ROUNDUP OF TRAVEL BOOKS

Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo, by Eric Hansen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 286 pp. $17.95. For Eric Hansen, ``Travel is the act of leaving familiarity behind.'' When he set out to walk across Borneo in 1982 - an unmapped journey that probably no Westerner had completed before him - what he wanted was to be changed by a strange environment. In the jungles of Borneo, Hansen found the experience he sought, and this engaging narrative is both an account of his journey and the story of an explorer's education.

At the start of ``Stranger in the Forest,'' Hansen is ``a starry-eyed fool,'' dreaming of ``Heart of Darkness'' and undiscovered regions. He is supplied with out-of-date information, unreliable maps, and little knowledge of the rain forest. On his journey, he makes some serious mistakes - as when, against native custom and advice, he travels alone in the ``season of fear'' and is taken by villagers for ``the black ghost'' - a mistake that nearly costs him his life. But Hansen comes to understand jungle survival and to respect the tribes with whom he travels and lives - especially the Penan, who are still nomadic hunters and gatherers (though their lands and way of life are now threatened by the timber industry), living in harmony with the jungle and among themselves.

In the end, Hansen is no longer the stranger in the forest, and the story of his transformation is told with intelligence and humor. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------Whereabouts: Notes on Being a Foreigner, by Alastair Reid. San Francisco: North Point Press. 205 pp. $16.95.

Alastair Reid was born in Scotland in 1926. Following service in the war, he did not return home, but chose to set up a ``shifting life,'' to become, in a permanent way, ``a foreigner.'' If to travel is to leave familiarity behind, to be a foreigner in Reid's sense is to abandon a certain concept of familiarity altogether. Reid sees this as a positive choice. ``Occupying places, contexts, languages, we grow used to them. Habit sets in, and they cease to astonish us,'' he says. But ``the strangeness of a place propels one into life.'' In disclaiming roots, he feels that he has ``elected instead not rootlessness, since that implies a lack ... but a deliberate, chosen strangeness.''

The essays in ``Whereabouts,'' many of which first appeared in The New Yorker magazine, for which Reid is a writer, are a foreigner's reflections on belonging and moving, continuity and memory, relationships and place. Two of the best concern Scotland: ``Hauntings'' recalls Reid's childhood in Whithorn and Selkirk with his parents (a minister and a doctor) and his sisters; ``Digging up Scotland'' takes us on a double excavation to uncover a time capsule - buried by Reid, his son, and a friend - and Reid's Scottish roots. Also good is the essay-sequence on a Spanish village where Reid has lived for a part of every year since the '50s, which offers interesting observations on the texture and the passing of village life, perceptions sharpened by the outsider's perspective. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone, by Mary Morris. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 250 pp. $18.95.

A sense of personal crisis pervades Mary Morris's travels. She left New York ``with a terrible feeling of isolation and a growing belief that America had become a foreign land'': The familiar had ceased to feel familiar, and she went in search of a place ``where life would begin to make sense'' again. Traveling south to Mexico, she settled in the town of San Miguel de Allende, from which she made various excursions - to Mexico City, Honduras, Nicaragua. ``Nothing to Declare,'' a memoir of her journeys, is also the story of her quest for a sense of self.

Morris, a novelist and short-story writer, brings a fiction writer's skills to her depictions of people and scenes. She gives life to her portrait of her neighbor Lupe; she has a sharp eye for San Miguel's expatriate community, ``the mediocre Americans, the would-bes, the has-beens, the might-have-beens....'' She conveys well the cultural and personal complexity of her relationship with Alejandro, a Mexican-Indian with whom she becomes involved. But these skillful touches are overwhelmed by the narrative's pervasive flaw: Morris overdramatizes everything - minutiae, social issues, the people she meets, and, above all, herself (``In my life I have known every joy and every sorrow and each has been short-lived''). The melodramatic tone undercuts the narrator's credibility and diminishes her journey's power. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------30-{et

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