Why you should care
Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
This morning my kids are ready to go to school and I’m awake and talking to you, so it’s a good day. I came here because my wife is Georgian; I’m Danish. We have an adventure company here and we started a winery. The idea is always to find the new unexplored places on Earth, of which there are many. Eighty percent of all people go 20 places in the world — Costa Rica, the Inca Trail, places like that — and the world is so big. Next up, I’m thinking about the post–Soviet Union countries; eastern Russia and even western Mongolia have a lot to offer. They’re all on my drawing board. I have people calling all the time saying, “Olaf, what’s next?” I have a tight group of people who are just waiting for my call to say, “Let’s go.”
My first expedition was in Norway, when I was 14. I took some friends hiking for several weeks. I was a mountaineer from a very early age and had my own company in Scandinavia — we took people climbing in the Alps and I used that money to cover my tuition. I got an education as an organic chemist, but I’ve always gone back to nature and adventuring. I taught at the University of California, San Francisco; while there, I was a volunteer guide and took people skiing and rafting. I had a company after that called Explorers’ Corner. The first expedition was in the 1980s, when I was invited to become a first group of four to do sea tag expedition down the northeast coast of Greenland. At that time there were so many polar bears roaming around. Not like today. That’s when I was bitten by the kayaking bug.
Since then, I’ve pioneered about 30 kayaking destinations and have been to around 100 countries. We were the first in parts of Indonesia, the Philippines, Panama, some of the remote Pacific Islands, a river in Portugal, Zanzibar, 120 miles on the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the Antarctic Peninsula — you name it. We delivered a whole new concept of adventuring sea kayaking. On one trip we kayaked in the easternmost tip of the equatorial jungle in Africa. There was very little comfort; we had to eat grubs and saw our way through the river since logs block many parts.
The travel industry has gotten softer and people aren’t willing to take risks.
One of my near-death experiences was when I almost drowned in the Buo River and had to swim for 4 miles. That was scary. I’m always a little scared when I get in those situations, but that’s good. I’m not so scared I’m paralyzed, I just become very, very calm.
The travel industry has gotten softer and people aren’t willing to take risks. Organized trips have become very non-innovative and companies are competing with luxury instead of adventure. So many people expect that everything is taken care of; they don’t have the spirt of adventure. When we go, we handpick people and they know to expect the unexpected. Most important, we have guides who know how to deal with situations. Once we got attacked by a walrus. He hammered his tusks into one of our kayaks, and my co-guide was hit in the face.
Another time in the Bering Sea — we didn’t know how difficult it was going to be — a military helicopter swooped down and landed on the beach and arrested some of our group. We were sitting there, wondering what to do next, while they questioned us for hours. They accused us of illegal fishing, but when we didn’t give them the money they wanted in bribes, they left. That adventure became a story clients could take home.