He ate piranha for lunch and hunted wild pig for dinner. He spent weeks in a tropical forest crawling with insects, jungle cats, and snakes that can kill a man in a matter of minutes. He befriended the natives.
Was this some Rambo bound for yet another moment of glory? Was he some shipwrecked soul searching for civilization?
No, this was a CEO on vacation.
Michael Levine, president of Levine & Associates, an
The three-week expedition was organized by Earthwatch, a non-profit organization based in Watertown, Mass., that teams up scientists with volunteers willing to work long and hard in the field, and
pay a share of the research costs. Costs, for example, range from $695 for a week in the White Mountains studying ferns with a botanist, to $2,400 in the Soviet Union studying Siberian dwarf hamsters or taking core samples from Lake Baikal. In return, volunteers earn a modest tax deduction and a shot at scientific adventure.
Other Earthwatch expeditions have taken Levine to the
A successful CEO can afford to vacation almost anywhere he chooses, so why would he choose hard work and less-than-luxurious living conditions? Levine likes the fact that he gets to know the local people and to experience a foreign culture in a way no tourist ever could. “It makes me a little more humble,” he says. An inventor who holds several patents, Levine says, “Earthwatch trips get me away for a period of time to really think…I come up with new ideas.”
All expeditions are work, but some require less physical labor than others, and while all accommodations are on the spar-tan side, some do come with indoor plumbing. “It doesn’t have to be that strenuous,” says Levine. “You can choose an expedition that involves airbrushing off fossils. Some are sedentary, some are not, but no one treats this as a vacation, as a tour, or as sightseeing.”
Dale Dykema, president of T.D. Service Financial Corp., a
Most volunteers on the
Dykema also participated in one of the longest running and most successful projects: saving endangered leatherback turtles on the
“It was a very cleansing experience to walk that beach at night with the stars above you and nothing but the sea pounding against the beach,” says Robert Averill, president of Oddity, Inc., a Pennsylvania-based wholesaler in the candle and fragrance business. Averill joined a 10-day turtle expedition last May and remembers it as “hard, hard work. You start off at at night and finish up when the last turtle goes back to the sea-and that might be ” One night, five turtles hit the beach at once, a situation he likened to “a Chinese fire drill.” After spending the night trudging through deep sand, the volunteers slept during the day, two to a room in a hotel with four people to a bathroom. They took turns cooking their own meals. “It wasn’t the Hilton by any means, but it wasn’t intolerable,” says Averill.
An Earthwatch expedition is “a fascinating way to spend a vacation. I found people who were interested in adventure and doing something useful on vacation rather than just playing golf or hanging around a swimming pool,” says Ray Cleeland, chairman of Johann Haviland China Corp., which imports tableware.
On two-thirds of the 14 expeditions Cleeland has joined, the volunteers stayed in a hotel or permanent shelter. Others camped out, “and ate the equivalent of K-rations or cooked their own food,” he says. On an expedition off the northwest cost of
We were up to our knees in water.” Cleeland used his scuba diving skills to assist marine archeologists in salvaging the wreckage of a British whaling ship, the Lively, which sank around 1812.
Cleeland’s skill in the water also came in handy in
No such exotic delicacy awaited Gary Brown on his expedition in
In its search, the expedition team used a copy of a reproduction of the ship’s log. “In the times of
Coming up with hard answers to scientific theories is not really what being an expedition volunteer is all about. The joy is in the searching and in the association with scientists working to unlock the secrets of our world. Brown says the biggest benefit for him is “the experience of interacting with someone who is a known expert in his field-to discuss theories one-on-one.” Friends and colleagues who take trips to