In this CairoScene exclusive, senior writer Moustafa Daly catches up with the British adventurer Mario Rigby as his two-year crossing of the continent leads him into Egypt.
When I find myself itching towards affecting a major personal change, my mind remains mostly confined within the bounds of your average urban aspirations. You know; losing some weight, smoking less cigarettes, or beating that asshole to the next U-turn. Little victories, they call them. This explains why I was genuinely disoriented when I sat down with the 32-year-old British-born Mario Rigby, who had just arrived to Cairo on a quick detour from his two-year walking expedition across the African continent all the way from South Africa's Capetown, passing along his way the total of eight countries, tens of cities, and hundreds of villages, towns and tribes.
Last November, he arrived in Aswan after exactly 48 months since the start of his journey, which he will resume after new year's by walking from Aswan to the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, which will add a further month to his life-changing crossing.
When you walk, you can't just simply leave whenever you want to
Before venturing onto his nomadic adventure, Rigby was leading the typical city life in Toronto. A gym owner and a cross-fit trainer, he sustained a comfortable life in Canada's most populous metropolis, which consistently ranks as one of the world's best cities to live in. Fed up with the routine of everyday life, Rigby decided in early 2015 to start training to walk across the whole continent of Africa. The seemingly unreasonable decision was the culmination of his long-postponed fantasies about radically changing his life. "I wanted to break free from the sheltered Western life I led in Canada and explore Africa's villages, tribes, and cultures without the convenience of being a tourist who could just book a ticket out at any point," explained Rigby. "When you walk, you can't just simply leave whenever you want to."Nine months is how long it took Rigby to gear up for the crossing. Clueless to how to start preparing his body and mind for the excruciatingly demanding journey, Mario just threw himself in the deep end by simply trying his luck in a relatively short 70 kilometer hike from Toronto to the port city of Hamilton. The trip left Rigby bruised, strained, and exhausted for the lack of proper gear and adequate technique. With the help of a walking coach, Rigby later attempted a successful 550 KM walk to Montreal. As he quickly learnt survival techniques and energy hacks, he started realising his expedition is not in the realm of the impossible.
Shortly after crossing into Egypt
In November 2015 Rigby started his journey. And with no easy way out, Rigby had no option but to take the longer route and engaging with the local tribes and villages he passed in a very real way, which caused his Western predisposed notions of African societies to come crumbling down one right after the other. "My idea of Africa was pretty much the exact opposite of its reality. I landed here fearing for my life from strangers and expecting constant encounters with death," recounted Rigby. "When I saw for myself how vibrant, peaceful, and diverse most of Africa is, I realised that the version I've been fed in the news all my life was majorly misinterpreted."
Despite the peacefulness and welcoming embrace he was met with along his journey, walking across different man, and animal, territories simply entails encountering grave dangers. In his escapade, Rigby survived a violent clash between rebels and the army in Mozambique, multiple close encounters with deadly snakes, and even a few nights handcuffed in a small town's jail after the locals suspected his intentions due to a faulty translation to one impatient Malawian tribe leader. In some of those tough times, Rigby found that the most powerful tool at his disposal is something which is familiar to our entire generation; Google.
We have better access to information now than Bill Clinton did when he was president of the world's most powerful country
"We have better access to information now than Bill Clinton did when he was president of the world's most powerful country," said Rigby as he explained how a simple Google search kept him from drowning at the very beginning of his journey as he swam along South Africa's Wild Coast, where a string of rivers meet the Indian Ocean. Crossing the vast crocodile-infested Lake Malawi was another deadly endeavor which Rigby also Googled his way through. "If you want to do something that seems extraordinary, chances are that someone else has either thought about it or actually done it before. Sometimes all you need to do is just copy their technique or figure out a real-life application that fits the scenario you're in," he added.
Throughout his journey, Rigby discovered that Africans are not just united; but rather a continuation of their shared history and common destiny. "When you walk from one village to the next, the changes are subtle and hard to spot at first. The cultures, languages, and traditions only slightly and incrementally change until there's suddenly this visible and substantial difference," said Rigby. "The core values of generosity, kindness, and spontaneity remain the most uniting force in this brilliant continent. There's no where you could go in Africa and be alone; there's always someone to feed you, give you shelter, and keep you company, which was so shocking to me; how these people could be so selfless."Despite his immense optimism about the future of the continent, Rigby also found that the reality of life for some Africans still continues to assault their most basic rights. In some villages, the locals have adapted to going days without any food, which in some cases is completely reliant on foreign aid. He even found himself standing face to face with what could only be described as modern-day slavery in some of the continent's southern corners. "My first reality check on the very real struggles of mass poverty was in some townships in South Africa. The locals have little to no access to proper education or healthcare, which in turn puts them at a major disadvantage and makes them virtually unable to lift themselves out of the miserable living situations they're cornered in," explained Rigby. "In our townships, we lack the privilege of knowing or realising that we have no knowledge to better our lives. We don't know that we don't know," said a young South African township resident to a disheartened Rigby almost two years ago.
This young man remains, along with many others in the continent, one of the main fuels to Rigby's high hopes for the years and decades to come. However, with Africa being notorious for having authoritarian governments which make it their mission to entrap the youth's strive for change on one hand, and following centuries-old history of vicious colonization and draining its resources on the other, Africa's future continues to be engulfed with unpredictability. "The youth in Sudan, for instance, were really inspired by my journey to the level that they channeled it through their own vision of the continent to which they belong and the immense power it could potentially have. The big problem lies in the disconnect between Africans. If the inhabitants of this continent understood each other and knew their neighbours, we could see a very quick and powerful change happening to this already powerful continent."As he crossed the northern Sudanese border-town of Wadi Halfa heading into Egypt, Rigby excitedly marched towards Aswan in anticipation of what the land of the Pharaohs holds for him. Upon arriving to the ancient city, he quickly found himself facing a seemingly endless influx of thrilling adventures. And despite their simplicity, it didn't take Rigby long to notice the distictinveness of Egyptians. "I've found that Egyptians are also one of the most accommodating and festive people I've met. They just took me from one place to the other and it's been so amazing," recounted Rigby on his first impression of Egyptians.
As his journey nears its end, Rigby is already planning his next expedition which will be a 3-month walk along the Great Wall of China before he makes a quick return to a massive project which engages Africa once again. "As the population of Africa is expected to quadruple over the next 80 years, how are we expected to power this mind-boggling population into prosperity? My next big adventure will be driving an electric vehicle from Norway through to Morocco after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. I will then drive down to South Africa through the western side of the continent this time with my ultimate purpose to promote and stimulate the interest in renewable energy and sustainability in the continent which desperately needs it," elaborates Rigby.
Rigby's fascinating journey left me inspired and skeptical beyond belief. It got me wondering if such a drastic life change is actually possible for anyone once they set their minds to it. Crossing a border in politically troubled continent may have proved to be possible for Rigby. But had I decided to embark on the same journey myself, will my Egyptian passport make me more susceptible to even more obstacles than Rigby did? I couldn't help but find myself leaning towards a yes. In a continent so segregated by governments, religions, national identities, and highly-militarised borders, will my good intentions suffice to make up for my lack of a Western passport? Or are these thoughts also a natural continuation of my preconceived ideas of Africa and Africans, with whom I share my genes and history? I concluded that I'll never know unless I muster up the courage to throw myself out there just like Mario Rigby did. I should probably start with smoking less cigarettes and losing some weight first though, right?
Video by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
Photos Courtesy of Mario Rigby.