Shamans, pygmy chiefs, hospitalisations and gun-wielding bodyguards..the weirder side of international adventure wrangling

After three years, eight months and three days of gallivanting around the globe organising ridiculous adventures, I have finally departed the cosy bosom of The Adventurists’ employ. Making the jump has felt rather like splitting up with a long-term boyfriend, and telling Mr Tom and Mrs Jen, The Adventurists’ Chiefs, of my departure, felt akin to that ghastly, gulping moment when you tell your other half it’s all over. But a freelance life of writing, adventure and no doubt far too much gin calls, hence the gusset-wrenching decision to leave the life of an International Events Wrangler behind.

Before I begin the next chapter of This Life, here’s a spot of insight into some of the weird, wonderful and occasionally dastardly aspects of setting up new adventures for The Adventurists. It ain’t all tea swilling and swanky hotels you know.

  • On my first day at The Adventurists in March 2008 Mr Tom, turned to me and asked ‘How do you feel about Africa?’ A few days later I was sitting on the runway at Paris airport, bound for Cameroon, with an escalating riot going on around me. A Cameroonian man was being deported from France, held down by eight heavily armed French gendarmes. The more he screamed and fought, the more it inflamed my fellow Cameroonian passengers. After an hour long battle the police gave up and the man was bundled off the aeroplane, back onto French soil. It was my first taste of Africa.
  • Hearing Jock Munro, the oldest rider on the first ever Mongol Derby, playing the Scottish bagpipes in the middle of the Mongolian steppe at the finish party of the Derby. The visceral, incongruous sound of the bagpipes drifting on the steppe wind was quite extraordinary.
One of the Mongolian herding families who worked with us on the Mongol Derby
  • Multiple visits to the Nouvelle Destinee Orphanage in Douala, Cameroon during the 2008 and 2009 Africa Rallies. In 2008 enough funds were raised from the Rally car sales in Cameroon to put 33 of the children through school for the year. The children were always so cheerful, and the ladies who ran it so dedicated and compassionate, being able to help them was a really brilliant feeling.
Children at the Nouvelle Destinee orphanage in Cameroon
  • Trying to convince the Malaysian Department of Road Transport that no, we really didn’t want a 250km police escort through Malaysia on the Pioneer’s ASEAN Rickshaw Run. Whilst the Malaysian Government thought they were offering our teams the ultimate token of hospitality, we had to politely tell them that being mollycoddled by a fleet of Malaysian police cars wasn’t quite in the spirit of The Adventurists.
  • Organising the first Mongol Rally Czechout party in the summer of 2008. Our original castle pulled out a few weeks before the event, leaving me to scour the entire Czech Republic for a willing and suitable replacement. After seeing over thirty castles in a week, I found Klenova, a ruined 14th century pile nuzzling in the rolling hills of Bohemia. In the end, the party was a storming success. Seeing 800 people dressed up as ‘Knights and Wenches’ was a sight to behold, even more so when they were still dancing to searing techno at 4 a.m.
  • Drinking ten bottles of vodka on a Mongolian mountain top, with four large Mongolian men, at the end of the 2010 Mongol Derby. We sat in the burning steppe sun, toasting Tengri and Gadzer (the gods of the sky and earth), drinking shot after shot of Chinggis Gold vodka, getting increasingly plastered and taking it in turns to sing. Hilarious.
  • Getting to the end of singing ‘Once in Royal David’s City’  – after drinking the aforementioned ten bottles of Chinggis Gold – violently vomiting, passing out and having to be carried to my ger by two of the drivers.
The offending spirit
  • Chuntering across the Siberian wilderness on the back of an old Ural motorbike last winter, on a test trip for the Ice Run. Nowhere have I ever witnessed stars like it, or looked up at that diamond scattered vault and felt so infinitesimally small.
Keeping warm in Siberia
  • Being shouted at by one of the 2009 Africa Ralliers when the plates temporarily ran out at the finish party supper.  We were in the Cameroonian jungle, at a bash I had pulled together with the help of the local Bantu pygmies. The plates had run out and one of the pygmies had delved off into the jungle to find a few more. I felt the shouty chap was perhaps being a little unreasonable, given the circumstances.
  • Watching two high-ranking officials from the Cameroonian Ministry of Tourism and the Customs Department, having a fistycuffs over the auction of the Africa Rally cars in Douala in 2008.
  • Short spells in hospital in both Siberia and Jakarta. Once for being reversed in to by a drunken fool, the other time for some mystery virus.
  • Discovering that Avi Sivan, the charismatic co-director of the charity we were working with in Cameroon, was head of the BIR, the elite army unit that looks after Cameroonian President Paul Biya. He was also a former commander of the Israel Defence Force’s elite Duvdevan unit; not the sort of fellow to be taken lightly. The charity’s HQ in Yaounde was always swarming with heavily armed soldiers, one of whom, Molu, was given the task of being my personal bodyguard. Molu was a former national karate champion, muscles and guns straining at every inch of his BIR uniform. I never did quite get used to him checking his three guns were all loaded before we got out of the car to go to government meetings.
  • Spending Israel’s 60th birthday at Avi’s house in Yaounde, with a load of Israeli arms dealers, who equipped the Cameroonian military. Not the sort of thing I ever imagined I’d be doing in Cameroon.
  • Trekking into the Cameroonian jungle behind a machete-wielding local to go and meet the local pygmy chief, hoping to enlist the musical talents of his tribe for the Africa Rally finish party. His cooperation was secured upon receipt of five litres of ‘pygmy gin’ (ferocious local moonshine).
  • Somehow ending up with a self-appointed Russian bodyguard called Vassily on the test trip for the Ice Run. Vassily insisted that because of the all ‘bears, wolves and bandits’ Mr Tom, Buddy and I couldn’t possibly set off across the frozen tundra on our own. A few days later, miles from anywhere, we had stopped to fix the bike (again) when Vassily appeared from the car, a large gun in each hand, maniacal smile spread across his face, and started shooting randomly into the sky. ‘Wolf’ he said, pointing to fresh wolf tracks on the snow in front of us. At that point I’m not sure who we were more scared of, Vassily, or the wolf.
Vassily and his wife Anna
  • Undergoing a ceremony with a Buryat shaman in northern Mongolia, to ascertain whether the spirits would allow  her to do a ceremony at the Mongol Derby finish party. I was the first foreigner her spirits had been exposed to, and before I was even allowed into the room she went into trance to see if I was worthy of being in their presence. Luckily they deemed me a ‘white spirit’ and approved her participation in next day’s finish party.

To find out more about The Adventurists have a wallow at their website here.