My Channel 4 Debut

At 8pm this Sunday, I will be appearing on Channel 4 in ‘From Russia to Iran: Crossing the Wild Frontier’, travelling with Levison Wood through my birthplace Iran. Its been one hell of an adventure travelling and filming through some of the remote parts of Iran, and I hope that this programme will help change current perceptions of Iran’s political climate.

In other news, I’ve been incredibly busy with some great stuff lately. My book ‘Kapp to Cape’ has made it to the US and Canada, and it is now available in all good bookshops and online. Details of book launch events throughout North America will be announced shortly.

My new TV series ‘Transamazonica’ (which was premiered by Fox) has also made it to Canada and will be broadcast on CBC in December. I’m very excited by this – it is only the second time that a series of mine has made it to a terrestrial channel (the first time was when ‘Kapp to Cape’ was broadcast by YLE, Finland National Television).

How to leave the job you hate and start a new career – PART 3

I changed my life. I ditched a career I hated and started a new one which I loved. It wasn’t easy, but by following my 20 steps, I can help make it easier for you. Here are the final 10 …

11. Set your mind on what you want to do. Eat, breathe and shit your desire. Become obsessed.

12. There are two ways to change your career. Either start a new business and create your own destiny or learn new skills and start working for an organisation that you like. I chose the first one because I wanted to risk it and become an entrepreneur. But this is not for everyone. Fortunately, you have been born into the era of great communication. You can find out about anything you want with the technology at your fingertips. So research as much as you can about your new career – whether it’s working for others or for yourself.

13. Avoid pessimistic people and people who tell you that you’re not being realistic. Ignore them – it’s very unlikely they have a dream of their own.

14. Wake up early; go to bed late. You have to pay your dues. If you want it then you have to sweat for it. Work on your plan before you go to your existing 9-5 job, use your lunch time to send emails, and then do another hour or two after work. That’s 3-4 hours every day. Then, at weekends, dedicate yet more hours to your new career. It’s possible to carve at least 20 hours out of each week to learn the new skills you need – which, when you think about it, is a lot of time.

15. Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise. You will have the rest of your life to down pints and empty bottles and talk with your friends in pubs and bars. But you don’t have the rest of your life to establish a new career. Make your new career your priority.

16. Be strict with your time. It’s the most valuable thing in this world, so don’t waste it. If you want to become a writer, for example, and you have a regular train-commute to work, use that time to write and create rather than reading some trash about Trump, Brexit and celebrity gossip. Time can be found when you search for it. Prioritising helps with this.

17. Stop giving a fuck. Seriously. Stop giving a fuck about things that don’t mean much to you and focus instead on the things that mean something to you. Changing your career requires dedication and time. So stop giving a fuck about the things that don’t really matter and start giving a fuck about the time you can devote to the career you love.

18. Where there is a will there is a way. I’m not suggesting you should give up your job tomorrow and cycle the world. Instead, start doing little by little every day. This is especially important to remember if you have other commitments (family, mortgage, etc). Little by little every day will help you actualise your dream.

19. Build your network. This is a very crucial part. Your human capital is your biggest asset. Your network is so important. Surround yourself with people doing the job you desire. At the beginning they might not take you seriously – but hang in there, they will. I can’t emphasise how important this is. Network, network, network.

20. And finally, and most importantly – JUST GO FOR IT!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these three blog-posts. Remember – if I’ve done it, you can do it too. The chronicle of my journey is in my book Kapp to Cape, out on Thursday 9th Feb and available here. In it, I explain in detail the highs and lows I went through from the moment I questioned my previous career to when I got my new career off the ground.

I sincerely hope this will all help to inspire you. Remember – I was once where you are right now. So go and do it. Don’t wait. Time is precious.
If you’d like to meet me in person, feel free to come along to my book launch – 6.30pm-8.00pm, 15th Feb, Stanford’s Bookshop, Covent Garden, London.

How to leave the job that you hate and start a new career – PART 2

I changed my life. I ditched a career I hated and started a new one I loved. It wasn’t easy, but by following my 20 steps, I can help make it easier for you. Here are the first 10 …

1. Congratulate yourself that you were curious to question things – most people don’t.

2. Don’t be hard on yourself. To struggle is part of being human.

3. Be honest with yourself. What you are about to start involves getting out of your comfort zone and, by definition, getting out of your comfort zone puts you in an uncomfortable place. So ask yourself whether you are happy to stomach a bit of discomfort for the greater good. If the answer is no, fair enough – at least you’re being honest with yourself.

4. I’m sorry to break this to you, but you don’t have all the time in the world. If you want to change your life and want to do something you love and have a more meaningful life, get off your ass and do something about it. Now.

5. Some people are gifted – they know from an early age exactly what they want in their lives. Some don’t, and some (like me) ignore what they want and opt for a comfortable existence. If you belong to the last two groups, now is the time to find out what you want.

6. You have so many skills that you don’t even realise. When I started the life of an adventurer and a film-maker, I discovered that my financial skills helped me to budget better than many other adventurers and film-makers that have been doing this their whole lives. The organisational skills that I picked up during my time in finance – attention to detail, project management, etc – all were transferable skills that I was able to use in my new life. Don’t underestimate the things that you know. You have skills, so use them.

7. And what if you don’t actually know what it is you want to do? Then join the club. I’ve been there. Many have. Finding out what you want to do is difficult, but not impossible. Think about what makes you happy, and what made you happy when you were a little kid. It doesn’t matter how childish and crazy it gets. Think about your hobbies. Think about the things you’d rather spend your time doing. For me, it was travel and adventure. Once I was certain about it, I decided to make a living out of what I love. Do you like playing ping-pong, doing graphite, sports, travel, going to gigs, making films, climbing mountains? Or something entirely different? Whatever it is, go and do it. And, while you’re doing it, think about how you can make a living from it.

8. Money matters. Call me materialistic, but you need to earn money. You need to earn good money. Why not? Earning good money whilst doing something you love is the best thing in the world. But without earning, your new career will be unsustainable. It will become merely a passion rather than a career.

9. Dream big. It’s a cliché but it’s the truth. People who laugh at your dream probably don’t have a dream of their own. You shouldn’t put any limits on your dreams.

10. Be realistic. Think in relative terms. If you want to make a career out of music and you are in your forties, it’s highly unlikely you’ll become the next Arctic Monkeys or Kasabian. However, you could become a good band manager.

Be sure to check back in next Sunday (5th Feb) for the final 10 steps on how to change your career.

 

My book, ‘Kapp to Cape’ is available for pre-order here and will be released on 9th Feb.

If you’d like to meet me in person, feel free to come along to my book launch – 6.30pm-8.00pm, 15th Feb, Stanford’s Bookshop, Covent Garden, London.

How to leave the job that you hate and start a new career – PART 1

I’ve thought long and hard about whether I really want to write this blog, that perhaps I might offend people. But in two weeks and two days my book Kapp to Cape will be out, and in it I disclose my personal journey publicly. So I’ve decided that now is the time to finally write and share this blog.

Since the broadcast of my TV series last year, I have been approached by many people telling me that they are unhappy with their job, that they don’t have career satisfaction. The majority of these people are educated, middle-class, stuck in the 9-5 daily grind, earning a good level of disposable income. I always ask them what they are going to do about it, and I normally get one of two answers. The first group tend to come up with some valid reasons for sticking with their jobs: the mortgage or rent needs paying; they have mouths to feed; they’re established in their career and can’t think of alternative work which would earn them the same; they have great benefits and a pension pot which they are loath to give up. The second group have grand plans and are looking for an escape. These are the ones who tell me, I want to travel the world for a year or I want to take some time to think things through and see what I can do with my life.

If you belong to either of the above groups, I have to say that you are one of the lucky ones, because at least you question things. Most people don’t.

I was the same. Ten years of my life were wasted on travelling to work, sitting behind the office desk, ignoring my passions, being institutionalized and wrapped in the cotton wool of a comfortable life. Along the way, I lost confidence in my own abilities. When I finally decided that enough was enough, I had to go a long way to validate those abilities once more. Perhaps I cycled the length of the planet and set a world record just to make myself believe that I can do anything.

Now that I look back at things, I’ve come to realise that the cliché makes sense. Comfort kills ambition. It killed mine and, if you are curious enough to read this blog, there’s a chance it may have killed yours too.

This is the living model of the 21st century. Comfortable and unhappy. But happiness is your right. You should be happy. You deserve to have a career that you love. Work should be a pleasure.

For many years I lived for my holidays. It was my compromise. I had a job that I didn’t like, but I could afford to travel the world. It was great to be able to do that, but it meant spending 235 days unhappy for only 25 days of happiness each year. Was it really worth it? The honest answer is no. 235 days a year, working on average 9 hours a day for 10 years equates to 21,150 hours of my life spent on something that I didn’t believe in. Isn’t that crazy? Can you imagine how many worthwhile things I could have achieved in those precious hours?

I spent hours and hours in conferences and presentations, client meetings, crunching numbers, rushing to meet crazy deadlines that I never enjoyed. Every single day, I couldn’t wait for my work to finish so I could get out of the office, to go and find someone to drink with, or to go to the gym and sweat it out.

And now look at my life. These days, work is a pleasure. It brings a smile to my face. I don’t even know how many hours I do each day and each week. But I know that I love it, and that I love the people I work with. Life is exciting. I am happy. I may not have the same levels of money I used to have, but I do have a TV series which was broadcast in ten countries, another on the way, and my book Kapp to Cape is about to be released. This all makes me happier than money ever could.

If this is the kind of change you are after in your life, then let me share what I have learned with you. Changing my life took me through some difficult years, and so I hope the advice I can offer now will make things easier for you than they were for me. Over the next two weeks I’ll be sharing my 20 steps on how to change your career, the first ten of which will go live on this blog next Sunday (29th Jan). See you then!

 

‘Kapp to Cape’ is available for pre-order here and will be released on 9th Feb.

If you’d like to meet me in person, feel free to come along to my book launch – 6.30pm-8.00pm, 15th Feb, Stanford’s Bookshop, Covent Garden, London.

The Post I Couldn’t Post (Transamazonica, Day 30)

I was warned not to post this while I and my team were still in the Amazon, for fear of reprisals from the mafia. Now that we have finished the expedition and are safely away, here is the post unedited …

I know I need to write about today, but I don’t know if I can find the words. My hands don’t want to type; they just want to cradle my head in despair.

Puerto Maldonado, where we arrived last night, will be our base for the next few days. It’s a dark and seedy town, characterised by under-age prostitution, human trafficking, forced labour, and violent crime. One cause under-pins it all: this is the centre of Peru’s gold-mining.

We had arranged to book an interview with Maruja Goya – the daughter of one of the most powerful gold-mining mafia-bosses in the entire country. Driving out of the town towards her home in Huepetuhe, all we could see was shack after shack, all made from the same corrugated iron and blue tarpaulins. Even at 9 in the morning, most of the men who ambled about were drunk; most of the women were prostitutes. Peiman took his camera out, but was stopped by Aldo.

“Absolutely no filming,” he hissed, “if you want to continue living.”

At Mazuko, we crossed the river and then chartered a pick-up truck taxi. The driver, Sebastian, told us his life-story as we pushed on. Before driving, he had worked in an illegal gold mine. Though he earned a decent amount (enough to save and eventually buy this taxi – his ticket out of the mines), he was actively encouraged to drink excessively (was even threatened with redundancy if he refused). He soon developed a drinking problem, and this in turn led to an addiction to prostitutes. He explained that this happened to most of the miners here – enforced addictions were a form of employee-control – and that the only uncommon thing about his experience was that he got out.

As we climbed the hills towards Huepetuhe, the sheer scale of destroyed forest left us numb. In its place were mountains (and I do not use that word lightly) of rubble created by the mining.

We passed through another shanty-town and then, suddenly, we were at Maruja’s house: a brand new and gleaming building with automatic gates, expensive furniture and a pristine swimming-pool. It did not seem plausible that such extremes of wealth and poverty could exist so close to each other.
Maruja came to meet us. She was friendly and charming and hospitable and all the other adjectives one tends to use when meeting a politician for the first time. For this is what she was: a politician, in all senses of the word. We sat down, and she explained that she wanted to tell us about her company: Green Gold.

Green Gold is, she told us, a new and environmentally-friendly way of mining. Instead of using mercury, it separates the gold from the soil with a form of power-washing, using only water. It all sounds well and good, but there was something about the whole thing I found hard to trust (and perhaps Pip did too, for at one point she leaned over and whispered “Green-wash” to me).

Maybe it was the sheer juxtaposition of this house and the shanty-town which surrounded it; maybe it was the fact that Green Gold still requires the miners to work under dangerous conditions (while, based on what Sebastian told us, drunk); maybe it was that when we asked to see the Green Gold machines in action, we were told that it would not be possible, and that, rather miraculously, all the managers happened to be away at this present moment; maybe it was that every time Pip tried to pin her down on what social responsibility she felt for the area around her, she continually blamed it all on the illegal miners and refused to acknowledge her own company’s part in it.

I don’t know. Maybe Green Gold is a viable and sustainable future for gold-mining in Peru. All I know is that, as we drove back down to Puerto Maldonado, all I saw was destruction. All I saw was poverty. All I saw was an environment where slavery, human trafficking, alcoholism and prostitution thrive.

And, for me, all the gold in the world, green or otherwise, isn’t worth that.

Inside Maruja's house. If we had been allowed to film in the shanty-towns, I would also have shown you how alien this level of wealth is here
Inside Maruja’s house. If we had been allowed to film in the shanty-towns, I would also have shown you how alien this level of wealth is here

Transamazonica, Day 52 – The End

For a brief moment, I didn’t want to leave Laraos.

It meant leaving Senor Mako, who I had grown to adore. But, more importantly, it meant the last day of the journey. The Pacific coast was less than a day’s cycle, and from there we could go no further.

But it was time. And, though part of me did not want this to end, another part was grateful that it was nearly all over. Transamazonica has been, without a doubt, one of the toughest expeditions I’ve ever undertaken in my life, both physically and emotionally.

The downhills were long and spectacular, transforming from arid mountains to swelling foothills to dry desert to coastline. We seemed to reach the latter in no time at all.

Pip and I sat on the cliff overlooking the ocean while pelicans swooped above. We did not talk. We had no need to. Instead, we gazed out silently, lost in our own thoughts. We had made it. It was over.

And, even though it was over, I could not get the Amazon out of my head. I know I will not be able to for a long while yet.

I came to the Amazon with a question – is there a solution to the destruction of the lungs of the planet?

With each pedal stroke, I experienced more and more sad stories of logging, of dam-building, of cattle-ranching and of gold-mining, and I often lost any hope for the Amazon.

But some of the people we met along the way – the Japanese in Tome Acu, the cattle ranchers who farmed sustainably, those behind the eco-tourist lodges – they all gave me hope. For all of their projects were economically viable and made sense. If only more and more people began to think of generating income through sustainable sources, then the rainforest might just survive.

I remembered something Pip once said. “We need to make the trees worth more alive than dead.”

That, I think, is the crux of it. Sustainability doesn’t work in isolation, it must go hand in hand with economic incentives. The only way forward is to make it economically wise for people to protect their forest, and economically unwise for people to destroy it.

Check back in tomorrow for the blog I couldn’t publish at the time – Day 30 …

Transamazonica, Day 51 – Amongst the Andeans

Today, we arrived at a traditional Andean village. We all fell a little bit in love with it. We decided to stay a while.

The village is Laraos: a maze of cobbled streets beneath acres of farmland terraced into the steep mountainsides. The village is divided into four quarters, and the work in the farms is rotated between the residents of each quarter systematically. All work must be done by hand, since the mountains are far too steep to get any machinery up there. Once the work is done, the crops are divided equally amongst everyone.

We were greeted with a delicious lunch, alpaca-wool ponchos and traditional hats, and offered a tour of the village and farmlands. Along the way, our guide talked and talked and talked, and we loved her for it. She explained everything from the methods of farming to the local superstitions. “There is a smell in the village called sorrio. When sorrio comes, that means someone has died. If you’re walking on the street and someone throws a stone at you but you can’t see them, that means you will die. If you hear an owl, that also means you will die.”

After the tour, we were invited to have dinner with the family of one of the farmers, Senor Mako. A wonderful man who never stopped smiling, he showed us around his traditional house in the upper quarter of the village, pointing out in particular the guinea pigs he kept for food. When I told him people in Europe kept guinea pigs as pets, he laughed for a full five minutes.

Dinner that evening was cooked by Mako’s wife, and it was a kind of porridge made with corn and limestone. To my surprise, it was delicious. We gathered around the fire, eating the porridge and laughing and chatting. It all seemed a world away from the frozen mountain pass of 24 hours earlier.

Transamazonica, Day 50 – Altitude Sick

In two days’ time, we finish Transamazonica. So today was the day before the day before. And it was exhausting.

I always find the last stage of any journey the most wearisome. It shouldn’t be the case, I should be buoyed up by the excitement of finishing and of seeing my loved ones again. But the accumulation of all the emotional and physical strain I have endured always hits me the hardest during those last few days. Today was no exception to that rule.

Of course, today’s conditions didn’t help. It was another long day of cycling, most of it up, and as we rose and rose the air grew thinner and colder. After two months in the jungle, I’m not used to these low temperatures anymore, nor these arid landscapes.

By late morning we reached the Reserva Paisajistica Nor Yauyos-Cachos: a high and frozen reserve which reminded me of the Yorkshire Moors. Rain came: first drizzle and then a heavy bout of hail.

I began to feel a headache throb from within my temples and, as we rose in altitude, it got worse and worse. My vision began to blur. My heart-rate seemed to double. I was shaking hard – perhaps from the cold, perhaps not. I could not catch my breath.

It was altitude sickness.

There’s only one real cure for altitude sickness. To go lower. I looked ahead, hoping to see the pass we were surely getting close to, but it had begun to snow and, anyway, I could barely see as it was. I considered climbing from my bike, lying down in the snow, and taking a nap. How pleasant that would be, I thought.

If the pass had not arrived at that moment, I think I may well have elected to sleep, and that would have been the end of me. But the sign denoting that we were at 4,500 metres appeared and, beyond that, a snowy road which pointed downhill.

I’ve never been so grateful for the direction.

Transamazonica, Day 49 – The Long Climb

We left Pozuzo this morning to press ahead through the high valleys and jungle of the Andes. Gentle slopes, a gravel road and cool temperatures made for a wonderful cycle.

And then the rise began: an energy-sucking, heart-pumping incline which we fought against as the sun set and night settled in. With miles left before our destination of Tarma, we had no choice but to embrace the punishing climb and just go with it.

I’ve had many experiences like this in my past. After a while, you learn to switch off somehow, to let your legs and lungs and heart do the work while your mind drifts. And that’s exactly what my mind did as the rest of me machined along up the mountain.

I reminisced. There was plenty of material. Starting from the Atlantic Ocean, we’ve travelled through an immense part of the Amazon: cycling, sitting on boats, on tiny planes, meeting some of the most wonderful people in the world.

I also looked back to how I had been before this journey started – in particular, how naïve. I had read and read and read while I was back in London, but I knew nothing about the Amazon compared to what I now know. And that’s just from being here for a couple of months.

I know it’s a cliché to say, but my experience here has genuinely changed me. I came here with the preconception of seeing virgin forest and colourful tribes. However, what I’ve seen has been man vs nature and the complicated issues that surround indigenous peoples. Saving the rainforest is not as black and white as we think.

The way I want to tell stories has also changed. My usual expeditions have only ever really told my own story. But, to be honest, I’m quite bored of stories about me. I want to tell the stories of others from now on, of those whose stories not only deserve to be told, not only need to be told, but demand it.

And that is, I realised as I cycled up that mountain, exactly what Transamazonica needs to be. Not the story of me travelling through the Amazon. But the story of the Amazon itself, and the stories of all those who live here – not just the lucky few who get to pass through.

Transamazonica, Day 48 – Are we in the Andes or the Alps?

We might possibly be in the weirdest town in the world.

Its name is Codo El Pozuzo. But don’t let the Latin name, nor the fact that it sits right in the heart of Peru, fool you. Because this might as well be half the world away, nestled amongst Alpine foothills.

And, in a figurative fashion, it kind of is. Over a century ago, the Peruvian government issued an invitation to the government of Germany. Would they, the invitation asked, fancy sending some of their own to this distant part of the Amazon to settle it and build a town in the Andes?

And do you know what the Germans said? Jawohl!

An assortment of 200 German and Austrian citizens came, and Pozuzo is the result.

We cycled into it in a daze. People strolled the streets in full Oktoberfest regalia; guesthouses flew the German flag; people spoke to each other in a strange Teuton-Hispanic patois.

I don’t know if it was a singular event or a regular occurrence, but just as we booked into a guesthouse, a German student on an exchange program to Pozuzo informed us that we were just in time for the dance, and would we like to watch?

What else could we say? Nothing but jawohl!

And so, deep in the Peruvian Andes, dining on bowls of goulash, we sat and watched as a group of students and locals performed a series of intricate and decidedly Germanic dances.

We might possibly be in the weirdest town in the world.