In Pass the Butterworms Cahill takes us to the steppes of Mongolia, where he spends weeks on horseback alongside the descendants of Genghis Khan and masters the "Mongolian death trot"; to the North Pole, where he goes for a pleasure dip in 36-degree water; to Irian Jaya New Guinea, where he spends a companionable evening with members of one of the last head-hunting tribes. Whether observing family values among the Stone Age Dani people, or sampling delicacies like sautéed sago beetle and premasticated manioc beer, Cahill is a fount of arcane information and a master of self-deprecating humor.
Cahill (Jaguars Ripped My Flesh) has a reputation for reporting his intrepid treks with wit and sensitivity, and in this collection, mainly from Outside magazine, he does not disappoint. Many of his 24 stories are perverse romps: in Mongolia, he pursues archeological data while surviving physical assaults (the locals think him a hated Russian), "operatic weather" and horses that practice "the Mongolian Death Trot." Recounting the history of his recurrent malaria, Cahill quips that he has adopted a steak-and-gin-and-tonic diet for health reasons. On the coast of Honduras, he makes such fast friendships with local children that he becomes known as "Senor Wazoo." But Cahill has a more reflective side, one that recognizes that the wilderness is a place to test ourselves and that progress has its contradictions. Investigating the death of an idealistic young American in remote Peru, he captures a moment in which the local tribesmen finally recognize that the victim was not an enemy but a brother. On the undeveloped island of Bonaire, he realizes that scuba diving can still astonish him. And among the Stone Age tribe of the Karowai in Indonesia, Cahill finds himself regretting the advance of homogenizing modernity but discerning that his subjects, wanting new axes, "did not equate drudgery with any kind of nobility." Author tour.