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An interview with Di Taylor

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Di in one of Shivaji’s summit forts on our Western Ghats trek, India, 1990. Photo: Tony Howard.

Di Taylor has been climbing and exploring the remote corners of the globe for sixty years, clocking up first ascents in the UK, North Africa and the Middle East and discovering new treks in North East India. In 1984 she and Tony Howard discovered the climbing potential of Wadi Rum in south Jordan – one of the world's leading trekking and climbing areas. Together, they developed Nomads Travel, which specialises in providing information to the tourist industry about climbing and trekking in the Middle East, North Africa and India.

We caught up with her ahead of the release of Tony's autobiography, Quest into the Unknown, to chat about their adventures together. 

How did you get into climbing, where you always off on adventures as a youngster?

I always enjoyed sport at school and riding horses, but never climbed till I joined the Rimmon Club when I was about seventeen.

Have you ever thought about writing an autobiography about your adventures with Tony from your perspective? 

No I leave it to Tony, I am no good at these things.

Tony is well known in the climbing world for his new routes and contribution to local guidebooks, what is he like to travel with?

He is just a good friend, travelling and climbing together is fun. We both enjoy the same things. Even when things go wrong, as they sometimes do when we are off the beaten track, one or the other of us manages to sort it out. It's part of the game. Disasters like being inadvertently being in a closed military area in Egypt made a mess of our explorations there but were an interesting experience! We are still trying to get permission.

If you could pick your top five destinations or a guaranteed good adventure, where would they be? 

India, Madagascar, Jordan, Mali, Morocco, Norway.

Have your adventures taken you to places that are more difficult for women to travel through, and have you noticed this change over the years?

Egypt and Sudan can sometimes be difficult. Always respect the culture but even then it can sometimes be tricky. It's always best to wear a wedding ring.

In the book, you are often the only woman in the party, did this register or was it at all an issue for difficult in any way?

I never found it a problem, though in many strongly traditional Muslim countries men sometimes ignore women, or won't shake their hand when meeting them, and they may expect you to stay with other women in a different room or in the women's part of the Bedouin tent. Mostly I was treated as an honorary man and in Wadi Rum as an equal. If I meet young boys in Rum village who don't know me well, they sometimes call me Tony!

Is it hard to get the balance right between being a mum and being an adventurer? 

Well, I was at home with the kids and my small holding until the youngest was about sixteen, though I was in Morocco with my youngest son, Mark, when he and Tannith were ten. On trips in the following years, a friend was there if I was away. It seemed to work well.

What would you say are your greatest achievements?

1. Raising three nice children – four with Tannith in her teen years – and still being close friends with them all.

2. Discovering Wadi Rum in Jordan with Tony, Alan and Mick was also pretty good and I'm very happy what we did has been of huge benefit not only to the local Bedouin which are now like family to us, but also to the development of Jordan's adventure tourism. Exploring and opening up treks and canyons all over the country was also a great experience, especially being told by a young Jordanian that our guidebooks 'gave them the love of their country'.

3. Similarly, I'm happy that our projects elsewhere like Palestine and Oman have also been beneficial to the host country. Being asked to write the guide to Walks in Palestine and the Nativity Trail was something both Tony and I were particularly pleased about. 

4. Having the idea for the Jordan Trail. When we finished our trekking guide in 1999 we were wondering what to do next and realised it might be possible to connect some of our treks to make a trail all the way down Jordan from Um Qais near the Syrian border to the Red Sea. It wasn't easy at first as before that we had a vehicle and driver provided by Queen Noor to drop us at the start of a day's trek and pick us up at the end, but King Hussein had died and Jordan had a new King, Abdullah. His wife, Queen Rania, was busy with her own new projects so couldn't help, so we just did what we could, but after a few years a friend from Palestine, Mark Khano, joined us and with other friends from Jordan joining in it finally all came together and we were guests on the first official through walk in 2016 receiving an award from Her Excellency Lina Annab, the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities.

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