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People & Culture

2013 Gold Medal winner: Michael Palin

For an achievement by one or more individuals in the field of geography, or a significant national or international event

  • Dec 31, 2013
  • 514 words
  • 3 minutes
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Go ahead and be in awe of Michael Palin. It’s easy.

To start, there’s the whole Monty Python comedic genius thing. Then there’s the acting. He has written two novels, too, plus a play and several children’s books. And don’t even mention the travel, the once-in-a-lifetime journeys to the farthest corners of the globe that Palin has made more than once, and the books and films that follow.

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Countries Palin has visited around the world (Map: Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic)

Although Palin, a 2013 RCGS Gold Medal winner, was well known before he started his travel series (he has now done nine of them, the most recent being Brazil), their critical and commercial success helped him return to one of his first loves — geography.

As a child growing up among the hills, caves and escarpments of Sheffield, England, Palin “enjoyed reading anything that involved foreign countries” and soaked up the adventures of explorers such as Scott, Amundsen and Livingstone. He would go on to cover some of the same terrain his heroes did (as well as much more), employing his natural curiosity and wry, often self-deprecating sense of humour to connect with and learn about the people he met.

For Palin, nothing can replace that kind of on-the-ground experience. “We’ve got to use the ability to see the world virtually, but still encourage people to see and interact with it for themselves,” he told Canadian Geographic in a June 2013 interview. “It’s vital to try and get out there if you can.”

Michael Palin’s globe-trotting has made him an inspiring figure to the millions who have enjoyed his travel books and accompanying documentaries. This map shows the places Palin has visited since setting off on his first major journey 26 years ago, along with a few notable highlights.

Canada Attends Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival during British Columbia leg of Pole to Pole journey. “Nowhere do I hear the word lumberjack.”

United States Spends a week in Key West, Fla., for Hemingway Adventures and suffers “Hemingway-induced claustrophobia — as if I might find some manifestation of him in my bedroom cupboard.”

South America Catches (and eats) a famously frightening fish on the Rio Negro in Brazil: “a fat, silvery body with an orange underbelly and lots of pointy teeth. My first, and almost certainly last, piranha.”

Europe Undergoes carbon dioxide treatment at a Czech Republic clinic with Miss World during New Europe. “I look across at Miss World, lying, like me, in a long white bin-liner … and for a moment I do think I’ve died and gone somewhere very strange.”

Africa Fears being abandoned in Niger’s Ténéré Desert on Sahara trip. “I’ve lost the rhythm, the beat, whatever it is that moves camels so easily across the sand. If I pause… I know I shall only slip further back.”

Asia Dines with yak herders at Mount Everest base camp in Tibet. “They know what to do here. They know what to expect and how to deal with it. They have slope cred.”

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