One of the benefits of being an expedition leader is getting the opportunity to record the journey this often means by using photography as a medium. I have had some memorable experiences that thankfully I have had the fortune to have my camera on hand to record these events. A lasting tribute to my endeavours and those involved with expeditions. One of the more memorable experiences is spending days on end in the desert either ensuring charity trekkers do not succumb to dehydration or helping a youth group enjoy the wonders of the ever shifting sand. There is something appealing about living like a Nomad and never have an uncomfortable nights’ sleep courtesy of the soft sand that also annoying gets into every nook and cranny. During a 120 mile walk across the desert of Morocco, the constant shift in the architecture of the sand never ceases to amaze me. The landscape you saw in the evening is never the same in the morning. When given a free hand to lead an expedition my way, there is never a truer word was spoken by Thor Heyerdahl..……..”In my experience, it is rarer to find a really happy person in a circle of millionaires than among vagabonds”.Recording these journeys that I experienced, I try to be that vagabond and not get bogged down by the commercialism that steered me in this direction.
My travels have not only taken me to places where I can get sand between my toes but to areas of abject poverty. Ethiopia was one of those places but like most countries that I have worked in, it is very much a post code lottery. Whilst visiting Lalibela and the world famous monolithic rock carved churches, a daily wage for a guide would cost you about 200 Ethiopian Birr about US$9.00 or £7.50. Then the hapless tourist is hit with an entrance fee of US$50.00 nearly 5 times the daily earnings of one of the guides. About 3 hours walk up the hill and overlooking Lalibela, the lifestyle is slightly different. During August in the rainy season, the locals have to endure a quality of life not unlike that of hippopotamuses wallowing in the mud. They are however a very proud and robust people and are always making the best of whatever situation falls before them. During one of the events we organised for the local community we introduced a version of Egg and Spoon, interesting it was an alien concept to them to even consider wasting food. We had introduced Ping Pong Balls but the damn things kept falling off the spoons so they opted for Tennis Balls.
It is only when you escape from the tourist hot spots that your eyes are opened to a different world. If we look around the corner of our own town we will surely have our eyes opened. In 2005, Kashmir took a hammering from a 7.6 magnitude earthquake and quite rightly the world came running to help as it should. Thankfully the Siachen conflict had pretty much stopped in 2003, allowing for aid to get to the area without the added complications of the tiff between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Unfortunately, the surrounding countries were also felt the effects of the earthquake this included the high altitude desert region of Ladakh.
In 2011 a year after Ladakh nearly drowned in floods, I took a group to repair a school that had suffered at the proverbial hands of the 2005 earthquake. Despite crumbling walls, the community continued to thrive. The school had a robust uniform policy.
These young people were so eager to learn about the world and were as thick as thieves. Their “Esprit de Corps” was immeasurable even outside of uniform they were a very tight click. Angelic and street credible but then there was always going, to be the little element of thuggery to make life’s tapestry more interesting.
Our time in Ladakh was short lived because of the on coming Monsoon but I felt these guys could handle whatever came their way. Like the Moroccans, Ethiopians and Ladakhis and the people of the myriad of countries that I have visited. I have always found them to be proud of their heritage and more often than not have a smile on their faces. Armed with my camera I will in the words of Lao Tzu be, “A good traveller and have no fixed plans and not intent on arriving”.