53. Levison Wood; Walking the Nile, Walking the Himalayas, Walking the Americas and a 5000 Mile Trek Around the Arabian Peninsula - The Big Travel Podcast

Episode 53
January 17 , 2019

53. Levison Wood; Walking the Nile, Walking the Himalayas, Walking the Americas and a 5000 Mile Trek Around the Arabian Peninsula

Levison Wood is a British explorer, writer and photographer who’s travelled to over 100 countries, many of them in war zones, typically thought of as hostile or off the beaten track. His documentaries, best-selling books and photographs have enchanted people the world over. He’s walked the whole length of the Nile – the world’s longest river, walked the Himalayas where he survived a terrible car crash, diced with gang leaders when walking the Americas and recently returned from his most ambitious expedition to date – a 5000 mile circumnavigation of the Arabian peninsula from Iraq to Lebanon.

For tickets to see Levison Wood talk at London’s Adventure Travel Show click here.


On this episode we cover


His work with The Adventure Travel Show

His recent Arabian journey around the Middle East – Iraq, Syria, Yemen

Travelling to over 100 countries

Walking the Nile, Walking the Himalayas, Walking the Americas

Exploring a region at the slowest pace

Being a keen pedestrian!

How travel is all about the people

Shedding light on places that tend to be in the news for all the wrong reasons

Travelling to conflict or terrorism afflicted areas

How conflict is often localised

Travelling to Afghanistan

Sudan being one of the most hospitable places he’s been to

Bars and nightclubs and people living normal lives in Syria

Exploring the human urge to travel

His own adventurous spirit

Caravanning in Wales and camping in Scotland as a child

A cliché gap year to Thailand and India and more age 18

Loving backpacking and the freedom of adventure

Being determined to make travel his career from a young age

Spending 5 years in the Parachute Regiment in the army

Working for a charity in Africa

Setting up a guiding and expedition company

His foray into TV and media

Walking the length of the River Nile

The death of journalist Matt Power

The planning that goes into an expedition

The risks in his expeditions

How the most dangerous things are often the most mundane – getting ill, car accidents

The near death experience he had in the Himalayas in Nepal

Shooting off the mountain in the car as the brakes failed

Surviving the crash against the odds

Being rescued by the local villagers

Waiting three days for the helicopter to take him to Kathmandu

How the accident changed him

Realising his own mortality

Lisa feeling sorry for his mum!

Serving in Afghanistan in the military

His first trip to Afghanistan age 22

Dervla Murphy cycling from Dublin to Delhi in the 1960s

The Wakhan Corridor in the North East

Entering via Tajikistan

Travelling the length of the silk road

Hitching hiking from Grantham Services on the A1 to Calais, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and India

Bangkok and the Khao San Road

William Sutcliffe’s Are You Experienced

Spending 6 and 9 months walking the Nile and the Himalayas

The alternate reality of travelling for 6-9 months every year

Meeting the Dalai Lama in the Himalayas

How his guides leave the greatest impression

Bathing in the Ganges, Rishikesh and Haridwar

The amazing festivals in India

The shepherds in the changing of the seasons in the Himalayas

The migratory route of the descendants of Ghenghis Khan

Yaks, camels and goats

How different cultures receive him, usually with hospitality

The ganglands of central America

San Pedro Sula in Honduras, the murder capital of the world

The city controlled by two main gangs

Negotiated with the gangland bosses in prison

Russia, Iran and Syria without pushing a political agenda

Never feeling scared but feeling aware of the dangers

Just because there’s men with guns it doesn’t mean you’re going to get shot

Having to be wary of wildlife on the Nile

How driving is often the most dangerous part

The appeal of the freedom of motorbikes

His Arabian trip being the culmination of 15 years work

Travelling to Baghdad in 2003 (from Egypt, Jordan and Israel)

Finding the Middle East a complex place to understand

Being in Baghdad as war broke out…

…when his mum thought he was on holiday in Greece

Suicide bombings in Israel meaning he was stuck in Jordan and had to

cross the border into Iraq

American soldiers trying to sell him a gun

Escaping Iraq by hitchhiking to Mosul to Tikrit

Saddam Hussein still being down a hole

Blagging a life with some mercenaries

Being a reckless 21 year old

Revisiting these areas recently – Syria, Iraq, the Gulf, across the desert in Oman, into Yemen, taking a fishing boat to Somalia, to Djibouti, Saudi Arabia to Jordan

Seeing the disruption in Syria and the shell of Mosul

A sense of hope and humour

How Saudi Arabia was a surprise

Amazing tribes in Jeddah and the xxxx mountains

Jeddah feeling quite progressive – a McDonalds on every corner

Damascus still being a thriving town with hotels, nightclubs and restaurants

Lebanon – skiing, beaches and wonderful scenery

The Safaricom marathon in Kenya through in aid of the Tusk Trust Charity

Running next to rhino, giraffes and antelope

Previous Big Travel Podcast guest Major Kenneth Hames being attacked by a rhino

Lisa being worried walking through a field of cows

How the world is moving with connection and technology

From Internet cafes to smartphones

Tribesman in Sahara with iPhones

How to hold a smartphone when wearing a grass skirts

Tribesman from Central America on Facebook

Mobile money in Africa being revolutionary

Paying with a phone in a local shack

His party trick skill

Yoga and headstands

Wanting to spend more time

Sacrificing a social life

Going on a wife hunt (AKA don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers)

How travel has put paid to perfectly good relationship

Doing headstands in the pub

Being recognised in a random places

Being mistaken to Ant Middleton

Walking the Americas being one of his favourite journeys

His guide Alberto being the perfect travel companion

The intensity of travelling with people

Lisa getting drunk with journalists abroad

The times he’s been close to giving up

How the Nile was the first big test of his own limits

The death of Matt Power

Being in the middle of the Sahara on his birthday when his mates were all in Ibiza

Having no idea whether the TV programme was going to be a success

Having no idea the programme would be so successful

How taking risks can sometimes pay off

Where he has had the best food

No such thing as a light lunch in Georgia, the Caucasus mountains and Azerbaijan

How it’s hard to get lost these days – Google Earth

Getting lost in the Gurez Valley in Cashmere

Spending the night the night in freezing rain in the bottom of a ravine

The most incredible view he has ever seen (tough to choose)

The incredible light of the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan

The view towards Annapurna from Sarangkot hill in the Himalayas

The road trip he made with two ambulances from London to Africa over 27 countries

The great African road-trip mix tape

Listening to Toto’s Africa 5000 times (due to a technical breakdown!)