Home Sweet Home
At about midday on the 2nd September, an extremely tired but elated group of hikers walked into Cape Vidal bringing to an end the final sector of the Tracks of Giants expedition. It was also the end of the road for this phase of TRACKS – in the 125 days since our first steps on the 1st May, we have covered a total of 5 164kms in our trans-continental journey.
And what an incredible last leg it was – after hooking up with Nick and Wojtek in Maputo, we crossed Maputo Bay in a small dhow, which took at least three hours longer than anticipated, and then it was ten days of walking along some truly magnificent beaches. As mentioned in earlier blogs, we had all been so looking forward to reaching the ocean – swimming in warm azure waters, endless beach vistas, visions of great sightings of whales and dolphins, and time to explore some of the most pristine dune forest along the entire continental coastline had increasingly become a part of our daily discussions.
And we were not disappointed in any way – what spectacular regions of Mozambique and South Africa. While on some days conditions made the walking tough, especially when battling gale-force headwinds, it was mostly just a thrilling experience to be in such wonderful marine wilderness areas.
It has to be said though that this sector was greatly enhanced by a few other factors. We were extremely fortunate to have various conservation greats with us – Paul Dutton, recognized the world over for his decades of work throughout Mozambique, joined us at Techobanine; Andrew Muir, CEO of the Wilderness Foundation and a winner of numerous conservation awards; Wayne Saunders, the head of the Wilderness Leadership School; Nick King, a private consultant and past Chairman of EWT, joined at Rocktail Bay; and then Rodrigo Jordan, who runs Vertical, Chile (www.vertical.cl), a leadership and adventure organization similar to that of the Wilderness Foundation flew out especially to walk this last leg of the expedition with us. Sharing ideas and time with these guys was something really special for Ian and me.
And then old friends, Mandla Buthelezi and Martin Peterson, came back for one last hurrah. Mandla B brought his great friend and fellow guide, Mandla M, to assist with the guiding of the trail. Unfortunately Miguel Goncalves from the Maputo Special Reserve and the Peace Parks Foundation was unable to join, but we owe him huge thanks for his advice and the logistical support he provided for the Mozambican section.
As has been the case throughout TRACKS, a little comfort has gone a long way – once we had crossed into South Africa, we were very fortunate to spend a night at Rocktail Bay, the regions premier coastal and diving destination. For that, many thanks to Patrick Boddam-Whetton and his staff at Wilderness Safaris for hosting us, and for coaxing most of the team into wetsuits for some fun snorkeling.
Amongst the welcome party of friends and family at the end was Dr Ian Player, the founder of the Wilderness Leadership School and Wilderness Foundation and one of South Africa’s true conservation Giants. It was also an extremely fitting place to end – amidst the primary dunes and coastal forests of iSimangaliso Wetland Park where Dr Player and so many others had fought one of South Africa’s most momentous conservation campaigns to stop mining in the 1990’s. We are very grateful to Dr Player and all those that took time out to be at Cape Vidal to welcome us in.
After a few days at home sweet home with Tess and Liam, reflecting on the highlights of such an incredible journey that has encompassed so many aspects is not really possible at this stage – the digestion process is still in place. In fact, Ian and I have undertaken not to discuss anything around the next steps until at least a month has passed.
But what does stand out at the moment is that we have achieved what we set out to do on the 1st May – firstly, to safely cover over 5 000kms across six countries on foot, bicycle and kayak; and secondly, to immerse ourselves in as many of the conservation and wildlife management issues occurring along the route as possible – this includes interacting and canvassing opinions from a host of community, conservation and ecotourism giants. And these achievements are particularly satisfying because we have done it without any major damage to team or equipment, and given that our route included some of the regions wildest places, without missing a single day in our planned schedule.
I have learnt over the years that good fortune always plays a role, but there are also a few other factors that have contributed significantly to this success. Firstly, going back over 10 years, a substantial amount of thought and diligent planning has gone into TRACKS. While I did much of the formative planning and ran with the project in the early phases, once the Wilderness Foundation had become our home, Ian and Sharon McCallum took over the baton. And they must be congratulated on the way they went about this – they have done a magnificent job, which included numerous trips to scout the route and make contact with local people from each region. Sharon has also been our ‘stay-at-home’ project co-ordinator, a role she has filled with immense care and efficiency – massive thanks to you Sharon for your attention to every detail, and your patience and perseverance, often under trying circumstances.
Throughout the planning phases and during the expedition itself, we were also extremely thankful to have had Andrew Muir, Wayne Saunders, Claire Warneke and Cheryl from the Wilderness Foundation office giving TRACKS their full support. And in the USA, many thanks to Vance Martin, Melanie Hill and Britt Hosmer Peterson of The WILD Foundation for all the work they have done.
And then to our principal sponsors and the back-up team: I have thanked them so many times, but it will never be enough as it is impossible to quantify the efforts and input that went on for weeks, months and even years behind the scenes. Avis, Peace Parks Foundation, Wilderness Safaris and New Balance have formed the core of our support, and they have given so generously in time, money or kind. These are great organizations that are leaders in their respective fields of activity – we are truly grateful to them and it has been a privilege for the TRACKS team to work with you. Our commitment in return is that we take the conservation messages we are all so concerned about to the world in a manner that can make a difference.
Bateleurs, One World, Kayaktive Adventure Safaris, International SOS and the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust as well as various individuals in their private capacity have made generous donations or contributions in kind – many thanks to you all as well.
And then once the wheels were turning, our trusty team of Johnny Frankiskos, Frank Raimondo and Anton Kruyshaar, along with the rotating members, Mandla Buthelezi, Martin Peterson and Lihle Mbokazi, were simply magnificent. They understood the focus of TRACKS right from day one, and have shown total dedication and an admirable commitment in pursuing these goals. Those that joined us on the expedition were able to see the team at work, and they got to understand the magnitude of their contribution – but for everyone else, it is extremely difficult to convey just how significant this has been to our success. And it was always extremely comforting for the cyclists, walkers and kayakers to know that come what may, these guys were behind us taking care of business. Thanks so much to you all for your incredible efforts.
I would also like to thank my colleagues Ian McMillan and Robbyn Moir at Invent Africa Safaris (www.inventafrica.com) for allowing me to go walk about for four months, and for understanding why I needed to do this.
Finally, for those that have been following us on the websites or in the social and print media, huge thanks for your interest and support – at the very least, I hope we have made a small contribution to your understanding of the conservation issues we are focused on. And for those that are wondering as to what comes next – this is only the first stage in the greater TRACKS project. We will within the next month or so get down to the 2nd stage, which is writing a major book and having a film documentary made. We will also be taking much of our work in TRACKS to the next World Wilderness Congress (www.wild10.org) being held in Spain in October 2013. To stay updated with our progress, please stay tuned to the following websites: