Richard Hamilton
Interview Words : The World According To ... | 14 November

The World According to Richard Hamilton

Storyteller and author Richard Hamilton reveals all about his world of travel

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you?

Desert. I have travelled in the Sahara in Mauritania, it was unforgettable.

First travel experience?

My family went to Malta when I was six and forgot to pack any clothes for me. I have always travelled light as a result.

Favourite journey?

Probably the train journey between Nairobi and Mombasa. Dinner is served by waiters in starched white colonial-era uniforms and you feel you are in an Agatha Christie novel.

Top five places worldwide?

Cape Town; Marrakech; Machu Picchu; Kilimanjaro; Jerusalem.

Special place to stay?

Riad Hayati in the Marrakech medina.

Three items you always pack?

Camera, notebook, microphone/recorder.

Passport stamp you're proudest of?

Algeria. I covered elections there for the BBC. It's notoriously difficult to get in.

Passport stamp most like to have?

Cuba. I long to go there before it changes forever.

Guilty travel pleasure?

My iPod – it's full of whale music, relaxation and hypnosis material (I'm a bit of an insomniac).

Window or aisle?

Window every time, although my legs always scream 'aisle, aisle!'

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

My wife.

Best meal on the road? Worst?

A fried breakfast in the small town of Beaufort in the middle of the Karoo desert, about halfway between Johannesburg and Cape Town. I hitch-hiked all the way on board an enormous transport lorry and it was the best fry-up I've ever had.

The worst was some sort of roadkill in a town in southern Madagascar called Ambovombe. The name always seemed appropriate after that.

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

I was pleasantly surprised by Santiago in Chile. It's how I imagined Paris was many eons ago. I was disappointed by Alexandria. It was nothing like the way Lawrence Durrell described it.

Where do you NOT want to go?

Las Vegas.

Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes?

My father always had itchy feet. He lived in Berlin before the Second World War broke out and his family took the last train out of the city in 1939. But after that he always pined for foreign parts, particularly Greece and the Mediterranean.

I always thought Wilfred Thesiger and TE Lawrence were heroic but also quite confused and melancholic figures.

What do you listen to on the road? Any song take you back to a particular time or place?

I listen to a lot of music on my iPod particularly African music. But my favourite band is the Go-Betweens from Australia. Their songs are a wonderful mixture of alienation and black humour. One particularly memorable song is by the Northern Irish band Snow Patrol called Warmer Climate. I first heard it driving through the desert in Mauritania. One line that I never forget goes,"You told me to just simply wander, rather than take shelter under..."

What do you read?

I love travel writing and my favourite authors are Colin Thubron and Paul Theroux. I have just finished reading The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier, which is sublime.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it?

I met a young man in Turkey who played the guitar for us in an underground grotto with a lake. When I asked him about Islam and Christianity, he said there are many rooms in God's house.

I shared a very long cold ski-lift once with a friend. There was a power failure and we were stuck in an icy blizzard for about 20 minutes. While we sat in the chair lift, he opened a Mars bar and proceeded to devour it all himself.

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

La shukran (no thank you in Arabic). It's not particularly impressive but it normally let's people know that I haven't stepped straight off the plane.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

I have been known to lose my temper and often take it out on taxi drivers, especially when they say they have no change.

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

Storytelling. I collected traditional tales from the storytellers in Marrakech. I also make up stories at night to tell my two year old daughter.

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

I went Interrailing through France, Italy, Greece and Turkey when I was 19. My friends and I would sleep on beaches, the platforms of train stations and the rooftops of cheap hostels. It was my fist genuine travel experience and like a first kiss, its intensity and impact cannot be replicated.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

Suncream. Particularly Piz Buin, which I like to rub under my nostrils sometimes when I'm back home, to give me a Proustian experience and remind me of the French Alps.

Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

1950s. I think the world was a more innocent place then and the package holiday hadn't really taken off.

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

Cape Town for its beauty, New York for its dynamism and Jerusalem for its history.

The Last StorytellersRichard Hamilton is author of The Last Storytellers: Tales from the Heart
of Morocco. It is available on Amazon now.

"For anyone looking for an insight into the weird and wonderful world of Marrakech's myths and legends – this a richly told joy." Or check out the October 2011 issue of Wanderlust for a review of Richard Hamilton's new book.

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