Many thanks to those of you were able to attend my Reddit AMA live. For those who were unable to attend, I’ll be sharing a selection of questions and answers over the next couple of weeks. To view the entire AMA, please click the above link.
Q. I believe you spent time in Japan. Can you tell us about your time there?
A. Japan is a magical Twilight Zone all of its own. I lived there for a year and was completely broke – twenty years ago. I only survived by stealing ceremonial cabbages from Ueno Park and taking them back to my friend Robert Twigger’s apartment — I was living on his floor — and cooking them into very thin soup.
Q. Could you comment on Zigzag travel?
A. I just wrote on my Facebook page this:
“If there’s a key-word to my life it’s ZIGZAG… because in life the best roads are never straight.”
Zigzag travel is what opens doors. And takes you on adventure. Never plan too much. Go without maps and without a phone, and listen to your gut… because I’s trying to tell you something.
Q. In “In Arabian Nights” is the idea that the wise person knows they are a fool. Can you comment on “knowing you are a fool” in relation to successful travel or living in a new country?
A. I have heard it said that in order to know a place or write about it — you must write about it immediately or not until after thirty years. Living in Morocco I have found that with each passing day a little more of the magic is revealed. But, at the same time, I have also found myself increasingly confused… and in awe. I think the condition of a fool, however wise, is a delight. And were we all wise, we should all wish to be fools.
Q. If you haven’t already answered this, what lost cities do you want to find?
A. Paititi is still out there.
Go and look for it!
Madre de Dios jungle.
Take vaseline for your feet. because all the skin’s going to come off when you’re in the river.
Q. How do you overcome despair in journey, or for that matter, the despair of your crew?
A. Hot food. And lots of it. That’s the biggest builder of morale. That, and gut-rot alcohol. And to lead from the front — never expecting the men to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself. The only time I go last is to eat. I never eat until the men have all eaten. It’s an easy demonstration of my respect for them.
Q. Have ever had to deal with mutiny? and whats the best way to deal with it?
A. I was in the Madre de Dios jungle for 16 weeks. No skin on our feet. All the men had had dengue, as well as I. The rain lashed down relentlessly. Cold rain. The food stores were rotting. There was no hope. And, yes, at this point, the porters started to mutiny. I had to get them back on track and it wasn’t easy. I did it with a mixture of coercion, rest, singing, humour, and spiced hot food. (The only way to eat the food by that point was to spice it).
Q. Have you ever undertaken any epic walks, (500 miles or more) would you, and where would you?
A. I want to, I want to, I want to!
My old friend and in my ways my mentor, Wilfred Thesiger, used to tell me that walking was the only way to travel… he said that if you walked the chance of missing anything interesting — people, animals or things, was immensely reduced.
I dream of walking or cycling (Thesiger frowned on bicycles because they were too fast), across Africa, or Cairo to cape.
I must do it. I WILL do it.
Q. In all your travels/adventures, have you ever visited a place where the inhabitants live in harmony with their surroundings? Thank you for this opportunity and all the wonderful books (each one an adventure).
A. I think that to answer the question we have to consider, or reconsider, the idea of harmony and what it is. What you or I regard as harmony isn’t necessarily what others take it to be.
I’m actually in India right now — in Mumbai — and I’d tell you (my opinion) that there’s nothing harmonious about this city. it’s wonderful but it’s mad mayhem, a wild rumpus of a place. But to my wife , Rachana, and to millions of others here, it’s total 24 carat harmony.
Q. Of all the places you’ve been and things you’ve seen, what place did you love the most and hope to see again (to maybe move one day or bring the family with you)? What’s been the most dangerous location, a place you’d never want to go again under any circumstances?
A. Most dangerous: Afghanistan. At one point during filming of our Afghan lost treasure documentary, the director (David Flamholc) was shot in the thigh. And that was after getting out of a torture jail.
Most loved: wow, such a hard one. I try and avoid questions like that because I love so many places, and going back to loved places time and again. It depends on my mood. And right now I’d say the Rift Valley in Kenya. I love it, i dream of it, I worship it.
And my favourite thing in all the world is to be in Africa when the first rain comes, and to smell the earth as it rains.
That, my friends, is magic.