INSIGHT Exploring the World in a Different Way

AOS

August 17 2020

Exploring the World in a Different Way

Saleh Al Khanjari

I’ve always found the only way to live life is to embrace it, to emerge yourself into a world of adventure, to feel it pumping around your blood with every heartbeat. In the past 8 years, I’ve lived a life of risk and adrenaline, finding solace in close contact with nature. I started with small hikes in Oman, then to the highest bungee jump in the world, to finally becoming a true traveller in my own right – visiting 54 countries in a 3 year journey, hitchhiking solo across continents, experiencing the unknown, meeting locals and learning their cultures, traditions and habits.

It started in 2013 when I worked part-time in the tourism industry, taking tourists to beauty spots in Oman, discovering hidden jewels while walking under high cliffs, diving in coral reefs and camping under the stars. I eventually set out on my first solo trip to Europe to celebrate my graduation. This was my first taste of the joy of travelling and it opened my eyes, showing me the possibility of unplanned travel. It inspired me to book a long solo one way ticket around the world. Why do I travel? Maybe it’s about discovering myself, quashing negative thoughts, unpicking stereotypes, knowing the world for what it really is. When I talk about travelling, I don’t mean 5-star hotels, spars and international buffets – that’s tourism. For me, its interacting with locals, experiencing their culture, learning how people really live.

I started in June 2016 hitchhiking from Muscat all the way to Athens via a ferry to Iran then to Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania and finally to Greece. Some moments are imprinted in my memory, once I set out to hike up the most challenging mountain in Armenia (2544 m high) with just my 16 kg backpack and a map. My plan was to hike for two hours to a lake near the starting point, but when I got there before sunset I decided to explore more. The route I chose was difficult. I had to use chains, slings and walk on the edge of precipices. By then, I had met three Czech hikers with whom I hiked to a campsite beside a lake. It quickly got dark and the temperature dropped to 0°C. It was freezing, there wasn’t any wood to light a fire and I didn’t have any warm clothing. The only solution was to stay in my tent and wear everything I had in my backpack – 11 layers of shirts. By midnight I couldn’t feel my limbs but I kept them moving to keep blood flowing. I only slept two hours and woke up to find my left hand had gone numb and I couldn’t move my fingers at all. Yes, I freaked out, but I was in the middle of nowhere and it was a big risk to go back because of the chains and cliffs. The nearest route to exit the mountain was around 30 km, a two-day hike. By the time I had completed it, I was exhausted and felt faint. After a long hitchhike back to Sibiu, I took a hot shower hoping my hand would get better, but it didn’t for a month. To be honest, maybe I freaked out a bit, but I don’t regret it; it just made me realise I need to be better prepared next time!

After the journey from Oman to Europe, I visited Mexico for three months and learned to speak Spanish by talking to the locals in the streets. Then I flew to South Africa and crossed the whole continent from Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) all the way to the Mediterranean Sea (Egypt) through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Sudan and Egypt. People always kept telling me how risky it is to travel solo in Africa, but most people only know about Africa from what they see on the news; the famine, civil wars, poverty. It’s completely wrong. Africa is a huge continent of 54 countries. Botswana feels as safe as anywhere I’ve been before and Rwanda is a well-developed country. Africa was life changing; the people are pure, authentic and welcoming. I experienced the full spectrum of people – the businessman, the farmer, the politician, the storyteller, the good and the bad. Hitchhiking teaches you to put your faith in people, to trust strangers and enjoy their company. It forces you to break down your barriers, banish your fears. 

I’m now writing my first book to be published in early 2021 and I’m focussing on shorter expeditions in Oman to raise awareness of the benefits of living a healthy, outdoor lifestyle. I’ve recently got back from kayaking from Muscat to Sur, 180km in 9 days.

If I could tell you anything, I would encourage you to travel; open your mind, expand your understanding of the world, challenge yourself. Earth is not only for ‘us’, it is more of a ‘we’. I can guarantee that you’ll find it humbling.

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