pies, some of which he had eaten, and the prince in great annoyance had given orders that, in a month's time, he should be fattened again, and then roasted immediately.

"'Nay, Jan,' said I, somewhat incredulously, 'you can tell that tale of the shower of meat-pies to any one else, but not to me. I am the renowned Baron von Munchausen, and have travelled over the whole world, but nowhere does it rain pastry.'

"'Indeed, your Excellency,' asserted the honest Dutchman, 'this kind of rain often occurs in the island of Taihatlibiati. On the mountains of the island are found a number of bread-trees of a peculiar kind, bearing a small fruit, which looks and tastes exactly like a meat patty; when half ripe, these fruits are blown off by the wind and strewn like hailstones over the plain.'

"Later on I convinced myself of the existence of these trees, which are quite unknown to botanists of the civilized world.

"During the foregoing conversation we had reached the island on whose shore sat the prince to whom the Dutchman introduced me by all my titles. The prince bowed graciously, and then whispered to his prime minister, 'Let him be fattened at once'—a truly inviting prospect for me!

"One very remarkable circumstance was that, although my reputation had not penetrated to the island on account of its not yet being discovered, the plant-world knew my celebrity well, for as we walked towards the prince's palace, which turned out after all to be only a mud hut, all the trees bowed respectfully before me, as if they wished to give fitting greeting to his Excellency von Munchausen.

"This circumstance impressed the prince so much, that he whispered to his prime minister, 'You need not hurry about Munchausen's fattening.' When the Dutchman interpreted these words a weight fell from my heart, which I will show you one day in my cabinet of curiosities. It is striped red, white and blue like the Dutch flag, and, although I have had it cut down, it still weighs about thirty-two pounds. I carried this stone home with me as a curiosity, although my way of traveling rendered it rather difficult to transport.

"At a few hundred paces distance from the prince's palace there stood a group of twelve large trees, covered with fruit the size of a child's head. On the three tallest of these trees were suspended three men head downwards, and you can imagine how strange it looked when these trees also bowed to me. I inquired what crime these men had committed to deserve so severe a punishment. With the assistance of the friendly Dutchman I found out that these three men had been to foreign lands, and on their return had deceived everybody by describing places they had never seen, and relating things which not only had never happened, but were quite beyond the bounds of possibility. After hearing this, I considered the horrible punishment well deserved, for nothing is more detestable than a traveller who does not adhere strictly to the truth in his stories.

"I cannot give you any further information about the native customs, as my stay in the island was embittered by the prospect of being fattened on fruit and served up as a roast joint. In order to avoid, if possible, this fate, I sought a private interview with Jan van Fessel the evening of the self-same day. He was enchanted with my proposal that we should escape from the island together, but seemed very dejected to think that we did not know at all where Taihatlibiati was situated, seeing that it has never really been discovered. 'We shall never be able to find our way back to Europe again,' was his concluding remark. However, I soon reassured him on that score, by pointing that it did not matter in the least which direction we took as long as we avoided a southerly one, and that all we had to do was to find some civilized people who could show us the right way. We then discussed the possibility of building and equipping a boat in secret, and when I asked about the various kinds of native wood, and more especially concerning the trees on which the natives were hanging, which I imagined from their appearance must be a kind of tulip-tree. 'I do not know if they belong to that species,' answered Jan, 'but as far as I have seen, the fruit is a kind of gourd or rather hollow bladders like little balloons. The fruit is always plucked half-ripe, as otherwise the sunshine expands the air in the bladders so much, that these trees are torn out of the earth by their roots and carried far away by the wind.'

"All at once I was seized with one of my brilliant ideas and cried out joyfully as I embraced him, 'Fellow countryman, we are saved! When is this fruit plucked?'

"'In a few days' time, I expect.'

"'Indeed, and what is done with the gourds?'

"'I have been told that a few dozen are always tied together and laid in the sun; the heat causes them to swell and become light, and then they fly away into the air. The day on which this takes place is kept as a feast day here, and is called "The Flight of the Gourds."'

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe

"I knew enough now for my purpose, and began making experiments, while Jan laid in a supply of provisions. We divided the food between us, filled our pockets, and when in the course of a few days the little bladders, in bundles of a dozen each, were placed in the sun to dry, I secretly fastened eight or ten bundles to my girdle; Jan did the same, and the balloons expanded so quickly that we were raised in the air almost at the same moment, and carried far out to sea by a boisterous west wind. Here we were separated, but I saw from afar that Jan sank deeper and deeper, and at last fell into the sea, but was at once fished out by the crew of a passing ship. I learned afterwards that he reached home safely, and was appointed taxidermist to the Natural History Museum in Amsterdam or Leyden, where he remains to this day, and can easily be asked to confirm the truth of my story.

"I myself underwent some anxious moments, for I could not make up my mind whether to cut off a few dozen bladders and also let myself drop into the sea or not. It seemed very doubtful if I could overtake the ship, which was scudding along before the wind with all sails set, and my chance of doing so diminished every second. Suddenly I was caught up by one of those terrible cyclones, which prevail in that sea, and whirled about for three days and three nights with such violence that I was glad to have my heavy stone as ballast, and that the provisions I carried secured me from the risk of starvation. At last, becoming dizzy, I lost consciousness and fell into the sea. The cold water restored me to my senses, and I saved myself by the marvelous swimming feat of overtaking a ship, which was sailing about seventeen miles ahead. This vessel proved to be a Turkish man-of-war, and, once on board, I thought that all my troubles were at an end. But the same evening as we sat over a glass of sailor's grog (which was so stiff that we could not drink it, but had to cut it up with our knives and eat it with spoons) and I began to relate my adventures on the undiscovered island and the effects of the whirlwind, some of my listeners pulled wry faces as if they doubted the truth of my story, although I told it as simply and straightforwardly as I have to you. The captain was even thoughtless enough to whisper to his neighbor, 'I don't believe such a storm ever took place!' Well, he was only a poor heathen, and punishment quickly followed on his rash words.

"When we crept into our bunks, the wind was blowing from the south, and the heavens were bright and cloudless, but we had scarcely fallen asleep, when we were awakened by a most unpleasant tossing of the ship, which reeled like a drunken man, first to the right, and then to the left. This was caused by a violent wind blowing alternately three minutes from the west, and then the same length of time from the east, a phenomenon I had never experienced before, and which is extremely unpleasant.

"At last, at break of day, the wind veered round to the north and blew very stormily. All at once a horrible crash was heard, and the main-mast, which had become loosened during the night, fell overboard, smashing the whole compass to atoms as it did so. Now a voyage without compass is like blindfolding a traveller by land, and placing him before four cross-roads without a sign-post. It was as hopeless for us to try and find our way as it would have been for him.

"The storm raged for a whole month. In the daytime a dim twilight prevailed, and the nights were black as pitch; we saw neither sun, moon, nor stars, for thirteen weeks. We could gauge the violence of the storm by seeing the masts snapped off one after another, and for weeks at a time our rudderless wreck was hurled from the crest of one wave straight through the air on to the crest of another, which was very remarkable considering that this ship with its seventy cannon and crew of about five hundred men, even without its masts and tackle, weighed some thousands of tons.

"At last the wind subsided, but the sea was still in such an uproar that, even after the cessation of the storm, the waves continued mountain high, and carried our wrecked vessel slowly in one particular direction.

"'Whither are we drifting??' asked all in intense anxiety; and, indeed, it was high time that we reached land in order to take in fresh supplies, for our provisions had fallen very low. Just as the last rations were being divided, the sky cleared and a light breeze sprang up laden with a peculiar aroma. We all sniffed at this strange perfume, which resembled that of oranges, but yet was something quite different. Suddenly an idea, began to dawn on me, but not quite sure, I merely remarked: 'It smells like roast beef and Havana cigars.'

"'Yes, yes,' exclaimed an hundred voices, 'that's just what it is.'

"We lived for a whole week on this nourishing air, while we drifted slowly along. On the eighth day we came in sight of land, and, to our great astonishment, this turned out to be the town of Havana, which is situated at the extreme north of the island of Cuba—hence the perfume of tobacco.

"The same evening as I sat smoking a costly Havana cigar, I began to relate to the tobacco-planters some of my various adventures, more especially those I had experienced lately. To my great annoyance, loud shouts of laughter arose among my audience, and some stood on their heads, others turned summersaults, and others again smoothed their hair, saying mockingly: 'These tales really make one's hair stand on end!'

"Naturally, I left the Assembly without another word, and took ship the same evening for Europe, unable to endure any longer the company of men who could not distinguish between lying brag and the simple truth.

"With this, gentlemen, I will close my narrative for to-day, thanking you all for the kind attention with which you have hitherto followed the recital of my adventures."