Oliver Balch in South America
Interview Words : The World According To ... | 02 July

The World According to Oliver Balch

Author and journalist, Oliver Balch, on visiting Turkey just after the Romans left

Mountain/ocean/jungle/desert – which are you and why?

Mountains – closest to heaven.

What was your first great travel experience?

Southern Turkey, pre-package holidays – it felt as if the Romans had only just upped and left.

What was your favourite journey?

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk, with my dad aged 12.

What are your top five places worldwide?

Buenos Aires, mid-Wales, Himalayas, Provence, Bolivia.

Name a special place to stay. Why is it special to you?

The Maze, Rio de Janeiro – the safest place to sleep in a favela.

What three items do you always pack? Why?

A book to beat off boredom, a pen to put down notes – and a head torch for hands-free, illuminated nerdiness.

Which passport stamp are you proudest of?

Sikkim – it was so grand and so totally preposterously unnecessary.

Which passport stamp would you most like to have?

A Tibetan visa, from a Tibetan government.

What is your guilty travel pleasure?

A dongle.

Which do you prefer: window or aisle?

Window – once I’m in my seat, I like to stay there.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

Graham Greene – if Pico Iyer hadn’t already nabbed him.

Best meal on the road? And your worst?

Red jungle curry in Thailand... Thai curry in Reading.

Most surprising place? And your most disappointing?

Sucre, Bolivia – a colonial gem; Sao Paulo, Brazil – a concrete catastrophe.

Where do you NOT want to go?

Disney World – I fear I’d flee so fast that I might forget my children.

Who/what inspired you to travel?

A hunch that there might be more to the world than rural Essex.

What do you listen to on the road?

Preferably the soft thud, thud, thud of train wheels over railway sleepers.

Does any song take you back to a particular place?

Dire Straits, Money for Nothing – my friend’s older brother played it continuously as we drove across France in the mid-80s. We thought he was so cool and sophisticated. He must have been all of, ooh, 13 years old.

What do you read when you travel?

Local newspapers, especially those at the lower end of the market. They're a minefield of cultural insights.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity?

Rajesh Jala – he’s an Indian documentary maker and one of the most humane individuals I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet.

What's the most impressive/useful phrase you know in a foreign language?

“Che, boludo” – only Argentines fully appreciate just how versatile this phrase is.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

Impatience. It’s my worst habit in any and every guise.

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

Recount how I took my wife camping during the Brazilian summer when she was eight months pregnant. Our discomfort would pale in comparison.

When are where in your travels have you been happiest?

Walking the Langtang Circuit trek in Nepal, aged 19, with no map, no timetable and only my thoughts and the mountains for company.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

Mosquito repellent.

Given a choice, what era would you travel in?

The pre-combustion engine era – cars spoil the view. In fact, there is little cars don’t spoil when it comes to travel. Even road trips are worse off for them.

If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, which would they be?

Havana for the sea-soaked Malecón, Buenos Aires for its old-style cafes, and Mumbai for its intoxicating chaos.

India RisingOliver Balch is a freelance journalist specialising in business and world affairs. His first book, Viva South America!, was shortlisted as 'Book of the Year' at the UK Travel Press Awards. His latest book, India Rising: Tales from a Changing Nation, can be ordered on Amazon now.

 

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