Why do an Expedition?

What drives one to pack a few paltry possessions, load a pack with an insane amount of weight and say goodbye to friends and family. To give up the comfort of a warm bed, hot running water and all the other trappings of modern life. Put on a pair of boots and set off into the wilderness for a year and a half or more. One and a half years of hardship, physical torment, cold, and hunger. Then blunder after a goal that may only be important to the one setting out to achieve it, something most might consider daft? This is an age old question asked of all people who dare to set off on some wild expedition. The outcome often of no major importance to the world at large. The most flippant answer is usually “because I can” or “because it was there”. The reality is far more complex and has probably vexed explorers since the dawn of humanity. Some do it for fame, some for personal fulfilment, others for the challenge or to further knowledge or seek out resources. A few do it because they have a passion for the environment and its conservation. I too have asked this question of myself, and my answer was not so simple.

Many years ago I met a man who was in his eighties. He was dying from throat cancer. When I first met him he was unkempt, filthy and unshaven. All in all an unsavoury sight. He was also a truly unpleasant character, rude, obnoxious and unapologetic for the disdain he treated all about him. Normally I would not have bothered to return, but for some reason I did. I endured the verbal insults at disrupting his life and once a month I popped round to see if he was OK. Slowly he began to tell his story. He told me of a life as despicable and debauched as any from a bad crime novel. He had been a horse thief, a poacher, a diamond smuggler and a mercenary in the Congo. He had run drugs and generally lived a sordid life. He had long since come to terms with his life and made peace with himself about the life he had lead. Yet his life had been interesting, his life as rich as any out of the last century, the life of a pirate without the sea, an adventurer. The story was so interesting, that I offered to write his story down and I would have it published. For it was a life from a bygone era. A life rich in the telling. A life that could no longer be experienced in the 21st century and this was his answer.

He said “young man if there is one piece of advice I can give you, it is this. Do not read about the exploits of others, or waste your time with pictures or the lives of bygone eras. I am going blind and I am dying, one day you will be all alone, blind, going deaf and on your way out the door. All you will have left are the memories of the life you once lived and they just get richer and better with time. Photographs get old and fade away. In your memories, the sunsets get redder, more vibrant, the girls more beautiful. These are the things that carry you into old age and beyond. So go out and make your own memories and leave me to mine”. He was dead a few weeks later, but what he had said left a lasting impression on me.

For far too long I have felt the traces and harnesses chaffing at my shoulders. Restraining me to a chosen route while I labour and toil to pull the sled of consumerism. We are taught from young to accept our burden, to work hard and pay our taxes. To live up to our responsibility so that we in time earn enough to buy better harnesses, harnesses more comfortable so that we no longer feel the pain of the corporate consumerist world we live in. In short, we shackle ourselves to the millstone and grind and grind in the hope that when we are broken and spent, we can sit back and watch the younger generations grind on our behalf, indebted from the day they are born. It is ironic that for most of us when the pressures of our self constructed prison becomes too much, we take our hard earned cash and purchase a time slot in nature to rejuvenate, to heal our broken souls. We tell ourselves we are getting in touch with nature, relieving the stress from busy lives, seeking a simpler life. Be it the game reserves, ski slopes, mountains, beaches or oceans. We break our backs to get away from our wild, primitive, rural existences in order to work for the money to get back to where we as a species came from. An endless cycle like a hamster on a wheel.

So starts a journey, a journey of self discovery. One could argue that that’s selfish and the claim of abdicating ones responsibilities and choosing an easy way out has been levelled at me. To those I say “what responsibilities, who placed those responsibilities there and by what means did I earn those shackles”? If we are wise, we choose our own responsibilities. It is incumbent on us to decide what we want and what burden we carry. If we are not careful we will be laden with burdens that are not of our choosing. Everything we do involves a sacrifice, if we choose a consumerist, modern life we give up our closeness to nature, but that’s our choice. If we give up conventional life, we give up the creature comforts that brings, for the great outdoors. For far too many decades I have surrounded myself with books, tales and accounts of adventurers and explorers. Immersing myself in the escapades of others, from the Crusades to Columbus, Scott to Livingstone, Harris to Selous, Capstick to Flack. In later years I have sat in the comfort of my sitting room watching endless programmes on fishing, hunting, bush-craft and survival, travel and adventure. life getting in the way of living, an armchair warrior, a popcorn adventurer. All the while saying “ he gets paid to do that……That’s not a job its a paid holiday……That’s what I want to do……One day I am going to do something like that”.

In January of 2017 I went to Oman. We drove through the desert up to the summit of their highest mountain. An area so rugged and steep that it looked like a Martian landscape, yet all around there were signs of habitation. Small dwellings halfway up the cliffs and crags, you would need to be part mountain goat to reach. People so friendly and helpful, courteous and respectful. So different from what I expected having been told they were a conservative closed society. Upon reaching the top we got out the 4×4 to look at the view down the valley and I remember turning to my brother and saying “ what a fantastic place to walk through, what a fantastic sight ”. I realised then that I was just a spectator, a voyeur into the life and culture of others. The old man’s words came back to me and I said “ I’m going to do it, this is what I want”.

There are a number of cultures that say a person must undertake at least one great life changing journey in their lifetime. To go out and find ones place and understand where it is we fit. No person can set out on such a journey and expect to come home unchanged. A journey of discovery, a journey to find the goodness and compassion in other people, the bad and the ugly. A journey to find honesty and raw purity, free of societies prejudices. Nature is neither kind nor cruel, she cares not whether you thrive or just survive. Yet she can be bountiful and if you know how, you can find all you need, shelter, warmth, sustenance and above all wonder. If you allow yourself to fit in. To adapt and settle in. She will reward you with memories rich and ripe. Stories to tell your grandchildren. Stories to tell around the camp-fire. Stories that fire the imagination and drive the soul. Memories for when you are old. The greatest journey starts with but one step, you just need to dare to take that step. I hope that this will inspire others to stretch their boundaries.

It is also incumbent on us, the ones who derive their leisure, their resources, and sustenance from the great outdoors, to take care of her. In short each and every one of us, either directly or indirectly. It is true that this world does not belong to us, rather we are the custodians for the future generations. For far to long we have raped her and pillaged her resources with no regard for the devastation and destruction we leave behind. Like lions on a kill, we leave the carcass to the next generation of hyenas to pick clean, until they in succession leave only scraps for the vultures. We poison our water sources, the very essence of life. There are numerous rivers I once fished in as a child that are now devoid of any meaningful life. We dump millions of tons of rubbish in our oceans, then expect to go on beach holidays to pristine expanses of golden sand. Sadly all we get is the worlds largest rubbish dump, and all we can say is, “we did that”. Is this the legacy we wish to leave? Can we stand up at the end of our days and when we look back, beam with pride in what we have accomplished? The world needs to understand that if we do not clean our environment, if we continue to live in the excrement and detritus that we created, we will soon end up in a diseased and weakened state. On the brink of our own demise. We are the first to stand up and complain when our local council or municipality fails to pick up the refuse, we understand the health risks it imposes. Yet, we constantly dump trash in our environment, allow big business to poison our water, refuse to hold governments, municipalities and industry accountable when they dump effluent in our drinking water. We pollute our air and violate the earth in our environmental practises. All in pursuit of the mighty dollar.

It is time we paid our dues and did our part. It’s time we realised how much destruction we have wrought, it’s time we give back to the planet and do our bit to clean it and restore it. It is not just for our governments to do. We as citizens, need to become active participants in forcing change, we need to make it socially unacceptable to tolerate our past behaviours. We need to stop being spectators in natures degradation, before we become participants in our own destruction.

So in short, the reason I am setting out on an expedition is to collect my memories, to live my story. To begin with, I shall go out and walk solo down the coast on a journey of over 5700 km. From the Namibian border with South Africa, to the Mozambican border with Tanzania. On the way I hope to raise awareness, instil a sense of pride in the fantastic environmental areas that are so abundant in Africa. To gather data on the general health of our coastal environment and levels of pollution. This will then be passed on in order to help further our understanding of the coast and the impact we as humans have on our environment. Hopefully, this will help to raise awareness and in my own small way, give back to nature, so that our grandchildren may also enjoy her bounty. As my survival instructor from Boswa Survival likes to say “We were all put on earth to live extraordinary lives”.

…………. I am off to collect 500 sunsets.

3 Responses to “Why do an Expedition?

  • Past Mbotyi, Cathedral Rock and Waterfall Bluff will be a sight to see. As you pass Port Grosvenor a walk up Magogo River and the waterfalls, I will meet you there.

    Chuma Koyana

  • Cathedral Rock and Waterfall Bluff on the Wild Coast will be a sight to see. As you pass Port Grosvenor a walk up Magogo River and the waterfalls, I will meet you there.

    Chuma Koyana

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