10 January 2013 by Alex Stewart
Charley Boorman, one of the most popular modern TV adventurers, tells us about the five places he has travelled to that changed his life and that make him tick. He has recently returned from his third visit to South Africa, where he spent six weeks filming his new adventure series.
Charley's latest series Charley Boorman's South African Adventure hit the small screen last night. His adventures started though in 2004 when he and his friend, the actor Ewan McGregor travelled from London to New York on motorcycles. Charley is also an active charity ambassador, raising awareness for Help for Heroes, UNICEF, Dyslexia Action and Movember.
The place, which, for me, first put the 'adventure' into adventure travel, was Mongolia, where we started our journey for Long Way Round in 2004. I had been to some amazing and exciting places before, but Mongolia is remote; no paved roads, no signposts and very few people. Russ [Malkin, Boorman's co-adventurer for his latest Extreme Frontiers series] had a minor crash during filming, and it was at that point we realised that if anything serious happened we would have to rely on ourselves - you're three days from a hospital and there's no air ambulance service.
2006 was the year we took part in the Dakar rally. Before you go to a country like Mauritania to do a challenge like this, people often tell you how dangerous/wild/tough it is. Usually, as in places like South Africa, once you get there you find this is rarely borne out. With the Dakar rally, it was all true. You spend a year training for it and think you're prepared, and then they give you a map of a live minefield with a line on it and say 'do not leave this track'. This is just about the toughest place just to live, let alone ride a bike. The challenge pushes you beyond anything you've ever done before, and at the end I felt I could achieve anything I wanted to. At the end of the rally, Ewan came down to meet me (I'd broken my hand before the end of the challenge) and that was where the concrete idea for Long Way Down was born.
Ewan and I had been ambassadors for UNICEF since Long Way Round, but Uganda was where the really astonishing work this organisation undertakes was really brought home. After the Dakar rally we travelled to Uganda to see how the teams were working to re-integrate war-damaged children with their communities. We sat in a mud hut in the jungle with a 14-year-old girl who had been made pregnant by a warlord before, miraculously, managing to escape. I've never seen anyone so angry as she spoke about the trauma of having a child that she loved and hated at the same time. UNICEF were helping to educate her, but also to work with her community to accept her so that she could have some kind of future. It's just one of the amazing things - along with facilitating the inoculation of 40% of the world's children - that this organisation does.
Papua New Guinea
If Mongolia taught me what it is to be truly on your own, Papua New Guinea served as a reminder as to how the world, no matter how much you've travelled, can always surprise you. Before going I knew very little about the country - aside from its history of eating people - but while there we were reminded of the story of the Leahy brothers who, when searching for gold in the highlands in the 1930s, discovered a civilisation of 1.3m people that nobody in the world had ever known previously existed. Papua New Guinea is beautifully unspoilt and still relatively unexplored. We were in the heart of the jungle and it was a pretty tough place to get across, but these kind of surprises are what make travelling so wonderful.
I have a long-standing love for South Africa. It has everything to offer the visitor, from stunning scenery to friendly people to great food. It's the kind of place you want to go back to again and again. I first went when I was 7, and they've gone through so much since then. It's the most inspiring country - and one that demonstrates that one man can change the history of the world. Along with Botswana and Kenya it's a true success story, and I'm sure in the future more of Africa will follow these countries. It is also responsible for introducing me to Nando's lemon and herb peri-peri sauce, which I now take on all my trips; it has the ability to make literally anything taste good.
Charley Boorman's South African Adventure airs on Channel 5 on Wednesday during early 2013 - for more information on the destinations he discusses in the interview or to tailor-make a trip to South Africa, call one of our destination specialists on 020 7590 0610.
Interview originally published in
Vol 43, No 1, 2013