Minnesota native recounts world travels

by Marie Veillette


Marty Essen is an ordinary guy with some not-so-ordinary travel experiences. He lives with his wife Deb in Montana, owning and operating their own landline company, Essen Communications Corporation. He’s also traveled to all seven continents, been attacked by a hippo, chased by an elephant and surrounded by a pack of wolves.

Marty has some connections to the Fargo-Moorhead area. He is originally from Duluth, Minn., his wife attended Concordia College and his nephew attends MSUM.

Recounting his travels, he wrote a book, “Cool Creatures, Hot Planet” with one chapter devoted to each continent and his experiences there. The book has won six national awards since it was published in 2012.

However, the Essens did not originally plan to travel to all the continents, nor did Marty expect to write a book. Everything started with one trip to Belize.

“We were just going out to have an adventure,” Marty said.

A reporter in Montana was doing an interview with the Essens, highlighting the success of their business. When the interview was finished, Marty mentioned their upcoming trip to the Belizean rainforest.

The reporter asked if he would like to write about his travels for the publication. He agreed, and after his articles received positive feedback, Marty decided he should write a book.

His trip to the rainforest was as successful as his writing.

“Ever since I was eight years old, I had wanted to go visit the rainforest,” Marty said. “It was like being in a giant greenhouse without the pots.”

The Essens had always been animal lovers, and their trips across the world naturally took on an aspect of conservation and advocacy for the environment and the inhabiting wildlife.

In his writing and presentation, Marty deliberately took time to point out animals such as the vampire bat, which produces a natural anti-coagulant that has inspired a life saving drug for humans.

He also took time to explain why other animals, such as wolves and piranhas, have a bad reputation, then debunked the myths that gave them that reputation.

Preserving the environment was an important topic in Marty’s presentation. He shared pictures of the icebergs in Antarctica and the barren landscapes of Canadian oil fields.

“[America] is the last place left on the planet where global warming is still a controversy,” he said.

Though he enjoyed every continent and environment he explored, the rainforest was by far his favorite; however, it has not been spared from human destruction.

Many acres of natural habitat have been torn down to make room for farmers to plant palm trees and harvest the oil. Marty urged the audience to avoid buying products with the ingredient.

Throughout their three and a half years of traveling, the Essens had many close encounters with dangerous animals, but the most incredible story Marty shared took place in Africa, the last continent they visited. 

He and his wife, their tour guide and two other couples were canoeing down the Zambezi River after a few days of backpacking. The river was filled with hippos, who are known to be dangerous if they feel threatened.

All the couples, including the Essens, were nervous about sharing the waterway, but the tour guide assured them it was safe. They set off down the river, but before either Deb or Marty knew what was happening, they were pitched on shore.

A hippo had thrust its tusks through the bottom of the canoe leaving two large holes, and the top jaw of the its massive bite had smashed the gunwale.

Though neither had any injuries, it took much convincing and courage for the party to continue their two day trip down the river.

It may seem impossible that one couple could have so many unique experiences, but Marty attributes it to their deliberate travel to locations tourists would not normally go.

While the Essens completed their seven continent goal some years ago, their travel has not stopped nor has their wanderlust been quenched.

“No matter how much research I did ahead of time, nature always surprised me,” Marty said.

Those interested in following the Essens’ adventures should friend Marty on Facebook to see a daily photo from his ever-growing collection.

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