Ever dreamt of packing in the day job and going on the road? Adventurer, documentary photographer and travel writer, Lucinda Paxton, did just that. Following an Autumn with the tribes of the Omo Valley and Eastern Ethiopia, she has spent the last 5 months roaming South America researching a documentary and book on the gauchos, the itinerant cowboys of Argentina. She has ridden a horse over the Andes along the gaucho trail into Chile, driven a jeep solo from Patagonia into Argentina (the first woman to do so on a Quasar Jeep Safari) and journeyed by bus and horse (again) into the Atacama desert. In a rare moment between trips, Lucinda tells Step Up about machismo, role models and how she combines work with that incredible spirit of adventure.
"I've always had an adventurous spirit. We had mini adventures most days! Adventures don’t need to be huge international expeditions they can be anything that challenges your day to day routine and pushes you out of your comfort zone, at 7 years old that is wild swimming, managing to cross a river on a tree trunk or run away from a herd of cows! I remember all my mini adventures so well. Adventure is addictive, and for me essential."
"My mother is my mentor. She nurtured my adventurous spirit, I grew up with her stories of travelling alone across Africa and North America in the late 60's– she has always been a huge influence to me. Being such an independent and fearless woman meant she always encouraged me to believe there was a whole world of adventure open to me, and encouraged me to explore it. And I read about it. I grew up surrounded by amazing books which opened up the world to me. I think books are the most important gift you can give children, they give you such great insight into all the magic of the world and make you hungry to explore it."
"Being a woman alone in a man's world can be useful. Of course a woman travelling alone will always have to be a little more wary but I find that people find me more approachable, especially in intimate local situations, and often want to help me. Travelling alone you definitely earn respect from people you meet, more people want to help you and I think women have an innate empathy in sensitive situations which leads to more access, and more adventures!"
"But sometimes it’s tough. With the cowboys in Argentina for example I had to really earn their respect. If I had been a man I might not have had to prove myself to them, but as soon as I had that respect I think it was definitely a positive being a woman. My obsession with their culture was kind of a novelty to them and when they saw I was serious about learning, they did everything they could to help me."
"Confidence is key. My trick is always look confident and smile a lot even when you are feeling like everything may about to go horribly wrong. The more confident you appear as a women in a male dominated situation the more doors will open for you, and the more you realise you can actually deal with something at first you thought you couldn't...for me this has been especially true when working with men in machismo cultures in far flung corners of the globe."
"It's important to have role models. Ladie Florence Dixie is one of my biggest inspirations. She upped-sticks from Victorian England and travelled with her husband, 2 brothers and a male friend to Patagonia. This was groundbreaking stuff in those times and her book Across Patagonia is one of the best female adventure stories of all time. Her group is often said to have been the first ‘tourists’ in Torres del Paine park in Chile. She galloped across uncharted territory, escaped pampas fires on bolting horses, tracked jaguars and befriended the indigenous Indians. She was cool."
"As Maya Angelou said, 'nothing works unless you do’. Working and travelling at the same time is a difficult balance, because every day is an adventure which needs to be documented. When I started out, I found it hard to motivate myself to do the writing and editing as my days were so packed with extraordinary experiences. Once I realised though it was all down to me to make my career work, and there was nothing to fall back on, I quickly managed to make the time. It made me realise how much we need to buy in to the work we are doing to be efficient, and how much time I wasted when I was sitting at a desk working for someone else with no real sense of ownership of projects."
"Balance is my key to everything. I spend a lot of time alone. It's a privilege and a burden at the same time. It becomes very easy to be thinking about work 24 hours a day. I have learned to give myself a break. We all need to give ourselves clear time out to relax, especially if you're self-employed. Even if it’s just an hour in a day – I now clearly define that time and switch off!"
"Collaboration is so important. Being alone so much has made me realise how important it is for me to talk through ideas and plans with friends. Choose people you can trust and talk through your big ideas whether it’s about setting up a business, current projects. You can’t do it all alone."
"Even on the road, setting goals is essential. I set myself achievable deadlines for everything and (usually!) stick to them. Whether it's filing a story, editing footage or just instagramming a photo, the feeling of achievement I get from crossing a task off a seemingly unending list gives me the drive to start the next one. Organization is key, whether you are working for yourself or someone else."
"I am about to embark on the biggest adventure of my life. I am planning to move to Argentina this Autumn. It’s a great opportunity for me to live my life exactly how I want to at the same time as doing all the things I love in a country which I love. Once I am there I plan to have a million mini adventures. I will be researching my new documentary and book on the cowboys so I imagine it will entail a lot of falling off horses and getting lost in Patagonia. Making such a big move alone, whilst trying to set up a business, make a documentary and continue as a travel journalist is a big undertaking, but the best adventures push you out of your comfort zone. The jump is the hardest bit, making the decision to change your life. But once you have decided to do it I think that is the hardest part over with!"