New Long Distance Hiking Trail To Open In Africa

If you’ve already crossed the Appalachian Trail off your bucket list, hiked the length of New Zealand along the Te Araroa and walked through the Alps on the Haute Route, then I may have found your next big adventure: a new long-distance hiking trail set to open in Africa early next year that will give adventurous travelers an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of a famous 19th-century explorer.

The Sir Samuel and Lady Florence Baker Historical Trail will stretch for approximately 360 miles from Gondokoro – near Juba, the capital of South Sudan – to Baker’s View, which is located near the shores of Lake Albert in western Uganda. The route follows roughly the same path that Samuel Baker used on his expeditions to explore central Africa, which took place throughout the 1860s and 1870s. Baker’s wife accompanied him on those adventures, which is why the trail has been named to honor her as well. In 1864, Baker made the greatest discovery of his career when he became the first European to set eyes on the massive body of water that he would name in honor of Prince Albert, the late consort of Britain’s Queen Victoria. Baker’s View marks the location where the explorer first caught a glimpse of Lake Albert itself and those hiking the trail will get to relive that moment a century and a half later.

The new trail is the pet project of explorer and anthropologist Julian Monroe Fisher, who recently walked most of the route as part of his Great African Expedition. Fisher is working closely with the Uganda Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife & Antiquities; the Uganda Wildlife Authority; and the Ministry of Wildlife, Conservation & Tourism for South Sudan to make this project a reality. The trail has the full support of the descendants of Samuel Baker as well and Fisher credits both RailRiders Adventure Clothing and Costa Del Mar Sunglasses for helping to push this project along.In June, Fisher will return to Uganda where he will begin placing historical markers along the trail to mark important locations from the Baker expeditions. Backpackers will then be able to follow the route and actually stop at those places, possibly even making camp in the same spot that the explorer and his wife did. All of this work is preparation for the official launch of the trail in January 2014, which will come just in time to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the explorer’s discovery of the lake.

While many of the great long-distance hiking trails across the globe are designated for trekking only, one of the more interesting things about this trail is that it will allow for mixed use. That means mountain bikers can ride the route and even 4×4 vehicles will be granted access. The route is reportedly very scenic, remote and largely untouched by modern conveniences, which should be a major part of its allure.

In addition to being a great attraction for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers, the trail is expected to be an economic boon for the communities that surround it. South Sudan in particular is struggling with having enough funds to help its development process as the country emerges from years of conflict as the newest nation on Earth. The influx of tourist dollars that could come along with the trail will be especially beneficial for that country.

I’m sure news of this trail will be most welcome amongst trekkers and mountain bikers alike. It sounds like it will be a beautiful and challenging hike that should prove popular with those who are truly looking to get away from it all.

Medieval pilgrims journeyed deep into Africa, archaeologists discover

The Kingdom of Makuria is the quintessential forgotten civilization. Very few people have even heard of it, yet it ruled southern Sudan for hundreds of years and was one of the few kingdoms to defeat the Arabs during their initial expansion in the 7th century AD. Makuria was a Christian kingdom, born out of the collapse of the earlier Christian kingdom of Axum. Makuria survived as a bulwark of Christianity in medieval Africa until it finally collapsed in 1312.

Now excavations of some of its churches at Banganarti and Selib have revealed that this kingdom was a center of pilgrimage, attracting people from as far away as Catalonia, in modern Spain. The 2,300 mile journey from Spain to southern Sudan is a long one even today, but imagine when it had to be done on horseback, walking, and boats powered only by sails and oars. Yet an inscription records that one Catalan named Benesec made the journey almost a thousand years ago, probably to pray for a cure to an illness. “Benesec” was a popular Catalan name in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Another inscription with an accompanying painting shows a Muslim man, Deif Ali, making a pilgrimage to the church to pray for a cure to his blindness. This isn’t as unusual as it might sound. In regions where religions mingle, some people will go to holy places of the other religion. When I covered the Hindu pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela for Reuters back in 2001, I met Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs all coming to be a part of the religious festival.

Makurian artists produced some amazing religious frescoes, like this image of the birth of Jesus, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, and this closeup of St. Anne, also courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Both come from the cathedral of Faras, an important Makurian city.

The churches are in southern Sudan, not the new Republic of South Sudan. The nation of Sudan (the northern one) has many sites of archaeological and historical interest and is a popular destination for adventure travel.

My kid is more up-to-date on geography than Google Maps

“Where’s South Sudan?” my five-year-old asked me.

Being my kid, he’s big into maps. He has a map of Africa with all the flags on it hanging above his bed. Using it, he’s been able to trace dad’s adventures in Ethiopia and Somaliland. It’s been marked up a bit since I got it for him more than a year ago. I had to draw the boundary of the unrecognized state of Somaliland on it, and we had to add a flag after Libya suddenly got a second one.

He’s been hearing me talk about wanting to visit South Sudan, the world’s newest country after splitting from Sudan in July. In order to draw the new border, we looked it up on Google Maps. It wasn’t there. Google, which analyzes everyone’s search terms and takes photos of where everybody lives, hadn’t yet decided South Sudan was worthy of notice. We had to go to this map on Wikipedia to find out the information.

After an online campaign, Google Maps has finally changed their map to reflect reality, the BBC reports. Yahoo!, Microsoft and National Geographic have yet to follow suit.

I guess this a good lesson to my son that no source of information is 100% reliable, especially if that source is on the Internet.