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Right about now, Eva Zu Beck should be arriving in Punta Arenas, the southernmost airport in Chile, and the jumping-off point for her plane to Antarctica, where she plans on climbing her third peak of the Seven Summits. But when Eva is denied boarding on her flight and denied entry into Chile altogether due to a glitch in the Chilean vaccination system, it looks like her plans have just gone out the window. Follow her journey here for live updates.
After three years of constant travel, Eva Zu Beck came to a halting realization. A question crashed into her gut with the force of a bullet train. “What if full-time travel is holding me back from becoming truly great at something?”
Eva travels to places that most Western tourists have never even considered as vacation destinations, like Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, with the mission to uncover cultural beauty that is otherwise shrouded by negative narratives manufactured by Western media. Eva documents her intimate visits with traditional shepherds in Romania and Bakhtiari nomads in Iran on her YouTube channel.
The ethos of Eva’s channel is best exemplified by her motto “the world belongs to the brave,” which is actually a widely shared Polish saying. Eva’s daily lifestyle is built on bravery – she follows a life trajectory that goes way off course from the modern corporate conveyor belt that runs on a concrete track of safe choices. [Listen to Eva’s episode of The Outdoor Journal Podcast.]
Looking back on her childhood, Eva’s local culture and schooling were predicated on instilling systematized expectations and predictable goals – a husband, a house and kids, and a steady job. Karen Horney, a German psychoanalyst and student of Freud, called these expectations “The tyrannical shoulds,” socially imposed constructs that tear at our self-esteem.
Eva succumbed to the merciless pinch of these expectations in her early 20s. After graduating from Oxford University, she rushed straight into her own fairytale marriage because that’s what she thought she was supposed to do. But she tapped into her own inner bravery by moving on from her relationship and quitting her comfortable job in London to set her own path in life, one of adventure and exploration.
However, this past year, Eva shifted gears to developing her (relatively dormant) athleticism by dreaming up and executing daunting physical challenges in the outdoors which continue to edge on more and more extremes.
Eva didn’t play any sports growing up beyond skiing, but athleticism does grow in the family with her parents competing in tennis and squash.
“I’ve never been a big fan of following rules or regulations.”
Disinterested in team sports with uniform rules and predictable structure, she later discovered solo sports like running, climbing, hiking, and trekking.
“These sports are the extreme expression of freedom.”
After experiencing the accomplishment of completing marathons in Iraq and Yemen, Eva challenged herself to start thinking outside the realm of her present capabilities. Her next feat remained a closely kept secret to her over one million subscribers on YouTube as she trained for an entire year – a 250 km solo ultra-marathon through the Accursed Mountains, the southernmost section of the Dinaric Alps, an area that is as dangerous as the name implies.
Read next on TOJ: Fast-tracking journey through the Dinaric Alps.
Eva traipsed the peaks of the Balkans alone over five days on a trail that crosses three countries – Kosovo, Albania, and Montenegro – with a grueling 10,000 meters of elevation gain (higher than Everest at 8,849 meters).
But traveling thousands of miles via air and sea can’t outrun those nagging thoughts of doubt at the starting point.
“You think, oh my god, what did I sign up for, why am I doing this? This makes no sense. Why would anybody do this?”
Eva selected Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas, as the first step in her goal to reach all Seven Summits – the highest peak on each continent. Aconcagua is located in the Andes Mountain range within Argentina, just a few miles from its border with Chile, and it stands 6,961 meters (22,838 ft) tall.
When the decision came to attempt Kilimanjaro, her second peak of the Seven Summits, of course, she selected the western breach route, the hardest and most technical.
“If I can run 250 km in a week, then I guess that means I’m capable of pretty much any physical challenge that I set for myself.”
Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano in Tanzania, is the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest single free-standing mountain in the world at 5,895 meters (19,341 ft) above sea level. The steep western breach route is risky and dangerous, as climbers have less time to acclimatize and rock-falls have killed climbers in 2006 as well as 2015.
But she adapted well to waking up in the morning with 12 hours of hiking and climbing any and all rock and glacier ahead of her. She lapsed into an “eternal rhythm” that felt like walking forever in the shadow that Kilimanjaro casts over the world.
“I’m a big believer in Type 2 fun. Doing something that is incredibly hard in the moment but then knowing that just a short while away from now, you will be thanking yourself for having done it.”
Life in the outdoors allows Eva to connect with a sense of freedom that one cannot find surrounded by civilization because nature puts her in touch with her immediate needs.
“Everything that you’ve built around yourself in this cushy convenient comfortable world is just part of some grand illusion.”
On her previous trek to K2’s basecamp, Eva learned how to find comfort within discomfort. After hiking for hours through a raging windchill, comfort is a bit of warmth and food, it’s sharing a smile over tea with the cooks in the dinner tent.
After seven days up Kili and two days down, Eva was sure that she wanted more.
Eva set her sights on the tallest mountain in Antarctica, the Vinson Massif at 4,892 meters (16,050 ft), as her next challenge to follow up on Kilimanjaro, the second of her Seven Summits goal, and she’s currently on route. Follow Eva on Instagram for LIVE updates.
“The world is for the brave”
Perhaps Eva’s unquenchable thirst for adventure runs in her blood. The most meaningful memory that Eva has from her youth is diving into her grandfather’s travel journals. What makes her grandfather’s “chronicles” extraordinary is that they came during the communist movement when most people could not access a passport, making it difficult to travel in and out of Poland. These difficulties put into perspective Eva’s own troubles with getting locked out of Chile this week because of Covid bureaucracy after flying thousands of miles due south from New Brunswick, Canada.
Female Solo Travel
As a solo female traveler, Eva shatters the Western preconception of adventure.
In the US, places like Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan are perpetually associated with danger, as the news delivers a constant stream of negative media – war, destruction, and violence. As in Kubrick´s film A Clockwork Orange, the news media downloads subliminal images into our subconscious that form false veneers of these countries.
Eva made the conscious decision to abandon her fears and explore these places with fresh eyes. She formed the strongest connection with the people and places of Pakistan, so she decided to stay there for one full year, traveling around to see as much as possible.
“It started with Pakistan.”
Her time spent with the Wakhi people, skiing and hiking in the mountains, and searching for the perfect biryani in Karachi all led to her belief that Pakistan can become the world’s number one tourist destination.
Eva’s discovery that Pakistan had so much more to offer than the media led on set off a cascading realization of new possibilities which led her to question what other places lie behind a weightless veil of involuntarily instilled cultural prejudice. She devoted her channel to uncovering the myriad different sides to these countries and their people, free of fear.
“I have never felt like I was in real danger. Never. Not a single time during my travels.”
As a female solo traveler, Eva developed her own methods and habits to stay safe in unfamiliar surroundings and she notes, attacks on women don’t only happen in the places you would expect.
“I try to blend in as much as possible with customary clothes, and walk with an air of confidence, by looking like I am the queen of the marketplace.”
Thanks to her studies in French and German literature at Oxford, Eva possesses a facility with language which helps her connect and blend in on her travels, and her presentation style on camera is equal parts regal and humble.
Eva stands out in the landscape of YouTube vloggers because she fully immerses herself into each culture by living with host families, like this Bedouin in the desert of Oman, for weeks at a time. She always keeps an open mind and suspends judgment on different cultural practices, even if they directly oppose her own personal beliefs.
When trekking with the Massai through the Usambara mountains, she documented their tradition of slaughtering a cow for blood-drinking with curiosity and wonder, not judgment.
“We cannot transplant our ideas of being environmentally conscious onto other cultures that are very, very distant from us.”
Some even experienced travelers might get turned off to travel completely after her bed bugs experience in Tanzania but that’s the very reason why she travels, the little details like the bed bugs.
“Why would I go halfway across the world if only to sleep in a very comfortable bed detached from the communities around me?”
Read next on TOJ: Extreme Adventurer Mike Corey travels around the world to experience tribal rites of passage that demystify his darkest fears.
Overlanding Silver Linings
Even the worst parts of Eva’s adventures come with a silver lining. She has built up an unshakeable resilience and enough self-confidence to become an overlander. Eva purchased a Land Rover Defender, modified it to from the inside out to a campsite on wheels, and began venturing out into remote places, offline and alone. The Defender is the perfect vehicle to match Eva’s ethos of slow, mindful travel.
“I can’t go fast but I can go anywhere.”
Despite many technical issues with the truck, Eva relies on a jugaad philosophy, something she picked up from her travels, which inspires her to troubleshoot and problem-solve with less. Jugaad is a Hindi term that means a flexible approach to solving a problem, using limited resources in an innovative way. Watch Eva improvise, adapt and overcome challenges on her Defender overlanding adventures here.
Filmmaking is a Window
Eva’s style of storytelling has evolved in the past three years on YouTube to reveal an increasingly more layered narrative of the world. She feels a responsibility for being a window to her 1.3 million subscribers, especially during Covid.
Scrolling through the now saturated landscape of travel vloggers and travel filmmakers, Eva sees herself in both camps of expression, yet maturing into a more thought-provoking, documentary style of narrative.
“My main pet peeve with travel blogging is the lack of originality that I see on YouTube.”
Eva’s conscious approach to slow travel extends to her ethics as a filmmaker.
“I’m not saying that travel blogging needs to become a place of doom and gloom where we should be talking about just politics and very serious social issues, but I think it’s important for travel bloggers to start realizing that we have a huge responsibility and a huge power to change peoples’ minds and perspectives and do good in the world and I want to be a part of that movement.”
In a way, it pained her to make the decision to visit Cappadocia, Turkey, which is trendier than her usual remote locations, but nevertheless, she was charmed by the sight of the hot air balloons rather than being turned off by the more conspicuous tourism industry in the area. Her trip ended with a 300-kilometer emergency, overnight tow-truck ride to an industrial zone of Ankara, Turkey. (So it would seem that she couldn’t escape adventure even if she tried).
Her films feature local characters and traditional practices of bread-making, milking hundreds of sheep in a day, or trying on a time-honored wedding costume.
And while the YouTube algorithm pressures content creators to post hyperbolized titles and thumbnails, Eva would rather stay true to herself.
“I feel like I sometimes sacrifice millions of views by not strictly adhering to the numbers game best practices. I know that I’m creating valuable content that feels true to who I am.”
In this episode of The Outdoor Journal Podcast, Eva discusses the meaning of Type 2 fun, how she overcomes fear as a solo female traveler, why she thinks Pakistan is on the verge of becoming the world’s number one tourism destination, and how to find comfort within discomfort.[Listen to Eva’s episode of The Outdoor Journal Podcast.]