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Crossing the Heart of Africa

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In 1898, the dashing British adventurer Ewart Grogan was head-over-heels in love—but he needed the approval of his beloved’s skeptical, aristocratic stepfather. To prove his worth, Grogan set out on an epic quest to become the first person to walk the length of Africa.

A little over a century later, American journalist Julian Smith also found himself madly in love with his girlfriend of seven years, yet terrified by the prospect of marriage. Inspired by Grogan’s story, he decided to face his fears of commitment by retracing the explorer’s amazing—and nearly forgotten—4,500-mile journey for love and glory through Africa. His book "Crossing the Heart of Africa," coming December 7 from Harper Perennial, is the unforgettable account of these twin adventures, as Smith beautifully interweaves his own contemporary journey with Grogan’s larger-than-life tale of charging elephants, cannibal attacks, deadly jungles, and romantic triumph.

 27 places   |  5,235 miles (8.425 km)   |  visibility: public   |  created 49 months ago   |  14,059 views   |  4 followers   |  0 copies

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    Lat/Lng: -33.923776 , 18.423346
    In April 1896, at age 21, Ewart Grogan sailed for Cape Town to help put down a native uprising against European settlers. Here he met Cecil Rhodes, the British imperialist, founder of Rhodesia and the De Beers mining company, who planted the seed of an idea: a Cape-to-Cairo route to link Britain's African colonies by rail and telegraph.
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      Lat/Lng: -26.201452 , 28.045488
      I started my own journey in Johannesburg in the summer of 2007. From here I traveled to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, then to Beira on the coast.
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        Lat/Lng: -19.833333 , 34.85
        During his stint as a soldier, Grogan made it as far north as Beira, where he killed a Portuguese man by accident in a bar fight over a woman. A little over a year later, on February 28, 1898, he was back with a new goal: to blaze a trail to Cairo to win the hand of his beloved, Gertrude Watt. Like him, I considered Beira the true start of my journey. After some homemade wine with a local English teacher and his tipsy friends, I caught the first of many rides north in a pickup truck.
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          Lat/Lng: -17.44544 , 35.03223
          Grogan and his companion, Gertrude's uncle Harry Sharp, traveled up the Zambezi River by steamboat. They found Sena home to “a few miserable huts, and a few yet more miserable Portuguese.” I didn't find much more, but I did enjoy the hospitality of a local family before heading to the Malawi border by bicycle and pickup.
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            Lat/Lng: -11.6074 , 34.29364
            On December 15, 1898, three days after Grogan's 24th birthday, he and Sharp started up Lake Malawi (then called Lake Nyasa). Today the Ilala ferry travels the length of the lake. I boarded in Nkhaa Bay after a detour to Lilongwe to get more pages in my passport.
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              Lat/Lng: -11.005904459659 , 34.398193359375
              Grogan's ship passed through clouds of flies called kungu, which the locals gathered when they died en masse and pressed into cakes. He tried one and found it “by no means bad.” His description of the scenery still holds true: “The hills are heavily wooded, and their bases are broken by the waves into fantastic caves and rocky promontories against which plays the white line of surf.
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                Lat/Lng: -10.602849 , 34.105896
                Grogan stopped to visit the Christian mission named after the famous missionary and explorer David Livingstone. Livingstonia is now home to a university, one of the best schools in central Africa.
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                  Lat/Lng: -9.933333 , 33.933333
                  When he reached Karonga, Grogan hired four men and a boy from the Watonga tribe to serve as his right-hand men for the rest of the journey. Then he set out on a miserable month-long trek to Lake Tanganyika at the head of a column of 150 men. My own journey to Kasanga, Tanzania isn't much fun either: two days on bone-rattling buses, sick.
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                    Lat/Lng: -8.46069 , 31.132
                    After being barfed on in a bus and a last-minute footrace through fields in the dark, I boarded the Liemba ferry to Kigoma.
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                      Lat/Lng: -6.3808123319383 , 29.55322265625
                      The Liemba started life in 1913 as the Graf von Götzen, built in Germany and brought to Tanganyika in pieces by ship and train. She served as a cargo ship and troop transport during WWI before her captain scuttled her to keep her out of British hands. Refloated and recommissioned after the war, she became a ferry for passengers and cargo. Her strange story inspired C.S. Forester’s 1935 novel The African Queen (and its movie adaptation starring Bogart and Bacall). Today she is the oldest passenger ship in the world.
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                        Lat/Lng: -4.883333 , 29.633333
                        From Kigoma I took a packed public boat to Gombe Stream National Park and visited Ujiji, famous as the place where Stanley found Livingstone.
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                          Lat/Lng: -4.91148 , 29.674561
                          This former slave-trading center was where the journalist Henry Morton Stanley found David Livingstone in 1869. Stanley may not have actually said his infamous line Dr Livingstone, I presume? but he did become one of the most famous African explorers of his time.
                          • Fanni was the only chimpanzee our group saw all day at this tiny park, made famous by primatologist Jane Goodall in the 1960s. It was here she first saw chimps sharpening twigs and using them to fish ants out of wholes - shattering the notion that tool use was unique to humans.
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                              Lat/Lng: -3.376217 , 29.359349
                              Boiling with fever, Grogan and Sharp barely made it to the German military post of Usambara, then part of the colony of German East Africa. After leaving, he lost most of a toe to a parasitic chigger, and the expedition's porters started to straggle behind and even desert. In Buj, I met a writer from New Orleans who introduced me to the capital's unusual sock-hop dance scene.
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                                Lat/Lng: -2.060278 , 29.347778
                                Kibuye's lakeside beauty is haunted by the deaths of some 60,000 people during the Rwandan genocide. This was where Grogan saw Lake Kivu, deep set in its basin of innumerable hills, dotted with a thousand islets, stretching far away till it was lost in the shimmering haze of the northern shore.
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                                  Lat/Lng: -1.950106 , 30.058769
                                  On a detour to Rwanda's capital, I stop by the infamous Hotel Rwanda - now scrubbed clean of all traces of the events of 1994 - and the overwhelming Gisozi Genocide Memorial Center.
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                                    Lat/Lng: -1.49946259655 , 29.624633789062
                                    Determined to visit the country to the west, cannibal rumors be damned, Grogan set off across a fresh lava field near Mt. Gotzen. On nearby Mt. Sabinyo, which he tried to rename after Gertrude, I visited the Hirwa group of mountain gorillas in Rwanda's Parc National des Volcans.
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                                      Lat/Lng: -1.4225833069396 , 28.855590820312
                                      The rumors were right: in Mushari, Grogan found a nightmare land ravaged by the Baleka cannibals. He and his small group fled for their lives, running for five days down trails lined with human remains. They barely made it back to the volcanoes in one piece. Later, he hunted elephants and met pygmies in the dense jungles on the volcanic slopes.
                                      • A long, rough ride on the back of a motorcycle brought me to Mweya, gateway to Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park, where hippos huff in the muddy water of the Kazinga Channel. This is where Grogan slowly recovered from a fever of 108.4 F at a British frontier post. The explorers resupplied and slept under a roof for the first time in months before continuing north across the equator.
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                                          Lat/Lng: 0.66 , 30.275
                                          In Fort Gerry (now Fort Portal), Grogan bid farewell to his companion Henry Sharp and most of their porters at the foot of the Ruwenzori mountains, the famous Mountains of the Moon. He continued north on August 28, 1899 with a small party of road-tested men. My stopover seemed to somehow involve marriage at every turn, from roadside processions to an animated description of engagement in modern Uganda by Edward, in the red shirt.
                                          • Hunting elephant in the dense forests along the Semliki River, Grogan had to fight the ever-present urge to flee: Try as I will, I can never quite stomach it, and always feel inclined to throw down my rifle and run till I drop.” Today a small part of the area is a national park, with monkeys and bubbling hot springs. I stopped by a pygmy village where things had improved since my first disastrous visit 13 years before, but not by much.
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                                              Lat/Lng: 1.8069513703021 , 30.789184570312
                                              Grogan's newly streamlined party struggled up the rough western shore of Lake Albert. by this point, between his sunburned arms, tanned face and fishbelly-white torso, he wrote, he looked like a “perambulating three-tiered Neapolitan ice, coffee, vanilla and raspberry.” Border tensions between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, amplified by the recent discovery of major oil fields in the lake basin, made this a no-go zone for me.
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                                                Lat/Lng: 2.833333 , 31.583333
                                                I reached this former British army outpost after a rollercoaster bush taxi ride, to find nothing but a few canoes and a family bathing in the White Nile. Here Grogan trimmed his party down to eight men and a boy and set out on the last--and most dangerous--leg of his journey: down the White Nile and through the swamps of southern Sudan.
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                                                  Lat/Lng: 4.85 , 31.6
                                                  Juba, called Lado in Grogan's time, was a “howling waste in a wilderness of swamps” known as the Sudd, one of the largest and most dismal wetlands on the planet. With some help from Belgian soldiers, Grogan continued downriver to the north into the most dangerous part of his journey yet. Juba marked the end of my journey. Between civil unrest, torrential rains and the deadline of my flight home, I decided against attempting the road north to Bor and beyond. Instead I flew home New York to find my wife-to-be waiting--surprise!--at the airport.
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                                                    Lat/Lng: 7.62388685312 , 30.41015625
                                                    The nearly impassible marshes and waterless barrens of the Sudd reduced Grogan and his men to miserable wrecks in their desperate push north. Warriors from the giant Dinka tribe attacked, killing one man and wounding others. They were far beyond the point of no return, sometimes crawling in the dust and sucking puddles for moisture, when they chanced upon a British expedition trying to cut a path through the swamp.
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                                                      Lat/Lng: 15.550101 , 32.532241
                                                      The boat ride to Cairo was a blur of civilized company and comfort. In Khartoum, Grogan dined next to the most powerful man in Egypt, wearing a fresh-bought shirt and underwear. Just 15 years earlier a Muslim army had captured the city, slaughtering an entire 7,000-man British garrison under General Charles George Gordon and killing or enslaving most of the city’s 34,000 inhabitants.
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                                                        Lat/Lng: 30.064742 , 31.249509
                                                        When he left England, Grogan had promised not to contact Gertrude until he reached Cairo and achieved his goal of becoming the first man to cross Africa from end to end. He arrived in February 1900 and headed straight for the telegraph office to write a long-overdue message: “Have reached Cairo. My feelings just the same. Anxiously await your answer. Make it yes. Love, Ewart.” Days later the reply came: “My feelings also unchanged. Am waiting for you. Gertrude.”
                                                        •  total distance: 5,235 miles (8.425 km)

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