Humanitarian work: malaria prevention, Rite to Sight, Water, Elephant Art
On past expeditions, we reached six out of Africa’s seven ‘extreme’ geographic points: northern (Ras ben Sakka at Cape Blanc, Tunisia), southern (Cape Aghullas, South Africa) and western (Pointe des Almadies in Senegal), the highest (Mt Kilimanjaro) and lowest (Lake Assal), and then the centre-point of Africa – a world-first discovery verified by the International Geographic Union.
But one extreme geographic point eluded us for a number of years – the mostly easterly point on the African continent. Called Ras Xaafun, it is a remote promontory 115Km south of the tip of the Horn of Africa, in the north-eastern province of Puntland in war-torn Somalia. Surrounded by thousands of kilometres of inhospitable desert and mountainous terrain and cut off from the rest of the world by conflict, it is one of the most inaccessible places on Earth.
In 2017, the Extreme East expedition departed from South Africa’s most easterly point at Kosi Bay in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on an eight-country, 12,000Km journey to Somalia. Because of the high risk of kidnap and ransom, or attack from the fundamentalist group Al Shabaab, we had to keep the destination of Ras Xaafun top secret – even creating a ‘red herring’ that the expedition’s endpoint was the ancient walled city of Harar in Ethiopia.
At the Somali border with the independent state of Somaliland, our three Land Rover expedition team were met by 25 heavily armed troops in two vehicles mounted with light machine guns. They were to provide our security on a high-speed, nerve-wracking, adrenaline-filled dash through the Somali desert to Ras Xaafun, racing past desert villages and swerving around thorn trees and dry gullies that made for ideal ambush points. On reaching the high, desolate, windswept cliffs of Ras Xaafun, we erected a plaque of Peace and Goodwill written in Somali and English onto the crumbling remains of the old Italian-built lighthouse, verified the GPS coordinates provided by the International Geographic Union, built a small cairn of stones to mark Africa’s most extreme easterly point and emptied the Zulu calabash of water carried from Kosi Bay.
Despite all the odds, we made it safely to Ras Xaafun and back, and achieved the life-long dream of reaching all 7 of Africa’s extreme geographic points – a world-first for any expedition team.