Mama Afrika’s most-travelled man set off on a unique humanitarian expedition to find the beating heart of the African continent, as scientifically determined by the Department of Environmental and Geographic Science at the University of Cape Town.
With the majority of the journey completed in the specially outfitted Land Rovers, the last section of the forest trek required the team to park their vehicles and proceed on foot. Joining the expedition were 14 Ba’aka pygmies, who played the role of porters as they carried tents, bedrolls, water, food, satellite phones and, of course, three GPS devices to help pinpoint the exact location of the Heart of Africa.
“Vivankwako – I greet you Ba’aka, men of this great forest and swamps. It is only with your knowledge that we can survive and cut a path to the heart,” said Kingsley. “My friends, we need your help.”
Despite their great knowledge of the forests they call home, the pygmies had no concept of what Africa looks like on a map, not to mention where its heart would be found or the co-ordinates that were scribbled in the margins.
“After 9 000 kilometres in our Landies, across six countries, it’s the last 17 kilometres that nearly killed us,” said Holgate. “It became a physical and emotional nightmare of endurance, and the longest seven days of my life,” he added.
Sensing the determination in the explorers after seven hours and 1.7 kilometres later all three GPS units read “17.05291°E, 2.07035°N” – the exact co-ordinates as supplied by the University of Cape Town, and verified by the International Geographic Union.
Filled with emotion, the expedition crew and Ba’aka teamed up to screw the Heart of Africa beacon into the roots of an old tree. Greybeard unscrewed the traditional African gourd, containing symbolic waters from the Cradle of Humankind, and poured its contents onto the site.