Crossing the continent

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Adventurer and former Turks & Caicos athlete Mario Rigby is part way through a land and water expedition from Cape Town to Cairo. Olivia Rook caught up with him to discover more about his ‘light’ interrogation and why cows have been his biggest wildlife threat

Have you always wanted to be an explorer?
My entire life has been geared towards becoming an adventurer and explorer. My stepfather was in the military and would always show us images of places where he had served in the world.

What is your exact route across Africa, and how far are you intending to travel?
I’m walking along eastern coastal routes for as long as possible. For example, in Tanzania I’m heading from Mbeya near the Malawi border to Dar es Salaam, on to Bagamoyo, Arusha and then straight to Nairobi in Kenya. Routes change constantly and sometimes I’ll adjust my plan on the day, depending on circumstances.

You were born in the Turks & Caicos and lived in Germany. Why did you pick Africa for this expedition?
Africa is a special kind of place where you can see real displays of humanity. It is diverse in culture, tribes, religion, races and wildlife.

What made you decide to traverse the continent by walking and kayaking?
I wanted to be fully challenged. I’m always active and this was a great chance to try something new. I’ve never been a big walker and I’ve never kayaked before. In fact, I’ve never camped in the wild prior to this!

What’s the longest time you have walked for so far? How do you keep going?
The furthest I’ve walked in a day is 80km and it took me 19 hours. That was real torture. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that one foot in front of the other will eventually get you to where you need to be.

Describe the experience of travelling along African lakes and rivers by kayak — have you had any close encounters?
Kayaking along Lake Malawi was incredibly challenging. I’ve had a handful of near-death experiences and faced trials that I didn’t even know were possible. I have docked my kayak around cliffs; visited villages where there is no road access, making it difficult to find alternative emergency exits; encountered wild animals, such as crocs and hippos; and dealt with loneliness.

You’re often reliant upon the help of others during your journey. Do you have any particular stories of kindness?
People have been incredibly helpful throughout my journey. After spotting me on the road, a South African man wanted me to sleep in his home with his family. This was after struggling to find a place to rest following an eight-hour hike. It was perfect timing.

What would you advise to other travellers when taking on such an epic trip?
I’ve met a lot of travellers along the way, all doing exceptional things. There were a few who seemed very rushed and completely missed the point of travel and adventure. I would say: take your time, speak to locals, become their friends and try to find other types of accommodation than backpacker hostels, hotels or lodges.

What survival essentials do you have in your pack?
A first-aid kit, a four-inch knife and an iPhone. The latter is great because it helps me with GPS tracking, maps, recording, translating; and the flashlight comes in pretty handy.

What has been your most exciting experience so far?
Walking from village to village and not knowing what will be ahead of me is always thrilling.

What has been your biggest challenge during the journey?
Financing my trip has been quite difficult. Everything else seems like a walk in the park, including getting malaria and being arrested.

Any animal encounters en route?
I’ve faced hippo, giraffe, elephant and snakes. Surprisingly, however, the most dangerous animals that I’ve encountered were cows. I would camp out and, by the dozen, they would surround my tent. If you try to scare them off, they will have no qualms about trampling over you!

Tell us an anecdote
A police officer took me in for questioning in Mozambique. At the end of his ‘light’ interrogation, I asked the officer why I was being questioned and he proceeded to slowly take off his sunglasses and tell me, “My friend, you do not look like us. Look at my eyes. We are different.”

What is your favourite country?
Tanzania, particularly Dar es Salaam, Bagamoyo and Zanzibar. It is diverse in culture, religion and history, and remains peaceful and tolerant.

What’s next for Mario Rigby?
Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt are next on the journey. They are exciting and challenging countries to conquer by foot. After Africa, I am looking for my next great adventure in Europe or South America.

Follow Mario Rigby’s journey at mariorigby.com

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