Esteemed adventurer and explorer Ben Fogle

Former Castaway and global explorer Ben Fogle on eating tarantulas, conquering the South Pole and his irrational hatred of wheely suitcases.

You’re backing the Barefoot Friendly campaign to keep Britain’s beaches pristine, but how do they compare with the rest of the world?

Luskintyre beachBen adored Luskintyre beach in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland
Creative Commons / Hermés

I have travelled to beaches all over the world and I believe Britain has some of the most beautiful; in Scotland, Devon, Cornwall, Norfolk and all over Britain. For me, a beach is about much more than just the sand and the sea. It’s about the history, where it is and the architecture around it. If I had to pick a favourite it would be Luskintyre, on the isle of Harris up in the Outer Hebrides. It’s got miles of talcum powder white sand and turquoise waters looking onto the dramatic islands.

And your favourite foreign beach?

I’m a keen believer in diversity and changing so there isn’t necessarily one fixed choice, but South Africa and Tahiti have some wonderful beaches and the Skeleton Coast in Namibia is incredible.

When you’re travelling, is there anything you always take with you?

I try to take a little notebook with me so that I can remember people, places and times, but I like to immerse myself within the place I’m travelling.

What impact has technology had on your travel experience?

The advance of things like the iPad is genius; it’s very small in your bag and has got everything you could possibly need: email, news, apps. Travellers tend to be divided on technology; some like to get away from it and some love to remain plugged in. Because I spend so much time away, it is important for me to have contact with friends, family and loved ones.

In an average year, how many flights do you take?

It’s not very good for my green credentials, but far too many. I try to be green but air travel is where I falter. I probably fly over 100 times a year.

You must be sick of the sight of airports…

I use it to my advantage. I read lots and I’m a prolific writer. A lot of the books and the articles I have written were done in airport lounges, waiting rooms, on flights or on trains.

What are your earliest holiday memories?

Moraine Lake, Canadian RockiesBen had a memorable trip through the Canadian rockies in his youth
iStockphoto / Thinkstock

My father’s Canadian, so I spent all my early summers out there. That is my abiding memory; all those long childhood summers in the lakes just outside Toronto in Ontario. The holiday that stands out most was when my dad wanted to show me and my sisters the west coast of Canada, as we’d only ever been east. So we rented a big camper van and drove through the Rocky Mountains. I was about 12.

Travelling alone or with company?

For holidays I definitely want to be with someone, and obviously now it’s my family, but I also like to go away with just my wife. For my work, I’m always with people but I think travel and holidays are all about sharing the experience.

Backpack or suitcase?

I don’t take a hard suitcase. One of my pet hates in the world is wheely suitcases. It’s completely irrational and I’m sure they’re very useful; 99% of people travel with them. I end up tripping over them if I’m rushing, but I tend to travel with soft hold-alls.

What’s the most memorable human encounter you’ve had on your travels?

That’s almost impossible because I have met so many extraordinary people. But a family called the Glasses that I met on an island called Tristan Da Cunha in the South Atlantic stood out. It’s a very hard place to get to, I took a two week boat trip from South Africa to get there, it’s so remote that they only have one boat visit per year. They had a very simple hand to mouth lifestyle, incredibly resourceful and steeped in history.

Any memorable encounters with animals?

Okavango crocodileBen came daringly close to the Okavango crocodile in Botswana
iStockphoto /Thinkstock

I made a series where I went scuba diving with crocodiles in Botswana in the Okavango Delta, and we got to within a couple of inches of the crocs under water. Fortunately I survived with all my fingers and toes intact but it was scariest thing I’ve ever done.

Favourite exotic dishes you’ve sampled?

I love Ethiopian food which is sort of an African, Indian and Asian fusion. You eat it with your fingers sitting on the floor, it’s very social and it tastes like nothing else I’ve ever eaten.

Ever consumed anything you wish you hadn’t?

I’ve eaten things that I didn’t know what they were, and ended up eating guinea pig in Peru and tarantula in Guyana. But the most disgusting of all was putrefied shark meat steeped in its own urine, which is an Icelandic delicacy.

Tasty. Any trips you wish you hadn’t experienced?

Not really. Travel is all about the highs and the lows, and the things that go wrong are often memorable. But I did contract leishmaniasis when I was in the Peruvian jungle, a flesh eating disease for which I was in hospital for a long time. So it would have been nice to avoid that, but even so I learned from the experience.

Anywhere that didn’t live up to your expectations?

No. I’m sure it will happen at some stage but I am an eternal optimist and see the best out of any place that I go.

Your three favourite places?

Apart from my own country, it would be Namibia for the eclectic wildlife, landscape, weather and people; Bolivia because it is such an exciting, vibrant and colourful place and New Zealand for the outdoors.

Which destination provided the biggest culture shock?

Papua New Guinea is extraordinary because so few people go there, and many parts of it really do have a feeling of being frozen in time.

Do you bring home souvenirs from your travels?

Not really. My house would have no space left in it if I brought something back from every trip, but I’ve got my polar sledge in the kitchen that I trekked to the South Pole with, and the oars that I rowed across the Atlantic. I also kept an old walking stick from Africa made from a bit of wood found out in the wilds.

Your most memorable journey?

South Pole explorerBen walked thousands of miles to the South Pole to fulfill a lifelong dream
iStockphoto / Thinkstock

Walking to the South Pole; 1,000 miles on foot, pulling a sled to a place that I’d never been before and had always dreamed of getting to. I learnt about perseverance and how far you can push yourself, and how quickly we can adapt. I wanted to see it through to the end as it was somewhere I’d always wanted to explore.

Ben Fogle is starring in a new Channel 5 series 'New Lives in the Wild' every Monday at 9pm.

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