Every journey worth taking comes with obstacles and a high price tag. A price some people are all too eager to pay with time, money, or their lives. The greater the challenge, the higher the price. And this is one of the great ones.
It's a journey into Africa's heart of darkness. Farther than any past explorers - Speke, Gordon, Stanley, or Livingston - to ascend by outboard-powered boat the length of the world's longest, and arguably most dangerous, river. To finally, and unquestionably, pinpoint its source.
"It's human nature to explore, challenge, be the best or the first," Neil McGrigor, one of the prime movers of this adventure, told me recently. He not only believes this, he takes it personally. He must, to go through the story of hell he tells here. McGrigor, a 44-year-old British businessman, has some experience with boating adventures. He set a transatlantic record of 11 days, 14 hours in a sailboat and broke the speed record for circumnavigating Britain in a powerboat. So when his Kiwi friend Cam McLeay came up with one the world's last great adventures, McGrigor jumped at the chance to be part of it.
McGrigor, McLeay, and fellow New Zealander Garth MacIntyre believed that the source of the Rukarara river in the heart of the Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda is also the source of the world's longest river. It is the Nile's tributary farthest from its Mediterranean outlet. For the expedition they chose three 14' Zap Cats (see "Air Africa"), light, twin-hulled inflatables powered by 50-hp Yamaha outboards. The boats were fitted with Bimini tops to provide shade in the 120-plus-degree heat. Since the boats are so stable, the tops of the Biminis doubled as campgrounds where the explorers erected their tents to be safe from the crocs and mosquitoes while they slept. "Hippos are another problem in the bush," says McGrigor. "They tend to charge into the river and disappear, only to rear up from underneath, threatening boats." Then there are the usual snakes, scorpions, and deadly spiders.