An adventurer's confession
My name is Jiri but my friends call me Yirka. I come from the north-eastern-most corner of the Czech Republic. I am a traveller - adventurer, photographer and an amateur naturalist, fascinated by traditional tribal people. In addition to nature and indigenous tribes, I also enjoy photographing the monuments built by ancient civilisations.
I have loved nature since I was a child, and as a seven year old boy I already couldn't understand why people must have been destroying all that beauty around them. It made no sense to me that we fill the air we all breathe with the toxic fumes from cars and factories.
As soon as I learned to read, I began to search for knowledge about tropical rain forests and the animals and people living in them. I dreamed about expeditions to exotic lands.
At age fourteen my dreams didn't seem very feasible, also because we lived in the communist regime. Later, when the Iron Curtain lifted, my plans still didn't look much more hopeful. I still have a vivid memory of how once at high school (in a maths class) I suddenly realised that nothing was really stopping me from making my dreams come true and setting off to the rainforests, and that when you really want to achieve something, only you can make it happen. So I began to make my plans. The biggest support at the time came from my parents. They told me: ”When we see you are actually doing something for it, we will help you.” They offered me a job in their company and less then a year of hard work later I had earned enough money to buy a ticket to Singapore and a little extra cash.
So, in 1995 I left for a year to Asia for my first adventure.
I travelled from Sumatra to Thailand, also to Bangladesh and India, and hiked through Nepal - all with 4 US dollars per day. Today I consider it crazy, but frankly it was probably the best year of my life, full of adventure and amazing experiences: hitch-hiking on Indian trucks, sleeping at train stations and in abandoned buildings in places like Bangkok or Jakarta, camping deep in the jungle or on the beautiful, then still-untouched, beaches of southern Thailand ... That all taught me a lot, not only about the people and their lives and cultures, but also about myself. Often I met the most wonderful people when I least expected it. But most of all, I fulfilled my boyhood dream: experiencing the equatorial
rain-forests of Sumatra and Malaysia. I arrived home just before Christmas, hitch-hiking from Frankfurt with just three dollars in my pocket, but feeling incredibly wealthy.
But aside from the dreams which came true and my many amazing adventures, I could also not fail to see the huge devastation of nature. There isn't much left of the rain-forests, the rivers are heavily polluted, the seas are full of oil, plastic and rubbish. And there are so many people everywhere. That all re-enforced my longing to try to do something for the protection of nature and tribal people for the rest of my life.
Soon after this trip I had to do a year-and-a-half of civil service (a substitution for the
then-obligatory army service). This was followed by a few years when I was - with my then girlfriend - earning money during the summers by playing street music in Germany, or working in England, and travelling the world during the European winters. But my main plan (for years) was a long trip from Europe all the way to Tasmania overland. My aim was to learn about all the amazing cultures along the way, to see how they gradually change when travelling east, and also to experience the transition of natural ecosystems in all their diversity and beauty. After a year of hard work in the US I could finally set off for this great journey. It eventually lasted almost two years and was not only my longest trip, but also another dream which came true. [Prague - Tasmania overland]
Half-way through, in south India on Christmas 2003, I met my (now sadly) ex-girlfriend Martina. Since then, until our last expedition to Yali in Papua (October 2012), we have traveled and worked together. She had always been a great support to me, for which I am very grateful.
Eventually I felt that I was mature enough and had gained enough life and travel experience to embark on expeditions to the indigenous tribal peoples of the remote jungles in west Papua and Africa. I feel that we still can, even today, learn from them about
(as I see it) true humanity.
As a photographer I also wanted to record these last remaining people living in such a close inter-relationship with nature, before they disappear forever.
After my first expedition to the Papuan tribes my huge interest developed into a life-time fascination, and so for several years I have been doing expeditions to the indigenous people of New Guinea and Africa. I do not pretend to be an anthropologist, I am an adventurer and photographer. But I always try to learn as much as possible and get the full picture everywhere I go.
So when I am not in the jungle with some of these wonderful people, it's only because I am working hard to save the money to be able to go back to them as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, everything is changing incredibly quickly. Even in the most remote corners of Indonesian Papua, the towns are springing up on tribal people's land, and the forests are cut down at a pace you can hardly imagine. These pristine areas are being replaced by houses, roads and plantations. Every year we have to go further and further to get to the forests and people, that's how quickly the forests and traditional people disappear. In just a few years nothing will be left of the cultures developed over so many millennia.
It makes me terribly sad, and sometimes I'm overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness.
But I still want to dedicate the rest of my life to help protect nature and the indigenous peoples' rights to live their lives in their own ways.