After going on Operation Raleigh in 1987 the bug bit me and I really wanted to go on another expedition so I applied to go to Guyana on 2E. Given that Raleigh had project managers galore I had to convince Head Office that I had a specialist skill. Well, at that time I was a radio ham, and not a very good one at that, and along with Denis de Gruchy we built a huge aerial at Solea out of bamboo that enabled us to contact people all over the world, including my uncle Rod (who has since died) in Surrey. So for some reason the Raleigh crew thought I knew a thing or two about radios (which I didn’t) and that managed to get me to Guyana as a member of staff. After Guyana I travelled in the Caribbean hitch-hiking on yachts until arriving at St Maarten where I got a job as a sailing and jet ski instructor and as a piano and clarinet player in a band in a posh hotel. It was the life.
Then I sailed across the Atlantic (I didn’t have any money to fly) and was sea sick for a whole month while a crew of Frenchman merrily guzzled wine for breakfast, lunch and tea. Even the thought of alcohol would turn me green. I got my first job through Solihull rotary club who had donated to Raleigh to help me go on the trip. In return I gave them a presentation about my exploits following which somebody obviously thought I was employable. I spent the next 20 or so years in industry working in commercial, sales, marketing and operation roles for blue chip companies including Avery Berkel, Misys and now Aggreko who supply temporary power and temperature control. During this time I lived in Houston, TX for 3 years and am now based in Dubai on assignment running a business that covers Russia, the Middle East, CIS, Turkey and Southern Europe. I get to travel a lot which is great.
My mother inspired me to apply for Raleigh when there was a write-up about it in the Birmingham Evening Mail. My selection weekend was in nearby (not) Dunkeld where it rained the whole time. Initially in Seram I was posted to Kanikeh on the bird project with John Bowler to understand more about the Salmon Crested Cockatoo which is endemic to Seram. I remember on the Wahai Star seeing cages full of these birds which saddened me. Later I worked with Martin Brendell from the British Museum on the entomology project. It was a lot of fun although canopy fogging was somewhat entertaining when the bugs started dropping from the trees onto your head. I think I even discovered a new species of beetle on one outing and Martin mentioned that it would now be in the British Museum although I could never find any such beetles.
Memorable moments for me? There are so many – seeing the huge fruit bats with wings as huge as pelicans flying overhead as the sun was setting in Suwai; sitting on the toilet over the river at Solea in the middle of the night watching the stars and thinking how black the sky was; playing my clarinet in the jungle (I was totally bonkers to have carried this in); wearing out a pair of jungle boots after just 1 week of hiking (I didn’t buy cheap after that); the trek up to Mount Binai; the remoteness of everything about Seram; stray dogs; the heat; the villages (where did they get posters of U2 from?). Looking back, Raleigh had a pretty major impact on my life and development as a young man. It certainly inspired me to walk most of the long distance footpaths in the UK and even take my new wife on a 300 mile trek through the John Muir Wilderness in California for our honeymoon (she actually threatened to divorce me on the first day of walking, although a tin of crabmeat that I had been saving as a treat seemed to win her over). Above all Raleigh gave me the confidence and inspiration to strive a bit harder and this has helped me through both the good and bad times.
Would really like to get in touch with any other OR Seram folk. My email address is Jeremy.firstname.lastname@example.org so please drop me a line!
Photo of Seram Cockatoo by Kai Bansner