My short bio: I am a 33 year old travel writer, risk consultant and history teacher. In June 2016 my friend Alfy and I kayaked, hiked and waded 1,300km along Angola’s longest river (The Kwanza). We raised over USD25,000 for The HALO Trust’s landmine removal work in Angola. Our expedition is currently being considered by Guinness World Records.

My proof: Here is a Tweet I just sent out from our official Twitter account: https://twitter.com/kayakthekwanza/status/965160846358929413. You can also view a full gallery of our expedition here: http://kayakthekwanza.com/gallery/. Or, if you would prefer video evidence, here is a 52 minute documentary of the whole journey than we released last year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIfnrQJVDVo&t= and here is me talking about the journey to The Royal Geographical Society in London: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4P0QOe-t_c&t=. We have also just released a book about the expedition which is being published by Unbound here: https://unbound.com/books/kayak-the-kwanza/. 25% of the profits from the book will be donated to The HALO Trust for them to continue their mine clearance work in Angola, which is one of the most landmine-affected countries in the world.

Keen to hear your questions!

EDIT [13:50 GMT Tuesday 20 February]: Thanks for all your questions and support for our efforts! If you want any more information, please get in touch via my Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/kayakthekwanza. Oh, and please buy our book (or e-book): https://unbound.com/books/kayak-the-kwanza/. Let's make Angola landmine free by 2025!

Comments: 555 • Responses: 111  • Date: 

huntergodina453 karma

Please share the story of the hippo attacks. What happened, and how did you all recover?

kayakthekwanza955 karma

There were a lot of hippos in the upper stages of the river. Luckily for us, due to poaching during the Angolan Civil War (1975 to 2002) many of them learned to be scared of humans, so often they would submerge and swim off before we even saw them. However, on this occasion we were paddling along and saw what we thought were two rocks in the middle of the river, about 200m up ahead. Our plan was to paddle straight in between them. It's very lucky that we didn't!

Out of nowhere, an Angolan man climbed up a tree on the bank and started shouting to us: "Do you have a rifle? Because they'll kill you!" We soon understood that he meant the rocks were actually hippos and that they were aggressive males. We spent a while trying to sneak past them, and in the end had to spend the night camping in the village that had been terrorised by these hippos for years.

The next day we set out early to try and get past them but they saw us coming and charged over to us and our guides, in a traditional pirogue up in front. Hippos can swim very quickly when they want to! They got within a few metres of our kayak, forcing us to dash to the opposite bank and climb up a tree to escape. We had to wait about half an hour up the tree before we could climb down and continue our journey. Total pain! I have a video of us up the tree looking out at the hippos, let me try and dig it out!

Here is the video: https://twitter.com/kayakthekwanza/status/929643680679518208

dontworryimstupid878 karma

In my experience when the Hippos start blowing bubbles it means they are going to attack.

Of course, my experience is limited to the Disneyland Jungle Ride.

kayakthekwanza279 karma

Lucky we didn't ask you for advice before setting out! Those beasts sound like air compressors going off when they surface and exhale. It's kinda scary.

AMELL88869 karma

Don’t be a pansy, you’re top of the food chain. /s

kayakthekwanza29 karma

You are nowhere near top of the food chain out in the African bush (especially without a rifle).

kayakthekwanza142 karma

They can also swim faster than we could paddle which was a bit worrying!

i_us_and_we58 karma

Holy fucking shit.

LarvaExMachina48 karma

Do you think they guy who warned you saved your life?

kayakthekwanza75 karma

Definitely, or at least saved the expedition. A smashed up Klepper at that point would have been game over.

huntergodina45 karma

Wow, crazy story, thanks for answering!

kayakthekwanza107 karma

No worries! We had a few other close encounters (including drifting directly over one while eating lunch, then startling it as we started paddling again). But this was the most exciting encounter!

Given how many people hippos kill every year, it could have gone a lot worse. Look what happened to this Nat Geo expedition in the same part of the world: https://storify.com/blprnt/hippo-attack-okavango15

BigB00st19 karma

What did you feel after that life threatening ecounter? Did you see your entire life pass through your eyes as they say?

kayakthekwanza36 karma

Nope. Just felt shaky from all the adrenaline, and happy not to have been tipped into the water!

ShortOkapi5 karma

What language did the local fellow shout in? I'm baffled that either he spoke that good English or you speak any Angolan language, including Portuguese.

kayakthekwanza8 karma

He shouted in Portuguese, which I speak well enough to understand his warning!

Madachode3 karma

What nationality are you?

kayakthekwanza4 karma

British and Italian.

TortuousHippo73 karma

We’re not all bad.

kayakthekwanza38 karma

Ha, I know! We love hippos really. I don't blame them for being territorial.

blackcloudcat338 karma

How much attention did the trip get in Angola? Were local people interested in what you were doing?

kayakthekwanza631 karma

The local media had no interest in our journey sadly. There was nobody waiting for us on the finish line except our friends and representatives from The HALO Trust. The only time we made it onto an Angolan news website was when we were arrested for spying! After the journey finished we got a bit more international attention and I wrote a story for the in-flight magazine of TAAG, the Angolan national airline.

The local people we met along the way were fascinated by our journey, and also helped us out loads. The further from the source we got, the more amazed they were. A lot of them thought it was impossible: too many hippos, rapids and waterfalls etc. I particularly enjoyed one comment from a fisherman we met: "Why don't you get an engine? It will be a lot quicker!"

newyorknewyork158 karma

Having completed the trip, is there anything you'd do differently if you were to do it over again?

kayakthekwanza288 karma

Yes, quite a few things!

1) Ensure that all of our mission-critical gear was secured to the kayak at all times (we lost my boots in rapids and my feet then got destroyed on the walking sections). You can see a screenshot of one of my feet here: http://kayakthekwanza.com/gallery/

2) Bring less crap! Our kit was way too heavy. We dumped about 5kg each after the first week as it was proving too difficult to carry.

3) In line with the comment above, don't bring a drone. In the end we only got two decent bits of footage with it and it just took up too much room (which is a shame, as the footage was beautiful). https://twitter.com/kayakthekwanza/status/915235961373626370

4) Not camp anywhere near the Capanda Dam: even though we had permission to be there from the relevant ministry, the Angolan security forces there freaked out that we were spying on the dam and arrested us (guns in our tents while we were sleeping). Not a pleasant 4 days!

5) Be more careful when navigating rapids: we sank and damaged the Klepper kayak in one set which was a disaster and meant serious delays. It was also not ideal from a safety point of view...

ddematteis43 karma

Were you not expecting rapids? You didn't seem like you were based on your kayak and you guys don't seem to be wearing helmets or PFDs in any of your pictures except one.

kayakthekwanza85 karma

We were expecting rapids. Alfy even had as many as he could mapped out from satellite photography. But our intention was to portage around all but the lightest of them. It didn't quite work out that way in the end! Helmets were just too much weight to justify. We had PFDs which we probably should have worn the whole time but I ended up using mine as a wedge underneath me to improve my seat position! I had real back issues after the first 40km of paddling due to my ride height.

ddematteis44 karma

I see, yeah I'd imagine that kind of distance would be pretty exhausting. The prospect of hippos would be enough for me to portage around the whole damn river.

kayakthekwanza29 karma

Ha, sadly impossible, but yea, it was stressful getting in every morning knowing they were out there.

ikinone13 karma

Can you list what gear you ended up sticking with? What did you ditch?

kayakthekwanza16 karma

We mainly ditched filming equipment / electronics. Here is a gear review that we did after the trip: https://kayakthekwanza.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/expedition-gear-reviews-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

Jonafushi152 karma

Other than hippos, what other wildlife did you see on your journey?

kayakthekwanza276 karma

We saw some very big crocodiles! Alfy is a keen birder, so he was able to record all sorts of species of birds as we went down the river (he kept a log for The Wild Bird Trust). We also saw mongoose on one of our hiking sections, and walked through a national park that is home to a man-eating lion (thankfully we didn't meet him!) Didn't see a single snake for the whole month which was a miracle. Our biggest animal hazard was mosquitoes. We got munched camping by the river so Malaria and Dengue were a big worry the whole trip.

murdering_time85 karma

If you're ever in danger around a crocodile, great rule of thumb is to get out of your kayak and slap em as hard as you can in the face. You'd think that this would enrage them, but no, it does the opposite. In fact they'll be so surprised that they'll give you mad props and swim away.

Edit: haha seriously? -20 yet someone gives me gold, makes it even better. Thank you mystery reddit benefactor, I hope you found my comment humorous.

kayakthekwanza3 karma

Seems like legit advice. We will try it next time.

terraculon81 karma

BIRD NERD

chilzdude721 karma

Am i missing a reference?

kayakthekwanza41 karma

Good question!

Thereem2 karma

Alfy is a keen birder

*Twitcher

Awesome story, have you got anything else planned?

kayakthekwanza8 karma

I am thinking of kayaking or hiking the longest river in Madagascar now, called the Mangoky. Only issue is Alfy is now based in Hong Kong, so might be a little difficult to coordinate! The good news is this river has no hippos. The bad news is that it's full of crocodiles and runs through bandit country (yes, they have actual cattle rustling bandits in Madagascar!)

kayakthekwanza6 karma

Before that though, we're trying to get our book of the expedition published (we're donating 25% of the profits to The HALO Trust): https://unbound.com/books/kayak-the-kwanza/

blackcloudcat111 karma

How much did the entire trip cost you, and how did you go about raising that money?

kayakthekwanza264 karma

Alfy and I set a budget of GBP3000 each for the trip (about USD4500 each back then). This had to cover all our expedition gear, food, transport, insurance, filming gear etc. We spent our own money on that - the USD25,000 we raised in sponsorship for The HALO Trust was not used to cover any of our expenses. We tried hard to find sponsors to give us free gear, and we got some good discounts from Voltaic (solar charging gear), Werner (paddles) and Water-To-Go (water filtration) but generally speaking no company is going to give a pair of unknowns money or free gear to go and do something potentially dangerous! We had to save money from work to pay for the expedition.

EDIT* We probably could have secured some money to do the trip if we had done a bit more research! Now that I am subscribed to the Royal Geographical Society mailing list, I see that they send round opportunities to apply for travel grants all the time. Also, after reading Canoeing The Congo by Phil Harwood, I noticed that his trip received a grant from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, and that they had even been looking to give cash to people for kayaking journeys in Africa before we left, but he hadn't found out about them then! https://www.wcmt.org.uk/users/philipharwood2008

nursere45 karma

So what did you use the HALO Trust money for?

kayakthekwanza216 karma

We gave it straight to The HALO Trust! It paid for two demining teams to work for one month down in Cuito Cuanavale, Angola. In total they removed 214 landmines from the ground. You can read a full report of their great work here: http://kayakthekwanza.com/full-report-from-the-halo-trust-what-your-donations-were-spent-on/

nursere39 karma

Oh oh oh! I understand now! How cool!

kayakthekwanza62 karma

Yea, the people down in Cuito Cuanavale are sadly living in Africa's most landmined town.

Asternon39 karma

Sometimes I forget just how lucky I am in to live in a country where towns can't be compared by number of active landmines...

kayakthekwanza23 karma

Yes, it's pretty shocking that anyone still uses landmines as a weapon of war, especially in a civil war. So short sighted, they take years to clean up!

blackcloudcat80 karma

Based on your experience, would do you something like that again? Or was once enough? If you would, do you have anything in mind for the next adventure?

kayakthekwanza146 karma

I would love to do something like that again, although on reflection we got very lucky paddling past that many hippos and not having any serious incidents!

I am thinking of kayaking or hiking the longest river in Madagascar now, called the Mangoky. Only issue is Alfy is now based in Hong Kong, so might be a little difficult to coordinate! The good news is this river has no hippos. The bad news is that it's full of crocodiles and runs through bandit country (yes, they have actual cattle rustling bandits in Madagascar!)

kayakthekwanza42 karma

The river runs straight through here: "Madagascar: Filming The Country's Lawless Red Zones" http://allafrica.com/stories/201707100313.html

trees_hug_me25 karma

If Alfy can't go, I'll join you! I've always wanted to travel to Madagascar.

kayakthekwanza22 karma

It's an amazing place. Have been living here since August 2017 and am loving it.

CarlinHicksCross11 karma

Out of curiosity what the hell do you do for work? How do you make money out there, it's incredibly poor. What is the living experience like there for an ex pat?

Edit: see your a risk consultant, other questions still stand though!

kayakthekwanza18 karma

Actually, I was working as a History teacher at Luanda International School in Angola. Most Angolans are very poor but Luanda is the most expensive city in the world for expatriates to live in. The rent on my apartment was $9000 a month in 2009! http://www.bbc.com/news/business-40346559

Iloveoscarscafidi74 karma

How did you and Alfy get through all those long cold nights alone without anybody else for company?

kayakthekwanza105 karma

Well, Alfy did actually suggest we share a tent at one stage to cut down on weight but I thought that was going a bit far! We both got very cold, got munched by mosquitoes then got into our damaged, leaking tents and prayed for the sun to rise as quickly as possible.

PorchHonky59 karma

You see a titty?

kayakthekwanza77 karma

No, we did not see any "titty" for the entire journey. All of the women we interacted with were fully clothed...

PorchHonky37 karma

Ah, sux bro. Sorry you wasted your time.

kayakthekwanza32 karma

I'm not sure that seeing "titty" was a major aim of ours on the expedition...

OscartheStallion56 karma

Did you miss your girlfriend when you were away?

kayakthekwanza104 karma

Yes, loads. We had a satellite phone, which we used to SMS our GPS coordinates to our tracking map every night (for safety reasons). However, we could not get enough signal to make voice calls, and it would have been very expensive anyway. I think the first time I spoke to my girlfriend was after the kayak sank in rapids, 10 days into the journey on 15th June. That was because we had to hitch into a nearby mining town (Camacupa) to try and get the kayak repaired. There we had phone signal. There were very few opportunities to contact loved ones throughout the journey.

the_halls_of_fame44 karma

What does a risk consultant do?

kayakthekwanza85 karma

They advise clients on risks their businesses or employees might face while working in a certain country or environment. Most of the time it's answering questions like: "Am I going to have to pay bribes, and if so, to whom?" "What are the odds that some powerful local person confiscates my assets?" "Are my staff at risk of getting kidnapped" "Will the government change the law and negatively affect my business interests" etc.

sing_me_a_guitar35 karma

How did you get into that line of work? Do you have a lot of experience or time in countries that present these potential risks?

kayakthekwanza72 karma

It definitely helps your credibility if you have experience of travelling to the countries that you are doing analysis on. Living and working in countries of interest also helps. I lived and worked in Angola for five years, for example. Doing security-related postgraduate study is also useful in terms of career prospects. My Masters was in Modern Warfare!

throwaway2358115 karma

My PhD is in Black Ops III

kayakthekwanza24 karma

That sounds awesome!

CaptainBouch20 karma

My thirteen year old self had one too

kayakthekwanza8 karma

Ha!

blackcloudcat42 karma

What does it mean that your expedition is "being considered by Guinness World Records"? How do you go about applying to them? How do you know / prove that you are the first full descent ever? And don't the days away thanks to the security forces kind of break the record claim for the descent?

kayakthekwanza72 karma

We spoke to Guinness World Records before going, and discussed various records that we would break by completing the expedition. I think we discussed "first source to sea navigation" as well as "fastest navigation" etc. You can register for an account on their website and do all this before your attempt: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/account/register?ReturnUrl=%2Faccount

They agree with you beforehand what kind of evidence required. Let me tell you right now: it is ridiculously thorough! No way you can lie your way into the record books. They want photos, videos, GPS trails, witness statements, so much stuff. I say our record is being considered, because we still haven't provided them with all the evidence they way (some of it sank to the bottom of the river in our crash!)

Yes, you're right, the 4 day delay while we were arrested and almost deported certainly affected our record. I think we are now going to apply for "longest distance kayaked on the Kwanza River" rather than fastest time-based records. We'll have to see though.

papi53017 karma

Do you have to pay Guinness world records when breaking a record in order to be recognized by them?

kayakthekwanza30 karma

No, it's all free. You can pay loads extra to have your record considered faster or to have them send an official judge, but otherwise you submit and wait a few months.

Furgles5 karma

They will usually bitch about the evidence and not answering your replies unless you pay them though. At least that is my experience with them.

kayakthekwanza14 karma

We have certainly had issues with the types of evidence they want. For example, trying to explain to them that we were unable to get witness statements all along the river as we were alone for long stretches was quite tricky!

Iloveoscarscafidi33 karma

What did you do to ease the rubbing from all that vigorous activity?

kayakthekwanza75 karma

I hope you're talking about the paddling and hiking!

I taped up my feet every morning with Micropore tape then tried to disinfect them in the evenings (kind of hard with no running water). My right foot got disgustingly infected. Alfy and I also both had to patch our hands up but our paddles were actually pretty comfortable to use.

StormMaster5033 karma

Was there ever a truly peaceful moment?

kayakthekwanza49 karma

Yes, there were some really pleasant lunch breaks we had, eating our biltong and peanuts while drifting along the river in complete silence. We also found some truly beautiful camping spots: totally isolated with great views of the river. My favourite time of the day was sunset. If everything had gone according to plan that day then by sunset we should have arrived at a camp, setup our tents, got a fire going and be about to cook dinner.

We also saw some amazing rapids and waterfalls, which under different circumstances would probably make popular tourist attractions.

blackcloudcat31 karma

You are crowdfunding the book, but you are a travel writer. You must have industry contacts. Why not go with a conventional publisher?

kayakthekwanza43 karma

I mainly write for Bradt Travel Guides, so this project wasn't really suitable for them. I did try and go via the conventional publishing route, but unfortunately nobody picked the book up. Expedition stories like this are considered quite niche, so it's very difficult to get them published unless you are already an established name or did something truly amazing (like Walking The Amazon!) Traditional publishers are not willing to take risks on something like this. Unbound works a little better because there is no risk for anyone: either we hit the funding target and publish, or we don't and it doesn't get published. Either way, nobody loses any money!

madman110130 karma

You say you were arrested for spying? How did that work? I didn’t see any one ask

kayakthekwanza99 karma

We were camping in a village near Capanda Hydroelectric Dam (which we had permission to do from the relevant ministry). Local security forces got over enthusiastic and thought we were spying on a "site of strategic interest" or diamond smuggling or some combination of the two. The whole thing was a mess. Gun barrels in tents while we were asleep, then handcuffed and carted off to jail in the middle of the night...

It took us four days to get out of that situation. They drove us all the way back to Luanda (in custody) which was 375km in the wrong direction, then tried to deport us! It took the intervention of the British Embassy, the Italian Embassy and the Minister of the Interior to make them see sense and release us. Crazy.

zbrogz29 karma

Did the local people speak English? Do you know any Portuguese?

kayakthekwanza45 karma

No, almost zero English. Angola was a Portuguese colony until 1975, so most people speak Portuguese. Yes, I can get by in Portuguese so communication was not a problem. Also, there were a lot of Congolese miners there working on the diamond mines along the river, so we could also speak French to a lot of them.

elizardbreathjonston25 karma

What kind of music were you exposed to on your journey?

kayakthekwanza72 karma

Alfy brought an iPod and mainly listened to podcasts when we got bored of speaking to each other (we spent up to 12 hours per day in the tandem kayak on the water paddling). I did not bring any music with me.

One evening we heard some awesome drumming in a village that was on the other side of the river, but generally speaking we didn't get much music for the whole month as we were so isolated! This is a shame as Angolan music is great.

1420p21 karma

How exausted were you?

kayakthekwanza55 karma

I have never been that tired or physically broken down in my life. Having to sit and paddle for 10+ hours per day in the blazing sun with the stress of hippos was tough, but those days of full paddling were preferable to the alternative: days where we had to get out, break down the Klepper kayak and carry all 110kg of our gear around obstacles. We did a 32km hike one day which was horrendous. I was popping Codeine the whole time to deal with the pain from my raw feet. Also didn't help that we had to carry our food so we were on limited rations the whole time, and constantly hungry. Alfy and I lost about 20kg between us over that month.

kayakthekwanza30 karma

Here is Alfy putting together the collapsible Klepper kayak, in case people aren't sure what it looks like:

https://preview.ibb.co/b52trS/Screen_Shot_2018_02_18_at_19_56_40.png

hanzahbonanza2 karma

That is brutal!!! You’re so dedicated. Sometimes the best adventures come with a price

kayakthekwanza2 karma

Yes. Definitely worth it in the end.

coltzxli20 karma

Were the hippos hungry hungry?

kayakthekwanza29 karma

Ha, yes they were! But I'm not sure they wanted to eat us. I just think they wanted to kill us for trespassing in their patch of river and going near their lady hippos!

OscartheStallion17 karma

You were away so long, you must have a kind and very patient girlfriend. What did you get her for Valentine’s Day?

kayakthekwanza37 karma

Ha, she's definitely very patient. As for what I got her for Valentine's Day: some wildly exotic goods from my recent trip to the Comoros (booze, chocolate and pure vanilla extract).

hellsingh12 karma

Why did you take such high risks to raise the money? Couldn't other options have raised more money? After completing the whole journey what did you feel?
What's the first thing you did after finishing this?

kayakthekwanza27 karma

Alfy and I both agreed that the risks were within acceptable parameters. We might have slightly miscalculated in terms of how many hippos we thought we would have to deal with though!

I have no idea if other options could have raised more money. I think USD25,000 was pretty good going. It paid for two demining teams to work for one month down in Cuito Cuanavale, Angola. In total they removed 214 landmines from the ground. You can read a full report of their great work here: http://kayakthekwanza.com/full-report-from-the-halo-trust-what-your-donations-were-spent-on/

When we finished, we both felt great relief that the journey was over with no major injuries or incidents. I was also quite angry that the Angolan security forces had arrested and detained us so arbitrarily, especially as we were raising money for a good cause in their country (I mean, landmine clearance is hardly a controversial charity activity - even the Taliban want mine clearance!)

The first thing we did when we finished was sit down for an all you can eat buffet at the Kwanza Lodge, which is a tourist lodge mainly used by sport fishermen right on the mouth of the river. Alfy's father had rightly guessed that we would be starving and kindly paid for our lunch. It felt amazing to stuff our faces with all sorts of foods that we hadn't eaten for a month and catch up with old friends!

hellsingh8 karma

It's awesome to hear and see a report on what your donations have helped to achieve. I kind of guessed that you would have stuffed your faces after finishing. Lol.

Thank you for being kind human beings trying to help make the world a better place. Wishing you best of luck for your future endeavors.

kayakthekwanza11 karma

Thanks for taking an interest! Angola is really opening up with their new President and they are making it easier for foreigners to get in (the visas used to be a nightmare). Hopefully all of this publicity will help to remove all those landmines sooner rather than later!

Delben-Q-Taco11 karma

As an avid kayaker I really enjoyed watching your journey a while back. What amazing experience! Would love to have the guts to do the same.

IIRC you guys talked a lot about your fear for close encounters with the diamond smugglers. That never ended being one of your main problems, but what can you tell us about your strategies to avoid these people?

kayakthekwanza21 karma

In the end there was no avoiding them, as they were dredging the middle of the river to get the silt out and sift for diamonds. We literally had to paddle right past them most days. Turns out they couldn't have been nicer! We camped with them loads and shared stories and they even sold us what few goods they had in camp (usually soft drinks). They were also a great source of information about the river layout up ahead and any dangers like rapids or waterfalls.

OscartheStallion11 karma

I was fortunate enough to attend a National Geographic lecture you spoke at where you stated Stone Cold Steve Austin as a major influence on your life. What characteristics do you most admire about this famous WWE wrestler?

kayakthekwanza6 karma

I think you were maybe listening to a different lecture! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4P0QOe-t_c&t=

OscartheStallion6 karma

I am truly inspired by your adventures. As you say, publishing is difficult unless you can hit truly inspiring heights like “walking the amazon”. What is your next adventure? I believe hunting for yetis used to be a passion of yours

kayakthekwanza8 karma

I think I might try and either hike or kayak the longest river in Madagascar with my best buddy (his name's Dave). The issue is finding a time period when we're both free for a few weeks.

ramcinty10 karma

Do you have any other similar trips planned?

kayakthekwanza6 karma

I am thinking of kayaking or hiking the longest river in Madagascar now, called the Mangoky. Only issue is Alfy is now based in Hong Kong, so might be a little difficult to coordinate! The good news is this river has no hippos. The bad news is that it's full of crocodiles and runs through bandit country (yes, they have actual cattle rustling bandits in Madagascar!)

kayakthekwanza7 karma

I am now living and working in Madagascar by the way, hence the Madagascar focus...

RuiningYourJokes7 karma

What did you see that suprised you the most?

kayakthekwanza13 karma

The intensity and scale of diamond mining (both legal and illegal) on the upper stretches of the river. They were really trashing the environment up there. You can see some of it recorded in our documentary at the 15 min and 27 secs mark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIfnrQJVDVo&t=

SikfoK6 karma

Why did you do it?

kayakthekwanza11 karma

I had left Angola in June 2014 and wanted an excuse to go back. Alfy was still working in Angola, but had found out that he was soon going to be transferred by his work to Hong Kong. He also knew that he would have a two month gap between ending work in Angola and having to report for duty in Hong Kong. He was the one who came up with the idea for the expedition: he already had the Klepper kayak in-country and had already done a shorter expedition with his brothers on the lower stretches of the Kwanza River. I guess he knew I would be the only person stupid enough to say yes to his idea of trying the whole river!

fearthefiddler6 karma

Following on from reference to Hippo attacks, the tragic death of kayaker Hendri Coatzee, possible sepsis from untreated foot infections , what is your philosophy of life and death? How do you perceive the phenomenon of death? Do you believe in a soul/karma/after life ? Do any such beliefs make your journey easier? What drives you to risk your life for others ?

kayakthekwanza16 karma

I do not believe in any sort of after life. Once you're gone you're gone. I would imagine this probably leads me to be more careful with my life, as I'm not expecting to get a re-run after I die!

I'm not sure the motivation for our trip was entirely altruistic. Alfy and I probably would have done it regardless of whether we had been raising money for a charity. We just thought the journey might capture the public interest, and it would be a shame not to harness that to do some good in Angola.

trees_hug_me6 karma

What made you choose this river in this country? Had you previously been to Angola before or did you just throw a dart at a map one day and decide that's where you're going? Also, where is the source of the Kwanza river? Do you have coordinates of where you started? I was trying to trace your path on Google Earth from the ocean but the river gets very obscure the further inland you go. Anyway, thanks for sharing, and I'm looking forward to reading your book.

kayakthekwanza11 karma

We chose Angola because I had lived and worked there for five years and Alfy three, so we knew the country well and had a network of contacts in-country that would help with getting permits and organising logistics. It would have been ten times harder to do it in a random African country neither of us had ever been to.

The source of the Kwanza River is about 55km SE of the town of Soma Cuanza in Bié Province. I haven't got my GPS log with me at the moment, but will try and add the exact location as a GPS point tomorrow.

DaniliniHD5 karma

How did you arrange a trip like this in a country like Angola? It's not exactly the nicest holiday destination. Did the government help out?

kayakthekwanza7 karma

No help from the government, no. Although Alfy spent months speaking to various ministries to get a load of permits for us to do the trip, this ended up being wasted effort because we still got arrested!

Have to disagree with your assessment of Angola as a holiday destination though. Parts of it are absolutely stunning and it has some of the best surf in the world! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ni_xEeAAle0

Aimintoh5 karma

Are you ok, mentally and physically after all that?

kayakthekwanza10 karma

Yup, no lasting damage! Even gave me a newfound appreciation for the comfort I generally live in. Being freezing at night / boiling during the day / constantly bitten by mosquitoes / injured for a good month really grinds you down!

FRIENDLY_CANADIAN4 karma

Can you outline the technological specs, innovations and challenges of having your followers track you while you were on the journey?

I presume a simple GPS ping fed into a backend that auto-updated based on it?

Did you have anyone at home as a "home base" to make sure it was running well, or was it all done remotely on your end?

Was It easier/Harder than anticipated? I've considered setting something up just to keep me safe when I travel, in case I ever dissappear, someone could report my last known position.

kayakthekwanza6 karma

That is exactly how the GPS system worked, and we had a live map on http://kayakthekwanza.com/ where people could track us. All of this was custom built by Anthony Goddard over at https://zerosixzero.org/. My brother monitored it and Anthony ensured it was actually updating, but it was all automated based on an SMS we sent every night (we would sent the same location message to ZeroSixZero, then to The HALO Trust's rep in-country in case they needed to send a rescue team).

It was very easy to setup, but you'd have to ask Anthony about the technical aspects of it. We had no idea if it was working because it was hard to tell if our texts were getting through.

ZEDZANO4 karma

What happened that got you arrested?

kayakthekwanza9 karma

We were camping in a village near Capanda Hydroelectric Dam (which we had permission to do from the relevant ministry). Local security forces got over enthusiastic and thought we were spying on a "site of strategic interest" or diamond smuggling or some combination of the two. The whole thing was a mess. Gun barrels in tents while we were asleep, then handcuffed and carted off to jail in the middle of the night...

ZEDZANO4 karma

That sucks.

kayakthekwanza15 karma

Certainly did! Worse for Alfy though. I knew if was the police being idiots, so I cooperated (not that I could do much else, my feet were screwed). Alfy on the other hand, assumed we were being robbed by bandits and tried to resist. Got a knee in the back of the head for his troubles!

blackcloudcat4 karma

Your trip didn't get much coverage in UK or western adventure media. Do you think that's because people aren't interested in Angola? Or you didn't do (by choice or by accident) enough media and social media outreach? Something else?

kayakthekwanza15 karma

We did a fair bit of social media outreach, but almost exclusively to drive donations to the JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/kayakthekwanza. We never tried to sell the story to anyone before going, as it would have been very difficult. My experience from doing other overland trips is that editors are only really interested if you can present them with a finished product (i.e. text and photos), not your initial idea. This is especially true if you are an unknown commodity or doing something where you might fail.

Once we got back we put the documentary film together quite quickly and had it in film festivals within four months of the end of the expedition. You can see all the entries here: https://kayakthekwanza.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/kayak-the-kwanza-june-2017-updates/. I also gave a talk about it at The Royal Geographical Society (linked in a previous comment).

But you're right, I did not write much about the journey and Western media did not show much interest in it. I think part of it is that people in the West generally know very little about Angola, so there's less demand for information and stories from Angola. Perhaps we could have done a better job of sensationalising the journey, Bear Grylls it up and emphasise the dangerous elements more?

blackcloudcat3 karma

Are you happy with what you raised for HALO? Charity raising off the back of expeditions seems to be such a crap shoot. Some projects raise huge amounts but many only get into the 100s or the low 1000s. And which came first? Raising for HALO and then looking for a project that would do that. Or the trip, and then looking for a suitable charity to link the adventure to?

kayakthekwanza5 karma

We were very happy with USD25,000. Our original aim was USD10,000, as that paid for one demining team to work for one month in Cuito Cuanavale. Nice to have a specific target for the funds.

The trip definitely came first, then choosing HALO. I actually thought of them based on my visit to a minefield in Angola a few years earlier: http://kayakthekwanza.com/my-visit-to-an-angolan-minefield/

BVB09_FL4 karma

You say your a risk consultant and reading your responses for your job description and what you do. Have you served in any armed forces?

kayakthekwanza7 karma

Nope, never, although it does tend to attract a lot of ex-military types.

PHisHnGrOoViNg4 karma

Would you rather fight 15 penguin sized angolians, or 1 angolian sized penguin?

kayakthekwanza6 karma

I'm amazed that this question took so long to come up. I think I'll go for the 1 x Angolan sized penguin, because I don't see how even a really big penguin would be able to fight back with those flippers...

alwayslearning0033 karma

What was your motivation to do something like this? What kept you going through the journey?

kayakthekwanza6 karma

I had left Angola in June 2014 and wanted an excuse to go back. Alfy was still working in Angola, but had found out that he was soon going to be transferred by his work to Hong Kong. He also knew that he would have a two month gap between ending work in Angola and having to report for duty in Hong Kong. He was the one who came up with the idea for the expedition: he already had the Klepper kayak in-country and had already done a shorter expedition with his brothers on the lower stretches of the Kwanza River. I guess he knew I would be the only person stupid enough to say yes to his idea of trying the whole river!

What kept us going was the fact people had paid thousands of US Dollars in sponsorship and we had stood in front of crowds of people and told them we were going to do this. We had plastered it all over social media. We were determined not to fail.

Owlit3 karma

What was the hardest moment during your aventure? Were there times you were tempted to give up?

kayakthekwanza11 karma

Probably the day where we had to walk 32km with all of our kit to get around a load of rapids and waterfalls. By that stage my feet were destroyed and it was very hilly countryside and very hot. My boots were making squelching noises as I walked from all the pus and blood coming out of my feet into my socks. That was definitely the closest I came to giving up. If it weren't for the heavy duty painkillers and Alfy taking over the heavy carrying part way through, I don't think I would have finished that section.

Owlit3 karma

Thanks for answering. I am amazed at what you were able to do... You, sir, have my admiration!

kayakthekwanza4 karma

Thanks, happy to share the story with so many new people!

AVLPedalPunk3 karma

What do you think will be the lasting personal takeaways that you gain from this experience? Also are the any things about this experience that you might consider a downside?

kayakthekwanza8 karma

Main takeaway is the importance of mental strength. I was amazed at what my body would continue to do as long as I kept telling it to. I think your mind definitely tried to give up before your muscles on something like this. Alfy said it best when we were discussing what to do about my feet: "It's not a mechanical problem like a busted knee, so you can just keep going." Sounds unsympathetic, but it's exactly right.

Also, it was amazing to experience the highs and lows of isolated expedition travel. It was like being manic depressive: one moment everything is fantastic and the next you are dealing with a seemingly major disaster and everything looks really bleak. It's kind of exhausting being on this emotional rollercoaster day-in, day-out.

Only downside, on reflection, was the exposure to risk. Still makes me uncomfortable thinking about it. Way too many hippos and way too many rapids. I don't think you could do that journey too many times and come away unscathed. But I cannot see how we could have researched those isolated upper stretches in any more detail without going there and walking the whole thing before starting, which is impossible.

TMatt1423 karma

What would you be going into the Guinness book for?

kayakthekwanza5 karma

Good question! Probably "longest distance kayaked on the Kwanza River" or "First navigation of the Kwanza River". We'll see.

broken_lilpieces3 karma

How can I do something like this?

kayakthekwanza11 karma

I read a while ago that the best adventure travel sponsor in the world was JustEat (or maybe it was Uber?) Either way, the point of the comment was that nobody is going to give you free stuff to go on an expedition, so don't waste time trying to attract sponsors. Just accept you'll be spending your own money on it and then go out and earn what you need to make it happen! GBP3000 is a lot of money for me to have spent on a month long trip, but I am really glad I had that experience. Plus we raised loads of money for a good cause, which makes me feel better about the expenditure.

I think once you've set yourself a budget then the rest is easy: do the training, get the gear, do your research and then go out and have a go. I had never kayaked more than for about 30 minutes before this expedition. So I joined a kayaking club, told them what I was planning and did a lot of training on the River Thames in London. I also went to a whitewater rafting centre and did some safety courses. Again, they were more than willing to help. The internet is a great resource: you can contact loads of people with relevant experience who can help you plan. We found out all about hippo populations, air evacuation and river flow rates by speaking to experts with on the ground experience before we set out. In total, the planning took us around 9 months.

Your first trip does not have to be expensive or dangerous or even for a long period of time. The adventurer Alastair Humphreys has some great advice on doing "microadventures" here: http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/microadventures-3/

blackcloudcat3 karma

Presumably the book will eventually make you some money. How does the film work? You have to edit it - that takes time and equipment. Did you do that yourself? Do you have to pay to enter it in all those film festivals? Is there any way in which you eventually get money back from an adventure film?

kayakthekwanza6 karma

I have no idea if the book will make us money. Royalties with Unbound are split 50 / 50 between them (the publisher) and me (the author) once printing fees are deducted. I am donating half of my split to The HALO Trust so that they can continue their work in Angola. At the moment we only have 29 backers, so it will be a long way to go before we even get published! https://unbound.com/books/kayak-the-kwanza/

The film was just a personal thing to keep a record of the journey and share with friends. Alfy and I split the cost of the filming equipment 50/50 before the expedition (this was basically a DJI Phantom 3 Standard drone plus an HD camera - I already had two GoPros). My friend Carl is a filmmaker and kindly helped cut all the raw footage together over a long weekend at his home in Southampton, UK. He did it free of charge, the legend!

I paid to enter it into all of those film festivals. I paid $189.40 in total to enter it into 11 competitions. It was shortlisted in four and won two, which was great for publicising the fundraising efforts, but did not make me any money back.

Looking back on it, we probably could have monetised the film by selling it on Vimeo or something like this: http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/books-2/intotheemptyquarter-store-2/

mape973 karma

Hello Mr. Scafidi. I was one of your students in Angola back in 2011. what made you leave Angola in 2014, and how was your life prior to your departure?

kayakthekwanza3 karma

Of course I should have asked: which student?! How are you? Where are you now?

bluelarios132 karma

Why?

kayakthekwanza1 karma

Ha, love FOTC!

kayakthekwanza3 karma

Please could you be a bit more specific with your question and I'll try to answer?

Wheredoesthetoastgo22 karma

They're asking, why did you go on a fund raising expedition to raise money to help remove landmines from a war torn country, thus saving lives of innocent civilians?

kayakthekwanza1 karma

Ah, OK. We went on an expedition because it was something Alfy and I wanted to do. We then decided we should probably raise some money for charity while doing it! The HALO Trust made sense based on a previous trip of mine to one of their minefields: http://kayakthekwanza.com/my-visit-to-an-angolan-minefield/

aparracaz1 karma

do you have another trip in the works?

kayakthekwanza1 karma

I am thinking of kayaking or hiking the longest river in Madagascar now, called the Mangoky. Only issue is Alfy is now based in Hong Kong, so might be a little difficult to coordinate! The good news is this river has no hippos. The bad news is that it's full of crocodiles and runs through bandit country (yes, they have actual cattle rustling bandits in Madagascar!)

Gcons242 karma

How many times did you think "I guess this is how I am going to die?"

kayakthekwanza5 karma

Not sure I ever thought that. Had a few near-misses with hippos where they vanished underwater and we were paddling hard and I was just anticipating the bump where it bit up through the kayak and threw us into the river. That was about as hairy as it got.

cpeterkelly2 karma

Can you share the considerations that went into choosing kayak, type, construction, and logistics of getting it where you needed?

kayakthekwanza6 karma

The kayak needed to:

a) be capable of doing at least 60km per day on a river with a very slow flow rate

b) be collapsible and splittable between our two hiking bags

c) be light enough that we could actually carry it

d) be easy to repair without specialist equipment

e) be rigid enough to handle some light-ish rapids

f) have covered areas to keep stored kit dry

In the end, Alfy already had the perfect kayak out in Angola already (Klepper Aerius II 545 CLASSIC), which was lucky! The logistics involved me getting the carbon fibre Werner paddles, the spare parts and all the other gear into the country. It all came in as excess baggage on Brussels Airlines.

Slutha2 karma

What did you do for drinking water?

kayakthekwanza5 karma

We used Water-To-Go water filtration bottles and drank straight from the river: https://www.watertogo.eu/

When we lost those bottles in the sinking, we used our backup system which was http://www.lifestraw.com/ but they were slow and awful and we basically got dehydrated!

StevenSavelo2 karma

Do you know what the British Embassy had to say to the security forces to get you out of this situation?

What is the most interesting cultural thing you've learned whilst on this journey?

Congratulations on this feat by the way! An incredible story and definitely sounds like a dream of any adventurer. Must've taken herculean efforts to endure through the tough conditions.

Personally, I've always dreamed of doing these sort of things. Kayaking the longest rivers, scaling the fourteen eight thousanders etc., but the obstacle is being able to live uncomfortably for an extended period of time. Dont know if I have it in me.

kayakthekwanza3 karma

We have no idea what they said! We just found it very amusing when the boss of the illegal immigration detention centre we were in suddenly changed his tune after getting a phone call from someone clearly higher up than him. Could have been the British Embassy pulling strings through connections with the President's daughter Isabel. Could have been the Italian embassy doing the same via the Ministry of Interior. I don't think we'll ever know!

The most interesting cultural thing was about how information flows through rural communities with no mobile phone coverage. We were amazed at how word of our impending arrival moved down the river via word of mouth in the fishing communities!

As for the discomfort: you get used to it after a while. The most uncomfortable thing about the whole experience was my crappy tent: too small and constantly cold and leaking. Not good after a long day of kayaking!

StevenSavelo2 karma

The speed at which the information flowed sounds insane. The fact that those words travelled faster than you kayak down to the e next community is kinda funny to think about. I just imagine a long chain of people, sitting knee to knee along the river and playing Chinese whispers haha.

With regards to your whole situation going on with the tent, what could you do differently next time to prevent the tent from breaking down? Or what tools/gears could you bring to fix it in future adventures?

kayakthekwanza2 karma

Nothing I could have done about the tent. They sold me a faulty manufactured one, which was annoying as it was a very expensive Terra Nova tent.

Actually, I guess I could have used it for a few weeks before the expedition to ensure it worked properly!

Thunderfin2 karma

What's your next adventure?

kayakthekwanza4 karma

I am thinking of kayaking or hiking the longest river in Madagascar now, called the Mangoky. Only issue is Alfy is now based in Hong Kong, so might be a little difficult to coordinate! The good news is this river has no hippos. The bad news is that it's full of crocodiles and runs through bandit country (yes, they have actual cattle rustling bandits in Madagascar!)

Thunderfin1 karma

Wow, that sounds awesome. Stay safe!

What would your advice be to someone who's 19 and loves to travel? I've only been to a few asian countries (most recently backpacked Cambodia & Vietnam with a friend), Costa Rica and the US/Canada. Would love to visit Europe and Central Asia someday. Should I try to plan trips here and there or wait until my 30s/40s when I have an income, then go?

Also, can you debunk common "myths" about traveling in Africa (safety, etc.)? I know there's so much to see there, but as I'm kind of scared of stepping foot in most countries there.

Thanks.

kayakthekwanza4 karma

Africa definitely has a bad reputation but I think a lot of that is due to lack of knowledge. People look at somewhere like Somalia and assume that is what it's like in all 54 African nations, which is ridiculous. If you do your research, you will be fine. All the information is out there online to help you stay safe, you just have to hunt it down. Thorn Tree Forums are a great resource for this.

My advice would be go now, don't wait! Also, if you want to do it cheaply, then start obsessing about air miles. I am totally addicted and they make travel so much cheaper: credit card sign-up bonuses, superstore points schemes etc. As a former UK resident, this place was my go-to resource: https://www.headforpoints.com/

P.S. Central Asia is amazing! I did Tajikistan and Afghanistan and loved both.

Thunderfin1 karma

Great, thank you for all the info. Was thinking about going to Mongolia this summer for a bit since I'll be in Asia for something else, and you've convinced me. If I have any other questions I'll PM you.

Cheers!

kayakthekwanza2 karma

Go for it! You should look into something like the Mongol Rally. That's an amusing and cheap way to travel: http://www.theadventurists.com/mongol-rally/

My friend and I did something similar through Africa many years ago in a crappy Land Rover: http://polosbastards.com/west-africa-monrovia-or-bust/

BigB00st2 karma

What`s the story around getting arrested at gunpoint?

kayakthekwanza6 karma

We were camping in a village near Capanda Hydroelectric Dam (which we had permission to do from the relevant ministry). Local security forces got over enthusiastic and thought we were spying on a "site of strategic interest" or diamond smuggling or some combination of the two. The whole thing was a mess. Gun barrels in tents while we were asleep, then handcuffed and carted off to jail in the middle of the night...

It took us four days to get out of that situation. They drove us all the way back to Luanda (in custody) which was 375km in the wrong direction, then tried to deport us! It took the intervention of the British Embassy, the Italian Embassy and the Minister of the Interior to make them see sense and release us. Crazy.

Phinerxen2 karma

I saw the drawing of the Reddit Mascot. How havent you pursued art? It looks beautiful!/s

kayakthekwanza6 karma

Ha, thank you! My history students often comment on my gloriously bad pictures on the whiteboard in class!

mjdaniell2 karma

What happened for you to be arrested at gunpoint?

kayakthekwanza3 karma

We were camping in a village near Capanda Hydroelectric Dam (which we had permission to do from the relevant ministry). Local security forces got over enthusiastic and thought we were spying on a "site of strategic interest" or diamond smuggling or some combination of the two. The whole thing was a mess. Gun barrels in tents while we were asleep, then handcuffed and carted off to jail in the middle of the night...

wingzone2 karma

Did you know Hendrik Coetzee?

My brother lives in Uganda, have heard some crazy stories about being on the river.

kayakthekwanza7 karma

Yes, I did hear the sad story about Mr Coetzee. He was eaten on the Congo River by a crocodile that had gotten used to human flesh from all the bodies soldiers threw into the water during the civil war there. The kayakers he was with even caught the attack on GoPro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUQwshNwqa0 [jump to 2 mins 40 secs].

Crocs were not a big concern to be honest (even though we saw some huge ones). They tended to view our Klepper as a very big other animal that they did not want to go near. We were 5.45 metres long after all. It was hippos that gave us all the problems. They are very territorial and would happily bite through the kayak to get to us.

brokedownpussywagon2 karma

What's your favorite all-purpose kayak?

kayakthekwanza7 karma

I'm now sold on the Klepper. We looked into getting a super light packraft from https://www.alpackaraft.com/rafting/ but the top speed was way too slow and I didn't fancy being out on the water with crocodiles around in an inflatable!

We had a 5.45m Klepper Aerius II Classic. Absolutely amazing design, made back before WWII and still used by special forces today. https://paddling.com/reviews/product/klepper-kayaks-aerius-ii-545-classic-kayak/

In fact, it's so badass that in 1957 this German guy called Hannes Lindemann crossed the Atlantic Ocean in one! http://www.marcusschuetz.org/blog/2016/6/26/hannes-lindemanns-klepper-aerius-ii

Emphursis1 karma

How did you get the idea for the trip (or join it) and was it difficult to arrange?

kayakthekwanza3 karma

I had left Angola in June 2014 and wanted an excuse to go back. Alfy was still working in Angola, but had found out that he was soon going to be transferred by his work to Hong Kong. He also knew that he would have a two month gap between ending work in Angola and having to report for duty in Hong Kong. He was the one who came up with the idea for the expedition: he already had the Klepper kayak in-country and had already done a shorter expedition with his brothers on the lower stretches of the Kwanza River. I guess he knew I would be the only person stupid enough to say yes to his idea of trying the whole river!

Yes, it was very difficult to arrange. Took us 9 months of planning in fact. The south-east of Angola is an extremely isolated, wild part of Africa. You can get a good sense of it by checking out another expedition that goes there every year, the National Geographic Into the Okavango team: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/okavango/

ilivewhereyouvacatio1 karma

Is this a trip that you took for yourselves for travel/entertainment/personal accomplishement purposes? and decided to share it after? Or is this a trip you made with the intent of documentary/book/record/etc.

kayakthekwanza2 karma

It was a personal thing, mainly for our own personal accomplishment. I thought that filming it would help generate more donations, which it did. The record and the book idea all came afterwards, although we did both keep journals during the expedition.

ancap171 karma

Why did you choose Angola? Would you recommend other people to visit?

kayakthekwanza3 karma

We chose Angola because I had lived and worked there for five years and Alfy three, so we knew the country well and had a network of contacts in-country that would help with getting permits and organising logistics. It would have been ten times harder to do it in a random African country neither of us had ever been to.

No, I don't think I would recommend it in terms of going on a wilderness expedition. It's still a very difficult place to travel around unless you have support in-country, and the south east is extremely remote. But as a tourist destination, I would highly recommend it, Luanda is amazing and flights there are getting cheaper! (I am slightly biased though, having written a travel guide to the country: https://www.bradtguides.com/destinations/africa/angola.html)

ConfidentBoner1 karma

Do people ever pronounce your name in exaggerated Italian?

O scar Scafi di

kayakthekwanza1 karma

I'm half Italian and grew up in Rome, so SI!

Future_Pres1dent-7 karma

So, when did you decide that you wanted to die?

kayakthekwanza4 karma

Erm...we never decided we wanted to die. We spent 9 months planning for the expedition with the specific aim of not dying when we went out there.