Here is a man who said no to the corporate world and followed his gut in pursuing his passion for exploration. He bought a ticket to Paris and sailed the Mediterranean for a year and the rest is history. Seven years later Francois Malherbe is an active modern-day explorer, co-founder of Unravelling Exploration, a TEDx speaker, a career coach and apprentice to Mike Horn.
France Expedition, 2008
“Who said you can’t travel for a living?”
Francois had us intrigued from the get-go. Over a cup of coffee in Cape Town, (a flat white, double shot in a small cup to be exact) Francois explains his passions to us in a way no one ever has before.
“You know when you’re sitting in a coffee shop, and there’s all this ambient noise…”
he starts. Intrigued we knowingly nod, subversively asking him to go on.
“It’s all background noise to me. Chatter. Until someone says one of these words…
That’s when my head turns and I feel a jump in my chest.”
Francois is a man that understand himself well, and so it’s no surprise that he’s able to trace his physical reaction to these specific words right down to its root cause: passion.
Next, he made it his life’s mission to pursue these passions.
As co-founder of Unraveling Exploration, a cause-based organization to improve career guidance in South Africa through self-exploration by means of expeditions, Francois’s passion is for people to find their ‘vocation’ – the point where your passion meets the needs of the community (check out his Tedx talk on the topic). Francois has led countless km’s worth of expeditions through Africa to facilitate the mental and physical exploration of students, while simultaneously contributing to local communities, especially in Northern Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia.
Francois’s latest Vocational Expedition to Botswana
Exploring the Caprivi on foot
On Ernest Hemingway:
Ernest triggered Francois’s passion for exploration and Africa right from the beginning. Francois can only describe Hemingway’s 1933 expeditions to Africa as thrilling and courageous in which Hemingway faced great odds – enduring severe illness on the continent and surviving two plane crashes on his second trip to Africa. Yet, through it all, he wrote, “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy”. Hemingway also wrote that we should live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas and intoxicated by the romance of the unusual and that “courage is grace under pressure”. For Francois, this was an open invitation for him to wholeheartedly pursue a life of vocation and exploration, no matter what the challenges.
“I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy”
- Ernest Hemingway
On Mike Horn:
Mike Horn. Need we say more. Just like most men on earth, Francois’s passion for exploration was inspired by Mike Horn – a man who swam the Amazon River solo and walked across the North Pole during the dark season. So, naturally, Francois called him up during his 2008 Pangaea expedition and has been mentored by the world’s greatest modern day-explorer ever-since. Mike has taught Francois the necessity of really living and that exploration is a way of life and a philosophy. Mike inspired Francois to challenge what we see as the norm regarding a career or job and became the catalyst for Unravelling Exploration.
Francois and Mike Horn in Cape Town, South Africa
So, naturally, Francois called him up during his 2008 Pangaea expedition and has been mentored by the world’s greatest modern day-explorer ever-since.
On Land Cruisers
Francois admits that from a young age his eyes couldn’t help but follow every Land Cruiser that passed him. His theory? The Land Cruiser actually chose him. What excites him most about this 4×4 is the possibility of where it can take him. It’s not so much about the car than it is about being a ‘vehicle’ for exploration. Francois cheekily adds “I must also mention that the Geländewagen is in the running as well, after seeing what Mike Horn has put them through on his expeditions.”
4×4 Expedition in Namibia
Francois and videographer, Philip Du Plessis
A bit more on our new Ambassador:
Your favourite drink?
“I love a good cup of coffee – flat white, double shot in a small cup to be exact! It also depends on where I am, because there is nothing better than a glass of Shiraz in front of the fireplace in winter and a gin and tonic goes very well with a warm Botswana sunset!”
Photo credit | Joshua Buhrmann
Your life passion?
“My work. My work is a product of commitments I made towards myself to go from being promising to making promises. I am passionate about the courage it takes to explore new ways of doing your life’s work and to have your day to day be an expression of your passions, talents and skills. I am also passionate about crossing borders and searching summits, using exploration and adventure as a vehicle for self-exploration.”
Photo credit | Joshua Buhrmann
Best book you recently read?
“Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.”
Your best adventure thus far?
“Choosing one is difficult. I had countless adventures with my parents growing up. The biggest personal one was buying a plane ticket to Paris and a train ticket to the south of France to sail the Mediterranean for a year. Another memorable adventure was with my father-in-law, driving through the Namibian desert between Lüderitz and Walvis Bay, and then on to the Richtersveld. But the best adventure, is being married to my wife, Adri.”
What is at the top of your bucket list?
“Climbing Gran Paradiso with my brother. Driving to the Serengeti. Exploring the Sahara Desert on camelback.”
What can’t you travel without?
“My camera and a notebook.”
Your favourite movie?
What song is the backtrack to your life?
“Woodlock – Build a Kingdom”
Biggest inspirational figures in your life?
“Mike Horn, Ernest Hemingway and my family.”
Your favourite tool / gadget?
“Gadgets I don’t travel without: My zippo (get’s a fire going regardless of wind and rain) + my Leatherman multi-tool.”
Tell us more about Unravelling Exploration. Where the concept started, what you do now and where you see it going in the future.
“Unravelling Exploration started as a cause-based organization to better understand some of the educational issues we face regarding effective and relevant career guidance in South Africa. From there, my focus has shifted toward 1:1 coaching, facilitation and workshops as well as exploration and adventure.
Using coaching to facilitate a process of self-exploration, it enables us to look into new ways of creating and designing a career you are passionate about. My dream would be to open up a ‘vocational centre for exploration.’ The idea is to create a centre where I can communicate the importance of understanding yourself, looking into new and exciting ways to live your vocation by doing research and celebrating what people are busy with all around the globe. By going on vocational expeditions, where exploring the unknown catalyses a fresh perspective, we come back with a new sense of anticipation and courage, to do what is necessary”
Photo credit | Joshua Buhrmann
Your favourite quote?
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainier Rilke”
Any expeditions in the pipeline? And do they come with any challenges?
“At this stage, I am planning an expedition to Gran Paradiso in Italy as part of my Searching Summits expedition. The Gran Paradiso (4061m) has snow all year round and is situated on the southern skyline from the Mont Blanc Massif. I am also planning a couple of ‘off the beaten track’ vocational expeditions to Namibia, Botswana and Zambia.”
Any travel tips you would like to share?
“On a recent expedition to Botswana, I used maps.me, an excellent app for off-line exploration.”
What do you like to do in your free-time? A hobby besides your expeditions?
“Being a bit of a gear junky, I often find myself doing research on new gear and equipment. I am also trying to learn French. I love all ocean sports and spending time in and on the water. I grew up paddling K1’s, but being on a surf ski is my favourite. I also enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving.”