a cause

David Grier is cross­ing Mada­gas­car on foot to raise funds for char­ity, writes LEILA SAMODIEN

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

YOU’RE alone in the mid­dle of a vast ex­panse of dark blue ocean. The sea is calm; the sky is clear, but you know that at any mo­ment, a rogue wave could come up be­hind you, knock­ing you right out of your kayak.

From above, the 40ºC heat is mer­ci­less, burn­ing ev­ery inch of ex­posed skin. And it’s even worse be­low – there’s no know­ing what lies in the depths of the wa­ter.

Within min­utes, things turn ugly. The skies fill with dark, bulging clouds; rain comes down in show­ers; the waves are walls ready to crash down on you and, sud­denly, you find your­self in the midst of a trop­i­cal storm – slap bang in the mid­dle of the Mozam­bique Chan­nel, an area no­to­ri­ous for its pi­rates.

As the min­utes pass, it be­comes more daunt­ing. Just 100m from where you are des­per­ately pad­dling, a tor­nado forms. It grows big­ger and big­ger un­til it reaches 200m up in the air.

Your adrenalin pumps, and your arms move faster in an at­tempt not to get sucked in, but to no avail. You’re thumped out of your kayak by a huge wave.

Luck­ily, there’s a sup­port boat about a kilo­me­tre away. They pick you up, and you’re safe – for now.

This is not the script for an ad­ven­ture movie. For David Grier, a chef, mo­ti­va­tional speaker and ad­ven­turer from Cape Town, it was just an­other day on the job.

Grier is on a four-and-a-half­month jour­ney across Mada­gas­car, from the south to north, us­ing noth­ing but a kayak, some equip­ment and his legs.

The ex­otic voy­age – which is not his first, and ac­cord­ing to his wife Lizelle prob­a­bly not his last – is Grier’s con­tri­bu­tion to Op­er­a­tion Smile, a char­ity or­gan­i­sa­tion that aids chil­dren born with cleft lips and palates.

Grier is cur­rently on the sec­ond leg of his ad­ven­ture, trekking through the thick of Mada­gas­car’s jun­gle.

His plan is to cover the 2 500km dis­tance on foot, and most of the time he’ll be run­ning.

How­ever, be­fore he could start run­ning, he had to get to the is­land. And this was not just as sim­ple as plane ride and an air­port trans­fer.

Grier of­fi­cially be­gan his ad­ven­ture on De­cem­ber 1 in Na­cala on the Mozam­bi­can shore. From there, he pushed off in his kayak and pad­dled across the chan­nel – a lengthy 500km.

This part of the jour­ney took 11 days, and was not without its mo­ments of drama. Grier bat­tled through at least one trop­i­cal storm and many more smaller ones. And, when it wasn’t rain­ing, the tem­per­a­ture soared to 40°C and higher.

“The ocean is so un­pre­dictable,” Grier told Week­end Ar­gus in a tele­phonic in­ter­view from Mada­gas­car. “It will be dead calm; five min­utes later, you’re in this huge storm.”

The sea jour­ney was made even more chal­leng­ing for Grier in that, up un­til a few months ago,

‘Here you have peo­ple who have noth­ing, but they’re

he had never kayaked be­fore.

He was knocked out of his kayak at least six times while cross­ing the Mozam­bi­can Chan­nel. “The waves some­times get so high, you just don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen,” he says.

“And when you do fall out, all you can think is: ‘God, this wa­ter is 3km deep; what lies be­neath me right now?’”.

When Grier fi­nally reached the shore of the is­land, he be­gan his jour­ney on foot from the south side. And this was the beginning of a long, ex­haust­ing, months-long run.

Grier has been mov­ing through the thick, leafy jun­gle for more than month now, cov­er­ing about 40km a day.

“It’s a scary place,” he says. “It’s so re­mote, there’s not one bit of cell­phone sig­nal (in some places). And the in­sects!”

But for the bold ad­ven­turer and his cam­era­man Nick Hey­gate, who some­times runs with Grier to cap­ture his trav­els on film, it’s the leeches that have been the most drain­ing.

“I’ve prob­a­bly been bit­ten a hun­dred times, no ex­ag­ger­a­tion,” he says. “What’s worse is that when you fi­nally get them off, you have mag­gots set­tling in the wounds. There’s nowhere to hide from the in­sects.”

Their voy­age would be eas­ier if they had reg­u­lar food and shel­ter. But, as is true in any great ad­ven­ture, the pair are slum­ming it is­land style.

They’ve been taken in at vil­lages and con­vents, com­mu­ni­cated us­ing only sign lan­guage and eaten noth­ing but rice for days at a time.

Grier, how­ever, says this has only made the ex­pe­ri­ence that much more mem­o­rable.

“It’s ab­so­lutely amaz­ing. The peo­ple in the small vil­lages are so friendly. Here you have peo­ple who have noth­ing, but they’re will­ing to give you ev­ery­thing, even though they don’t un­der­stand you. They give you a meal, a place to sleep – all without ask­ing any­thing in re­turn.”

Hey­gate has also had to deal with a se­ri­ous case of fever.

And this is only the beginning. Grier will be run­ning for at least an­other two months. Then, once he reaches the is­land’s north shore, he’ll kayak and kite-surf back to Mozam­bique.

But, why on earth would any­one put them­selves through all that? Be­sides be­ing young at heart, Grier, who spent his 50th birth­day in soli­tude some­where in the Mada­gas­car jun­gle this month, be­lieves that Op­er­a­tion Smile is a wor­thy cause that de­serves peo­ple’s at­ten­tion.

“This is such a tan­gi­ble way of help­ing chil­dren. We’re talk­ing about a sim­ple, 45-minute op­er­a­tion that will change a child’s life for­ever,” he says.

“Yes, this trip is crazy, but most times, that’s the only way to get peo­ple to sit up and lis­ten.”

Grier hopes to raise enough money to fund the op­er­a­tions of 210 chil­dren.

Mada­gas­car is not Grier’s first ad­ven­ture as part of his Miles for Smiles cam­paign. In 2006, he ran the 4 200km stretch along the Great Wall of China, and two years later ran 3 300km along the south­ern African coast­line.

Lizelle says she sup­ports his trav­els, and while he promised this would be the last, she had her doubts.

“Ei­ther way, I’m be­hind him,” she says. “This time, he’s missed out on a lot: Christ­mas, New Year’s, and our an­niver­sary in March… so he has a lot of gifts to catch up on!”

Grier also uses his cell­phone, to com­mu­ni­cate with his fam­ily, and to reg­u­larly up­date his blog and Face­book and Twit­ter web­pages, which peo­ple can use to fol­low his ex­ploits.

To do­nate money to Grier’s cause, or to fol­low his ad­ven­tures, visit www.miles­forsmiles.co.za

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