92. Sophy Roberts; Elephant Conservation in Chad, Remote Rivers in Papua New Guinea and The Lost Pianos of Siberia - The Big Travel Podcast

Episode Array
April 2 , 2020

92. Sophy Roberts; Elephant Conservation in Chad, Remote Rivers in Papua New Guinea and The Lost Pianos of Siberia

Reporting on wildlife conservation, threats to eco-systems and fragile cultures from remote corners of the world is travel writer Sophy Robert’s passion. She cut her journalistic teeth with Jessica Mitford then ditched an enviable job at Conde Nast Traveller to ‘tell those stories often untold’. She’s diced with danger in Papua New Guinea, protected elephants in Chad, fallen in love with the forests and people of the Congo and for her debut book crossed the wildest parts of Russia in her quest to tell the fascinating stories of The Lost Pianos of Siberia.


On this episode we cover:

Growing up with a fish farming father

The lust to see what was beyond the horizon

When all the worlds she had imagined began to come alive

Books having the power to transport

Wanting to tell the stories that aren’t told

India age 18 on a dollar or two a day

Feeling very safe in India as a single female traveller

How India stimulates the senses in a profound way

Hotels where the windows don’t open

How being able to really feel a place gets the blood flowing

Luxury travel sealing you off from the real world

Cutting her journalist teeth with Jessica (Decca) Mitford

(the non-fascist one who went to Spain during the Civil War)

Learning from Jessica Mitford that risk and bravery are important

Jessica Mitford’s son being one of the world’s great piano tuner

Quitting Conde Nast Traveller to travel more

Using her writing to go ‘closer and closer to the edge’

Collaborating with brilliant photographers opening up a whole new avenue

Stepping into the areas where there is fear

The areas marked read on the map

Going to Chad to report on an elephant conservation project

The matriarch elephants that would circle the baby elephants to protect them being shot African Parks

Chad being incredibly poor and having huge challenges

Yet also moonscape mountains and ancient rock art

Travel being a force for good; economically, philosophically and in creating connections

Working in the Congo

People increasingly travelling ‘towards issues’

The scary encounter with Russian bikers amid indigenous people in the far north of Russia

Papua New Guinea being tricky and risky

Being witness to a rape

Falling in love with the Solomon seaside of Papua

Travelling to Mongolia with her children

Being inspired to write The Lost Pianos of Siberia by a local family in the Orkhon valley a few hours drive from Ulaanbaatar

The search for the pianos that travelled from the cities in Russia to all corners of Siberia

Travelling from the Ural mountains all the way to the Pacific

Spending 158 days on the road in Russia

How tracing the journeys of the pianos allowed her to tell human solace in times of darkness

The mysterious piano in a volcanic caldera in The Kamchatka Peninsula is a in the Russian Far East

Piano culture runs through Russian society like blood

The Princess who dragged a piano across frozen lakes on a sledge to visit her revolutionary husband in prison

The Social Life of Things a book about the how object design can reflect politics and culture

The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal being of key influence

Combining adventuring with family life

The environmental impact of the conflict in Yemen

Falling in love with the forests and people of the Congo

How one has to learn to watch the trees moving past

The Russian priest who sang Russian choral music