Photo: Chelsea Gustafson
Former reporter Paul von Zielbauer chooses a new adventure: philanthropic globe-trotting.
"Curiosity can lead you to fascinating places," says Paul von Zielbauer. He learned this as a correspondent for The New York Times, where he covered danger zones from Iraq to the New York City jail system. A restless, inquisitive spirit is also what fuels Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy, which von Zielbauer started in 2008 to combine physically challenging expeditions with humanitarian efforts. On Roadmonkey's recent Peru jaunt, for example, travelers went white-water rafting, then rebuilt a home for indigenous weavers near Machu Picchu. In Tanzania they climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, then constructed a sustainable kitchen for a local school; in Vietnam, they biked the central highlands, then created a playground for kids in the Mekong Delta.
Because Roadmonkey's founder favors rugged trailblazing over well-worn paths, every trip contains an element of surprise—as when a group stumbled upon a gorgeous natural wonder in Vietnam. "We spent two glorious hours trundling up boulders under a cascade of mountain water," von Zielbauer recalls. "A majestic waterfall that you just happen to pass and have all to yourself—that's what adventure travel is all about."
But he stresses that the charitable element of the Roadmonkey equation leaves little to chance: The company teams up with local nonprofits to scout volunteer sites, purchase building materials, and enlist community support for each project (partners have included the Livingstone Tanzania Trust and the Worldwide Orphans Foundation). Expedition members also do their part, raising as much as $1,000 each in tax-deductible donations before a trip begins. By journey's end, they have a permanent—albeit faraway—memento of their adventure: a playground, a clean-water system, a classroom. "These experiences are meant to test your mettle," says von Zielbauer. "You learn what you're capable of doing—for other people and for yourself."
From the December 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine