Richard Wiese is a man who tells a good story, which is why we’ve been featuring the new Eddie Bauer Adventure Travel Guide and host of Born to Explore on ABC in our first installment of the barstool conversations. In our last of three parts, Wiese tells us why Africa captures his soul, how many countries he’s visited in the past year, and what destination on this year’s itinerary has him the most excited to pack a bag and explore. –LYA Editor
So tell me about the elephants in Botswana.
Botswana is a singularly unique place on earth because you have this landlocked delta where all the water rushes in and all this explosion of life during a very short time period. In Botswana, I met a couple, Doug and Sandi Grove, who had taken some orphaned elephants. You see plenty of elephants out in the wild and it’s the largest land creature. They’re big. I mean, they’re really big.
I don’t know if you know the difference between African and Asian elephants. Asian elephants can be tamed, where the African ones really can’t. So to stand next to one, to have my shoulder next to its leg where it’s like an oak tree, is pretty intimidating. I mean, these are huge creatures. It’s an intimidating feeling to stand next to it and you can sort of just feel it move.
But then you start looking at its eyelashes and its eyes and you can see its trunk sniffing around you and feeling you. It’s this wonderful moment of interspecies communication. You can’t call it apples for apples on how he feels or I feel, but there’s definitely something that transpires.
I know when we did those swan rescues where I was capturing wild swans, and this moment where the injured swan knows that I’m not going to hurt it, and it puts its neck around my neck and sort of submits, that’s a wonderful feeling.
Any time that you can take a wild creature, and this was a semi-wild thing, and there’s that moment of understanding? It’s a really wonderful feeling. It really resonates very deeply into your heart.
Did you ever get to the point where you had a sense of how intelligent they were?
Yeah, yeah, for sure. That’s the other thing when you observe wild animals that aren’t stressed by the situation—you start understanding some of the attributes. And some of the animals—like even polar bears to some extent—I’ve stood out there with polar bears, on the ground, without a cage, without a fence between us, and you can’t assume that it’s just a man-eating maniacal creature. You see the subtleties.
It seems like Botswana is a destination where not many people would think of traveling. What was most striking about the overall impression of that country?
The explosion of life, because it’s a desert and then all this water rushes in, so that life has to happen in a very finite period. The water’s not that deep, it’s only in some cases a few inches, a few feet. So you’re seeing herds of wildebeests, and maybe some giraffes start running past you.
And Africa captures your soul. It smells old, it looks old. It’s the greatest set of populations of large land animals, and you witness this cycle of life that’s been happening for thousands upon thousands of years. And you feel like you’ve now been parachuted back in time, and you’re seeing things that look exactly like they would have looked ten thousand years ago. That’s time travel to me.
If your viewers take one powerful point away from Born to Explore, what do you hope it’ll be?
I think that the world still has magic left in it. It’s an exciting place that, since we’ve opened up to the cultural aspect, it’s not just about animals or adventure. To me, the possibilities seem limitless.
I look at a map and I go: my God, if we went there, we could do this, this, this. There are so many off-the-chart events happening on a daily basis around the world that you’ll never hear about, it just makes me so excited to continue to travel and highlight these.
And our audience has responded in a very positive way. We had a daytime Emmy nomination our first year. The ratings have been very good on ABC. And so I think we just would like to take that positive message to a larger group of people.
Then from an adventure travel perspective, do you feel that you’re showing your viewers a different perspective of what adventure travel could be?
I think it’s showing a more holistic view of the people that are maybe behind the scenes, a person that, if I were younger and racing up a mountain, I wouldn’t have noticed just carrying my bag. So I think that if you’re going out to see polar bears, well, there’s the Inuit people; if you’re seeing elephants or are in the forest looking for gorillas, there are Batwa pygmies. There is an interrelationship between so many things.
And we’re trying to be very authentic. We really feel like the BS factor is kind of low for us. The reality show we’re trying to air shows where there are some really exciting things going on that are real and authentic and accessible.
In your upcoming roster of destinations, which ones are you most excited about and why?
I’m always excited about the one I’m about to go on, so next week I’m going to South Africa.
It’s just where it started. My wife’s South African. There are a lot of projects in the bush that she initiated when she founded the Africa Foundation. That’s going to be really cool. I’m also very excited that we planned a trip in January to India. I’m going to Egypt in March and that will be challenging, but I think that will be very exciting. I’ve never been to Egypt before. The other two places I’ve been to. And then in June, to Turkey, sort of following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and visiting Troy so, to me, that’s going to be kind of exciting too.
I look at the map of the world, it’s so – oh, my God, there are so many places and people will always say, ‘Well, you’ve been everywhere.’ I feel like . . . the more I travel, the more I realize I haven’t been everywhere.
It’s a big world.
And even if you’ve been someplace – I’ve been to Rome a few times. When I was like 8 years old, when I was 20, and you can go to the same city different times – Kilimanjaro is the best example because I’ve been there the most – and every time I go there I find something new and different. And it’s always fresh for me.
Do you have any idea what your total air miles and countries visited were this past year?
Well, I know the countries I’ve visited. I could probably rattle them off. Let me think: Canada, Belize, Chile, Botswana, South Africa, Uganda, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Morocco, England, Cyprus, Australia. What am I forgetting? Iceland. What else? I’m trying to think. I might have missed something. I think that’s it for last year.
That’s quite a big count. That’s quite a few countries.
Oh, Uganda, did I mention Uganda?
That’s a lot of countries in a year.
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