Known as ‘the grey beard of African Adventure’ - Kingsley Holgate is an adventurer, explorer, humanitarian, author and the most travelled man in Africa. After all who else can claim successful expeditions from Cape to Cairo in open boats, 448 days spent tracking the outline of Africa, circumnavigating Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, tracing the footsteps of luminaries such as Stanley and Livingstone and more. In the words of Kingsley “35 years spent in an effort to embrace Africa”…Fire the imagination of small children. As a small boy, the youngest of three with a teacher father who became a missionary and an extremely adventurous mother, I would sit on my father’s knee listening to his stories on explorers Henry Morgan Stanley and David Livingstone. He showed me a woodcut of Livingstone with a lion on top of him, with a Tswana gun bearer about to shoot the lion off his body. He’d tell me the story of Livingstone’s faithful servants Chuma and Susi who, on his death, carried his body minus his heart, which they insisted stayed in Africa, for over a thousand miles. Who knew then that together with my wife Gill or Mashozi (she who wears shorts) as she’s known, my son Ross, later to be joined by daughter in law Anna and grandson Tristan, we would not only walk in these great men’s footsteps but see and experience even more.
There’s always another, more exciting adventure waiting. At the end of our last trip we travelled 600 km down the Nile, around the Fula rapids to Juba in Southern Sudan just in time to join 300 000 people celebrating their independence. Some people however might find staring down the sawn off shotgun of rebels in Sahel, Central African Republic a little disconcerting – but hey, I did what I know best, just gave him a big friendly hug and he gave us a letter of safe passage through 15 more rebel road blocks.
You make a living from what you get but you get a life from what you give. They are supposed to be Churchill’s words but we take them seriously. We often go into very remote areas with no regular health services where we distribute our malaria nets to pregnant women and very small children. Our logo says it all ‘Using adventure to save lives’.*
Women are the heart of Africa. Sadly women’s roles in Africa have changed little over the years. In countries like Mali you see women working whilst the men sit drinking coffee. With all this I’ve noticed that the mamas of Africa are the force of the nation and the hope of the continent. I met mothers in Saharawi refugee camps in southern Algeria who, when they were 16 years old, ran for their lives from Morocco without even a blanket. They ran through the desert from the bombs and rockets to these camps which are run by women – strong, amazing women.
If you’re born here you have a right to be African. But you also have a role to play. I don’t want to be anywhere else. It’s the texture of the country and the people, the beauty, sunsets, the roar of a Kalahari lion – the hardwood sparks from a campfire disappearing into the night sky…
Going on a jaunt doesn’t make you an adventurer? It’s the unknown, the risk factor. You’re not too sure where you’re going to end up – what’s going to happen to you.
It’s far more than just speaking a language that counts? What makes Africa come alive for us is always having an empty Land Rover seat or two so that we can travel with locals we’ve befriended over the years. A phone call and they’re waiting at the side of the road with their sleeping bag and tent. It’s not so much what we do but how we do it that counts and learning and accepting other cultures is our way.
Tradition is important. Our decorated traditional Zulu calabash is filled at the beginning of each adventure and emptied at the end. This together with our Scroll of Peace and Goodwill in support of malaria prevention goes on each journey with us. The Scroll is signed by presidents, ambassadors, chiefs and even our own Archbishop Tutu and Madiba.
Keep a record of your life and leave a legacy. For 35 years I’ve scribbled notes, drawn maps, bullet points and got others to write in my old leather bound journals. There are messages from around Africa as well as the hand print from a young Himba girl after rubbing her hand on her body covered in ochre.
One wife is all I need. Even though I’ve been offered other wives I explain that Mashozi has been my only wife for more than 40 wonderful years. Apart from being the bursar, cook and mama of the expeditions she has her own project ‘Rite to Sight’ and on our trips you’ll find her sitting under a marula tree with her eye chart and glasses giving sight – something we take for granted.
It’s no longer the Dark Continent. Whilst the west is asking how to bail Africa out the Chinese, Indians and others are saying where’s the opportunity? I see incredible growth and opportunities coming from the people themselves. Whether they’re working under trees, fixing motor bikes or trading something is happening. What they are crying out for is caring good governance. Technology plays a large role – these days you still see a Masai standing on one foot covered in red ochre, but he is talking on his cell phone…
There’s no such word as ‘completing’ a project. After getting back from our last expedition (trip) people said “now you’ve completed Africa”. You never complete anything. We reply ‘we’ve just given it a big hug’ and start planning the next trip.
Don’t put off your own adventure. When I hear people say ‘I’ll do …. when I retire, when I sell my house, my car. I put seven pebbles in front of them, which I call the pebbles of life with each pebble representing a decade. Depending on their age I easily throw those pebbles away. Eventually they’re left with one pebble which I tell them to put in their pocket so they can constantly feel it irritating them – reminding them of their dream and not to keep putting it off.
*To find out more about Kingsley Holgate and his team’s next Great Rift Valley Adventure go to: www.kingsleyholgate.net and ‘Like’ us on www.facebook.com/GARVExpedition