By Jessamy Baldwin
He had lost his purpose after eight years spent working in the finance industry. He’d always wanted more for himself, but never knew exactly what – or how to get there. Michael Bishop had, to put it simply, had enough with his life. So… he did something about it. He embarked on an adventure.
At the start of 2017, the 26-year-old from Guernsey booked a one way ticket to Tanzania. He has since travelled to countless countries across Africa, hitchhiked from the Channel Islands again all the way to Morocco and is now working at a diving school in Bali. When I interviewed him, he was camping in the wilderness north of Valencia. Next up? ‘Wherever the road takes [him] next’, he says.
After attending Elizabeth College in Guernsey and then Bromsgrove School in the UK, Michael – like all 18 year olds – was faced with the daunting prospect of deciding on a career path.
“When I finished school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to go to uni and end up with a huge debt unless the course was really relevant to a bigger career plan. So I went straight to work in Guernsey’s finance industry – mainly in fund management, but trying out different areas in the hope that something would strike a chord with me.
“But after eight years of working, my soul was almost destroyed.
“Being behind a desk all day was just not for me. So I was faced with the question ‘What should I do?’”
Minky – as he’s known to family and friends – said he knew he had to ‘get out’, but he still didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. He’s always envied those who did, he added.
After playing a big part in the Tour De Sez last year in aid of the Sarah Groves Foundation, Minky felt inspired to see more of the world and “make the most of every single day”.
“After much thought and thanks to some money I had saved for a deposit on a flat, I decided to let the future me worry about where I was going to live and chose to go on an adventure and get a taste of what this beautiful world has to offer.”
Egypt was first on the travel agenda
“I visited the great Sphinx, rode a camel, had lunch looking over the pyramids, walked around The Egyptian Museum and bartered in the Khan El Khalilli Bazaar. The Egyptologist who guided me was awesome and to have someone with such a wealth of knowledge with me was a real privilege.”
He said the reality of Egypt was a far cry from the country he’d imagined however. When I visited the Pyramids back in 2005, the area was teaming with visitors and the only way to describe the atmosphere was ‘buzzing’. Minky’s 2017 experience was a different story.
“I had the pyramids pretty much to myself. I felt quite uncomfortable in Cairo itself to be honest and felt a few bad vibes off some people which was a real shame.”
Although his trip didn’t get off to the best of starts, he wasn’t going to feel disheartened.
Time for Tanzania
After flying into Dar Es Salaam, he travelled to Mwanza on Lake Victoria to visit his fellow Guernsey nomad Dave Henry. Dave was out in Tanzania working for a solar power company.
“It was great to relax with him for a few days. We ate street food most of the time and met lots of his interesting people working for various charities. Talking with them really shed a light on the country – 80% doesn’t have clean drinking water for example.” It was a culture shock, he admitted.
Minky also camped in the bush where he got to see some of the more remote Tanzanian villages. “That was the real Tanzania,” he said.
When he got back into his 4×4 on one of the days, his exhaust fell off in the middle of nowhere. Far from ideal.
“There I am in the scorching heat, in the middle of a village with children surrounding us on the floor trying to attach the exhaust back to the car. We got there in the end though!”
Zanzibar was calling
“We Flew into Stone Town, which was a great place. You can really get lost there with the narrow maze-like streets. I visited Prison Island with a friend I had met from Mwanza to see the giant – and somewhat frisky – tortoises.”
From here, Minky joined a volunteer project in Kizimkazi – a fishing village on the southern coast of the island.
“It had remarkable white sand beaches and was almost completely unspoiled by tourism.
“One of my project tasks was to build a large composter with almost no tools and with whatever I could find around me for materials. This is life in many parts of Africa – you have to make do with what you’ve got. In my down time, I went on boat rides to snorkel on nearby reefs and saw monkeys in the Jozani Forest.”
Minky completed his PADI Open Water diving qualification in Nungwi – a village on the far north of the island. “It was a stunning place but very touristy and expensive.”
South Africa was next on the cards
“One of the things I wanted to do on this trip was get out of my comfort zone. I’m really not good with heights at all, so decided to jump off Signal Hill on a paraglider. I then challenged my fear even further and abseiled off Table Mountain, which was definitely one of the scariest things I have ever done. I also did a bungy jump off Bloukrans Bridge (216m drop) – the world’s highest commercial bungy jump in the world.
“From here I met up with my friend Jess and started a three week tour on the back of a truck named ‘Mike’ that would take us through the east coast of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and end in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We embarked on this trip with 22 other fantastic people who I now refer to as my ‘Nomad Family’. They came from all walks of life, many nationalities and spread across a wide age range.”
He said his highlights were: “Climbing up dune 45 in Sossusvlei Namibia – it was so big I can’t think how to describe it. I’ll never forget seeing the sunset at Etosha National Park where we were surrounded by lions, punting on the Okavango Delta on a Mokoro in Botswana and white water rafting down the Zambezi.”
Alongside all the incredible experiences so far, there have been a number of challenges.
“During the trip one of our party realised they did not have the right visa and had to leave the group at short notice and make her own way to another meeting point hundreds of miles away. I offered to stay behind as it was not a great area for a girl – or anyone – on their own and from there ensued a mad 24hrs of trying to find a way north with little money and floods causing havoc with transport.
“But the outcome was that we ended up travelling all day with a couple of locals and really getting to know them and finding out what it was like to be 30-something in Botswana – their dreams, fears, how they lived etc. That was real travel in my eyes. Not just taking in the sights but understanding how other people live, think and feel.”
One of his ‘scarier’ memories was during a flight from Dar Es Salaam to Johannesburg.
“The last thing you want to hear a pilot say is the huge turbulence you just experienced was not weather but an airbus A380 that narrowly missed us!
“We also had a hippo sniffing the tent while in the Okavango Delta. They kill more people than any other animal in Africa, so this was a little alarming.”
A horseback safari in Botlierskop Game Reserve was something he’ll never forget.
“I was riding right next to rhinos, giraffes and buffalo. It was truly amazing. The landscapes in Africa are so vast they can only be described as awesome.”
Minky is currently travelling in Bali furthering his diving qualifications and says he’s fallen in love with the place.
“After this I have no plans – maybe Australia and New Zealand. My plan all along has been to see where life takes me. I don’t book too much in advance because as you meet fellow travellers they give you so much information on places they’ve been.”
Travelling has undoubtedly changed the way he sees his hometown.
“I love Guernsey and I always will – it’s my home. I’m so lucky to have grown up on such a beautiful picturesque island, but I guess travelling has opened my eyes to how big the world really is. There are so many amazing places to see, incredible experiences to be had and wonderful people to meet.
“I will most likely come back to live there at some point. It will always have a strong pull, but at this moment in my life I want to keep travelling and see as much of the world as possible. With the housing market as it is at the moment I could spend my whole life from now until 65 slogging away paying off a huge mortgage only to sell it off to help subsidise a pension. I don’t knock people who do that, I really don’t. For some people that is their dream but it’s not mine, at least not at the moment and I don’t believe there is a right and wrong path only the one that is right for you.”
Minky says he has learnt so much already, and it’s only the beginning.
“Travel challenges your opinions and your prejudices, which we like to think we don’t have but we do.
“As cheesy as it sounds, I have learnt that if you open your heart to people, love will come back at you tenfold. The world is a big and sometimes daunting place but even if it’s uncomfortable and scary at times, approach people, ask them questions – for help or advice. You are never alone.
“Go out there and experience the world, do what you want to do in life and don’t let any excuse stop you. Life is a difficult balance but don’t always err on the side of caution or you will miss out. Most people are just like you. They might look different and eat different foods but they just want to be happy and healthy and have a bit of fun and love in their life.
“This is a well-known saying but it is my mantra – ‘don’t go travelling with tales from the past as they stop you experiencing the now. You cannot change the past and the future is unknown but the now is a gift that’s why they call it the present.’
Follow his adventures here.
This article appeared in The Guernsey Press on 30 September 2017.