So in certain situations I get referred to as an explorer. I am not an archaeologist, in fact I know hardly anything about archaeology. I am not a survival expert like Bear Grylls or Ray Mears either. When it comes to it I have no particular speciality or expertise at all – I’m just a regular guy. I like watching movies, going to the gym and enjoy the occasional drink, yet in 2011 I found myself spearheading an expedition to uncharted regions of the Amazon (and making a documentary of the experience to boot)! So how did that happen? How could an average person like me possibly live a real life Indiana Jones adventure? Actually, it isn’t THAT difficult. In fact there is no reason why a great many people couldn’t do exactly the same thing. I am not saying that being an explorer is easy, but I am saying it is attainable.
STEP 1: HAVE A VERY CLEAR GOAL
Be reasonable with your expectations. I wanted to organise an expedition to look for a lost city. With this in mind, finding a lost city would be a bonus! You can’t expect to arrive with your first step, but then it would be impossible to reach your destination without taking it.
STEP 2: REALLY WANT IT
Its very easy to entertain notions of things. In putting together an expedition team I came across a great number of people who expressed interest in the venture but very few willing to give tangible commitment. If you are serious about being an explorer, then it has to be something that you will follow through on. As Ben Saunders once said, be a doer, not a spectator.
STEP 3: HAVE SOME MONEY
This is an undeniable reality. There are some areas where a budget or close-enough option will do and there some areas where without the proper capital things become impossible or unacceptably dangerous. If you are inexperienced you will need guides. You will need first aid supplies. You should hire a satellite phone in case of emergency. You may want to bring a fedora (I did). What may surprise you when you add it up though is that the total is not as large as you might think. Half my budget went on flights. The other half spent on equipment, food supplies, in country logistics, guides, medical supplies and film equipment roughly totalled the cost of an Apple computer. So there is a certain degree of unavoidable expense, but if you aren’t hiring helicopters and you are prepared to borrow some things from friends, you would be surprised at how do-able the budget can be.
STEP 4: RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Plan, plan and plan some more. This covers all areas. Where are you going to start looking? Why? What is the terrain like? How about the climate at that time of year? Who are the experts for this area? What have previous explorers done on similar expeditions? How do we get from the river to the jungle? These days with the internet there really is little excuse for not doing this and not only will it help you define and refine your search, it will also improve the safety of any undertaking.
STEP 5: ASK FOR HELP
The most invaluable information I have, I received when I sought the advice of previous explorers. See what names are associated with the object of your explorations. Does one name pop up again and again? Does this person have an e-mail address, a listed place of work, a facebook page? I was bowled over with gratification when, in looking for the lost city of Paititi, I came across someone who had dedicated the last 20 years of his life looking for it: Gregory Deyermenjian (look him up – he is a real deal Indiana Jones). He advised me on areas to look, equipment to bring, guides to use, problems to anticipate… I owe 80% of my planning to this guy! Whilst there will always be some egos in exploration (‘I have secret insights into where to look and I wont share them’) there will also be other wonderful people who are simply passionate about the thrill of discovery and happy to share knowledge with other like minded individuals.
STEP 6: ASSEMBLE A STRONG AND DIVERSE TEAM
Don’t just pick your friends, instead think what roles you need to fill. Do you need a medic, an archaeologist, a cameraman, a linguist? For me this was the hardest stage of the expedition as it meant including people I didn’t already know. The advantage is that I now have shared experiences with these people through some of the most arduous of conditions and know exactly who I can depend upon for future projects.
STEP 7: GET IN SHAPE
Ok, so you don’t need to be an Olympic sprinter but if you normally balance the plate on your fifth Buddha belly whilst watching TV you might want to think about taking up jogging. In all seriousness an expedition could find you hiking for up to 8 hours a day on minimal food rations – whilst useful as an weight loss exercise, you are going to need to be have the stamina and resolve to keep going.
STEP 8: NOW GET OUT THERE AND DO IT!
If you’ve done everything else right, this is actually the easy bit. Yes you will hike for days at a time, it will be humid or cold or wet. At times you will be miserable and exhausted and wish for your bed, your loved ones or for a hamburger. But if you have reached this stage you have had the passion to endure the logistical planning, you have invested this and it is your dream to see it through. Looking back for me, really the expedition was the pay off of everything else.
So you read this article. You quite possibly have an interest in exploration. Maybe you even want to be an explorer. So just ask yourself, how much do you want it?