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Sarah Marquis

“Freedom is a choice made at every moment, and throughout a lifetime

An explorer for National Geographic and named Adventurer of the Year in 2013, Sarah Marquis is one of the world’s top ten adventure giants. She is profoundly free, because she has chosen to be so, because she does what it takes to remain so daily, and simply because she was made to enjoy such liberty.

How did your vocation as an explorer begin?
I was born that way! My first memory of exploration was when I was seven years old. I had set off alone with my dog and a small backpack to spend the night in a cave in the middle of the forest. There was a big bat hanging from the ceiling. I thought it was sensational! I am driven by infinite curiosity, which enables me to marvel at everything.

Was your childhood tinged with freedom?
Yes, I spent my childhood in the northern Jura region. The cultural environment was limited, but nature offered us everything. I used to go fishing, as well as foraging for mushrooms and medicinal plants with my parents. Along with my brothers, I climbed 20m-high trees. Freedom and constant immersion in nature sharpened my senses, taught me to know my limits, taste the adrenaline of danger and develop my self-confidence.

Why did you choose to walk?
I like the simplicity and freedom of walking. It’s the natural human means of locomotion. The one to which our eyes and senses have adapted. The one that enables us to correctly ‘read’ the setting in which we operate and to fully enjoy every second.

How did you acquire your vast knowledge of nature?
In the field. I’ve spent my life there. Everything is connected in nature: the plant, animal and mineral kingdoms... It’s a treasure map whose clues must be picked up. I know when a plant feels good or when it is not healthy. I know that if I come across a bird, I will find a tree, which means that the ground is full of salt. And I know that since this bird never flies more than five kilometers to find water, I will be able to find water too...

What type of environment gives you the strongest sense of freedom?
I have been through jungles and primeval forests, and over snow-covered peaks, but what speaks to me the most is the desert. In this barrenness, life appears in all its intensity, because the desert is in fact teeming with life! Surviving it awakens ancestral memories, and an immense feeling of freedom.

To fully enjoy the freedom of an expedition, do you spend a long time preparing for it?
I like my brother to take care of the logistics, because he is very far-sighted, excellent in the field, and ready to adapt to change. For my part, I spend one or two years reading up on the history of the region I intend to visit. I study its culture and pharmacopoeia. Sometimes I even learn the language. For my survival expedition to Australia, I knew that there was an overpopulation of saltwater crocodiles where I was going.

I consulted the aborigines, who gave me some very effective tips on how to spot these creatures. I also go into the field to make contacts, and I prepare an evacuation plan with a precise protocol to follow in case of problems. Finally, I prepare myself physically, including training, and nutrition to gain weight before leaving. The last step is mental preparation, to detach oneself from the civilized world and at one point, to switch to animal life. After accumulating a lot of information, I then have to empty myself, let go, and wait for that familiar moment when I know I am ready. Before I left for Tasmania, I was in a café. It was raining. People were not very friendly. Suddenly I felt ready and left, with a sense of shedding my skin and leaving it behind on the chair where I was sitting.

You sometimes have close brushes with death. What is your relationship with it?
It’s part of my everyday life and I’m not afraid of it. On my expeditions, when I have time to think, I tell myself that if everything had to stop tomorrow, I’m OK with that idea. Because I’ve experienced so many incredible things. I’ve devoured every second of my life with such intensity.

Do you feel free?
Yes! Freedom is the extent to which we allow ourselves to be free. It comes from within, from us alone. And it is within everyone’s reach. With small steps, one can go a long way. My own have taken me all over the world!

Which expedition has made the biggest impression on you?
The first, which took me from Canada to Mexico, because it was like a blank canvas that will never be blank again. And as I always try to go a step further as my expeditions progress, the most recent is naturally the most incredible: in this case, the one that led me to the primeval forests of Tasmania* surrounded by incredibly dense nature, unspoiled by any human presence and hovered over by the shadow of the tiger! I also feel a special attachment to my expedition in the Kimberley region of Australia. I was dropped off there by helicopter for three months in survival mode, with 125 grams of flour, in an area teeming with crocodiles and snakes. This expedition would never have been possible without my 25 years of experience and excellent knowledge of the field.

Where do you feel at home?
In Australia! This land resonates in me, I don’t know why. It’s organic, it’s vibratory, it’s my home!


 Based on an interview by Michèle Wouters

This survival expedition to Australia called for more than 20 years of experience...
© J. Marquis

Tasmania expedition, 2018.
© K. Wright

Western Australia expedition, three months in survival mode, 2015.
© K. Wright

© K. Wright

Tasmania expedition: crossing various expanses of water with an inflatable packraft.
© K. Wright

Alpine zone during my Tasmania expedition.
© K. Wright

Data collection for the CSIRO on Biodiversity, during the Tasmania expedition.
© K. Wright

The primeval forests of Western Tasmania are veritable living museums!
© K. Wright

Being alone in these remote regions of Tasmania is a real privilege.
© K. Wright

*A story told in the book I woke up the tiger published by Michel Lafon.

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