Born to Explore
The World Piece by Wiese––Best-selling author and TV show host Richard Wiese
What do you do if you’ve already traveled the world, climbed legendary peaks, been the youngest-ever president of the renowned Explorers Club (think Sir Edmund Hilary, Jacques Piccard, and Buzz Aldrin), filmed a romantic scene with Brooke Shields (Endless Love), been named one of “The 25 Hottest Bachelors” by People one year (2003), only to be dubbed one of “10 Tough Bastards” by Esquire the next?
Well, when you’re Richard Wiese, you write a best-selling book Born to Explore: How to be a Backyard Adventurer, and then you turn it into an award-winning television series called Born to Explore With Richard Wiese.
Are you tired yet? You may be, but Weston resident Richard Wiese isn’t. This boyishly handsome explorer looks at least a decade and a half younger than his 57 years. He is charismatic, brainy, energetic, funny, curious, and fiercely engaged with the world and the people who live in it. Though he ranks very high with female fans of all ages, he has officially retired his “hot bachelor” status. Married to Nicci Young since 2007, he is father to their children, Sophia, eight, and twins Ricky and Alex, six.
Wiese’s father, Richard Wiese Sr., was no slouch in the adventuring department either. He is credited with being the first pilot to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean, and flew PanAm jets back when kids dreamed of becoming commercial airline pilots. Thanks to his father’s job, Richard Jr., a self-described “Pan-Am kid,” had the opportunity to travel to a lot of far-flung places.
As a boy, Wiese thirsted for adventure, even climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro at age 11—the first of many summits he’s scaled. As he has grown older, his love for adventure remains unabated but has mellowed with age and experience. “When I was younger I wanted to be first to the top of a mountain, whereas now I’m just as happy to hike with one of the locals and learn about his or her life.”
Wiese’s quest to highlight global cultures in a positive, authentic, and entertaining way led to the evolution of his popular television travel series Born to Explore six years ago. “I had recently become a father when I started the show and it changed my perspective of how I view communities and how I view happiness. No matter what religion or culture people belong to, they want to express themselves, see their children succeed, be happy, and to be understood.”
The program, which aired on ABC for five years, and will launch on PBS in January 2017, is a pleasing balance between natural and cultural elements that will captivate any traveler, armchair or otherwise. “We provide a curated view of the world,” says Wiese with pride. “We do trips of a lifetime.”
Wiese gravitates to underdog stories about people who overcome great odds to achieve success. He has met hundreds of intriguing people from across the globe.
But certain people stand out. “There was a professional fisherwoman—Eugenia Ogaz—we met in Horcón, Chile,” recalls Wiese. “She didn’t speak English but through an interpreter we learned that she had never taken any time off, except the day she gave birth to her son.” Wiese lets that startling fact sink in. “She never complained, had a wonderful sense of humor and, felt that overall, she had a pretty good life.”
Another interview subject he admires is Mrs. Zikali, a teacher at Nkomo Primary School in the village of Mduku in South Africa. “At 15 she was promised in marriage to an older man so she ran away to another village. The closest school was six miles away. When it rained crocodiles appeared in the street but there was a large shade tree in town so she started teaching school under that tree. Eventually, she had 250 Zulu students, so she took the smartest fourth grader and had him teach third grade. Now, a proper school has been built along with an orphanage. If Mrs. Z were a man in she’d be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.”
Wiese reflects for a moment and then adds, “Africa is special for me because I admire the creativity of the African people and their spirit. They create so much from so little. You throw out a can and they’ll pick it up and create a piece of art, a musical instrument, or something else that’s useful.”
Meeting people like Eugenia and Mrs. Z has had a profound impact on Wiese who says he now has a very clear understanding “of the difference between want and need. I now know that I could be happy no matter what the circumstances.”
One the most enjoyable episodes to shoot featured fossil hunting in New York City. “It hadn’t been done before,” says Wiese with obvious pleasure. He also got to go on a unique urban adventure.
“I drove the Mitzvah tank (a type of synagogue on wheels) with Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights; foraged for edibles in Central Park; made mozzarella on Arthur Avenue; went out on the job with a sanitation worker on Staten Island; and spoke with a 100-year-old woman in Breezy Point whose house had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. She was moving into her new home that day.”
Other highlights include being led by an Inuit guide to observe polar bears at ground level in northern Nunavut, and traveling to Borneo where he made meaningful eye contact with an orangutan mother and her new baby (“You never do that with gorillas.”) The popular television host is also an adventurous eater and will willingly sample any regional foods that are offered to him. But low on the list is Kæstur hákarl, rotten, fermented and dried shark that is a national dish of Iceland. “Once was enough!” he declares with a shudder.
Despite his many accomplishments, Richard Wiese can be surprisingly self-effacing. “In a somewhat insecure way, I’m surprised at how many people have liked the show, and at how many people have written in to tell us how it has touched them,” he says with a shy smile.