Welcome to Metamo, a podcast where we explore with you and our guests travel topics that push the boundaries in celebration of the human experience.
Co-hosts Greg Traverso— who has spent more than 20 years organizing African adventures from Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti to The Congo and beyond— and Bob Spoerl, an avid traveler who runs a communications firm covering 15 different time zones share travel stories that range from the sublime to the ridiculous, and everything in between.
Join us for the very first installment of Metamo, a podcast about adventure and transformational travel. Metamo provides modern explorers with a more fulfilling way to travel. In this episode, Greg Traverso, founder of Metamo, shares the story about how he first started traveling the world, starting in his own home state of California. That and plenty more on Metamo.
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New episodes airing weekly beginning in December.
Bob Spoerl: Hey, and welcome to Metamo where we explore with you and our guests travel topics and push the boundaries in celebration of the human experience. So this is our first episode, and I wanted to take a quick minute to introduce ourselves.
I’m Bob Spoerl. I’m here in Chicago and I’m with Greg Traverso. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Metamo. And Greg and I are going to be taking a journey with you if you’re right, right, Greg? A transformational trip for these episodes to kind of go through what Metamo is and what it means. And so, Greg, what is Metamo really quick before we kind of dive into your story.
Greg Traverso: That’s a fun question for me to answer because it provides modern explorers with a more fulfilling way to travel with experiences that are stress-free and profoundly transformative and rooted in an appreciation of our planet and the people that inhabit it.
Bob Spoerl: Yeah. So metamo.travel, that’s Greg’s URL. He just launched this thing a handful of weeks ago. You’ve been taking people on trips for years— Metamo is a sort of re-launch, rebranding effort and people can even email you at hello at metamo.travel Or just go to the site and have a nice chat with one of the representatives there. But this is the show again, we want it to really be about travel at large and kind of, you know, experience the world with us and our guests. And I’m really excited to kind of experience the world with us and our guests. I’m excited to kind of just dive right in with Greg being the founder of Metamo, I figured we’d kind of start the conversation, hearing your story and hearing how you became the traveler you are and how really your life has been impacted so many ways by the trips you’ve taken. So let’s start with that first trip near your hometown. Right. We’re talking to me about your teen years and up to this year. Tell us about that, that first trip away from home.
Greg Traverso: Well, you know, we think about Africa, you would think that the stories would be about the continent or, you know, but really, it’s my backyard. And here in the Central Valley, it’s only about a two-hour drive to the high Sierra, the Sierra Nevada Mountains. And it was there that I really would say was my favorite journey of all time. It takes precedence in my mind because it was a transformational experience, not that I ever thought about those words or anything else, but together with three friends, the four of us, we actually saved our money for a time and to buy our food for three weeks. And my mother dropped us off at Weeks Bay in Lake Tahoe and twenty-one and a half days later we got picked up at Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite. It was a two hundred and ten-mile journey across the washboard of the high Sierra. Three friends, four friends, four of us together, no parents carrying our own food. I did lose thirty pounds on the trip. We did a lot of fishing and caught some amazing trout back in the high country. Slept outside most all nights, every night, mostly without a tent. We didn’t even bring pads to sleep on. And it was, you know, four teenagers alone for three weeks in the Sierras. And I would, it’s an experience I would encourage anybody to do even this day and age.
Bob Spoerl: Wow, that’s incredible. I’m imagining, you know, teenagers taking a three-week trek across two hundred miles. That’s impressive. I mean, you know, it’s one of those things that it kind of reminds me of some of those books, like Jack London books, you’ve read, Greg. That’s awesome. And so you did that, fast forward a bit. Yeah. You’re upfront about this. You spent kind of a decade traveling, but kind of searching. Right? I mean, between that and your first trip to your first major trip to Africa. But the kind of my favorite story that you’ve shared with me before is kind of saving up for your first trip to Africa. So. So tell me about that, how did that happen?
Greg Traverso: Yeah, well, my first trip to Africa would be, you know, actually, it was to Europe on a ten-month journey. I was in a parking lot actually picking up trash in the morning of my family’s coming to it called the Yellow Submarine Sandwich Shop. But it was really more of an Italian deli. The local neighborhood would come and my grandmother worked there. She sliced the meat and my dad and my brother eventually worked there, too. And it was very much a family-run. I was out in the morning picking up trash. And my dad walked up, I mean pulled up and he got out of the car and it wasn’t typical for my dad to say things like this, but he turned to me and he said, Hey. You need to expand your horizons, and basically, that changed my direction without realizing it, and I started thinking about that a lot.
What came out of it, fast forward, was a 10-month journey across Europe. And in that journey, I ended up in Africa for the first time in North Africa, in Morocco. When I first set foot on the continent, I’ll never forget that moment of my foot actually landing on the continent, coming from Spain across Gibraltar, down over to Africa, to Morocco. So to save for the trip, it just took me still a couple of years. I started saving my coins and I had a big glass jug, a one-gallon container from the stuff that formerly had barbecue sauce in it. And I started putting my quarters in there and I did that for two years. And I told myself in the last quarter, I will fit in there and fall out. It’s time to travel. And that’s what I did.
I dumped that thing out, took it to the bank, rolled them up, my grandmother helped me roll them up. And I had a thousand dollars, almost exactly a thousand. So I bought a ticket, a one-way ticket to Europe and essentially then spent the next 10 months and ended up there in Africa. That was in Marrakech, known as the Pink City. It has orangish pink walls, with a friend of mine that I had met in Rome. This is nineteen eighty-two in a pizzeria. And we ended up traveling together for several months and we went to Morocco together on this same trip. And we were in Marrakech and we went to the market and there were Africans from West Africa coming to sell their wares. And I think it was that moment that really sub-Saharan Africa below the Sahara started to intrigue me. It was to be another decade before I really made it down to sub-Saharan Africa. And by the way, a monkey jumped on my buddy’s back and at that time, peed. I remember that moment. But anyway, so that was my first trip to Africa.
Bob Spoerl: So, you took the ED and I keep thinking of that Graham Nash song American Express. That was he did it a little after the 60s, but. So that’s cool. You did that 10 months long time. You literally expand your horizons. You traveled the world and you kind of caught this positive travel bug. So you mentioned you had this first inkling to sort of go-to sub-Saharan Africa and really for that continent. So tell me about that first trip that kind of planted the seeds for what would become lifelong of guiding people to Africa. But let’s talk about that. That really was a transformative trip.
Greg Traverso: It certainly was. It was a trip that, you know, like I had mentioned, it took me 10 more years, actually. I was in Egypt on a separate trip and that was another time period. And I had met some travelers that had come up from South Africa across the entire continent, through Sudan, up through Egypt. And that really intrigued me. So I had that on my mind since eighty-four. But I had not gone to school, having been to university at that point, I didn’t really didn’t like school. But through the travel experience I did get inspired and really from the sub shop, you know, and having clients turn to me every once in a while customers and say, hey, you should be a teacher. That kind of, you know, kind of woke me up to something that people can be a bit about to yourself, as you know. And I just for a while thinking about teaching and the idea of that. So I did end up going back to school and I had Africa in my mind, it’d be dormant for a while. But I did take some African music classes and I just did a lot of reading about it and imagined. And so I ended up working actually in a yogurt shop in Baltimore for 16 months. And I ended up being the manager of this yogurt shop in Baltimore and saved enough money to travel to Africa and around the world, actually. So I drove back across the states and left my car here in Stockton and flew on and ended up in Harare, Zimbabwe. I traveled overland all the way up to Kenya. And at that point, I knew I would be in Nairobi at a certain time because a friend was coming to meet me for three weeks and I had another friend coming that before the trip I had met within a pub on Geary Street in San Francisco with some other friends.
I laid out the map to Africa and I was just telling these friends of mine where I was going back in those days, you know, communication wasn’t you couldn’t send a text or you wouldn’t even think about that. You’d write letters and. Call a landline, and if you said you’re going to be there in a week, you’re going to be there in a week and maybe in a month or so in that conversation, one of my friends, her name is Susan. She turned to me and said, well, I’m coming to France during that time period. Maybe I can fly down to meet you. And I said, great, let’s do it. So we arranged for that. And through letters and correspondence, sure enough, she ended up in Nairobi. And just like I said, I would be, and she knew I would be there at five-thirty in the morning in Nairobi at the airport, Jomo Kenyatta Airport. And she walked out. And the next day we got our visa for Zaire, which is formerly the Belgian Congo. And think about Africa and you think about Central Africa. And now it’s the Democratic Republic of Congo. And in a couple of days’ time, we were hitchhiking, training, buttattoos all the way across hundreds of miles to get to the Congo to see the gorillas, which really was quite the experience.
Bob Spoerl: Greg, so, you know, when you say getting your visa, this is like this is what amazed me about your story is this is like the pre-Internet era. So I can’t just simply Google how to get a visa for Zimbabwe or Kenya. So, you know, this is pre-text messages and everything. My travel experiences started when I had cell phones and I had the Internet. And so, you know, not to veer off-topic, but I’m just curious, like, how did you do that? It’s just incredible to be kind of setting all coordinating all these meetings with people.
Greg Traverso: And, yeah, interesting as it was before the Internet. Right. And not only text messages, but like, you would never have the chance to look on a laptop or even to go to an Internet cafe, know that existed. So is all the human part of it. And so, you know, you have a guidebook and you look up the embassy and it’s on, you know, Jomo Kenyatta Boulevard or whatever, you’d say, OK, we’ll need to find that. You’d walk out and maybe you have a map, or if not, you have somebody on the street and you had to use your body language because the language barrier and then they point you may be in a right direction and, you know, three or four of those are pretty much you can direct it to the embassy. So, you know, even communicating back home might have like three minutes to call because it was ten bucks a minute to call on the landline. That would take an hour to get a service. And with friends and family, with a letter-writing and planning and all through that kind of correspondence. But it didn’t seem terribly difficult. You just if you got lost, you just asked someone to put you in the right direction. Only one time does it not go so well for me. I was in Spain and I actually got on the wrong train and I was heading for Portugal and actually went the wrong direction. But certainly lots of times in Africa, you just relied on your instincts and human communication. And it was very nice. I kind of miss it.
Bob Spoerl: I was going to say maybe it made it more enjoyable, more a little more carefree, a little more, like you said, in the moment. Right. Versus everything being so perfectly planned.
Greg Traverso: I think our experience is now the way we’ve designed them. You know, you do have Internet connections, but it’s just a little more difficult. And I found the MacLaine’s over these years. They one of the things they always told me afterward, I really love that I didn’t know if I needed to get work and I could do that. But generally, it’s like I was on my phone the whole time. And, you know, they bring their kids and their kids aren’t on the phone because you’re looking at wildlife, you’re looking at life and culture and everything so vibrant and alive that it’s part of that experience that I value. A lot of our clients really value it and want it.
Bob Spoerl: Yeah, I’m really excited. It’s so in future episodes and next week we’re going to be more into this too is the idea of this transformational travel and what it means. And so maybe just in closing, Greg, we can talk about you having this kind of peak moment and allude to the earlier. But I’m really curious about how traveling and being outside of where you are, how that can bring some sort of clarity and a change in how it happened in your life, maybe kind of close to that kind of that peak you mentioned earlier to me.
Greg Traverso: Sure, you know, transformational experiences are what we’re all searching for in life. This personal growth and opening new doors and to new experiences and so forth that you never know where that’s going to happen. It quite literally, literally could happen right now in your backyard. But there’s something about travel. There’s something about being outside of the norm, letting the cares of the world behind us and just kind of being away from or used to every day that maybe opens a window to opportunities for these kinds of experiences. And I think in life, you’re lucky if you have a peak experience. Some people are fortunate enough to have two or three or four in their life. They’re hard to predict and so forth, but for me, the seminal time for me was deep actually inside the continent of Africa. I was in a canoe, quite literally, bought a canoe. And I had a couple of local guides that didn’t really guide, but they were young people that knew the River of the Congo right smack dab in Central Africa.
And for many, many days and many hundreds of miles, I floated down the Congo, sleeping in villages and being literally cut off from being cut off. I mean, you can imagine even nowadays, you’re cut off from life back home completely. And so even the psychological part of that being so remote into the wilderness, if you will, of the largest, second-largest rainforest in the world and cut off. And then I wasn’t eating much food, but I was healthy. But I lost 50 pounds on that seven-month journey. This section of it was fifty-one days across the Congo. And I was deeper and deeper into it. And something changed me. I had had to shift. And it was a time period where my life direction changed. I was still very much a free spirit. But one of the things I kind of foresaw, not that moment of time, a period of clarity being out in those open skies at night, we’d be on the river and be a billion stars up there, you know, and I’d be traveling along and and and thinking about home and thinking about life. Then just it was more than that. It was a peak experience. There was a moment and it did change my life. So, I certainly could go into more depth, you know, and it’s the journey leading up to it and what happens afterward and, you know, getting sick with malaria, you know, after that and which had something to do with the weight loss that continued and also and making it out in the ruggedness of it, the sheer ruggedness of sleeping on trucks, under trucks, in villages and chiefs, homes in people’s homes on occasion, cheap hotels and sometimes no running water, but Metamo’s a completely different than that from that experience.
But people don’t have that much time either. So in a two-week time period of time, I want everything taken care of so they can completely decompress, completely, have this time with their family, a bond and just how that needed time. And so for me, that several month-long journeys was a peak experience. And that moment in time, I’ll never forget being in the Congo and literally in a bend in a river life change for me.
Bob Spoerl: This is what travel is all about. And this is why Metamo exists, to help people create an environment where they can find that peak right. Or that peak is more visible to them and in transformation is sort of ready to be unwrapped. Any questions for Greg Mohtarma about travel? Feel free to log on, take a look or shoot us an email at hello at Mohtarma DOT Travel.
We’re looking forward to talking to you soon. And you guys have a great rest of your weekend. Thanks. Take care.