My Life In Travel: Monty Halls, writer and broadcaster
'Cape Town is magical with an amazing history'
Saturday 17 September 2011
First holiday memory?
Camping on the Maltese island of Gozo. I remember it being bedlam: boiling hot canvas tents, sand everywhere, tears and tantrums. My father was stationed in Malta with the RAF, so we lived there for three years. Living on a Mediterranean island certainly whetted my appetite for the sea.
After I'd graduated from the Royal Marines, I went with five guys on a skiing holiday to Les Arcs in France. When we arrived at the chalet, it transpired that we were sharing it with five female doctors who had also just graduated. An apocalyptic week followed, filled with drinking, snogging, partying and all the good things you should have on a carefree holiday in your 20s. You never really get that back.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
The West Coast of Scotland. I was mesmerised by Gavin Maxwell's classic books, such as The Ring of Bright Water, as a child, which led me to make the Great Escapes documentary series for the BBC. I had built up an image of the place in my mind and I wasn't disappointed. It lived up to every expectation.
What have you learnt from your travels?
A restored faith in human nature. I remember being in Malawi during a particularly tough time for the country. We stopped in a village to buy some water and the whole community came out to greet us. They announced they were going to kill their only chicken in honour of us.
Even in big cities, if you talk to people and engage them, it's amazing how far they'll go to help you.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
Beach bum. I'm 44 now and falling apart like a clown's car, so I really enjoy kicking back. There's a place called Ponta Mamoli, in the far south of Mozambique, which has a seemingly endless stretch of beach. I ate at a boma buffet every day, slept in a simple wooden hut and listened to the sound of the Indian Ocean waves at night. It just goes to show how little you need.
Ideal travelling companion?
Reuben, my dog. He's upbeat, totally loyal and makes me laugh my head off at least once a day.
Greatest travel luxury?
My laptop. I'm a product of the modern age. I like finding a good coffee shop where I can rattle away on the keyboard, and then watch DVD boxsets at the end of the day.
I recently discovered The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, which is all about immigration and has an amazing twist at the end. Also, when times get tough, I take away Papillon, the 1969 memoir by French fugitive, Henri Charrière, for a challenge.
Where has seduced you?
Cape Town. I worked there when I was in the Royal Marines, monitoring the repatriation of Mandela's guerilla army after he was elected. Cape Town is a magical place, where the mountains hit the sea and it has an amazing history.
Better to travel or arrive?
I enjoy the anonymity of travel. I'm a terribly antisocial person on a flight; you can really be in your own little bubble.
Worst travel experience?
Bimini Island in the Bahamas. I went there to film spotted dolphins and was beside myself with anticipation. But we arrived at the tail end of the tourist season and the locals seemed worn out. Everyone tried to rip us off. I couldn't get away fast enough.
The Cary Arms in Babbacombe, Devon. It sits on a tiny cove, which is famous among the diving fraternity because at a certain time of year you can swim in the sea surrounded by cuttlefish. You leave the hotel genuinely believing that everyone is your mate.
A place in Falmouth, Cornwall. I stayed there at the end of a big filming project when I was exhausted and the hotel promoted itself as the "ultimate relaxation retreat". When I turned up, it was undergoing construction and there were workmen everywhere. They had this one song playing on a loop the entire time: it was like they were trying to break you psychologically.
Along Sollas Beach on North Uist, in the Outer Hebrides. When I was filming there, I'd run along the beach with Reuben every day for six months. I saw four or maybe five other people there the whole time. It looks out on a wide Atlantic horizon, with pure white sand.
I'd like to sail around the remote islands of the Indo-Pacific – from Komodo, in the Lesser Sunda chain in Indonesia, to Bora Bora in French Polynesia.
Best meal abroad?
We were driving in a rickety old 4x4 on an expedition in the Philippines and came to a jungle clearing, where a group of locals had set up a long-term camp. These women emerged in long white dresses and served us fish and steamed rice on a banana leaf, with an apple smoothie that was so lovely, it made me want to cry. I thought I was hallucinating.
Bristol – it's the centre for wildlife and adventure programming and an incredibly creative place. It's also a great hub city – you can be in Exmoor, the Brecon Beacons or London quickly.
I'm working in Cornwall as a fisherman for a new series. It's a gravely misunderstood industry. All the tiny boats you see puttering out of the harbour in Padstow are dying out because they're being hit by legislation. With them goes all the history and culture of those fishing communities – so we're trying to tell that story.
Monty Halls' Great Escapes DVD boxset, comprising all three series, is available from 26 September, £34.99 (cannystore.com)
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