I had a reggae band and busked on the streets of Barcelona. A guy asked us to play in his bar. Next thing I knew we were playing festivals, got a record contract and were on TV…

Host of BBC’s The Travel Show tells us about his life on the road

 

 

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Best sight I’ve woken up to:

Table Mountain in Cape Town because the light in Cape Town is astonishing. You wake up in your hotel in the middle of the city centre and through the streets you see the amazing sight of Table Mountain. After waking up to that I then climbed it and we filmed on the top of the mountain. You can see Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated in and it’s just a monumental experience. It’s unforgettable.

 

Most interesting person that I’ve met:

There was a guy in Martha, Texas, who was a one-eyed cowboy with an eye patch. He was the most interesting character. Martha is a town in the desert in Texas with nothing else around it. Except it has become quite a famous art town because an artist in the 70s moved there. You drive along the highway in the middle of nowhere and the first thing that you see is a Prada store. It’s not a real Prada store, it’s an installation. Then you go into the town. The cowboy runs a bar there. It turned out he doesn’t need the patch, he uses it for affect. He has been on the cover of magazines, in Cohen Brother films… He used to be a rancher. He told me stories about how the town has changed. The former rough and tough town is now full of laid back bohemian artists. It’s like an oasis.

 

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My biggest travel disaster:

I think of disasters in terms of bad filming trips. Bizarrely it was actually close to home – we were filming in Paris. Nothing seemed to work. We are always looking for different angles and it’s hard to be original in one of the most filmed cities in the world. We also missed trains and lost equipment – it was awful. On another occasion when we travelled across the Ukraine, we booked a sleeper carriage and it was like being in a tumble dryer for 12 hours.

 

The country that surprised me the most:

Vietnam – you have preconceptions of countries. Then you get somewhere like Vietnam and it’s so vibrant. The capital is full of Vespa bikes – they’re scooter crazy. In terms of Hoi An, it’s a beautiful town on the coast with amazing shophouses. Food in Vietnam is astonishing as well and I learnt how to cook a few dishes whilst I was there. In my head I thought it was going to be more like North Korea. I knew they’d been at war, I thought of it as quite sparse and tough and it’s not at all. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When I was there I met a reggae DJ. He was such a character. He is not interested in the past. He wanted to create a new identity for his generation.

 

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The place I’d like to go back to:

Latin America. I love Latin America –  Colombia. That’s another one that’s surprising. Before you go you think of the violence, but it’s not like that. It’s beautiful. I would go to Medellin where Escobar ran the roost. What they did there was completely transform the city by architecture and infrastructure. It took two hours to get into the town from the favela to the town so it became ghettoized as it suffered from high unemployment and was so cut off. They’ve built a cable car that takes you from the favela to the town and connected them to the city. They’ve built an amazing library and botanical gardens in the town and Botero has an exhibition there. It’s beautiful. The Spanish is the purest Spanish that everyone speaks. It has such a cool vibe.

 

Where I go on holiday:

We tend to go to an island in Greece. My friend has a house on Skopelos where they filmed Mama Mia. When you’ve got kids and family you only need beach and books.

 

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My most unique travel experience:

When I was first in Barcelona, 30 years ago. I had a ska, reggae band and we busked on the streets. We picked up by a local guy who asked us to play in his bar. Next thing I knew we were playing festivals, we got a record contract and were on TV… We toured the world as Maroon Town. We got picked up by the British Council and we took reggae to Jamaica. The British Council took us to Kingston Prison and we had to play there. One guy asked if we do requests. We panicked because we thought he might ask us for some obscure reggae track and then he asked if we knew Wonderwall by Oasis.

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