Magazine article Geographical

Traveller's Truths

Magazine article Geographical

Traveller's Truths

Article excerpt

Helen Attwater: Age: 38, Occupation: author and nurse

History to date: Helen trained in London as a nurse but in 1989 she and her zoo-keeper husband Mark set off for the Congo. Mark had accepted an invitation to set up an orphanage to rear gorillas orphaned by poachers until they could be reintroduced into the wild. Helen's story of their time at Brazzaville orphanage has just been published her book My Gorilla Journey.

What was the first overseas place that you visited?

San Francisco when I was 23. I had the opportunity to go and take my nursing exams with a view to working there but I only stayed six months because I couldn't get a green card. I've always said yes to an opportunity to travel because I get bored quite quickly I really noticed this restlessness when I lived in London for a while.

Where is your idea of heaven on earth?

The Emdoki Forest in northern Congo, because it is the most remote place I have ever visited. The Congo is the only place I have lived where I have not felt restless. Everything was vast, overwhelming and alive. But paradise on the earth depends on who you're with and what you're doing, It's not just the place, which can turn from paradise to hell quite quickly, for example if you're ill. I also loved the south of France where the people were quite mad.

And hell?

Living in suburbia, I think, would make me very unhappy. The uniformity would bore me to death. I thought Switzerland was pretty dull too.

Who are your best travel companions?

My husband Mark and I get on very well travelling and working together. If I wasn't with Mark or my sister Sue I would prefer to travel on my own. Sometimes if you travel with friends dark secrets come out which can ruin a friendship. I think a dog would be the perfect companion.

And your worst?

When I was a nurse I went on holiday with two friends to Crete but we each had different reasons for wanting to go away - namely dating, site seeing and sunbathing. I would have paid to fly home. I don't feel the need to be with people socially I'm quite lazy really But enjoying your own company is useful in the Congo because you have to fall back on yourself quite a lot.

Who is the most memorable person you've encountered? …

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