Tamar Valkenier: Full time adventurer
Photo credit and copyrights to Shane Collins & Gonzo Okanagan
I met Tamar on a beach in Thailand back in 2017.
She had introduced herself and asked if she could join me and my buddy, Jacob. We were rock climbing on the beach in Tonsai. She joined us and told us all about her journey.
She had been a psychology student, became a criminal profiler, moved up the ranks of local law enforcement with lightning speed, even trained with the FBI and at some point, she realized she had reached a cul-de-sac in her career. There would be very little room to go any farther and she was still in her 20’s.
So, she quit. She sold everything she could. She bought a bicycle, some gear like a compactable tent and a hammock and would spend the next few years cycling across Europe, Holland to Turkey, then finding her way into Australia. When we met on that beach, she was heading North, enroute to Mongolia and she was doing it all on her own, all by herself.
When I came to Thailand, it was in part to escape the ruins of a failed relationship and I was in the 6th year of witnessing Alzheimer’s wage war on my mother. Her health had taken a drastic dive before I left and within a week of knowing Tamar, I received news that while I was away, my mother had passed. Tamar was my solace during that time.
She kept my chin up and we explored the jungles, island hopped, climbed the cliffs and in doing so started to make peace with her death. A seed was planted back then. Roots dug deep and all these years later, those roots are not only still strong but they have seen a friendship blossom.
The following year I met her and her father, Cornileus, in Athens. They were on a road trip and I met up with them along the way.
Now, when I talk of Tamar, I bring up far away, exotic places and I don’t mean to brag about my friend. That’s just Tamar. As an example, one day I was driving my car here in Kelowna, BC when I received an incoming call from Ulaanbaatar. “Hello?”
“Shane?” It was Tamar. She had not only made it to Mongolia, but she had befriended a local tribe of nomads, they had taken her in and she was in the process of learning to hunt with eagles, cook in nomadic tradition, ride horseback and how to survive out in the open plains of Mongolia.
When we were in Athens, we couldn’t justify the €30 to enter the main gate at the Acropolis. So, as we walked along the site’s perimeter fence, I was mid conversation when I realized I was walking and talking to myself. I looked back and Tamar was half way up a tree, crossing one of its limbs and hopping the iron fence. I followed her lead, we evaded security and were able to see the ancient ruins, free of charge, just as the sun was going down.
Recently, I had been following Tamar’s adventures online. Last I saw, she was in Iceland, climbing in cravasas, exploring ice caves and zig-zagging across an icefield when a brutal storm forced her and her partner to shut the expedition down. She had made her way back to Amsterdam to talk about her book, ‘Full time adventurer’ and to share her experiences with enthusiastic people, paying good money, eager to hear her tales.
She even adopted a camel. In Holland. His name is Einstein. Earlier in the year, she walked him across the Netherlands, attracting media attention and crowds of people, joining her along the way. She would ask people to help her and Einstein out as they went and doors and padoc’s were opened to them both.
Tamar being Tamar, when I saw that she was in Amsterdam reuniting with Einstein and her family, I knew she wouldn’t be there for long. Knowing that, I gave her a call and asked her for this interview. She called me back on a commuter train in Amsterdam, happy to share her story.
“Tamar, you’ve managed to travel during the pandemic. How do you do it?”
“I have to be selective with which countries I travel to now. I was just in Iceland for months and getting around up in the north, we would barely see people. It’s different there and so far I’ve been able to move without much fuss.”
“You don’t do the resorts when you’re abroad. You live out of your tent or out of your hammock or wherever someone will take you in. Is this the best way to do it?”
“For me it’s how I can meet all these incredible people and experience real culture when I am a guest in whatever country I am in. If I’m at a resort I’m just a tourist and I don’t want that experience. It’s shit food and it’s a shit way to spend my time. Sleeping in a tent in a snowstorm isn’t as comfortable, of course, but when those comforts do come they are just that much better.”
“How is Einstein?”
Tamar laughs. “Oh, he’s so good and so beautiful. I absolutely love him. We walked for three months across Holland and it broke my heart when I had to leave for Iceland. I had to hand him over to a farm in the south. He is so affectionate that we had to tie him to a fence just so I could go on my way. It’s funny because shortly after I had left, I received a phone call from the local police saying there was a camel on the loose! That gave me a laugh even though I was crying.”
“How do you fund all this travel? Acquiring a budget is something I’ve never managed to figure out for myself. It’s the most stressful part for me. How do you do it?”
“Money is always hard. I’ve been on a tight budget for a long time. In the beginning it was harder but now, I’m giving lectures to more and more people. I basically show my travel photos and get paid to do it. My book has sold over 10,000 copies and I’m also guiding people on my next trip.”
“And where is that?”
“I’m going to Jordan! There, I will go climbing in Wadi Rum and then meet up with 12 adventurers from Holland. We will spend 6 weeks on camels, meet with Bedouin families, sleep in the desert, eat in the desert, learn about the area and make our way all the way to Petra. I’m fully booked.”
“Do you see this lifestyle continuing on for a while? Does it ever get hard out there on the road?”
“It’s not always glamorous and I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be doing all of this. If and when the road ends, I’ll know it in my heart and then, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll teach. Because the weather can be hard. Political unrest can be tough to get around. There are over 2 million refugees in Jordan right now. There is fatigue and loneliness but in the end, I know this is the path I was meant to walk. There is still so much to see. I am doing what I was meant to do, following my heart and if you’re following your heart, no matter what, life is always good.”
Her train was coming to its final destination. “Shane, I have to go. Will I see you sometime?”
“Soon as I am able to, Tamar. I’ll find you out there again, whenever those stars align.”
I hung up the phone, poured myself a glass of whisky and sat outside, looking up at the night sky. I thought about my friend across the planet, starting her day as I was concluding mine and looking up at the stars, I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe the world is still there, beyond the fear and uncertainty and awaits those of us who yearn to touch, taste and smell the places we dream of exploring.
I feel it in my heart. Times may be hard right now but after talking to a full time adventurer like my friend Tamar, I am reminded that not only is there hope but that life is pretty good after all.