Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Emerging Explorers: Kira Salak

I've been a reader of National Geographic for as long as I can remember. A little while ago, they published their list of Emerging Explorers for 2005. Of particular interest in the list were Constanza Ceruti, an anthropologist and archaeologist and Kira Salak, a writer and an "adventurer". What strikes one about Kira Salak is that at the outset, she almost appears like your next-door neighbor who decided to take off on a trip and managed to do some fantastic things. However, a little more reading into what made her into who she is today reveals that there is a whole lot more to her than meets the eye. One needs to but read into the student close-up piece that University of Missouri, her alma mater, had written on her.

From a shy to almost depressed kid with a talent for track running, she faced down obstacles and her personal problems. After a particularly depressing school incident, she decided to go across the island of Papau New Guinea from south to north, tracing the path of several well-known explorers, as a means to restoring her self confidence. During this time, she wrote her first book, "Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papau New Guinea". She encountered such things as cannibalism, met with separatist guerilla leaders, and trekked across the jungle and the water on a dug-out canoe. But she wanted to do more. In 1992, at the peak of tragically brutal civil war, she decided to travel solo across Mozambique’s infamous Tete Corridore, a war torn highway linking the nations of Malawi and Zimbabwe. On the road, she was dragged out of the truck by drunk soldiers at gun-point who had other plans for her. On the way to an outhouse and with the help of the driver, she escapes them to safety. She was 20 then. Reading now about some of her accomplishments, they almost sound magical. Somewhere amidst all her adventures, she got herself a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Missouri and managed to publish a piece of fiction in an important literary anthology collection. She is the first person to kayak solo 600 miles down West Africa's Niger River to Timbuktu in Mali, which she talks about in her book, "Cruelest Journey : Six Hundred Miles To Timbuktu". She is also the first woman to trek across Papua New Guinea and has made a 700-mile cycling trip across Alaska to the Arctic Ocean.
Now, that's what I call a true adventurer. Who says we are lacking in explorers in this day and age? :-)