September 19, 2020

Cayman Islands part of Buzz Aldrin’s travelling life


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The former astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, on Mayfair hotels, Arctic adventures and why scuba diving is the closest thing to moonwalking.

With a mother whose maiden name was Moon, Buzz Aldrin seemed destined to travel there. On July 20, 1969, he and Neil Armstrong became the first men in history to walk on the lunar surface. Aldrin has since been immortalised as an MTV statuette (the “Buzzy”), had a Disney character named in his honour and recorded a song with the hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg.

Recently he was awarded the congressional gold medal, the highest civilian honour in the United States, along with his fellow Apollo 11 crew members and the astronaut John Glenn. Now aged 82, Aldrin remains a passionate advocate of manned space flight and travels the world for speaking engagements as well as for pleasure.

Q1. How often do you travel?

I fly at least once a week – and it’s a rare week when I’m not away for two or three days.

Q2. What’s next on the horizon?

London this summer, for the Olympics.

Q3. Which is your favourite London hotel?

I’ve spent a lot of time at Claridge’s in Mayfair; I love its formality, sophistication and refinement. I also like Brown’s Hotel, in Albemarle Street.

Q4. And your favourite airline?

American Airlines – though it’s a shame they’re in a little financial trouble right now.

When I get on one of their planes, I walk up to the front and introduce myself to the pilot and co-pilot; they kind of like having me on board. Emirates, Etihad Airways and Singapore Airlines are good, too. I fly up front where there’s a degree of privacy and I don’t have to sit upright when it’s time to sleep

Q5. Your most impressive travel itinerary?

When we came back from the moon in 1969, we did a round-the-world trip in 45 days. That was intense, but it’s something I haven’t forgotten.

Q6. Where have you been recently?

I was skiing up in Denver with my youngest son, Andy, a couple of months ago. It’s something I didn’t take up until I was in my fifties, but I’m good enough now to go through the competitive gates. At 82, though, I’m a lot more cautious than I used to be. Sun Valley, Idaho, is another favourite. It’s really relaxing there, very gentle and laid-back.

Q7. Apart from the moon, what is the most remote place you have been?

I went to the North Pole once, aboard a Russian ice-breaker, which was certainly off the beaten track. I’ve also been on a National Geographic cruise to the Antarctic, where I saw lots of penguins and seals. There were scuba divers exploring underwater, too, but I didn’t join them.

Q8. Where, on your earthly travels, have you felt the “magnificent desolation” of the moon ?

Around the islands of the Arctic, with all the birds, icebergs and glaciers. They’re majestic, not very habitable for humans and therefore untouched.

Q9. What about that feeling of weightlessness?

Scuba diving comes pretty close. It’s the freedom you have to go up and down, like in space – but in space, you rely upon an engine and wings and rocket fuel to get you there. Underwater, you are your own boss and you can control everything.

Where did you first go scuba diving?

It was off the coast of Tripoli, in Libya, after the Korean War – which ended in 1953. I fell in love with the sport immediately. The next chance I had, I bought a tank and a regulator and my first wife and I went diving off Majorca.

Q10. Which are your favourite places to dive?

The Cayman Islands, and Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles. There are plenty of beautiful places to dive in the Pacific, too, such as Hawaii, Palau and the Marshall Islands, including Kwajalein Atoll. One of my most memorable dives was in the Gulf of Aqaba , east of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. It was with Sylvia Earle, an early pioneer of diving. We happened to get involved in some underwater scenes for the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. It was impressive to see how they got the sharks in the right place for the cameras.

Q11. Do you do any other water sports?

I learned to bodysurf in the ocean when I was very young, but I never really got into surfboards or windsurfing. I’ve given both of them a try – but if I’m honest, I find them a little challenging.

Q12. Do you have a favourite city?

They’re all a bit intimidating to me and I’m not into tall buildings. Since becoming a bit of a celebrity, I don’t have quite the same freedom to go into places and just look around, though it helps if I’m with somebody who knows the city well.

Q13. But if you had to choose…?

I was recently in Bangkok and I found the different temples intriguing but the city still seemed like it was full of traffic and there were wires draped across the streets. I’m more into open spaces, I guess. That’s why I look forward to visiting Australia – where I especially like to dive the Great Barrier Reef, of course – and New Zealand.

Q14. You’ve certainly travelled widely. Is there any place on Earth that you haven’t been?

Bali in Indonesia, though I hope to go in the near future. I know someone associated with some resorts there and I’ve heard the diving is fantastic

Q15. Is space the next big travel destination?

I’m sure we will see temporary residences, hotels if you like, in orbit in 10 to 15 years. They will be sparse, but the main attractions will be the view out of the window and the freedom of floating.

Q16. Travelling in space is inherently risky. What challenges will commercial companies face?

They will have to have very high safety standards, for sure. Their first customer is likely to be Nasa, which will need a service like this to take people up to the International Space Station. It’s hard to understand how we could have been flying the Shuttle for 30 years and not have a replacement lined up for it. Right now, we have to rely on Russia to take us into space, which is deplorable.

Q17. You did some zero-gravity flights in your seventies. Is returning to space your goal?

I’m more interested in getting ordinary people there, because that will spread an appreciation of what space is. It would be anti-climactic, anyway, having been to the moon already. I prefer to stand as a role model and a symbol of exploration.

Q18. Wherever you travel, the moon is a constant companion. What does it mean to you?

I look up and think, “We did it”. Apollo was clearly a response to the threat of communism after the Second World War. However, it was also a response to a challenge that had existed ever since man began to look up and wonder at the objects in the night sky. That makes me proud.

Dr Buzz Aldrin was talking at an event at Soneva Kiri by Six Senses, in Thailand.

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