Oct 2, 2007
Africa, the Outside Edge ...
Author: Kingsley Holgate
Joining PORTS & SHIPS in Saving and Improving Lives through Adventure
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The expedition Landies pose in front of an old German building at Luderitz in Namibia. All pictures in this series are courtesy Africa the Outside Edge expedition
PORTS & SHIPS has finally caught up with South Africa’s modern day explorer Kingsley Holgate who with his family and team of volunteers are circumnavigating Africa by Land Rover and inflatable boats in a yearlong humanitarian expedition called Africa the Outside Edge.
We learn from Kingsley that the shocking statistic is, that for every day and night, two African babies die from the bloodsucking bite of the Anopheles mosquito and that the expedition’s main objective is a One Net One Life campaign in which tens and thousand of mosquito nets are distributed to pregnant moms and to children under the age of five years.
Durban based Grindrod Limited together with other caring South African sponsors have jumped in to support the expedition with logistical and financial support. 600 South African school children have sponsored one of the Land Rovers which is linked to a Teaching on the Edge project in which mobile libraries are distributed to needy schools and there’s also a Right to Sight campaign distributing spectacles to the poor sighted.
The big red Grindrod G with its Caring for Africa byline is still proudly circumnavigating Africa's outside edge. PORTS & SHIPS has arranged for regular updates in the form of blogs from the outside edge giving readers a first hand opportunity to travel on what is undoubtedly the most adventurous humanitarian journey of our time. Please enjoy these extracts from Kingsley Holgate’s expedition journal.
a malaria prevention gathering
“It seems ages ago that a world record 347 Land Rovers escorted us out of the Mother City from the Cape of Good Hope. Behind us now is the West coast of South Africa, the entire length of the Namibian coast to include the Sperrgebiet, the great sand ocean of the Namib and the length of the Skeleton Coast through to the Cunene River. Following the outside edge of Africa is sometimes tough. There was always the risk of unexploded landmines in the north of Angola.
Mashozi (Gill Holgate) conducting malaria prevention education
In 1482 the Portuguese naval captain Diogo Cão erected a stone cross at Ponta de Padrão at the mouth of the Congo. This in time led to great suffering as hundreds of thousands of slaves were exported along with ivory and rubber. But times have changed and in the late afternoon we sit at the base of a replica of this cross whilst Eduardo the community leader endorses the expedition Scroll of Peace and Goodwill, alongside messages from Nobel laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. As the sun sets mums and babies gather around the expedition Gemini inflatable for a malaria education session and live-saving mosquito nets.
Next day 83 men manhandled our three Landies onto a leaking wooden barge called the Tumi Mi Tangwa. She trades barrels of fuel from Angola for hardwood planks from the forests of the Congo.
“Quickly the winch cable!” screams Ross as one of the boarding planks snap with a crack like a rifle shot and it’s only the winch that saves the Landie, the one that’s been sponsored by 600 school children from Centurus Colleges, from ending up in the drink. The slow sweat and humidity of the Congo River burns down on us as the third Land Rover Defender, amidst shouting and screaming and organised chaos, is finally loaded. Two rusty antique 40HP Yamaha outboards, one without a tiller arm, the other with new spark plugs from our toolkit push us slowly out from the south bank of the Congo. We’ve taken the precaution of tying one of our Gemini inflatables alongside and bolted to the transom is our 30HP expedition Yamaha ready and running. In our top pockets we have money and passports. If a storm comes up the overloaded barge will roll and the expedition Land Rovers will drown – we’re shitting ourselves.
Hoarasib Canyon in Namibia
Jeez! She rolls like a cork in a bathtub each time a swell comes in from the Atlantic. It seems to be made worst by the Landies’ independent suspensions as they rock with the motion.
“Who’s got the bloody knife, c’mon guys – we chatted about it last night. Okay Ross, you’ve got it. If this thing rolls cut the Gemini inflatable free and jump for the tiller bar. Anna, Mashozi, you’ve got life jackets. If the barge rolls jump for the duck – don’t worry about anything else other than your lives. You’ve all got bucks and passports and emergency kit. Shit! There she goes again.”
The skipper senoir Jose chugs towards calmer water near a mangrove island. Still over 20km to go. In 1842 the experienced naval captain Diogo Cão was astounded by this enormous river mouth, larger than any a European had ever seen. He wrote that For the space of 20 leagues [the river] preserves its fresh water unbroken by the briny billows which encompass it on every side; as if this noble river had determined to try its strength in pitched battle with the ocean itself…
Modern oceanographers have discovered more evidence of the great river’s strength…a hundred-mile-long canyon, in places four thousand feet deep, that the river has carved out of the sea floor. And this is what we have to cross. The sweat trickles down our backs; amidst the tension Mashozi smears cheese squares and bully beef onto Portuguese bread. The skipper battles the current. Binoculars show the Port of Banana all bliksemed by war. We throw anchor.
The immigration officer monsieur Paul sits in a blue painted palm frond hut. Behind him hangs a picture of Le Général Major Joseph Kabila, Président De La République Democratique Du Congo. Fortunately Paul speaks Swahili so we can talk. It’s Independence Day and the Primus beer is flowing like water. Everybody jolly as now in reverse, low ratio diff lock with the help of 87 laughing, joking, singing Congolese, thick hardwood planks supported underneath by 45 gallon drums, the three Landies, nicknamed Mary Kingsley, John Ross and Lady Baker, roll onto “terra firma”.
Somehow the Zen of Travel has been on our side – we’ve remained true to sticking to the edge.
Thick green equatorial forest, fan palms, tree ferns and palmnut vultures. Commotion on the red dust road. Pigmies in masks, their entire bodies covered in layers of dry banana leaves – no arms or legs or head – just mask and leaves, little grunting noises. People at the roadside singing and jolling, ten dollars to pass – it’s the custom. Plastic chairs and tables under palm thatch. Primus beer in thick brown bottles – we shook hands with the secretary of the village, Captain Morgan was decanted from the Landie tank into two big plastic mugs. We danced and sang – we’d survived the river and since then the DRC, Cabinda and the Republic of Congo. Our One Net One Life campaign to distribute mosquito nets to pregnant moms and to children under the age of five is gathering momentum as is the Right to Sight programme and Teaching on the Edge. It gives our journey a lot of dignity and purpose.
elephants crossing the savannah in Gabon
And now it’s greetings from Gabon, a jewel on the raw edge of Africa. President Bongo established a national park system encompassing 11 percent of the country’s territory. More than 70 percent of Gabon is covered in pristine rainforest. The national bird of Gabon is the African Grey. You can find forest elephant walking through patches of savana grassland, separated by clumps of forest, or padding softly down a snow white beach. Gabon is one of the few, if not only, places on earth where one can see “surfing” hippo and we’re not referring to Kingsley catching a wave. A clever hippo will sometimes swim parallel to the coast in search of better grazing off another beach, surfing in for a nocturnal feast and then swimming back in the early hours of the morning to ride a wave home.
It has always been a dream to reach Dr Albert Schweitzer’s memorial hospital in Lambarene and so from the mouth of the great Ogooue River we detour inland to pay our respects to one of the greatest doctors Africa has ever known.
We sat at the grave site and slept in the actual rooms where the early doctors and nurses had lived for years: tending the sick who would arrive in dugout canoes from the bush. Malaria, sleeping sickness, tropical ulcers, snake bite and terrible wounds from crocodile and hippo attacks were the order of the day. Albert Schweitzer with his wife Helene had set out from Europe for Gabon in 1912 and had set up a hospital on the banks of the Ogooue.
We visited his old operating theatre and the house he’d lived in – even his old piano is still there – fished off the beach from a shipwreck. What a great man who’d given his life to Africa and to tending the sick and dying in the remotest of Equatorial locations. It is fitting that the Scroll of Peace and Goodwill we are carrying through 33 countries around the edge of Africa in support of malaria prevention, as messaged by Nobel Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela also gets endorsed by the director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute of Nobel Peace prize fame. Prof Sadoo, head of the malaria research institute in Lambarene agrees that the best results that they’ve had in preventing malaria have been through the distribution of mosquito nets. We are on the right track.
In Libreville people shout and wave as they see the three expedition Land Rovers pass – it even helps with the road blocks. It’s all because local television, press and radio pictured the expedition with the South African ambassador to Gabon, and the ambassadors of Egypt, Sao Tome, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Benin, Algeria, Guinea – all countries that are part of our humanitarian expedition to track Africa’s outside edge. The ambassadors and media endorsed the Scroll of Peace and Goodwill in support of malaria prevention and in a brief ceremony 5 boxes of spectacles were handed over to Madam Georgette Koko, the vice prime minister of environment who with the help of the South African embassy distribute them to the poor sighted as part of the expedition’s Right to Sight campaign.
There is no doubt that the story of a South African family and a team of volunteers travelling the rim of Africa, using adventure to save and improve lives, has fired the imagination of all we come across. South Africa, Namibia, Angola, the DRC, Cabinda, Congo, Gabon, Sao Tome and little Principe (where we met the president) are behind us now as we head through the rainforests for Cameroun.
It’s rainy season in Cameroun and in parts the soft baby shit brown mud is a metre deep – it’s like snot on a mirror, and at times the only way forward is to cut a fresh track through the forest. In some places the water is so deep that local villagers build their own track and then charge you a steep toll to go around. We spend hours digging, winching and pushing in a country where rain is measured in metres. Every time we get hassled at roadblocks I make a mark with a felt tip pen on the inside of the Landie sun visor and we are already running out of room.
Today’s blog is a humanitarian action update just to confirm that we are continuing to save and improve lives through adventure. In a campaign called “Teaching on the Edge” the expedition had distributed mobile libraries to remote schools up the West Coast of South Africa, and in Namibia around Luderitz, Walvis Bay and Ruacana.
The One Net One Life malaria prevention campaign in which mosquito nets are distributed to pregnant mothers and to children under the age of five is in full swing as is the Right to Sight programme in which spectacles are given to the poor sighted. In Angola thousands of pencils, pens and exercise books have been distributed to remote bush schools. At Centro de Saude Boavista, a downtown clinic in the centre of Luanda mosquito nets were distributed to pregnant mums and babies. This very successful event went out on local radio, TV and press, the story of a South African- led expedition caring for the people of Africa.
At Ponta de Padrao at the mouth of the Congo where Diogo Cao first erected a stone cross in 1482 we distributed mosquito nets to pregnant mums with babies and continued to do so as we made our way across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cabinda and Congo Brazzaville. In Gabon with the help of the Wildlife Conservation Society we used theatre and costuming to add a conservation message to our Teaching on the Edge programme. At the Albert Schweitzer institute in Lambarene Prof Sadoo agrees that the best results that they’ve had in preventing malaria have been through the distribution of mosquito nets. We are on the right track.
Working in the mud and rain in Cameroun we distribute more nets, Teaching on the Edge material and much needed spectacles to the poor sighted. In Nigeria we distribute close to 10 000 life saving mosquito nets, 6 mobile libraries and 600 spectacles.
making a difference…
Greetings from Nigeria – what a wonderful surprise as we are met at the Cameroun Nigeria border by a contingent from British Airways Nigeria, who, with Grindrod Limited and other caring humanitarian partners have also joined us in the fight against malaria. The welcome party also includes High Chief Edem Duke, president of the Federation of National Tourism Associations.
Instantly perceptions of Nigeria change – this is the joy of travel. Imagine the situation: here we are trousers rolled up, barefoot and covered in mud – mud in our hair, mud between our toes. The Nigerians all smartly dressed, cameras rolling. They produce a bottle of French “bubbly”, there’s a toast all round – WELCOME TO NIGERIA – they zap us through customs and immigration.
The warmth and friendliness of the people of Cross River State is infectious. Traditional dancers line the road into Nigeria. The president of the village produces a basin of water and washes our feet. Immediately we are off to distribute mosquito nets to mums with babies, eye glasses to the poor sighted and Centurus Colleges mobile libraries to schools, more speeches and dancers and a detour inland to the Ebudu Cattle Ranch – it’s high up in the mountains along the Cameroun border. We take the Landies to the top, the rest of the delegation including little 6 year old Tristan Kingsley Holgate (he’s become the expedition mascot) take the cable car – one of the longest in the world.
Then it’s down to the ancient city of Calabar by police escort. The governor of Cross River State and the Royal House endorse the expedition Scroll of Peace and Goodwill we are carrying around the outside edge of Africa.
Greetings from the crazy world of Lagos. Sirens screaming, police armed with automatics take us on a detour around Port Harcourt where to avoid more kidnapping of foreigners the military have taken hold of the city and then its on to Lagos where nothing, NOTHING can prepare one for the vast chaotic congested mass of people and vehicles that make up the nightmare of trying to travel the streets of the most populous city on the Outside Edge of Africa. We pick up a newspaper – this is what the local press has got to say:
“Embarking on a journey on most Nigerian roads today is akin to driving or cycling or running endlessly around a roundabout or roads ridden with bomb craters with nowhere in mind. It is hard labour. For passengers on contemporary Nigerian roads, travelling or driving is like embarking on an endless journey as you are not sure where the trip will terminate and there is no time limit. You are both at the mercy of bloodthirsty armed robbers and roads that lead to hell rather than your actual destination… And since the greater part of the contractor’s profit has been stolen by government officials, the contractor builds a cheap, poor quality road that would not last beyond the commissioning ceremony…” – Godwin Erapi, BusinessDay, 22 August 2007, Nigeria.
Two or three people to a moped, no crash helmets, they expertly duck and weave through the traffic, street vendors selling everything from drinks to toothbrushes line the road. It’s all a dangerous game of dodgem cars, the buses and taxis all painted bright yellow are dented and scarred as they nudge their way through the potholed puddled mess that makes up the craziest city we’ve yet visited.
It’s no surprise that trucks, buses and lorries carry slogans like “God’s my Pilot” and “God’s Luck”, but believe me, to survive this lot you need a huge dose of divine providence. Thank God we’ve got an armed escort.
We meet the first lady of Lagos State, the king of Lagos and the Royal House all who endorse the Scroll of Peace and Goodwill in support of malaria prevention. Bob Thielcher from Protea Hotels in Lagos puts us up in luxury – clean sheets, ice in the Captain and warm hospitality. They too have joined our One Net One Life cause and here in Nigeria donate 1000 mosquito nets to the needy who live in high risk malaria areas around Lagos.
As always the South Africans really move in to help. Nando’s opened up their 6th Restaurant in Nigeria. It is a never to be forgotten peri-peri bash and our expedition team are the guests of honour. It’s taken us over 4 months and 16,000km to get here. Founder member Robbie Brozin is here to meet us. He hands over a Help Nando’s Fight Malaria cheque. They fly in celebrity chefs Clayton Sherrod from America and Citrum Khumalo from South Africa.
The humidity is as thick as golden syrup. At the market at Beye on the Lagos Lagoon there are live crocodiles and turtles for sale but the chefs stick to fish, greens, yams, groundnuts, pumpkin seeds and chillies as they prepare us a peri-peri bash on the beach. David O’Sullivan from Radio 702 flies up to meet the expedition. Toes in the sand we drink Captain Morgan till late and next day we distribute mosquito nets to the village.
We better get out of here before we’re killed by hospitality – we need to escape the traffic and feverish pace of Lagos – Benin, voodoo capital of the world, here we come.
to be continued…..
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