It’s when things start going wrong on expedition that you’re most thankful for forward planning. Thankfully, on our expedition to paddle the entire length of Guyana’s Essequibo river, the team came out relatively unscathed, however there were a few hairy moments and that’s when we really leaned on Inmarsat.
Perhaps one of the closest calls was when Ness [Knight] collapsed one day. We had no idea what could possibly be wrong. She had been feeling under the weather for a few days and on this particular day she was faint, weak, and feverish. Then, as we were talking to her on the side of the river, she collapsed. We used the IsatPhone 2 satellite phone to call a medic back home who recommended various antibiotics and treatment for her. Although we still didn’t know exactly what the problem was just knowing that we could get hold of an expert for advice was unbelievably reassuring in what was otherwise a very worrying situation.
On a personal note I loved knowing that I could communicate with loved ones back home, especially on the dark days. There were some exceptionally tough times on this trip – lowlights consisted of nearly sitting on the most deadly snake in the jungle (a labaria snake, literally inches away from me when I got my foot stuck in a rotten log); getting trench foot to the point where I couldn’t walk and we were considering evacuation; finding a tick in my bottom (yes, that actually happened); and having a live caiman between my legs while I was paddling a dugout canoe (our Wai Wai guides had caught it to eat and it kept whacking me with its tail).
The snake incident in particular really shook me up as it forced me to confront the danger of what it was we were doing – and the fragility of life. Sometimes the most powerful communication of all is being able to tell people you love them. Emergencies and down moments aside, we all loved keeping in contact with our loved ones either through the satphone or the BGAN satellite voice and data terminal.
Since we’ve returned from this world-first expedition some of the feedback we’ve had from people is that they loved following the journey in real time on social media. We belly laughed down the river, overcame challenges that seemed insurmountable when we set off (like making it down the river in one piece – a relief given how clumsy I am), and sharing the rich culture and stories of the Wai Wai, our guides and friends who made this entire trip successful.
It was through having BGAN connectivity that we could share our knowledge, thoughts and feelings in real time. We could directly share the beauty of the rainforest, and the need to protect it, with an audience back home. This sharing of knowledge was something I loved most. Adventure has the power to change people and I love that in communicating this it can change more than just the person experiencing it.
The whole team would like to thank Inmarsat for being our communications partner – from a safety, connectivity and story-telling perspective, this trip was all the richer for it.
Expedition photographs by Jon Williams
About the author
Pip Stewart is passionate about travel, exploration and increasing the profile of women in the adventure world. As comfortable on a bike as in a canoe, in addition to the Essequibo expedition, she has cycled halfway around the world – 10,000 miles from Kuala Lumpur to London – and pedalled the Transamazonian highway by bike. The series ‘Transamazonica’ has been on CBC in Canada, TVB in China and is due for release on Al Jazeera and Fox International later this year.
Pip has produced political and travel multimedia stories for The Telegraph, Forbes, the BBC, and CNN amongst others.