An interview with explorer Levison Wood

We spoke to the well-known English explorer, writer and photographer, Levison Wood, about his past travels and future aspirations 

As an explorer and traveller, how do you mentally and physically prepare for the challenges you face in remote and diverse environments? What is the secret? 

As an explorer and traveller, mental and physical preparation is crucial for the challenges I face in remote and diverse environments. The secret lies in a combination of training, research and adaptability. I train physically to ensure I am fit and strong enough to endure the physical demands of the journey. Mentally, I prepare by studying the region, its culture, history and potential obstacles. I also practise mental resilience and flexibility, as unexpected challenges are bound to arise. Ultimately, it’s the ability to adapt and stay focused that allows me to overcome the obstacles and succeed in my expeditions. 

Is the journey or destination most important?  

For me, it’s definitely the journey that is most important. The process of exploration, the encounters with diverse cultures, the personal growth and the challenges faced along the way are what truly enriches the experience. The destination is just the culmination of that journey, a milestone to be celebrated, but it is the journey itself that holds the most value.

Which of your documentaries has been your favourite to make and why?

It’s difficult to choose a favourite among my documentaries, as each holds its own special place in my heart. However, if I had to pick, I would say Walking the Nile stands out. It was my first major televised expedition, and it allowed me to discover the incredible diversity and beauty of Africa, as well as the challenges faced by the people living along the Nile. Plus, it was a significant personal achievement to complete such a long and arduous journey.  

 

Many of your books tell incredible stories about walking in extraordinary places, what do you love about travelling on foot?  

Travelling on foot has always been my preferred mode of exploration. There is a unique connection with the land and the people when you travel at a slower pace. Walking allows me to truly immerse myself in the environment, to observe the subtle changes in the landscape and to interact with local communities along the way. It also provides a sense of self-reliance and independence, as I rely on my own two feet to carry me through the journey.  

As an accomplished author and photographer, how do you capture the essence of your experiences in your books and images? 

Capturing the essence of my experiences in books and images is a challenge, but one that I embrace. I strive to convey the emotions, beauty and challenges faced during my expeditions through vivid descriptions and captivating imagery. It’s about encapsulating the essence of a place or a moment and sharing it with others, so they can experience a glimpse of what I have encountered 

Can you share a particularly challenging situation you encountered during your expeditions and how you manage to overcome it? 

I’ve encountered many challenging situations during my expeditions, but one that stands out is a near-death experience in the Himalayas. A taxi I was travelling in plunged off a cliff at night. It was a terrifying moment, but somehow I survived with just a few broken bones. It was a reminder of the many risks involved in expeditions as well as a keen reminder to make sure to live life to the full.  

How has your perspective on the world and its people evolved through your extensive travels?

My perspective has evolved significantly. I have come to realise that despite our differences, we are all part of the same human family. We all share the same hopes, dreams and fears. I have witnessed the incredible resilience and kindness of people in the most remote and challenging environments. It has given me a deep appreciation for the diversity of cultures and a greater understanding of our interconnectedness. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is that we should respect and revere nature. We are part of nature whether we like it or not – not above itso we should act accordingly.  

What are some of the most memorable encounters you’ve had with local cultures during your travels? 

I’ve had countless memorable encounters with local cultures during my travels, but one that stands out is my time spent with the Himba people in Namibia during a recent filming trip looking for lions. Their unique way of life and their strong connection to the land left a lasting impression on me. I was welcomed into their communities, learnt about their traditions and experienced their warmth and hospitality. It was a humbling experience that reminded me of the importance of preserving and respecting indigenous cultures.  

In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing environmental and conservation issues you’ve observed during your expeditions? 

One of the most pressing environmental and conservation issues I’ve observed during my expeditions is deforestation and habitat destruction. In many remote areas, I’ve witnessed the devastating impact of logging and unsustainable practices. This not only threatens the biodiversity of the region but also disrupts the livelihoods of local communities who depend on the natural resources. Climate change and plastic pollution are also significant concerns that need immediate attention.  

How do you balance the desire to explore new places with the need to respect and preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the areas you visit?

This is a constant challenge. It requires a delicate balance between exploration and responsible travel. I strive to leave a positive impact by engaging with local communities, supporting local businesses and promoting sustainable practices. It’s about being mindful of the impact my presence has and making choices that minimise negative effects on the environment and culture.  

What is your favourite travel story to tell at dinner?  

There are so many travel stories to share at a dinner table, but one that always makes me smile was an encounter with a pride of lions in Botswana with my San guide, Kane. It was a moment of both fear and awe as we found ourselves face-to-face with these majestic creatures. Kane had this amazing connection and was able to sneak right up to them as they were on a buffalo kill; and as his ancestors had done for eons, he helped himself to the meat as the lions watched on, seemingly in a moment of mutual respect. It serves as a reminder of the beauty of nature and the ability for coexistence.  

What is the most bizarre food you’ve ever tried while travelling?

The most bizarre food I’ve ever tried while traveling would have to be rat stew in Uganda, or perhaps maggot soup. I’ve eaten goats brains, bulls testicles and seals liver, too.    

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