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Oliver France (expedition leader)

On today’s Podcast, we have Oliver France. Oliver France is a British Adventurer and Expedition Leader specialising in guiding groups through remote and hostile places.

Oli France has led teams through some of the world’s most dangerous and least visited countries, including Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Turkmenistan and D.R. Congo. To date, he has travelled to 70 countries. He has climbed mountains in half of those, including the likes of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe, Halgurd, the highest mountain in Iraq, and Nyiragongo, a vast volcano in the jungles of the Congo which contains the world’s largest lava lake.

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In March 2020, Oli completed a solo and unsupported 16-day 405-mile trek/ski across the frozen length of Lake Baikal, Siberia, the world’s largest freshwater lake, while dragging a 60kg sledge, becoming one of only a handful of people to do so alone.

Oli’s adventures have taken him through deserts, jungles, mountains, and war-torn regions. He has faced spies, interrogators, minefields and arrest, along with avalanches, earthquakes, killer snakes and severe dehydration, all while attempting to complete challenging journeys in remote corners of the world, either alone or while leading a team.

Today on the podcast, we talk about his expeditions and some crazy experiences growing up in adventure. Don’t Forget to Subscribe and Review the Podcast if you have enjoyed it so far. A simple review goes a long way to help the podcast grow and your support means everything.

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Transcript of our Conversation

Oli France

[00:00:00] Oli France: My next guest is an adventurer and professional expedition leader. He has spent the last decade embarking upon Intrepid adventures across the world. In the winter of 2016, he traveled over land by any means and loan from Hong Kong to Istanbul along the 8,000 mile mountainous spine of Asia crossing, 11 countries and climbing 14 mountains in Midland.

His adventures has taken them all over the world. And today on the podcast, we talk about some of his incredible expeditions around the world. So I am delighted to introduce. Ali France to the podcast. Thanks very much, John. It’s a pleasure to join you today. Well, it’s absolutely great to have you on, I mean, you’ve been to so many countries your time traveling has taken you over to 70 odd countries.

You’ve been from Hong Kong test. Ambles Serbia, Iraq, the Congo, and I can’t wait to sort of jump into it. But I always [00:01:00] like to sort of start at the beginning and sort of try and understand how you sort of got into this sort of line of work. All these adventures. Yeah, absolutely. So this has been, this has been sort of a lifelong journey to, to, to get to this stage, really.

And it was, I grew up in a, in a, in a small town in Northern England and was really only introduced to the outdoors at the age of 16. I went on this outward bound weekends and did climbing for the first time. Got instantly. Off the back of that sign up to a three-year university degree course in outdoor leadership which is believe it or not an actual degree.

And really that was the start of it all. And I was just hooked this degree cause gateway. Gave me the opportunity to learn from some of the best instructors in the UK, in the fields of mountain area and rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking. They encouraged us to go off and travel in our summers. [00:02:00] And ever since then, I’ve been trying through, through various means to just forge this, this career and our venture.

And I’m absolutely loving every minute. Well, because I know that you are up in sort of the, sort of around the lake district. Is that sort of the place where you you’re sort of grounding for these adventures sort of happened? Or was it more of a punt somewhere around the world? Flick a map and you’re like, right.

I’m doing that to the. Well, I suppose it was, it was quite a close link between those two, because yes, at the age of 16, I went and had my first experience in the outdoors and got hooked. And then the age of 17, I remember. And, you know, just to give context, you know, managed to fit in a lot of travels in the time since then, Starting now.

I had no idea what I was doing. [00:03:00] No idea whatsoever. And I remember I just passed my driver’s test. So I had this beaten up old car, my girlfriend and I, we went up to try and climb the highest mountain Scafell pike in the light district. I had no clue what I was doing. I was wearing a big thick ski jacket, you know, sweating like crazy.

I even took, took these little collapsible chairs with me, cause I thought, well, where are we going to see. And I distinctly remember going up that mountain, you know, having a horrible time, not knowing what I was doing at all. And yet all these people coming past me look so comfortable and content, and they were breezing along.

They had the right kit and I thought, I want to get to the stage where I’m as comfortable in these harsh conditions as they are. And that was the light bulb moment for me. I realized that I needed to go and do the training, do the. Learn from experts and yeah. Push myself out into more of those environments.

Well the deck chairs [00:04:00] used at the top of scalper pike. Well, we would’ve gotten them out of the top, but we didn’t make it, which is hardly surprising because yes, we, I couldn’t navigate at that stage. The cloud was coming in and it was raining, as I say, that whole thing was a Columbia. But you know, I’m probably not the first person to, to have made these big mistakes.

The important thing is, is figuring out how not to make them again. And so from there he, we always, always a failure. It’s the best way of learning. But from there you, I suppose probably had bigger plans to sort of travel the world. Yeah, that’s right. And that’s right from my time at university, I wanted to get up, get out there, you know, I’d grown up with this Macklin or my, or my bedroom wall and I was obsessed with the world and reading about it, learning about it, reading adventure books [00:05:00] and.

So I went off and worked in America one summer and the next summer I wanted to push things a little further. So I’d led to bits of Arabic. I went out to Lebanon at the age of 19 spent about six weeks out there living with a local family. And that was, you know, that was an eye-opener Lebanon was, was just coming out of a wall.

I was planning to go into Syria inside that that was just all kicking off with the Arabs. Following year, I went over to Gunda that went and did a big gap year after, after university. And I just could not get enough. And things did change though. When I got back into the UK after all of those travels kinda checked my bank account and thought, well, you know, maybe I’ll need to get a proper job at last, like everybody’s been telling me.

And so I did that unfortunate plastic thing of just falling into a job, which I really did an engine. [00:06:00] I was selling kitchens or at least trying to sell them, but I was absolutely hopeless. And, you know, I had that in many ways. It was a great job. The, the wage was good. There’s a nice bonus scheme. I had a company car, a phone, a laptop, you know, I had the freedom to work from home to work on my own schedule.

I have very little pressure from my boss. It sounds like the dream job. Both. I’d never been as miserable in my life because all of this excitement from adventure from travel, it just disappeared. It vanished. And for two years I worked that job completely miserable. And so it got to the point where I realized if I’m going to carry on trying to forge a career in our venture, I really need to do something about it.

And so what I did, I quit my job with nothing else lined up whatsoever. It was [00:07:00] terrible timing. I had a house renovation ongoing. I was just about to get married. I had no prospect of very future work, but I quit the job and decided to embark on probably what remains my biggest and most ambitious adventure to date.

And I plan to journey from Hong Kong to Islam. Alone in the middle of winter, traveling by any means across the mountain, the spine of Asia and climate, at least one mountain in each country visited. And that in the, the start of 2016, that was what I set out to do well. And so from. So that sort of journey.

Was there any, what was the planning like for that trip for Hong Kong testable after you quit your job? How did it all sort of come about from the idea [00:08:00] to the first day in Hong Kong? Yeah, good question. And very much simple concept is point a to point B. And yeah, that’s what I knew that that was the premise of the trip, but then I realized all this there’s so many intricacies to this.

There’s so many different routes you could take different countries. You could go through there’s bureaucratic issues, visa, visas, you need to pick up, et cetera. And of course the big issue is actually trying to raise the funding for it. At a time, when, as I say I was, I was going through the house renovation, had a wedding coming up and I had to quit my job.

So what my focus started to be on was, was fundraising for the trip. So I’d managed to talk ups talking. Some local sponsors got a bit of local newspaper coverage. Worked with a couple of local schools. You know, gradually managed to build up some [00:09:00] funds to such an extent that actually the plumbing took rather a backup.

And so about 10 minutes before I was due to fly out to, or sorry to be picked up to go to the airport, to Hong Kong, I was still, still the thinking in my pants and my underwear in the kitchen. I, in these spokes labels onto my t-shirt and, you know, cramming last items in my bag. So it wasn’t the perfect planning and preparation situation.

But then there I was in Hong Kong, a few hours later with a bag of stuff. With a plan I need where I needed to go. It was 8,000 miles away. On the other side of the continent. I had some basic ideas of, of visas and how I could travel about, but really it was a case of let’s just see where this journey takes me.

I didn’t have exact route in minds. I wanted to be free and open to possibilities to change in plans. And I think actually for this particular trip, [00:10:00] having that flexible approach. Really did pay a difference. And it allowed me to just experience so many things, which I could just say yes to the click of a finger and go off and have these little extraordinary signup.

And. How did they and take it? Yeah. Well, you know, I told you I was rubbish at selling kitchens, you know, probably missile this trip as well, because when she asked me how long it was going to take, I kind of scratch my head and say, Well about six weeks it turned out to be almost four months. So yeah, it w it was it required a bit, some, some difficult conversations, but luckily I do have a very supportive wife.

The, the wedding did go ahead when I made it back some months later on. So starting in Hong Kong, what was the sort of root test and book? Because you are climbing every mountain and every region you went [00:11:00] from Hong Kong into China, and then sort of what down, done a loop down through Vietnam. Back up into China through the Northern parts of Tibet all the way across China, central Asia, and then across over into the Caucasus countries and Turkey to Istanbul.

That was that was the roots. Oh, wow. And so climbing every mountain where you guide it on these mountain trips or where you just go in it. So the majority of the tracks I was doing solo, a couple of them were guided for, for different reasons. So it, Vietnam, for example, was climbing the highest mountains in fancy pan and it’s virtually impossible to get access to the mountain without the local.

And actually, you know, sometimes having those local guys really just have to the experience and it’s something I do a lot of now is, is [00:12:00] employ local guides with, with the expert knowledge because that really can be a valuable, it can help you get it in a tricky situation. Other times it was, it was a case of taking a look at a mountain range.

Say I was in Almaty in Kazakhstan, for example, you’ve got the tier, the Northern part of the 10 child mountains just to the south, just to enormous, massive, huge white snowcap mountains. And I actually met a local mountain guide deck. Got some advice from. They suggested a mountain. And for the next few days I went off and did it and divvied up on a three and a half thousand meter Ridge and just have this extra ordinary soul of adventure.

Certainly wasn’t without its risks, but but yeah, it was your on a wing and a prayer taking, taking big risks, you know, being bold, getting it out in the mountains and trying to achieve that goal. I’d set for me. I think we ha we [00:13:00] had Harrison Carter on last week and he was all the week before. And he was basically saying the, that how valuable it can be to take a guide.

I mean, a lot of the time people think, oh, I need to go it alone because it it’ll be about me, but actually how valuable it is for getting local knowledge about where to go, what are the best bits? And sometimes they show you things. Which you would otherwise miss? This is, this is something which I absolutely agree with.

And it’s something which I stick with now. Personally, I do always, always find a local expert, a local guide, or have some kinds of local support, especially when going into more volatile or risky high risk areas that, that layer of security that they give you. No matter how much research you did. You know, on your, on your laptop, having that local expert, who knows where he can and can’t [00:14:00] go.

Any things that you should be looking out for where your water sources could be, that source of local knowledge, it’s there. You just need to find that person who can give it. And to, to ignore that, you know, you’re going to be making things harder for yourself. And often as you say, it just adds to the adventure.

We can be obsessed with doing everything ourselves. And I certainly was guilty of that when I first got into travel, but the more I’ve traveled yes. Having those local contacts has just proved to be totally invaluable. They’re a good example along that trip where you Along that trip where you sort of, their knowledge became sort of essential.

I’ll give I’ll give one example. I was in, I was into GQ, Stan and I was in capital D two shamba and I was looking for my mountain, my touching mountain across the GQ status full of mountains. I think about 90% of the [00:15:00] country is over 3000 meters. So there’s really no shortage of mountains, but I wanted something interesting.

And I’d read. And in the museum, actually, I just went in there one day and saw this tiny notes about these fossilized dinosaur footprints, which could be found there, this remote mountain village into GICA Stan. And that’s all, it was one sentence. I did some reading online. There was virtually nothing available.

And then it just so happened that that evening I spoke to somebody whose family was from this very remote village. And she said, if you want to go there. I’ll say, come with me the next day. And so we jumped in the shed taxi, you know, we traveled for couple of hundred miles across the country to make it to this to this very remote small settlement in the mountains, went around speaking to the villages about this about this idea of these fossilized dinosaur footprints.

Some people believe me, some people didn’t some said, oh, yes, I’ve heard about. [00:16:00] Ultimately, we we got a few people together and we went off and ventured out into the mountains. After several hours of tracking, we came across this enormous 50 or 60 meter cliff embedded on, which were hundreds of fossilized, dinosaur footprint.

And it was one of the most extraordinary journeys. And without that local guides, without that local expertise, there is no way I would have stumbled across that remote cliff near this near this power of village into Digi-Key Stan. So yes, that can just be a gateway to the really extraordinary next level experience.

Yeah, I completely agree with you. I remember on one of my trips, I was heading across America and heading towards salt lake city and my, at the time, my American knowledge was. Next to nothing. And I was heading to salt lake city. I [00:17:00] stopped off at this place called Jeffery city. And I was at a bar speaking to one of the bikers there.

He was like, where are you going? I said, salt lake city. He said, oh, you don’t want to go. I was like, well, why not? And he was like, you take a detour and head towards sorta Jackson hole. And like, I didn’t know what Jackson hole was at the time. And anyway, from there sort of Jackson lake, the Teton mountains, I went through the mall and it was the most sort of spectacular, one of the most spectacular places in America.

But just by that sort of one chat with the local. Change my entire route across America. And just going, going with local knowledge, I think is so important on some of these trips. Yeah, totally agree. I’d so you sort of went through what 14, about 11 different countries on your route. Some of them probably [00:18:00] quite.

What sort of year are we talking with this? So this was 20 16, 20 16. Cause you’re going through probably cause I was in central Asia three years. Okay. You came through quite some quite closed off countries. Did you have any issues along the way with those countries? So, yes, the big one that Springs to mind is, is when I crossed over into was Pakistan.

And it was interesting because I’d spent, I spent my time traveling through central Asia and, you know, I’d heard whispers of this, this drug trafficking trade coming up from Afghanistan, Afghanistan accounts for about 95% of the world’s heroin supply. And much of that goes up through central Asia. So it’s very sensitive.

For that particular issue led on top of that was Pakistan is a very strict dictatorship. And [00:19:00] so I knew that I had to be careful and ongoing. As I cross the border from Tajikistan, it was, it was late at night. I was the only person crossing the border. I’ve been warned, just be careful in those Pakistan.

And sure enough, as I got into the border, they stumped my passport, then took me into this other room and said, okay, we need your phone, your camera, your laptop. We wanted to look at everything in your bag and we’re going to do a full body search. And that was, that was that for the next two hours. So they scrolled through every file on my laptop.

Looking, looking at my phone, as I say, did a full body search. That seemed to be all going fine. And then in my rucksack, they found my first aid kit, which contains some Co-codamol tablets, essentially strong painkillers and unbeknown to me all, all that perfectly legal in the UK. They’re clusters, an illegal narcotic in those Pakistan.

So from that moment [00:20:00] forward, I was detained as a drug trafficker and, and interrogated for several. Ultimately, I was detained for five days. In those Pakistan, I was taken down to the Afghan border. I was had loads in urine samples taken, you know, there was all kinds of strict measures imposed on me.

Ultimately, I was driven out to this. What turned out to be an ex KGB military posts and they’re offered two options. It was either 30 days in jail or pay a hefty fee. And let’s you say it was the best $500 I’ve ever spent. If you know anything about those back. The biggest bank note is worth about 50 P.

So to get $500 worth, I ended up with a carrier bag full of cash, which I was taken into this remote military outpost to pay my way out of [00:21:00] jail. And so, I mean, it was this crazy story after I paid the fine, I did get my passport back and, and the guard actually said to me, okay, you’re free to leave was Becky’s done now.

Boats. I had no intention of leaving. I wanted to carry on my. Luckily I befriended the interpreter who had been helping me and he helped me to get into a taxi, which took me way up to the remote part of the mountains. There. It was Pakistan and there would, I will carry out my journey. But that was only after being followed by police, having policemen, spy through a bedroom windows.

And ultimately take a 500 mile journey across the country, change in taxes in every town to try and evade the police and get myself out in the country. So that was quite the adventure really? Yeah, so it was, Pakistan stays quite high in my memory. Sure. Here at I’d say, I, I love [00:22:00] this Pakistan when I went, I think it has some amazing people in such beautiful architecture.

But I didn’t get the chance to sort of see the mountainous region, which is something I might look back on. But these sort of adventures sort of took you have taken you all over the world. I mean, you’ve been to over 70 odd countries. And you’re one of your recent ones was in Siberia, probably on a more different, it seems that you quite like the cold and the mountainous regions.

So Siberia was 60 days. Is that 16 day, 16 days walking across the lake up there. How, how did that trip come about? So this was like by Cal, which yeah. Is, is located in Siberia, just north of Mongolia. And it is the world’s largest freshwater lake and every winter because of the extreme [00:23:00] temperatures there, the entire light surface freezes over.

And a couple of years before the trip, I’d seen some images of this ice and it was just extraordinary filled with these cracks and bubbles and formations. I’ve never seen anything like. And, you know, trip inspiration comes from all kinds of different places. But for me, for this one, it was just this image of this extraordinary ice.

And, and so I started to think about a journey there and. You know, as I did my research, I grabbed, I brought Julie through to appreciate the true scale of this lake. It’s it’s just over 400 miles long, which is about the distance from London to Edinburgh. It contains a third of the world’s fresh water.

It’s that big and it’s also a mile deep making it, the world’s deepest lake. So it is just this massive expansive of ice. And I’d heard of a few people going out there [00:24:00] and doing these tracks along the surface of this ice in the winter. And so that was what I set out to do. And so it would be a 405 mile journey.

It will be fully solo, self support. I’m dragging all of my stuff. And in a 60 kilogram yes, which contains the tents, the, my sleep environments, stoves, my few, my safety equipment, everything I needed to survive on that lake for 16 days. And what sort of temperatures are we talking about here? So in the real depths of winter, it can get down to around minus.

When I was there, it was little later in the season. So you tend to wait until around early March when the lake is completely frozen, was still the temperatures. The air temperature was around minus 20 at night. And then when you went up to that day, they often Gale force winds. It it [00:25:00] really is quite cold of there for sure.

Yeah. Wow. And so 16 days without seeing anyone. What was this sort of scene scenery like there for people who are listening, it’s probably quite difficult to sort of explain, but what’s the sort of feelings and the scenery that you have when you’re out alone on this freshwater. Well, the most profound thing really.

And the thing that takes a long time to get used to is just being on the ice. You know, that constant knowledge that if you were to make the wrong step on a particular patch, you could potentially go through the ice. But this surface is like living beast. And you have this island called Vulcan island, which has some shamans living on it.

And they regardless late by Carlos as a living beast. And having spent time there, I can totally understand what they made because it is constantly moving, cracking, shifting, banging. There are [00:26:00] these pressure ridges, which form, which might be, you know, four or five meter high, just jumbles of ice. You get these great big channels of open water, which you need to overcome.

And as I say, you know, even when you’re sleeping in your tent and. On the ice, because I did come upon the ice using ice screws to secure my tent, the ice you’re lying, but your face just inches away from the ice and it is constantly shuttering and tremoring and banging. It really is quite, quite disturbing and unsettling and yeah, no matter how long you that you, you never fully get used to that sensation.

Okay. My life is at the mercy of this at this of this ice underneath me beside the ICU got very, very mountainous area right around the lake, particularly in the Northern parts. And there it is just pristine beauty. I remember one day [00:27:00] often it was stormy and windy, but one day it was beautiful conditions.

Blue sky, no wind whatsoever. Just a nice thin layer of snow on the ice. And I sat down on my pole that lunchtime, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard silence like it because there’s virtually no wildlife up there either. Especially at that time, you know, most of it will be hibernating or migrate away. And it was just total, total silence, nobody around the perhaps a hundred miles.

That was a really special moment. Well, it sounds absolutely incredible. And so food, are you dehydrated food? So you drilling holes in the lake to try and catch fish. Would’ve loved to try that. And actually near a couple of towns, you do see people doing that and they have an amazing setup with these huge tents and wood-burning stoves and plenty of Vulcan.

No doubt, because I was offered some on occasions. [00:28:00] But yes, my, my diet was much more along the, the, you know, the idea of squeezing as many calories as possible into his little weight as possible. So it was dehydrated meals. It was big blocks of cheese flapjacks cooked meats, chocolates, not I would also use sort of meal replacement powders, which are just a quick hit of calories.

So I was consuming around four and a half to 5,000 calories a day. And then towards the end, closer to six and six, six and a half thousand calories. And that will condense down into about a kilo of food. And I budgeted for 20 days. So 20 kilos of food, the good news is, as you go on, your sled is getting gradually lighter as you eat your way through that.

The enormous stash of food. Yeah. And that’s, that’s definitely the best way of sort of doing it, I feel. But I imagine the idea of sitting under a tent, a warm [00:29:00] stove, fishing, must’ve been quite tempting at times. Yes. Yeah, it would have been, it would have been quite a cool little experience. And so from this, this is sort of, what’s propelled you into this idea.

Well, this sort of guiding as your sort of career in the adventure really, hasn’t it, it’s the sort of mini trips. It sort of cemented your passion for the great outdoors. Yeah, that’s absolutely right. So particularly after this big Asian expedition in 2016 you know, I, I’d always done bits of work with other people, coaching and guiding a lower level.

More and more, you know, I, I was tempted to move away from these solo experiences and just share the mountains and the great outdoors with other people, because that, that is really an extraordinary experience in itself. [00:30:00] Seeing new places and new experiences through other people’s eyes, seeing the joy they get from those, those travel experiences and having the privilege of, of being there guys.

And so, yes, I’ve decided to really dedicate myself to. To Toronto achieve that as a career. They took some extra qualifications as a winter mountain leader, and really put my teeth by just getting out there and leading tours and expeditions right across the globe. And they’ve taken me now to 22 countries.

I’ve guided people through right across Asia and Africa including some, some quite unusual destinations like Iraq and Somalia and Yemen. And. And all the time meeting countless fascinating people from all walks of life, from various nationalities. And really now that has become my big passion and something, which I’m very, very excited to get back to in 2022.

Now that this COVID thing is blowing over.

[00:31:00] So Iraq I know that you’ve been there quite a few times. What makes you go back again and again, what is it about Iraq that so appealing? Yeah, I get this question quite a bit, because of course, Iraq is not known as a tourist destination, particularly it’s you know, all you all you tend to read of course, about to rocket, a negative news headline.

And I have found time. And again, when I’ve been to places such as Iraq is, you know, people live in normal lives, starting businesses, having families, that’s not newsworthy. So you don’t hear it hear about it yet. In these countries, you’ve got millions of people doing exactly that. You know, yes, there may be these extraordinary incidents that, you know, the terrible and do happen occasionally.

But you know, if you careful with the right guides, you can avoid that. And Iraq was one of these places that I do [00:32:00] remember having a particular degree of you know, hesitation about going to, you know, you sign up to these trips. In a nice, comfortable living room at home, you know, it’s just answering a yes on an email often or something like that.

And then it’s very different feeling to fly into that country, looking down on, you know, what has been a war torn country for years, but actually what I found very quickly. Was when I got into Iraqi is one of the most spectacularly hospitable kind, generous, warm places that I’ve visited. And everybody who I’ve taken there has said the same thing.

And so, yeah, I do have a real strong connection with the country now, particularly the Northern part, the Northern Kurdish part, where I’ve spent most of my time. But yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s just a fascinating place which breaks down all of those stereotypes. And I did want to try and [00:33:00] push things a little further, which I think I mentioned too before about this idea of going out and trying to climb the highest mountain in Iraq, which to that point that had actually only been done by a handful of foreign foreign climbers.

Oh, God and I there, I think you’re so right with that. See, many times people hear these sort of stories of these countries and they only see one side. And as you say, on a day to day, 99% are just getting on with their lives, doing pretty much what we do on a day to day, get up, go to work. You know, family food, whatever it is, that’s their day-to-day just like us.

But of course, the media sort of quite often portray some of these countries in such a negative light. Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes it is just a case of, well, let’s go and say it for myself and [00:34:00] you know, that’s not soft and the best proof and just seeing something for yourself, making those human connections, which no matter where you go, no matter the language barriers.

It’s possible to build those amazing human connections and to communicate and to laugh and to share stories. Like I say, even if you don’t speak the same language it’s possible. And that for me is also one of the most extraordinary things about travel and your sort of guiding expeditions. What other parts of the world have you sort of visited where you’ve sort of come into such incredible hospitality and the kindness of strangers?

Well, central, Asia’s certainly open there. As I mentioned to GPS, Stan was Pakistan and over the that’s yeah, I would say around us, got to be up there. You know, I I’ve been around, I’ve been on the list for, for years and I know you’ve been there as well. [00:35:00] And all I’d heard from everybody about re Iran was it is the friendliest place you’ll ever go to.

And, you know, it’s hard to argue with that. Having been. Geos this extraordinary warmth from, from the people in the country. And, you know, it’s not unusual to get invited into people’s homes to get you know, offered cups of tea and to, to, you know, constantly be bombarded for selfies. Yeah, Iran is a fascinating and amazing place.

And again, that’s where that separation comes in politics and people, you know, often we, we judge countries based on their politics. But forget about that. You know, it’s all about the people and 99% of people, wherever you go, whatever their religion are good. And, you know, time. And again, I found out to be.

Yeah. I, I had such an amazing experience in sort of Tajikistan it’s Pakistan. I remember in Tajikistan, we were in like the wakhan corridor and for anyone who hasn’t been [00:36:00] there, it’s like two mountains, either side and you go through the sort of corridor. And anyway, we were looking for a place to camp. So went up onto the sort of.

A slightest Scotland at the top. And as we are, they’re sort of unpacking thinking we’re in the middle of nowhere. So me, these kids run out and the father runs out, father didn’t run, sorry, walks out. And we were like, oh God, now we’re going to be kicked off for anything in any way we get sort of chatting and he’s like, come in, come and have supper with us.

You know, don’t pitch your tent there on the rocks, come pitch it on the grass. And we just had the most amazing night. That with them. And, you know, they showed us around, told us where to go. And it’s just these little experiences that you get along the way that make such an amazing experience of travel and everything that goes with them.

Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. And sometimes the most powerful word is [00:37:00] hello. It is making that introduction, you know, because we can stare at each other and figure each other out a little bit. And sometimes as cultural differences you know, in terms of how you would approach a stranger, but just breaking down that barrier with.

You know, that can just lead to these extraordinary experiences like yeah. And you’ve also said that you’ve been sort of the Congo Somalia, Somalia is an interesting one because one, I didn’t know a lot about it, but probably for people listening, that’d be really interested to sort of know what, what sort of guided tours or what you were doing over there.

Yeah, so Somalia is very interesting and yes, that is a genuinely unstable place. It’s a very, very tribal country. So you get large expanses of the country, which are controlled by various tribes. In the Northern part, you got the Southern part, which, you know, [00:38:00] you got Mogadishu down there. The capital.

That is without question very dangerous. And I know people who have been there you know, typically they’d have five or six armed guards around them at old times. I’ve not been there and don’t have any intentions of of going there, but open the Northern part. You’ve got Portland, which is again, slightly less volatile and then Somaliland, which is a region.

Yeah. The Northern part, which backs onto the, the red sea. And that’s been a semi-autonomous state for, for a number of years now, the, the trying to get their real recognition as, as a separate country. Compared to the rest of the country is a fairly safe place to go. And it’s got some really fascinating sites.

And so one of the big things was a place called Los Gale, which sits way out in the Somalia desert. You have to drive for hours to get there, but what it is is [00:39:00] this enormous cave structure, which contains hundreds of these prehistoric human rock art paints. And this has actually only been discovered a number of years ago.

And I’ve been out there twice now with groups that there’s also a fishing port that you can go to. But the, this cave is just extraordinary. And for me, it’s, it’s sort of, it’s a metaphor for this idea that often exploration, you know, we think about the poles and we think about the Himalayas and big mountains.

Well, there’s another, there’s another sort of angle to, to exploration, I feel, which is these places which have been cut off for so many generations through war, through dictatorship, which contain these real gems that nobody has explored before nobody’s seen before. And yeah, I can, I can think of a small handful of places just like that.

You know, another one would be the Yemeni island of Socotra, which I was lucky to go [00:40:00] to last year. Just these amazing little gems, which get no tourism whatsoever. Yes. They’re hard to get to. Yes. You need to be careful and take local gods with you thought they are some of the most extraordinary places on the planet.

Amazing. God, it sounds just so incredible. And you’re so right. This sort of idea of exploration. A lot of people put it into a sort of narrow box or a narrow idea of adventure and exploration, but it can be so much more than that. And yeah, it’s just awesome to sort of hear your stories and hear such amazing, amazing stories from such, you know, con misunderstood countries in a sense.

Yeah. Yeah. That’s that is really where my passion lies now is just, just pushing the boundaries and, and try and as hard as possible to forget those stereotypes. Of course, thinking about [00:41:00] safety, safety, and planning for that. Bonnie for a very extensive like boat pushing beyond those stereotypes and getting out to places that most people don’t have willing to visit.

Oh, Ali, thank you so much for sort of coming on and sharing those stories. There’s a part of the show where we ask the same five questions to each guest each week with the first being on the sort of trips and expeditions. What’s the one gadget that you always take with you. Yeah, you might have heard this one before.

This is, this would be my Garmin inReach, which is a satellite tracking device that allows you to communicate with the outside world. It’s got great, big SOS pasta in which you hope never to press, but it’s there. If you need it, I’ve traveled without that and got myself into hairy situations. Well, having that as, as a backup layer, safety buffer to me is invaluable.

And I would recommend it to anyone going out into, into the wild. [00:42:00] Yeah, we, we had one when we went across central Asia. And you can also track exactly where you’ve been and say, it’s also good to sort of show other people where you are at any given time. What about your favorite adventure or travel book?

This is a very soft form because I really do love adventure, adventure books. One I read recently, which is probably not too well known, but I would recommend to anyone is called 438 days by Jonathan Franklin. And it is this incredible tale of survival. It’s without giving too much away a Honduran Honduran guy.

You found himself in Mexico working as a fisherman out in a storm. Everything gets swept over overboard, his motor coats out, and then areas where there’s inexperienced crew mate in a boat with only a little bit of food. [00:43:00] And, and, and this is a story floating across the Pacific ocean for yeah. You guessed it 438 days, but yeah, what an amazing story about survival, I believe it’s going to be made into a TV show or film, but I would fully recommend getting your hands on that book and reading it very inspiring.

I remember that story came out, believe it, or sort of visit and believe it. No. Yeah, I will have to check that book out. Why are adventures important to you? The me, and probably for many people on your podcast, it is just my life because I thrive off it when I’ve had long periods without adventure. You know, I really, really miss it and I crave it and you know, probably the biggest reason, you know, we only have one opportunity.

You know, this thing called life. And so I just want to grab it with both hounds and to just have an amazing rides and to not [00:44:00] have any regrets and to get out there and see how much of this amazing planet as I possibly come. Favorite quote. So this comes from John Milton’s paradise lost, and it is a mind is its own place.

And in itself can make a heaven of hell a hell of a. Essentially, that means that whatever situations we find ourselves in, we can use our own perspective to make that a good thing or a bad thing. A thing that was a really useful thing to keep in mind often in hard situations and in expeditions or.

Yeah, I think yeah, that’s a good one. I like that. People listening are always keen to travel and go on these sort of trips and expeditions like yourself. What’s the one thing that you would recommend for people wanting to get started? The big one is just start, just start. And I speak to so many people who said, oh, I’ve got this [00:45:00] big plan to eventually do this.

And I just need to shuffle some things around, just need to, after this job, I just asked them, if not now, then when you know, just a case of just starting, just go, just go and do something. It doesn’t need to be the biggest, most expensive dream expedition. First of all, just get out the front door, go climb a mountain, go meet some people, go have a micro adventure.

Just start, get stuck into it. Learn things along the way, build your way up. Learn, learn from experts if you possibly can and have a great time doing it, but just start that. Yeah, very true. I think quite a lot of people said that when people just sort of say, oh, I’m going to do this and do that, you know, you just stand there and be like, okay, well, I, I believe you go going through it.

Yeah. Yeah. Make it happen. Finally. What are you doing now? And how can people follow you in the future? So as I say, things are hopefully looking out for 20 to 22, I’ve [00:46:00] got number of trips planned and also very excited to launch my own expedition company, wild edge, where I’ll be guiding people on, on remote and wild adventures across the world.

So please do come say hi at Polly underscore France on Instagram, and you can follow all my updates there and hopefully join me on an adventure some time. And it’s wild edge.com. Wild-edge.org.org. Amazing. So Ali can’t thank you enough for coming on today. It’s been an absolute pleasure listening to your stories.

And as I say, you’ve got quite a number of trips and expeditions lined up for 2022. So we’ll be following along, following your journey and And thank you so much for coming on today. Yeah. Thanks very much, John. It’s been been an absolute pleasure to connect with you and [00:47:00] and had a great conversation.

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