Photo Essay: Crossing the Heart of Africa

by Guest Blogger on February 24, 2011 · 4 comments

The following is a guest post by Julian Smith, author of Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure. If you’d like to guest post on Go Backpacking, please read our submission guidelines.

In 2007, I traveled 4,500 miles from South Africa to Sudan on the trail of a virtually unknown British explorer named Ewart Grogan. Why? Well, in 1900 he became the first person to walk the length of Africa, south to north, to prove to his beloved’s stepfather that he was worth marrying.

I was about to get married myself, but I still had a serious case of cold feet. So I spent two of the last three months before marrying my fiancée chasing a ghost from one end of Africa to the other, in the hopes of somehow along the way coming to terms with my own anxiety over making a lifetime commitment—and to see how much the continent had changed in the past hundred years, by comparing the modern reality to what Grogan wrote about in his book, From the Cape to Cairo: The First Traverse of Africa from South to North. No one had ever retraced his route before.

Obviously my experience was very different from his. Grogan’s trip was two years of vicious animals, hungry cannibals, porter revolts, biblical weather and near-constant sickness. He traveled by foot and ferry up the chain of lakes and volcanoes that mark the East African Rift, and almost died too many times to count. I traveled alone from South Africa through Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Sudan, all by public transportation: buses, trucks, bush taxis, boats, bicycles and motorcycles.

Grogan’s route was as bold and dangerous as any expedition in the history of Africa.

Today, public buses are the most readily available way to get around. Photo taken in Sumbawanga, Tanzania.

I had to hire bicycle taxis when there wasn’t any other form of transportation available. The ride captured here was taken in Villa de Sena, Mozambique.

I had to hire bicycle taxis when there wasn’t any other form of transportation available. The ride captured here was taken in Villa de Sena, Mozambique.

Most of the accommodations along the way were very…basic, such as this room in Kasanga, Tanzania.

Most of the accommodations along the way were very…basic, such as this room in Kasanga, Tanzania.

People, especially children, were always curious about where I came from and what I was doing so far off the tourist trail. I ran into these guys in Villa de Sena, Mozambique.

One of the best parts of the trip was being able to experience daily life in rural Africa, far from packaged safaris and expensive resorts. This tea room was in Kasanga, Tanzania.

One of the best parts of the trip was being able to experience daily life in rural Africa, far from packaged safaris and expensive resorts. This tea room was in Kasanga, Tanzania.

 

Bananas for sale in southern Tanzania.

Bananas for sale in southern Tanzania.

The beach at Ujiji, Tanzania, on Lake Tanganyika. This is where Henry Morton Stanley found David Livingstone in 1871 and (supposedly) said “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

The beach at Ujiji, Tanzania, on Lake Tanganyika. This is where Henry Morton Stanley found David Livingstone in 1871 and (supposedly) said “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

The Liemba ferry travels the length of Lake Tanganyika every week. It started as a German troop transport in WWI, was sunk and later refloated, and inspired the novel (and later movie) The African Queen.

The Liemba ferry travels the length of Lake Tanganyika every week. It started as a German troop transport in WWI, was sunk and later refloated, and inspired the novel (and later movie) The African Queen.

In the volcanic jungles that border Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo, only about 700 mountain gorillas still survive.

In the volcanic jungles that border Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo, only about 700 mountain gorillas still survive.

A baby mountain gorilla enjoys the ultimate jungle gym.

A baby mountain gorilla enjoys the ultimate jungle gym.

Rwanda is full of memorials to the 1994 genocide, when about 800,000 people were killed in only 100 days.

Rwanda is full of memorials to the 1994 genocide, when about 800,000 people were killed in only 100 days.

 The Nile River at Juba, capital of the soon-to-be country of Southern Sudan. This was the end of my trip—it was too dangerous to go any farther north, and I had to get back home for my wedding.

The Nile River at Juba, capital of the soon-to-be country of Southern Sudan. This was the end of my trip—it was too dangerous to go any farther north, and I had to get back home for my wedding.

Grogan made it back to civilization—barely—and returned to London, where he was the toast of the city and married Gertrude Watt without delay. They spent most of the rest of their lives in the British colony of Kenya. Amazingly, Grogan has been almost completely forgotten today, compared to other world-famous African explorers.

 

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About the Author: Julian Smith is the author of Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure, available now from Harper Perennial.

For more maps, photos, and information, visit his website.

About the Author:

is the author of 233 posts on Go Backpacking.

This post was written by a guest contributor. Please reference the author's byline in the post above for more information. If you would like to guest post on Go Backpacking, please read our submission guidelines. For information on advertising opportunities, go here.

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Categories: Africa, Features, Mozambique, Photos, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania
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4 Comments

Migrationology February 24, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Amazing journey Julian, that takes some determination and a lot of flexibility, but I’m sure it was an unparalleled experience. As you said, one of the best parts of traveling is being able to experience normal daily life…just in a much different place.

Reply

Rebecca March 9, 2011 at 10:45 am

Wow, what a trip and an experience!!

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Shannon Marshall May 31, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Glad you enjoyed the trip!Amazing composition and attention to detail in the photos.

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Shannon Marshall May 31, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Glad you enjoyed the trip!Amazing composition and attention to detail in the photos.

Reply

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