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Adventure / November 14, 2017

These bros are road tripping to save the world

Written by: Stacey McKenna

In early November, a glum photograph of the world’s sole surviving male Northern White Rhinocerous went viral. At 42 years old, Sudan has already reached his expected lifespan, extinguishing any hopes that the subspecies could continue without complicated cloning and in-vitro fertilization.

With just three remaining animals, all of whom live in captivity at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the impending extinction of the Northern White Rhino has been widely publicized. But the full scope of the planet’s extinction threat is less prominent in the media. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, about 12% of bird species and almost a quarter of known mammals now officially qualify as “threatened”.

Three African dudes want to bring that issue back into the public eye. So they did what 20-something guys do best: they took a road trip.

On June 12,  Willie Badenhorst, 25, Calum Buckmaster, 24, and Corban Brincat, 26 — three longtime friends from southern Africa — chucked their shoes aside, boarded a sticker-laden, packed-to-the-brim tuk tuk, and set out from Cape Town on an epic expedition for a cause.

For the next four months, the Barefoot Adventurers Club zigged and zagged across Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania en route to Nairobi, Kenya. Along the way, they planned to raise awareness about the plight of wildlife on the African continent and showcase conservation projects in each country.

The Barefoot Adventurers Club, from left: Willie Badenhorst, Calum Buckmaster, and Corban Brincat.

Badenhorst, a conservation and nature tour guide by trade, got his passion for wildlife and the bush from his father. “I’ve been in the bush barefoot since I was a small child,” he said.

“We all consider ourselves Africans, and if we don’t protect these animals, they’ll go extinct. We can just shine light on it.”

In order to catch as much attention as possible along the way, the club opted for a three-wheeled, 400cc diesel tuk tuk they affectionately refer to as “the beast.” Like most tuk tuks, the beast is set up for a single driver who straddles the motorcycle front. But this vehicle is unusual. Its driver shares his space with another person, which makes navigating the often bumpy roads extra tricky. Any additional passengers have to sit sideways in the back, which is decked out with custom built windows, benches, and strongboxes.

Once all the adaptations were finished, the crew chose two Botswana-based beneficiaries for their trip: Elephants Without Borders and Tlhokomela Botswana Endangered Wildlife Trust. Then they were off.

On their 5,000-mile one-way trip, they planned to talk conservation with anyone who would listen, including expats, villagers, and people living in rural townships.

The team’s first goal was to make it to Nairobi, but they always had hopes to do something bigger and more adventurous. After Kenya, they planned to loop back down through Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe or Namibia to break the African record for distance traveled and countries crossed in a tuk tuk.

One of their first destinations outside of Botswana was Livingstone, Zambia’s Greenpop Festival of Action. Zambia loses more than 600,000 acres of forest annually, so Greepop launched a tree planting campaign in 2012, to raise awareness around deforestation and to help communities plant indigenous medicinal and food-providing trees. At the festival, the Barefoot crew worked with other conservation activists to plant trees, set up recycling systems, and learn about sustainable agriculture initiatives from permaculture to bee keeping.

By mid-August, the trio had traveled 3,400 miles—more than 400 on dirt roads and most at speeds under 30 miles per hour—to reach Kande Beach village on the sandy shores of Lake Malawi. To stay within budget, the men spent most nights relying on the generosity of strangers or pitching roadside tents just as the red-orange sun drops below the horizon. Sometimes one person slept in the tuk tuk so they don’t have to unpack all their gear.

These budget-friendly habits came with unexpected benefits. “A lot of the awareness [we’re raising] is with the people we’re staying with. We’re talking to villagers and expats, people living in townships. We’re getting so much love from people,” said Buckmaster.

In early October, they pulled into Nairobi’s Giraffe Center: a sanctuary and educational organization that focuses on protecting the leggy endangered species from poachers and increasing their numbers in the wild.

The Barefoot Adventurers had intended to turn around in Nairobi. But after almost 120 days on the road, the plan had changed. They reached Kenya without any mechanical issues or even a flat tire, and Buckmaster and Badenhorst pushed on to Jinja, Uganda. There, they learned about the looming effects of a proposed system of dams on the Victoria Nile.

“Large amounts of occupied land will be lost due to flooding, affecting the livelihoods of people who rely on the river to survive,” the duo posted on social media.

Inspired by the knowledge they’ve gleaned, relationships they’ve built, and adventures they’ve had since June, The Barefoot Adventurers Club has set some new goals. Buckmaster and Badenhorst are still on the road, and now want to break the world record of 43,000 kilometers—almost 27,000 miles—traveled via tuk tuk.

“If all goes well, we will head to Egypt then into Europe,” they explained via Facebook messenger. From there, the route would take them through Central, Southern, and Southeast Asia en route to Oceania.

Beyond that, the path remains uncharted. “Going forward, it doesn’t have to be just endangered species,” said Buckmaster.

The Barefoot Adventurers Club is still on the road. To follow their adventures, check out their blog, or follow them on Instagram at @barefootadventuresclubafrica.

Do you have questions or comments about this piece? Email them to [email protected]

about the author

Stacey McKenna

Journalist Stacey McKenna covers travel, adventure, health, environment, and social justice. She has written for numerous print and online publications, including Narratively, Mind+Body, The Wayward Post and The Development Set. A medical anthropologist by training, she applies her expertise as a researcher and fascination with the human experience to tell deeply-reported stories in context. 

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