40 years of Adventure - and Misadventure
Our very own Miss Adventure Anna Faulder, Marketing Manager, takes us on an Exodus journey through the ages…
Adventure travel has changed a lot since Exodus started. Forty years ago there were no mobile phones; even the fax machine was yet to make its debut. Exodus, literally meaning ‘a mass departure of people’ began with the desire to take a group of like-minded travellers on a journey. Today it has grown into one of the countrys leading adventure travel companies, but with precisely the same ideals that marked it out as special at its inception.
In the two score years spent adventuring across 90 countries, Exodus has experienced coups, counter coups and revolutions. We have taken more than 20,000 people to the Everest region and accompanied them on a Kilimanjaro Climb. We’ve watched 40 million wildebeest cross the Mara River (though we may have counted some of them twice), enjoyed 14,000 sunsets while touring the Inca Trail and drunk 40 million cups of chai.
Co-founder of Exodus, John Gillies, managed to turn his passion into a career. “I did five years at Exeter University ostensibly reading Philosophy but actually doing music. When I realised I wasn’t good enough for either I dallied briefly with a ‘sensible’ job then signed up with Minitrek, who were the seventies leaders in adventure travel… When Minitrek went bust, I and a couple of others realised that it was do it yourself or go back to real life. Real life wasn’t very appealing and DIY ended up being Exodus”.
Recalling the strangest places he ever went to he says “Bilma, in the Teneré desert in Niger. We arrived one evening in a classic Saharan sand-storm, pitched our tents in zero visibility, and woke up the next morning to find that we’d slept in the middle of the main street. Not that it mattered much – not like the time when we ended up, for similar reasons, sleeping on the runway of an Algerian airport. That could have been tricky!”
David Gillespie became Exodus’ first overland driver on that journey in 1974. "In those days, there wasn’t much distinction between passengers and company: we were all budget travellers and all equally incompetent, but we got through." Speaking about his most dangerous travel experience, he states “We got stuck in an active landslide on the way up to Kashmir. There were huge great rocks hurtling past us and if one had hit us we would have been mincemeat. I was terrified!"
It all began with Afghanistan, when two friends decided to travel overland to the Minaret of Jam deep in the heart of the Hindu Kush, the most inaccessible of the world’s great monuments. These two men were David Burlinson and John Gillies.
The 1970s were the heyday of the hippie trail across Asia to the fabled city of Kathmandu. The founders quickly expanded their fleet of overland trucks, but the Trans Asia Overland became a well-trodden path from Calais to Kathmandu on surfaced roads with only the vagaries of border crossings to slow things down. However, Africa was a new challenge. Overland London to Cape Town: a mere 16 weeks of roadblocks, mud and occasional dysentery. In fact, if the trip was completed in 16 weeks it was regarded as something of an achievement, and one of our staff members happily recalls taking 21 weeks to reach Cape Town, including getting ambushed in Sudan on Boxing Day!
The 1980s bought around global expansion and pioneering new routes. In 1981 our first truck went to South America and drove through the Amazon basin: more mud, not quite so much dysentery. Elsewhere in the world other plans were afoot. The Nepalese trekking industry was in its infancy, and the overland drivers went from trekking enthusiasts to leaders, heading up Annapurna, Everest Base Camp and any other route they could find. From this humble beginning, Exodus’ Walking & Trekking programme grew rapidly.
The first dedicated trekking brochures in the early 1980s were modest affairs, but by the end of the decade we had become leaders in the field – and in the mountains.
The early 1990s were dominated by two world-shaking events. One was the break-up of the Soviet Union. From climbing Mount Elbrus, to walking on the shores of Lake Baikal in Siberia, Exodus groups were usually first into the newly created countries.
The other main event in the 90s was getting an Exodus Overland truck into China, something which no other UK company managed for well over another 10 years. China is just another destination now, but in 1990 this was more ground-breaking than going to the moon or the South Pole!
Despite adventure running to tighter schedules sometimes the best laid plans… In November 2009 just over 100 travellers, mostly Exodus clients and the BBC’s Frozen Planet crew got stuck in the ice whilst trying to access the Antarctic Emperor penguin colony of Snow Hill. A week later they had not moved. Once the world’s press realised that neither scurvy nor cannibalism had taken over, it became a massive news sensation as the plucky marooned Brits finally got to their rookery and returned to Ushuaia, triumphant, but late. The extreme areas of the world do not run to schedule, just how we like it.
The world is a very different place now. These days you can tweet a photo from Everest Base Camp and check your emails in the Masai Mara. And at Exodus we continue to evolve too - not only in where we go, but also in how we do it. We are certainly wiser and undoubtedly more professional in what we do.
But some things never change - none of that youthful exuberance or passion for exploring anew has waned, and Exodus sticks to its founding principles of enabling people to see this amazing planet of ours differently.
Written by Anna Faulder, Exodus' Marketing Manager, with thanks to Peter Burrell, Phil Normington, Paul Goldstein, John Gillies and David Gillespie.