Hailing from southern Italy, Antonio spent his childhood splashing in the Lao River that gushes through the Pollino — Italy’s largest national park — and exploring its wild canyons, shaping his love for rivers and rafting. Fast forward to today, and the rafting maestro has travelled all over the world, leading expeditions along some of the greatest rivers in Italy, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, USA, Morocco, Nepal and India, and training for many years to become a yoga instructor. In 2016, he returned to his hometown and the Lao River, reclaiming a former landfill area and developing it as the HQ for River Tribe, curating thrilling multi-day adventures in the Pollino.
Tell us about your first adventure.
I went swimming in the Lao River from a very young age — we didn’t wear life jackets or helmets — and I’d raft through its canyon. Spending so much time on the river gave me great respect for water and nature. My first river adventures overseas, though, took me to Argentina and the Mendoza River. I went there with very little knowledge, no Spanish and no money in my early 20s. Going from the Lao to rivers in South America with a huge volume of water was scary. But fear is all part of the thrill.
Where did your adventurous streak come from?
From the values that my parents passed on to me: courage, freedom, respect and love are fundamental pillars in my life. My parents have always encouraged me to live without fear, which has helped me a lot in the adventure field as I don't waste energy worrying. I've always loved being outside and I grew up up with a constant, deep connection to nature, feeding my great love of adventure. Every trip — and everyone I meet along the way — adds to my adventurous streak even more.
Which trips have had the biggest impact?
I could write a book on this question. That first trip to Argentina probably had one of the biggest impacts on me. I was 21 and the call of the river and adventure was strong. I had very little money, but I won a scooter and a phone at a festival in my hometown. I sold the scooter and bought a ticket to Argentina instead and managed to find work as a river guide on the Mendoza River. When the season was over, I gathered together some savings and travelled around southern Chile, Peru and Bolivia.
What have been some of the most challenging moments during your adventures?
There have been many. I had to help rescue a friend of mine who got into trouble rafting on Morocco’s Melloul River. I’ve been stalked by a crocodile while lazily kayaking downstream in Costa Rica. And in India, I had a few close calls with cobra. I found one under my bed in a campsite along the Ganges and another curled up on my bags. But the locals laughed it off and said it was good karma and not to worry. And then there was the time I was robbed at knifepoint in India, stared at lifeless children’s bodies in the Ganges, and when I stumbled across drug cartels in Mexico.
Tell us about one of the most interesting people you’ve met on your travels?
I have met so many interesting people: extreme adventurers, legendary guides, writers, shamans, you name it. I’ll never forget the first time I met my yoga guru in India. I was catching up with friends in Rishikesh and spotted a man in a yoga position staring at me with bright eyes. I gestured to him and we ended up talking for five hours. He became my guru and I lived with him for three years, travelling around India on a motorbike and visiting ashrams. The last time I heard from him was around four years ago when he told me he was taking a vow of long-time silence.
Is there a destination that’s really touched you?
I’m very fond of the Colorado River and I’ve led 25-day expeditions that cross the Grand Canyon. There are no phones and no laptops. It’s just you and your thoughts, your emotions and nature. I’ve travelled there with some legendary guides and learnt a huge amount from them. Also, Nepal is special — it’s that perfect combination of adventure, culture and spirituality. The river expeditions along the Karnali, Tamur, Marsyangdi rivers and the Upper Seti are all impressive and challenging. It’s easy to meet locals, too, pulling into small villages for a rest.
What can people expect when they sign up for one of River Tribe’s adventures?
I always say, have no expectations. Arrive free. You might have feelings of fear, but those sort of emotions can give you strength. I can promise, though, that you’ll be able to connect with nature and feel very present. My job is to educate people about our natural surroundings and to respect it, and I think they get that when they see my love and passion for it. Even now, every trip helps shape me and I always learn new things.
How do you think people can make better travel choices post coronavirus?
People have had more time to think about what sort of lives they should be leading. Being stuck in towns and cities has opened something up in our consciousness about nature and how important it is. So, I think more people will look to nature-based trips. There also needs to be a greater emphasis on the locals in a destination. If you don’t connect with the locals, you miss the complete destination. That’s the beauty of our expeditions — we always try to create meaningful connections between the people on our trips and the locals.
For more information on Antonio, River Tribe and all of the excursions you can do visit rivertribe.it