A vacation where you have to survive alone

There are travel agencies that offer rather unusual vacation packages, where the crux of the experience is surviving after being abandoned in remote and uninhabited places, without guides or sophisticated tools to navigate. In a long article published on the New Yorker English journalist Ed Caesar recounted his personal experience with such a trip, in which he described “the joys – and the absurdities – of being abandoned in a desolate landscape.”

To plan his unusual vacation, Caesar turned to Black Tomato travel agency, which has offices in the US and UK and offers experience packages called ‘Get Lost’, literally ‘get lost. ”Or“ disappear ”. The agency’s website promises trips that “help people disconnect from it all, fully experience the opportunity and feel involved to achieve a wonderful sense of satisfaction,” arguing that “sometimes you have to get lost. to find yourself “, for example trying to get to” unknown and unexplored “places, not knowing exactly where you are going or what you will need.

In the words of Caesar, who for two days had to orient himself on a course of nearly 29 kilometers at more than 2 thousand meters above sea level in the Atlas Mountains, in Morocco, these are trips where the we have “few preconceived ideas and no control. “.

Black Tomato is based on the idea that tourists accustomed to exclusive trips want experiences different from luxurious and comfortable stays, and are ready, so to speak, to earn their vacation with some kind of physical effort or a positive gesture. This is why he organizes trips where his clients have to survive practically alone in the steppe of Mongolia, in the jungle of Costa Rica or in the desert of Namibia and then, at the end of the trip, they are rewarded with a stay in a hotel. luxury. Some travel packages of this type cost up to $ 15,000 per person. Among those who request it, there are, for example, heads of large tech startups, but also honeymooners and rather adventurous singles.

As Caesar explained, those who choose to take a trip like this don’t know where they will go, until the last one. The agency takes care of organizing the transport and the itinerary according to some preferences expressed by the client, for example the time available, while ensuring that the experience is safe (we will come back). Before leaving, he also gave some pointers on what to bring: in the case of the journalist, who had discovered that he had to fly from Manchester to Marrakech only two days before departure, light clothes, sunscreen, boots and a windbreaker.

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Once at the airport, Caesar was greeted by a local guide who worked with the agency and was then escorted for about 10 hours to the starting point of his trip, in “a Morocco that most Moroccans do. do not know ”, in the words of the guide himself. There, another agency employee – a former British Royal Navy commander named Phil Asher – told him a few things about the route he needed to take, giving him some basic recommendations on how to get there. ‘orient.

The rules of the experiment dictated that he could not carry his phone, tent or matches, and if he was ever in danger he would have to seek help via one of the two GPS devices provided by the agency. Caesar had therefore started his journey with a backpack which contained, among other things, a compass, paper maps and a charger for the GPS; a sleeping bag, mat and waterproof sheet; some snacks, dehydrated food and 3 liters of water. He also brought an old phone without a SIM card so he could take pictures.

According to the instructions, the next day he would have to climb a drop of about 300 meters to get to the top of a mountain and then reach a specific point in a certain hour, where the employees of the agency would have made him find 3 other liters. of water. ‘the water. From there it would have to continue west, traversing escarpments and desert valleys, and following a dry riverbed to reach its final destination.

Caesar wrote that he had fatigue and orientation issues, which is understandable, but also said he had had a “deeply enriching” experience.

During the route, he had managed to orient himself by consulting the maps and following the goat droppings or the few footprints of boots found on the way. He had remembered to light a fire thanks to the instructions Asher had given him and had learned to distinguish in the distance the few paths marked on the stony ground, which had reminded him in places of the images transmitted by the rovers and the experimenters. helicopters sent. on Mars.

In another stretch, he realized he was in the right direction after noticing a group of nomads with mules, met again a few hours later: they were people employed by a travel agency French to transport the necessary equipment for some hikers and during a conversation a restaurateur had offered him Berber tea and sardines. Along the way, Caesar had encountered very few animals and hearing various rustles and some rolling stones, he remembered Asher’s advice about scorpions, snakes and the dangers of the mountain.

At the end of the trip, reviewing the pickup that had brought him to the starting point, he didn’t want the experience to end.

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As planned by the vacation package, after two days alone on the Atlas, César was lodged in a luxury hotel near Ouarzazate, a city three and a half hours drive from Marrakech nicknamed “the door to the desert” but also ” Hollywood of Morocco ”, because several films have been shot there. At the hotel, he had met Asher again, but had also noticed that he looked as dirty and tired as he was, finding that he had been followed for the entire duration of his trip.

Asher had always stayed a few hundred yards behind him: when he heard the sound of stones in the distance, Asher was following him; when he got a message from him on the GPS asking if he was okay – the only one on the whole trip – it was because Asher noticed he was wandering off.

Caesar wrote that his experience was “both real and very theatrical,” with “a touch of Westworld“: Quoting the famous TV series in which a lot of things are not what they seem, say, he explained that he was never really disconnected, but that” he had the privilege of experiencing a few time with the illusion of being. ”“ I was only able to travel this way because a group of experts had prepared an itinerary suitable for my physical form and had checked my every move so that I could feel in danger but never really be, “wrote Caesar. The adventure was perfectly packed, as was my stay at the hotel,” he concluded.

About Wesley V. Finley

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