Tim Mackintosh-Smith: Author

The world's leading expert on Ibn Battutah talks fricasseed bulls' rectums and the importance of a collapsible corkscrew

7 mins

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you?

Mountain. That's probably why I've ended up living in Sana'a, Yemen, at 7,400 feet. But my English home is in a marsh. I like a bit of variety.

First travel experience?

Where do you begin? I suppose I got a real taste for proper travel when I was swept, aged about 12, into a demo against the Colonels in Athens, and found myself loving it.

Favourite journey?

Lots. But sailing to the island of Socotra nearly 20 years ago, when it had hardly been touched by the outside world, may be tops.

Top 5 places worldwide?

My house in Sana'a. A felucca on the Nile in Upper Egypt. The beach on Berneray in the Outer Hebrides. Granada – especially a front seat at the bullring in Corpus Christi week. I'm still looking for number five.

Special place to stay?

The Galle Face Hotel, Colombo.

3 items you always pack?

A very old-fashioned Indonesian money-belt. My Bodleian Library Reader's Card – useful ID if like me you've got no driving licence. A collapsible corkscrew.

Passport stamp you're proudest of?

My Yemeni residence permit.

Passport stamp most like to have?

The moon, if it ever gets to have one in my lifetime.

Guilty travel pleasure?

Too much booze; but it makes me fat rather than guilty.

Window or aisle?

Window by day, aisle by night.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

A particularly lovable and indomitable aunt, sadly long dead.

Best meal on the road? Worst?

Best: rice and dal at the top of Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka, staying with the guardians in the monsoon. Worst: fricasseed bulls' rectums (I won't say where).

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

Most surprising: possibly Boston (Mass.). Most disappointing: I'm never disappointed – my expectations are always too low.

Where do You NOT want to go?

Nowhere. Even grotty places have their own fascination.

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

Freya Stark's photos were a big inspiration, before I could even read her books. Having followed the 14th-century Moroccan traveller Ibn Battutah around the Old World for the past 15 years, he's my obvious hero, even if I don't always find him particularly heroic.

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

I don't take recorded music with me, but I can remember some cracking car journeys to Dire Straits.

What do you read?

Nothing: I prefer to look, smell etc. Unless I'm doing research and have to read a parrticularly important history or whatever in situ.

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

The late I.G. Khan of Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh – philanthropist, socialist, sufi – is someone I can't think of without having warm thoughts about mankind. As for the opposite . . . a certain Lieutenant of the Guinean police in Siguiri comes to mind.

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

It's in Turkish, and totally unrepeatable in polite company.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

Being tempted to stay at places that are beyond my budget, and running out of money.

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

I wouldn't. I'd complain so much that I'd be the first one to be killed and eaten.

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

Impossible to say: too many times and places, too many sorts of happiness.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

Rain on dust.

Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

My childhood. Childhood is the only time you're free of baggage, in every sense.

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

Sana'a, Hong Kong, Oxford. But it would be mad as well as perfect.


LandfallsTim Mackintosh-Smith's latest book Landfalls: On the Edge of Islam with Ibn Battutah is available now on Amazon. You can order your copy here.


More like this

Cycling enthusiast and adventurer, Alastair Humphreys reveals the highs and lows of his life on the road | The World According to Alastair Humphreys

The World According to... Hardeep Singh Kohli | Interviews... More

The World According to... Dom Joly | Interviews... More

Related Articles