Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 September 2020

Into the wild: Adventurers share life-changing experiences of the great outdoors

From living in the mountains with a bow and arrow, to enjoying the pleasure of long walks, panelists urge Emirates Airline Festival of Literature audience to travel

Miriam Lancewood lived in the wilderness for seven years. 
Miriam Lancewood lived in the wilderness for seven years. 

In his 1916 poem The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost talks about taking the road less travelled, and how “that has made all the difference.” Though the classic poem suggests a figurative meaning, it allows for a much more literal reading.

One person to take the more literal interpretation is Miriam Lancewood. The Dutch writer was working as a physical education teacher in New Zealand, when she and her husband decided to give up all of their worldly belongings and lived the mountains with a tent and bow and arrow. The pair ended up staying in the wilderness for seven years.

“We stayed in some spots for a single night, in others we stayed for almost three months,” Lancewood said, speaking in a panel called Dispatches from the Wilderness at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Thursday.

“We started off in a valley that was a four days walk from the nearest road. We woke up the next day and there was nothing to do. I thought 'wow, we might get really bored'.”

The author of Woman in the Wilderness said it took more than two weeks for her to calm down, not look for something to do, and to learn to relax.

“It was strange. I felt like there was no future. We had also said goodbye to all of our friends and there was no way of contacting anyone. So in a way we lost our past as well,” she said.

With that, Lancewood and her husband, Peter, had extricated themselves from the concept of time.

Woman in the Wilderness
Woman in the Wilderness

One challenge that Lancewood had to overcome was learning to hunt. Lancewood was born into a family of vegetarians and could not bare the thought of a chicken being killed to feed her. But, out in the jungle, she had to adapt.

“For a long time I came back with nothing, we lived on rice and daal,” she said. “Finally, I knew I had to try harder. I went after a wild goat and in my eagerness I shot all six arrows at it. Four of them missed. But two hit it. It was injured but did not die.”

Lancewood had to track down the goat by following its bloody trail. Today, she says the experience of living out in the wild gave her a confidence “not based on comparison".

"I know I can go out into the wild and look after myself. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and achievement,” she said.

Also on the panel was Gavin Thurston, a wildlife cameraman who has worked on every continent, both poles and deep under the sea in search of the planet’s most captivating creatures. His work has earned him five Emmys and two Bafta awards.

He spoke about his experiences filming one of his early projects in the Republic of Congo, where he was search of mountain gorillas, of which there are only 900 left in the wild. The author of Journeys in the Wild recalled his first few days in the African jungle.

Gavin Thurston's work as a wildlife photographer has taken him to every continent, both poles and deep under the sea in search of the planet's most captivating creatures. WAM
Gavin Thurston's work as a wildlife photographer has taken him to every continent, both poles and deep under the sea in search of the planet's most captivating creatures. WAM

“My guide would point through the branches, asking if I saw the buffalo or another animal, and I would just nod like ‘yeah, I see it’ but I couldn’t see anything through the chaos.”

After a few days, his eyes and mind started to adjust. “I’d see one bit of an elephant ear through the gap between the leaves then through another, I’d see a bit of its tail. My mind started being able to bring them together, like jigsaw pieces. My hearing came alive too.”

Ali Al Saloom, best known for his Ask Ali TV show, column and books, was also at speaking at the panel. He has travelled to more than 191 countries, finding ways to immerse with the local culture there. He said he was inspired by his father, a pilot, who used to take him along during his travels. “He was my hero. After he died, my mother gave me some of his belongings.” Within them, Al Saloom found notes that his father had left him, urging him to travel the world to meet people of different communities and ethnic backgrounds..

“You have to get out there, you have to travel,” he urged the audience. “We film and write about these experiences but it is also up to you to take that step and learn about the world. Don’t listen to what people tell you. The world is not small. It is a vast place filled with experiences that will inspire and change you in ways you can’t imagine.”

But sometimes it’s not feasible to leave everything behind and head into the wild. When that is the case, a simple walk could also suffice, according to Kate Humble. The television presenter's latest book Thinking on My Feet is a record of her walks and runs across the globe in a year.

“We are the only species to walk this way and we may have forgotten the joys of walking. Walking relaxes the brain. Something about the rhythm, the hypnotic pleasure of walking makes it everything,” she told the panel, advocating the power of walking, especially when confronted with a problem.

Updated: February 7, 2020 11:35 AM

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