He’s walked more than 2,000 miles of the Nile, been shot at, robbed, carried over a waterfall and charged by a half-tonne hippo. Meet Boston Ndoole: the fixer behind some of the most ambitious expeditions on earth.
“Animals are never a big problem on an expedition. You can usually guess how they’ll behave when encountered. Only a few dare attack humans – hippos, buffalo, a threatened snake – and never without provocation. Really dangerous situation – whether in town, the jungle or out on the savannas – come from humans with bad intentions. A bunch of robbers, rebels or uncontrolled security service men and armed groups… I can’t count the number of times I have been robbed at gunpoint and shot at. It happens when you work as a fixer for some of the most ambitious expeditions happening today.
My involvement in adventure and exploration did not just suddenly happen. I was born in Bukavu in Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the 1980s, it was a peaceful place. Families had good ranches and each seemed to have 1,000 cows each. Then came the fall of Communism, and the troubles, wars and rebellions started as the government fell. Like many others I became a soldier, which is where I learned the skills I use today.
Similarly, many of the explorers I now work with were previously in the military. I guess we are predesigned to adventure. I enjoy working with people with military background because I don’t need to worry too much. If I make a mistake, they will have an idea about the solution.
When I research a trip, I’ll study maps, calculate distances, check the terrains, climate and think about the gear accordingly. Once the trip is under way, these finding have the ability to boost my morale or utterly deplete it. After researching, I then consider the physical side. Am I fit enough? I would never waste my time thinking about what it is like to climb Everest.
One of my biggest expeditions started four years ago. The British explorer Levison Wood employed me as his guide as he set out to be the first person to walk the 4,200 miles of the Nile. I walked more than 2,000 miles with him, eventually stopping in South Sudan. Could I have done the whole trip too? That’s the serious question. There are many places to explore on Earth, many stories to tell, but expeditions are costly and that’s why they’re funded by TV channels. If TV won’t commission expeditions, how will anyone know they happened? And all the companies that invest in expeditions are American and European. Maybe that’s why people think there are no African explorers.
At times with Levison, I was worried. In northwest Tanzania, we spent ten days crossing a forest, with no human contact. We were careful to be totally silent, because missionaries had been killed in the area. And, as feared, we were attacked by armed men. But as long as you know their motives, you know it will work out. In this region, they were not going to try and change our ideology, they were just in search of something material. I spoke their language, lied and said our gear could be easily located by satellite. In the end, they only took Levison’s belt and hat. Later, in South Sudan, we had our gear and papers stolen. We had employed armed guards by this stage but the attackers were better armed than they were.
Nature is powerful, unpredictable. You can have the best planning in the world, but the worst can still happen in a couple of seconds. On any expeditions, the team’s communication, no matter how small, is paramount. Once I lost a companion two and a half days into a trip. We hadn’t even walked four miles when he succumbed to heat exhaustion. Although we were not far from civilisation, the rescue team never made it.
Once, I fell from a raft only metres upstream from the Bujagali Falls in Uganda. It was the worst place it could possibly happen. The river wasn’t very deep but the current was so powerful and the stones so slippery that I couldn’t get a hold. When I reached the top of the falls it was too late to be scared. I was found further down the river in a pool, alive but motionless. I couldn’t move. I had more than 20 wounds. It was painful but I had a lucky escape.
I have a few projects on the table. The main one is Walk The Congo, the biggest expedition of my life – far more exciting and challenging than walking the Nile. The Congo is a totally unexplored corridor. I’ll face many challenges: armed groups, rebel movements, government security services of all stripes. Then there’s the terrain, with hundreds of kilometres of uninhabited rainforest to hundreds of kilometres of inhabited swamps. It’s the ultimate expedition of our time”.
Boston Ndoole is walking the Congo with Captive Minds in 2017 – www.captiveminds.com
The article was first published by BA HighLife Magazine in January’17. Reprinted with permission of Boston Ndoole.