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An Interview with: Jacqueline Wigglesworth Part 1

Welcome to my new interview series!

Each week I’ll be interviewing some of the inspirational people I meet on my travels and those who I’m yet to meet, but admire from afar.  I’ll be featuring everyone from travel bloggers, writers, digital nomads, explorers to those just living the dream and local heroes who are making a contribution to the world be live in.

Today, the traveller in question is Jacqueline Wigglesworth. I met Jacqueline through a charity that we both worked for in Africa and that she helped to set up. She’s one of the most adventurous and intrepid travellers I know.

Jacqueline Wigglesworth with a Lion in Zambia www.heleinwonderlust.co.uk

Jacqueline has worked on 6 continents and been to over 80 countries, leading various expeditions through South America for VentureCo, and helping to set up the Book Bus charity in Africa. She’s half English and half Venezuelan, although her mother was born in New York. Quite a mix! She is a qualified Yoga teacher (and runs Inti World Yoga), a TEFL teacher and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

1) Who or what first inspired you to travel?  

I travelled a fair bit as a child and was fortunate to have parents who believed that travel was the best education. As Mark Twain said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness.” Of course I don’t think my parents ever thought I’d end up getting paid to travel and making it my life; I think they’re still waiting for me to get a ‘proper job.’

2) What are your top 5 favourite places and why? 

That’s very difficult to answer as everywhere is so unique, but I’ll try:

– I fell in love with Kenya and Africa in general when I went there alone at age 19. The vast open spaces and feeling of utter freedom, the night skies, the warmth of the people, the colours and rhythms and of course the big wild animals all contributed to that.

– Venezuela is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever been to. It’s just stunning and so diverse with the Angel Falls, jungles, the largest Caribbean coast and islands, the Andes, the Orinoco and desert all in one place (but I might be a little biased).

– I’ve been obsessed with all things Tibetan since childhood so going there was very special for me with its Himalayan vistas and monasteries filled with butter lamps, Everest and the omnipresent chanting of Om Mani Padme Hum in the air. My wish is that it gets to keep its ‘Tibetan-ness’ under current Chinese rule.

Jacqueline Wigglesworth Easter Island www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk

– Easter island (or Rapa Nui) is a definite favourite as it has everything that I love: it’s a remote island (in fact the most remote inhabited place on earth.) It has wild horses everywhere, is perfect for surfing and diving, has lots of history and culture with the mysterious Moai statues and the rongo rongo script, (there’s a closet anthropologist/ archaeologist in me!) It has the Polynesian vibe and they also speak Spanish!- – – Tulum in Mexico is a place I adore. I lived and worked there for 9 months teaching English and sustainable development to adults during the week and yoga on the beach at weekends, and would go back in a heartbeat. It has Mayan pyramids, beautiful turquoise Caribbean beaches, amazing underwater caves called cenotes to explore, the Latin vibe and just felt like home in so many ways.

 – Bali, particularly Ubud is another place that feels like home. I can see myself living by the rice fields there, visiting the temples, watching the traditional dances, relishing the food, teaching yoga, writing a book and enjoying its beaches.

So there you have it. Can I add Ethiopia, and Iceland and…… Ah!

Helen: Erm, Jackie, I think that’s 8. 🙂

3) What is your favourite travel memory?

Quite a few spring to mind, but the first was when I was in the Bahamas. I’d done a shark dive in the morning and went for a fun dive in the afternoon. I was the first to go in, and suddenly three wild Atlantic spotted dolphins came up to me and stayed playing with me for a whole hour! I adore dolphins, they’ve always been my favourite animal so I was blissed out and on a high for about a month afterwards! It was such a privilege as it was in their territory and they chose to be there. About a month before that, the freediver Jacques Mayol (whose life the film ‘The Big Blue’ was based on) had given me his book: Homo Delphinus, and written inside “Dear Jacqueline, they (the dolphins) are waiting for you.” Maybe he knew. He died soon afterwards so it all meant so much more to me.

Jacqueline Wigglesworth diving with dolphins in the Bahamas www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk

Recently witnessing the beautiful elusive Northern lights in the Norweigan Arctic is another!

4) Best piece of travel advice? 

 I would say to travel light; take half the stuff and double the money, which leaves options wide open. Also to be as adaptable as possible and follow your intuition which can keep you out of trouble and lead to some wonderful experiences. Something Einstein said is good to bear in mind: to paraphrase he said that the most important question you could ask yourself is whether you live in a friendly universe or a hostile universe, because the answer you give will be what you create.

5) What do you never travel without? 

Earplugs. (Just in case, as sleep is important.) A journal and camera, and if I’m going to be somewhere really remote, like the Amazon or Fiji, a satellite phone.

6) Have you had any scary/ bad travel experiences, and if so, what did you learn from them?

I’ve had remarkably few to be honest, thankfully. One time in La Paz- Bolivia, a professional trio tried to scam me. I was walking alone down a side street when a sweet looking young girl asked me directions to a museum. (This was all in Spanish.) I happened to know so I told her and gave her a little map to find it. While we were speaking a man rushed up to us asking if we’d seen two tourists go by who’d left their hotel without paying. We said we hadn’t. Then he produced his Police badge and asked for my ID. That was when I knew I might be in trouble as I didn’t have it on me. He asked us both to get in a car and said he’d just take us to the station to take down our details. We got in a car there with a driver inside, but I suggested they drop me at my hotel nearby where I could produce all relevant documents. I then started arguing the case for the girl too. The man then searched her bag, and seeing it coming I hid my one credit card in my pocket, took out my memory card and only handed him my camera. When he didn’t give it back I started politely arguing with him “Sir, if you’re a policeman, why won’t you give me my camera back” etc, and noticed him going red in the face and getting nervous. At that point as we were slowing for a curb, realising what I’d got myself into I subtly unlocked my door and literally jumped out. The car then sped off, and I started worrying about the girl, but soon enough realised she was in on the whole thing too. I don’t think they’d expected me to know the area or to speak Spanish or stay cool which was my saving grace. So I only lost a camera but no photo memories, it could have been much worse! When I went to report it, a man came in just after me who’d experienced the exact same thing but lost $500 in the process. The police explained it was a very successful, common scam in La Paz. Now you know. Beware!

Oh, and then there was the time when our house in Pucon- Chile burnt to the ground due to next doors TV exploding, and one of my group spotted it from the sky whilst skydiving and got a photo which ended up on the local news, but that’s another story…

7) What’s your favourite thing about travelling? Any downsides? 

It keeps life constantly exciting and interesting. You’re always discovering new things, places and people. Travelling is a constant feast for the senses. We truly live in a beautiful, and diverse, mesmerizing world.

Jacqueline Wigglesworth Inti World yoga at Macchu Pichu www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk

The only potential downside for me is a lack of a base to call ‘home’ and I’ve never had much money, but that’s just part of the deal. I’ve been fortunate to have many priceless adventures and a kind of freedom that I probably wouldn’t have had if I owned a home and car and had to maintain them etc.

8) What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you whilst travelling? 

After spending months in Mexico, a local Mayan led me through jungle to an ‘undiscovered, unexcavated’ Mayan Pyramid. You would NEVER know it was there unless taken. It was an unexpected honour. To this day I’ve never told anyone where it is.

Generally the weirdest thing is the diversity I’ve experienced; like one time I went from living in a great friend’s beautiful Malibu beach pad in California to working in an African refugee camp with no electricity and a long drop toilet where we were the only non Africans around. Quite a contrast! Yet the beauty of it is that I genuinely felt equally at home in both. As Thoreau said: “Having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere.”

Jacqueline Wigglesworth in Meheba Refugee Camp www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk

9) What is your Motto? 

I’m not sure if I have one in particular but I’ve always loved the Ben Okri quote “Fear not but be full of Light and Love.” I remember once I had a few decisions to make about work options abroad and went to a local café in Tulum to chat about it to the owner who had become a friend. I always remember his take on it. He said: “before you know it… you’re dead.” Pretty blunt but also very true. I tend to think in terms of the bigger picture most of the time and make decisions based on that. Life is so precious and short, we must enjoy it, and live fully now!

10) What causes do you support? 

Quite a few as it happens! From childhood my two big causes were WDCS – the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and The Tibet Society. Later I focused on WWF (sponsoring animals) and the British Red Cross (I have volunteered with them for about 15 years including hosting one of their balls in London). Also my mother is the Vice Chairman of the fundraising committee of the BRC. I think she instilled her compassionate, humanitarian nature in me.)

On every expedition I’ve led for VentureCo we’ve worked on a community project with a local NGO which could be building adobe brick homes or weaving workshops in remote parts of Peru, or planting trees etc. In Fiji, with GVI (Global Vision International) I worked on some rainwater harvesting projects in the remote islands, and I’ve worked in an orphanage in Nepal and on various environmental projects.

Jacqueline Wigglesworth on The Book Bus in Ecuador www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk

I’m also on the board of an initiative called The Humanity Initiative whose motto is: ‘Encouraging people everywhere to understand this planet as our common home.’

Perhaps the most meaningful one to me though is The Book Bus, which I helped Tom Maschler (the legendary publisher) set up some years back. Quentin Blake’s designs grace each one of the buses (as Tom published Roald Dahl and managed to convince Quentin to get involved.) It’s bringing the joy of reading to many children who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity, and they get to have fun illustrating the stories with our art materials on board. It’s now running successfully in Africa (Zambia and Malawi,) South America (Ecuador,) and Asia (India.) It’s very close to my heart.

Inspired? In awe? Yep, me too! 

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!!