Ahmed Al-Monsouri is embarking on an adventure of a lifetime, now working full-time at Prism, an inclusive adventure travel company he founded based in Kuwait. Ahmed is an architect and has a broad range of interests spanning jewellery design to music, in addition to travel. He first discovered his passion for adventure travel when he organized a hiking trip in Oman with his friends. He found it to be a fun experience, dancing and listening to music, but also meditative as the hours passed and the hike started to take a toll on his body.
His commitment to inclusivity is at the forefront of his passion for this business, believing that every person deserves to be respected and valued for who they are. It was a Thursday afternoon when Mohammed Alhouti spoke with Ahmed about the transformative experiences that Prism has to offer.
Mohammed Alhouti: The typical Kuwaiti customer would seem to be more interested in luxury travel, have you found this to be the case?
Ahmed Al-Monsouri: I grew up in a typical Kuwaiti household, so our trips were relaxing. We visited London, Austria, and Germany. I enjoyed these visits, they were fun in their own right. I loved shopping, and the charming restaurants. I wanted to go hiking – while I was studying in the United States – but I did not know where to go and who to go with. My friends wanted to go on relaxing and luxurious trips. I am aware of this culture of luxury. But since then, I decided to join adventure travel groups and realized there are so many from the Gulf states that are interested in adventure travel. Prism Adventures hosts lots of travellers from the Gulf states and we’re hoping to expand internationally soon.
MA: How did it feel to move from your architecture career to pursuing adventure travel full time?
AA: It was a scary transition, especially because I was doing really well and enjoying my architecture job. I had to make peace with the fact that there is a lot of uncertainty when switching from the stability and safety of a 9-5 job to running my own business, on my own time. I had to remind myself of the positive impact that adventure travel has on people, and that was my fuel against any fear I had. When I put in my resignation notice at my architecture firm, I felt like I was in a meditative state for the rest of the week. It was a very beautiful and calming experience. I am super excited to pursue Prism Adventures and put more energy into seeing it grow.
MA: You mentioned that Prism Adventures thrives in being an inclusive travel community. Living in a country where inclusivity is not a top priority, it can be challenging to even address it. How did you start?
AA: I put inclusivity at the forefront because when I moved back to Kuwait, I received a culture shock. I realized some of the people close to me were racist, even those belonging to minorities who’d experienced discrimination in the past were racist. A part of me wanted to start a community that felt like a safe space for myself and others. This idea manifested into an adventure travel company, where people can travel together in an environment that lifts them up. If you see yourself as different or a minority, in this space your rights are protected, no one will treat you as less than – everyone is equal. A lot of people assume this space is just for liberals but this space is meant to be for everyone, regardless of your background or beliefs, as long as you’re accepting and respectful of others. Sometimes when I mention inclusivity, people refuse to sign up, which is great because it works like a filter. I want people to rediscover themselves when they travel with Prism Adventures and create human connections with people they’ve never met before who have different life experiences and backgrounds.
MA: Can you offer us an example of how your commitment to inclusivity has had an impact on your clients in reality?
AA: Here is one of my favorite testimonials: "Prior to joining, I came in with the idea that I had to present myself in a certain way to fit in the group. I found that everyone is so different yet welcoming, and that made me break from that idea that I had to present myself in a way that is not in line with who I really am." Seeing and hearing this is pretty amazing, especially when I see it carry on into their lives after the trip. During one of the trips, we had someone join who was a bit reserved and quiet. On day two of the trip, that same person was singing and dancing as we hiked, joking around with everyone, sharing a part of them that they do not often share with anyone. I was shocked in the most wonderful way. They then opened about how it has been years since they felt this comfortable to just be free and not care what others think. It brings me to tears to see someone go from hiding inside a shell to expressing themselves within a couple of days, given the right environment.
MA: You once said ‘Hiking taught me self-discipline’, can you explain how?
AA: When I was climbing Kilimanjaro, the way I learned self-discipline was to discipline my thoughts. Suddenly in the silence, all my inner demons came out because I was very vulnerable. I had to learn to find a way to streamline them to calm myself down. I couldn’t tell myself to stop thinking about something, it’s a process to ease these thoughts and I discover the process differently every time.
MA: Have you ever encountered any dangerous situations on any of your trips?
AA: As a guide, I feel like an overprotective mother. When someone is taking photographs at the edge of a cliff, I will start calling out to pull them to safety. Even though you cannot really eliminate dangerous situations in nature, I always try to take great care to make sure we do follow all safety measures while hiking.
MA: Is there a place you haven’t been that you’d like to visit?
AA: Yes, top of my list this year is Greenland. Since I was a kid, I was fascinated by Antarctica, and Greenland is very similar in landscape. I’m going this August. I like visiting places that are very remote, where I’m disconnected. They don’t have streets connecting areas throughout the country. To get from one town to another you have to fly.
MA: What were some of your favorite spots you’ve hiked through and what did you see?
AA: We’ve hiked in Norway, Italy, Iceland, Tanzania, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and more – but two hikes always stand out for me – Trolltunga in Norway and Landmannalauger in Iceland. Trolltunga is special because it is a via ferrata route, which means you climb up the face of a cliff on metal “steps” while tied to cables. The views are spectacular, and the trail combines mountain biking, hiking, and climbing. Landmannalauger in Iceland is just out of this world. To get to the trail, you pass by different landscapes, beginning with moss covered land, which slowly turns into pitch black sand and mountains of lava, which then turns into soft green mountains. Some of the mountains have red, yellow, and blue hues – it looks like it came straight out of a movie set.
MA: What hiking trails would you recommend for beginners VS advanced travellers who are joining Prism Adventures?
AA: I believe that anyone can do any hike that we offer, as long as they are mentally prepared for it. For example, Norway and Kilimanjaro offer the most challenging hikes from our trips. We have had many people who never hiked in their life join these trips and complete them with a big smile on their face. If someone feels they want to join an adventure trip but feels a bit hesitant, I always invite them to join our Amalfi Coast Backpacking trip – it has very easy hikes suitable for any level. If someone is up for a challenge, I always suggest Norway and Kilimanjaro.
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Words by Mohammed Alhouti
Images supplied by Prism Adventures