Get to Know Crooked Compass Founder, Lisa Pagotto


Whilst travel is halted temporarily, we thought we would take the time to get to know Crooked Compass Founder, Lisa Pagotto a little more and understand what makes her tick as well as learn a little about her past travel experiences and escapades from starting life in Brisbane through to exploring some of the worlds most exotics reaches such as Yemen, Syria and beyond.

Crooked Compass Founder, Lisa Pagotto being welcomed with a traditional 'Welcome to Country' in East Arnhem Land, Australia
Crooked Compass Founder, Lisa Pagotto being welcomed with a traditional ‘Welcome to Country’ in East Arnhem Land, Australia. Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

My first holiday memory is…

Travelling to Port Macquarie and visiting Fantasy Glades, a very 80’s theme park based around fairy tales and nursery rhymes located in a rainforest which seemed eerily enchanted and magical as a child. There was a dragon with terrifying red eyes that glowed when you walked past before it would spray you with water. I would try and run past quickly knowing my little brother was a few metres behind me and he would get soaked! I was that type of sister. Still am!

The Middle East is Lisa's favourite part of the world to explore
The Middle East is Lisa’s favourite part of the world to explore. Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

My next holiday is…
At the moment, that is all a big question mark as we wait for COVID-19 to slow and for the world to re-open. However, assuming borders re-open before December, my next personal holiday is a round-the-world adventure with my husband and son. Covering off China, Tibet, Nepal, Germany, Austria, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Easter Island, Tahiti and Pitcairn Island. I love to educate myself and my family through foreign cultures and experiences that just aren’t possible in our home country.

Lisa and her family in South Korea
Lisa and her family in South Korea. Photo Credit: Welkinlight Photography

My biggest travel mistake…

Quad biking in Namibia, I was getting a little over confident and ended up taking a corner a little too fast. My quad bike flipped multiple times knocking me unconscious and cracking my top three vertebrae as my quaddie and I tumbled down the dunes with me in a dead heap. Another ‘error’ was when I was climbing a waterfall with some local kids at Wadi Bani Khalid in Oman and slipped smacking my face into the rock and falling about 30m. It was a long painful swim out.

Lisa swims through Wadi Bank Khalid in Oman - at the end of this canyon was the waterfall Lisa fell down!
Lisa swimming through Wadi Bank Khalid in Oman – at the end of this canyon was the doomed waterfall. Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Best piece of travel advice for others…
Don’t follow the tourist trails – go off beat, create your own path, get lost, eat local and push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Lisa in the streets of the Old Town of Mukhalla, Yemen
Lisa in the streets of the Old Town of Mukhalla, Yemen. Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

The place I’ve visited the most is…
Italy – apart from travelling here regularly as a child (my family is of Italian heritage), I also lived in Florence studying Italian and my husband and I were married in Italy too.

Lisa's wedding day in Italy in the Tuscan town of Monte San Savino.
Lisa’s wedding day in Italy in the Tuscan town of Monte San Savino. Photo Credit: James Miller

Place that most surprised me…
North Korea. I knew North Korea was going to be mind boggling, but what surprised me the most, was the incredible natural beauty. Sheer granite mountains, turquoise waters, pristine beaches, quaint fishing villages, willow trees and blossom trees lining the river, spectacular waterfalls and ski fields!

Chasing waterfalls in North Korea
Chasing waterfalls in North Korea. Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

When I’m on the plane I….
I love my plane time. It’s the one time when I can truly switch off – no emails, no phone calls and I can just let my imagination run wild – away from the business and craziness of everyday life. Quite often that ‘quiet’ time is when my mind is most creative and all sorts of new ideas are dreamt up.

Lisa trekking along the unrestored Great Wall of China
Lisa trekking along the unrestored Great Wall of China known as the ‘Wild Wall’. Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

My packing style is….
Less is more. Always travel with merino clothing which doesn’t crease, doesn’t smell or sweat. Merino Country is a great place to source your essentials! The items are simple basics allowing you dress them up or down with accessories such as a scarf and also allows you to mix and match. Definitely no hair dryers/GHD’s in my luggage (apart for conferences where my hair actually needs be done) and a minimal amounts of shoes.

Lisa with the Reindeer Tribe in the far north of Mongolia
Lisa with the Reindeer Tribe in the far north of Mongolia. Photo Credit: Sandra Henri Photography

Best accommodation…
For me, the best accommodation doesn’t necessarily mean the most luxurious. I have had the incredible privilege of staying in some of the world’s most stunning properties – think glass boxes floating amid tree branches, plunge pools, butlers etc… but for me, the best accommodation is all about the experience. Having lived with a local family in a ger in Mongolia in the middle of winter, where we had lambs born out of season nestled in with us, a hunk of horse meat sitting outside frozen from the elements waiting for us to turn it into delicious dumplings and tucking in at night under hand-loomed blankets woven by nomadic women, rates pretty high. Also staying in the tee pees and sleeping on beds made of tree logs with the Reindeer Tribe in Mongolia was something pretty special and lastly, a homestay I did in Vietnam in the remotes of the Sapa Valley, where I slept in a loft filled with hay after drinking home made plum wine with the local farmers ranks highly as well.

Family life inside a ger in Mongolia's wilds in the middle of winter.
Family life inside a ger in Mongolia’s wilds in the middle of winter. Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

My holidays are mostly spent…
Fueling my curiosity to learn by going somewhere I have never been and learning about foreign cultures, traditions and practices – the more remote and disconnected from the world, the better.

Hanging with a baby seal lion in the Galapagos Islands
Hanging with a baby sea lion in the Galapagos Islands. Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Souvenir I always buy…
When it comes to souvenirs, I am not the type of person to buy what I would call ‘trinkets’. If I buy something, it must have meaning and significance to something I experienced or learned on my travels. And most importantly, it must be supporting the local community financially. Some of my favourite ‘souvenirs’ include two zulu warriors carved out of a chunk of black ironbark, a life size terracotta warrior ‘General’ who weighs 96kg, a North Korean propaganda stamp collection, traditional plum branch woven hats as worn by the local women in the fields of Yemen and my favourite, an original Asaro mudman mask gifted to me by one of the tribe at the end of the Mount Hagen Cultural Show when I escorted our first group there.

This Asaro mudman mask now sits proudly in Lisa's house. Made from mud from the Asaro River, it still ha pig tusks and teeth and all!
This Asaro mudman mask now sits proudly in Lisa’s house. Made from mud from the Asaro River, it is complete with pig tusks, teeth and all! Photo Credit: Lisa Pagotto

Most memorable flight…
Not memorable for the right reasons, but I was on a flight in Queensland which lost cabin pressure. The crew were advised to take their seats and administer their oxygen masks. This aircraft did not carry oxygen masks for its passengers. Instead, we were advised by a nervous captain that we had to ‘plummet 13,000ft in six minutes’ to get to an altitude where oxygen wasn’t required and the cabin no longer needed to be pressurised. An experience I would rather forget.

Best cultural experience…
Hunting with the Hadzabe tribe in Tanzania. This hunter-gatherer tribe wear baboon skins as clothes and widdle their own hunting arrows. Extracting poison from trees, they mimic the call of birds to perfection. Sourcing their water from the trunks of baobab trees and fearlessly shoving their arms down mongoose holes to see if they can grab one was just the start of my hunting experience. They can hear creatures scurrying in underground mud tunnels and know where to piece their arrows into the ground to trap the critters mid journey. I felt like I was part of a National Geographic documentary.

Smoke break inside the fallen baobab - Crooked Compass
The Hadzabe break for a quick smoke of bush ganja in the hollow of a baobab tree. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto

Bucketlist destination….
Socotra, known as the Galapagos of Arabia is located off the coast of Oman and Yemen, so isolated that a third of its plant life is found nowhere else on the planet. I am currently booked to visit in October 2020, however our friend COVID-19 will likely prevent that dream from becoming reality this year. It may have to be one for 2021!

The Jurassic Island of Socotra - Lisa's dream destination.
The Jurassic Island of Socotra – Lisa’s dream destination.

Worst thing I’ve eaten….
Duck’s blood soup in the homestay I mentioned above in the Sapa Valley, Vietnam, followed closely by pigs heart and a sea horse in China.

Best thing I’ve ever eaten…
I have a tie with two dishes – both seafood dishes. One was in Panama in the small remote surfing village of Santa Catalina. We ‘dined’ in a local roadside ‘restaurant’ which was more like an open shed with a gravel floor. The seafood was straight from the ocean and mixed with some sort of redish coloured island crafted sauce – no idea what it was or what we ordered in our terrible Spanish, but it was incredible! The second, was in Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. The local fisherman had returned at sunset and lay their catch out for the locals to come and purchase. Our chef took us with him as we chose our vibrant red coral trout. The way it was prepared is unlike I have ever tasted coral trout before. So fresh, so delicious.

Coral trout caught in the balmy waters of Rabaul
Coral trout caught in the balmy waters of Rabaul, Papua New Guinea – Photo Credit: Lisa Pagotto