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Lust for travel: explorer Sarah Marquis tells us about her adventures

Over a year on from her mammoth three-year, 10,000-mile walking expedition, Business Destinations speaks to National Geographic’s 2014 Explorer of the Year Sarah Marquis about some of her travelling highlights

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Sarah arriving at her resupply point in north Australia after two months in Arnhem Land, Crocodile Country
Sarah arriving at her resupply point in north Australia after two months in Arnhem Land, Crocodile Country 

Growing up in the mountains of Switzerland, Sarah Marquis was, from a young age, consumed by wanderlust. Not content with settling in any one place, she has always expressed a desire to connect with nature and to adventure out into the great unknown. Having spent her formative years braving some of the world’s most challenging conditions, Marquis has earned herself the title of ‘extreme walker’ and has adopted a self-proclaimed ‘philosophy of movement’.

When, at age eight, Marquis left home with her dog and discovered a cave filled with bats, she had taken her first steps on a journey that would eventually see her travel to the farthest reaches of the globe. Later, at only 17 years of age, Marquis set out across the Central Anatolia region on horseback without even knowing how to ride. In 2000, she walked from the Canadian to the Mexican border in little over four months, and in 2002 took a 17-month, 8,700-mile walking expedition across Australia.

Her latest expedition marked the most ambitious of them all, however: when, on her 38th birthday in 2010, she started out south from Irkutsk in Siberia, Marquis would not see the end of her journey for another three years. “Alone with the elements; my only companion will be the rhythm of my own footsteps,” she wrote. “The strength of my legs and the quickness of my feet will carry me through this incredible epic. I have always found a second wind at the end of my personal limits. And so once again, I will set out alone on foot to reunite with a little tree I met a few years back.”

Marquis would not see the end of her journey for another three years

Even preparation for the trip proved difficult, as Marquis had tasked herself with taking on a 20-mile hike, while carrying 30kg of gear, every day for two years. What’s more, as no pre-plotted paths of her route existed, she was left with no option but to collect topographic maps and plot her own course, arranging resupply points along the way. Realising that water and food would be hard to come by throughout, it was only by way of her innovative survival techniques and expert resource management that she was able to not only survive, but to succeed.

Over the course of the expedition Marquis endured temperatures as low as minus 22°F and as high as 124°F, all the while carrying the equipment that she would need for these extreme conditions on either her own back or a trolley. At one point she was forced to endure dengue fever over three days while tied to a tree, and at another she was taken hostage and robbed by a group of armed men. Beginning in Siberia, Marquis made her way to the Gobi Desert, China, Laos, Thailand, and finally onto Australia, finishing her journey almost three years later.

Regenerating mid-trek in Mongolia
Regenerating mid-trek in Mongolia

Despite the many challenges faced throughout her trek Marquis already plans to return to her beloved Australia next year, where she says it is her dream to survive with only a sarong and a knife for company. And with her undying love for exploration and adventure, there’s no doubting whatsoever that Marquis will continue to push herself on to greater things – time and time again achieving the seemingly impossible.

What inspired you to head out on your three-year walk from Siberia to southern Australia?
I’ve been doing expeditions much like it for the last 23 years, and every expedition starts with an inspiration moment. For this one, I was doing my shopping and passed a travel agency where on the window was a big picture of the steppes of Mongolia. It was a huge green picture, and my heart was really drawn in by it. From there, the idea of Asia grew on me and, in time, the project really grew on me. It took two years to actually plan the expedition before I started walking.

What is the most memorable place you’ve ever visited?
That is a question that is pretty hard to answer. I think the place that I keep coming back to is the Australian outback, although the Gobi Desert is also very memorable for me.

What is the most challenging place you’ve ever stayed?
The most challenging place I’ve ever come across is a difficult one. If you’re talking about the nature of a place and on this trip then it would definitely be the Gobi desert. The water was always scarce and often there was none whatsoever, which made for a really difficult climate.

What’s your idea of a perfect holiday?
The idea of a perfect holiday for me is difficult because I don’t really go on holiday. The last three months I‘ve spent in the Australian desert to study plants, trees and birds, and I’m always going into places to study nature.

Sarah would frequently wake to the sight of camels in the Gobi Desert
Sarah would frequently wake to the sight of camels in the Gobi Desert

Are there any luxuries you can’t do without?
I really don’t have any luxuries. I don’t have books or any music. When I head out I usually don’t have anything beyond necessities.

Do you collect any souvenirs?
No I don’t. I have maybe two suitcases of stuff and I move around, although I do have a permanent address in Switzerland. I try to live with as few possessions as I can because it’s in keeping with my idea of being minimalist; to be able to live on this planet and consume as little as I can.

What is your favourite way to travel, and why?
On foot – mainly because it has been my life for the last 23 years.

What would you say is your all-time travelling highlight?
My encounter with wildlife in the Gobi Desert with a wolf, which I’d probably put up there on the scale. It was unbelievable.

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