Family Affair: A lust for adventure

Alex Nickson is 26. As a tour leader he has travelled to some of the world's most remote places, but now he plans to take a desk job. His mother, Mari-Caroline, admires his fearless spirit - even though she worries about him - and isn't sure he will be able to settle down
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The Independent Culture

I was born in Africa and grew up there so I have always been attracted to the wilder parts of the world. Life may not be as comfortable, but it feels more real in the bush. When I was little I was hooked on wildlife and animals. When other kids were into the Famous Five and Biggles, Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough were my heroes. Because my dad worked for Shell Chemicals, the family moved all over Africa - Ethiopia, Kenya, the Sudan - and we all got used to uprooting and moving on. That may be why wanderlust is in my blood.

At university I studied zoology, but I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career; I just knew I didn't want a desk job. Before university I took a year off and went to Zimbabwe where I worked catching crocodiles. It's not that I was fearless - I just didn't think about the danger. Being in the bush, miles away from anywhere, is my idea of heaven. It's good to come back to London for about two weeks, and then I'm desperate to get back on the road.

The sense of adventure I get when I set off to these remote places is like a drug. And, just as with any drug, you have to be aware of the dangers and exercise caution. I honestly do believe you are just as likely to be run down by a car in London as you are to get into some sort of trouble in Africa.

The reports from Uganda did have a huge effect on me, but it wouldn't put me off travelling. I would love to go to the Bwindi National Park and see the wildlife at close quarters. The beauty of Africa or any of those isolated areas outweighs the risks for me. It's not just about the wildlife, it's about the culture of the place and the people, too. I have also travelled and worked in India, which is hardly what you would describe as remote. It's more about the lure of new experiences and a thrill of adventure that keeps me going back for more.

I'm sure my mum and dad worry about me and I have been in situations which I haven't told them about in case I scared them. When I was tiger- tracking in Nepal, for example, we were charged by a rhino, which was terrifying. Another time I was working on an ant-poaching patrol in northern Zimbabwe and we were charged by a herd of buffalo. We jumped over the steep edges of a dry river bed and prayed the buffalo wouldn't see us. That was a bit too close for comfort.

There have been times when I think my parents were worried that I would never come back. When I was trekking on the Silk Route in the far west of China, I was just about to take a load of tourists over the border into Pakistan, when America launched its missile attack on Afghanistan, and Pakistan threatened to throw all the tourists out. That worried me because Pakistan was our only way out. But we managed it. It was only when I arrived back that I realised that all our families had been worried by press reports that we were missing or dead.

Although I love travelling I am now looking seriously for a career, or something that provides me with training and a decent salary. If I could stay in the UK and maybe do one or two trips each year just to satisfy my lust for adventure, I could cope with that. I can't be a wanderer for ever.


I worry about when he shoots off to these remote parts of the world. I am just grateful that I don't hear about his exploits until he gets home; I don't think I could cope with knowing about them at the time. I think that in this case ignorance really is bliss.

is fearless and adventurous and I would never want to change that part of his personality. He likes living on the edge and puts himself in these situations, and I admire that. In some ways I am quite envious. I wish I could have done some of the things he has done. I have the same sense of adventure as but, as a woman, I didn't really have the same opportunities that he has had.

When he got the job as a tour leader I was apprehensive but also thrilled for him. I would never try to stop him because I know he wouldn't listen anyway. is sensible and knows the ropes. He wouldn't stick his nose into danger out of choice, but the risk goes with the territory.

I suppose I am a bit blase about the dangers of Africa because I was born and brought up in Uganda. I have been in some dangerous situations myself and I understand what they are like. I'm sure I would have been worried sick if he had been in Uganda during the recent events because I know the area only too well, and its particular dangers.

I think has inherited his fearless spirit from his grandfather. My father moved to Uganda straight after the war looking for a new life and adventure. He was a highly respected lepidopterist and would think nothing of jumping out of the car in pursuit of some rare breed of butterfly - utterly regardless of the dangers of the bush. He was crazy about Africa and loved nature, insects and plants. is a lot like him in many ways.

I know thinks he can adapt to working in England and of course I'm always delighted to see him, but I want him to be happy and I'm not sure a desk job would suit him. He feels it's somehow required of him to settle down and earn a proper living, but I don't think it's as simple as that: I don't believe he is really cut out for that sort of life. Once you have lived this wayward sort of lifestyle it is very seductive and extremely difficult to give up. Every day is different; you move on, you see different sights, you smell different smells, you experience different pleasures. You can't compare a life in London to that.

Although I do get frightened for sometimes, particularly when he is in a political hotspot or we are out of contact for a long time, I could never have kept him molly-coddled in England. He could meet a far worse fate just travelling on the Underground. I miss him when he goes away and sometimes we can't even phone each other because there is no communication where he is staying. But we always manage to pick up the threads where we left off. When he comes home he just slots in and we jog along together. It is all still there - it never goes.

Interviews by

Liz Bestic