Sydney lawyer Steve Cartwright threw caution to the wind and embarked on an adventure which took him to places unimagined - and raised some much-needed funds for kids along the way. He speaks to Claire Chaffey.
|Mark Roberts, left, and Steve Cartwright, get their YMCA on during their 34,440 kilometre journey through 15 African countries|
The storage tub was accidentally left out overnight, says Cartwright, far from the safety of his fully kitted-out Landcruiser. And honey badgers, it seems, aren't too fussy about packaging.
"It was an impressive sight," he laughs.
Cartwright, a lawyer at mid-tier firm Dibbs Barker, has recently returned from a 230-day overland odyssey which took him and his mate Mark Roberts from Africa's southernmost point in South Africa to the north-east tip of Egypt.
Their 34,440-kilometre journey took them through 15 countries; into 23 national parks; across the equator four times; into the company of 36 lions, 18 mountain gorillas and 17 wild dogs; through two bouts of Gastro and other strange illnesses; 68 roadside police checks; and through nine sets of never-looked-better KFC doors (one set of which followed soon after the honey badger incident).
As Cartwright recounts his experience, he also becomes animated when recounting how he watched a leopard cub and its mother play only metres from the truck; sipped tea under a blanket of stars in the Northern Sudanese desert; played poker with the locals in Botswana; and saw a glacier atop Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro turn a deep pink as he sat atop its 5895-metre-high summit.
"For me, that was THE moment of the trip," he says of Kilimanjaro.
Having taken a leave of absence from work, Cartwright embarked on the trip in May last year, primarily in the name of discovery and adventure.
"We wanted to see the classic Africa, the wildlife and the landscapes, before they disappear. And they are under serious threat," he says.
But it was also a challenge which would, through generous sponsorship gathered along the way, raise thousands of dollars for the charity Room to Read, which was founded by John Wood, a former senior executive with Microsoft.
Wood launched the charity after trekking through Nepal and visiting several seriously under-resourced local schools. Soon afterwards, he resigned from his position at Microsoft and created a global team which builds sustainable solutions to the educational challenges facing rural villages across the globe.
"It was always a trip for us first," says Cartwright. "We were crossing Africa because we wanted to, but we took the road of saying, 'If we can also do something good while we're at it, and get involved and raise some money which is invested in a meaningful way in Africa, why wouldn't we do that?'"
As well as raising much-needed funds for a charity which Cartwright says was "the right fit", the expedition across the continent turned out to be an adventure like no other.
"It began, funnily enough, with a massive lightening storm, camped in an open area at Cape Agulhas, South Africa's southernmost point," recounts Cartwright.
"We were in a roof-top tent - mounted on top of the car - in this field with no other lightening conductors about, looking out at the lightning flashes over the Southern Ocean and thinking, 'This is going to be a very short trip!'"
But they survived and were soon making tracks through Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi, to name a few.
And while there were innumerable memorable moments, Cartwright says one of the most shocking came with his visit to the memorial at Gikongoro in Rwanda, where the bodies of several thousand victims of the 1994 genocide were preserved with lime soon after death.
"Hair, teeth, contorted bodies; you can visibly see how many of them were killed. There are rooms full of children," he says. "I have visited ... the killing fields in Cambodia, Santa Cruz in East Timor, and various other chilling sites, but I have never seen anything quite like Gikongoro."
Other hairy moments included being surrounded by an angry crowd in Ethiopia, being chased by a man with a brick in Kenya, being run off the road by mad drivers in Burundi, running themselves off the road in Zimbabwe, and being bogged in various rivers along the way.
But these moments, adds Cartwright, were just part of the adventure, especially because they worked out well in the end.
"Getting yourself out of a bog is the best feeling in the world. It may take you three or four hours, but once you're out, you're king of the world," he says.
"Things just seemed to work out over there, particularly if you take the right attitude and are friendly with people. People will help there in a way that they won't help here, unless we're talking about border officials...."
Sadly though, Cartwright says that Africa's greatest treasures - its wildlife and landscapes - are seriously under threat and he fears it won't be long before what he has seen will be all but gone.
"You'll only find the big wildlife in game parks now, or in fairly remote regions," he says. "And the glaciers [of Kilimanjaro] are receding."
There are, however, still places where you can see a good number of animals outside the parks and reserves, says Cartwright, though they're not easy to get to.
One such place is the notoriously difficult to reach Marienfluss Valley in northern Namibia, where Cartwright says they didn't see another vehicle for two days.
"It was just gorgeous," he says. "It was the first place we saw elephants, giraffe, zebra. Finding your first elephant, particularly in the wild as opposed to in a game park, is a very special experience. It was fantastic."
Western Tanzania's Katavi National Park was also a highlight, especially as it took the duo six days of hard driving just to get there.
"I won't ever forget Katavi National Park," says Cartwright. "For me it is just one of the absolute highlights of the trip. It had amazing wildlife, amazing landscapes, and you really had to work hard to be there. It was just an unbeatable combination."
Despite appearances, Cartwright is adamant that many parts of the trip were mundane, largely thanks to the huge distances they covered, and the constant rough camping and lack of facilities were, at times, testing.
"There were times where we camped up to 29 days at a time, and on the final day, when we knew we were coming into a town where there were going to be restaurants and hot showers and proper food and a bar ... there was a sense of excitement," he says.
On the whole, though, Cartwright finds it difficult to put into words how the trip affected him.
"There was a lot of time spent navel gazing," he says. "You have a lot of time under the stars by the campfire, too tired to talk, just absorbing where you are and thinking about where you want to be. And with that comes a certain degree of self-awareness."
"This kind of trip will teach you that you can do anything. You've just got to commit and go for it. It is such a big and intimidating endeavour when you sit here and think about it in Sydney, but when you commit, and start chipping away at what you need to do to make it happen, things work out. I'd love to avoid a cliché, but it was a life-changing trip."
To read more about Steve and Mark's adventures, check out their blog at http://www.findingemo.org/
For Australian lawyers, it doesn't get more complex, contentious or dangerous than working in the African resources field. But as one lawyer says "Fortune favours the brave, and Aussies are certainly brave" ... Read more