coming of age in travel

congo mountain gorilla geoff manchesterAs Intrepid marks its 21st year in the travel game, co-founder Geoff Manchester (Manch) sits down with Jen Hall, Intrepid UK’s Online Sales Manager, to reflect on some of his most memorable Intrepid moments. From spending time with mountain gorillas to eating pig blood salad… and the reasons why he’s still very passionate about the Intrepid way of doing things…

1. What’s the most amazing thing you’ve seen, that you think should be on everyone’s ‘bucket list’?
Seeing the mountain gorillas in Congo, Uganda or Rwanda. Being carefully watched by the gorillas from just metres away, observing their hands which are just like ours, watching the young gorillas annoy a silverback, having an adult gorilla come an sit right next to me while my fellow travellers tell me not to move so they can take photos. There was no way I was moving!

2. What haven’t you seen yet – which trip do you most want to do next?
Japan! Travellers who have been all over the world tell me it is the most ‘different’ country they have ever visited. The difficulty is deciding to go in season or winter for skiing!

3. What’s your most memorable moment of the last 21 years?
For our 20th anniversary I took a group of journalists to Thailand, where we met some of our local partners who have been working with Intrepid for the whole 20 years. Hearing them share their stories made me very proud of the way we assist local people to develop their careers and lives.

4. What’s been your favourite trip?
Intrepid’s Egypt Family trip. The pace of the trip, the true Intrepid-style accommodation, visiting Intrepid friends, not to mention exploring pyramids and lazing around on a felucca on the Nile with my family.

5. What’s the most unusual meal you’ve had?
Raw pig’s blood salad. It had lots of spices, lemon and chilli to kill any nasty bugs.

6. What has been the most memorable means of transport?
A songthaew (covered ute with 2 seats in the back) in Thailand carrying 45 people. Who needs a bus!

7. Can you single out one of the best places you’ve stayed?
Le Torri di Bagnarra, a 13th century tower overlooking the Tiber valley in Umbria, Italy. Watching thunderstorms rage along the valley while sitting by the open fire in such a solid building was a great experience. Nearby are many wonderful Italian villages to explore, which all add to the experience.

8. Tell us about the person who’s struck you the most in 21 years of travelling?
Ut Chaimongkol, who was our first trekking guide in Thailand. Even though English was his second language he could beat everyone at Scrabble. He taught me an incredible amount about Thai history, culture and politics.

9. Which country surprised you most?
Egypt. I never had a great desire to visit Egypt, but I was captivated by the history and just loved the welcoming nature of the people.

10. Tell us about your most unexpected moment on a trip…
Flying from Nairobi to Athens via Moscow (that’s not strange) and being taken on a free trip around Moscow during the stopover. What an amazing city.

11. Which memory still makes you chuckle every time you think of it?
In the Congo (or Zaire as it was then) seeing my business partner, Darrell Wade, who is 2 metres tall standing next to the pygmies.

12. What’s the biggest change that you’ve seen in travel over the last 21 years?
The use of guide books has just exploded. Along with this has come the provision of the most amazing services for backpackers, who previously had to make do with the local (lack of) infrastructure.

13. Do you think people are more or less adventurous than they were 21 years ago?
People are more physically adventurous in that there are more people trying extreme sports, but I think people are generally less culturally adventurous in going to out-of-the-way places. For example we have less travellers wanting to explore the islands of Indonesia away from Bali and Lombok, or take a really remote trip in China.

14. Here in 2010, we can chat to people all over the globe, pick up exotic foods in our supermarkets, and use google maps to see anywhere we want. Does travel still hold the same mystique that it used to, and is it as valuable to people as it used to be?
Technology does not allow us to have true real life experiences, like staying in a home in a tribal village or eating local specialties that will never be sold internationally. I have not seen spiders for sale at our local market! There is nothing like meeting people face to face, in their environment, especially people from cultures with less technology than ours.

15. How has your attitude to Responsible Travel changed and do you think we now have more responsibilities as travellers?
In 2010 people are starting to think about Responsible Travel, but this was important to Intrepid right from the start. Our whole ethos was built around utilising existing infrastructure, not having special tourist infrastructure. The main way we have changed is to become better at Responsible Travel, as our knowledge has increased. Hopefully we can pass this knowledge onto our travellers and to the travel industry. My attitude towards Responsible Travel is that we have to try harder to lead the way for our competitors who now realise its importance. Plus we have to overcome consumer cynicism that arises from other companies espousing RT, but not living it.

16. What’s the one item you’d never travel without?
My sarong. It a piece of clothing, a towel, a sun shade, a bed sheet, a broad bandage. It’s always first into my pack no matter where I’m travelling. It last went to the snow with me.

17. We know you started Intrepid after backpacking in Africa. Could you still travel with just a backpack, or has your luxuries list grown?
I still do travel with a backpack, trying to keep to 10 kg maximum (excluding a laptop if its for work). There are very few luxuries I need while travelling. In fact I think I make do with less to keep my bag lighter for easy travelling (not to mention that lighter luggage saves aeroplane fuel, which reduces greenhouse gases).

18. Is your house full of mementoes from your travels? Which one has pride of place and means the most to you still?
Not really. I’m not a good shopper. Things that would be exotic at home are often in such abundance when you are travelling that they do not seem special at the time. I find its better to buy the occasional really good souvenir. I still really value my Turkish kilim and some antique Lao woven silk even thought I don’t know its original purpose. The memento that means the most is a photograph of me sitting right next to that 150 kg gorilla.

19. With your 21 years of experience, what’s the piece of advice you’d most like to pass on to other travellers?
Don’t worry too much about seeing the ‘big ticket’ sights when travelling. Go with the flow, go exploring and meet people as much as you can, both locals and fellow travellers.

20. How have you and Darrell remained such successful business partners and friends all of this time?
It has always worked well between us because we are very different people but share similar values and passions. At the end of the day Darrell and I love what we do. We are still excited about the trips we run and we love nothing more than seeing our staff grow and develop – both in their careers and their life experiences.

21. And lastly, how are you and Darrell going to celebrate 21 years?
In true Intrepid tradition there will be a big party, catching up with lots of current and past Intrepid staff.

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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Fantastic insight thanks, some great points on the whole point of travelling.'
Sally Macfarlane / Reply

Great interview and insight into Intrepid. Congrats on 21 years!'
Ariane Hiltebrand / Reply

Awesome coming of age in travel story. You and Darrell have done an incredible job at keeping your original passion for grassroot travel, real life experiences, and cultural encounters alive through all those years. This passion still lives on in every fiber of this great company – Intrepid Travel. Congratulations for making a difference in the lives of thousands if not millions of people! I am proud to be an Intrepid employee.

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