This is the long overdue showcase of expeditions and projects, photographs and jottings, musings and rants, past and present, from a life spent in pursuit of… well, I’m still unsure; why not simply a time well spent?
I called it ‘Journeys Without a Map’ because one of the first things to document was a 3-4 month expedition across Central Asia with my wife using using camels and donkeys, but no map. And besides no map, we had no GPS, nor any pre-planned route to follow. Instead we followed the leads that were presented to us by the people we met along the way. Sadly, in China at least, these were more often angry policemen than any other demographic and most of the leads were not those we wished to follow. In fact, I might term them ‘mirror leads’, as we generally tried to do the exact opposite, which attracted more and more angry policemen and eventually saw our camel impounded.
Nonetheless, it’s still my preferred method of traveling and in many ways it seems that my entire life has been without a map. I generally just follow my nose or my heart and make it up as I go along, a modus operandi that has always yielded rich and unusual experiences as long as I’ve stayed true to it, which hasn’t always been the case. But I think the title covers extremely well everything that I have done and am doing.
We’ve been back from that journey for a while now and this blog is onto other things. I was working on editing the film we shot in China and Kyrgyzstan, entitled ‘Getting My Wife To Settle Down’, but it’s been buried beneath the latest project, which might even prove to be the biggest yet, including, as it does, world domination. And then, of course, there’s a living to make, a wife to keep happy, two small children to feed, teach and entertain; health to keep up, meals to cook and eat, hours to sleep. Where do the high achievers in life – you know, those individuals who are described as ‘prolific’ ‘this and that’: successful businessmen who are also prolific writers and the like – find the time to do all this stuff and get even more done on top? How do they do it? By delegation, obviously, and by having a private income, I suspect. But I have nobody to delegate to and no money. Hmmm…problem.
It’s time to create the right conditions to be a prolific son of a bitch. An idea is forming.
Watch this space, or at least click on ‘follow’.
And who am I, exactly? This is how my current Biography appears.
Mark is 50 years old and was brought up in the Scottish highlands by parents who believed their children should learn to analyse risk for themselves as soon as they can walk. I began leading expeditions whilst serving as an officer in the British Army, coercing the lads into joining me on ambitious desert, jungle and mountain adventures squeezed between operational commitments that took me to Iraq, Bosnia and Central America. Leaving the Army in 1995 I continued to carve a living of sorts from leading expeditions in Earth’s wilder places, despite the occasional ill-conceived attempt at business and settling down. A friend, Bruce Parry, rescued me from one of these in 1999 and together we co-directed, shot and starred in the ‘ground-breaking’ and multi-award winning film ‘Cannibals & Crampons’, and I authored my first book, First Contact (Eye Books 2002). When 9/11 crushed all hopes of expedition funding I briefly resorted to my military background, running an armed force of over 1,000 Iraqis in defense of infrastructure, but then returned to the safety of Arctic ice and malarial jungle to become a TV personality/presenter for the BBC (Blizzard-BBC2; First Contact–BBC4) and then Travel Channel (World’s Lost Tribes, 3 series; Secrets of the Tribes1 series). Losing that gig in 2010 I have spent the last years self-building an eco-lodge and permaculture centre on a remote stretch of Africa’s Atlantic Coast, and a charity devoted to sustainable agriculture.
It’s about time to engage 5th gear.
And the other person who’ll feature heavily on this site is my wife and team mate on this ‘mapless’ journey through life, Ayelen (pronounced Ash-e-len) Aguilar, Argentinian hottie. This is her biography.
Ayelen, 36, was raised in the north of Patagonia where the outdoor life was pretty much obligatory. A ski instructor by the age of 16 she was also a keen climber, becoming a respected instructor of the sport whilst studying at Cordoba University. After 4 yrs of study she set out to hitchhike 17,000kms from Ushuaia at the foot of South America to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean. Working wherever possible it was a journey that took her 18 months and the length of the Americas and it forged her lifelong love for solo travel and for putting her trust in the locals she meets along the way. Such faith has led her to experience, amongst others, tribal living and such ‘men-only’ work as deckhand on a Central American coastal trader for 6 weeks. More normal work opportunities led her eventually to settle in Europe where she became a painter and decorator while also continuing to teach rock-climbing and skiing. Always keeping the spring and autumn for travel, subsequent adventures included hitchhiking the Sahara and West Africa and cycling throughout Europe, South East Asia and Japan. And neither has marriage to TV adventurer Mark Anstice brought any sign of settling down – for the last few years, when not working in Ibiza and the Pyrenees, she has been building a permaculture centre in North Africa, often on her own for weeks at a time in the middle of nowhere with a workforce of up to 20 men speaking nothing but Arabic. In American parlance, she kicks ass.