Walking in the shoes of a world traveler

Award winning journalist Boyd Matson shares his worldly experiences of traveling the seven continents National Geographic correspondent Boyd Matson confessed to the audience seated in Bossone’s Mitchell Auditorium at Drexel University on Feb. 16 about

Award winning journalist Boyd Matson shares his worldly experiences of traveling the seven continents

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Courtesy Nancy Seward/Photo Illustration Lucas Ballasy

National Geographic correspondent Boyd Matson confessed to the audience seated in Bossone’s Mitchell Auditorium at Drexel University on Feb. 16 about a girl who had the hots for him – a 40-ton humpback whale, who not too long ago, rolled over and approached him in the mating position.

“It makes me think that perhaps I’ve been spending a little too much time in the wilderness, but that’s just the nature of a job at National Geographic,” Matson said.

In addition to having the ability to sweep marine life off their fins, he’s also kissed a dolphin, been tickled by a tarantula, held hands with a chimpanzee and hugged a bear. Since August 2010, he’s been to Canada to observe polar bears, Japan for snow monkeys, Borneo for orangutans and, most recently, was in India to find an ancient tribe of

headhunters.

“Some would describe it as not just a job, but that I found a way for people to pay me to go to summer camp for adults,” Matson said. “National Geographic has afforded me the chance to go to some of the greatest places in the world, see interesting things and meet interesting people. I would describe it as perhaps the greatest job in the world.”

Matson hosts the radio show “NG Weekend,” which runs every week for one hour on XM SIRIUS Satellite Radio, with a two-hour version running on syndicated commercial stations and free podcasts available on iTunes.

The program, which Matson said includes “a little bit of adventure and a little bit of science,” features interviews with guests ranging from photographers, journalists, authors, scientists and fellow adventurers. He also contributes a monthly column to National Geographic Traveler magazine called Boyd Matson Unbound.

Previously, he was the longtime host of “National Geographic Explorer” for approximately nine years, as well as “Wild Chronicles,” a PBS series that ran for three-and-a-half years but is no longer in production.

“National Geographic takes journalism to another level – participatory journalism,” Matson said. “You’re still reporting the facts, you’re still observing and writing about it and putting it into a TV program, but now you’re also part of the story. Sometimes it’s adventure, or sometimes it’s working with other scientists, but I realized this was going to be different from my very first assignment.”

He was sent to Botswana to report on filmmakers and National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Beverly and Dereck Joubert. The couple was conducting research on the relationships of Africa’s lions.

Matson found himself knee-deep in dung alongside 40 hippos when he asked Beverly to help him understand why National Geographic photographers were different from the amateurs, who go to the same places and have the same access to the animals.

Beverly, using hippos as her subject, said the key to capturing quality stills was to get in the environment of the animal.

“I assumed we were in the environment with the animals because we were living not at a regular safari camp, but we were living in four tents next to a giant water area out on the Okavango Delta in Botswana,” Matson said. “She said it’s not enough to get close to the water. You have to be in the water. Clearly it was my first time in Africa because Iagreed to go in the water.”

Beverly, under Matson’s instruction, refrained from telling him anything in advance because the cameras were rolling, and he didn’t want the encounter to be staged or rehearsed. She only gave him one piece of advice: “When the hippo charges don’t run.”

“She didn’t say ‘if’ the hippo charges or ‘once in a while it can happen.’ She said ‘when’ the hippo charges,” Matson said.

Beverly explained running would encourage the bad behavior. As promised, the two were charged by a young, male hippo, and Matson decided to stand behind Beverly because “she was taking stills, and I didn’t want to block her shots,” he joked. When the hippo finally calmed down Beverly said they were in a perfect position.

“A hippo is essentially a pig on steroids ­­– 6,000 pounds stuffed into this tight skin,” Matson said. “We were in Botswana, the middle of nowhere, knee-deep in hippo dung in a pond with 40 hippos who don’t want us here and this is a good place? That told me that working at National Geographic was going to be a little different.”

Matson said his adventures have sometimes led to a few bumps and bruises along the way. He’s crashed a motorcycle while riding in Patagonia, dislocated his elbow in Chile and had to be driven five hours to a hospital before they could reset it, fell off a horse and fractured his shoulder blade, has been exposed to airborne rabies in a bat-inhabited cave and has been bitten, scratched and pooped on by essentially one of every creature at your local zoo.

His previous experiences in journalism before working for National Geographic were more of what he considers “traditional journalism.” After working to shed his heavy Texas accent as a newscaster at an independent radio station in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, he moved on to work for the NBC station in the same area.

A move to Los Angeles led to positions at both NBC and ABC stations.

“I didn’t want to write about city council or school board meetings anymore,” he said. “I didn’t really want to do the regular news. I knew what I wanted to do – I just didn’t know there would be a way to do it full-time until I got to National Geographic.”

He said his globe-trotting travels led him to realize “the commonness and universality” of people around the world.

“What makes us alike is much greater than what makes us different,” he said. “No matter where I am talking to people, usually without fail they all say they want the same out of life – for their children to get a good education and to live a life that’s a little easier than their own.”

“Not only are you getting to do these interesting things, but it’s reaching people all over the world,” Matson added. “Working for an organization where people are actually interested in the story, respect your work and will let you through customs with poison darts – nothing could be better.”

Cara Stefchak can be reached at cara.stefchak@temple.edu.

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