To be an adventurer is a fairly rare and peculiar occupation. It is often an image associated with the colonial iconography of a man setting out into the unknown world to discover and make great strides into dark and dangerous cultures, climates, and civilizations. Though exploration itself does not have to be laden with the unfortunate ideology of colonialism, but rather, it can be practiced with a deep passion for the diverse peoples and places of the world and a desire to be a respectful witness and recorder of the vast beauty there is across this earth. This being said, a great example of this respectful type of exploration is best exemplified by the first woman to drive around the world, Aloha Wanderwell.
Born 1906 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as Idris Welsh, she quickly found herself on the move. Only three years later her mother remarried, her last name was changed to Hall, and they were living on Vancouver Island on the West Coast of Canada. Then in 1914, Herbert Hall decided to move the family to England to fight in the war. Here, Idris and her sister and mother traveled around England, Belgium, and France. It was during this period that Idris’s mother recognized a tendency towards boyish behavior and attempted to quell it by sending her to boarding school, first to one in Belgium and then to one in Nice.
At the age of 16 she met her future husband, Walter Wanderwell, when she attended an interview in which she was able to attain a position in his World Tour Expedition. Shortly after their meeting and her joining, she changed her name to Aloha Wanderwell and Walter divorced his wife. They would marry three years later in California. Aloha participated in the expedition as translator, driver, secretary, actress, cinematographer, film editor, and mechanic, to name a few. Her position always growing as Walter poured responsibility onto her. It was as if Aloha was born to adapt and explore any possible role, place, or mission that came into her path regardless of gender or social situation.
In their Model T Ford, the Wanderwells became famous for their experiences and adventures. She schmoozed with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks while passing through Hollywood; She fought with the French Foreign Legionnaires; She dressed herself to look like a man and went into Mecca to pray; she slept in a tent at the base of the Sphinx; she had two children along the way; she crash-landed in uncharted areas of the Amazon where she was the first to create a film documentary of the Bororo tribe; she captured the only known film images of the Desert Dust horse, a renowned type of wild palomino from that region.
Aloha never stopped being an adventurer whether it was traveling to new parts of the world, lecturing about her old treks, or writing her autobiography Call to Adventure! Throughout all her accomplishments she stands out well-beyond the expectations for women of her time and did not allow stereotypes or social norms to hold her back. For this she remains a figure par excellence of someone who created the new and discovered the old, bringing her story to the world as a voice of boundless spirit that forever inspires us to go out and start the journey to experience whatever may come, dauntlessly.
Author: Jonathan M. Bessette
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