In the Namibian desert I found this abandoned Mercedes-Benz. It is a paradox of the incompatibility of two worlds: the dream of western materialism in a continent that is still living in another age.
They say that when you go deep into the heart of Africa, a part of you stays there forever; in my case this is true. After covering over 10,000 miles from Cape Town to Dar Es Salaam through virgin and almost unheard of territories, I witnessed the reality of the most celebrated phrase of this continent: although you may measure it, time belongs to Africa.
On the 12th of August of 2004, my wife and I traveled in quest of a dream: to head east and discover the world with our own eyes. For months we planned the whole expedition. We built our ‘house’ which was carried by ‘Nukac’: a Unimog Mercedes-Benz that took us to the most remote places without major inconveniences. From the port of Cartagena we shipped our motor home to Cape Town, where this adventure began.
The route through Africa took us away from the imaginary of the savannah at the Serengeti (so commonly seen on cable), for we found a much more complex reality, though at times even more dramatic, but certainly with a beauty of its own.
Southeast Africa is living times of change, just like the rest of the world, but at a very different pace. For the people of this land, nature brings great challenges, and although first world countries generously extend highways that should lay the way for the so expected progress, the ones covering the distance are usually women who walk for miles with water buckets on top of their heads.
But rather than making a list of the difficulties that African people – black, white and indigenous – are facing, my intention is that of bringing to light what is most important: the victory of the human spirit over adversity.
One of the most remote places we came across were the northern territories of Mozambique. After 10 years of civil war, this country found peace at last. Women were returning from the refugee camps in Malawi with their belongings; in other words, whatever they could take in their arms and over their heads. ‘Is there a lot of poverty?’ we were asked when we got back from our trip: it all depends where we measure it from.
Chameleons, abundant in Malawi and Mozambique, are a source of great superstition among the locals, to the extent that none of them would dare to touch one. The same distrustfulness exists towards western medicine, which has been provided for the use of African HIV positive. Unfortunately, local beliefs in traditional medicine (prayers, rites and local drugs) haven’t contributed to stop the advance of this illness.
Great extensions in Africa still hold together beasts and human beings in the same place. The cycle of life holds man inside the food chain, usually more by accident than by any other reason.
The controversy held among conservationists about the best way to protect this land, its animals and the people who live there, keeps their minds busy in finding a definitive solution to keep the balance in this complex dilemma of priorities.
Old Patrick and his nephew Joseph guided us through the heart of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Although dressed as if living in Harlem, they are ‘genuine’ Riverbank Bushmen. Once nomads, the government confined them to specific areas far from the land of diamonds. The redbuck with whom they asked me to picture them was left behind by a group of poachers who ran away thinking we were a military vehicle.
After spending a week at a clinic in Lilongwe in Malawi, as my wife recovered from malaria, we decided to spend a few days at Lake Malawi. The image of fishermen returning home inevitably brings memories of my childhood in the island of Old Providence in the Colombian archipelago.
Every ten years the world looks towards Africa and asks: ‘Will it rise from its ashes?’
At Keith Purdon’s farm, in the north of Mozambique, we came across an old goat –‘Survivor’- wandering freely. Keith told us how one day his son came to ask him for a goat to be used as bait at a hunting ground where he was working. They desperately needed to find a lion for a client who had arrived many days ago – paying thousands for each night spent there – looking for his trophy. So they put ‘Survivor’ in the back of Keith’s Land Rover and off they went. On the way, the goat jumped out of the car and they had a hard time finding it. Finally that night, they tied the goat to a tree hoping the lion would show up. Their mission frustrated after insisting a number of nights, the hunter went back with empty hands, and ‘Survivor’ was granted pardon.
Last year a Canadian couple spent a few days in our home while traveling around the world. As we commented our experiences, we found out that about a year ago they had lost their only son – the 9th of September of 2004 to be exact.
Michael died in a catastrophic airplane accident after takeoff from Livingstone in Zambia as the plane which he piloted suffered severe mechanical failure. He died on impact with other five people on board. This work pays homage to the spirit of a young man who lived and died fulfilling his dream: to fly.
I took very few photographs of people during this trip. It’s very common to find peoples´ hands extended in demand like saying: ‘pay me first’. It is quite annoying for a tourist who is anxious to capture the perfect image and at the same time a dilemma for the westerner who seeks the ‘exotic’.
Curiously, these girls posed for me without asking, as I walked on the bank of the Okavango River in a village called Seronga, in Botswana.
Behind the news there is always much more than meets the eye. This is why I would like to thank especially…
My wife Camila, who lived by my side every moment of this expedition, our parents for their generous support, and our friends, who made it possible to put our Unimog on the road.
A fundamental part of our ‘Expedition Heading East’ were also: COLOR SIETE, Mercedes-Benz of Colombia, Michelin, Automóvil Club of Colombia, Motores y Diseños, MOTOR magazine, La Huerta de Oriente, Zerofractal, W radio, Furgones Especiales, and Felipe Echeverri.
I would like to send our warm regards to those who shared this dream with us in Africa: Lalou Meltzer at The Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa; Emma Bedford at the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa, and our good friends: Chumani, Lance and Colin Bailey, Tom and Vivian Heineken and Mark and Linda at the Kaingu Lodge in Zambia; Keith and Eleonore Purdon in Mozambique, and old Patrick and his nephew Joseph at Gudigwa and Vumbura.