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.

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.

Amanda Marks - Author

Amanda Marks is a founder and director of Tribes Travel. She believes travel opens hearts and minds.

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