I recently had the pleasure of having Geoff Carpentier on my television show, and was so impressed by his travel tales, I thought I would feature him in this article. For those of you who do not know Geoff, he has a bi weekly column in this publication, which focuses on nature and wildlife.
Geoff is an ecologist and world traveller, who has taken tour groups all over the planet, including 35 (or so) trips to Antarctica. His life began in Winnipeg, where his mother was a stay at home mom and his dad was a medic and paratrooper with the Canadian military.
After two years, the family moved to Crowsnest Pass, in Alberta, a town high in the Rockies, near the US border with a current population of 5,500. On his sixth birthday, Geoff’s family relocated to Montreal and he was able to spend his birthday on a train; quite an exciting adventure for a young boy.
Three years later the family moved to New Brunswick, and then Petawawa, Ontario, where Geoff spent his teenage years. Working was part of growing up. He secured a paper route, and a job washing windows at the Canadian Forces Base. He also worked as a server and a busser, and decided a University stint would set him up for a more pleasant lifestyle.
Geoff attended the University of Guelph, majoring in Biological Sciences. His passion had always been birds and an opportunity to study them was fantastic. “Everyone wanted to graduate and work for the Ministry of Natural Resources in their specialized field, but when I finished school, jobs were hard to come by.”
Geoff managed to secure a position with the Ministry of Environment as a pesticide specialist, because of his great knowledge of nature. For 14 years he was able to help regulate the ever-changing industry, and has made boundless inroads into the safe use of pesticides. “The best part about the job was, I was able to work outdoors,” Geoff added.
During this time, Geoff married Kim Lendvay, and the couple raised three children. Geoff continued to work for the Ministry until he retired. One day, in 2005, he received a call from an Australian company asking if he would be interested in taking a group of people to Antarctica. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and he jumped at the chance. His vast knowledge of the eco structure and wildlife gave him an edge and made him a great resource on the tour.
That was the first of at least 35 trips to the southernmost continent. “Some tours are as long as 19 days, while others are only a week. Each one brings new experiences,” Geoff explained. He has also been one of the few people who have set foot on the other side of the Antarctic Circle.
Some of his other trips include the Galápagos Islands, Columbia, Cuba, India and so on. The list is actually in excess of 80 countries. I asked him what his most memorable locales were, and he immediately replied Borneo was on the top of his list.
“To see Orangutans in their natural habitat is unbelievable,” Geoff said, as his mind drifted back to Borneo. “To watch them frolic in the trees, metres from where you are standing, is beyond imagination.”
Another destination Geoff is fond of is Uganda, and a visit to the gorilla regions. “You can never imagine what it is like to stand face to face with a giant Silverback and make eye contact.” I asked him if he trembled during the experience, and he explained it was so surreal, you lose track of everything around you. Obviously, the safety of the animals is foremost on the agenda.
Another experience which made me laugh, was a trip Geoff did to the Amazon. “I had always wanted to touch an anaconda, and after reading up on them, I learned it was safe to do so, as long as you were gentle and careful.”
I asked him where you find anacondas, and he explained they are in the water. As you walk through a river, you come upon them with your feet. From there you reach down to make sure you know where its head is, and then, with the help of a few friends, carefully pick the reptile up. I listened in disbelief, as these animals can be three or four metres in length. Oh, did I mention they could also bite? Geoff explained the first concern was for the wellbeing of the snake.
I have taken tourists to numerous destinations and I know there are always unexpected experiences, which arise. I asked Geoff if he had anything he wanted to share? He relayed one of his funny stories.
“One of the passengers I had on a land tour, was a delightful lady of 88 years of age. She still ran marathons, and every time we got off the bus, she would run to the edge of a cliff to get the best view. I dreaded each stop and had to continuously reel her in, and explain she had to wait until everyone was ready to go. It certainly made my heart stop,” Geoff explained, smiling as he spoke.
Geoff Carpentier has written two books, and published numerous articles, along with his column in this paper. He is a foremost authority on mammals and birds, and has grave concerns about climate change and its effect on the environment. Check out his column, and you will be amazed at what you can learn, or tune into RogersTV or the Jonathan van Bilsen Show on YouTube, to see then entire story of Geoff Carpentier.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. His show, ‘The Jonathan van Bilsen Show,’ on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube, features many of the people included in this column.