An Explorer for the New Age

Although most places on Earth have made it on to the map, Ernest Minnema, 34, of the Deventer region of the Netherlands, believes there is still a place for adventurers and explorers in the world.

Growing up, Minnema said, he wanted to be a helicopter pilot because it was the most adventurous thing he could imagine.

Although it’s still on his bucket list, he said he soon discovered that the majority of private pilots only fly passengers out to oil platforms and back.

Even as a child, he declared helicopter pilot insufficiently exciting, and began the quest for his next adventure.

Minnema was born in to an adventurous family who both encouraged and enabled their children to travel. His parents presented him and his siblings with the gift of extended trips after their 18th birthdays.

In 1999, Minnema embarked on his first expedition. He explored the United States for 2 ½ months to discover what he called the university of life.

“It sparked a traveling flame in me,” he said. “Since then I have been addicted.”

That addiction would grow and lead to over 10 years of travel, adventures, exploration and discoveries.

 

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Minnema holds a coral snake mimic while students at UGACR take photos.

Minnema said he lives his life by the motto, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

Following this credo, he has created a list of experiences that ranges from working in the Amazon rain forest to traveling to Thailand, and he said that he still has many things to cross off his bucket list.

Although Minnema calls himself an adventurer and not an explorer, he said he often feels like he was born in the wrong century, and wishes it were easier to make new discoveries.

His favorite author and inspiration is Redmond O’Hanlon, whom he calls one of the last true explorers of this world.

He said the way O’Hanlon describes how true discoveries can still exist in this day and age speaks to him.

Minnema said there are still places left on earth to explore and discover. His experience working in the Amazon rain forest allowed him to visit one of the wildest places on earth.

During this time, Minnema rode the Amazon tributaries a day and a half from the closest human settlement, guided by a local coworker.

Ernest said his coworker had sensed the explorer in him and wanted to take him to his grandfather’s secret hunting grounds.

“When I got off the boat there,” he said, “the sense of the rain forest is completely different.”

Minnema said the absence of humanity was what made that part of the forest extraordinary.

“If you take a true map of the Amazon, there are still many white gaps on that map,” he said. “Many people don’t know that, but there are still places on this world where no man has walked.”

Minnema’s coworker is not the only person to have sensed the spirit of adventure in him.  Molly Scanga, a fellow resident naturalist at the University of Georgia, Costa Rica, said she also recognized Minnema’s passion for discovery.

“That inner adventurous spirit that normally dies out with age, you can tell that he’s done a really good job of keeping it alive inside of him,” she said.

Minnema said his sense of adventure and past exploration of the Amazon has inspired his dream adventure of walking the Darién Gap.

The Darién Gap is a break in the Pan-American Highway, an undeveloped jungle of swamps and forests. The area has gained infamy as the home of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC).

FARC is responsible for multiple assassinations and human rights violations, including the well-publicized kidnapping of National Geographic writer Robert Pelton in 2003.

“It’s the most wild and dangerous place in the world,” said Minnema. “ I will be on a list of 20, 25 people who did that.”

Although Minnema said he believes that pure adrenalin is the best drug in the world, danger is not what draws him to the Darién.

Due to FARC, the Darién Gap remains one of the last unexplored places in the world, said Minnema. It is this wildness that draws him.

“If you’ve ever been in a place where no man has been,” he said,  “you know that one footstep can completely change the forest.”

Though he realizes these unexplored spaces are becoming fewer, Minnema said he still believes there are new places to be discovered, and that others can be adventurers and explorers like him.

“You can,” he said. “Everybody can. Each second is the first second of the rest of your life.”

Minnema’s current adventure is serving as a resident naturalist at UGACR, guiding hikes, cooking classes, coffee tours and teaching science-based workshops.

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Minnema teaches student and interns about local herpetology.

José Joaquín Montero Ramírez, UGACR’s coordinator for research, instruction and internships, said he believes this resident naturalist position is the gateway for new discoveries for Minnema.

“This is a way for him to move to the next stage of life,” he said, “to discover and investigate and use all his connections and knowledge to create a new idea.”

Minnema said after all his explorations, he has finally found the place that can satisfy his need for adventure and allow him to pursue his passion to educate others and help them make their own discoveries.

“This is the place I’ve been looking for over the past 10 years,” he said.

Though he’s discovered UGACR, a place that allows him to educate the next group of world explorers, Minnema  said, he won’t stop adventuring any time soon. He still has a few things to cross of his bucket list.

Blog post and photos by Erin Burnett, UGACR Photojournalism Intern

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