It may not have been a part of her childhood repertoire, but at 53 years old, Marina Sacht is playing a real-life game of Marco Polo.
Treading new waters in search of history, culture and family ties, Sacht, along with her sister Adriane Polo are preparing to retrace parts of the infamous 24-year, 24-kilometre journey of the famed explorer in 2016.
Sacht and Polo, also known as the Polo Sisters, were born into the Polovic family in Slovenia (former Yugoslavia) during Communist rule. Sacht still remembers the stories of her late father Stane before the family escaped to Canada in 1967.
“We lived in an apartment building on the border of Italy and at night, we’d go up on the roof of the building and you could see the lights of Venice,” she said. “Our dad used to tell us about how we were related to Marco Polo and the Polo family. I’m pretty sure I’m related, but what the relation is and how far back we’ll be able to trace it … who knows.”
Sacht said the idea of tracing the Polo family roots came while reminiscing about her father on his birthday last July. Sacht, a photographer and editor/publisher of Ladysmith’s Take 5 Publications, and Polo, a filmmaker in North Vancouver, had been searching for a project to take on together now that their children have grown.
This June, they will take a four-week trip to Venice to connect with long-lost relatives and conduct preliminary research and interviews before embarking on the full journey next year. The research will include visiting Marco Polo’s home in Venice, the Marco Polo Museum, as well as Korcula, which is said to be Marco Polo’s place of birth.
“It will broaden our horizons, and it will strengthen our family ties as we dig into our past,” said Sacht. “Hopefully we’ll come out of this knowing a little bit more about ourselves and about our future.”
Marco Polo’s journey from Venice through the Silk Road trading route to China took place in 1271, alongside his father and uncle, all merchant travellers. While not the first European to reach China, Marco Polo was said to be one of the first to leave a detailed chronicle of the journey, which provided other Europeans of that time an introduction to the East.
The Polo Sisters plan to start their version of Marco Polo’s journey in Italy and make their way through Israel to Turkey and through the Pamir mountain range to China and Mongolia, then loop back along the coast to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Istanbul and back to Italy.
The trip will span 20 countries, six seas, two deserts and the Pamir mountain range. During this time, the women will recreate as many parts of the original journey as they can, such as going through the desert via horse or camel.
“We may not retrace the exact route as he did for obvious reasons; for example there’s parts of Iran I don’t want to go into,” said Sacht.
Sacht says one of her biggest hopes is to inspire and connect with women, particularly those who are still being oppressed in the countries they encounter.
She notes that while Marco Polo’s journey has been recreated in the past by men, she is not aware of any women who have completed the journey and looks forward to providing a different perspective.
“I think it’s going to be a life-changing trip for us,” she said. “Would I be heartbroken if there was no relationship between me and Marco Polo? No. That’s part of the question that drives this, but it’s not all of it.”
The entire journey, named Marco Polo Family Ties, will be filmed and produced in a two-part documentary series produced by Sea to Sky Entertainment.
The sisters are currently crowdfunding online to fundraise the $15,000 needed to offset the cost of video and sound equipment for the journey. To donate, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/marco-polo-family-ties.
To learn more, visit www.marcopolofamilyties.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.