Episode from the podcastThe Big Travel Podcast

92. Sophy Roberts; Elephant Conservation in Chad, Remote Rivers in Papua New Guinea and The Lost Pianos of Siberia

Released Thursday, 2nd April 2020
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Reporting on wildlife conservation, threats to eco-systems and fragile cultures from remote corners of the world is travel writer Sophy Robert’s passion. She cut her journalistic teeth with Jessica Mitford then ditched an enviable job at Conde Nast Traveller to ‘tell those stories often untold’. She’s diced with danger in Papua New Guinea, protected elephants in Chad, fallen in love with the forests and people of the Congo and for her debut book crossed the wildest parts of Russia in her quest to tell the fascinating stories of The Lost Pianos of Siberia.

On this episode we cover:
Growing up with a fish farming father
The lust to see what was beyond the horizon
When all the worlds she had imagined began to come alive
Books having the power to transport
Wanting to tell the stories that aren’t told
India age 18 on a dollar or two a day
Feeling very safe in India as a single female traveller
How India stimulates the senses in a profound way
Hotels where the windows don’t open
How being able to really feel a place gets the blood flowing
Luxury travel sealing you off from the real world
Cutting her journalist teeth with Jessica (Decca) Mitford
(the non-fascist one who went to Spain during the Civil War)
Learning from Jessica Mitford that risk and bravery are important
Jessica Mitford’s son being one of the world’s great piano tuner
Quitting Conde Nast Traveller to travel more
Using her writing to go ‘closer and closer to the edge’
Collaborating with brilliant photographers opening up a whole new avenue
Stepping into the areas where there is fear
The areas marked read on the map
Going to Chad to report on an elephant conservation project
The matriarch elephants that would circle the baby elephants to protect them being shot African Parks
Chad being incredibly poor and having huge challenges
Yet also moonscape mountains and ancient rock art
Travel being a force for good; economically, philosophically and in creating connections
Working in the Congo
People increasingly travelling ‘towards issues’
The scary encounter with Russian bikers amid indigenous people in the far north of Russia
Papua New Guinea being tricky and risky
Being witness to a rape
Falling in love with the Solomon seaside of Papua
Travelling to Mongolia with her children
Being inspired to write The Lost Pianos of Siberia by a local family in the Orkhon valley a few hours drive from Ulaanbaatar
The search for the pianos that travelled from the cities in Russia to all corners of Siberia
Travelling from the Ural mountains all the way to the Pacific
Spending 158 days on the road in Russia
How tracing the journeys of the pianos allowed her to tell human solace in times of darkness
The mysterious piano in a volcanic caldera in The Kamchatka Peninsula is a in the Russian Far East
Piano culture runs through Russian society like blood
The Princess who dragged a piano across frozen lakes on a sledge to visit her revolutionary husband in prison
The Social Life of Things a book about the how object design can reflect politics and culture
The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal being of key influence
Combining adventuring with family life
The environmental impact of the conflict in Yemen
Falling in love with the forests and people of the Congo
How one has to learn to watch the trees moving past
The Russian priest who sang Russian choral music

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