Travel: Passport - Rick Ridgeway: `Word got out that we were buying arms so we were all arrested'

I 'VE JUST got a new passport but it's already beginning to fill up with visas. My latest trip was to Bhutan where I was meeting government ministers trying to get permission to travel to a very remote part of that country.

What else? I've done a couple of quick trips down to Mexico to do some surfing. I've also been down in Chile. A climbing partner of mine has bought up a piece of land - nearly one million acres - which he is planning to give back to the Chilean government as a national park. The land contains a couple of mountain ranges which it is fun to climb - nobody has ever climbed them before. But it's not the thrill of conquest, its the sense of real discovery that I love. It's also kind of fun climbing mountains that belong to a friend. You don't need permits.

Passport stories? I remember once being in the middle of Borneo with a group of hardened travellers. One of us suddenly announced a new game. "Everyone get their passports out," he said. "Who here has got two stamps on the same page the most antipodal to each other?" He won the competition - he had an African country on the same page as some small Pacific island.

My roughest adventure was probably in Panama. It was actually of my own making but I was only 22 at the time. You have to excuse me. I was sailing down the Panama Canal on a yacht when I met some people on another boat. In fact they turned out to be a couple of ne'er-do-wells. They invited me to join a scheme which at the time I found absolutely irresistable, even though it involved me entrusting all my money to them.

Basically we were going to buy 50,000 rounds of 22 shells from some contact in Panama. We would then take them to the local Indians and trade them in for emeralds. The emeralds, in theory, we would then sail over the Pacific to Fiji where we would trade them in with merchants in Suva.

Word got out that we were buying arms, and naturally we were all arrested. The Panamanian authorities thought that we were plotting some insurrection. It took me a whole month in jail - a brutal experience - to persuade the authorities that I was a completely naive accomplice.

When they eventually let me out I had no money at all - well, about $20 or $30. I took it to a casino and won just enough money to buy myself a ticket to Medellin in Colombia. From there I hitch-hiked across to Peru where I was lucky enough to get a job as a university lecturer in the anthropology department.

Basically my favourite travels are to unknown places - blank regions on the map. I like going to places that answer questions I didn't even think of asking at the outset. On my latest big trip, from the Indian Ocean to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, I ended up asking myself what it would be like to spend a month walking with animals from which you are several rungs down the food ladder.

It made me question our relations with animals, and ask what it was that we lose when we eliminate them from our landscapes. The best thing about travel is not the adrenaline ride. Rather it is the stuff you learn about yourself and the wild places.

Where do I live? It's a village called Ojai in southern California, made up of 7,000 people. It is about 12 miles from the coast. The nearest city is Santa Barbara. I've been to lots of places in the world but this is still my favourite.

Rick Ridgeway's book, `The Shadow of Kilimanjaro' is published by Bloomsbury at pounds 18.99.

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