(How a Traveller turned Teacher, turned Explorer, turned Entrepreneur.)
It’s been 5 years since my first start-up, EDventure International, was created. My nephew was only about 12 or 13 months old at the time. Since then, EDventure has run the gamut of growth starting with a Big Idea at a popular pub on Victoria St, to becoming a Start-Up, and then on to the global leadership development organisation. Now, I’ve gone solo, and created an improved version of our leadership programs overseas with my own organisation, Venture Within.
Through all of this time, on visits or through Skype calls, I’ve watched my nephew, the little pooper in diapers, learn to crawl, learn to walk, learn to talk, learn to read, and learn that his Auntie will do just about anything for him on her whirl-wind visits in and out of the States on her way to or from South Africa, Australia, Cambodia, Nicaragua, or Costa Rica as EDventure also grew and spread it’s reach.
Last year, I bought Logan a Map of the World, and taught him each country where Auntie “lives”. Now at 6, he can point to where the tortugas hatch, where the kangaroos bounce, and where the monkeys howl, and the rhinos roam, and he knows which animals his Auntie is “playing” with in each country, and where the volcanos are that his Auntie boards down.
It doesn’t seem at all like it has been 5 years of creating and growing (nurturing and shaping) leadership programs within travel, but then I look at my baby nephew who is now a little kid, and I think — sh*t. No way has this much time passed.
I haven’t had much space in that time to sit and reflect. Any entrepreneur knows, it’s a 24/7 journey for years. Years of working your tail off and not quite getting there, years of too-late nights, and frustrated family members who don’t get your attention and only see the busy, broody side of you. Years of toil without quite hitting the goal you’re aiming for.
The last 5 years I have been BUSY. Part of me looks up at all the stars I haven’t yet reached, and feels slightly ancy that I’m not doing enough to touch them.
But on occasion, when I do find I have a moment — perhaps when my plane is delayed on the tarmac, and I’m stuck looking out the portal window; or I’m travelling by train into a rainy Melbourne, passing rows of backyards or city alleys, or maybe sitting in the back of a bumpy tuk tuk rolling down a dusty, dirt road, do I find a few moments to reflect.
I remember reading heart-warming reflections from participants. I think about their stories and their experiences that have been shared together with such remarkable individuals. I remember all the small but significant events that were created during their time volunteering on one of our projects, and how it shaped their character, opened their eyes and minds in some way, and edged them that much more forward on their own journeys.
My very first memory from these programs is on a night time beach patrol on an incredibly remote islet on the Caribbean in Costa Rica. My group was spending a week on a tiny stretch of beach with a scattering of rustic homes built by local fisherman. It was only accessible by a 45 min boat ride through crocodile-lurking canals, deep in a jungle overhanging with noisy howler monkeys, sleepy sloths, and fast-moving “Jesus Christ” lizards.
Our arrival had been delayed due to a flat tire en route to the dock, and so we missed the official “Turtle Patrol Training” we were expecting to take before we began each of our shifts, in search of the endangered, rare, and prehistoric Leatherback sea turtle, who nested on these beaches during this season.
We ventured into the night, barefoot, clad in black, with dim, red-light flashlights in our hands, following our local guide, who spoke only Spanish. We trekked quietly in single file — our Costa Rican guide, myself, a Canadian girl, and a Swedish guy for our shift from 11pm to 3am to seek nesting Leatherbacks. The four of us had only met the night before, but here we were, trusting strangers, on the same mission to look for tortugas. We would rescue their eggs, and deliver them safely to the hatchery where they would be monitored until they could climb back up through the sand, and be escorted safely down the shore to the sea, protected from hunting crabs, digging dogs, poachers, seagulls, the sun, and so begin their 25 year voyage into adulthood.
This epic journey of the baby Leatherback would begin 45 days from tonight, however, and as we started off into the sand, and into the warm tropical night, we weren’t thinking about 25 years from now, or 45 days from now, we were thinking about this night, and if we would be lucky enough to even come across a Leatherback sea turtle.
I remember the beach was narrow, unpopulated and littered with driftwood. The jungle loomed high to our left, lush with palms, coconuts, and jungle insects. On our right, the unruly sea crashing loudly, and foaming rapidly all the way up to our feet with each smashing wave. And up above, a spray of stars… so many sparkling in the dark sky, that they almost touched. We walked north, in silence, harboured between the jungle and the sea, following our barefoot Costa Rican onward into the darkness.
We saw nothing for a long, long time. Then, without warning, our guide stopped. He didn’t turn around, but held up the back of his hand in a “stop” motion and whispered back toward us: “Tortuga”.
Ooooooh… Tortuga!!!! We were SO excited and so jittery! And quiet, of course, we couldn’t risk scaring the poor creature with our loudly hushed whispers — Our first night, our first Costa Rican trip, our first turtle patrol, and 3 hours of walking in the silent dark, and here . .HERE was a Tortuga!
We squatted down in the dark sand and waited while our guide snuck off to investigate. It was so exciting. I remember the waves, the jungle the dark, the padding of our guide’s feet as he returned, and gestured for us to follow him.
I don’t know what I expected to see as we walked a little ways up the bank. A basket-sized turtle, perhaps, splashing around in the damp sand; a mess of a sandy hole perhaps…
As we crept up, I extended my arm and held out my red-light flashlight to see more clearly.
But my light did not reflect the body of a turtle as I imagined. In fact, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at until I slowly waved my arm to the left, and then horizontally again to the right, very cautiously, taking it all in.
She was huge. Five feet in length, at least. And heaving. She was a beautiful beast. Her wide shell was as big as a dining table, her flippers, seemingly rowing waves into the black sand as she heavily dug her nest, her pre-historic face leathery, a little scaley, with a wide mucus-y mouth.
I remember her eyes — dark and bright. Looking right back at me. I could hear her breathing. Working so hard to lay her 80 eggs and return to the sea.
There are many reasons I do this job, many reasons I’ve had to shove aside my passion for teaching and writing in order to do the admin/management/ accounting/marketing/business-building side of things that it takes to create such impactful memories. Such experiences. Such learning. A cultivation of education and culture immersion wrapped up into a three week experience overseas.
What was in that moment on the beach that night? Contact with an incredible species? Cultural interaction in its most unique moment? Discovery? Connection with others? Learning?
We can label these moments as such upon reflection. But in the moment, it’s truly only awe. A deep, isolated, moment of awe that strikes a chord inside us. Makes us think. Makes us feel.
Creating EDventure and Venture Within has surely not been easy. It still isn’t. But it’s these moments of connection, of impact, of uniqueness — the coming together of cultures, the connection with wildlife, the created space to immerse completely in such an experience and come out the other-side with a vividly new perspective that enhances the character of someone — that’s what makes the tough days worth it. That’s what it’s all about for me.
The next 10 or so posts will attempt to tell this story; stories from the road, both with our beloved participants and the impact they’ve made across the globe, as well as from the behind-the-scenes victories and downfalls we’ve learned from. These will be stories from our impressive calibre of staff, of our beloved friends and partners overseas, and stories of our inspiring participants and the impact they’ve made.
Stories my young nephew, who is now old enough to travel overseas with his Auntie, will one day experience for his own little self.