My Life In Adventure Travel: Alexandra Cousteau
'My favourite place is the place I've never been to'
Saturday 25 July 2009
First holiday memory?
I started travelling when I was about four months old, so I don't really have a first travel memory. We went on my first expedition to Easter Island and I was basically on expeditions from that point on. It's been a constant reality of my life.
When I was 11, I joined my grandfather [the explorer and co-developer of the aqua lung Jacques-Yves Cousteau] on his ship Calypso in French Polynesia for three weeks. I loved the camaraderie of the crew, the incredible diving, just being on a ship.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
I've spent some time in Scotland, because my brother lives in St Andrews – it's really lovely. Other than London and Dublin, it's the area I know best; I really love the little villages.
What have you learnt from your travels?
Something that I've learnt from my travels – and what influences my work right now – is how water connects all of us, in very intimate ways, whether it's culturally, or physically, or spiritually. It doesn't matter whether it's saltwater or freshwater: we're intimately connected to it and therefore to each other.
Ideal travelling companion?
My film crew would have to be my ideal travelling companions. I grew up on expeditions so I had a bunch of people around me all the time, sharing the excitement of the adventure and the crazy things that happen on expedition. There's nowhere I'd rather be than travelling. It's wonderful and I love it, but it is my work.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
On expedition, you have to be a bit of everything. In my free time, if I were to take a vacation, I'd escape to go diving somewhere very remote. I wouldn't sit on a beach because I don't like the sun so much.
Greatest travel luxury?
A sleep mask. When we're on expedition we have 17-hour days, so we sleep where we can, when we can. Sometimes it's in an airport, sometimes it's in a van, and so without a sleep mask I'm lost. I get tired and then I get cranky – and that's not good.
Most of the books that I read have an environmental focus. They tend to be non-fiction. If I really want to take a break then I like mystery novels. I have a penchant for Agatha Christie, like my father who also loved to read them on expedition.
Where has seduced you?
For me it's not the place that seduces me, it's the experiences and the people I meet there. Whether it's diving with humpback whales in Maui, drinking mojitos in Havana or [having] conversations with spiritual leaders in India or going on safari in Africa. They're all equal in the magic and the mystery that they offer. My favourite place is the place I've never been to.
Better to travel or arrive?
My favourite feeling ever is arriving in a place. Touching down, the first smells, the first sights, the way the light hits the trees, the way the air smells and the way the people sound. After a few days or a week you sort of acclimatise to it, but the first shock of a new place is what I'm truly addicted to.
Worst travel experience?
On our last expedition we were travelling round the world for 100 days: we were in Delhi, we were in South Africa, in Vermala, in Palestine, and everything was smooth as clockwork. Nothing went wrong. And then we got to the heartland of the United States, where there's a church on every corner. After two days there, our van was broken into and all our equipment was stolen.
In Honduras, in Utila in the Bay Islands. I was there for a coral reef restoration programme, and the only hotel they could book for us was absolutely awful. I walked in and turned on the lights and there were about 50 cockroaches in there. Within five minutes they were in my suitcase, my toiletries bag, in my shoes ... I ended up sleeping in a hammock outside.
In the middle of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, which is probably the most beautiful place in the world. It's completely pristine; you can drink water from the rivers there. The wildlife is amazing; to drive five kilometres in one of those big 4x4s takes an hour because there are just animals everywhere. You stay in these beautiful safari tents and wake up to the Delta in front of you, with antelopes and kudu and elephants and giraffes just everywhere.
My favourite dive spot is in Bonaire, in the Dutch Antilles; it's like swimming in an aquarium. It's been a marine park for over 30 years and it has the best reef in the Caribbean.
Best meal abroad?
In London actually, two days ago: we went to Amaya in Knightsbridge, London. The meal was light, there was a blend of flavours – it was a very modern twist on Indian food. It was such a refreshing change from expedition food, which goes from vaguely bearable to the worst of the worst.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
I shower, I sleep and then I go out to explore – I take to the streets to get my bearings.
Paris. It's where I watched my grandfather's editing team splice the film together when I was growing up; it's where everything makes sense and I can walk around and everything is as beautiful as it ever was. I'm always amazed by the beauty and the architecture and the culture. It feels like home.
Next I'll be going to finish my expedition in Cambodia, Australia and Belize. I'm spending the first half of September climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Maybe I'll have a rest in November, but until then I'm pretty much on the move.
Alexandra Cousteau supports the Corona Save the Beach campaign, an initiative dedicated to the preservation of European beaches. For more information, visit coronasavethebeach.org. Videos from Cousteau's recent expeditions can be found at alexandracousteau.com
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