Levison Wood
List 15 December

Travellers' Tales – the best travel stories from 2016

In 2016, we’ve been told incredible travel stories by the likes of Bryan Cranston, KT Tunstall, Joanna Lumley, Moby, Levison Wood, Art Malik, Billy Bragg and more. Here’s are some of their most colourful stories, from Patagonia to India and Japan


KT Tunstall on Greenland


One of my favourite places is Greenland. I went to the very northern Arctic, Uummannaq and Disco Bay, on an environmental trip with Cape Farewell. A bunch of artists went up and spent 10 days on a boat going up the west coast. It was extraordinary. Jarvis Cocker was on the trip and he was very excited because he wanted to DJ in Disco Bay, and he did. I danced to Jarvis while he DJed in Disco Bay.

Se went to 77 degrees north, which is beyond habitation. I’ve never been anywhere quite like that, where you would die very quickly if you weren’t protected. There were all these fingers of ice, like huge claws coming over the edge of the mountains, and everything is screaming at you: “Go away. You’re not meant to be here.”

Click here for Full Interview


Bryan Cranston on New Mexico, USA


I’ll forever have a place in my heart for Albuquerque, New Mexico and the landscapes there because of what it meant to me, with Breaking Bad and changing my career. I love the stark contrast of the desert to the blue skies to the green. It’s a fascinating area. I met some really great people there, and the landscape and the place was a bona fide character of the show. Without it, I’m not sure the show would’ve been the same.

Click here for Full Interview 

Art Wolfe on India


The Kumbh Mela in India is the greatest spectacle on the planet because it’s the greatest gathering of humans on the planet. On any given day, there will be 10 million people right in your face.

It’s like Burning Men on steroids. You get completely naked sadhus walking around covered in ash. Some villagers show up holding on to a rope because if they let go of the rope, they’ll be separated from the village and lost. And then you get fire walkers, tightrope walkers, snake charmers, people that have never cut their fingernails.

You got a broad stroke of humanity, and that’s what I love. Culture shock stimulates the imagination and that’s the best thing that can happen to a photographer.

Click here for Full Interview


Moby on California


There’s a place in Marin County, California, called Muir Woods, named after John Muir. John Muir is one of my patron saints. I have such an odd connection to him and his approach to nature, and his writing is so inspiring.

The first time I went to Muir Woods, there was almost a tectonic neurological shift in my little brain, where suddenly I realized that my love for the complexity and beauty and sustainability of nature just far surpasses my love for anything that humans have ever made.

I had a sort of ‘fall on the road to Damascus’ moment where I suddenly realized that the self-importance of humanity and the things that people make and the cities that they create don’t mean that much to me anymore. They’re nice. I mean, I like people and I like books and I like Netflix and I like watching Stranger Things, but, compared to the sublime grandeur of an 800-year-old tree, human culture looks kind of insignificant. 

Click here for Moby: 5 places that blow my mind


Levison Wood on the Himalaya

Big hills were a big challenge. Gravity was the other. Most people think the Himalaya is just snowy peaks but actually I was going through jungles, swamps, deserts – the whole spectrum. We had avalanches, landslides and earthquakes. Physically it was tough. There were big mountains and obviously altitude was a problem.

We also went to places that the Taliban controlled. We went to Pakistan and had border issues. The Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan is a place that was so wild and so remote that more people should go and see it.

I also met the Dalai Lama. He was very interested in the trip. He invited me into his house and we sat down and had a good chinwag.

Click here for Full Interview


Gilles Peterson on Brazil


I’ve nearly drowned two times in my life and both times were in Brazil. We used to go out in Salvador and I got caught out on the ocean and nearly didn’t get back in. The same thing happened when I was in Rio. I would just go out swimming. 

In places around Salvador, you could be 20 kilometres away from the main beaches, with no one around, and sometimes it’s dangerous. If I hadn’t managed to get back in both times, there’d have been no one around to come and get me.

So, Brazil nearly killed me twice but I keep going back, which shows how much I love it there.

Click here for Gilles Peterson: Why I Love Brazil


Michael Kenna on Japan


One of my absolute favourite movies is Lost In Translation. I particularly liked the sequence in the karaoke bar, as it reminded me of many similar adventures. My guide in Hokkaido taught me karaoke songs by Yujiro Ishihara, a well-known Japanese singer. I’d practice in the car on our road trips. 

Later, in karaoke bars, it was surprising to me how warm and friendly people became once I sang one of these songs. I could have free drinks all night as long as I sang either Yujiro or Beatles duets with everybody - a very useful skill to have in Japan.

Click here for Full Interview


Carl Hiaasen on Florida


I love the Everglades. I love to go way out on the edge. I get down to the Ten Thousand Islands area on the southwest coast as often as I can. It’s a maze of mangrove islands. If you know where you’re going, you won’t lay eyes on another boat.

It’s still a great experience to find somewhere that looks the same way it probably looked 5000 years ago. It’s a very rare thing to be able to in a state with 20 million people.

That part of the Everglades remains fairly impenetrable. It’s more remote and it’s not for everybody, there are bugs and mosquitoes there and critters. There are gators and crocodiles. But that’s the kind of place I couldn’t be happier. Seeing a 12-foot crocodile, I couldn’t be more happy. I’d much rather hang out in that kind of a place than somewhere where you have a busload of tourists pull up next to you.

Click here for Full Interview


Colin Thubron on the Nile Valley


The journey that I cherish most is one I did with my parents when I was 19 or 20. We took a caravan down through the Middle East and the Nile Valley to the Sudanese border. 

It was a journey we did because we wanted to distract ourselves after the death of my sister. That journey opened my eyes to the Middle East.

Click here for Full Interview


Billy Bragg on the United States


In America, there definitely is still a romance to rail travel. As they come into towns and cities, the trains move slowly through what they call the ‘edge-lands’, before the city starts and the countryside stops. They're the kind of areas where there are trailer parks and abandoned buildings.

The railroad goes to places that were important when it was built, often around the 1880s and 1890s. In some ways, you’re going back in time.

The most scenic stretch for me was following the Rio Grande across the far west of Texas into New Mexico: very beautiful, great rivers, mesas. It helped that it was at sunset, so all the rock landscape glowed a dark tawny hue.

When you’re on the train, you have to surrender to the time. In America now, because they have to give way to freight trains, you don’t always arrive on time. The Wi-Fi is patchy. But it’s cool. You just have to let yourself go.

Click here for Full Interview


Samer Saied (G Adventures - winner of Wanderlust’s World Guide Awards) on Egypt

In an early morning in the middle of the summer, on a hot air balloon trip, I got a surprising question. A tourist asked: “In a hot a country like Egypt, how long does it take a pregnant woman to give birth?”

I was seriously surprised, but I didn't know if she was joking or not. I said “Women can't handle nine months in the heat so...” And the tourist interrupted me: “Six months, right? I really thought so.”

I said “No. It’s very hot here, but women in Africa and Egypt are designed for the heat. The length of time for a woman to be pregnant is still nine months.” The other travellers were laughing like crazy and I admit I couldn't hold it in either.

Click here for: Tour Guides - the most ridiculous question I've ever been asked

Joanna Lumley on Japan


“The Peace Park on Okinawa has haunted me. It was one of the most ghastly things, which brought into my life what war is: boys who considered themselves to have failed, because their country has been invaded, so they blow themselves up.

To think that any one of our boys or teenagers would have the shame to blow themselves up out of a sense of having failed their country, it broke my heart. I know we were at war with Japan and I understand all that but there was something about seeing all the names of the dead so gracefully honoured, but I just thought, “We need to stop all war.”

Click here for Full Interview


Joan Wasser (Joan As Police Woman) on India


My favourite city is Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh in north India. This is not a place to relax. It’s the place that brings you as close to all parts of humanity as I’ve ever been.

There are cremation pyres on the Ganges that happen 24 hours a day, with the families dressed in white performing the funereal rituals. 100 feet away, there are devotees purifying themselves in the river. 100 feet from there, women are doing their laundry in the same river. As always, there are cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, pedestrians and cows in the streets, all battling for dominance.

The sights, smells, sounds, tastes and feelings are the strongest I’ve ever experienced.

Click here for Full Interview


Bill Oddie on Patagonia


Filming in Patagonia, we got one of the best sequences I’ve ever been involved in, with orcas. We were just packing up at the Valdés Peninsula, then, way down the coast, I saw one. It was miles away, but we moved like lightning. 

The cameraman knew just what to anticipate. He held his camera on a baby seal, so we got this shot of the beach, and suddenly a whale swoops into the frame and grabs it, then lets it go because the seal panics. To me, the thing about wildlife-watching is seeing what you don’t expect.

A lot of places you go to remind you of somewhere else, usually Scotland. But Patagonia is unique. 

Click here for Full Interview


Art Malik on Penang, Malaysia

Penang is the most beautiful place. The fabulous colonial hotel where we were staying was within walking distance of the town, so there were restaurants we could go to and an open market. I would just wander around and look at the old colonial architecture. Sadly, when you look at some of the wonderful colonial buildings in India, it’s difficult to film in them anymore because they’ve been upgraded or demolished. 

If you go to Penang, have the seafood. It’s just glorious. In Malaysia, there are Indian and European influences, and all of these are tempered into the way they cook, into the way they eat, into the way they live. It really was a delightfully global place to be. 

Click here for Full Interview


Danny MacAskill on California


I’ve been riding the Campus Trails above Santa Cruz in California twice in the last year, and they have to be up there as some of the best. The trails around Santa Cruz are great fun. They have a similar feel to places like Whistler, but they get a lot less traffic.

There are definitely no lifts here. It’s a case of pedalling up. But above Santa Cruz, you’ve got redwood forests, which are really cool to be riding in. You’ve got wider, fairly well-built trails, but they’ve still got that loamy feel, rather than being dusty or rocky. The forests with the redwood trees are huge, and trails can be more than a foot wide. They are just magic terrain for riding bikes.

You get mountain lions and other kinds of wild beasts in the woods. You get rolling hills here and you have the coast that Santa Cruz sits on. When you go over the top of the hills, you end up in the Bay Area of San Francisco. You can see San Francisco from the top of the hills.

Click here for Danny MacAskill's Top 5 mountain biking destinations


Era Istrefi on Switzerland


I went to Switzerland once and went to the zoo in Basel. Basel Zoo is the oldest and the biggest zoo in Switzerland. It’s amazing to see the animals there, but at the same time it was a pain for me, because I saw some monkeys there and they looked so unhappy. It ruined my day. A monkey was literally crying.

But I loved seeing the tiger there. The tiger was dope. The tiger just looked so strong, no matter what. I got inspired. It’s funny because I could see myself in both the monkey and also the tiger.

Click here for Full Interview


Ed Stafford on desert islands

I needed to prove to myself that I could do things without the support of others and it was one of the biggest lessons I have ever had. Being isolated was very difficult. Not having a single person to confer, laugh or cry with was intense. 

We all live in a world where it’s easy to distract yourself with your phone or Facebook, or by having a drink. If you’re isolated, you can’t really do that. 

I’ve got to be honest: sometimes I don’t want to go on these trips, but as soon as I get out there I love it. I like remoteness. It makes the experience more intimate, more special, because you are actually doing something original, something personal. 

It was an ego thing to start with: a young man trying to prove how tough he was. But I just turned 40, and now I think I do these challenges because if I didn’t I would stop growing as a person. If you’re doing the same thing day in, day out, you can end up stagnating. 

Click here for Full Interview


Victoria Hislop on Crete


I love gorge-walking. Crete is full of gorges, from Samaria in the west to Kritsa and Riktus in the east, and they’re spectacular and rewarding. Somehow you reconnect with the earth itself when you are walking between these very ancient rocks worn over past millennia by gushing waters. Any other walking seems a bit dull by comparison, especially when you are clinging onto the metal loops that have been stuck into the steeper parts of the rock face.

Click here for Victoria Hislop: Why I love Greece


Chris Tarrant on Patagonia


I’d never seen Patagonia before, and it’s just amazing. It’s a huge part of the world, an enormous area with valleys and mountains, and the trains were beautiful.

We travelled for more than 1000 miles and went right the way south, and did the Old Patagonian Express. I was talking to a guy on the Old Patagonian Express. It’s a famous train, so I said, “Tell me some of the famous people who’ve been on this train,” and he said, “Oh yes, we have had many American and South American politicians, some film stars some famous South American footballers and, of course, Adolf Hitler.” I said, “Adolf Hitler’s been on this train?”, and he told me, “Adolph Hitler came here in 1945.” 

When I said, “But he died in the bunker,” he said, “No, he did not die in the bunker." He was so matter of fact about the whole thing, so detailed, that I came away thinking I still don’t know whether it’s right or wrong, but it was just extraordinary. You don’t expect to be sitting on a train in South America talking about Adolph Hitler.

Click here for Chris Tarrant's Top 5 extreme rail journeys


Main image: Levison Wood. 

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