Departures Magazine – March – April 2004

The New Adventure Class

For the truly intrepid thrill seekers, ain’t no mountain high enough. Joseph Hooper reports on the new adventurers and the men and women who can take them safely and in style to the farthest corners of Planet Earth.

“We take people as close to the wilderness as we can without freaking them out,” says Cherri Briggs, American impresario behind Explore, Inc. “There is no question that people like to be pushed out of their comfort zone?and we have never had complaints or lawsuits.” The 46-year-old blonde adventurer founded her company, which offers guided trips throughout Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, after being pushed out of her own comfort zone 13 years ago, when she broke her neck in a car accident. She emerged physically intact after a year of convalescence, but couldn’t return to her successful career in advertising and film production. Instead, she made good on her childhood dream of becoming an explorer of the hard-knuckled old school. (Briggs earned her admission to the prestigious Explorers Club by completing the first documented descent of Mozambique’s Lugenda River.) Explore, Inc. became a way to indulge her own wanderlust and to give her clients a taste of something primal and beautiful?the best way, she figures, to win over people of means to the cause of preserving Africa (to date, she says, her clients have contributed about half a million dollars to conservationist causes). “You have these corporately owned luxury camps popping up all over, especially southern Africa,” she says. “It is a great product, but the experience is completely canned.” Instead, Briggs’ lodge-based trips make use of small, privately owned camps; on the mobile safaris, clients sleep in luxury tents on the ground, not on elevated platforms out of harm’s way. “I know what it’s like to hear a lion swish its tail against the side of a tent,” she says. “You think you’re going to die. It gives you something genuine to worry about, as opposed to the stock market. It really puts you in touch with the natural world. You, too, are food.”

Briggs hastens to add that she’s never lost a client or had one hurt (and that includes the late actor Jack Lemmon and his wife). Explore, Inc. manages to pack in experiences that are distinctly off the beaten safari path?on one trip you canoe down the Lower Zambezi River, dodging elephants along the way?without taking undue risks. Most of the time. “Ninety percent of our trips operate at the highest level of what is considered safe and normal on safari,” says Briggs. For clients who are drawn to that other ten percent, she says, “we’re happy to take them to the edge.” Living nine months of the year in Africa, shuttling between safari and her home base in Maun, Botswana, she feels confident tackling something ambitious like a trek in the Republic of Niger to the Saharan land of the Tuareg tribe, the so-called Blue Men of the Desert (their indigo robes stain their skin). “It’s like going to the moon,” she says. “It’s just a sea of white dunes, then you see a mountain with huge slabs of blue marble in it, or a camel caravan goes by.” At $10,000 for a 17-day trip, beauty and a measure of danger and discomfort don’t come cheap. “Sand, pup tents, and eating goats,” is how Briggs describes it. “And it can be edgy. We’ve got two guides with AK-47s on the roof of our 4×4 to deal with bandits. Our guys were in the Tuareg rebellion. Of course, so were the bandits.”