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Mario Rigby

“Get out, be brave, and explore the world.” That’s Mario Rigby’s advice, and it’s something he’s put into practice in his own life.

Born in Turks and Caicos Islands, he moved to a village near Stuttgart, Germany, with his family in his youth and excelled as a track-and-field athlete. At 16 he moved to Canada with his mom and brother. Immersed in those vastly different cultures, he developed a profound sense of curiosity and what he calls “a great relationship with fear.”

“I don’t push it away, nor do I ignore it and try to compete with it,” he says. “I simply use it as fuel to propel me forward.”

Experience Life April 2020His adventurous streak and passion for the environment have fueled an unsupported, 89-day, 4,500-mile cycling trip across Canada and a 342-mile hike from Toronto to Montreal to promote human-powered travel. But his longest and toughest act of adventuring and activism took him quite a few steps farther when he traversed the 7,460 miles from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt — on foot. He began in 2015 and completed the trek in 2018, one of only three people to accomplish the feat.

“I wanted to explore the world in a unique way that allowed me to experience the villages, tribes, and cultures without the convenience of just leaving any place at any time,” Rigby, 34, explains. “If you walk, you can’t just leave at night and go somewhere else. You have to arrive and then befriend strangers within minutes.”

Those strangers supplied him with food and water, allowing him to stretch his daily spending budget of a few dollars. Fearlessness kicked in when he contracted malaria, was jailed in Malawi (because the police didn’t believe he was who he said he was), and dodged rebel crossfire in Mozambique.

To stoke curiosity and adventure in others — particularly black people, who often lack access to natural spaces — Rigby shared updates on social media. “We are all filled with unimaginable potential; perhaps my adventures inspired others to move away from their comfort zones and unleash theirs.”

Experience Life | Why did you start prioritizing adventure in your life?

Mario Rigby | I was running fitness boot camps at my own gym, and things were going really well. But I began to feel like I was living in a bubble.

One day I was sitting in my beautiful condo overlooking Toronto — it was like a bachelor’s-dream-come-true kind of thing — and I thought to myself: Why am I doing all this work and trying to become this successful person to basically live in this contained box?

I remembered that my dreams and aspirations have always been higher than just making a living and being “successful.” But I’d never allowed myself to tap into that. I’d focused on what I could get started doing now, which was training, because I’d done that all through university. My mentality was that I should become successful in whatever I was trained in, even if I didn’t love it.

The turning point was when a friend asked, “Mario, if you could do anything in life, what would you do?” This is a common question, but I really took it seriously this time and responded, “I would travel the world in the most difficult-to-reach places, capture the cultures and the environment, and share it with the rest of the world.”

I had basically homed in on my purpose: Travel in a challenging way, learn about other cultures and terrains, and share what I’ve learned with the world. I realized later how my purpose merged with my passions of writing, filmmaking, and creating environmental awareness — which is why I decided to do a human-powered trip.

EL | What are some lessons you learned from your trip that stick with you today? 

MR | First, I learned about a different sense of humanity. There’s this philosophy of ubuntu, which is often translated as “I am because we are.” [Ubuntu is defined as an understanding of the interconnectedness of all life.] This philosophy, I think, is hardwired in most Africans. I saw it all the time during my walk across the continent. There was this constant kindness and hospitality that I’ve never experienced before.

Africans are deeply curious and empathetic toward other human beings and aren’t afraid to show that. To me, that displays so much courage. But to them, it wasn’t courage; it was normal.

Another thing I learned is that poverty isn’t as widespread as we think. Poverty happens in areas that we, in the West, have affected in Africa. An example is when we created borders that weren’t really supposed to be there because there are nomadic tribes that move between countries.

I actually walked with the Maasai tribe from Tanzania, and they just roam between borders without passports or visa checks, and it’s not even something they think about. They move based on where the grass and pasture is so their animals can graze, and they can gather other food sources.

I think this highlights another major difference between Africa and the West. In Africa, the humanity and the environment are the same. They don’t go into the jungle to hike or meditate; there is no such separation or wall between them and the earth.

In the West, we have created whole separate ecosystems away from nature or have thought we could conquer or should fear nature, and that has led to the troubles that we are in today with climate change and mass extinction.

EL | In the West, we tend to learn to not talk to strangers, which has led to some sharp divisions. How did you become so open to talking to people you don’t know?

MR | It started with my mother — she was very strong about character building. I remember one time I came back from school, and I was so angry. My mom asked me what was wrong, and I told her there was this kid who was picking on me and saying racist things. At one point, I said, “I hate this guy and I’m so tired of him picking on me.”

My mom slammed the table and said, “Don’t you ever use the word ‘hate.’” She told me that hate is the ugliest thing that you could ever have in your body and heart and that hate tells more about you than it does about the person that you’re talking about.

EL | What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome during your long journeys?

MR | One of the toughest was learning to enjoy my own company. I was sometimes by myself for weeks at a time. The hard part of these long trips is staying motivated, and at times you just want to quit.

So in order to keep going, you have to become your own best friend and keep fighting and go through the physical, emotional, and mental pain that you are feeling. What helped me get through it all was learning to feel a universal love for myself, other people, and all life, and to approach whatever I was going through with a feeling of gratitude for the experiences.

EL | Tell us about your next trip to Africa.

MR | It’s called Project EVA. We’re basically aiming to be the mascot for sustainable energy development in Africa. We know, based on United Nations estimates, that Africa’s population will triple to about 4 billion people by the year 2100. That means one in three people will live on the continent.

Africa has a unique opportunity to avoid the mistakes that we’ve made in the West and leapfrog into the future by harnessing renewable energy and new technologies. If they succeed, we all succeed. I want to be a part of that.

Photography by: Simone Eringfeld

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