Eddie Bauer Adventure Travel Guide Richard Wiese has traveled to more countries than we can count, but what really sets him apart is the stories he returns with. In our last barstool conversation with the man in front of and behind the hit television series Born to Explore, Wiese explained his philosophy of travel and his role as a storyteller. It kept us so transfixed, we’re back for another beer and barstool conversation with the man who has thwarted danger on seven continents. This time we ask him to tell us about his recent travels in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, Australia’s Outback, and Canada’s Arctic. He had a few things to say.
Last time we talked about Iceland and Chile, but tell me about your trip to Morocco.
Well, Morocco is off-the-charts exotic. It’s movie-star fancy and then it has dye pits, like in biblical times. So there are several things that I really remember. First of all, we visited a village, Teferout Nefran. When we got there, we were told that we were the first non-Moroccans ever to visit this tiny little village high up in the Atlas Mountains.
It’s pretty incredible, considering the number of people who come and go through Morocco. And it was verified several times for us by different sources, and the reason why is they just put a road in there in the last year or two.
How did people travel there before?
Previously you had to use a donkey trail. And so we found incredibly warm people, these Berber people. They fled the flatlands of the desert and the sea to live in peace.
Morocco is a primarily Islamic country, but yet, when you share a meal with these people or you get together with their families in the desert—there still are nomadic people living out there– the hospitality is something that they take a lot of pride in. It is the way of the desert that if you meet somebody in the desert you show hospitality, because you never know when you would be sort of stuck in an impossible situation and need to depend upon kindness.
The other thing is that we went into cities. In Fez, we went to the ancient dye pits. This is where they had the tanneries and I got inside these vats with these guys.
That looked brutal.
I embraced the Zen of the Poo because I did something that thousands of tourists photograph every year, but I got into the dye pits, rolled up my Eddie Bauer clothes and got them a little ruined because you’re in pigeon poo.
The whole place just reeks. If you can imagine the absolute biggest stench on earth, that would be it. I mean, your eyes water blocks before you can get there. But these guys were really cool. I think they appreciated the fact that I got into the pigeon poo with them. My toenails are just starting to get their normal color back, but I’ll never look at a leather coat the same way again.
Does seeing the traditions in places like that make you see everyday routine differently?
Well, I think I view crafts a little differently now when I look at a basket or a leather coat. I realize that it’s very labor-intensive, and often through traditions or arts that have been passed down from generation to generation. And when you try to do these things, they’re not always as graceful as you would think it would be. I’ve tried and looked foolish at a lot of things but I guess, if you can get over that fact, it’s kind of fun and I’ll never forget my time in the dye pits.
The other thing I noticed in those episodes is that the food played a very important role.
Well, food for me is big. You know, I have a theory that a person’s passion for food and their passion as a person are very linked.
So then what was so unique about that, the culinary experience in Morocco?
Well, they’re known for their spices and there’s something called the Ras el hanout , which is called “the bachelor’s dish.” And it’s a combination of many, many, many spices. And it’s that whole idea of slow cooking. Most people don’t have ovens so they bring it to public ovens, and the public ovens are usually underneath the bathhouses. They’re using that heat to heat these bathhouses but they’re putting these clay pots, the tangia, in the fire and they let it cook all day. So the whole idea of slow cooking is something that I learned there.
So on to Australia. What was your primary focus in going to Australia?
I’ve been there many times before. I’ve lived in Australia and I’ve always thought of the Northern Territory of Australia as representing true Outback, the Crocodile Dundee version of it. And the Aboriginal people there are the oldest continuous culture on earth. It’s about 50,000 years of the same culture so it’s way, way, way, way before the Egyptians and any of those other ones we want to talk about.
And I’ll just mention their perspective is very different from a Western point of view, how they describe the world around them. Perhaps one of the most moving moments for me was when this Aboriginal man in Arnhem Land took me to this cave that very few people have ever been to and he showed me this one room, which was the ceremony room where all his relatives put hematite handprints on to sort of signify they had come of age. And it went back to about 20,000 years ago. So he sat in this room and I sat in this room where his continual line of relatives had sat and done this ceremony.
It’s quite moving to look at 20,000 years of relatives’ handprints.
That sounds like an unbelievable experience.
That kind of continuum, I don’t know where you’d possibly see that.
The other thing about Australia is we were in search of something called the Rainbow Serpent is a mythical creature and it’s the oldest recorded known story. It’s their story of creation, how the earth was created. And the Rainbow Serpent turns out to be sort of an amalgamation of many different creatures. And eats the saltwater crocodile, the Barramundi, the fish that changes its sex at like age 2. All those things around them are described in this creature.
So I think it’s one of those trips, again, that you try to leave your judgments behind and listen to the wisdom of what they have to say. And I remember this Aboriginal man saying to me that he thought that Americans and Europeans didn’t understand the rhythm of the earth. Meaning that we’re always trying to put dams, bridges and things to alter our environment, where they go seasonal to seasonal with the foods and they leave very little mark on it. We’re losing that whole seasonality because you think about it, you can get bananas any time of year, you get strawberries, grapes from Chile. But they are still living very much within the rhythm of the earth.
And then we went up north near the Tiwi Islands. I think they may be called Melville Islands on your map. It is this wonderful Aboriginal group that I went foraging with. We went out and got crabs and caught a snake and we ate it. Meanwhile, there’s this beautiful beach-like thing that you’d think would be a wonderful place to go swimming, but it’s surrounded by huge saltwater crocodiles. But you know, they live with it.
The theme that keeps coming up in visiting all these cultures, which are very distinctive and intact, is that contrast between the ability to get to these locations and the ability of the cultures to remain distinctive?
I know what you’re getting at. So yes, the world has changed even from when I was a little kid. I remember going on a family trip to Rome and we’d run into people in sort of more native costume. And you’re seeing it less and less around the world.
But the whole idea of cultures embracing different technology doesn’t make them less distinctly First Nation or American. But our relatives used to have a horse and carriage. The fact that we drive in a car doesn’t make me more or less American than people who lived here before me.
So I think that you do feel that these pockets of innocence are constantly getting lost or enveloped into a larger culture. But you know, even that being said, the vibe or the feeling of a downtown Seattle is going to be different than downtown New York. And I think the goal is to really, you know, think globally, act locally.
And what’s changed my whole world of adventure travel or travel in general, the good is that I’m tapping into the local communities, and no one’s going show me the Kiwi Islands better than someone who lives there. It would be the same if you came to Connecticut: you wouldn’t want somebody from Texas to be showing you around. So that whole idea of finding those ordinary moments and making them extraordinary is always the goal of travel. And by tapping into the local community, I’m finding that’s happening more and more.
If you had to sum up your philosophy about travel in 10 or 15 words, what would it be?
Well, it would definitely be, to think global, act local. But I’m a glass half-full kind of guy.
That’s funny, I didn’t get that.
I’ll give you an example. It’s what you choose to see. For example, the Inuit people of Canada are a culture in transition and you can say, “Oh, you know, there’s teen pregnancy, alcohol, suicide, and I can go on and on and on.” But I choose to see them as incredible biologists, in touch with the land and nature. I see them as tight-knit communities, survivors, all those kind of things. I think my philosophy on travel is that you have the ability to choose an outcome, more or less, and part of that is by having the right attitude.
How does that change your perspective?
It’s that whole idea of immersing yourself and traveling to a country with a very positive attitude. I feel, in many respects, when I travel abroad, people are judging my country by how I act. So I feel I have to be a little bit of an ambassador. And I think by acting that way, people have received me well and I’ve had very, very, very few bad experiences. I mean, I travel a lot. I never get sick, and I don’t have bad experiences, and I think that it’s that openness to new experiences. It’s the willingness to smile at somebody who, perhaps in your everyday life, you wouldn’t even shake hands with—the real salt-of-the-earth people.
I’m not giving – I’m not giving you 15 words.
No, but it’s not that easy to boil down.
I think it’s: Embrace the difference. Embrace the difference and celebrate it. Embrace the different cultures and celebrate it. And it’s like coming across a grizzly bear in the woods. Man, I’m not scared. I’m like . . . thrilled that I can get to see something that so few people get to see.
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