From 1991 to 2002 the nations of Sierra Leone and Liberia were synonymous with a brutal civil war revolving around blood diamonds, child soldiers and vicious mass amputations. Today a symbol of trans-boundary hope is emerging that may also throw a vital lifeline to Africa’s most endangered forest habitat.
In 2009 the two neighbours agreed to work towards forming a Peace Park across their shared river border, joining Gola National Park in Sierra Leone with Lofa and Foya in Liberia. This spring I want to make the first packraft descent of the border, through the heart of this new Park and out, several weeks later, to the Atlantic coastline.
I’ll be documenting my journey for BBC Radio 4 with the Royal Geographical Society’s ‘Journey of a Lifetime’ grant – immersing myself in the forest environment and learning from the local people who call this region home for seven weeks from April 8th.
Moving by raft will offer the radio audience a totally unencumbered water level perspective of the sounds of this expedition: a canopy of early morning birdsong and chattering colobus monkeys, a cacophony of insects and invertebrates, the rumble of the cataracts and a blow by blow account as I make my first descent. This will not be easy. The river meanders through thickly forested hills and there will be sections where it is simply impassable. I’ll be forced into the jungle to cut paths, there will be bad weather, potentially dangerous wildlife and many exhausting days paddling, but this near silent method will offer an intimate and discreet insight into a rarely-seen world. I will camp wild and share my fishing holes and banks with the owls, bats and a host of other nocturnal animals that rustle, click, flap and croak around my newfound temporary home. Listeners will follow as I develop on the river and adjust my life to fit around nature’s schedule. I will make mistakes, things will go wrong, insects will invade me and my kit, but through trial and error I will slowly progress towards my river mouth goal.
The Radio programme will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 but it will also be available after the broadcast through my, the RGS and the BBC websites. I’ll also be writing blogs and taking plenty of images from the trip, there is a facebook group you can join and I’ll be tweeting about my experiences, but this is your chance to have a direct and vitally important hand in the success of the trip. All my projects are conducted with the bare minimum of support, under my own steam and with extreme sensitivity to the environment and people of the region, but even with stripped down kit and small teams, expeditions are not cheap. I am looking for support in covering some of the costs of my satellite phone – a vitally important piece of kit for reporting my progress to the outside world and my only real safety net – in exchange for some great rewards and hopefully your very own exclusive piece of the project!
Thanks so much for anything you can give. It will make a real difference.
Risks and challenges
I am an expedition leader with six year's experience leading projects in really remote parts of the globe, which is enough to know that things never work out the way you plan! There is every chance that the riskiest parts of this expedition might have to be adjusted, altered or even cancelled - I might not make it to the end of the river, I may have to cut my way out of the forest, I might even puncture my raft on arrival in Freetown airport, but I know for sure I'll throw absolutely all my efforts into making this happen - whatever the next two months will bring i'll definitely come back with something to talk about!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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