Louisa Waugh: Life on the edge of Mongolia


Louisa Waugh Louisa Waugh lived in a village in the far west of Mongolia in the late 1990s and wrote a remarkable book about her experience. It’s a world of drought-stricken spring, lush summer pasture and brutal winters when fetching water meant hacking holes through river ice. In this harsh and stunningly beautiful landscape, villagers lived on mutton, dairy products and vodka, and met...

Bruce Chatwin: with editor and friend Susannah Clapp


Bruce Chatwin Bruce Chatwin’s first book — In Patagonia — changed our idea of what travel writing could be. Its structural is elliptical, almost episodic. Its truth is somewhere between fact and fiction. Its richly descriptive prose is built with short, simple sentences peppered with arcane words and a rich vocabulary. Chatwin described it as a ‘cubist’ portrait. The author was as...

Laura Trethewey: Mapping our unknown oceans


Laura Trethewey This might just be the strangest landscape I’ve featured on the podcast. It’s a bizarre world of prairie flats larger than the Eurasian Steppe, a 40,000-mile-long underwater mountain range, and an underwater waterfall that makes Angel Falls look small. Only one quarter of it has been mapped, and less than 1% has been explored with remote vehicles. Why do we know so little about...

Tim Cocks: Life in Africa’s biggest megacity


Tim Cocks Lagos is a massive city with massive problems. It’s plagued by traffic jams, power cuts, street gangs, police extortion, widespread fraud, and every hustle under the sun. I’ve always been drawn to Africa’s desert regions in my own travels.  And I’ve always thought of Lagos as a place to avoid: a dangerous shithole where nothing good could possibly happen to the outsider unlucky...

Jeremy Bassetti: Pilgrims on Bolivia’s Hill of Skulls


Jeremy Bassetti Sacred mountains seem to pop up everywhere. We find them across cultures, from Japan’s Three Holy Mountains to high altitude Inca sacrifices in Peru, and the pilgrim circuit around Tibet’s Mount Kailash.  These geographical features feel closer to the gods. Physical border zones between the sacred and profane. That’s what we’re talking about today. I’m joined by Jeremy...

The Pyrenees: Matthew Carr on Europe’s savage frontier


Matthew Carr The Pyrenees is one of the great European landscapes. It cuts across the mouth of the Iberian peninsula, forming the border between France and Spain. It’s been a place of beauty and of terror; a passage for refugees, dissidents and resistance fighters; and the cradle of both religious heresy and religious pilgrimage. This fascinating region is too often overshadowed by the...

Simon Winchester: Outposts at the edge of the world


Simon Winchester If you think colonialism ended after the Second World War, then my latest conversation may surprise you. There are still some 56 colonies and dependent territories in the world today, — or 61, depending on how you count them. Some are uninhabited hunks of rock, but many are home to thriving communities with strong ties to their parent country. I naively considered traveling...

Tom Parfitt: Walking the High Caucasus


Tom Parfitt Tom Parfitt walked across the northern flank of the Russian Caucasus, from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, through republics whose names are synonymous with violence, extremism and warfare. He did it to rid himself of nightmares brought on by the terrible events he witnessed during the 2004 seige of School Number One in Beslan, North Ossetia. He also wanted to understand how places...

Richard Grant: Travels With American Nomads


Richard Grant The road is America’s preeminent symbol of freedom. Richard Grant hitchhiked, walked, and drove those roads in a series of travels he described as “memories strung out on a single cord of highway, fourteen years long and headed nowhere in particular.” He discovered “a roadside culture of wandering rootlessness.” Not a pastoral herding community, but “an aggregation of loosely knit...

Anthony Sattin on how nomads shaped settled civilization


Anthony Sattin in northern Iran (Photo by Sylvie Franquet) Our oldest stories deal with the relationship between settled people and nomads. From the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh to the Biblical tale of Cain and Abel, it’s a story of conflict, fear and control. But for much of history, settled and nomadic peoples lived side by side. In fact, nomads were crucial catalysts and creators, and...


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