Cape Town - Supermodel Alek Wek was born in Sudan and left in 1991 to escape the civil war ravaging her country. She arrived in London at the age of 14, and was soon “discovered” by a model scout in a south London market.
Her autobiography, Alek: My life from Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel was published in 2008. She has been an adviser to the US Committee for Refugees since 2008, and has toured high schools lecturing to American students. She was in SA recently to shoot an advertising campaign.
How widely have you travelled?
I have travelled extensively during my career, from the Kalahari to Brooklyn in New York, and I feel very fortunate for these opportunities. I try to visit my homeland in South Sudan at least twice a year. I have just returned from there with the UN High Commission for Refugees. I try to raise awareness about the refugees still struggling to find security and homes. I also go to London at least twice a year to see my family.
Where has your best trip been?
My recent trip to the SA bush, where we filmed the Amarula commercial, will be forever in my heart. We filmed over a few days, with a wonderful director and his crew, with the elephants. They are among the most intelligent and gentle animals. I felt privileged to have been in such beautiful surroundings, experiencing these lovely animals.
Your worst experience on a holiday?
The worst experience was the first time I went on a long weekend break to Salisbury in Virginia, with a new boyfriend. I couldn’t swim and my boyfriend pushed me into the deep pool. It went downhill all the way from there.
Your funniest experience?
I had an incredible time at Tswalu, a game reserve in the Kalahari, when I was working with Forevermark. I had spent a week touring Namibia and Botswana judging their Shining Light Awards, and then my agent and I stayed with their PR director for what turned out to be the most magical and hilarious two days. We had two great guides, Moses and Barry, who we nicknamed Google Barry, because he had an encyclopedic knowledge about the wildlife, the land, the stars and conservation. He and Moses looked after us so well; I think we entertained them as much with our lack of knowledge and our girlie hysterics.
What do you avoid during a holiday?
Any place that’s too commercially appealing; I like to find my own special places in the world.
Best meal abroad?
Sushi at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo; it’s the most delicious sushi I have ever eaten.
Your favourite place for sundowners?
The SA bush, just as the sun is turning the sky pink, ideally with a glass of Amarula poured over crushed ice.
What have you learnt from your travels?
I always make time to explore. I like walking around the various cities I visit. If I have more time, I’ll hire a driver and venture further.
Ideal travelling companion?
A good friend; a friend you can agree to disagree with.
Culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
Culture vulture. When I first arrived in London in 1991, I needed a crash course in history and art to fill my soul and I went to all the museums and galleries. I love the Victoria & Albert Museum, especially. I find it fascinating to learn about the culture in each city I visit.
Greatest travel luxury?
I always take a warm cashmere blanket. I hate being cold and I have no problem falling asleep on flights or in different hotels, but I like the familiarity of my cashmere throws and scarves. I also take my orange leather D bag, from my collection, WEK1933; it’s large enough to carry all my essentials for a week away, and it’s gorgeously chic and sturdy.
A Way Forward by Toni Morrison. All her books are so inspiring in so many ways, not just to me as a reader but to me as a woman.
I love driving to upstate New York, to stay in a cosy inn for a weekend, and I love going through the mountains. Seeing the rivers is really beautiful; they remind me of the rivers I used to see in South Sudan when I was growing up.
To drive across the US from the east coast to the west coast, seeing the Native Americans and the diversity in their communities. I would like to travel through lands where it snows, and through the desert.
Can you share some travel tips?
Don’t be frightened to pack if you are travelling for pleasure – there is nothing more annoying than taking too little and regretting it when you are miles away from home. When travelling for work, I just take key items of clothing, my favourites, and a few great accessories – boots from Hermes, scarves from Ferragamo, Tom Ford sunglasses, Tucker shirts and a great pair of denims.
Tulum in Mexico, to a laidback hotel on the beach. I am planning to do lots of yoga, to walk in the forests and to take little sailing trips around the coast. - Weekend Argus