My Life In Travel: Chris Packham, BBC wildlife presenter
'I fantasise about going camel trekking in Libya'
Saturday 05 June 2010
First holiday memory?
The first time I travelled overseas, my father took me to Le Havre in France for a day. We went overnight on the boat and then stayed for a few hours and came back; I had a temporary passport which I still have tucked away somewhere. The enduring memory is having my photograph taken in front of a white Citroen DS, which at the time was the closest thing to Captain Scarlet's SPV that I could imagine.
I've had the good fortune to travel a lot for work. My stepdaughter Megan and I have been lucky enough to go to Antarctica, twice. Going there with her has been my greatest privilege.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
If you want to know where my heart is most palpably beating it would be where I live in Hampshire, particularly the New Forest. Recently I was leaving for Guatemala just as the beech leaves, hazels and bluebells were opening – accompanied by birdsong, it's the best time of the year.
Ideal travelling companion?
I've enjoyed travelling with Megan probably more than anyone. I've done my best to drag her to as many corners of the planet as possible. To see her response to things is tremendously rewarding. We don't do five-star holidays; we sleep in cars and tents. The objective is to show her the world, not cosy middle-class Hampshire.
What have you learnt from your travels?
I've learnt a lot about the human species, particularly the need to show humility at all times. You meet individuals from completely different walks of life with whom you have so little in common, but you are the same species. There's something reassuring about trekking through a rainforest to meet a tribe and they laugh, cry and smile just as you do.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I have to say with no pretension, culture vulture. I've could never do a beach holiday – the ultimate evils for photographic equipment are sand and salt water. As for adrenalin, I'm a hedonist but generally I'd rather mooch around an art gallery or a bunch of ruins.
Greatest travel luxury?
Being able to take my 500mm lens. If I had £1 for every argument I've had at the check-in desk about the weight or size of my hand luggage, I'd be a rich man.
I recently read Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday. It's ideal for flights, because I don't watch movies on planes with a screen the size of a cigarette packet.
Where has seduced you?
Marrakech. It was one of those places I'd always wanted to go and when I went in the 1980s, I felt like I was in Arabian Nights. It was beautiful.
Better to travel or arrive?
When you go through the States in transit you can stand for several hours just to get from one plane to the other – I don't know what kind of paranoid mentalities generated that inconvenience, but it's not one that I enjoy. However, I never forget the extraordinary privilege of travel.
Worst travel experience?
Endless delays, broken aircraft, baggage not turning up – all of those problems are amplified by the frequency that I travel. The worst experience now is the tension I feel about getting my stuff somewhere, and the preoccupation with weighing and measuring and persecuting passengers just to fleece them for more money.
I went to Hawaii to see a peculiar set of birds that you can't find anywhere else on earth, and also because I read a book about surfing called Walking on Water. I went with a girlfriend after a hurricane so we couldn't travel to the island with the birds, the surfing championships were cancelled, nobody would accept my credit card and Waikiki was like an American version of Blackpool.
A hotel in Watamu, Kenya. I looked at it and left straight away. The door was hanging off the hinges because it had been smashed open so many times and the shower was squalid.
My girlfriend and I did a bit of a tour of Ian Schrager's hotels in the States, which was very opulent. The Royalton and The Hudson in New York are very nice.
Driving along the Rio Grande in Texas in a convertible in winter was very rewarding. There was nobody there – just those long roads stretching to the horizon.
Best meal abroad?
Tuna, rice and a cold Kingfisher beer at a beach shack in Chapora, Goa – it was just sensational.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
I try and find somewhere with local colour and start taking photos. I like eating in street markets and that sort of thing.
A trip I fantasise about is a camel trek in Libya to go and see ancient friezes. In 1990 there was a trip to go and do that, but I was faced with an alternative which was to re-enact Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. My friend unwisely convinced me to do the latter; it cost me three months of my life.
Rome. I like the fact that you can just about walk to everywhere, going from one great moment in history to another, stopping for ice cream en route.
I'll be in Britain until the end of November making programmes. One place I failed to get to last year is Siberia, so I'll try and get a visa then go and photograph tigers in the snow.
Chris Packham co-presents Springwatch, Mon-Thurs on BBC Two at 8pm. An exhibition of his photography will be staged at the Photographers' Gallery in Holt, Norfolk, 26 July-14 August (photographersgallery-holt.com).
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