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Today, Norm Goldman, Editor   and   is pleased to have as our guest, travel author and writer,   Richard Danbury.

Richard is an expert on Chile, Peru and the Inca Trail, and he also works for the BBC on both travel and law programmes. Richard's recent guidebooks have been on Chile, The Inca Trail: Cuzco & Machu Picchu.

Good day Richard and thanks for agreeing to participate in our interview.

Hi, Norm


Richard, could you tell us a little about yourself and how you became involved in travel writing?


Ah. Not in a usual way. I trained as a lawyer, a barrister specializing in criminal law in England, but didn't like it.

There's a book by the author Milan Kundera that summed up how I felt: "Life is Elsewhere". My girlfriend had been  writing travel books for a number of years, and I looked enviously at what she was doing. In the end, I screwed up the courage to jack in the law, and pitched a number of ideas to Bryn Thomas, the founder of the Trailblazer series of Guidebooks.


Very kindly Bryn let down the lifeline, and that was it. I spent the next three months in the reading rooms of the British Library learning about Pre-Hispanic Peru, before catching a flight out the country, which I'd first visited in university vacations. The result, about a year later, was The Inca Trail. I went on from there to research and write, with my girlfriend (now my wife) Melissa, the first edition of The Rough Guide to Chile.


As you are an expert on Chile, Peru and the Inca Trail, I wonder if you could recommend to our audience five unique romantic destinations in each of these geographical areas, and why do you consider them to be unique and romantic?



Romantic and unique? Only five? That's not quite fair, Norm, but I'll try.


  • Starting with Chile, right at the top has to be Easter Island. The most remote inhabited
    island in the world, and the center of a fascinating culture that still poses unanswered mysteries  for example, the island developed a script, which remains undecipherable. A south-sea island refuge
  • Second in Chile, I'd have to say the Termas de Puyuhuapi, again remote down in the southern Careterra Austral. A fly-fishing lodge, that is miles from the nearest tarred road, which is only accessible by air or boat. Here you can fish in what must be the clearest, most unpolluted streams on the planet. Of if fishing's not your thing, relax in the thermal springs under the stars.
  •  Third in Chile is San Pedro de Atacama. The Atacama Desert is the driest place on earth, and San Pedro is an oasis that's been inhabited since before the Incas. It's quite developed in terms of tourist infrastructure, which are great for some and a disincentive for others.
  • Fourth Torres del Paine in Chile. A massive outcrop of rock in the middle of the barren plains of Chilean Patagonia, where glaciers calve into mill-pond smooth reflecting lakes, and chiseled towers scrape their way up into the clouds.
  • Fifth? I'll go for the Romantic. Pablo Neruda's Isla Negra, in the center of the country. The great romantic poet and Nobel Prize-Winner, who wished to do to his lover what the spring does to cherry trees.
  • As for Peru, well it's not quite so easy, as the Inca Trail isn't in itself what you'd call romantic, nor are there destinations there. Best leave it, Norm, by saying that the whole place is romantic and unique.


    Where is the Inca Trail, Cuzco & Machu Picchu, and could you tell us a little about it?


It's in Peru, up the mountains, a couple of hours by air or a couple of days by road from the capital, Lima. The nearest big town is Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incas, who lived in the 15th century.

They carved out a province on the sides of the Andes Mountains, at the point where they descend into the Amazon Rainforest, and area called by the locals the "eyebrows of the jungle". Here, lost in the cloud forest and engulfed by vines and the venomous fer-de-lance snakes, the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu remained for hundreds of years, undisturbed by the Spanish conquerors, which destroyed the Inca Empire.


The American adventurer and archaeologist, Hiram Bingham, who was a model for Indiana Jones, rediscovered it in 1911. Over the years the trails from Cuzco to
Machu Picchu have been dug out of the jungle, and now it's a tourist destination. The main route is a hard four- day walk, but the whole Sanctuary (the area's
been declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site for both the architecture and the forest) is criss-crossed by trails.


 How do you find them? I respectfully suggest. my book!


How difficult and dangerous is it to travel within Chile, Peru and the Inca Trail?


Chile is not difficult, nor dangerous. Good roads, splendid bus network, many airports. It's probably the most stable, most secure and most western country in the whole of South America, even down to the local's respect for the driving laws.


 It's said that Argentineans often get into trouble when they cross the boarder, first by driving as they do at home (like Italians), and then attempting to bribe a Chilean
policeman as they would with their own policeman. I don't know if that's true, but there's more than an element of truth in it.

Peru is also stable these days, but has a history of instability. In the last decade of the last century, a very nasty terrorist group called the "Shining Path" practically took over the rural interior of the country. The Government acted in a very nasty way too. Peru is still tending the wounds inflicted by this terror. That's the bad news. The good news is that the
country is now pretty much at peace.


 It's not as safe as Chile, but it IS safe, despite the probably apocryphal stories and travelers' tales. But, as any sensible traveler knows, you ought to be careful, and
take the same precautions as you would going anywhere where you are vastly richer than the locals.

The Inca Trail is a serious long-distance hike. You should only undertake it if you are reasonably fit, and are used to carrying all the food you'll need for a week. That said, there are tours and day trips for those people who'd find that daunting.


How do you come up with ideas for what you write? What methods do you use to flesh out your idea to determine if it's salable?


That's difficult. The ideas present themselves from reading and being somewhere. Noticing things. As for saleability, I don't write these days without a commission.


Can you explain some of your research techniques, and how you found sources for your book?


For the Inca Trail, it was long hours reading in the British Library, old texts in Spanish (which was difficult - my Spanish is dreadful) and English
translations. And these days the Internet is splendid.

I recently discovered on Amazon an imprint of a book that had been out of print for ages, and for which I'd searched for ages without luck. Huaman Poma's Chronicle to a King. Amazing illustrations, drawn and written in the sixteenth century by one of the first Incas to be educated to read and write Spanish.

My research for the Rough Guide to Chile was traveling, talking visiting, noticing and eating and drinking.


Who are your favorite authors, and why do they inspire you?


The style I aspire to is pithily described by George Orwell in his essay "Politics and the English Language". Simplicity ought to be the watchword. In terms of content, I'm an old fogey and am in love with big psychological novels: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, George Elliot, novels that lead us to an understanding of and a compassion for others. Though some of them are like wading through treacle. Unlike Jane Austen, who I think is one of the greatest authors there is.


If only she'd raised her aim! In terms of ideas, I'm still bamboozled by the philosophers I first met at University, Wittgenstein, Russell and Nietzsche.


As a traveler and fact/story gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?




What does travel mean to you?


I'm not sure I know how to answer that. In a way, the answer's contained in all of these other answers here. It's beyond me to reduce it further. Sorry!


Is there anything else you wish to add to our interview?


Thanks for having me. Oh, and Norm, who's your favorite author?




James A. Mitchner

Thanks again Richard and good luck with all of your future projects.

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