When Mario Rigby decided to walk from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt, the first person he told was his mother — and she supported his journey 100 percent.
“She even went as far as saying that if I broke my leg, I should become the first person to cross Africa by wheelchair,” Rigby said.
Thank goodness he didn’t break his leg.
Last month the Canadian completed a feat that few people have ever attempted — he trekked the continent from tail to tip. This journey, which he appropriately called Crossing Africa, took him two years to complete.
Let’s put that in perspective.
Rigby walked roughly 7,456 miles, the equivalent of about 131,225 American football fields. He trekked through eight countries — South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. He even forged a few rivers and lakes (by kayak).
The fitness instructor survived the journey physically intact, but more importantly, with eyes wide open. Rigby, always the adventurer, said he was inspired to walk across Africa because he wanted to show people a more positive side of the continent — not the suffering and poverty that typically dominates the news.
“We only get the extremes when it comes to Africa,” said Rigby, who is originally from Turks and Caicos. “We never hear about the everyday life.”
Now he’s sharing his stories with the world.
Preparation for the trip took nine months. He had to plan out his shelter and strategize how to survive in any terrain, whether forest, desert or even mountains. The Toronto native even “practiced” by hiking 15 days from Toronto to Montreal — the first hiking experience of his life.
He also contacted professionals who had completed similar expeditions. They all recommended that he take his time.
Rigby packed all the typical backpacker gear — a six-inch knife to scourge fruits and vegetables along the way, a tent, and a sleeping bag, of course. But his most valuable possession turned out to be Scotch tape, which he used to patch up holes in his tent and even cover up blisters on his heels. Once his planning was complete, starting the journey was easy.
“I took my backpack, put on boots, and just started walking along the main road that I knew would take me where I needed to go,” Rigby said.
He began his trip in Cape Town, South Africa, on November 24, 2015.
Along his journey, Rigby never lacked for housing. As expected, most villages didn’t have hotels or hostels. When Rigby arrived in one, he would head straight to a compound, a housing unit consisting of several families, usually full of children, women and men.
He would stand in the middle of the compound’s courtyard until a young male greeted him and offered him housing. He repeated this custom throughout Africa. Many of his hosts were kind enough to arrange housing in the next village or city.
When Rigby encountered difficult physical and bureaucratic situations, it was the people of Africa who helped him maintain his spirit to continue the journey.
“I think that Africans are a prime example of humanity’s goodness,” Rigby said.
Mozambique gave him some of his most unique life experiences. The local news station, available on the only television channel in the country, did a five-minute feature on his journey across Africa. Rigby became so famous that he couldn’t walk along the roadways without cars stopping to take a photo with him.
His notoriety in the country even saved his life. While walking during the monsoon season, he started to suffer from hypothermia. A driver who had seen his news special stopped him and begged Rigby to stay with him so he could prove to his wife that he had met him.
Rigby learned to avoid conflict areas early in his trip. Mozambique is technically not a country at war, but there are regular skirmishes in the north between rebels and the Mozambique government. Rigby minimized the situation in his head and decided to attempt to cross the border by foot. Government forces stopped him and put him into a military escort.
As they were riding, rebels fired three shots at them. Thankfully, the government forces neutralized the situation.
“It was a stupid move. I thought it wasn’t a big deal,” Rigby said. “It was just a little bit of risk that I could get stuck in this conflict.”
Other than that brief skirmish, Rigby suffered no personal violence in any country — no robbery, physical assaults — nothing.
After walking through eight countries, Rigby anointed Tanzania as his favorite. For him, Tanzania’s topographical diversity — beaches, desert, forests — made it his favorite. “You can have a pretty good life there,” he said.
But it’s the country that fewer Westerners have visited that blew his expectations away — Sudan. He found the locals hospitable, always inviting him out for tea. After meeting a Sudanese man in Khartoum, the country’s capital, he was invited to stay in his house.
“The guy literally handed me the keys to his house,” Rigby said.
Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt, and Rigby made sure to visit a few. He was surprised to see Sudanese people enjoying the tourist sites of their own country, such as the Red Sea, a rare sight in other African countries.
Still, he found the division between women and men the most strict in Sudan. When he would wander the streets, he wouldn’t see any women. “Even trying to shake the hands of a woman, they will refuse you sometimes,” Rigby said.
Rigby wants everyone to visit Ethiopia, though it suffers from a strict dictatorship and traveling there can be difficult. During two weeks of the four months he spent there, the government restricted the internet access to the entire country because a university student had shared some exams online.
This fact didn’t damper his excitement. Rigby hiked across the Semien Mountains in the country’s north, where he witnessed the rituals of the Hamar people. Women must endure whippings to show their dedication to their future husbands. The men must jump over bulls to prove they are worthy of a wife.
Rigby ended his journey in Cairo, Egypt, and says that he is a completely different person from when he started the trip two years ago.
“I am now a speaker, a leader and a man I envisioned [myself ] to be when I was a child,” Rigby wrote on Instagram. “I love more, I hate none and I see all things from opposing views.”
Rigby has left Africa and is now preparing for his next adventure. He won’t say what it is, but he says it will be even greater than his last.