I first started writing as a freelance travel journalist and, although it was hard to make a living from it, it took me on some amazing trips, which I wouldn't have missed for the world. The most wonderful journeys involved articles about wildlife and nature, covering organisations like Earthwatch; watching sperm and pilots whales in the Azores for instance and Minke whales in Scotland, studying bottlenose dolphins in Costa Rica, or riding across the Namib dessert on horseback. Other pieces have taken me deep sea fishing in West Africa where, to my shame, I caught a 108lb Atlantic Sail Fish (we put it back), falling from a plane at 12,000 feet (with parachute) and writing about the cliff top monasteries of the Meteora in Greece, and the extraordinary painted monasteries of Bukovina in Romania. One of my longest trips was to Romania in the heart of winter and helped form the backdrop for The Sight. I usually try and write something when I travel and have often worked with the photographer Tim Booth, so here are a few of his pictures, as you gaze into the amazing Telling Pool of the world.


Tim and I first went to Pakistan way back in the nineties, visiting a friend called Hen, who was teaching in the North West Frontier Province. I was there again, on the edge of Nuristan, above Afghanistan, when 9/11 happened. Pakistan, for all its extreme cultural difference, is one of the most beautiful and moving places I have ever been to. Whether it was visiting the Kalash valleys, a pocket of paganism where the inhabitants are said to be the descendents of Alexander the Great's army, or covering a Polo match on the top of the Shandur pass, the heighest game of Polo in the world, or watching mulberries been shaken from the trees like snow by local women into billowing white sheets in a beautiful mountain village. For me travelling to such places has always highlighted the struggle between our over regulated notion of rights and values and meeting a world at once harder, but somehow more innocent and beautiful. As you do so of course, you threaten to change it by your very arrival. Its simply a paradox. 

I lived in Spain for a year, finishing The Sight, and learnt spanish at school. But I first began a real love affair with the country when Tim and I went on something called the Rocio, a four day pilgrimage to a shrine in the heart of Andalucia. Soaked in ancient customs, the walk is part spiritual hike, party sherry fuelled party, and is quintessentially Andalucian. It still gives me a little thrill to be a 'Rociero'.

Sao Tome and Principe
Possibly the smallest country in the world, these two little islands in the bight of Biafra in West Africa were both ravishing and rather sad. Once a Portuguese slave colony, the world seems to have passed them by. Come to think of it, perhaps that's no bad thing. This was the place of my crime against the Sail Fish. Not that I am a vegetarian or don't believe the food chain is part of life, just that the spiralling, glistening creature was so beautiful and graceful, that I couldn't see the point. It's really part of my attitude to Big Game hunting, because if you're being chased by a Dinosaur it may be all very well to fight and kill, but why track down the most beautiful, and most endangered creatures on earth? Sometimes elephants need to be culled, but why primates, or leopards, tigers and rhinos? It isn't manly and it isn't big. So there.

Tim took these pictures on his own trip, but I visited Vietnam for two weeks in 2000, driving between Ho Chi Minh in the South (Saigon) and Hannoi in the North. What unfolded were ravishing landscapes, punctuated with images straight out of tragic movie cliches from the war, charming people, (well, in the countryside), a disgusting meal of snake fritters and an elephant ride through the jungle. I think above all animals elephants are my favourite. Or is it dolphins? Or snow leopards? Or those extraordinary little green tree frogs? Seemingly wise and never forgetting though, elephants are so graceful, so powerful, so potentially gentle, until they stand on you. If we don't think that what constitutes man and his 'intelligence' is as much a living reality in nature, watch how elephants mourn their dead in the wild, passing the bones of relatives from trunk to trunk, using touch to grasp conscious understanding. It is all about trying to understand and the glory, mystery and sadness of being alive.

And finally
A younger me with some real wolves. The cubs were 4 months old, as playful as kittens and as smelly as a bad day in a badger's boots. The females were reserved, calm but always watching protectively. They wouldn't let the male into the enclosure with me, in case he took my throat out!