Bond girl and adventurer Rachel Grant is no stranger to danger. In fact, she thrives on it. Grant has traveled to almost 70 countries and done everything from hiking active volcanoes to diving with sharks. She is also a caving expert and in 2012 led a team down to a cave and underground river in the Philippines that had never been entered.
Grant has much to say about her love of extreme sports and about acting—and how and where her two passions cross paths.
The Clymb: How did you get started in adventure sports/exploring? What’s your background and were you always adventurous as a child?
Rachel Grant: I was born on the island of Luzon in the Philippines (where my mother is from), raised in the United Kingdom, and now live in the US. As a little girl, I was fearless and always up to something; I’d climb trees, dig holes in the garden, and run into the house with my hands full of worms shouting “Look Daddy, SNAKES!”
Growing up, we travelled to the Philippines often, where I was exposed to all sorts of things: volcanoes, coral islands, caves, unusual foods, indigenous tribes, tropical heat and humidity, even typhoons. The differences between Britain and the Philippines were so extreme and it excited me so; I wanted to travel to every country in the world, tread on all sorts of terrain, meet locals, eat their foods, and learn their way of life.
My father, Baron Dr. Michael Charles Grant de Longueuil, says my wanderlust is an ancestral family trait. My ancestor, Charles le Moyne, and much of our family are explorers and great travelers. It’s in my genes.
The Clymb: You’ve done an impressive amount of travel for your adventures. Can you tell us a bit about it? Any particular destination that you love or that you feel has the most to offer to those who love adventure?
RG: So far, I’ve travelled to six continents and nearly 70 countries. My reasons for travel have been a combination of acting on location in film and TV, exploration vacations, travel hosting, travel writing, photography, visiting family and also beauty pageants! When I was 19 I saw an advert in the paper looking for contestants for a beauty pageant and the winner received a free trip to the Bahamas. I had never been to the Caribbean and entered just for that chance to travel. I won, and that year I went on to do more pageants all over the world.
However, I’m quite happy to ditch the high heels for hiking boots—expeditions to far-flung remote corners of the world are my favorite kinds of journeys. I love the wild, exuberant jungle of the Amazon rainforest and think it’s a must for the super-adventurous. The Galapagos Islands also tops my list, particularly for those interested in unique wildlife, modern ecology, and conservation.
For those who really want to get lost and be far from tourists, I’d highly recommend the Philippines. It’s an archipelago of 7,107 islands with hundreds of them still unexplored and you won’t even find maps for some areas. The diversity of marine life and coral reefs are wondrous and there are scores of uncharted caves and underground rivers waiting to be discovered. In fact, many of the destinations I have been to in the Philippines can not be found online or in any guide book.
The Clymb: Although you do a lot of caving right now, you also love other extreme sports and being active in general. Can you tell our readers a bit about some of the extreme traveling you’ve done and some of the adventures you’ve been in?
RG: I seek extreme activities on all my travels! I’ve scuba dived through World War II Japanese shipwrecks buried beneath the South China Sea, swam alongside scores of sharks in the Galapagos, canoed through ancient Mayan sacrificial caves in Guatemala, communed with naked tribesman in the Amazon rainforest, and have trekked along a category 5 erupting volcano in the Philippines. To me, however, an extreme adventure is every aspect of traveling to the fullest—not just a physical activity. If you travel for a particular sport you should also hang with the locals, try some unique traditions and break out of one’s culinary comfort zone.
The most experienced caver in the world who ignores local life, unique foods and traditions, is the not the greatest traveler.
The Clymb: How did you get started in cave exploring? What was the first cave you ever explored and what was the experience like?
RG: My father used to take my sisters and I to the Blue John caves in Derbyshire, UK. Blue John is a semi-precious mineral with bands of purple-blue and yellows. The Blue John caverns and tunnels felt cold and were covered with all sorts of glittery bits; it was like stepping into a fairy tale or visiting another planet. I recall the unique feeling of being in total darkness. Since then I’ve ventured into many caves around the world, including ancient sacrificial caves, caves with prehistoric art, abandoned mines, unchartered caves, and underground rivers.
My next cave exploration is La Verna in the Pyrenees, south of France. It’s the largest cave in the world where visitors are permitted and the size of the underground natural dome is mind-blowing. It’s a stupendous 253 metres long, 220 metres wide and 193 metres high. My father and I will take a journey down the same route the first explorers went along.
The Clymb: You were part of the first team to ever explore a previously unknown cave in Bani, Philippines in 2012. How did the trip come about and what was the experience like?
RG: Yes, I was part of a daring subterranean river exploration that revealed and publicized the uncharted “Angel Cave” in Bani, Pangasinan in the Philippines. This cave exploration was surprisingly not pre-planned. I was visiting Bani on a charitable mission—to meet with a rural community of 600 “informal settlers” who had all miraculously survived the eye of a typhoon. I was helping raise funds to build an emergency evacuation center and school.
While there, I overheard a conversation about an underground river and cave system that had been found in recent years but no one had dared enter due to the inaccessibility and deep waters. With limited equipment and with the help of the local government, we organized a team of 50 to enter the cave the following morning. The route down to the cave entrance was steep and rocky and by the time we got there, we were already a team of around 30.The next several hours of climbing, crawling, swimming and sheer wonderment, felt like a journey into the center of the earth. It was very dark and very beautiful. I recall having to catch my breath with each chamber we entered; I couldn’t wait to see what glistening structure nature would gift us with next.
By the evening, and at the point where we decided to go no further, we were a team of only four: the local mayor (a former army general), his two body guards, and myself.
It is an indescribable feeling to tread where no man, or woman, has trodden before. The difference between an unvisited cave and one that has been passed through many times, is night and day. “Angel Cave” was immaculate! I pray it still is.
The Clymb: You played a Bond Girl in the film Die Another Day. What is it like to be a Bond girl and did it feel like the role was a good match (you seem like a great choice for that kind of role!)? Can you tell us a bit more about your acting career and how do you match acting with adventure?
RG: I played Peaceful Fountains of Desire opposite Pierce Brosnan as Bond’s would-be assassin in Die Another Day. I’ve worked in films with Jean Claude Van Dame, Robert Carlyle, Dominic Monaghan and many others. I’ve also hosted several TV shows including SciFright on SyFy and a travel show onboard Cathay Pacific airlines. However, playing Peaceful in Die Another Day is one of my most memorable moments.
I’ve always liked the idea of James Bond and how he travels the world encountering different people, living life fearlessly and to the fullest. I had no idea, however, my Bond adventure would continue long after the movie was over. I still get calls and invites for a variety of Bond-related activities. Being a Bond girl is certainly inspirational and perhaps it has magnified my sense of adventure—after all, Bond girls have a lot to live up to!
The best thing to have come from being part of such a well known film franchise, is my involvement with charitable endeavors. Through traveling I’ve seen much poverty and suffering and being a Bond girl has given me the leverage to help disadvantaged communities. As mentioned earlier, I’m helping build a much-needed evacuation center for typhoon victims that will double up as a school for a community in Bani, Philippines.
I’ve also founded a social enterprise called Furry Kind, a collaboration with Human Nature (fair-trade natural cosmetics) which I am global ambassador for. Furry Kind by Human Nature is an eco-friendly pet line promoting good works and good will to animals, humans and the environment, while providing livelihood opportunities to rural farming communities. In 2012, I was invited by Hillary Clinton to a private function in Washington DC with the President of the Philippines in recognition of charitable efforts and achievements.
In 2013, I probably experienced the most “extreme” trip ever, by volunteering in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Nothing can prepare you for the heart-wrenching scenes a typhoon of this scale leaves behind. We prepared food supplies and visited homeless survivors in the devastated city of Tacloban and surrounding areas of Leyte where thousands of lives were taken. Giving back and being able to raise awareness of the needy and worthy projects, is the greatest gift of being a Bond girl—but this is something anyone can do. We all have the gift and ability to help those less fortunate than ourselves to make a difference in the world.
How do I match acting with adventure? Hmmm. Acting takes you to another place and as another person, interacting with different characters, while feeling a wide variety of emotions and sensations. That is something I have always loved about acting. Traveling takes you to another place with different people, transforms you and offers the experience of new feelings, smells, bodily sensations, and emotions. I simply love that about my travels. Perhaps acting does have a connection to my love of extreme travels!