My Life In Travel: Mark Carwardine, environmentalist, writer, television presenter and wildlife photographer
'I've been jailed, beaten up and shot at when travelling'
Saturday 27 February 2010
First holiday memory?
The first holiday which had a really big impact on me was when I was 11. My parents took my brother and me on a touring holiday through seven countries in Europe. The grand finale was a week in Austria. It was the first time we'd been abroad as a family and I'll never forget a constant feeling of wonder and excitement at actually being in a foreign country.
There have been so many, but I think it was probably introducing my father to the Antarctic. In fact, we went twice. The first time he slipped on the deck of the ship and broke his wrist, so I took him back a couple of years later. The Antarctic Peninsula is one of my favourite places in the world and it affected my father in the same way.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
Cornwall out of the holiday season – in fact, I'm planning to hide away in Cornwall for a few weeks this year to write a book. I find it so inspiring and peaceful. But I also love the Black Isle, just north of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. It's not black and it's not an island, but it has enough wildlife, from wildcats and bottlenose dolphins, to keep me happy for weeks.
What have you learnt from your travels?
No matter how much you travel, you've never "seen it all". We complain about all the things that are wrong with Britain, but we forget how lucky we really are.
Ideal travelling companion?
Someone who is easy-going, like-minded and a reasonably capable traveller. You have to roll with the punches when you're travelling, because things inevitably go wrong sometimes.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I was filming in Mauritius and had absolutely no qualms about working rather than lying on a sunlounger. I'm definitely a culture vulture, with a bit of adrenalin junkie (shark diving, rock climbing, that sort of thing) thrown in for good measure.
Greatest travel luxury?
Music can transform an experience. I remember flying over Fiordland National Park in New Zealand with Stephen Fry last year, while filming Last Chance To See. We were in a little helicopter and the pilot played Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon loudly into our headsets. Suddenly, we were in an imaginary spacecraft, wheeling and turning over a fantasy, make-believe world.
Almost anything non-fiction. I've just finished Bill Bryson's Shakespeare, which is brilliant, and have started The Time Traveller's Guide To Medieval England.
Where has seduced you?
One of my great passions is whale watching and the best place in the world to do that is Baja California, in Mexico. I go every year – sometimes several times a year. I also love Iceland, which has become rather like a second home, though I do wish it would stop whaling.
Better to travel or arrive?
It depends on how you are travelling. If it's by plane, then arriving is far, far better. But if you're travelling by train (except in Britain, of course) or by camel or on foot, then the journey is as much of the experience as the arrival.
Worst travel experience?
There have been a few. During the course of work, I've been thrown into jail, beaten up, mugged, ambushed and shot at more times than I can remember.
It wasn't exactly a holiday, but a few years ago I went to photograph walruses in the high Arctic in Canada. The weather was so bad I spent 11 days of a 12-day trip curled up in my sleeping bag in a dilapidated wooden hut, with a blizzard blowing outside and sub-zero temperatures inside.
The kind of faceless, shabby, unfriendly chains we get in Britain – aimed at travelling salesmen and the like – are about as depressing as it gets. At least really, really bad hotels in the developing world have a bit of character.
The Marine Hotel in Hermanus, South Africa. It's a gorgeously luxurious hotel on the coast, about two hours from Cape Town. You can lie in bed (or in the Jaccuzzi if you're in a really posh room) and watch southern right whales cavorting in the bay outside the window.
The best walk: along the riverbank on Princess Royal Island in British Columbia, bumping into black bears along the way. The best swim: with whale sharks in La Paz, in Baja California, Mexico. The best drive: along the Cape Whale Route in South Africa in whale season, obviously, timed to go around the back of Table Mountain in Cape Town as the sun is setting.
Best meal abroad?
Chicken and coconut soup in Thailand. I was on a diving holiday years before mass tourism. The only place to eat was a quiet little shack at the back of a beach. The soup was absolutely delicious but it probably tasted a lot better in that wonderful setting.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
Go out and explore, preferably on foot. I'm not one to go sightseeing as such. I prefer to stroll around, drink coffee in the cafes and absorb some of the local atmosphere. And I'm afraid I can't resist a good bookshop, even if all the books are in a language I don't understand.
Cuba. I've never been and it's one of the few places everyone, almost without exception, seems to rave about. I think I need to go as soon as possible, before it gets Americanised.
New York. It's about as far removed from the wilderness areas I tend to spend most of my time in and I always leave feeling uplifted,.
To Prague to make a Last Chance To See special with Stephen Fry. The trip will involve us accompanying four critically endangered northern white rhinos on a cargo plane between Prague and Nairobi.
Mark Carwardine is speaking at Destinations: The Holiday & Travel Show at NEC Birming-ham 5-7 March (0871 230 7141; destinationsshow.com ; box office closes 4 March)
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