There are always milestones in our lives that we easily recall ‘where we were when’. Like the first landing on the moon in 1969, the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1991 and (unfortunately) 9/11. And, I have to get it in here, when Wales won the Six Nations Championships in 2019! Looking at these decisive events throughout history, we create a kaleidoscope of individual stories, experiences and growth. This mosaic shows how big history impacts our personal lives. However, peering into our own personal lives, more often than not we can recall where we were on our 21st, 40th, 50th birthdays and the list goes on. However, never did I dream that I would tell the tale of my 21st work anniversary in an industry that I still love. Looking back at the twists and turns of my earlier days and the career paths that could have unfolded, I count my blessings that I’m here now having marked 21 years as an Expedition Leader, the best job in the world!
From where I sat in the 1990’s, mass-market adventure travel really took off with the help of Lonely Planet and the Rough Guides booming and overland travel was in it’s prime fueled by growing numbers of low-budget ambitious young folk wanting to see the world. So thanks to this, 21 years ago to this very month I left the shores of the UK and set off on my very first trip as an International Guide for Exodus Travels. Full of excitement, and a few nerves lurking, I was off to discover the countries of the world, their cultures, environments, cities, mountain ranges, deserts, coasts and jungles. And with a truck load of inquisitive tourists, yes literally a truck load, not only was I the Tour Guide, I was the driver, mechanic, trip planner and logistics sorter, budget handler, problem solver, chief negotiator, group dynamics manager, travel educator and cook (can you imagine)! Back in the day you were literally the ‘jack of all trades’ and responsible for ‘making the trip happen’. With a specially adapted overland truck filled with camping & catering equipment, I was behind the wheel and taking groups of people of all nationalities to experience the grass roots of the African, Asian and South American continents. And so the journey began.
1998 – the start of the Exodus years…
Having successfully waded my way through a rather intensive interview process, stepping into the Exodus workshop for the very first time was simply mind blowing. I remember the walls being shrouded in wonderful images of trucks motoring along all types of roads, in all areas of the world and some in quite interesting predicaments which set the imagination into overload. Wow bring on the next 6 months of training in the workshop and on the road as this was something I was bursting to be part of. What a steep learning curve and experience that 6 months entailed but it held me in good stead to tour the world. The first expedition I led all the way back in 1999, was a 9-week trip in Africa from Nairobi to Cape Town. With 16 eager and international clients we journeyed through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa covering over 5,000 miles. Whoa! What a start! This was an epic adventure on every level imaginable. From meeting the impressive Masaai people, passing the snow-capped Kilimanjaro and thinking ‘I’m never climbing that’, to camping in the Okavango Delta and seeing the ever-extraordinary wildlife in their natural environment. This was the best place I could ever wish to be in, let alone be lucky enough to call it work. I was completely blown away by the friendships that were formed on the trip as well. The goodbyes in Cape Town were quite emotional and some of the members of that group are still in touch today. That’s when I realised that the power of travel was so strong, not only with experiencing new environments, cultures and ways of life, but also the solid friendships that evolve from adventure travel.
With more overland expeditions traveled, naturally there were a few blips along the way. Driving down the Skeleton Coast in Namibia and getting bogged in the sand wasn’t my finest moment, fixing a trucks suspension on the salt flats of the Atacama Desert, or trying to warm up the diesel in the truck to get it going again to cross the Tibetan Plateau at 4,500 metres above sea level as the diesel and fuel pipes had frozen overnight. There have also been a few close encounters with full blown elephant charges through campsites, tricky border crossings, being robbed, contracting malaria (twice), but I have nothing but gratitude for this amazing period of my life. 8 years of guiding these overland trips across the vast African continent, into China and Nepal and all the way through South America has just been flippen tremendous and also very, very humbling.
Back home to Snowdonia
Following the epic overland adventure period, I returned to my Welsh routes in Snowdonia which is where I was born and bred. A bit of a shock to the system to say the least with returning to my home town of Conwy. But now armed with an immense passion for travel, bucket loads of worldly experience and enthusiasm to show more people the incredible places & experiences the world has to offer, I hit a sticking point, hmmm……what on earth to do?? Initially I was working as a Mental Health Care Assistant, though following months of contemplation and a little bit of intrepidation, I decided to take the plunge and set up my own company and resume the love of adventure right here in my own backyard. With months of training and many a night spent out in cold dark mountains practising night navigation skills, one by one I ticked off the necessary outdoor qualifications – mountain leading, mountain bike leading, kayak instructing and water safety in order to set up my very own outdoor adventure company in Snowdonia. Now, I just needed a name for this venture. Hmmmmm……..the mind ticked over and over. Going back to the main purpose of this little enterprise was wanting people to discover their inner adventurist self. So being a true Welshman the company name, Adventurous Ewe, was born in 2007. And here begins the next journey.
The early years of Adventurous Ewe
As any start up business person will agree, it was a tough slog at first (don’t worry, I’m not about to launch into a rag to riches story here, far from it). The slog wasn’t just scaling mountains and establishing trekking routes that I could promote. Many a day was spent dropping off flyers to local hostels, caravan parks, outdoor shops, etc. Slowly but surely, the business evolved with small hikes around Snowdonia, The Lake District and the Scottish Highlands. Thankfully Adventurous Ewe started getting some traction and some fantastic loyal clients, (a huge thanks to those who are still part of the journey today). The early days were subsidised by working for other larger tour operators as an expedition leader on their trips. I was lucky enough to head back overseas and revisit some old overland stomping grounds with guiding 18 Kilimanjaro Treks, 10 Great Wall of China Treks, numerous cycling trips through Asia, plus many others. Slowly but surely Adventurous Ewe started to grow more back home with some UK events firmly established this then led onto venturing abroad. I honestly find it hard to put into words just how excited I was when Adventurous Ewe started operating some of its very own classic treks to Kilimanjaro, Sahara Desert, Mt Toubkal and the Great Wall of China! Not only was it incredibly humbling for the company to be expanding into overseas travel, it was absolutely amazing to catch up with many old friends made across the globe who are still very special to me today.
Growing the company…
Today, and without wishing to sound too cheesey, I’m thrilled how far Adventurous Ewe has emanated as a company and the ethical stance that has been taken. I’m absolutely delighted to take groups of intrepid travellers, corporate organisations and charity supporters across the globe whether it be trekking, mountain climbing, cycling, kayaking or snow-shoeing and love developing new itineraries to remote pockets of this amazing planet. We’ve got some cracking adventures soon to be launched in Rwanda, Georgia, Jordan, Columbia and Papua New Guinea. Plus, it’s great to use a bit of creativity with designing new adventures and events right here in the UK too. I’m really chuffed to work with some of the bigger companies as well with providing their UK events, namely Much Better Adventures, Threshold Sports and 360 Expeditions. Plus it’s brilliant working with community groups such as Adventure Queens (a UK based, not-for-profit women’s adventure community – set up with the aim of delicately smashing down the barriers that prevent women from heading off on adventures) and Her Spirit (helping woman improve and maintain the health of their mind, body and soul) as this is really rewarding.
I never thought I would see the day when I didn’t spend my winters living in Morocco with endless periods in the mountains or heading to the coast for my big love of kite surfing! 2018 not only saw me venture down under and marry the lovely Aussie, Sue Blunt, she is now very much part of Adventurous Ewe. Together we’re really proud to have plenty of experience in the pot with adventure travel, event management, safety management (the not so exciting stuff), third sector and new trip creations (the very exciting stuff). And so, the next journey is underway.
Not forgetting our UK crew…
Wow, where would we be without our team of loyal and experienced UK Leaders and Crew who have been with Adventurous Ewe for many years. Not only are they all fully qualified in the various activities that we do, they are willing to go the extra mile to ensure all our participants have a brilliant time and with a bit of humour thrown (some good and some not so good). This team of guys & gals are literally the face of the company and we can’t thank them enough for all the work that they do, the support that they have given and valued friend-sheeps over the years. A big heartfelt thanks to ewe all!
Our Local Leaders…
And as part of the initial set up of the company, I always strived to use local guides in all the countries that we operate. These guys & gals are key to showing participants the heart of a destination so it’s key that they live in the area whilst also providing local employment. Our Leaders are not only activity experts (high altitude mountaineering, trekking, cycling or kayaking guides), they’re a teacher of local customs, culture and the environment, travel buffs, have an understanding of individual needs and all whilst being an enthusiastic source of grassroots experiences.
Go the gals…
At Adventurous Ewe, we’re now striving for greater diversity with our Leaders. We endeavour to promote equality and inclusiveness at every level of our business. While 20% of our current local leaders are female, our goal is to double the number of female leaders by 2021. It’s an exciting challenge spanning many countries and cultures, but it’s all part of an ongoing effort to promote gender equality and women’s independence.
Tourism can be a powerful force for good. This is what I love about these journeys and part of the reason for setting up Adventurous Ewe. To be on the road and keep travelling as long as I can with people willing to step out of the comfort zone and explore and help this incredible planet. From the comfort of home, it is easy to think that tourism is bad for the environment, though following years of travel it is obvious that National Parks and marine protected areas are incredibly dependent on money from travellers. Entrance fees from tourist parks pay for local guides, guards, patrol boats, etc. If we don’t visit these areas around the world, and pay entrance fees, those wildlife Arks will be poached, redeveloped, farmed, logged, fished to hugely detrimental lengths.
By creating national parks, and subsequently providing jobs in local communities, we give economic incentives to people to protect what all of us surely want to preserve. It is something absolutely critical that travelers can do to help protect iconic life.
I am, of course, completely aware of the environmental consequences of travel. All our trips and adventures have a deep impact on the planet. Therefore, we made a conscious decision to become a business partner with leading climate change charity, Cool Earth. They share our mission to protect the planet’s precious environment in a sustainable manner.
The future of rainforest protection is where everyone makes a difference to climate change!
Our mission: to harness the power of travel to conserve and protect the world’s precious natural spaces, one epic adventure at a time.
Our goal: to ensure rainforest communities benefit from adventure tourism, and to educate and inspire our flock to help actively support these communities across the planet.
Cool earth is the non-profit organisation that works alongside rainforest communities to halt deforestation and its impact on climate change. Cool Earth puts local people back in control, giving them the resources they need to keep their forest intact. It is an approach that research proves to be the most effective way of keeping rainforest standing. It is also an approach that is transforming the lives of some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.
This partnership means that just by joining the flock and travelling with or taking part in an event with Adventurous Ewe, you will not only have an incredible experience, but you can do so by knowing you are actively supporting rainforest communities across the globe. To date our partnership has contributed to the further protection of eight acres of rainforest (that’s 2,000 trees), locking up to 2,167 tonnes of CO2 and we are determined for these number to grow significantly.
As the legend himself, Sir David Attenborough, said:
“Helping Cool Earth to halt tropical deforestation makes a real difference. Perhaps the biggest difference we will make in our whole lives.”
So we will continue to invest a % of our revenue into supporting critical conservation projects around the world through Cool Earth.
When tourism is managed sustainably and meaningfully it can really help to protect and preserve a place. So get up, get out there, and experience the best this amazing world has to offer. Seek out authentic and immersive trip experiences and adventures, something that you will be able to look back on and remember for a long time. Pay the national park and marine park entrance fees and know that you are helping preserve some of the greatest wildlife on the planet or join us knowing that you are actively supporting rainforest communities across the globe through our partnership with Cool Earth.
So bring on the next 21 years of adventure travel and may we not only make a difference to your life, your experiences and your stories, but to the lives and environments of all this awe-inspiring planet that we call home.