Artists for Conservation

The Kindness of Strangers

Artists for Conservation

"Where are you going next?" Apart from "How long do your paintings take?" these have to be the words I hear most frequently!

Twenty-five years ago I began a series of journeys which have taken me into some of the remotest parts of the world to study and paint endangered species in their natural habitats - including an AFC flag expedition to the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan in 2007. I have experienced the blowing sands of the world's largest desert in Arabia and the freezing blizzards of the High Arctic. From the dripping heat of the rainforests to wind blasted Siberian plains I have sat and sketched some of the world's rarest and most threatened animals and birds.

So now, even if I have just stepped off a plane from Outer Mongolia, or am still jetlagged following a month's trekking through the forests of Vietnam, everyone always wants to know "But where are you going next?". But when I tell them I am planning a journey to paint the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, or giant river otters in the Amazon rainforests, the universal follow up question is "But aren't you scared to go there?" I have discovered that many people are put off traveling purely by the fear of imagined dangers - not just of illness or attack by wild animals - but very specifically of being threatened or subject to violence from people.

Although I would never urge anyone to take unnecessary risks, my own experience is that the vast majority of people I have encountered around the world have been friendly, hospitable, and eager to help. In all my travels I have never been robbed or assaulted - but I have been shown some of the world's natural wonders by people keen to share the beauty and heritage of their countries. In the far east of Russia families opened their homes for me to stay with them while I searched for the elusive Amur tiger, and although we didn't share a language, we shared many evenings of laughter (and vodka). While trekking in Ethiopia an elderly lady invited me into her mud hut home to offer a cup of fresh coffee, carefully unwrapping her one china cup and saucer to serve her guest. Indeed I have regularly been given gifts of food by some of the poorest tribespeople on the planet, and found myself moved by their generosity.

Sitting in a broken down jeep at the side of the road in a remote corner of Belize - in the days before the invention of the cell phone - I was stranded, and terrified by the notion of hitch hiking in central America. Although the first car which stopped to help was undoubtedly being driven by a drug baron, he was charm personified, delivering me to the local airport for my flight, and even giving me advice on the best places to visit in his country.

Endangered species rarely live next to five star hotels & remote travel can often leave you relying on the kindness of strangers - and I have found that often leads to the most interesting and enriching experiences of all.


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