Adventures in Beauty & Surprise: A Conversation with Bart Jordans
As I wrote here a few weeks ago, watching the series of short videos by GeoEx trip leaders inspired me to want to learn more about them, so I decided to interview them one by one. Two weeks ago, we posted my conversation with Bill Jones. This week, I interviewed trekker extraordinaire and Bhutan expert Bart Jordans. Bart, originally from Holland, has led more than 130 treks in the Himalaya, Alps, and Africa, including trips to peaks in Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Tibet. He has been guiding treks in Bhutan since 1994, and has been leading GeoEx trips there since 2000. Bart lived in Bhutan with his wife and two children for four and a half years, and wrote a guidebook on trekking in Bhutan. Although he now lives in Denmark, he returns to Bhutan as often as he can.
I hope you enjoy our interview!
Don George: When and how did you become a trip leader?
Bart Jordans: I was a student in Amsterdam and rather active in the Amsterdam Student Alpine Club, when I started guiding summer trips in the Alps for student groups. After some years, I realized that university was not really my cup of tea, and suddenly had to look for a way to make a living. My first job leading a commercial tour group was in Switzerland for a Vermont-based company called Swiss Challenge. My work as a guide grew from then, with guiding jobs in the Alps, Asia, and Africa; I’ve guided nearly 140 trips by now. A good year sees me guiding 6 to 8 groups.
What motivated you to do that?
It was a combination of love for the mountains—which I had built up through years of summer holidays in the Alps with and without my parents—and the need to make a living. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect work for myself: Being in the mountains is my hobby, passion, sport, and job! On top of that, I get to work with people who in principle are looking forward to starting their adventure and being together with me as a leader. A perfect start could/should be guaranteed!
Can you briefly summarize your experience as a trip leader—that is, where you have led trips in the past, and for how many years?
I have been guiding since 1984, and I am close to 140 trips total. Several of these I have led more than once, including multiple trips to Everest (14 times), K2 (10 times), Kangchenjunga (4 times), Kilimanjaro (8 times), and of course Bhutan. I’ve also led trips in the Alps, Morocco, Ethiopia (Simien Mountains), Jordan, Iran (Mount Damavand), Tajikistan, Pakistan, and India. No matter how many times I make the same trip, I never get bored! Repeating a trek has for me the same attraction as a new trek.
To your mind, what are the qualities of a great trip leader?
I think a great leader takes keen hikers safely through beautiful mountain scenery; tries to be ahead of problems and solves them if/when they occur; helps guests interact with locals; has them understand as much as possible about the countries they’re visiting; gets them tired and happy in bed at the end of each day; and hopefully sees them taking more adventures after the one just finished.
What are your goals in showing travelers the places you love?
My goal is for them to have a better understanding of the mountain peoples and cultures we encounter; to understand and appreciate the nature (hopefully nature that is still untouched); and to take home as many good memories as possible, which can be shared with as many people as possible!
For you, what are the rewards of leading trips?
There are many rewards: Having happy trekkers the whole way along the trip, and afterwards getting some good feedback and keeping in touch with them—or even better, joining a trip reunion. Also, seeing new places and old places again and again is a great reward.
Finally, another reward is the outcome of a trip—there are always surprises, unexpected surprises, and solving them and at the same time making everybody happy is one of the best feelings of leading a trip.
Of course, the wages are nice too!
What’s your favorite experience in the places where you lead GeoEx travelers?
When I was guiding the 28-day-long Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan, halfway through the trek, in Laya, we met the Queen of Bhutan, Her Majesty Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk. Like several others in the royal family of Bhutan, she loves to explore the remote areas of the country. We camped in the same village as Her Majesty and were invited to join the beautiful evening program that had been set up by the villagers. That was an evening we will never forget. We also talked and discussed with Her Majesty about all manner of things. Some years later, this actually resulted in her writing the foreword for my Bhutan guidebook.
What’s your best travel memory?
I have so many wonderful memories of spectacular places seen and wonderful people met through the years, but here is one memory that really stands out for me as a trip leader:
In Tibet I was guiding a short trek to the Rongbuk Monastery and Everest North Face (a trek now destroyed by roads, unfortunately). We flew in and started our trip in Lhasa, which is located at an altitude you can already feel. The trip included an acclimatization program of three days and nights in Lhasa, followed by several days driving towards the start of our trek. During those days of driving, we visited some impressive monasteries and fortresses and hiked some hours every day.
On one of these hikes, one person in the group was hit by very serious acute altitude sickness. Our transport was a two-hour walk away. The sick person was about to collapse, but luckily, we could get her on a farmer’s cart and rushed her to our Landcruisers and back to the hotel, and then to a basic hospital where oxygen was available. In the hospital, the staff decided that she had to be transported to Lhasa, where there were better facilities. I joined her in the ambulance to comfort her and keep her awake!
This ambulance ride crossed the Tibetan plateau along high cliffs, and we covered a distance that normally takes two days in six hours! Most of this dangerous ride I wished that I could be unconscious! In the hospital in Lhasa, the guest was very well looked after by the hospital staff and by the tour operator staff based in Lhasa, and she recovered fully from her serious acute altitude sickness. That is a travel memory with a very happy ending, and one I know I will never forget.
Why do you love what you do?
In the past few months, with coronavirus locking down the world and me being home much more than usual, I have been reflecting on why I love this job so much: At heart, it’s the chance to share my knowledge of areas I love with people who love adventuring just as much as I do. Also, the activity of being out in nature on the longer and harder treks keeps me fit! Most important, though, is being away from daily stuff like noise, computers, news, shopping, etc; opening up for nature is like meditation. And traveling is always full of beauty and surprise.
Any last words for GeoEx travelers who might want to travel on one of your trips?
Travel our beautiful world, explore your senses, get home enriched and relaxed, and dream of other exciting places.
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To find out more about our GeoEx treks with Bart Jordans, call our travel experts at 888-570-7108.
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Do you have a question for Bart Jordans? Or a favorite trekking memory you’d like to share? Please add your questions or reflections below. It’s always a delight to hear from you!