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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien

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Adventure Travel

Jun 07, 2018

Engagés: La Finale

Throughout May 2018, The Outdoor Journal has been reporting on five French explorers who have been traversing Greenland’s toughest terrain.

WRITTEN BY

Maxime Lainé

In the face of much adversity, the expedition finally made it home to Paris, having being trapped at the finish line without food, and unable to extract themselves due to bad weather. We caught up with Maxime Laine upon his return, to hear about ‘Engages: La Finale’.

If you missed it, then you can read the day by day updates, sent home by the expedition via satellite phone, here.

The end of the expedition taught us a lot of humility.

Throughout the crossing, we had over estimated the distance that we expected to be able to cover towards the end of the expedition. We had reached the highest point, and had started to walk down to the east coast. However, the weather played it’s part, and played with our nerves, as the snow just could not stop falling.

There was so much snow, that every step went deeper and deeper, day after day. Each day, we could not imagine how it could get any harder the next. Our expectations, with regards to the kilometres we could cover, were just in vain. We had to keep telling ourselves, to get out of the tent, and to walk as far as we could, and then even further.

On the 28th day, we walked 30 kilometres in 12 hours. We were exhausted, but our daily goal was only 40 kilometres away from our position. We told ourselves, one more time, that we could walk 25km on the 29th and 15km on the 30th day. This would be ok.

However, on the 29th day, the snow kept on falling. We could only walk 5 little kilometres, with the little energy that we had. It was at this point, we had a critical decision to make.

Option 1: Keep on walking. Get closer to the coast, and a better extraction point, for the helicopter. Given the harsh weather conditions, this could take us several days, a lot of energy, and we were running out of food.

Option 2: Set up the camp and stay where we are. Economise our energy and the rest of our food. Hope that the helicopter can come to pick us up.

We went for the second option. However, once again, Greenland’s weather played with our nerves.

We were now out of food.

The helicopter was supposed to pick us up on the 30th at 1:00pm. The pilot just could not make it, and the next clear weather window was 4 days later on the 3rd of June. There was nothing that we could, but stay in our tents, spending as little energy as possible. We tried hard to think about anything worth thinking about. Anything to take our minds off our empty bellies.

At times like these, the only thing to do is remain calm and patient. We had to call the pilot every hour, and every hour he told us that the weather window was not good enough, and that we’ll talk again in an hour.

This repeated itself for more than 24 hours… until we woke to find a beautiful day, and a clear blue sky out of our tent. Still, we didn’t want to express any form of optimism, Greenland had played this game with us before.

We just waited for the pilot’s confirmation which was never clearly expressed, until finally we saw a red flying object on the horizon coming towards us. We could not believe it. For the first time, Greenland “a fait preuve de clémence” and was not playing with us anymore.

It felt like we had passed the test, like we had learnt enough about humility.

Over the course of the next week, Max will publish a detailed account of what he thought about for 10 hours a day, whilst he crossed Greenland. Here’s a sneak preview. Make sure that you follow us or subscribe so that you don’t miss it.

One of the most difficult part of crossing Greenland by foot, is not only to walk 10 hours a day, but to keep our minds busy. We were in an environment where nothing could possibly interrupt our minds.

There was just us, walking on the same white and flat ice caps for endless days.

Even the sun doesn’t set. Just us and ourselves. Thinking about our frozen fingers and toes. Our friends, our family, our jobs. Why we are here, focusing on this very moment, what we are looking for, what kind of life we want to live, what is the next adventure. All of a sudden you are aware of plenty of little things that we strangely never had the time to think about before.

We came back to Paris, and people did not see us any different, life remained the same here, but we were different. We triggered a new energy, like we had just woken after a very long sleep.

You can discover your own ice sheets in Greenland here.

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Expeditions

Nov 18, 2019

Stories From The Sahel: Lake Chad, at the Cross-Section of Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria

A part of the world that explorer Reza Pakravan considers the most remote region he's visited. A place where millions of people do not feel that they belong to any particular nation.

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WRITTEN BY

Reza Pakravan

On the 31st of July, Reza Pakravan, an explorer and filmmaker, became the first person in modern history to have travelled the full length of the Sahel. A belt of land stretching across the southern boundary of the Sahara desert, the Sahel spans the width of Africa, from Senegal to Somalia, and is home to some of the harshest conditions on the planet, where the effects of climate change are most felt and rebel uprisings are common.

Like many explorers, Reza has had a fascination with Africa since he was a boy, but felt there were still vast areas of the continent we knew little about. He wanted to document these forgotten frontiers and tell the story of those who live there, whilst setting himself a new challenge.

Having made a host of incredible journeys, including cycling the Sahara (for which he holds a Guinness World Record) and the length of the planet and travelling 4000km through the Amazon, Reza felt he was ready for this latest adventure, but it turned out to be his most courageous challenge to date and stretched him both physically and mentally like never before.

Over the coming weeks, Reza will recall stories from the region. The story below is a follow up to Reza’s first of the series, Trekking the Dogon Country in Mali.

Lake Chad, at the Cross-Section of Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria.

I have travelled to some far-flung places on Earth, but Lake Chad is the most remote place I have ever been to. In fact, Chad itself was named for a mistake. In the 1800s, European explorers arrived at the marshy banks of a vast body of fresh water in Central Africa. Because locals referred to the area as ‘chad’, the Europeans called the wetland Lake Chad, and drew it on maps. But ‘chad’ simply meant ‘lake’ in the local dialect. So here it is. Lake Chad, or ‘Lake Lake’.

The bare desert around Lake Chad – One of the harshest climates on earth.

Located right in the centre of the continent, Lake Chad is shared between four countries – Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria – and millions of people living there do not feel that they belong to any particular nation. It’s one of the largest wetlands in all of Africa: 30 million people depend on it to survive. I entered the Lake Chad area from the Niger side. As I was travelling west to east, it meant I had to go around the lake to be able to continue my journey east.

Amazonian tribes embrace technology, running their campaigns on Facebook, while a simple mobile phone has never made it to Lake Chad.

As I stepped into the small town of N’guigmi, all my senses came to life. The smell, the noise, the sights. The streets were nothing but dirt tracks, and I felt I had stepped back in time by a hundred years. I have been to over 80 countries around the world, many of which are developing countries, but I have never seen anything like that. It was hard to spot a motorised vehicle. Most people simply walked and carried heavy loads over their shoulders. Those richer ones had camels and donkeys. Dressed in their traditional outfits (the women in bright and beautiful colours; the men more conservative), they stomped through the 45-degree heat.

BOUDOUMA TRIBE WOMAN OF LAKE CHAD – ONE OF THE MOST UNTOUCHED TRIBE ON EARTH

The more I travelled, the more I realised that the modern world had not made it to this region. All over Africa, you see many people carrying mobile phones. In Lake Chad, I rarely saw any. I began to make my way around Lake Chad on the desert track roads – The heat was excruciating. Life in 45 degrees is punishing, especially when you are trying to walk over sandy terrain. Survival in such conditions, in such heat, is no easy task.

THE ONLY WAY TO GET AROUND THE REGION, A TRUCK CARRYING PEOPLE AND GOODS – IF YOU ARE LUCKY TO FIND ONE

I visited village after village, with their charming houses constructed from bamboo and hay. The Chadian army controlled the territory, leaving everyone tense and ill at ease. Checkpoint after checkpoint – I have never been to a place where my documents were checked so many times.

In the absence of any public transport, I hitched a lift with a convoy carrying people and goods, finally making it into Baga Sola, a small town which in its heyday was a hub of trade. Livestock used to be exported from here to Nigeria, fishing was rife, and islanders came from far and wide to trade their goods. I have no idea how the drivers navigated those roads. It was incredible. With nothing more than desert tracks, it was so hard to distinguish which one was going where. Arriving at different villages gave a sense of travelling back in time. No boats had engines. Instead, fishermen used pirogues and paddled long distances to fish.

“Technology here is a taboo. People don’t want to change their way of life.”

Villages are formed based on ethnicity. Lake Chad’s largest ethnic groups are the Kanembu, Boudouma, and Bougourmi, distinguished by the variously patterned scars on their faces, received during their initiations. These tribes remain some of the most untouched cultures in the world. For example, the face of a Boudouma tribesman has one major scar in the centre of his forehead and four scars on each side of his face. This easily distinguishes him from the rest of the tribes.

CARRYING WATER HOME – SURVIVAL IN THIS HARSH ENVIRONMENT IS A TALENT

I have met many indigenous people around the world and seen the rapid changes in their ways of life by the ever-encroaching imposition of the modern world. And yet, in Lake Chad, the tribes seemed to have no connection with this modern world whatsoever. This is, perhaps, no surprise. The region is so remote, so hard to get to, and the lack of infrastructure makes any connection with the outside world almost impossible. Everything is done manually and the lack of access to modern tools is felt especially.

I have seen how Amazonian tribes embrace technology, running their campaigns on Facebook, while a simple mobile phone has never made it to Lake Chad.

My guide said: “Technology here is a taboo. People don’t want to change their way of life.”

THE 20KM WALK BACK FROM SATURDAY MARKET BY LAKE CHAD REFUGEES

Reza would like to thank his the Scientific Exploration Society for making the trip possible, and his sponsors: Sun ChlorellaEagle Creek, BodyMe vegan barsTentsile Tree TentsWildlingLeStoff

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