Burton had always wanted to visit the Moslem shrines in Mecca. In 1853, the Royal Geographic Society helped him obtain a leave from the army, and Burton traveled by caravan from Cairo to the sacred city of Mecca disguised as an Afghan doctor. Using four languages and performing all the ceremonies and rituals of a devout Moslem, he penetrated the holiest shrines of Islam. Instead of returning to England to write of his experiences, Burton traveled to the equally forbidden Moslem city of Harar in Abyssinia. In 1854, he became the first European to visit Harar without being executed. He later wrote Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah (1855-1856), which was not only a great adventure story but also a commentary on Moslem culture, and First Footsteps in Africa (1856), which described his adventures in Harar.
While in Africa, Burton met John Hanning Speke, also an East India Company officer. After his visit to Harar, the two officers led an expedition into Somaliland. Their camp was unexpectedly attacked by Somali warriors near Berbera. One member of the expedition was killed, and Speke was seriously wounded. Burton suffered a spear-wound in the jaw and was forced to return to England to recover.
In July, 1855, Burton volunteered for the Crimean War and trained the Turkish Bashi-Bazouk Irregular Cavalry while serving as chief of staff to General William F. Beatson. Despite his efforts, Burton saw no action at the front, and when Beatson left the army, Burton also resigned and returned to England in October, 1855.
In London, Burton again met Speke, who had also served in the Crimea, and described his plan to form an expedition to find the source of the Nile River. Speke had for a long time shared this goal, and when Burton asked him to join the expedition, Speke readily agreed. Since Burton had secured a grant of a thousand pounds from the Foreign Office and had obtained the patronage of the Royal Geographic Society, he was the leader of the expedition, with Speke as second in command. Their charge was to ascertain the limits of the Sea of Ujiji, which had been described by East African missionaries, to determine the exportable goods of the interior and to study the ethnography of the tribes. They were also instructed to discover the source of the Nile and the location of the legendary, but nonexistent, Mountains of the Moon. Organizational ability was not one of Burton’s great talents, and they wasted nearly six months planning and exploring the coastal areas near Zanzibar before hurriedly recruiting porters and moving into the interior.
On July 1, 1857, Burton and Speke departed from Bagamoyo and followed the traditional trade route to Kazeh, the site of modern Tabora. They reached Kazeh on November 7 and spent nearly a month reorganizing the expedition. They set out for Ujiji on December 5 with the knowledge gained from Swahili-speaking merchants that the Sea of Ujiji was...
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