[Editor’s note]: I was sitting on the veranda at the Lutheran Guesthouse in the village of Goroka, Papa New Guinea, when Helen shared with me her incredible adventures in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. What floored me was when she said that she arrived by plane at about 2am at the Kurdish international airport outside the city of Erbil (Arbil, Irbil) and had no hotel reservation and no meet-and-greet arrangement. Furthermore, hotels would not allow her in because she was seen as an alien as it is unheard of for women to travel solo in this part of the world. Many of her stories totally amazed me and since then I always think of Helen as “Kurdish Helen” and “Helen the Brave”. Such an incredible human being! Enjoy Helen in conversation with Globerovers Magazine.
(Note that ‘Helen the Brave’ has also eaten chicken ass (yes, an anus!) in Korea and she will never ever forget it. In fact, the experience converted her into a vegetarian!
This interview was conducted via email in late September 2014:
Globerovers (GR): How many countries have you been to?
Helen Brentnall (HB): 71
GR: What are your top 5 most preferred countries for leisure travel?
HB: Mexico, Borneo Island, Greenland, Georgia, and Papua New Guinea.
GR: Which is your most preferred country for travel and why?
HB: Mexico, because it has awesome wildlife, food, people and the ancient pyramids. I just love about everything in Mexico!
GR: Where do you wish you were right now?
HB: Australia at the outer Great Barrier Reef floating above the blue star fish.
GR: Among those countries you have not yet visited, which ones are at the top of your “must do” list?
HB: Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), Botswana, Kazakhstan, Chile and the island of Tahiti.
GR: If you could spend the rest of your life somewhere other than your current home country, which country would that be?
HB: Batang Ai in Sarawak, Borneo Island. I want to share rice wine with the Iban people while travelling along the rivers in long boats with hornbills flying above.
GR: In about 50 words, please tell us about the most incredible and memorable experience you have ever had while traveling?
HB: At Elephant Beach on Havelock Island in the Indian Andaman Islands (west of Myanmar and east of India) I snorkelled alone while a thunder storm raged above me. An octopus came up right in front of me, pulsing his bright neon colours. I watched totally transfixed as it moved past me and settled onto the ocean floor, changing its skin colour and texture to its surroundings so it became almost invisible. Such a stunning sight.
GR: Based on your travel experiences, if you were to recommend the one most amazing destination for intrepid travellers, which place would that be, and why?
HB: Ilulissat in western Greenland to travel by boat through the epic icebergs.
GR: Which people by nationality or subgroup e.g. Greeks or the Tartars, would you say have been the most hospitable during your travels and why do you say so?
HB: The Kurdish people. Travelling in northern Iraq was very challenging but the kindness and generosity of a wonderful Kurdish family who invited me into there home made it an amazing experience.
GR: How do you think traveling around the world for independent travelers has changed over the past 20 years?
HB: With the internet so many blogs and online magazines and other cool information is available.
GR: Lets get a bit more personal. Do you have any “must take” items which you travel with that you think most travelers don’t have?
HB: Gin Gins chewy ginger candy! They are great for travel sickness and even hunger. I never leave home without a box of Gin Gins Candies. Their slogan is “The Ginger People. We know Ginger Best”
GR: What is your favourite travel resource on the internet?
GR: Lets talk about food. Which one country that you visited has the best food in the world?
HB: Mole Negro in Oaxaca state of southern Mexico.
GR: Where was the best meal you have ever had during your travels?
HB: Lamb, prunes and almond Tajine at a roadside in the High Atlas of Morocco.
GR: And where was the worst food during your travels?
HB: Chicken anus on Jeju Island, South Korea. It was quite chewy!
GR: What is the strangest or weirdest place you have ever spent a night?
HB: The Prison Hostel in Christchurch, New Zealand.
GR: Based on all your travel experiences, what is the best tip you can offer to new travelers?
HB: Before you leave home, do your research, research and a bit more research!!
GR: What is the single best lesson you have learned about the world during your travels around the world?
HB: That I am so privileged to be free to choose my path in life. In so many countries women do not have that luxury.
GR: Do you have any strange, weird, or even bizarre travel rituals which you can share with us?
HB: I always rub my St. Christopher before a flight!
GR: What is the main focus of your travels?
HB: To fulfil childhood dreams, thanks to the BBC, Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough for shaping them.