What’s going on with our book of the Angola kayak expedition?

It has been a while since the last update, and as you may have seen, we now have a great-looking new website, courtesy of Erik Beyer. Please head along to www.kayakthekwanza.com and join our mailing list for automatic updates whenever there is a new blog post!

finished-draft-book

On the book front, we are tantalisingly close to getting our story out there, but as yet no firm commitments from publishers or publication date. In short:

  • Alfy has finally finished writing the foreword!
  • The book has been fully edited based on feedback from Sam Jordison over at The Writers’ Workshop
  • Based on advice from a number of authors, including the legendary Phil Harwood (first man to canoe source to sea along Congo River), the book is now with about eight agents and publishers for consideration, including:

Based on their usual turnaround time of 2 to 3 months (!) we should start hearing from publishers and agents around Christmas or early January 2018. Fingers crossed and we will keep you posted!

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Review of Canoeing The Congo by Phil Harwood

This is the story of the first source-to-sea descent of the Congo River, completed by former Royal Marine Phil Harwood.

canoeing-the-congo-the-first-source-to-sea-descent-of-the-congo-river

Here’s the blurb from the book:

Canoeing the Congo narrates the journey of Phil Harwood, who undertook an epic five-month solo attempt to canoe the Congo River in war-torn Central Africa. It was a historic ‘first descent’ from the true source in the highlands of Zambia. Just short of 3,000 miles long, the Congo River is the eighth longest in the world and the deepest river in the world, with a flow rate second only to the Amazon. Along the way, Phil encountered numerous waterfalls, huge rapids, man-eating crocodiles, hippos, aggressive snakes and spiders’ webs the size of houses. He faced endemic corruption, was arrested, intimidated, bullied, chased and he received numerous death threats. He also collapsed from malaria. The people were mostly friendly, however, and Phil received tremendous hospitality from a proud and brave people, especially from the riverside fishermen who helped him wherever they could. On one stretch of river known as ‘The Abattoir’ due to its past history of cannibalism and current reputation for criminal activity, he hired four brothers with a shotgun to accompany him as bodyguards. They paddled and floated for five days and nights on the river. Common questions from locals were, “why haven’t you cut his throat yet?” and “if you don’t want to do it, tell us where your camping and we’ll come and do it for you …We’ll share his money.” It was an exhilarating, terrifying and wonderful journey but Phil managed to survive, despite the odds, to tell his story. Canoeing the Congo will appeal to fans of adventurous travel writing and people who love the nature and wilderness.

I really enjoyed this book. Firstly, because it tells the story of a truly epic expedition. He covered around 4700km in five months along a very remote and treacherous African river. That in itself is worthy of praise. However, Phil manages to avoid the main element that I find frustrating in the adventure travel genre: hyping up the danger. It fact, without a bit of background research, the casual reader might come away without any idea just how dangerous the journey was. Hippos, crocodiles, rapids, Malaria and political instability all could have brought the expedition to a tragic conclusion, but Phil outlines the risks with refreshing understatement.

I also thought the relationships Phil describes were great. Local fishermen such as the brothers Leonardo, John, and Valatay or aspiring pharmacy owner Janvier really stick in the memory and help to give a voice to these remote river communities. It is a shame that their generosity contrasts so starkly with the greed of the numerous officials that we meet along the way. Having travelled (and been arrested) in the DRC, I can tell that these descriptions of encounters with military, law enforcement and customs officials and not exaggerations!

There is some justifiable criticism of the role of the international community in the DRC, and a few unsavoury characters stand out. In particular, the sleazy expatriate called Pierre he meets at the end of the journey:

You’re lucky to be alive. These people are not like you and me.

If you have lived or worked in Africa, these descriptions will certainly resonate, and again, the contrast with the local fishermen is stark.

We hear a little of the tragic recent history of the areas that he passes through, but the history is never intrusive. He has done a good job of condensing a five month journey down to a 274 page book, with a more in-depth focus on the wild, remote early stages of the expedition. We get snippets of Conrad, Stanley and Livingstone from time to time, which have caused outrage amongst some commentators. However, I never get the impression that Phil is living a colonial fantasy, or trying to make comparisons between himself and the Victorian explorers. I just think their activities on the river are easy reference points throughout the journey, and serve to break up the journey.

A few online reviewers have commented on the lack of reflection in Phil’s writing. This is something I would partially agree with. One reviewer on Amazon commented:

Way too often we’re just placed in the back seat of Superman, who looks hard at everyone he meets, shakes hands, gives the poor buggers a bag of rice and refuses to budge when they come crawling out for money.

I would not go that far, but it would be nice to hear a little more from Phil on how he reacted to some of the challenges he faced, and what was going through his mind at the time. It seems unlikely that there were not more moments of terror or despair, but we do not hear much about them here. Likewise, details on the motivations for the trip are quite patchy. This is a fascinating area that I would love to learn more about.

Overall, this is a highly readable account of an incredible journey. He mentions something about doing the Zambezi next. I hope he does, and writes us a similar account to enjoy!

Kayak The Kwanza: June 2017 Updates

Film Festivals

Below you can see our updated dashboard from Film Freeway, which is a great tool to submit to hundreds of film festivals and screenplay contests in one simple place. We were one of the 2017 Seven Summits Award Winners in the Mountain Film Festival (category: action sports), which is great publicity for The HALO Trust’s work in Angola. We are also currently the most viewed film in the Travel FilmFest International Documentary Feature category. You can also watch our film on the big screen at the Adventure Travel Film Festival in London. It runs Friday 11 August to Sunday 13 August in Mill Hill School. Tickets are available here.

Film Freeway update

Book: Draft Manuscript in Edit!

In December 2016 I started work on a book about our journey. I wrote about 10,000 words then completely lost interest in the project. For some reason, this May I decided to get the project finished and smashed out another 50,000 words in 30 days! The first draft of the manuscript is now with author, literary journalist, publisher and teacher Sam Jordison for feedback / suggested edits (see his profile below). Thanks to The Writers’ Workshop for their support with getting this setup! I am hoping to have edits done by July, then start hunting for an agent to present the manuscript to publishers. Alfy is also currently writing the foreword. Watch this space for updates!

Finished draft book

Sam Jordison

Sam was born in Alnwick Northumberland and now lives in Norfolk.

Sam Jordison is an author, literary journalist, publisher and teacher. He is a co-director at Galley Beggar Press, the publishers of Eimear McBride’s award winning A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing. He has extensive editorial experience and knowledge of the book world – and has also been on the other side of the fence, having written several best selling works of non-fiction, including the notorious Crap Towns series. As a journalist, he mainly writers for The Guardian, and mainly about books. He runs the Not The Booker Prize, and the Guardian’s online book club, The Reading Group. He has also taught about publishing on several Creative Writinguniversity courses, and currently runs a workshop series about the novel at Kingston University.

Speaking at Ardingly College

On Tuesday 9 May I had the opportunity to head back to my old secondary school and give a talk to the students about “Careers in Geography”. Glossing over the fact that I quit Geography when I was 14, I gave a talk about my work in travel writing, African risk consultancy and international education. Students seemed engaged and there were some really interesting other speakers, including Arctic explorer Alex Hibbert (pictured below). In 2008 he broke the world record, along with teammate George Bullard, for the longest unsupported polar journey in history. At 21 years old, Hibbert led the 1374-statute-mile, 113-day, Tiso Trans-Greenland Expedition.
Alex

Translating Film into Portuguese

No updates on this front I’m afraid. Still a work in progress!

Talking at The Royal Geographical Society

On 22 March 2017 I had the honour of being invited to give a lecture at The Royal Geographical Society in London about the expedition that Alfy and I completed along the Kwanza River in Angola. I was one of six speakers, all talking about geographical journeys with purpose as part of RGS-IBG’s annual microlectures series. Each speaker had ten minutes to talk and then a five minute Q&A session afterwards.

Microlectures

My talk went well. The audience seemed engaged, I just about stuck to my time limit and there were plenty of questions afterwards (mainly involving the hippos!) Alfy also watched it in Hong Kong and thought I hadn’t stitched him up too badly, which is always good feedback. Many members of his family were in attendance to keep me honest! You can view the talk here:

But the evening wasn’t all about Kayak The Kwanza. There were five other incredible talks which I am sure followers of our expedition would enjoy. The evening kicked off with Ellie Mackay impressively condensing a three-year quest across Southeast Asia to rediscover the treasures of Sir David Attenborough’s 1950s documentaries into a ten minute talk. There were some stunning images shown along the way, and I was very jealous of the drone footage at the end (plus all the walking up volcanoes)!

Next up was Brendan Rendall, who gave a hilarious presentation on his 27 day run across the full length of Malawi. Apparently it all started with a drunken bet! The support he got from the local population was captured in some brilliant images of him running along with hundreds of excited children around him. Next he’s planning on running across Africa from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean (Namibia to Mozambique).

The next speaker was the youngest of the bunch. Stephanie Hadik is still doing her A Levels but still found the time to head to Mongolia to live with nomadic herdsmen! She gave a fascinating insight into life on the Mongolian Steppes, and how life there is changing due to globalisation.

After a brief interval, we had my talk then moved on to former soldier Janey McGill‘s inspiring tale of trekking 630-miles along the South West Coast Path, planting sunflower seeds to honour the 616 soldiers severely wounded as a result of the war in Afghanistan. Her next epic mission is going to be walking 1000 miles across Oman and The Empty Quarter!

The final lecture of the evening was from Sophie Hollingsworth, who travelled to the South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu and lived with the Ngowtari (female leaders) to study their unique powers, jurisdiction and ceremonies. I found this talk really engaging and learned a lot about a part of the world I had never really thought about before.

Overall it was a great event and it looked like the audience enjoyed themselves. My thanks go out to everyone over at the Royal Geographical Society Younger Members’ Committee for organising, and to anthropologist, broadcaster and all-round legend Mary-Ann Ochota for hosting!

group photo

Kayak The Kwanza in 2017

It’s been a while since the last update. Alfy is now settling into his new job in Hong Kong and I’m gearing up to relocate to Madagascar in August 2017! Here’s a quick update on our plans for the next few months:

Translating Film into Portuguese

Some people over at the Voz da América – Português new service got in touch back in October 2016 with a suggestion: why not translate our Kayak The Kwanza documentary into Portuguese? This sounded like a great way to bring the film to a wider audience. I was especially enthusiastic as it would mean being able to share our adventure with many of our Angolan friends back in Luanda. Perhaps it might even start a discussion on wildlife conservation and the untapped tourism potential of Angola’s River Kwanza? Or perhaps generate interest in the environmental impacts of diamond mining? Hopefully we will get it all translated, re-recorded and uploaded in the next few months. Stay tuned!

Film Festivals

Late last year I watched Into The Empty Quarter for the first time. It is a 52 minute documentary film by adventurers Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron. On a journey inspired by their hero, Wilfred Thesiger, they walked around 1000 miles into the Empty Quarter desert, dragging a 300kg cart of supplies behind them. You can watch the shorter festival cut of the film below:

Although Into The Empty Quarter is shot and produced a lot more professionally than ours, I noted some similarities. It’s all self-filmed. There’s only two people. It’s a long overland journey in an isolated place. Oh,, and they’re dragging a bloody heavy cart! I also noticed that it did quite well at a few adventure travel film festivals, so I decided to enter Kayak The Kwanza into some and see what happened. Below you can see our dashboard from Film Freeway, which is a great tool to submit to hundreds of film festivals and screenplay contests in one simple place.

Expect Tweet updates on the notification dates below to let you know whether we have made it through to the next selection round of each festival! We’ve also been shortlisted for The Adventure Travel Film Festival in London, 11-13 August 2017.

film-freeway-update

Speaking at the Royal Geographical Society

On 22 March 2017 at 7:00pm I will be delivering a short presentation on our Kwanza expedition as part of The Royal Geographical Society’s Geographical journeys: microlectures event. The night is billed as “A night of inspirational tales of adventure and discovery from the next generation of travellers” and I believe there will be five other short presentations. Tickets range from £9 to £15 and can be purchased here.

microlectures

Thanks to my friend James Willcox for recommending that I apply to speak this year. James runs the adventure travel company Untamed Borders, which specialises in trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, former Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus. He gave a talk at the 2016 Microlectures event on a trip to Puntland, Somalia. You can view the 10 minute talk below:

Full Report from The HALO Trust: what your donations were spent on!

In June and July 2016 we kayaked Angola’s River Kwanza, raising over $25,000 for The HALO Trust’s demining work in Angola. Below is a link to the newly released report detailing what the donations were spent on. It is a 17 page PDF, complete with photos. If you do not have time to read the whole thing, here is the Executive Summary.

Thanks again to everyone who donated!

The HALO Trust – Report on Kayak The Kwanza

exec-summary

KTK update: links to stories about our trip plus Q&A with Oscar & Alfy

Hello All!

It’s been a really long time since I posted an update (apart from the Portuguese translation of our photo essay). I thought this might be a good opportunity to highlight what we’ve been up to.

Publications about our Kwanza expedition (so far)

taag-magazine-article-coverWe are still in discussions with a number of companies about distributing our documentary film, and I’m sure there are a few more magazines that will publish our story later in the year, but for now, here’s everything published about the trip that you can access:

Ardinian Magazine: Alfy and I were featured in the Summer 2016: Issue 40 of my old school magazine. In an interesting format, the story of our journey was told through all the Twitter updates we posted! You can download a PDF copy of the article via this link.

Austral Magazine: For those of you who have flown with Angolan national carrier TAAG recently, you may have spotted our story on pages 68 to 74 of their September/October in-flight magazine. You can download a PDF copy of the magazine via this link. Portuguese and English language versions.

Bradt Travel Guides: Admittedly published before we set out, but here’s a good Q&A article on the trip.

Los Locales Podcast: I did an interview with Weston Moody for his podcast just after completing the trip. Direct link to Soundcloud is here.

Luanda Nightlife: An article about our trip, written while we were out on the water, by this popular Angolan food and lifestyle website. Portuguese and English language versions.

Landmines in Africa: Our Q&A for the Landmines in Africa blog, before we started the expedition.

Rede Angola: A Portuguese-language article about our trip, written while we were on the river, by this Angolan news website.

The Cool Graduate: This was also published just before we set out, and in it we shamelessly encourage recent university graduates to follow in our irresponsible footsteps.

Universo Magazine: Our story is being published in Angolan state oil company Sonangol’s monthly magazine this October. When it comes out, you can read it online via their website, or email circulation@universo-magazine.com to get a free hard copy posted to you! Portuguese and English language versions.

Q&A with Oscar & Alfy

1) What was the most difficult aspect of the trip for you?

Alfy: Trying to persuade the police that we weren’t diamond smugglers

Oscar: Staying calm while being forced to sit through a ridiculous interrogation in Malanje.

2) What did you find most surprising on the journey?

Alfy: That the Klepper could get fully submerged in a fishing dam and survive to complete the rest of the journey (albeit with some equally surprising metalwork skillfully carried out on one the more remote stretches of the river)

Oscar: That neither of us got Malaria or Dengue.

3) What did you enjoy most?

Alfy: Making a big fire at the end of the day. Also, the warm coffee in the morning.

Oscar: Definitely cooking dinner, even if it was chorizo and cous cous for the fifth night straight!

4) If you had to do the trip again, what would you do differently?

Alfy: Take a spare pair of boots for Oscar!

Oscar: Not lose my boots overboard on day 10…