I spend a good part of my life exploring incredible places, and the rest of my life planning new adventures to incredible places. Not a bad deal really.
It just so happens that a lot of those incredible places are in some of the poorest countries on earth. Every adventure traveller with half a conscience can think of a time when they have felt the pangs of anger for the inequality between them, the tourist, and the people they encounter. Whilst bouncing around on the back of a dusty bus in the middle of nowhere with barely ten dollars in my pocket I’ve often reflected upon the value of wealth, of money, of happiness. It’s a complex picture for sure, but one that presents a simple truth; when I get sick I can expect good healthcare, food and shelter. I can expect my government to defend my human rights. I can expect not to be raped or abused, and it is that expectation, that security, rather than my bank balance which means that I am rich, and they are poor, and I will always feel that anger.
But, what can I do about it?
Lots. For the last few years I have led month-long youth expeditions in the summer. Although the basic structure of the trip is planned in advance, the team of 18-year-olds have autonomy to spend the budget as they wish. They are responsible for booking transport and accommodation, and arranging logistics with local guides. I am on hand to offer some guidance and advice, and to catch them if they fall. But above all, it is their responsibility, their choices, their adventure. A key component of the expedition is that the team engage with some kind of local project. It might be social, educational or ecological, but will, hopefully, help the local community in some way. It’s an admirable endeavour. Most of the teams fundraise to pay for their trip, and (those I’ve met, at least) recognise how fortunate they are to enjoy such an incredible experience.
Some volunteering projects simply don’t work. Some projects do more damage than good. The youth expedition company I guide for works hard to foster long-term relationships and supports viable, sustainable projects. It’s not always perfect, but they do what they can. On a side note, post-millennials seem to get a hard rep these days. The young people I have worked with (from various social backgrounds) have been far more hard-working, thoughtful, and conscientious than I ever was. It has been a pleasure to share adventures with them, and I look forward to my next youth expedition to Peru in July.
My experience on these youth expeditions has inspired me to develop the inversion expedition model. Put simply, we want to:
Visit incredible places and do something positive.
But, what does that actually mean? First, let me explain what it is not. It is categorically, emphatically, absolutely not, whisking you away from your 5-star hotel to a local orphanage for a cuddle with a sick child before sunset cocktails on the veranda, and a deep and meaningful about child poverty. It is, definitely, 100% not that. But, as the director of an adventure travel company I want, at least, to try and have a positive impact on the communities we are so very fortunate to visit.
An inversion expedition is an adventure - a journey with an unknowable outcome. Nonetheless, it is a journey with a purpose, a goal, an objective. Along the way we’ll work with NGOs on local, sustainable projects. The exact nature of that work is determined by the skills and experience of the team and, crucially, the current need of the project. It may be that the best thing we can do is to hand over a wad of cash. So be it. But if we can make a meaningful contribution, share knowledge or practical help, then the experience will be richer for all involved. The expedition is led by an experienced guide, but the whole team works together to achieve the expedition objective. On our journey, we may have to overcome unexpected challenges and hardships. The location will be remote, often far from help. We will be self-sufficient, camping and cooking for ourselves at times. We will take risks, and we will be challenged, physically and mentally. But, the reward is an opportunity to explore places rarely seen by others; to engage positively with local people; to give something back to the people and places we visit; and to take away incredible, life-long memories.
I am thrilled to reveal some of the details about our first expedition to Nicaragua next December. We will be embarking on an epic three-week journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and support two NGOs along the way.
In the west of Nicaragua our transport and logistics will be provided by Quetzaltrekkers. I volunteered with this wonderful organisation in 2015 and it remains the best model I have ever encountered to combine adventure travel with positive social engagement. All the profits from our Cosigüina volcano trek and visit to Somoto Canyon, will fund projects that offer support to street children in the city of León. These projects are led by Nicaraguans, for Nicaraguans, and in a country with limited government funding of social services, are a vital safety net for these vulnerable children. In the east of the country we’ll travel through the remote and spectacular Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, the third largest such forest reserve in the world, and home to the Mayangna and Miskito indigenous peoples. The forest is a vast natural resource, but it is threatened by massive deforestation, and the communities that live there are trapped in a cycle of poverty. We are delighted to partner with the Canadian NGO Change for Children who have worked in the Bosawás for over 40 years. They fund many educational and social projects and we hope, specifically, to support a couple of schools deep in the jungle on our expedition route. Over the coming months we will work with Change for Children to better understand how we can support their school projects.
The late co-founder of Change for Children Hank Zyp once said, “Ordinary people can do extraordinary things.” I agree with him. We will be publishing the full details, costs and itinerary of our Nicaragua Coast to Coast adventure very soon, but in the meantime, register for updates below if you want to visit an incredible place, be a part of an extraordinary adventure, and do something positive in 2018.