Mario Rigby has been adventurous right from his young age. Born in Turks and Caicos, he grew up in Germany before moving to Toronto, Canada. His parents got him into sports as a child and he went on to compete in track and field at a national level, eventually becoming a fitness trainer, coaching athletes involved in different types of sports.
In November 2015, he decided to put all that aside to embark on a trip he named Crossing Africa — a two-year, 12,000-kilometre journey by foot and paddle boat that would take him through South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.
Rigby had, before this, walked more than 550 kilometers from Toronto to Montreal. Thus, his African journey was going to be his second walk, though he admitted before he began that it was going to be difficult given the harsh climates and challenging terrain.
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And so it was. After starting his journey in late 2015, taking an eastern route from South Africa to Egypt, he came back home in January 2018. Despite some challenges including being caught up in a war zone and getting jailed, he said he fell in love with the continent and hoped to return again. “What surprised me the most actually was the hospitality of African people,” he told CTV News. “It was incredible. They just don’t allow you to sleep outside alone.”
For most people, exploring the world would entail going on holiday for some weeks, so what inspired Rigby, at 29, to walk and kayak for more than two years in a terrain he had never been to?
“I’ve had this itch and drive to do this since I was 18,” Rigby told the Star in 2015. “I don’t know how many Black people travel outside of the United States or Canada but the number, I would assume, is astoundingly low. I’d like to change that and put some bravery out there … We have to be ambassadors for ourselves,” he said.
In fact, he had originally wanted to do the walk in Europe but he thought that would be too simple and so opted to do something that would be more challenging. Many thought it was impossible or he was going to die, but Rigby rose to the challenge.
In November 2015 when he flew from Pearson airport in Toronto to Cape Town, South Africa, to begin his voyage, he had with him sturdy boots, long-sleeved shirts, malaria pills, bug spray, a tent, a video camera (which he later lost in a river) and an iPhone powered by a portable solar energy pack.
Rigby would spend the longest part of his journey in South Africa, walking 3,500 kilometers over about five months including staying with a White man, a former member of the South African armed forces who admitted to shooting Black people during apartheid. That experience was “troubling” though Rigby found the White man to be “kind” and “hospitable”.
Then, eight months into his journey, Rigby came across danger for the first time when he walked into a war zone in Mozambique, where government soldiers would exchange fire with a military group representing the country’s opposition. Rigby, who had then explained his mission to the soldiers, was safely taken to his destination.
His next stop was in Malawi. After he had kayaked 550 kilometers across Lake Malawi for two months, he was welcomed but was later arrested by the police who asked him to produce a permit showing he could travel the lake in a kayak. Rigby, without the said permit, was held at a police station for three days until an Italian friend he made in Mozambique helped to get him released. Returning to his village in Malawi, Rigby contracted malaria, got better, and then set off on his own to the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania for a vacation.
From Tanzania, the fitness trainer went to Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, where he ended his adventure and flew back to Toronto through London. Rigby’s trip cost him $25,000, partly paid by his mother, friends and crowdfunding. In all, he covered 95 percent of his route walking, and the remainder by kayak and ground transport, he told the Star. And he wouldn’t mind doing it again following the experience.
“I went to Africa thinking, ‘Maybe I could share some of my knowledge, I could talk in some schools and maybe try and help out where I can.’ And I did do some of that. But at the same time, it was completely the opposite. Africa taught me everything,” he told Adventure.com.