The most inspirational people in travel


After all the tumbledown ruins and temples, fancy restaurants and same-same hotel rooms have faded from our memories, the characters we meet linger on.

Of all the varied holiday experiences, it’s chance encounters with exceptional people that seem to stick most in the mind, demonstrating the power of personal connections to enrich our travelling lives.

When travel writers gather, our conversations are often not about the places we’ve been – something many of us have in common – but rather the amusing, crazy, passionate, eccentric, friendly folk that pop into our lives and people our most vivid recollections.

Such people make our trips unique. You won’t find them in guidebooks or bucket lists. You just come across them in random places: in a kitchen or on a ship, in city back streets or remote rainforest.

Some have common occupations – winemakers and tour guides, chefs and store owners – and simply stand out through the force of their personalities and enthusiasms. Here are some of the great people we’ve met, and how you can meet them too.

THE ECCENTRICS

NELL BROOK, “QUEEN OF BIRDSVILLE”, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA

It started as a romance between two schoolkids from opposite sides of the world, and has now blossomed into a deep love for one of Australia’s most remote outback towns. South African Nell Schulenburg met fourth-generation Birdsville local David Brook on a school trip to Rome. Now she’s considered the unofficial “Queen of Birdsville”, with her family running the annual Birdsville Races, part-owning the Birdsville Hotel and a string of organic beef properties. Have a drink at the Birdsville Hotel, a flutter on the races in September every year and enjoy a chat with Nell Brook. See thediamantina.com.au

JOE OKADA, WALKING TOUR GUIDE, KYOTO, JAPAN

You won’t have any trouble recognising 87-year-old “Samurai” Joe Okada outside Kyoto’s City Hall. He’ll be the one with the wispy grey beard, traditional samurai top knot and flowing brown robes. Okada runs entertaining walking tours around the city that include a dramatic interlude – a samurai sword show where intrepid volunteers become human chopping boards as he slices through stacks of vegetables balanced on their stomachs. See samuraijoeokada.web.fc2.com

BERT JAMES, GASTRONOMIC, CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL RACONTEUR, NEW YORK, US

A New York visit should not pass without meeting Alabama-born, Brooklyn-based Bert James. This culinary Pied Piper, actor, stand-up comedian, drag queen and clown is the star of a fabulous “walking picnic” – The Original Greenwich Village food and culture walking tour. In his own words, “I’m always full of fun facts and French fries. I’m like a honey ham – sweet, salty and scrumptious. I am Bert James and I am why birds suddenly appear.” He will lead you a merry dance through the village, stuffing you with food, weaving wonderful tales. See foodsofny.com

BARNABY TUTTLE, “ROCK’N’ROLL WINEMAKER”, PORTLAND, OREGON, US

When you arrive for a tasting at Teutonic Wines, don’t be surprised if owner Barnaby Tuttle offers you a Wineer – a surprisingly refreshing mix of muscat and beer. “I don’t like stuffiness,” he says, pushing up the peak of his fishing cap. What he does like are rieslings from Germany’s Mosel Valley. So much so that in 2005 he quit his job and started recreating them in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Today, the former iron worker makes 30 different varietals – in between fixing his Dodge pickup and playing in a punk band. 3303 SE 20th Avenue, Portland. See teutonicwines.com

PIERRE FAUCHER, SUGAR SHACK OWNER AND RACONTEUR, QUEBEC, CANADA

With his bushy white beard, strapping countenance and old-timey coat and trousers, Pierre Faucher could easily be mistaken for Father Christmas. But after a few minutes in his teasing company, you realise you’re in fact hanging out with Bad Santa. Faucher runs a sugar shack – creating maple syrup from the surrounding forest – about an hour’s drive from Montreal. Drop in for the traditional sugar-shack feast (unlike most sugar shacks, this one’s open year-round) or spend the night in an old-fashioned log cabin. See sucreriedelamontagne.com

SIR LACHLAN MACLEAN, DUART CASTLE, ISLE OF MULL, SCOTLAND

Should you visit Duart Castle – the ancestral home that has been the home of the Clan MacLean since 1360 – watch out for the doddery pensioner serving you the whisky-flavoured fruit cake for afternoon tea. If he’s wearing old “trewsers” in the handsome green MacLean tartan, chances are that it’s the 28th Clan Chief. He also sometimes greets visitors before the guided tour to his home, an imposing fortress on one of Scotland’s most beautiful and accessible islands. See duartcastle.com

VINCENT BRUNETTI, ARTIST, PUGLIA, ITALY

The greeting spelled out in bold mosaics on the doorstep of this artist’s studio on the road between Taranto and Lecce – “Welcome to Vincent”, it says – is portentous, for he will continue as though your presence is entirely expected as you enter his psychedelic sanctum of creativity. Called “Vincent City”, this compound is an installation of sorts, filled with mosaic-clad outbuildings, a miscellany of kitsch and artworks-in-progress. In his studio you can watch him paint as though possessed, smoking, rambling unintelligibly and swivelling his hips as he goes. See atlasobscura.com

BILL “CAVEMAN”, DONALDSON, DAWSON CITY, CANADA

In the Yukon town of Dawson City, where amputated toes float in your whisky (really), and locals gather for breakfast beers at a bar called the Snake Pit, Bill Donaldson barely even registers as an eccentric bloke. But to the rest of the world he’s Caveman Bill, having lived in a cave across the Yukon River from the town since 1996 – even through the harsh winters that average minus-26 degrees. Bill is no standard hermit. His self-furnished cave has the likes of a computer and TV and he’s always up for a chat with any visitors who swing by. Caveman Bill lives immediately opposite Dawson City. If you visit, come in winter and you can walk across on the frozen river.

THE TOUR GUIDES

NADIA BADIEE, TOUR GUIDE, SHIRAZ, IRAN

Dressed in boho-chic, sporting scarlet lips and nails and possessed of a solid knowledge of American sitcoms (she’s watched Friends “a million times”), this firebrand from Shiraz will challenge visitors’ perceptions about the life of an Iranian woman. Female tour guides were almost unheard of here a decade ago, but Badiee is one of the people changing that. See intrepidtravel.com/au

SHANJEI PERUMAL, TOUR GUIDE, GALLE, SRI LANKA

Shanjei Perumal is not like other tour guides. Certainly not in Sri Lanka, anyway. He sports a beard that would make a lumberjack blush. He drinks beer. He listens to heavy metal. He’s like an anti-tour-guide, a breath of fresh air in a country where not everyone “gets” the tourism industry. Shanjei gets it. He tailors his walking tours of the Galle Fort area to the group he’s showing around. He’s the super-knowledgeable Sri Lankan friend everyone should have. See gallefortwalks.com

RUTH GANAMBARR AND DJAWANDUL MAYMURU, EAST ARNHEM LAND, NORTHERN TERRITORY, AUSTRALIA

What better way to reach a country’s heart than through the people who’ve occupied it since the dawn of time? At Bawaka homeland in East Arnhem Land on the Gulf of Carpentaria, Yolngu elder Ruth Ganambarr and her niece Djawandul Maymuru introduce visitors to their ancient culture through traditional practices, patiently explain the complex Yolngu culture and share the rich, captivating stories they’ve grown up with. See lirrwitourism.com.au

WESTLEY LOMBARD, WILDLIFE GUIDE, SHAMWARI GAME RESERVE SOUTH AFRICA

It’s not the lions. Anyone could get excited about lions; anyone could make that interesting. No, Westley Lombard’s real skill is making everything else about a safari at Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa a thrill. He makes you realise that the true beauty of South Africa lies not in the Big 5, but in the small details that would otherwise pass you by. See shamwari.com

DAVID MCMAHON, TOUR GUIDE, VENTURE NORTH, DARWIN, NORTHERN TERRITORY

From the tip of his battered hat to the soles of his bare feet Dave is your quintessential Top End guide. He can spot a croc at a 100 paces, negotiate flooded waters with a single hand and spear a mud crab for dinner – all with a grin on his face. He’ll then cook and serve the crab three ways, pour champagne, and share stories about the local Bininj people. See venturenorth.com.au

ROB WOODFORD, BLACK CAB TOURS, LONDON

London-born-and-bred black-cab driver Rob Woodford is proud of his knowledge of his city, and 10 years ago started running his own tours in his taxi for visitors. “There’s no better way to get up close and personal with London’s famous landmarks than in an iconic London black cab,” says Rob, 61. “Taking a ride in one can be considered an attraction in itself!” See blackcabheritagetours.co.uk

OBIED NASER AL-AMAMREH, BEDOUIN TRIBESMAN, WADI RUM, JORDAN

Sitting astride a camel in the vast Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan, Bedouin tribesman and accredited desert guide Obied Naser Al-Amamreh looks straight out of a scene from Lawrence of Arabia. “But I am part of the desert,” he says. “That’s the difference.” Yet Obied (48) is also very much a modern man, offering visitors to his country personalised tours of all its attractions, as well as unforgettable stays in his comfortable Bedouin camp. See bedouinlifecamp.net

ROB PENNICOTT, PENNICOTT WILDERNESS JOURNEYS, BRUNY ISLAND, TASMANIA

When Rob Pennicott started running boat tours on Bruny Island in 1999, he used to chase down rental cars and caravans, inviting people to take a trip in his little 12-seater boat. These days he’s arguably Tasmania’s most successful tourism operator, and despite being named an Australian Tourism Legend and a National Geographic Traveller of the Year, he still regularly skippers Pennicott Wilderness Journeys’ tourist boats out of Bruny Island, Port Arthur. See pennicottjourneys.com.au

HASSAN ABDELRAZIK, ANCIENT HISTORY GUIDE, EGYPT

The first thing you notice about Egypt’s mighty monuments is their scale. What you remember most, however, is the details, such as the spot where a carver started a metre-high figure, before realising it was in the wrong place and starting again. Finding such details is where Hassan Abdelrazik – an archaeologist who divides his time between guiding and excavating – excels. His other great strength: getting his groups in and out of monuments before the crowds arrive. See bunniktours.com.au

SAMUEL LENARD CHIHANA, WILDLIFE SAFARI GUIDE, LIWONDE NATIONAL PARK’S MVUU LODGE, ALAWI

The best safari guides are those who intricately understand nature’s complex jigsaw from humblest micro-organism to mightiest beast. Gentle-mannered Samuel Chihana is such a man. Ranked 20 of 26,000 guides from 208 countries, Chihana is the only Malawian guide to make tourHQ’s world’s top 100 guides in 2017. The Central African Wilderness Safaris’ field and birding guide from Liwonde National Park’s Mvuu Lodge on Malawi’s spectacular Shire River offers guests a poetic turn of phrase that enriches the experience. See cawsmw.com

BART PIGRAM, INDIGENOUS GUIDE, BROOME, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Born in Broome, Pigram is a Yawuru man from the Kimberley and the initiator of several Indigenous walking tours which explore not just the Aboriginal pre-history of this most beautiful corner of the Australian continent, but also its colonial, ethnic and modern chapters. He’s a talented musician and singer, which is only to be expected given he’s a son of the Pigram Brothers (legendary in the Kimberley). See toursbroome.com.au

TIM COPE, TOUR LEADER, MONGOLIA

Award-winning author, filmmaker and adventurer Tim Cope is best known for his three-year odyssey on horseback from Mongolia to Hungary, which won him the Australian Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year award in 2006, but he has also rowed the length of Russia’s Yenisey River and cycled across Siberia. Softly spoken, in English or Russian, he now takes small groups of travellers deep into Mongolian nomad life, generously sharing his hard-won insights and experiences. See worldexpeditions.com.au

DEAN HISCOX, NATURE GUIDE, LORD HOWE ISLAND, AUSTRALIA

Don’t be fooled by Dean Hiscox’s quiet nature; what this former ranger doesn’t know about Lord Howe isn’t worth knowing. A mainlander by birth, Hiscox runs Lord Howe Island Environmental Tours and leads day-treks up Mount Gower, plus walks and adventure weeks for Pinetrees Lodge. An expert story-teller, he’s lived on the island since he was 16 and been running nature-based tours there, on land and sea, for 20 years. See lordhoweislandtours.com; pinetrees.com.au

AYMAN ABD ALKAREEM, TOUR GUIDE, PETRA, JORDAN

With his beaming smile, infectious love of Jordan and can-do attitude, Alkareem is the kind of guide every guide aspires to be. Born in Amman, he studied archaeology (and sustainable tourism) before training to be an outdoor guide. He’s inclusive, always seeking to connect visitors with Jordan and its people by, say, teaching Arabic words or starting conversations with Bedouins encountered along the way. See experiencejordan.com

DARREN CAPEWELL, WULA GURA NYINDA ECO CULTURAL ADVENTURES, SHARK BAY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

To some, Shark Bay is synonymous with the dolphins of Monkey Mia, to Darren “Capes” Capewell, the bay is Gutharraguda, a powerful body of water where red sand country meets white desert country. Capes, who was born to a Malgana father and a Nhanda mother, shares his culture through didgeridoo dreaming tours, kayaking trips and catch-and-cook overnight adventures on the beaches, canals and lagoons of Shark Bay. See wulagura.com.au

THE FOODIES

JULIET HARBUTT – AKA “THE CHEESE LADY”, NEW ZEALAND

Juliet Harbutt knows a thing or two about cheese. During her 35-year career, she’s run an exclusive cheese shop in London, founded the British Cheese Awards and written the World Cheese Book – a definitive guide that’s been translated into nine languages. Little wonder she’s become known as “the Cheese Lady”. Today, she hosts illuminating food and wine tours in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Depending on the season, you might forage for mushrooms, collect pine nuts or pick blackberries. Rest assured, you’ll also taste plenty of excellent cheese. See thecheeseweb.com

GAGGAN ANAND, CHEF, BANGKOK, THAILAND

The energy changes the moment Gaggan Anand, the world’s most celebrated Indian chef, whirls into his eponymous Bangkok restaurant. Wearing sneakers (Japan’s Onitsuka Tiger), the mad scientist is likely to switch the music to 1980s rock and synth-pop to accompany his culinary performance. Dishes are whimsical – think Indian flavours presented with Japanese finesse – but serious enough that Gaggan sits at Number 7 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and just this week took first spot for the fourth year running on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list this year. See eatatgaggan.com

PAUL GOLDSCHMIDT, WINEMAKER, BORDEAUX, FRANCE

Paul Goldschmidt is a happy winemaker thrilled at his good fortune at marrying into the family who’ve owned Château Siaurac in Bordeaux wine country since the 18th century. Best of all, this amiable, chatty man has a knack for demystifying vine growing and wine-tasting, and making it fun. See vikingrivercruises.com.au

URI JEREMIAS, RESTAURATEUR, AKKO, ISRAEL

Uri Jeremias has been luring travellers to his famed seafood restaurant Uri Buri (and his opulent, historic 12-room Efendi hotel down the road) in the northern Israeli town of Akko for 21 years. His bait, he says, is never using more than eight ingredients in any of his mouth-watering dishes, keeping the focus on the region’s fresh, high-quality produce. See uriburi.co.il

THE WINEMAKERS ALONG THE PROSECCO ROAD, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA

Driving the so-called “Prosecco Road” in Victoria’s King Valley is like tootling through Tuscany, with raked vineyards to the left, trattorias to the right and cellar doors on every corner. Following World War II, the area was settled by a community of Italians who began growing grapes amid the gum trees. Today, these family-run wineries produce Italian varietals such as pinot grigio, arneis, sangiovese, and prosecco. Meet them on the 50-kilometre King Valley Prosecco Road food and wine trail. See winesofthekingvalley.com.au

DAVID GILLISON, TAPAS TOUR GUIDE, MADRID, SPAIN

David Gillison, born in Cairns, Queensland, fell in love with a Spaniard and embarked on life-changing adventure. Settling in Madrid, he founded his own tour company, specialising in tapas, the city and its food. “And I’ve never lived anywhere before where I walk out of my door every day and go, ‘Wow!'” says Gillison. “I love the culture, the warmth of the people, the architecture, the food and wine, the carpe diem attitude that makes every day special, and I love sharing it with others.” See madridivine.com

BOB (PENUKA) TAYLOR, RT TOURS, ALICE SPRINGS, NORTHERN TERRITORY, AUSTRALIA

Bridging cultural barriers can be a tricky business, but a guide like Bob – a Central Aranda man, who has lived and worked in Europe as a trained chef – makes the crossing an easy one. Through his tours of the MacDonnell Ranges, gourmet bush tucker dinners and extended tours to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Watarrka, Bob shows visitors how to connect with culture, and what it means to be an Aboriginal in modern Australia. See rttoursaustralia.com.au

JOHANNA MAIER, CHEF, FILZMOOS, AUSTRIA

Few celebrity chefs are charming or calm, but Johanna Maier is a lovely exception. She wants guests to slow down, take their time and feel good, and her own personality reflects that commendable ethos. The former Michelin-starred and much-hatted chef has recently simplified her cuisine at her 14-room hotel and restaurant, Das Maier, an hour south-east of Salzburg in the alpine village of Filzmoos. But it still features scrumptious, regionally influenced dishes enjoyed in relaxed surrounds, and you’re welcome to wander into the kitchen and chat about “cooking with your heart”. See relaischateaux.com

STEPHANIE HELM, WINEMAKER, VINTNER’S DAUGHTER, MURRAMBATEMAN, NSW

It is the only winery in the Canberra region with a full-size Tardis outside the cellar door, but that is not what makes The Vintner’s Daughter worth a visit. Although her winery is one of the newest – and one of the smallest – in the area, winemaker Stephanie Helm is already winning awards. Mind you, she learned from the best: her father Ken founded one of Canberra’s first wineries, Helm Wines. You will often find Stephanie and her husband Ben manning the cellar door. See thevintnersdaughter.com.au

THE WINEMAKERS ON THE PELJESAC PENINSULA, CROATIA

The wine growers of the Peljesac Peninsula are as much a product of the flinty, limestone mountains as the wines themselves. While grapes have been grown here since ancient Greek times, it is only since the fall of communism in the early 1990s that the industry has flourished, thanks to a group of progressive viticulturists. Most love nothing more than sharing a tasting of a dry plavac mali, a sticky dessert wine or olive oil with visitors. Milos Winery, an easy one-hour drive north of Dubrovnik, is one of the best. See milos.hr

THE PEOPLES

BANNA TRIBESMEN, OMO VALLEY, ETHIOPIA

With their bright “miniskirts”, patterned singlets, vibrant beaded jewellery and armfuls of bangles, the Banna tribesmen of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley are endlessly fascinating. Head to the dusty main drag of Turmi village, grab a beer at one of the ramshackle outdoor bars and watch the tribesmen work the street like a catwalk, dangling the customary tiny carved wooden stool from their fingertips. See benchafrica.com.

MONGOLIAN NOMADS, MONGOLIA

If you need reminding of how little in life we need to be happy, a visit to the Mongolian nomads could be in order. Living in small gers (the Mongolian version of a yurt), the nomads dismantle their homes seasonally, packing them onto the back of yaks before relocating to more weather-appropriate locations. A stay with them gives fascinating insights into their customs, cuisine (if boiled goat and yak vodka counts as cuisine), close-knit communities and daily life. See frui.co.uk.

ONE-LEGGED ROWERS, INLE LAKE, MYANMAR

Never will you witness acrobatics like the one-legged rowers of Inle Lake – fishermen who steer, paddle and propel their wooden fishing boats with one leg, while balancing on the other and simultaneously casting their conical-shaped nets into the water. Known as Intha or “lake people”, these men can be found fishing at sunrise or sunset, or when traversing the canals. If the fish aren’t biting they’ll happily pause and chat to interested tourists (most likely in exchange for a cigarette). See go-myanmar.com

SHERPAS, NEPAL

Their name has become synonymous with everything mountains and guiding, and they’re built as tough as granite, but Sherpas are first and foremost a people. Trek through Nepal’s Khumbu region towards Everest Base Camp and you’ll get to meet them, share the trail with them and be sheltered and fed in their teahouses and homes. Marvel at their mountain feats but also feel their beautiful and calm gentility. See worldexpeditions.com

EMBERA QUERA, PANAMA

Reaching Embera Quera is an adventure in itself. After being collected by a traditional wooden canoe, you’ll motor up the chocolate-coloured Gatun River until you reach a cluster of thatched huts surrounded by jungle. This is home for 22 indigenous Embera families, many of whom have eschewed city life for a simpler, subsistence existence. As you tour the village and interact with its tattooed, loin-cloth-clad residents, it’s hard to believe Panama City is only an hour away. See chimuadventures.com

THE CRUISERS

DAGNY IVARSDOTTIR, EXPEDITION GUIDE, LINDBLAD EXPEDITIONS

Born under the midnight sun, Dagny (“diney”) Ivarsdottir is a Viking soul firmly rooted in the 21st century: she might believe in elves, as most Icelanders do, but she also holds a master’s degree in international business. Now an expedition guide for Lindblad Expeditions, she’s in her element, whether giving lectures on Icelandic culture, bird-spotting on shore excursions or cheerfully driving inflatable Zodiacs across the icy North Atlantic. See au.expeditions.com

SERGEY UTITSYN, CAPTAIN, STAR FLYER

Few cruisers have the chance to meet ships’ officers, but on Star Flyer they work all around you on the ship’s open decks. Passengers can take a turn at the wheel, climb the mast and learn how to read sea charts. Utitsyn, trained by the Soviet navy, is also a natural raconteur, full of lively tales about his seafaring decades, and insightful information on how to sail a four-masted brigantine. See starclippers.com

MAO SOKHEM, SCENIC MEKONG RIVER GUIDE, CAMBODIA

Mao Sokhem was a Buddhist monk for six years before “losing his way on The Way”. Now one of Scenic’s Cambodian guides on their Mekong River cruises, fun-loving and optimistic Mao stopped being a monk when he laid eyes on his future wife and “forgot how to chant”. He’s the perfect guide for a complex country because his journey full of change, difficulty and acceptance reflects the lives of many Cambodians. See scenic.com.au/river-cruises/mekong

ETIENNE GARCIA, CAPTAIN, PONANT CRUISES

When you’re snuggled up in bed on a luxury ship in Antarctica, it can take a miracle to prise you out and onto the glacial deck for sunrise whale watching. That miracle, however, takes human form in Etienne Garcia, French cruise operator Ponant’s most eccentric captain, who has been sailing to Antarctica for 13 years. His boundless enthusiasm, quirky sense of humour and effusive wake-up announcements of “OH MY GOD! Get out of bed quick! You would be completely MAD to miss these whales!” make Antarctica all the more magical. See aptouring.com.au

MICK FOGG, CRUISE EXPEDITION GURU, PONANT

He would be embarrassed to be described as “charismatic” but this award-winning photographer, marine biologist and veteran of hundreds of expeditions to the world’s most remote places is just that. Fogg’s enthusiasm for discovery, whether it’s a minuscule sea creature or an ancient piece of rock art, is contagious – he is also a master of onboard presentations, bringing an earthy sense of humour to complex scientific topics. Mick leads Ponant’s Kimberley expeditions and is a passionate supporter of Indigenous communities and wildlife conservation. See au.ponant.com

JOHANNES THYSSEM, CAPTAIN, AZAMARA CLUB CRUISES

Captain Johannes has a loyal following among regular cruisers on Azamara Journey, a ship that he describes as his baby. “It’s like a compressed big ship – it has restaurant options and lots of entertainment, but on a small scale.” He loves chatting with passengers (who love his mellifluous voice) and has been known to do unorthodox things such as turning the ship around 360 degrees so everyone on board can appreciate a sunset, fishing off the tender platform and stopping mid-fiord in Norway to buy seafood from a local fisherman. See azamaraclubcruises.com

ALEXANDER DANILOV, CRUISE DIRECTOR, VIKING RIVER CRUISES

Days onboard Viking Ingvar’s Russian river cruise start with a cheery greeting over the broadcast system from our charming cruise director: “Good morning, Sasha from Russia here,” and from then on he’s on the go until late at night. Sasha is in his 30s, speaks fluent English – plus a few other languages – and is passionate about sharing his extensive knowledge about Russia. He is a gifted lecturer and a font of helpful, humorous advice, such as: “Never try to be nice to Russian officials, just keep your face as expressionless as theirs.” See vikingrivercruises.com.au

THE HUMANITARIANS

ED SHUTTLEWORTH, SEEBEYONDBORDERS, CAMBODIA

Changing the world is far harder than Ed Shuttleworth ever imagined it would be, but that hasn’t stopped this gentle, self-effacing English-Australian from devoting himself to an education system broken by war. The organisation he founded with his wife, Kate, won a UNESCO prize in 2016; it harnesses the contributions of volunteer teachers and other professionals to enhance the skills of Cambodian teachers so that they, in turn, can transform public education in that country. See seebeyondborders.org

GEMMA SISIA, SCHOOL OF ST JUDE, ARUSHA, TANZANIA

Sixteen years ago, the daughter of Armidale sheep farmers visited Tanzania, fell in love with a safari guide and started her own school with three students on a piece of land donated by her new father-in-law. Today, Gemma Sisia’s School of St Jude in Arusha educates 1800 pupils for free, employs 350 staff and is recognised as one of the best schools in the nation, with 90 per cent of its funds coming from Australian donors. See schoolofstjude.org

THE STUDENTS ON CULION ISLAND, THE PHILIPPINES

This paradise was a personal hell for the lepers banished here at the turn of the 20th century. Today, their descendants are working hard to transform the island into a tourist destination at the Hotel Maya, a laboratory for tourism students at the Loyola College of Culion. Built on the spot where a dormitory for lepers’ children once stood, and overlooking the Spanish fort and an aquamarine bay, the hotel is staffed by students eager to engage with tourists and dispel the myths attached to their island. Contact culion_hotelmaya@yahoo.com

THE BEST OF THE REST

KEIKO ANDO, DOLLMAKER, KYOTO, JAPAN

One of travel’s big joys is meeting people willing to share their passions, and who provide insights into interesting topics you wouldn’t otherwise consider. Enter smiling, bowing, enthusiastic Keiko Ando, who heads Japan’s most prestigious traditional dollmaker’s, together with her quiet husband, master craftsman Keiho Ando. “I’m so energetic because I absorb good luck from my dolls every day,” she says, as she imparts information about their history, cultural significance and clothing styles. Ando Japanese Doll Shop is in Kyoto and has two-hour tours that include a doll fitting. See ando-doll.com

LADY CARNAVON, HIGHCLERE (AKA DOWNTON ABBEY), ENGLAND

Highclere was famous long before it became the set of Downton Abbey. The house is a Jacobean masterpiece, while the landscape is one of Capability Brown’s greatest works. The present Eighth Earl (George) is the great-grandson of another George who financed Howard Carter’s excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb (there’s a great Egyptology museum in the basement). Lady Carnavon (author, historian and blogger) often hosts prearranged afternoon teas or signs her works in the bookshop. See ladycarnarvon.com

DR PETER NILSSEN, ARCHAEOLOGIST, MOSSEL BAY, SOUTH AFRICA

Peter Nilssen’s engrossing tour experience resembles the plot of a science fiction bestseller, only with actual facts. This passionate archaeologist helped discover the archaeological wormholes into the Middle Stone Age known as the Point of Human Origin Caves at Pinnacle Point, near South Africa’s Mossel Bay. The caves tour allows you to stand where archaeologists believe modern human behaviour began at the southern tip of Africa, about 180,000 years ago. See humanorigin.co.za

ANOOP MEHROTRA, OWNER, INN SEVENTH HEAVEN, PUSHKAR, INDIA

One of the oldest and most hallowed places in India, Pushkar is home to a holy lake, a famous annual camel fair and a charming hotelier by the name of Anoop Mehrotra. The owner of the excellent Inn Seventh Heaven, Mehrotra is likely to whisk you off through the desert on his Royal Enfield motorbike to introduce you to local gypsies, walk you around town as he feeds stray dogs treats from his pockets and maybe even take you out for a wine, like gold dust in this dry city where neither meat nor alcohol is allowed. See inn-seventh-heaven.com

ELISABETH GRASSMAYR, BELL-MAKER, INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA

Frau Grassmayr hops around like an Austrian leprechaun in a coat of bright yellow. She has neatly coiffed grey hair, a sun-soaked face full of happy wrinkles, and a boundless enthusiasm for all things Innsbruck and the esoteric art of bell making. There’s nothing she doesn’t know: she’s lived here nearly all her life, and her family has made bells in the city’s foundry since 1599. Visit See grassmayr.at

MARKUS JENNY, SKI INSTRUCTOR, ARLBERG, AUSTRIA

Few ski instructors feature on huge posters as the face of their ski school, and few have experience – and crazy tales to match – in alpine army units. Jenny also has a quirky way of conveying ski technique: he might compare your posture to sitting on a bar stool or wearing a tie. “The difference between god and a ski instructor is that god knows he isn’t a ski instructor.” Say no more. See skischule-lech.com





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