My Life In Travel: Alexander Frater

'I'd love to take the train from Pyongyang in North Korea to Vladivostok'


What is your first holiday memory?

What is your first holiday memory?

I was born in Vanuatu in the south-west Pacific where my father was a missionary. I remember being taken to a small island called Erakor, which is in a lagoon in Vanuatu. Twenty years after we visited, the whole atoll was completely flooded, but the church still exists.

What has been your best holiday?

Walking in the Swiss Alps a few years ago with my wife and daughter. I had that extraordinary feeling of well-being that a good holiday should give you. Even my eyesight seemed to improve.

Are you a frequent traveller?

Yes. Even if it's a holiday, it's still work. As a travel writer I don't go anywhere without a notebook. It turns into a kind of compulsion.

What is your favourite place in the British Isles?

Anywhere on the west coast of Scotland. The rail journey from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh is one of the greatest in the world.

What have you learnt from your travels?

If you're lost and you don't speak the language, look for a school kid. Usually they're all learning English and are dying to practise.

Are you an independent traveller?

Absolutely. I travel on my own, because if you don't like a place you can move on.

Who would be your ultimate travelling companion?

Nelson Mandela. I once met him in Cape Town and he's very funny. If you were travelling with him you'd have access to anywhere. Or Captain Cook. I'd love to have had an easy job on the Endeavour - perhaps in charge of the wine.

Are you beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

It's people who really interest me. If you're lucky you get to know somebody who will introduce you to his friends, so you get drawn into a social circle. Luck plays a great part.

What is your greatest travel luxury?

I travel light. My Scottish Presbyterian ancestry means I don't believe in luxuries.

What do you read on holiday?

In countries with an English language press like India, I'm a voracious reader of local papers. Their work puts some of ours to shame.

To where have you lost your heart?

Burma. I travelled from Mandalay to Rangoon down the Ayeyarwady River with a photographer - we were the first people to do that since Burmese independence. I fell in love with the country, the river and the people.

What has been the worst thing that has happened to you on holiday?

Getting arrested in Kupang, West Timor, which was under Indonesian military occupation at the time. I didn't get a visa, I just caught a plane with about 200 Indonesian soldiers and when I got there I was arrested.There was a pit outside my cell with two Komodo dragons in, which they fed live chickens to. After three days I was let out and put under house arrest, then thrown off the island.

Where is the most overrated place you've been?

Moscow. Bits of it remind me of Milton Keynes.

Where is the most underrated place you've been?

Quito in Ecuador is extraordinary. I love the architecture and the people.

To where would be your trip of a lifetime?

I'd love to travel along the Upper River Ayeyarwady from Bahmo on the Chinese border to Mandalay, where no foreigners are allowed. Or the train journey from Pyongyang in North Korea to Vladivostok.

The world ends tomorrow - where do you regret never having been?

Antarctica. I've been to the fringes - I once hitched a ride on a Chilean Air Force Hercules to King George Island, which was fascinating.

Alexander Frater is a travel writer. His most recent book, published by Picador, is 'Tales from the Torrid Zone: Travels in the Deep Tropics'

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