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Wednesday 11 December 2019

Around the world in eighty ways. . .

Andy Welch asks Charley Boorman, the man who went around the world, about his latest travel project and future plans

For some of us, the term "well- travelled" refers to someone who's been to both Ibiza and Faliraki in the same summer. Others might use the phrase after coming back from a cruise, or an African safari, or a quick tour of an American state. There are very few people who deserve the tag as much as Charley Boorman.

He's just come back from a trip that saw him trek from one side of the world to the other -- starting at his home in Co Wicklow on April 12 and ending when he reached the Australian city of Sydney, in July.

Charley visited 25 countries in the process, and he completed the trip using any means of transport he could.

Charley Boorman: Ireland To Sydney By Any Means follows the actor-turned-explorer into some of the hairiest situations he's ever encountered. None was more worrying than a boat journey to Borneo. The journey should have lasted around 36 hours, but was cut short a lot quicker than that.

borneo

"We were waiting on Nikoi Island, which is between Indonesia and Singapore, for a boat to take us across to Borneo," says Charley.

"The islanders organised it for us, and in the morning, the dodgiest looking cargo boat you'll ever see turned up. Nonetheless we got on, with the crew, and set off. After about an hour, we hit this big wave. The captain came up and said 'we have a problem, we might have to turn back'.

"I wanted to keep going, but he took us to the cargo hold and showed us this small river pouring into the boat. We were sinking! I looked at him, and gestured that we should head back. When we got nearer the shore, he put the lifeboat in the water and said he'd row us back to the island. We got in the lifeboat, but that started to sink as well. I've never been so glad to see land in my life.''

The last time Charley was on our screens, he and best friend Ewan McGregor were travelling from John O'Groats in Scotland, down the length of Europe and Africa, to Cape Town.

Long Way Down, as the resulting programme was called, was shown on the BBC last year and built upon the success of the pair's original series, Long Way Round. That series saw them riding on motorbikes from London to New York, but heading east across Europe and Asia, rather than taking the logical route across the Atlantic.

"I suppose all the things I've done have been different," Charley says. "Long Way Round was the first time Ewan and I had done anything like that. We went through Mongolia and Siberia and places like that, so it was very tough.

"After that, I took part in the Dakar rally, which was absolutely brutal. I broke my hand and didn't finish the race. After Dakar, Ewan and I did Long Way Down together, and that brought up a whole new set of problems, so every trip has its own set of challenges," he says.

The majority of the problems 42-year-old Charley faced this time around were political.

"I was travelling overland, which is difficult in itself these days,'' he begins. You want to go through all these beautiful countries, but lots of them are at war and closed off.

storyteller

Problems aside, Charley sounds as if he had a ball during the trip. He's a fabulous storyteller and it's clear he has a huge interest in exploring unknown territories. Prior to this trip, Charley says he'd never visited south-east Asia, but now he has stamps for Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal and Indonesia in his well-worn passport.

"I always wonder who people are when I meet them; where they live, how they get home from work and little things like that.

"I just bumbled along on different methods of transport on this trip, meeting lots of people. Some were interesting, some weren't. It was a real mish-mash of experiences.

"A really special moment was when I was in Nepal,'' he continues. We'd had some real problems getting out of Nepal because China had just closed the border with Tibet. Burma had been hit by a cyclone, and China had had an earthquake.

"We were kind of stuck, but two days after we arrived, the monarch was ousted and the republic started. I was sitting in Kathmandu with all these protesters, celebrating. It was amazing to be there on the day everything changed."

So what's next for him?

"I'd love to do all sorts of bits and pieces; some are in the pipeline,'' he says, mysteriously. "What I've found over the last few years is that I'm talking about my next trip as I'm finishing the last. Saying that, seeing my wife after a trip is amazing. It's like a first date again, I have butterflies in my stomach. And just thinking about seeing my kids again gets me going; I can't wait.

"There's also a small part of me that would just turn around and do it all again, though. So by talking about the next trip, it makes it easier to finish the one you're on."

Charley Boorman: Ireland To Sydney By Any Means is on BBC Two tomorrow night

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