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The Essential Need for Adventure

“To find myself in something of that scale, almost unknown, was worth every drop of sweat, every public bus ride, every fly infested nowhere border town I have invested time in, ever. Dwarfed by lush green mountains rising up to 3000ft above us, we were drawn in ever deeper with a constant eye on the [...]

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“To find myself in something of that scale, almost unknown, was worth every drop of sweat, every public bus ride, every fly infested nowhere border town I have invested time in, ever. Dwarfed by lush green mountains rising up to 3000ft above us, we were drawn in ever deeper with a constant eye on the banks for trouble, by the river with every foot of is relentless gradient.”

This was an excerpt from Hendri Coetzee’s last blog entry. Hendri Coetzee is dead. A crocodile ate him.

Hendri Coetzee, The Great White Explorer

Hendri Coetzee the African explorer

Photo of Hendri Coetzee

Hendri went into the wild to play, he was a modern explorer, kayaking and trekking where none had before. He led the first source to sea journey down the Nile, and pioneered adventure travel routes all through Africa. I do not believe that the sporting emphasis of his explorations diminishes them in the least. Those who go in to the wild all go for the same reason, whether it is beneath the guise of science, humanitarian relief, missionary work, journalism, or soldiering: we go for the adventure. Whether that adventure is happenstancial or self created is irrelevant.

Many people set out into the world and risk their death in order to live dreams. I believe that it is a far greater risk found in staying safe until a ripe old age just to realize that you did not live fully. What worst fate could a human have than this? Being eaten by a crocodile is little when compared against the realization that you did not cash in your chips of life when you had the chance in a miserly bid for longevity. On your deathbed these chips of life are null and void, unusable, expired — like a coupon past its date of validity the experiences of youth are no longer redeemable once old and frail.

The adventurer may risk dying, but they do not risk living — as this is the hallmark of the occupation.

For the masses of people on this planet, a steady life vying for longevity seems sufficient, but some people need something else: they need to be challenged, they need to see, hear, accomplish, and create monuments to their own lives. Some people need to do something great, push themselves, feel the blood pumping through their veins, even if they are the only ones who care to applaud their own efforts.

Our evolutionary biology has equipped us with minds and bodies that are equipped to survive in challenging circumstances. Without the life or death challenges of nature and other men, an aspect of our make up begins to atrophy: in the bosom of perceived safety the awareness that something is lacking rises to the surface. Many rush to the nearest bar in pursuit of a fight or a f’ck, some become criminals, some head into the wilds, while others buy a one way ticket to the other side of the world. For many, the secure life is like a puzzle with a complete border but a missing center. We have been biologically assembled to face threats and to survive, and when no threat emerges a certain part of us grows fat and lump-like, the human animal craves the us of all of its resources.

I believe strongly that adventure is an essential element of what makes a complete life, I believe that it is comparable to the need for sex and the desire to be part of a group. We are an animal that set out over the seas in canoes, climbed the tallest mountains, walked out of Africa to all other parts of the world. I do not believe that exploration is the inherent result of necessity, but the satiation of a deeply embedded human instinct.

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Even in the times of Chaucer it was general knowledge that the person who does not inherently satisfy their inherent thirst for stimulation will intentionally go out and meet these ends. “The devil drives,” spoke Sir Richard Burton to the same effect.

The modern thirst for adventure is perhaps an expression of the long honed will to survive and to explore. Facing danger, seeking adventure feels good, it feels natural, essential. I believe Helen Keller put it best:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.

Adventure is essential, even if this means risking the possibility of becoming a crocodile’s lunch.


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Filed under: Adventure, Travel Lifestyle, Travel Philosophy, Travel Psychology

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

5 comments… add one

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  • Rich Poulter May 11, 2011, 5:00 pm

    Well written thought provoking and informed articles like this are the reason I started reading VJT. Well done Wade! RIP Hendri Coetzee

    Link Reply
    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com May 12, 2011, 9:25 am


      There has to be some reason behind why so many people feel driven towards adventure haha. Our minds and bodies demand stimulation, and good for this, as I would not want to live in a world where extreme action is nonsensical and not admired.

      Link Reply
      • Bob L May 16, 2011, 12:16 am

        “I would not want to live in a world where extreme action is nonsensical and not admired.”

        I think we do live in a world where extreme action is not admired. Frankly, I am glad for it. The thrill of extreme action to me is heightened if there is no cultural commonality ??? To fit in where few fit in is the ultimate exclusivity. Being part of a small group or tribe really feeds the lizard brain. I certainly don’t want to be considered a part of any “average” group. Even if it is just in my imagination, I want to consider myself special. I think you will find this in every human being on the planet. We are all looking for some way to stand out from the crowd, all the while trying to be accepted by it, but as someone special. Every person I have ever met seemed to think they were above average and had some special knowledge, except, it seems to me in general, the more educated a person is, the more “humble”they are and the less likely they are to think they are special.

      • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com May 16, 2011, 9:47 am

        Very well put.

        Perhaps part of the drive for adventure is a mechanism to set yourself apart from the fold of humanity. If you climb one large mountain you’ve already put yourself above 99% of the people out there, and likewise if you kayak a large river, run through a desert, bicycle across a continent. The drive to set yourself apart from you peers in a particular sub-sector of society and to be admire by this sub-sector is a big impetus to go out and risk life and do something that few could. This seems to be part of the package that makes people see themselves as the character they want to create.