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The desire for discovery


The desire for discovery

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Opinion – Dixie Dansercoer, Polar Explorer

Dixie Dansercoer is one of the International Polar Guides Association’s only five Master Polar Guides and has conceived, organized, led and partaken in polar expeditions for over 20 years. Still active with his own ambitious, pioneering expeditions, he now guides in both the Arctic and Antarctic.
See his website: www.

The need for discovery feeds our ambition and vice versa. Curiosity is a basic human trait that was probably imprinted in the DNA of Homo Sapiens. But modern man has to deal with a different sort of adventure. We have to figure out what is true or false, with the media filling our minds with reality TV or with ‘live’ adventures that are broadcast in such a realistic way that you are almost there, in the middle of it all. The camera will take you to the most forbidding places on Earth, where no-one, or at least no armchair adventurer, has ever been before.

Is it really so that every square centimeter on this planet has been trodden on? Have scientists studied in minute details all the oceans, mountains, deserts or polar ice caps? Do we now know everything, and are modern adventurers just sitting around with nothing better to do but be nostalgic about the pioneering years of discovery? Of course not!

The desire to travel long distances and immerse ourselves in the most uncomfortable situations, so that we can be overwhelmed by incredible vistas or witness the wonders of life is alive more than ever.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the majority of tourists will gladly plop themselves down on a beach towel or invade the bars of small picturesque towns that once exuded deep cultural inheritance. A smaller minority probably thinks beyond the consumerism and wants to experience the real thing.

Yet there is an even smaller group, those who do not mind a bit of discomfort and actually want to strip themselves of the goodies of life to rediscover the essence, who could be called ‘modern explorers’.

Today’s adventure market economy offers increasingly more daring and far-stretched concepts. You actually can climb Mount Everest without too big an investment of time, effort and organization, but it does require a solid investment of funds. You can meet your guide – maybe booked online and probably never seen before in your life –the day before your departure. The guide does not mind zipping up your coat, giving his gloves when you were not alert enough and let the wind snatch them from you. In your contract with the guide you will probably also find a full page on your own personal dietary wishes, all sorts of practical arrangements, but not a single question on what you expect from the adventure, or why your soul has a craving for discovery.

The guiding ‘business’ has been around for a long time and offers the ‘client’ a smooth transition from the safe zone to the unknown zone, accompanied by an experienced guide. In this simple transition there are also many parameters that are far less clear, and are open to a lot of debate. There are solid guiding organizations and associations that have tackled the many controversies that surround guiding, and have come up with structures that show the best of intentions for both the client and the guide.

Where it all starts, however, is the curiousness of the adventure rookie, the innate nature of inquisitive behavior and the willingness to prepare oneself, to gather as much information about the place on Earth that you wish to visit. Quick immersions in true adventure do not exist. ‘Done-this’, and ‘done-that’ attitudes have nothing to do with true appreciation and deep understanding, which is the essence of discovery. Bagging peaks or competing with Mother Nature seems to have replaced the zest to understand, comprehend and be amazed.

I wonder how old will I be when I will read an online news article of the first person to cross Antarctica doing summersaults…

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