When you’ve climbed mountains, taken part in marathons across the Sahara and dived at both poles, you’d probably describe yourself as an adventurer.
But renowned journalist Boyd Matson has rather a different take on it. The Marathon Des Sables is an uber-greulling seven-day, 150-mile race in crazy heat, with the Saharan winds and sand and very few water stations. To compete, you must carry everything you require for seven days in a backpack – food, clothing, sleeping bags for those cold desert nights. It’s often called The Race of No Return. Of course, Matson has done it not just once but three times.
“You are proving something to yourself, not anybody else. Maybe there are 20 people for whom it’s about winning but for the rest of us it’s about finishing, having a good time and bonding. We filmed the first two I did but the last one I did was because I was friends with all these guys and wanted to see them again.
“As I was leaving the house with all of my gear my wife’s parting words were, ‘I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for’. And I did want to find out something about myself. At the end of Day One I had bad blisters, I was sitting there looking at my feet and I realised I had discovered something about myself – that I’m an idiot. And I’ve got six more days of this to go,” says the engaging Matson.
He began his career in the 1980s as a sports reporter in LA before moving on to NBC News, where he became co-anchor of Weekend Today. He’s also anchored the National Geographic Explorer show Wild Chronicles on PBS and hosts National Geographic Explorer plus has a column and hosts a weekly radio show. Busy chap.
All the above brought him to Cayman along with 15 kids who won an essay contest; the team enjoyed visits to the mangroves, turtle farm, Stingray City, the Brac and many of the Islands’ adventurous attractions.
“Watching the kids pick up a turtle and hold it up, they are jumping up and down and can’t believe they’re holding a green sea turtle. It was the same at Stingray City. Some of the parents did not want to get in the water but the kids were jumping straight in.
“They’re so bright; thousands of kids apply for this writing the essays so the ones we pick are very curious, talented, bright and eager to learn about the world. I like looking at their pictures; they see things you don’t see. We have the explorer symposium every year to which we bring in our explorers in residence and explorers to one session after another for one week. And the kids come back for a reunion – every year 15 to 30 turn up and we see how they’re doing. One is now working for a newspaper so I asked her to write my next column; they are frighteningly brilliant,” Matson beams.
Indeed, it’s not the first time he’s been to the Cayman Islands. The first time was just after Ivan.
“I came to Scuba dive and my daughter was on spring break so we came down here. At the time there was a lot of temporary fencing and boarded-up houses – it’s amazing how Cayman has come back so brilliantly. What I remembered was that the destroyed buildings had been moved away but the material had not been taken away.
“And now I am driving along looking at all these beautiful homes along the beach – what a change. I was wondering who I knew who might have a house on the beach – I am a professional house guest,” he laughs.
Indeed, one could say he’s taken it to the extreme with his globe-trotting career.
“I am the world’s house guest,” he jokes.
Over the years, the concept of exploration may have shifted a little from previous shades of personal glory toward a general recognition of the planet’s fragility and beauty, even to the point an altruistic sensibility, points out Matson.
“There are still people looking for new rivers, new routes up mountains; people are now skiing down Mount Everest and doing crazier things. You are not going into many uncharted places unless you go under the water – there are still lots of places to explore and people are doing that.
“But there are new challenges out there. We have explorers in residence at National Geographic and we look at people doing something new, emerging explorers who we sponsor. They are looking some kind of biomass that is available everywhere that will make a better fuel. Or they are bringing electricity to a village through solar power. Or they are fighting AIDS with new technology like a cell phone. So there are different kinds of discovery. There are people on the ground facing disease, guerilla groups – facing great challenges. In a way it may be even more dangerous out there – there are a lot of armed people roving around.”
But whether dodging bullets, climbing Killimanjaro (three times), swimming with penguins or, indeed, feeding the stingrays, you get the sense that Boyd Matson has plenty more adventures to come.