For centuries, travellers have walked different lands and chronicled their times and history for us. But why walk in an age of automobiles, aircraft and Google maps? This thought comes to us when we pick up a copy of the travelogue, Walking the Nile, by Levison Wood.
A writer and explorer, Wood who has travelled around 80 countries, embarked on a journey of almost 4,000 miles on foot along the world’s longest river – Nile. Following the footsteps of legendary African explorers — David Livingstone, John Hanning Speke and Richard Burton— Wood put himself through tests of endurance by camping in the wild, foraging for food and fending off multiple dangers. No one in the recorded history had walked through the entire course of the Nile until Wood, a former officer in the British Army Parachute Regiment, came into the picture.
“I don’t know where the idea to walk the entire length of the Nile came from. I could think of no better way to express the singular urge that drove me to Africa. The Nile was there, and I wanted to walk it,” Wood writes about his motivation while introducing the book to readers. After the Nile cast its spell on him, Wood decided to undertake the audacious trek to see how it shaped lives, day-by-day and mile-by-mile. From the source of the Nile in the forest of Rwanda, to its mouth in Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, he passed through rainforests, savannah, swamps, deserts and lush delta oases. As he crossed six different countries — Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and finally Egypt — Wood immersed himself in the stories of modern-day Africa. Unlike Victorian explorers, Wood undertook this long walk when these countries were violently war-torn.
More than just a walk
After having walked through this holy grail of an expedition, Wood narrates the amazing odyssey in 17 chapters, with intense curiosity, fearlessness, inexhaustible stamina as well as an encyclopaedic knowledge of history, naturalism and contemporary geopolitics. Embarking on the expedition in December 2013, he completed it in nine months at the cost of USD 34,000. He almost covered every mile and inch except for a few hundred miles in Sudd (a swampy section of the Nile) in South Sudan, which was reeling under volatile political unrest and a civil war.
Accompanied by guides and interpreters, Wood faced dangers from local wildlife. At the Murchison Falls National Park, they were chased by hippos. Quoting his guide, Ndoole Boston, Wood remarks: “The most dangerous place in Africa is between the hippo and water.” Another incident that impacted the expedition and Wood personally was the death of Matt Power, a journalist who planned to cover the story by walking a week with Wood in Uganda. Power died of heatstroke in his arms, even as Wood tried to resuscitate him.
Despite this scary waterless episode in the desert, Wood downplays the physical rigours as being essential in such adventures. Instead, he focuses on several contemporary issues of Africa – AIDS, conservation, the Rwandan Genocide, terrorism, exotic wildlife, ancient history, ecology, local foods and native religions. He also peppers tales about famed explorers like Burton, Grant, Speke, Stanley and Livingston. As his journey comes to an end at the spectacular coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Wood concludes in the final pages: “There was nowhere left to walk.”