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A Peruvian passion.

A TV and film director, Hugh Thomson's work includes the acclaimed Indian Journeys series. His latest book, The White Rock, tells of his Peruvian quests for the Incas

What was the first place you visited overseas?

Paris with my mother when I was eight, in 1968. It was exciting. We had just the 50 [pounds sterling] exchange control allowance and stayed with a bunch of students who I realise in retrospect were stoned revolutionaries. On our first night they drove us around the city in an open-top car. I can still remember the impact with which we hit each roundabout, like a bob-sleigh ride.

What is your idea of heaven on Earth?

A small quinta in Peru's Sacred Valley, criolla music playing in the background, having some deep-flied pork and cold beers with friends, while knowing that there is jungle-fruit ice-cream to follow.

And what about hell?

A bank in the town of Ziguinchor in Senegal, in the hot season, waiting for travellers cheques to clear. It took three-days and I've carried cash ever since.

Who are your best travelling companions?

Ones you meet by chance.

Who are your worst travelling companions?

A German called Rolf who I had to travel down the Amazon with in Ecuador. Whatever anybody else had done, Rolf had always done it better. Been mugged in Colombia? Rolf had: "And listen, I was so badly beaten up that even the police couldn't believe it." Spent a week in Oaxaca? Rolf had been there for two. Bought a souvenir somewhere? You could be sure that Rolf had negotiated a better price than you. All travellers are prone to do a little of this, but in his case it was pathological.

Who is the most memorable person you've met?

Lee `Scratch' Perry, the Jamaican record producer and maverick. His habit of speaking constantly in verse, wearing Mickey Mouse shorts and watering the CDs he'd planted in the garden of his burnt-out recording studio helped. Plus the fact that he's a genius.

What has been your worst moment?

Getting dragged by a horse down Peru's Vilcabamba valley when a mining pickup tried to run us down was not good, but at least the scars were only physical. Telling director Nicolas Roeg that I was the only person in the cinema for an opening screening of his film Eureka is more likely to keep me awake at nights.

What essentials do you pack?

Black synthetic canoe sacks, not that I ever go near a canoe. They may look more like body bags than luggage, but they're essential for storing gear in and seem completely rip-proof, even when travelling on the back of mules determined to inflict damage. I'd imagine some teabags, an Alwych all-weather notebook and a packet of Resolve would all probably make it into a one-pair-of-underwear kind of kit bag.

Do you listen to music on your travels?

Obsessively. William Dalrymple and I travelled a great deal around India together last year for the BBC series Indian Journeys and kept trading tapes. For some peculiar reason Bob Dylan's Time Out Of Mind worked particularly well as we headed to the source of the Ganges.

What is your favourite holiday read?

I read Anna Karenina while crossing the Peruvian desert; the 24-hour journey forced me to finish it. I usually enjoy books that other people have brought -- just like ordering food in a restaurant.

Where is your favourite place?

Cuzco in Peru. Over the last 20 years, it's been where I've started expeditions into the Vilcabamba from, so I associate it with homecomings and departures. And it is still, as Guaman Poma, the eccentric 17th century chronicler of Inca life, described it, "un espacio magico" -- a magic space.

What do you do when you're not travelling?

I write about it, edit the films I've shot, and spend as much time as possible with my family.

What do you enjoy about the world?

Its limitless capacity to surprise, given the chance.

What worries you the most?

Travelling to the Nanda Devi Sanctuary on an expedition last year (I was the first to enter the reserve for 20 years), made me realise how fragile environments that might seem incredibly tough to travel in, can actually be.

Geographical readers can buy Hugh Thomson's The White Rock: An Exploration of the Inca Heartland, price 20 [pounds sterling], published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, for 17 [pounds sterling] including p&p in the UK. To order, telephone 01903 828503 quoting ref. JAWR.
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Title Annotation:Hugh Thomson
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:3PERU
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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