Category Archives: Travel

11,000 KM: ON With the Quest

The Quest For Hope has now taken me over 11,000 kilometers.  It’s led me from Port Elizabeth down to Cape Town, then up the west coast of South Africa to Elands Bay. From there through the length of Kgaligadi, across into Namibia and up into Kaokoland, the home of the Himba.  Then around Etosha and into Zambia at Katima Mulilo and east to Livingstone. Then to my childhood home, Ndola, and from there up through the Copperbelt to Chingola and on to the world renown chimpanzee orphanage, Chimfunshi. From there up the Great East Road to north eastern Zambia and Luangwa Valley, an absolute must for everyone’s bucket list.  Then back south and down to Sinazongwe on the edge of Lake Kariba, the ancestral grounds of the BaTongas who were forcibly displaced when the lake was first created.  As I write this I’m camped in the shade of a weathered fig tree looking out over the lake under the watchful eye of a curious troop of monkeys all hoping I’ll leave the camper door open long enough for them to sneak in for a banana or two.

To date its been a wonderful albeit very challenging and eye opening trip, one that has taken me on an emotional roller coaster with remarkable highs and some very sad lows. The Colonial Africa of my youth has gone never to return and many will say that’s a good thing. Regardless of your view the continents unique wildlife, soaring vistas and colorful people still put Africa very much in a league of her own. I’ve now had the privilege of meeting with some of its leading conservationists and I’ve been tremendously impressed with their commitment, courage and dedication and a sense that there is still some hope for the future of Africa’s wildlife; that its still possible to fan these faint embers of hope back into flames if, and its a very big if, we can persuade the powers that be – most especially Africa’s leaders – that the future protection of their countries wildlife must become one of their top priorities and not merely a useful sideshow for the promotion of tourism.

They need to understand that at the end of the day it’s the wildlife that make Africa so special. Indeed it is the only thing that truly separates Africa from the world’s many other unique and special places. Nowhere else on the planet can you sit on the banks of a river watching elephants graze along its banks, marvel at hippos grunting and bellowing in its shallows while the sound of a lion’s roar cuts through the air. Where you can watch giraffes browse on treetops, hear the thundering hooves of buffaloes, zebras and antelopes of all shapes and sizes, and gaze in wonder as leopards and cheetahs follow the same hunting ritual that their forebears have for thousands of years.  This doesn’t happen anywhere else but in Africa.  It’s a rich and special heritage, but its in as fragile a state as its ever been in, and without a concerted, concentrated effort and strong political will, it will most certainly disappear.

Perusing through all my Facebook posts it may well appear that I’m on an extended vacation touring all the national parks. The fact is that’s where all the game is.  Tragically outside of these parks very little wildlife is left at all.  So if one wants to help save the wildlife then visiting these parks and meeting with the conservationists based in and around them is the best way to proceed.  That’s what I’ve been doing and will continue to do as I gradually make my way back down to South Africa.  I’m now a little over half way through my trip and I’d like to believe that I’m accomplishing what I hoped I would when I first came up with the idea of The Quest – finding, promoting and helping the conservation groups and individuals doing the best work and most worthy of support – and helping to catch some poachers while I’m at it. But as anyone whose been here knows, nothing in Africa happens quickly.  You could change the Mexican “manyana” to “manyana would be terrific” and you’d be right on the money.

Amongst other things the trip has served to reinforce many of my existing opinions while introducing me to new lines of thought as well including the fact that when the first explorers arrived over three hundred years ago Africa must have been as close to the Garden of Eden as anyone could imagine. They discovered a continent where wildlife roamed freely from one tip to the other with an indigenous people who understood and valued their relationship with the animals.  But we couldn’t let well alone and instead we hunted, enslaved, and divided the continent until it bore only a faint resemblance to what it once was.  We paid no attention to traditional tribal boundaries creating countries with the stroke of a pen and a royal edict.  We imposed our will, our religions and our laws on the indigenous Africans and when we finally handed them back the keys, either reluctantly or by force, we had already destroyed much of the fabric that had held the continent together for millennia.

Judging from a western viewpoint but as someone who was born and raised here, I think its fair to say all of Africa is in a dreadful mess.  Much of what we created or insisted on when whites ruled the continent has either been thrown out, destroyed or changed, but too much time has passed and too much has changed for Africa to revert to what it once was before our arrival.  Instead Africa was left with power vacuums that were all too quickly filled by despots only interested in lining their own pockets and those of their immediate tribal members.  We’d left them with guns and wire and plastic all of which they quickly used with deadly effect on each other and with horrific consequences on the wildlife.  They gunned down wildlife by the thousands, entrapped it in wire snares that crippled and maimed it, and poisoned the landscape with hundreds of millions of plastic bags that now blanket every city and many rural areas with a kaleidoscope of non degradable color.  Every natural resource that Africa was blessed with was and is now being exploited to an unsustainable level. Because they were uncertain of their own future wellbeing, Africa quickly became – or maybe it always was – a continent of short term thinkers versus long term visionaries.  Of course there were exceptions to the rule with Nelson Mandela quickly coming to mind.  But its a sad truth that if you give an African a choice between a dollar today or ten dollars in a week, they’ll take the dollar almost every time.

In our rush to make up for our past ill-deeds we have flooded the continent with money and volunteers all hoping to solve or at least mitigate the consequences of our past actions.  This has proved to be equally ill advised and Africa is now awash is NGO money that never seems to make it into the right hands, and well intended programs that have failed miserably because not enough forethought was given to them before they were launched.  In the process we have created a culture of dependency and expectancy.  Not only have they come to depend on foreign aid, they have come to expect it as if it’s their birthright.  For example Zambia’s roads have been allowed to deteriorate to a horrific level and the only reason any good ones exist at all is because they are funded by foreign aid, e.g. the portion of the Great East Road from the Luangwa Village turnoff to Chipata which is currently the best road in the country complete with solar powered street lighting through villages which still lack running water and electricity.  It’s crazy!!

Zimbabwe has gone from being the breadbasket of Southern Africa to pauper status with an economy that is in a complete shambles and a country that lies in ruins while the iron fisted Mugabe still holds all the reins of power. Namibia is really two countries. South of Windhoek huge private hunting reserves are the norm while in the north the country is as horrible an example of polluted, ill constructed and poorly maintained villages that you’ll see anywhere.  And even Etosha, the supposed shining jewel of their wildlife reserves is very poorly maintained and managed.  South Africa, once the richest country in Africa, faces serious social and political issues.  Huge squatter camps ring every city, pollution is everywhere, political nepotism is rampant, and poaching in their game parks has reached such a high level that their managing agency no longer releases any figures at all.  Many of the country’s top politicians have been implicated in poaching schemes and attacks and murders on the rapidly dwindling ranks of white farmers are spiraling out of control.

I’m hoping that Botswana will prove to be the exception to the rule and I’m headed there now to see for myself.  All hunting has been banned in the country and if you bring a gun into the country you are putting your own life at risk as their army has been instructed to shoot suspected poachers on sight.  Amazingly even the elephants appear to know that they will be safe in Botswana as the reports are that hundreds of them have made the long trek from Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Angola to join the ranks of the thousands already there, so much so that the country runs the risk of being overwhelmed by them.

It’s taken me a while to formulate all these thoughts and to write them down in a reasonably coherent fashion.  If they sound terribly negative then I apologize.  Frankly it’s hard not be but if some of the country’s leading conservationists are determined to remain optimistic then the very least I can do is to remain so as well.  One thing I know for sure.  Africa’s wildlife is amazingly resilient.  Give them even the smallest of survival chances and they’ll manage to find a way.  Addo Elephant park started with just eleven elephants and now they have a population that ranges between four and six hundred!  All we have to do is to find a way to give them that small chance.  It’s time for all of us to do a bit, however small that bit might be – trust me every bit counts!

Thanks for reading and my best to you all……..on with The Quest.

Let the Adventure Begin: Beyond Expectation

What an incredible day!

apaintdomneFirst off I was met at PE airport by the bubbling smiling bundle of joy that is Tanja Schroeder, whose company built my camper. Then we went shopping for camping provisions and then – after dreaming about this moment for over two years – it was on to the factory at Jeffrey’s Bay to see the vehicle for the first time.

Wow!!! Inside and out it exceeded my fondest hopes and dreams. It’s fabulous!

day1-2Then she took me to my hotel for the next two nights, aka African Perfection right in front of Super Tubes – one of the greatest surf breaks in the world! I’m pretty sure I’ve died and gone to heaven!!  day1-3

Onward to Africa: Walk the Talk

The last three days have been an emotional roller coaster. First there was the wonderful news that Prince Harry has joined Rhino Conservation Botswana as a Patron which will undoubtedly help this very worthy cause. Just when we need it most. Apart from his own long established love of wildlife Prince Harry has an enormous worldwide following who will undoubtedly help spread the word about rhino conservation efforts in Botswana and elsewhere. We also heard from a couple of tough old bushmen, Map Ives and Paul Swart that the Prince more than pulled his share of the workload in some very challenging conditions. Thank you Prince Harry. Onwards!! depart3

This was followed by the inauguration of our new President, Donald Trump, the least popular candidate ever elected to head up the world’s largest democracy. Then came the worldwide marches by hundreds of thousands of women around the globe giving notice to Trump and his cronies that they will not stand idly by and allow him to trample their hard earned rights. Not surprisingly thoughts of where we are headed as a world community inevitably fill my mind as I make final preparations for my upcoming trip – The Quest For Hope.

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Grateful for the support of my wife, Kay

I know there will be moments of great joy and just as surely there will be lows and heartaches. I have several meetings en route, starting with Ian Michier, the driving force behind the shocking documentary “Blood Lions” and what I see and learn during The Quest will I’m sure be profound and life changing.

I am humbled by all the support I have received and I have a long list of people I am deeply indebted to. Please accept my heartfelt thanks and know that I will be doing my utmost to justify your faith in me. At the top of my gratitude list is Kay who has never wavered in her support nor questioned me spending our life savings in furtherance of this effort to help save Africa’s wildlife. Saying goodbye to her and our much beloved dogs tomorrow will be very tough but after all the years of planning and preparing, the time has come to make a difference. Thank you everyone. Stay strong, be passionate, take action. Onwards!

Africa here I come! The time for talk is over. Now it’s time for me to walk the walk. Thank you everyone for your support and encouragement. I’ll be updating my progress on Facebook as often as possible.

On to Africa

ele1When I turned twenty one I was living in California thousands of miles away from my family in South Africa. For the past few years I’d been slowly working my way around the world and it was the first and only time I ever received a letter from my father. Mum was always the designated letter writer but on this auspicious occasion my father decided a letter directly from him was warranted. In it he encouraged me to put whatever God-given talents I had to good use and he ended the letter with the following quote:

“No man is born into this world whose work is not born with him. There is always work and tools to work withal for this who will, and blessed are the horny hands of toil. The busy world shoves angrily aside the man who stands with arms akimbo set and waits until occasion tells him what to do, and he who waits to have his task marked out shall die and leave his errand unfulfilled. Our time is one that calls for earnest deeds.”

This was pretty heavy stuff for me to digest especially as my primary focus at that time was getting to Hawaii to surf its legendary big waves. However over the years I have spent an inordinate amount of time reflecting on this quote and wondering what my particular task was intended to be. For as long as I can remember I have loved all forms of wildlife and throughout my professional career I’ve always endeavored to introduce it into my presentations. However until quite recently I’ve never been willing to devote all of my time and energy and resources towards its conservation. Living in Hawaii for twenty eight years it just didn’t seem like a viable option, but with the passage of time my perspective changed.

As I travelled back and forth to Africa and saw first hand how quickly things were changing and how drastically the wildlife was being impacted, I grew more and more convinced that I needed to join in the fight against the greed and corruption that was decimating this extraordinary heritage. When you reach a certain stage in life one’s strengths and talents are self evident. Mine were obvious to me. I was very passionate about wildlife and my public speaking skills were as good, if not better, than most. How to put these to work for wildlife conservation was the question I struggled with for many years.

Thanks to social media I was being inundated with reports from a host of organizations and individuals all committed to saving Africa’s wildlife. All of their time and expertise were devoted to the cause with occasional fund raising trips abroad. I had the opportunity to listen to several of them and it became increasingly obvious that in most instances public speaking was way outside of their comfort zone. It is after all an art form in itself, one that I have spent years refining and practicing. And the more I listened, the more I realized what my task would be. I would offer my time and talent and become a voice for these organizations, or at least for the ones I felt were doing the best work, making the biggest difference, and deserved the most help. To do that I would need to spend a considerable amount of time traveling through the bush, visiting as many of them as possible, seeing them in person and working with them on the front lines.

And it was out of this that The Quest For Hope was born.

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