GOOD interviews two extreme travelers to find out the lessons they learned on the road.
French traveler and blogger Maëva traveled to Antarctica earlier this year. Photo Courtesy of Maëva
Travelers love action and far-flung locations, especially when they can be jumped off, white-water-rafted down, or climbed up. The biggest waterfall, the longest river, the tallest building, and other notable quests are featured on many people’s bucket lists. But, the dream to undertake an extreme journey or visit an extreme place can signify more than simply checking a box on a list. GOOD talked to two inspiring travelers who fulfilled their own extreme travel dreams about the lessons the adventures taught them.
All Around the World
On March 20, Ignacio Dean Mouliaá walked into the Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s vibrant central plaza, to thunderous cheers from his friends and family. Three years earlier Mouliaá had walked out of the same plaza and kept on walking until he had circumnavigated the entire planet. Mouliaá’s 20,000-mile long “EarthWideWalk” included stops to give talks at schools and universities, and he engaged with thousands more people across the world via his blog and social media.
As Mouliaá sees it, walking is a clean break from the frenzied pace of modern life. To ditch buses, trains, planes, and cars in favor of your own two feet is to savor your every step and become more aware of sensory experiences like spotting a lizard scuttling under a rock, or listening to the sounds of birds or pausing to appreciate music drifting out of an open window.
Walking around the world has given Mouliaá a special perspective on our planet, and although his walk was a personal dream, it had a global focus as well. Walking is the slowest and oldest form of transportation, but it is also the cleanest, quietist, and simplest, he said. As a result, it is the best method of transportation to “send a message of love and respect for nature and the planet Earth.” Through the ordinary, everyday action of putting one foot in front of the other, Mouliaá sought to spark a dialogue about how humans interact with nature.
Ignacio Dean Mouliaá started his three-year journey in Madrid. He would return to this spot in March after traveling around the world solely on foot.
“We always talk about changing the world, but never talk about changing ourselves. I try to lead by example,” he explained. “I think humility and simplicity can bring some light to a confusing world in crisis.”
The world is not such a big place, he said, especially now that he understands what it means to walk from one side of Europe to the other, or how long it takes to cross Malaysia on foot. “After a life journey like this I feel more aware and conscious of who I am, and of the world surrounding me.”
Hitchhiking to the Antarctic
For French traveler and blogger Maëva Philbert, her adventure was focused on the destination: Antarctica. She first became spellbound with the frozen continent when she was a logistics student, and her dream was to get there one day. “It’s a challenge because the logistics there are special. It is extreme, it is remote, it is cold, and not a lot of people go there,” she explained.
When she graduated in 2013, Philbertapplied for a position with the French Polar Institute and made it to the final four. However, she lacked some of the extra skills required to successfully work and live in such a remote, extreme location. Similar to how astronauts in space must become experts at repairs, in Antarctica, you also need to understand how to fix things, because as she put in, “You can’t just call the plumber.” Disappointed but not deterred, she decided to save up, hit the road, and get as far as she could to Antarctica on her own.
In late 2015, Philbert left Europe and headed to Bahia Blanca in northeastern Argentina, where she then hitch-hiked and couch-surfed her way over 1500 miles south. She trekked down the Atlantic coast and through the wild Patagonian desert to Ushuaia, the world’s most southern city and the starting point for many Antarctica voyages.
She arrived in December (summertime in the Southern Hemisphere) with a three-month window to get to Antarctica before the ice closed in again. Philbert did not want a traditional (and expensive) tour, so she sought alternatives methods of traveling the remaining distance. In Ushuaia and Puerto Williams, a small town on the Chilean side of the Beagle Channel, she talked to captains, yacht crews, sailors, anyone who might have room for one more passenger. Several possible opportunities arose, such as being a cook on one boat or on the crew for another, but none came to fruition.
In early January, Philbert caught a break and found a space on a sailing boat. However, bad weather combined with mechanical problems and a broken sail thwarted her attempt. By the end of January, she began to face the possibility that she might not fulfill her dream. She headed north to Punta Arenas to regroup and decide what her next move would be. Then out of the blue, she received a message from the Chilean Armada (Navy), a response to an email she had sent weeks earlier asking to join one of their logistical missions. They had reviewed her request and approved her to come aboard. Everything changed in an instant.
“I jumped so much on the bed I must have cracked it all over,” she said.
Maëva Philbert finally makes it to Antarctica after months of setbacks. Photo courtesy of Philbert.
Five days later the ship—carrying crew, scientists, engineers, a few family members, and Philbert—set off. For the next 28 days, they navigated their way from base to base, picking up and dropping off researchers, delivering supplies and carrying out repairs. When we spoke via Skype Philbert had just returned to dry land and was brimming with tales of penguins, whales, icebergs, and the immense raw beauty of it all. She still can’t quite believe that after years of dreaming, an arduous hitch-hike and weeks of exploring every option, she finally made it.
“I’m really happy I did it this way, it was exactly what I wanted. I went with scientists; I went with people working there. I don’t know if I even realize that I did it yet, maybe I’m still floating.”