Johan Reinhard: A Real Story
In 1995, among ice and volcanic ash 20,700 feet high in the Andes, Johan Reinhard discovered a 500-year-old Inca mummy. Reinhard is an explorer at the National Geographic Society. Here's his story in his own words.
I grew up in a small town in Illinois where the possibilities for exciting exploration were limited. But for a young boy, it was still an adventure to go camping along the river that flowed through the town. My father's job as a detective meant that I had a fascination with trying to solve "mysteries" as well. My childhood memories are of using fingerprinting and powder that showed up under ultraviolet light. And fishing and hunting took me outdoors. I read about the adventures of the Hardy Boys, then those of modern-day explorers, and I kept wondering why I couldn't do some of the same things. When I turned 16, I joined a railroad line gang, working with Southerners and travelling throughout the Midwest. I learned two valuable lessons: I could earn a living in difficult circumstances simply by working hard, and I was fascinated learning about people with a cultural background different from my own. I used my savings from the line gang to travel alone to Brazil, where I came into contact with jungle tribes. Back in the U.S., I began scuba diving, cave exploring, skydiving, and mountain climbing.
When I began studying cultural anthropology and archaeology at the University of Arizona, I saw unlimited possibilities for combining the outdoor skills I'd learned with anthropology in remote parts of the world. The next step seemed only logical: I decided I'd learn more by studying anthropology in a foreign country, since I'd be "living" anthropology while studying it in a different language. Once I had studied cinematography and learned to analyse unwritten languages, I felt ready for the career I'd foreseen for myself while still a boy: anthropological research.
With anthropology, my desire to visit little-known places could be combined with my interest in understanding other cultures. To me it seemed like I would be solving mysteries. I was fascinated by questions like: Why did people in the past build such unusual structures (such as giant drawings in the sand) in such difficult places (such as mountaintops)?
How can someone become an explorer? It is not necessary to be a great athlete, but it is necessary to be fit and to know how to take care of oneself and others in an emergency. Practical skills, such as mapping and auto repair, are always useful! Key is speaking a foreign language and being trained in a field of science. But perhaps one of the most important necessities is being able to form friendly relationships with diverse people under difficult circumstances (a good sense of humour is critical). Determination and a sense of responsibility may be enough for some expeditions.
What is NOT important for becoming an explorer, according to the author?