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Interview with Jordi Canal-Soler: travel writer and photographer

Today I am very pleased to start a new section of my blog where I will be interviewing people who inspire me. I do not want to do it only with travelers, but the person invited to speak will make me reflect on totally different topics.

In this case, let’s start with a brilliant traveler. Jordi Canal-Soler is a travel writer and photographer, who when you read or listen to, he transmits passion for what he explains and does it with a special ability that makes you transport to the place that is talking to you about. Born and raised in the Catalan capital, he is definitely a reference in what travel literature refers to. Today, we are fellow members of Barcelona Travel Bloggers Association, although when I interviewed him, I still wasn’t!

We sat down for a long coffee and talked about everything. How he understands traveling, how he combines it with his life and his family, his incredible expedition to the North Pole, the photographic equipment he carries with him, and so on. Come and see for yourself the result, gentlemen!

How did you start writing about your travels?

    Totally for leisure. I always liked to write, but also to travel. And when you travel, you see things that you like, you see things that you want to explain and I had the curiosity of not only explaining this to my family and friends. So I decided to mix these two great passions of mine, and the way I had then was the blog. Later, the first book came.

You have a very long career… Hundreds of articles in magazines and radio programs. What are you trying to convey in them?

    Yes, articles should be already more than 160 and radio programs should more than 300. My idea is that after someone listens to my radio participations or read my articles or books, they have a little more knowledge, less superficial, about all the areas of which I speak.
    When someone thinks of, for example, Hawaii, he imagines only the palms and beach, and instead is much more than all this; it’s culture, history, nature, navigation. It’s much more than it may seem.

Right now how often do you travel?

    Well, with my daughter being 9 months old now, imagine it… (laughs)
    But she has traveled already! Of course it changes a little not only the frequency in which you can travel but also the way. I mean, right now if sporadic short trips appear, I’m going. But really short trips, now I feel worse than ever to spend time away from home!

And nowadays do you live entirely from it?

    No. I write but I also work with several companies related to the tourism and travel industry.

Where does this passion for traveling start?

    When I was a kid, with my family we bought a motorhome to travel all over Europe and so began my fascination for moving. With time, you realize that Europe is small and you need to take the leap to other continents.

Do you like to write only about traveling?

    The truth is that I like to write in general. In fact, I have also written some tales and right now I am already thinking about a novel, of which I have an initial structure already thought. Also, as I really like the history, I write for some history magazines.

What photographic equipment do you carry with you?

    Well I’m definitely for Canon, right from the beginning. I have had several cameras, first with film rolls and then digitals, and right now I have a Canon 5D. In my travels I always carry with me a lens 24-70mm, a 70-200mm, a fixed 50mm and finally I have a telephoto lens.

Do you shoot RAW? Do you retouch any of your photos?

    Yes, I shoot RAW so I do not retouch it but I reveal the photograph, and I always try to leave it as similar to what I saw when I took the photo. Photographic manipulation, obviously I do not do it.

I asked Jordi for one of the photos he was most proud of and it was this one, from his expedition to the north pole.

Did you study anything related to all this?

    No, I actually studied biology, but making a living as a biologist is even harder than doing it as a writer or blogger! (Laughs)

I’ve seen you have a lot of underwater photography

    Yes, it was from when I had a camera with underwater casing, which then began to fail. But I used to do a lot of dives here, on the Costa Brava, and when I was traveling I also did it in places like Jordan, Maldives, Indonesia, Hawaii, among others. In addition, there are destinations that do not have as much to offer but under the sea are incredible.

Give me an example.

    Indonesia, more specifically Komodo, where I went called in part by its famous dragons. And the truth is that this area is very dry because it doesn’t rain much, so the environment is almost desert. However, beneath the surface you find one of the most diverse seas in the world. It really is a paradise.
    If on land you have about 20 species in total, between animals and plants, underneath maybe you have 2,000. It is a big contrast and if you were left alone with the visible part, you would have liked but you would have lost its great attraction.

Do you sell photographs?

    Separately not, but when I sell articles to magazines yes, since the vast majority not only want the text of the article but also the photographs that accompany it.

Question perhaps difficult to answer: Writing or photographing?

    Clearly writing. I like to photograph, since I was a kid, but the passion I have for taking a blank sheet, starting to remember, filling it with words until the point it takes shape and allows people to read it and interpret exactly what you were thinking… For me, it is not comparable.

Tell me a little about your incredible expedition to the North Pole

    Well, it was very different from anything else I’ve ever experienced. It was 20 days of expedition in which we were four people. The guide and three more, in fact. We had two types of sleigh, which we were exchanging, as the heavier weighed 120 kilos. Obviously, we had to take everything with us: food, tent, fuel and even an air rifle in case a polar bear came. For your normal day to day, you need to eat about 1,500 calories and to make up for all the effort you are doing there, you should consume 4,500 calories. And walk a lot. Maybe we did eight or ten kilometers a day in a straight line with GPS, but there were many more because we had to zigzag, because we were dodging the pressure peaks.

Did you prepare much for that trip?

    Yes, a lot. Both physically and psychologically. For the physicist I started to do a lot of exercise. To give you an idea, after the expedition I finished two marathons in a row! And psychologically it was also very stimulating because I’m very cold-naturated.

Good choice then! Did you suffer a lot?

    No, because it does not look like but if you get warm enough, you can fight the cold. I’ve been colder here than there, in fact! Because in the North Pole, since you go with the idea of being cold, you especially wrap up and you can even sweat, which is the real danger of any polar expedition. Because if you do not get remove some clothes when you’re making a physical effort, if you do not properly tighten the zippers of the jacket or you take off the extra jersey you’ve worn, you start to overheat and sweat. And this sweat perspires to reach the outer layer of the goretex and as this layer is in contact with the cold air, that sweat condenses, freezes and remains as a layer of ice between the goretex and the polar fleece.

Any particularly hard times?

    Well yes, when my hand froze. I had bought a pen called SpacePen, which is the one carried by the astronauts, in which the ink falls still without gravity and does not freeze until after -40 degrees. Everything was fine except the day we arrived at minus 40 degrees and the ink froze. I began to write with a pencil that I carried with me, and after having been writing for about three minutes at that temperature, my hand froze. There came a time when I was rubbing my hands and I felt only one and not the other. The guide told me that there was no frozen hand that could not be defrosted. To do this, you have to do it with much intention and with the proper technique, which is to start hitting the hand in question with all your possible strength. You must do it more than fifty times, until little by little, the blood begins to flow again and you begin to feel the tips of your fingers. Then massaging a little more, it ended up returning to normal.

Wow, how scary! Even so, would you repeat the experience?

    Yes, I would repeat but I will not. Because although it was such an incredible experience, the world is huge and I still have too many things to see before returning there.

From that expedition, with what feeling do you stay?

    With the one of being in a remote and lost place of any civilization, but precisely because it is that far but you see so clearly the effects of the human being on the north pole, makes you think that we must take care even more our environment. There, even though they are so far away from all, the effects of pollution are especially affecting the north pole. Of which the human being is the one to blame, of course.

Tell us about your last trip

    We took a van and went with our kid and her grandparents to Gibraltar and Morocco. And was nice because my father had not been in Morocco since he made the military service there and that was already 61 years ago. So we thought it would be lovely to go back and see how the north of the country had changed.
    I went back to Gibraltar for the second time and the truth is that it is highly recommended. Because you think… What does this do here? Imagine that it is as if it were Montserrat, that rises in the middle of nowhere, but in a peninsula wrapped in sea. In fact, this is why it was considered one of the two pillars of Hercules, which was the limit of the known sea.
    I also contacted a guy who is the only scholar of the monkey from Gibraltar at an ethological level. In the rock there are many wild animals that have adapted to live there and live forming families, rivals between them, and creating their own tribes. And the fact that there are monkeys there is very interesting because nowadays it is the only monkey that lives freely in Europe.

This is going to be difficult… Could you tell me a book that transports you to each continent when you read it?

    Let’s see…

  • For Europe, “Europa Express” by Xavier Moret and “New Europe” by Michael Palin.
  • For Africa, “Ébano” by Kapusczinski and “Océano África” by Xavier Aldekoa.
  • For Asia, “The god of small things” by Arundhati Roy, “Kim” by Rudyard Kipling and “The Garlic Ballads” by Mo Yan
  • For North America, “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, “A walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson and “Alaska” by James Michener.
  • For South America, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez, “The Death of Artemio Cruz” by Carlos Fuentes y “Manaos” by Alberto Vazquez-Figueroa.
  • Finally, for Oceania: “Boomerang” by Xavier Moret, “Down Under” by Bill Bryson and “Hawaii” by James Michener.

And to end already, could you do the same with some movies?

    Well this is really difficult because there are many, many and it seems that if I say one is going to be my favorite movie. It depends a lot on what one looks for, but some examples could well be these:

  • For Europe, “Pride and prejudice”, “La vita è bella”, “Amelie”, “Goodbye, Lenin” and “Benvenuti al Nord”.
  • For Africa, “Out of Africa”, “Cry Freedom”, “Mooladé”, “The Gods Must Be Crazy” and “Gorillas in the Mist”.
  • For Asia, “The Last Emperor”, “Gandhi” and “Lawrence of Arabia”.
  • For North America, “How the West Was Won”, “The Hunter“, “Jeremiah Johnson”, “París, Texas” and “Around the World in 80 Days”.
  • For South America, “Fitzcarraldo” and “Apocalypto”.
  • For Oceania, “Cocodrilo dundee” and “Quigley down under”.

You can visit Jordi Canal-Soler’s blog and follow him on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

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