While trips abroad haven’t exactly been on the cards for many of us over the past year, thinking back to pre-Covid travel may rouse memories of glossy shots for Insta feeds, exploring unfamiliar food spots or popular cultural sites buzzing with tourists (perhaps even influencers too).
Off Grid -- Trippin’s new IGTV series -- goes against standard ideas of a vacation and carves out a unique perspective within the sphere of travel. One for the explorer, and for those who yearn to see the gruelling, untouched parts of countries with a focus on showcasing nature, local communities and remote environments.
Off Grid will transport you, via our global Trippin community members, to some of the world’s most unknown locations, giving you the know-how needed so you can partake in similar trips yourself. The series commences with BBC Earth explorer, conservation biologist and presenter Dan O’Neill who recently expeditioned to Guyana for a new documentary. The doc follows Dan and his crew venture “300 miles away from any type of settlement” and into the forest to uncover the country’s wilderness landscape.
As he was filming and exploring Guyana, Dan recorded for Off Grid an insight into the “Land of Giants.” Positioned on the northern coast of South America, Guyana is a country with a rich diversity of animal and plant life, and has over 87% forest cover (a percentage of which being the Amazonian rainforest). Harbouring the continent’s largest mammal species, the tapir, largest species of parrot in the world and even the world’s largest spider species makes Guyana a dream destination for wildlife enthusiasts. “Everything is just breathtaking,” explained Dan to Trippin.
Preconceived notions of the Amazon can often skew how truly calming and idyllic Guyana is, said Dan. “When people think about the Amazon Rainforest they think of biting insects, scary places, venomous snakes, spiders. But actually, it’s quite a peaceful place and when you’re drifting along the river, lightly going along and the weather is beautiful, you’re seeing all the animals, beautiful birds, it is an absolutely stunning place.”
Dan began his journey in Guyana with friend and long-time collaborator Ashley Holland who lives in Guyana and has his own eco-lodge, Mapari Wilderness Park, and travel business, Guyana Truly Wild. Together, along with a camera crew of people mainly from the local community, they journeyed hundreds of miles into the country; following waterways on boat to find wildlife hotspots. Together, they searched for the “Last Eden,” an area in which the animals have never seen human beings before. Having travelled so deeply into the forest, “we didn’t see another human being outside of our little group for 5 weeks.”
To keep their carry-on light and sustainable, food was hunted for each day. “When we were going up there, we didn’t want to bring huge amounts of tins and plastic containers because that not only leaves rubbish but it also weighs down the boat.” Instead, Dan followed the ways of his Amerindian tour guides who used traditional practices to catch and cook food, like with bow and arrow. “We lived very much a subsistence lifestyle of the Amerindian guides and the people we were with. They will go out and hunt for fish, we would have fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Outside of the snakes, spiders and even a jaguar sighting, Dan feels like one of the most important parts of his work is showcasing the community of the places he visits, who he calls the “custodians of these environments.” In Guyana specifically, Dan notes there is much local effort put into lessening the damaging effects of climate change on the country which tourists can get involved in too, explained Dan.
As social and environmental sustainability is of utmost importance to him and his work, he engaged local workers on his shoots. “What’s so cool about working with these communities in terms of ecotourism or working with fixers for film is that they get to make use of all the skills that they’re amazing at.” On this particular trip, Dan spent time working with local communities protecting and conserving forest areas.
This was, by no means, the first time Dan has visited Guyana. He has been exploring the country for the past 10 years, since his days as a student. Despite it being the only country in South America to have a ban on same-sex relations, he explains that as a Queer man his experience of the country has always been a positive one. “Everyone has been so welcoming and warm... definitely the LGBT laws in Guyana are not a result of Guyana, it’s a result of the colonial times before 1966.” Having only gained its independence from British rule in the 60s, the country’s laws still show the legacies of colonialism, though many of the people do not.
If you want to get involved in the kind of eco-conservation trip showcased on Off Grid, Dan highly suggests booking through Guyana Truly Wild, which specialises in tailor-made river and camping expeditions. Attached to the touring company is Mapari Wilderness Camp, an eco-lodge located within the Kanuku Mountain range.