IN THE TRIBE: FACE-TO-FACE WITH MARCUS RUTHERFORD

IN THE TRIBE: FACE-TO-FACE WITH MARCUS RUTHERFORD

 

 

 

IN THE TRIBE:
Face-to-Face with
Marcus Rutherford

Artist and lawyer Marcus Rutherford has travelled with Tribes eight times since 2013 – and always to Tanzania. We chatted with him about his art, his love of travel and his fascination with the nature and wildlife of Tanzania – and with a particular Victorian explorer…

“I cannot get enough of  watching elephants, which have such strong social and family  bonds.”

‘The elephant in the main picture was in Ruaha, playing near a salt lick by the side of a river. The baby elephant is from my sketchbook rather than being a finished painting.’

For the past 45+ years Marcus’s career has been in the law.  He qualified as a solicitor and has practiced most of that time as a commercial litigator in London, but was also working in Africa before he got married.

“There was a point in my life when I thought about becoming a full time artist or illustrator, having done some work for Woman’s Own magazine and illustrations for a cookery book, but there are some astonishingly talented people in what is a very competitive field and it requires a huge amount of luck as well as talent to make a good living at it. Having a family quickly convinced me I had to give priority to earning a living.  Even so, I firmly believed that it was vital to keep my creative interests going alongside my main profession, and I have been fortunate enough to be able to do so.   My range of  interests is huge – only due to my having a very low boredom threshold –  from natural history to archaeology to fine art, cookery, painting, pottery and historical research.”

 

‘Monty, a man in Ruaha, is studying the wild dogs and he recognises this alpha female.’

Your love of nature in all its forms is evident in your art, with subjects ranging from animals, insects and butterflies to birds, fungi, shells and flowers. When and how did that love of nature start?

As far back as I can remember.  I was born and brought up in Africa and it is impossible to ignore the wild life spectacle all around.  There were far fewer toys too, and so the countryside became the playground and seeds and shells were my ‘Lego’.  I was lucky enough to be ‘adopted’ when I was about 7 by a neighbour who was a well-known ornithologist and he took me on field trips and taught me to recognise bird calls.  He also introduced me to Joy Adamson, famous for bringing up Elsa the lioness, who was an amazing artist who helped nurture my interests in natural history.  I am however, still an enthusiastic amateur with a huge amount to learn.

 

‘White-fronted bee-eaters, painted from the birds in Selous.’

Birding is a particular interest of yours. Obviously your travels give you the opportunity to see exotic and unusual species, but do you also enjoy birding at home in the UK?

I cannot claim to be an expert but yes, I love our British and European birds.  The closer you look at them, the more amazing they are.  I get particularly excited at the arrival of swallows, cuckoos and (when in France and Germany) bee-eaters and white storks, knowing that they have journeyed thousands of miles to get here. I always wonder if I have watched those very birds before in East Africa.

I believe you also have experience of foraging for wild foods? What has been your greatest/tastiest ‘find’ and what would you strongly advise people to avoid if they want to forage for themselves?

Our ancestors were hunter gatherers and there is still something incredibly satisfying about finding your own food in the wild.  The most astonishing ‘forage’ was recently in Tanzania, when I went out with a local chap to find chanterelle mushrooms.  In Europe they are delicious and highly prized apricot yellow fungi, but in Africa they come in a whole range of colours from palest yellow, through pinks and orange, to an eye-burning scarlet – but they are just as delicious as the European species.  It can only be a matter of time before somebody realises the commercial potential of these abundant, delicious and gorgeous, mushrooms.  But the caution – unsurprisingly – is to make sure you always rely on local expertise.  Even a good book may not be a 100% reliable guide and, with about 20% of fungi mildly to deadly poisonous, there is always a risk of misidentification.

 

This was a huge beetle I picked up in the Tsavo park, painted from the specimen.  Everything in that park is bigger than usual – the elephants, the lions, snakes and especially the insects.’

You are entirely self-taught as an artist – which techniques/materials do you prefer?

I use a variety of techniques, and I am now most comfortable with watercolour, but not in a traditional way.  I will incorporate the sap of fruit trees to give the paint a gloss and sometimes even use diluted household emulsion paint.  The most important thing is to have the right paper for the right painting, as this will transform the way the image develops.  I do paint in oils, but it takes a few days to adjust to the different way the paint needs to be applied. The good thing with oils is that the scale is satisfyingly big.

Do you paint from life or photographs or a combination of both?

Both, but it is much more satisfying to paint from life.  The trouble is that in order to paint (say) an elephant from life, you need to spend days just watching and sketching them, which seems an indulgence when only on safari for a week or two.  In the same time my modern digital cameras can capture thousands of separate images, which enables me to use a dozen angles to build up one painting when I get home.     

Do you also enjoy learning about the subjects of your art? I know you have a keen interest in flora – that’s a subject with almost infinite possibilities for discovery. Is there a flower or plant that you have yet to feature in your art that you would most like to ‘encounter’ and capture on paper/canvas?

Of course.  Most of us have lost the patience to look closely at something as simple as a flower, or feather or shell, and I think much of the enjoyment of painting them is that it makes you spend time studying the details.  I do love wild orchids, which are not only such weird plants but have amazing relationships with the insects which pollenate them.  On my last trip to Tanzania I was lucky enough to be guided by an expert (thank you Tribes’ Christine!) and I was completely blown away by the sheer variety of colour and form.  If I could do a really successful painting of just one of them, I would be thrilled beyond measure – this is one subject which really has to be painted from a living specimen.

 

Tulips – painted from life.

While on your travels, are you always looking for something that could become the subject of a painting?

Every second of the day.  Observation is the most important skill to master as an artist – far more so than the mere technical ability to handle a pencil and paintbrush, and I am constantly looking at the shapes of trees, leaves and flowers; on the way the light catches the surfaces, and working out the colours which hide in the shadows.   Water  is especially fascinating since it reflects, distorts and shapes objects as well as being a subject in its own right.  But my next challenge,  since I have met him several times in Ruaha, is to do justice to ‘Tom’, a local bull elephant who is as curious about people as we are of him.  We have spent hours watching each other less than 10 yards apart.

Of the paintings you have created from your travels, which has given you the greatest satisfaction as an artist, and which other work (it might be the same one of course!) captures a particularly strong memory?

Hmm – nothing I have painted has ever been perfect, but I was pleased with the Koi carp and butterflies (all on my website).  I am also pleased with the leopard (shown at the head of this page) because the safari guides who have now become good friends (and are highly critical of my work) can recognise the actual animal.  We saw him walking along the road towards us as we drove back to the camp one evening, and he took his time, watching us with those astonishing eyes.  He had been wounded in a fight and flopped onto a rock in full view of us for about an hour to recover his breath.  We were alone, with no other vehicle in sight throughout.

 

I painted these charaxes butterflies years ago – it is really hard to get the wings matching!

As you say on your website, in your ‘spare’ time you are also a partner in a London law firm. Do you specialise in a particular area of the law? And how does that career sit alongside your more artistic activities?

I am a litigation lawyer, which means I spend time dealing with commercial and media disputes in court, and a number of my cases became very well-known news stories in their time.  Clients can be very demanding, but it is possible to keep up other interests although it is not easy, particularly when family demands also take up time.  I am lucky enough to have a purpose-built studio to which I can escape – and a VERY understanding wife.

Your already rather full life now includes a new element – you are writing a book on the Victorian explorer James Jameson. His is not a particularly well-known name, in spite of his family connections to the whiskey family, although he is linked to a fairly grisly episode involving cannibals. What drew you to this subject, and do you feel Jameson has been poorly served by history?

This is a really extraordinary project, which started as I was rummaging through the Natural History Museum’s historic bird skin collection looking for specimens to paint.  Jameson was one of the men who went with Henry Morton Stanley (“Dr Livingstone, I presume?”)  into the heart of Africa in 1887 and he died on the Congo river the following year.

He collected a number of birds which are still in the Museum and two species are named after him.  On 11 May 1888 he found himself a witness to the murder and dismemberment of a child for the purposes of being eaten, and he caused an international scandal when news filtered out of Africa that he had sat and painted six sketches of the entire process.

I have rediscovered his original diaries and papers which are full of amazing drawings and paintings which have never before been published.  My interest is actually in the expedition, not just Jameson, and I have uncovered some truly jaw-dropping stories.  Jameson was not a bad man, but there is no doubt he did have a very unhealthy interest in cannibalism.  Frankly he was not alone in that, and many things were collected by those early travellers for our museums which we would find very offensive nowadays.  I am trying not to judge these men, but simply want to get to the facts which have largely been obscured by time.

 

Emerald cuckoo skins – painted from the specimens in the Natural History Museum with their labels on.

You have travelled with Tribes eight times since 2013, always to Tanzania. Why is your love for that particular country so great?

I did not know Tanzania well when I was living in Kenya and Uganda, but was encouraged to visit by Tracy of Tribes when, in 2013, I had just finished a very tough case and needed to get away on my own for a few days.  What I discovered was an astonishingly varied country which was far less visited than it deserves to be. Most tourists go to the North – Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Kilimanjaro – but I was persuaded to go to the southern parks and fell in love with them. 

I am not a ‘bucket-list’ traveller – for me, it is better to get to know a few places well than visit a lot of places superficially – but there is so much to see in Tanzania that every trip has been an absolute revelation. I cannot get enough of  watching elephants, which have such strong social and family  bonds, but actually the most important thing with any wildlife is to take time watching, rather than just taking a few photos and rushing to tick the next of the ‘Big Five’ off the list.  Even impala, zebras and warthogs are worth spending time with.

What has been your most memorable wildlife encounter on your travels with Tribes, and why?

Absolutely no doubt about it – I went with a friend this year to Mahale to trek with chimpanzees.  The rains had come early, the flight to reach the park through massive storms was more exciting than I had expected,  but we were the only two guests in our luxurious camp and were incredibly well looked after.  I thought that seeing the chimps would be special, but NOTHING had prepared me for the reality.  We were in the middle of an  extended family of about 35 individuals who totally ignored us and got on with their daily ‘soap-opera’ lives with all their jealousies, bickering, sexual politics, love affairs, fights over social status, teenage rebellions and naughty tricks played out in front of us.  It was a difficult place to get to – three internal flights and an hour and a half boat trip to get to the camp and then daily treks of a couple of hours just to see the chimps – but it was an experience you cannot put a price on.  If anybody asks me to recommend a safari experience they will not forget, this is it.

 

I like the impala in the act of jumping away.’

For the last four years your Tribes’ trips have been organised by our consultant Christine, who tells me that each year you set her yet more challenging trips to organise. Clearly you’re not someone for a straightforward ‘package’ trip?

I hold my hands up to that.  I am well beyond the point when I need to be driven for miles to see yet another lion asleep under a bush, but I do like to stop and watch birds and animals big and small relax and go about their daily business.  I am fascinated by the plants and insects, love the snakes, tortoises and reptiles and, if there is the opportunity to see something unusual, I will jump at the chance.  

I was amazed by the Uduzungwa mountains, and have visited Kitulo plateau and a ranch on the remote and utterly tourist-free Kipingere range just to see the orchids and some very rare birds. People visit Mahale for the chimps, but on the treks through the jungles to reach them we saw amazing things which even the guides were at a loss to identify.  Last year I included some dives off the coral reefs of Mafia Island which blew me away – I can see why some people revisit these reefs dozens of times.

I understand that on your trips you have encountered various challenges which Christine has helped you with – she mentioned floods, bridges being washed away and flight cancellations?

It can be challenging to reach the out-of-the-way places I like to visit, precisely because the tourist infrastructure is limited or non-existent, which is why Christine’s (and Tracy’s before her) knowledge and experience have been absolutely essential when I have planned my trips.  Christine has local knowledge, which has got me staying in a range of accommodation from the $800 a night camps to the $5 a night local guest houses.

I have stayed in wonderful places I would never have even known about (the Chili Farm at Morogoro springs to mind) and I have been met and looked after by her friends and contacts in a way which would simply not have been possible with a standard travel company.  Specialist local experts have guided me around the historical sites I needed to visit for my research and I am absolutely sure I could never have managed to plan half of it on my own. 

The best thing (as far as I am concerned) is knowing that when the going gets tough, I can be absolutely confident that somebody will make sure I am all right.  So, when a camp or bridges get washed away, I do not panic because I know I will be fine and there will a bed and a beer waiting for me somewhere.  In my trips I have had at least four separate camps flooded or washed away, countless bridges down and travel plans rearranged at the last minute – I hasten to add it is still a rare thing but, even when it has happened, I have been kept safe and well looked after.

 

I was given boxes of Kenya shells by a collector.  They are beautiful, but it is so much better to see the live shells on the reef.’

Where else in the world would you most like to travel to, and why?

I have still not scratched the surface of Tanzania, so I imagine I will be going back for some time to come.  I am very – VERY – tempted to visit all parts of South America, but will have to learn a whole new lot of birds and animals, new languages and get familiar with new places all over again, which will certainly take time.  If they only had elephants…

Finally, do you have any subjects for paintings on your ‘bucket list’?

I have done a few paintings of bee-eaters which I absolutely love to see all over East Africa, but there are a number still to paint.  They are such a brightly coloured family – who could imagine a bird which is crimson, pink, sky blue and cinnamon?  Or scarlet, green, Prussian blue and chestnut? I haven’t painted Boehm’s bee eater which is not quite as gaudy, but is still a fantastic little bird.  And I would love to tackle a big bird of prey.

My grateful thanks to Tribes for making it possible to enjoy such wonderful and life affirming experiences.

 

‘Young giraffes are so curious, with huge, beautiful eyes.’

All the images on this page are ©Marcus Rutherford. To learn more about his artwork, please visit his website: http://www.marcusrutherford.com/

 

Aaron Millar – travel writer and photographer

Aaron Millar – travel writer and photographer

This months interview is with Aaron Millar.

Describe yourself in no more than 3 words.
Not usually still.

What real or fictitious tribe would you be a member of?
The beatnik writers of 1950’s, just because they were so free in their style and had something to say.  They also drank a lot of whisky apparently, which would have been OK by me too.

How and when did the travel bug bite you?
At the turn of the millennium I spent 3 months travelling across Brazil with my best friend.  We were 22 years old, crazy and it’s a miracle we survived.  But, somewhere in between the parties of Bahia and the forests of Lencois, I fell in love with exploring the world.  For me it’s about connecting with that travelling state of mind, which – at its best – is open and fearless, and I think has the capacity to change us in surprising and positive ways.  It’s something I write a lot about on my blog The Blue Dot Perspective

Being a travel writer sounds like the perfect job.  Is it?
If you don’t care about money or jet lag, it’s pretty close. Trying to capture the essence of a place, or experience, is a huge creative buzz.  But a challenge too. It demands that you be absolutely present in the moment and take in all the elements of the experience – the sounds, smells, the particular look in someone’s eyes – while at the same time piecing these things together, like a mosaic, and deciding which elements will best recreate those feelings and emotions in the mind of the reader.  But more then that still, writing about travel forces me to go outside of my comfort zone and seek new experiences and new kinds of people.  It’s the ultimate form of personal growth – without a workshop or self-help book in sight – just you and the world, and that’s why I love it.

Which piece of your writing are you most proud of?
The piece of writing I am most proud of from last year was a relatively small article for Positive News, a niche newspaper that reports on the people and initiatives that are helping to create a just and fulfilling world.  I love writing for them.  The article is about the remarkable Kogi Indians of Columbia: 20 years ago they came out of centuries of complete isolation to warn humanity that we are destroying the world.  We didn’t heed their warning, so they decided to team up with a BBC director to make a film, called Aluna, to try and get our attention again.  It hasn’t hit the mainstream yet, but I hope in 2014 everyone will get a chance to see it. The article was based on an interview with the director, Alan Ereira, about his experiences with them.

Other than home, is there one place which keeps drawing you back?
I like exploring new places, so tend to move around … this year I’m really excited to see more of the Americas, north and south.  I’d also love to go back to Africa, there’s nothing comparable to the feeling of being close to animals in the wild.  I miss it, and my camera does too.

If you weren’t a travel writer, what would you be?
If I had the brains, I’d be an astrophysicist: Richard Feynman, one of the greatest minds of the last century, said that he felt sorry for people who don’t understand mathematics because they don’t know how beautiful the world really is.

If I had the talent, I’d be a musician: I think music is, perhaps, the ultimate form of creative expression on the planet.

But probably, and hopefully, I’d be working to promote sustainable tourism and/or environmental causes.  And, no doubt, writing still – even if only in my journal, as I did for many, many years before getting paid to do it.

arron-miller

Describe the most poignant, funny or scary moment on your travels.
I have two recent poignant moments that changed the way I look at life, the world and everything: taking part in a Navajo Medicine Man ceremony and an interview with a Japanese Shugendo Monk.  Although very different traditions, both believe in the power of the natural world to inspire, heal and enlighten people.  And now, so do I.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. (Jack Kerouac)

Do you support a cause?
I’ve supported Greenpeace and Amnesty for a number of years.  But this year I plan to get more involved with Native American charities: their traditional beliefs and way of life is absolutely beautiful, but under threat from a dominant American ideology that isn’t doing nearly enough to protect, and preserve, the culture of its First People.

ABOUT AARON MILLER

Aaron Millar is a freelance journalist specialising in travel. His work has been seen in the Guardian, Financial Times, Independent and more.  He is also the travel editor of Positive News, the world’s leading positive newspaper, where authentic sustainable travel is promoted.  Aaron writes an interesting blog called thebluedotperspective.com, and he is also an accomplished photographer.

 

Mike Gerrard – Travel Writer

Mike Gerrard – Travel Writer

The month’s interview is with Mike Gerrard, a freelance Travel writer

Describe yourself in no more than 3 words.

Travel writer.

What real or fictitious tribe would you be a member of?

I love the south-west USA, where I live for half the year, so I’d opt to be a Navajo but it would have to be several generations before the white man turned up.

How and when did the travel bug bite you?

Following on from the previous question, I was an avid reader of cowboy books when I was still at primary school, and always wanted to go to the USA. Instead we used to go to Blackpool or Prestatyn for summer holidays. My first overseas trip was with the school when I was about 12 or 13. We went to Germany, along the Rhine, and I loved it despite spending most of the ferry crossing throwing up in the toilet.

Being a travel writer sounds like the perfect job.  Is it?

No, the perfect job would be a travel writer who earns lots of money too, but I’ll settle for being a travel writer over the money-earning. If you do have the travel bug it’s wonderful to be able to see the world, and to try to convey what you see to other people. People often forget about the ‘writer’ side of being a travel writer. It isn’t just about swanning off to wherever you fancy. You not only have to be able to write about your experiences but also somehow earn a living.

Which piece of your writing are you most proud of?

I hope it doesn’t sound arrogant to say that it’s hard to choose, but I’ve been travel writing a long time and had some fabulous experiences – some of them funny, some incredibly moving. You can’t always capture things in words to your own satisfaction, but sometimes you’re pleased with what you write. I’d like to cheat and have two choices, one of them in Jamaica that was great fun with some amusing moments, and the other, more recent, which was really sobering – touring the war cemeteries around Ypres:

http://www.mikegerrard.net/features/general-features/fatty-fatty-bum-bum/

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mike-gerrard/flanders-field-poppies-blow_b_4048562.html

Other than home, is there one place which keeps drawing you back?

As I said, I now spend half the year in the USA, in Arizona, and I love the opportunity it gives us to explore the USA. Even if I didn’t have a home there, the USA would keep drawing me back as it’s so vast, with jaw-dropping landscapes ranging from Alaska to the Deep South, the Rockies, deserts, and also great cities like New York, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco.

If you weren’t a travel writer, what would you be?

In my dreams I’d have been a musician, but in reality I would still be a writer, writing fiction or journalism.

Describe the most poignant, funny or scary moment on your travels.

That’s another tough one because there have been so many. Not so many scary ones, though I do remember waking up in a cheap hotel in Yangshuo in China and realising the door to the room was open, and someone was lurking in the shadows. I chased him off but unfortunately he’d already stolen a few hundred dollars from some women in the room next door.

It was also both scary and thrilling to be lying in a tent at about 2am on my first night in Tanzania and hearing lions roaring very close by. I think the experiences that touch me the most are the ones involving wildlife – seeing orang-utans in the wild in Sumatra (even though they pee and shit on you to scare you off), elephant seals in California, whale-watching trips, seeing an osprey take a fish from the water on a bird-watching trip to Menorca.

mike gerrard

One nervy moment was when we were out walking in the Saguaro National Park near our home in Arizona, when I heard a rattle and looked down to see a rattlesnake sliding along the path a few inches from my foot. It was just warning me that it was there, as it went about its business.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Just do it.

Do you support a cause?

No one particular cause.

ABOUT MIKE GERRARD

Mike Gerrard is a freelance travel writer. He writes for several travel content websites, and divides his time between homes in Cambridgeshire in the UK and near Tucson in Arizona. You can see some of his work at www.mikegerrard.contently.com, and www.mikegerrard.net. Also he regularly blogs on the Huffington Post Travel site.

Google +:  https://plus.google.com/+MikeGerrard/posts

Amar Grover – Travel Writer

Amar Grover – Travel Writer

Tribes is delighted to present an interview with Amar Grover who is a freelance travel writer and photographer.

Describe yourself in no more than 3 words.

Amiable

What real or fictitious tribe would you be a member of?

I’d probably be some kind of Silk Road merchant-adventurer.

How and when did the travel bug bite you?

The seeds were sown growing up in Hong Kong. Along with a pal, I set off one day for the ‘closed area’ (as it was then called) which ran alongside much of the New Territories’ border with China. Armed with a basic map, we first caught a train, then walked beyond a few hamlets up through a hillside cemetery and eventually gazed down across a small stream or canal at….forbidden China! It was very much a schoolboy lark but there was a definite sense of a journey coupled to ‘adventure’ and a mysterious place. A few years later I was InterRailing across Europe and met a couple of guys riding motorbikes to Kathmandu – I couldn’t join them but that encounter fed more ideas. So one small trip simply led to a six-month jaunt, and then another…..and so on.

Being a travel writer sounds like the perfect job.  Is it?

It is…and it isn’t! There’s no denying the travel is usually wonderful and I’m lucky to have the opportunity to visit such varied and unusual parts of the world. Yet to do it well does require real commitment and drive from the moment you start chasing assignments from editors to reaching your destination and, senses sharpened, sniffing out its quirks and oddities, nooks and crannies. It’s a job that certainly looks easier than it is – and being freelance is often a somewhat precarious existence.

Which piece of your writing are you most proud of?

Village Ways inn © Amra Grover

The Village Ways inn occupies a berklay in Supi village in the Saryu Valley – by Amar Grover

Recently I wrote about Village Ways’ (www.villageways.com) rural tourism project in Uttarakhand in the Indian Himalaya for the Financial Times. That piece – ‘At home in the Himalayas’ – featured in the top five entries for AITO’s Travel Writer of the Year 2013. A laudable project further publicised with well-regarded writing: now that’s a perfect fit.

Other than home, is there one place which keeps drawing you back?

I’m no mountaineer but the Himalayas keeping drawing me back. It’s not just the mountain peaks themselves but the fascinating life and culture in their valleys and villages, the stunning contrast between lush fields and plentiful orchards, and the beautiful yet harsh terrain beyond. The region’s colonial-era explorers had their work cut out for them and they left a rich and engaging seam of literature. I still find the whole region – from Pakistan through India and Nepal to Bhutan and the fringes of China – as captivating now as on my first ever visit back in 1987.

If you weren’t a travel writer, what would you be?

I’d probably be an operator arranging rather off-beat tours to India – there’d be quite a bit of walking and some great photography.

Describe the most poignant, funny or scary moment on your travels.

The most surreally scary moment on my travels occurred in Georgia (the former Soviet republic). I was up in Svaneti in the Caucasus Mountains, a region even most lowland Georgians regard with a mix of awe and caution for the Svans are, traditionally, a fairly wild and independent-minded bunch. Actually, they were all very kind to us but during my visit a Georgian TV crew and flown in by helicopter, possibly to make a documentary on the region and its distinctive tower houses. While sitting in our car nearby, the helicopter took off sluggishly and immediately drifted straight toward us. It felt like a slo-mo movie moment – as we froze, the craft kept coming, barely cleared our car’s roof and then flew off. Our driver winced and swore. I’ll never know if that pilot was careless, showing off and just incompetent.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Do you support a cause?

To be honest my sympathies and empathy have not (yet) evolved into a supported cause.

ABOUT AMAR GROVER

Amar Grover is a freelance travel writer and photographer. He has travelled widely across the Indian subcontinent and China, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. You can see some of his work at pictographical.co.uk, blogs at https://pictographical.wordpress.com/ and occasional tweets @samarkandHK

 

Catherine Mack – TRAVEL WRITER

Catherine Mack – TRAVEL WRITER

To start our new series of interviews with people involved with the travel industry, Tribes is delighted to present an interview with one of the UK’s leading writers on responsible and sustainable travel, Catherine Mack. 

[Photo above by Vic Tannenburg]

Describe yourself in no more than 3 words.

Green, white & gold

What real or fictitious tribe would you be a member of?

An Irish one. I grew up in Northern Ireland where tribal warfare ran through every vein of my childhood landscape. It was toxic and tragic, and traces of it still hover there. It is complex and riddled with years of politics, and I have spent years trying to get to grips with all sides. I am not a card holding republican by any means, and in fact I grew up very much on the other side of that stupid divide, but I do still dream of a homeland which is united and reconciled in my lifetime and where we can all feel safe, proud and at peace with calling ourselves Irish.

How and when did the travel bug bite you?

I was scared to travel alone until I was about 25, when I took a year out to go to Australia on my own. Before then, I was wary of choosing a different bus route, never mind a new country. Discovering that it is actually easy to explore, to ask questions, to choose my own journey was a revelation. It was my first flirtation with freedom and it was love at first sight.

Being a travel writer sounds like the perfect job. Is it?

It is an incredible job, but far from perfect. The perks are peachy though. And I don’t just mean the travel. I mean the people. The responsible tourism world that I write about is crammed with so many giving, open-minded people who think outside the box. This is what helps me get out of bed in the morning, when I get a chance to give them a voice. That and the kayaking, hiking, cycling, swimming, drinking, eating…….

Which piece of your writing are you most proud of?

My article on the exploitation of the Maasai in Kenya, written for The Observer. I had just started writing really, and gaining access to the wonderful work happening in Kenya to help put a stop to the unethical treatment of the Maasai in the Mara was an honour. It was edited a little to rein in my emotions on the subject, but still….I was over the moon to get this exposure for the Maasai.
To get an update on this project since I first wrote about it, see Tribal Voice Communications.

Catherine chatting with two Maasai eldersin Enkereri village Kenya

Catherine chatting with two Maasai eldersin Enkereri village Kenya

Other than home, is there one place which keeps drawing you back?

I haven’t been writing long enough really to say that one place keeps drawing me back, but of course I am drawn back to Africa. I lived in France for several years and think often about spreading the voices of responsible tourism practitioners to the French, who still limit their travels to French speaking destinations for the main part. So, Mauritius and Togo for starters and of course, off the coast, Madagascar.

If you weren’t a travel writer, what would you be?

A human rights lawyer – I wish I had known Mary Robinson earlier in my life, and gone to a school where you weren’t just expected to become a nurse or get a good job in a bank. Change makers like this just blow my mind really.

Describe the most poignant, funny or scary moment on your travels.

Something that has always stayed with me was on a trip to Crete. I was writing about village tourism there, as opposed to the mass tourist resort style stuff and I was lucky enough to be travelling with my family. The owner of the villa, Stelios Botanakis, arrived with a bottle of his homemade wine as a welcome gift on the day we arrived. We insisted he bring his family back over to drink it with us and we quickly threw together a few supermarket snacks we had bought earlier. However there was no need as, one by one, members of the Botonakis family arrived donning gifts of cake, wine, and the local delicacy of cheese pastries, or kaltsounia. We had a spectacular evening, telling stories, singing songs, the kids being passed from lap to lap – all with very little shared language. At the end of the trip he told me that we were welcome back anytime, out of season (as he rents it through a UK agency in peak season) as his guests. I said that was too generous and couldn’t possibly accept. But he insisted, telling me that we were the first family to invite him, and his family, in to socialise in twenty years, and that this was why we were always welcome back. Words failed me.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t be afraid to ask

Do you support a cause?

Two really. One for human rights in tourism, Tourism Concern, and The High Five Club in Africa, as it is run by the people who facilitated all the amazing work I wrote about in Kenya, so I know exactly where the money is going, and some day will get to go back to write about the outcomes of their ongoing work.

 

ABOUT CATHERINE MACK

Catherine Mack writes about responsible, sustainable, green, ethical, eco tourism. Call it what you will. Her most recent work was a responsible tourism guide to New York State for responsibletravel.com. You can read more about her work at www.ethicaltraveller.co.uk, or follow her travels @catherinemack on Twitter , Catherine Mack and Ethical Traveller on Facebook. You can also buy her app, Ireland Green Travel on iTunes and Google.

 

ENDS