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Adventure Travel

Jun 21, 2017

Adventurers Taking ‘Vanlife’ to a New Level with Sailing SEARCH Project

Sofia Pineiro and professional paragliding pilot, Thomas de Dorlodot, are about to leave their home (but not their friends), to sail around the world on their latest, and arguably biggest, SEARCH Project yet.

WRITTEN BY

Alyssa Fowler

They’ll be finding the most beautiful places on the planet to paraglide, dive and surf, have professional athletes and friends join them along the way, all while we share their stories, photos and videos throughout the journey. Their only goals: seek intensity.

“Surround yourself with people that reflect who you want to be and how you want to feel, energies are contagious.” Rachel Wolchin

This has certainly been no problem for these two adventurers, athletes and nomads.

Photo by John Stapels

Meet Sofia & Tom:

Sofia Pineiro  & Thomas de Dorlodot have spent their lives following their passions, and it’s taken them all over the place. Tom, a professional paragliding pilot from Belgium, has been exploring high altitudes since he was a teenager. He became the first pilot to fly over the Machu Pichu in 2008—simultaneously making him a “guest” in the local jail for a night—and competes in the Red Bull X-Alps (known as the world’s toughest adventure race). 

Tom: “We fell in love directly.” Sofia: “Not exactly, but pretty close”

Sofia is Argentinian, born in Paraguay and the daughter of a diplomat, making her more than familiar with a lifetime of travelling. “That was always a part of me, the travelling and the languages, meeting different people from different cultures,” she says.

And that is exactly what ended up bringing the two together.

“When I graduated from school in Rabat, Morocco, I came back to Belgium to study. After completing two years in acting school, studying communications was where I met Tom.”

It was kind of funny because I met Sofia and I was about to go to Pakistan for 6 weeks, we were going to cross the Karakorum glaciers on foot and paragliding with friends [Horacio Llorens, Krystle Wright and Hernan Pitocco], and I said that I would be leaving the next week. And she said, ‘maybe I could come?’

After only five days of knowing each other, followed by a month of sporadic phone calls while Tom was in Pakistan, “both of us had pretty much forgotten what the other person even looked like,” says Sofia. But she made the jump, flew to Pakistan and made it the very symbolic place it now is for the two of them.

“We started doing projects together, not really realising it was going towards an official sort of collaboration between him and I. It felt natural and we kept creating projects together that took us all around the world.”

“And now here we are with this boat!”

SEARCH ANTHOLOGY from SEARCH Projects on Vimeo.


The Plan:

“The only plan is that there is no plan,” Tom says.

Well, there is a general idea: Using the 12m sailboat as base camp for themselves and their large network of athletes, adventurers and photographers, they will continue their exploration of new, beautiful places to do the sports they love. “The plan is also to invite professional surfers, kitesurfers, other paragliding pilots, to join us and go on adventures with us” says Tom. Other than that, Sofia says, “we haven’t decided exactly how we’re going to do it. We want to leave as much as we can to spontaneity—always looking for the unexpected.”

Photo of Tom taken by their good friend—and one of our badass female photographers, Krystle Wright.

The Inspiration

Three years ago, having gone on an expedition for over two months across the Pacific Ocean on a catamaran through French Polynesia, Tahiti, Marcus Islands and more, Tom says “that’s when I really fell in love with sailing. The way you travel with a boat, using only the wind and having all the paragliders on board. The best thing is that you can bring all your tools on the boat, you bring your toys with you. But because you don’t have a lot of room, you have to decide what is important. And that’s where the idea really started.”

Sofia: “It was the classic daydreaming conversation of ‘one day we should sail around the world’. But once he came back, we started talking about it in a more realistic way. ‘You know, why not? This is something we could both do and something we’ve both always wanted.’ I’ve always been more a water person than a mountain person, so it fit perfectly that we could do something with both elements.”

Completely agreeing with our views here at The Outdoor Journal, Sofia and Tom have also taken much of their inspiration from ‘a life with less’. Less stuff, more experiences and the richness that can bring. Further proving this, they spent last summer living in a tiny house—we’ll even go so far as to use the word ‘adorable’ to describe it.

Simple is better. Photo by Thomas de Dorlodot

Sofia told us, “I think people have already experienced this excess, working hard and having more, and just being surrounded by very material objects. People started going the other way. We’re trying to get rid of everything unnecessary and only focus on the essentials. This is so much more important than surrounding yourself with so many things. It’s a lifestyle, a mentality, and a healthy way of living—with balance.”

Learning this gradually through his years of experience, Tom adds, “When I was on an expedition, crossing a mountain range, I would have to take as little as possible with me. You have to be when you’re carrying everything on your back. At the end of the day, I realised ‘okay, I don’t really need much’. As well, travelling around the world, going to Pakistan or Africa, you meet people that have very little, yet they are always really happy to share everything they have. It gets more human. It’s back to humanity again, in a cultural way, and it’s natural.”

You can try to make as much money as possible, have your vacation days, the classic life, but at the end of the day, people don’t really seem happy with that.

Needless to say, they’re taking it to a new level by bringing that tiny house out onto the ocean. Tom says that “like the tiny house, we want to show people that it’s possible to live this way, a low impact life. When we were working on the boat we were really working on the energy aspect, solar panels, a hydro-generator, a water pump for us to make water out of salt water, etc.”

Tom & Sofia getting ready to go—with some necessary reading material.

He adds that, “with the ocean, it is just you out there. It is the last place you can really be free. You really feel that you’re alone. I think it’s interesting to still be able to get to those places—and I think the boat is the only way.

“There’s always something to do on a sailboat.” Thomas de Dorlolot

The couple has also taken inspiration from explorer Mike Horn. After having read his book Latitude Zero 13 years ago, Tom was motivated to try and find a way make his own imprint using his sport. That pushed Tom to start attempting bigger and more extreme expeditions.

“If I’m doing what I’m doing today, it’s a little bit because of him,” Tom says. “One day, I was in Pakistan and I met him. We directly connected and talked about the mountains. He loves Pakistan too, it’s probably one of his favourite countries. He seems like a very calm and wise guy, but he’s also very funny and friendly and laughing all the time. Such a cool person.

“He did destroy my hand when we first met.”

Our Founder, Apoorva Prasad, can attest to that after spending some time racing around Namibia with Mike Horn last year.

His advice was that “you should enjoy the difficult times,” Tom says. “It has always been in very difficult situations I have thought of him: ‘what would Mike do?’ It’s a little bit ridiculous I guess, but Sofia and I talk about it a lot. At the end of the day, he’s a normal person. We know many guys who are doing their sport, their way. It’s people who’ve trained, worked a lot and prepared really well—from Mike Horn to anyone else. And we’re lucky to have many friends like that to inspire us all the time.

“It’s the only thing you can do, accept what comes. When we were in Africa and problems came up, we could either see it as negative, or see it as a challenge that there’s a solution to. And there is always a solution. So let’s find it!

“Sofia is really good at that. I can get a little bit negative, but Sofia is always smiling and ready to find a solution.”

Always smiling and ready to find a solution. Photo by Thomas de Dorlodot

 

The Preparation

“We were both basically starting from scratch,” says Tom. “We did some courses. We learned all the theory, took some exams, the license to be a skipper. And it took awhile because at the same time, we had a lot of work between the different projects (other Search projects, Young Adventurers, upcoming paragliding competitions, and more) that we were working on. It’s been really intense.”

Always SEARCHing. Photo by John Stapels

We can imagine! The Red Bull X-Alps 2017 starts at the end of this month—where, just in case you’re unfamiliar, Tom and 31 other athletes will race a straight-line distance of 1,138km across the Alps to Monaco, through 7 different countries, using both paragliding skills and extreme endurance.

All this while, making sure the boat was ready to go for their sailing adventure shortly after the race. Needless to say, they both have had a lot on their plates, but that seems to be the way Sofia and Tom both work.

Sofia: With all the challenges we really learned a lot. It was part of our intention to be a part of every step along the way—not to just hire people and go to the boat when it was ready. We needed to learn how our boat works. Which has been a really rich experience.

For Tom, having been working on his own craft of paragliding for so many years, it has been like going back to school. “There are a lot of parallels though. When you’re in the mountains there are so many factors, the winds, working with a team, etc., and then you go to the sea and you see why a lot of mountaineers like the sea, and sailors like the mountains. 

At the end of the day, it’s all about nature. We just want to be out there as much as possible.

Photo by John Stapels

Expectations

“We are basically searching for intensity,” says Tom. “It’s cool to travel around on a sailboat when every day will be different. It’s not going to be easy, living on a 10 square meter space. We’re going to have hard days and good days, and we’re going to have to fix problems all the time. But we know that already. We’re really luck to be surrounded by really cool people and experts that have helped us and will train us even more before we head out.

He continues, “But as a couple, the plan is to make a big family. Some little guys sailing around? We will see how it goes.” This was followed by some nervous and excited giggles, but Tom assures us that “it was part of the plan. I was travelling around so much on big expeditions that Sofia could not always be a part of. We wanted to get closer. That was important. To engineer our life together, it could not be me leaving all the time. It is about finding a way to grow together—and the boat project has been amazing for that.

Oh, and in case you were wondering hoping, there will be a wedding!

Although they are officially already married as far as the Belgian government is concerned, Sofia and Tom will be holding the “big party” for friends and family in Majorca in September. Sailing there (of course), it will be their first big leg of the trip.

Learning to scuba dive before the trip, Sofia says “When he’s up flying altitude, I’ll be deep down under water. And I think that’s how a couple works.”

“We’re not the first people to sail around the world, even with families,” says Tom. “It’s not new, but we want to bring it to the next level and do it differently, really explore and get off the beaten path. As far as possible.

“We also want to share as much as we can. We want good photos, good stories and good memories and we want to share with the people who might not be able to do the same at this time, so they can follow us and get inspired. That’s part of our goal, to show people that it’s a lot of work, you’re learning bit by bit, you meet the right people, and then one day you wake up and you’re sailing around the world. Just make it happen.”

The Outdoor Journal will be excitedly following Tom, Sofia and The SEARCH sailboat around on their MANY upcoming adventures. We’ll be relaying their stories, photos and videos on our website and social media as they come in.

Tom & Sofia will also be holding a press conference to announce this exciting trip Thursday, June 22nd at the Brussels Royal Yachting Club. Stay tuned for our coverage of the event.

Feature image by John Stapels

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Travel

Aug 26, 2018

A Visit to Lion Camp: Deep Inside South Luangwa National Park

It might read more like a script from the Lion King, but South Luangwa is very real. An immersive tale of Elephants, Giraffes, Antelope, Hippos, Zebra, Lions, and so much more.

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WRITTEN BY

Sarah Kingdom

Looking out onto an oxbow lagoon and open plains, Lion Camp in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is a stylish and special place, located in the remote north of the park and surrounded by abundant wildlife. The lodge is built on raised wooden platforms, interlinked by a wooden boardwalk, with the entire camp having spectacular panoramic views, be it from your bed or the breakfast table.

South Luangwa in eastern Zambia, is the southernmost of three national parks in the Luangwa River valley (the others being North Luangwa and Luambe National Parks). Starting as a game reserve in 1938 and becoming a national park in 1972, South Luangwa is a stunning natural habitat, home to around 60 animal species and over 400 species of bird.

In the north of the park, far from the majority of tourists, is a remote, quieter part of South Luangwa… it is here that Lion Camp is found. Lodges in this part of the park are only open in the dry season (May to November) meaning wildlife here does not have the constant presence of people and vehicles and consequently the game viewing feels wild and undisturbed.

Photo: Dana Allen

this was no ordinary commute

Entering the park at the Mfuwe Gate, we still had a two hour drive through the park to reach camp. But this was no ordinary commute, our animal sightings started the minute we crossed the bridge into the park and spotted thirty or forty hippos lounging in the river below. Wildlife viewing continued with battalions of helmeted guinea fowls parading across the plains and an abundance of warthog, with their tails erect, trotting in every direction. Reaching camp the zebras opposite our tent welcomed us with their humphing and braying. Being the dry season, the lagoon outside had dried to a slow narrow trickle and a lone grey heron hunted in the midday sun.

Photo: Dana Allen

Unpacking and freshening up, we were keen to get back out into the park. Within minutes of leaving camp we stumbled upon our first ‘kill’… a grey headed bush shrike having a late lunch of a still wriggling chameleon. After this somewhat macabre start, we pressed on to find a group of hornbills and coucals snacking on an army of vicious, swarming Matabele ants, whilst flocks of the vibrantly coloured Lilian’s love birds squawked overhead.

Photo: Dana Allen

At another waterhole, a congregation of ibis fished for food and yellow billed storks waded, with beaks open underwater, stirring up the muddy water with their feet until tiny fish flopped into their mouths. A saddle bill stork made quick darting movements with his beak into the water. A great white egret, a pair of black headed herons and a couple of open billed storks stood motionless in the water, waiting for the right moment to pounce.

We stopped on the Luangwa River banks to watch the Southern carmine bee-eaters, who were just starting to arrive at their breeding grounds. Later in the season the river would become a blur of red and blue, as thousands of these bee-eaters selected their breeding sites along the steep river banks. We knelt of the top of the bank, peering over the edge, to observe them digging breeding tunnels into the carefully chosen bank. The soil needs to be sandy enough to dig into but sturdy enough not to collapse, especially when you realise these burrows can be over three metres deep. The carmine bee-eaters vivid pinkish-red plumage, turquoise crowns and streaming tails made these birds an absolute pleasure to watch.

She would eat the remains, at leisure, over the coming day or two.

Moving away from the river, a short distance away, we found a leopard in a tree, guarding the corpse of an impala she had killed earlier. Having eaten her fill, she had used her remarkable strength to drag and stash her ‘prize’ away from other predators high up in a fork in the tree. She would eat the remains, at leisure, over the coming day or two. It was getting dark by now and as we drove through the park we surprised genets, mongoose, porcupine and other nocturnal animals who were heading to hunt and forage, as we headed back to camp for our own gourmet dinner.

Photo: Patrick Bentley

Out on an early morning game drive, we stopped for tea, perched high up on the river bank. Looking down, hippos and crocs crowded below us, a lone African skimmer swooped low over the water, a giraffe on the far bank made its way tentatively down to the river’s edge to drink, and elephants, like great, grey, ghosts glided across the landscape. The shrill and distant call of a fish eagle, accompanied by the background cooing of doves, completed the scene. We listened to the muted splashing as a family of elephants slowly crossed the river, wading through the shallow water, single file, with the matriarch up front, youngsters following her lead and another adult bringing up the rear. Reaching the other side they dried off with a quick dust bath and disappeared from sight. Our own tummies rumbling by then, we decided it was time to head back for breakfast, though our morning’s wildlife encounters were by no means over yet. Rounding a bend we came across a pair of mating lions, with the female definitely not backwards about coming forwards, and seeming rather demanding in the ‘bedroom department’. Around the next twist in the road an elephant stood on his hind legs, trying to reach some tasty seedpods that hung just out of reach of his extended trunk.

Photo: Dana Allen

Passing by the ‘leopard tree’ of the previous day, we found the impala carcass, looking a little ‘worse for wear’ but still firmly wedged in the tree, and the leopard herself relaxing on the ground. A hungry hyena lay nearby, with his face resting on his paws, looking somewhat forlorn as he patiently waited, hoping the carcass would somehow dislodge and drop down into his waiting jaws… he was in for a long wait.

A solitary terrapin perched on a lump of mud by the water’s edge as we ate brunch back at camp. A mother and baby bushbuck made their way to the water’s edge to drink. Whilst we ate, we watched baboons foraging, zebras grazing, puku munching, a lonely waterbuck nibbling, all interspersed with those silent leviathans, the elephants, ambling from mud-bath to woodlands.

two of the elephants lay down and rolled like dogs in the dust

Mud-bathing elephants are a sight to behold. Four elephants of various sizes wallowed, bathed and drank from the water in front of us. The smallest sinking knee deep in the water as he churned up the mud to throw onto his back. After half an hour of wallowing two of the elephants lay down and rolled like dogs in the dust whilst a third, rather clumsily, wiggled her bottom from side to side, scratching it on the embankment trying to relieve an itch. Finally, trumpeting in farewell, they moved off.

Photo: Patrick Bentley

After lunch we retired to the poolside to continue our wildlife watching. Two young baboons wrestled, tumbling over one another while a third watched from the wings. Central to the ‘game’ was a small, springy sapling which each contestant attempted to climb in order to claim his place as ‘king of the castle’. The high jinks and jolly japes continued, with the youngsters leapfrogging over one another and the occasional reprimand from their nearby mothers.

A moving carpet of zebra interspersed with impala and puku, stretched out in front of our room. South Luangwa has 14 different antelope species. The most numerous of these is the impala and these gregarious animals can be seen in herds all over the park. Similar in size, but much fluffier, with thick brownish-orange coats, puku are also prolific. Perhaps the most beautiful of the antelope in the park is the Kudu, with its majestic spiral horns and delicate face. Although fairly common, these graceful animals are not always easy to find with their shy habits and preference for dense bush.

Photo: Patrick Bentley

Afternoon drive time and we passed through a snow storm of tiny white and pale yellow butterflies. A pride of lions lay in the shade of some bushes on the river bank. Six females and a male. Relaxing and resting, gently murmuring to one another. Another male approached the pride, brother to the male already lying with the group. They exchanged greetings, rubbing their faces against one another in a display of affection and companionship. We could have watched their interactions for hours.

I froze and held my breath.

We stopped for a final, tranquil sundowners on the river bank and then with a spotlight in the hands of our scout, we headed off into the dark. The lion pride we had seen earlier suddenly appeared, clearly getting ready to hunt. We could sense the change of mood, as their earlier relaxed mode gave way to adrenalin and anticipation. Muscles rippled underneath their skin and we were suddenly very conscious of how vulnerable we were sitting in an open topped and open sided vehicle. The eight lions padded almost silently past us, milling around the vehicle, brushing up against the front bumper and pausing for quite some time only a hairsbreadth away. I froze and held my breath. Just as I felt I couldn’t stay still any longer the pride set off again, with purpose, into the dark. A definite high note to end our trip on.

You can find out more about Lion Camp here.

You can also read about the news that Hippo cull has been licensed in Luangwa National Park here.

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