Ian Packham, now 30, spent his whole life in Croydon. Two years ago he decided to leave his job as a scientist to explore Africa, and in doing so, successfully completed the first solo and unassisted circumnavigation of the continent by public transport.
Packham trekked 25,000 miles in 13 months, crossing 31 African nations, the equivalent of going around the Earth at the equator once, without using a vehicle of his own.
“You only see a negative portrayal of Africa,” Packman said. “I wanted to experience what life on the continent was like beyond the media portrayal we tend to get here.”
Packham, who raised £15,000 to cover the cost of the trip, began his odyssey in Gibraltar before crossing over to Tangier in Morocco; he travelled westward following the coast all the way around the world’s second-largest continent.
He mainly travelled using minibuses/shared taxis where eight or more people would be crammed into a vehicle the size of an MPV, but occasionally he had to hitchhike.
Packham added: “I remember in Mozambique travelling in the back of a truck carrying maize, I had to hold onto the bags to stop being thrown about.”
During his travels he was forced to fight off thieves in Senegal, got mistaken for an undercover UN official during Liberia’s presidential election, was refused entry into the Democratic Republic of Congo, and was tear gassed in Sudan while visiting a museum.
But besides this, what the Croydon-born traveller remembers most vividly are the people.
“The kindness of the people was amazing,” Packham confirmed. “They went out of their way to help me and I remember once I was bought a bottle of water because they saw I was thirsty. You would never get that in London.”
Packham, whose family live in Oval Road, Croydon, hopes to travel to Indonesia for his next adventure.
When asked what he would say to someone thinking of replicating his journey, Packham said: “I would recommend everyone to do it, forget your preconceptions and just go. You will meet the most open, friendly people and see the most stunning things.”
A book chronicling his African adventures entitled Encircle Africa: Around Africa by Public Transport [http://encircleafrica.org/] is out now.