Photograph by Carlos Litulo
When travelers talk of doing the Cape-to-Cairo route, one thing is certain: They’re not talking about walking it. But at this very moment, 24-year-old Amy Russell and her Walking4Water teammates are hoofing the 7,000-mile stretch from South Africa to Egypt to raise awareness and funds for Charity: Water, a nonprofit organization that delivers clean water to people in developing nations.
Russell admits to being a bit crazy but argues that the two-year trek is the most direct way to document the effect that clean, safe drinking water can have on remote communities and encourage philanthropy that benefits some of the 800 million people who don't have access to safe water.
“When you travel, it’s easy to have a temporary mind-set because you don’t stay long in one place,” she says. “But I think travelers should be advocates. If you see a situation that needs help, get involved.”
Though progress is slow along their route, the team hopes to roll into Cairo in 2014. Keep track of their progress on the walking4water blog.
—By George W. Stone
National Geographic Traveler: Why is travel important?
Amy Russell: We tend to attract others that are similar to ourselves. Travel allows us to move beyond our comfort zones and embrace new people and ways of thinking.
NGT: Can you point to one trip or experience that ignited your curiosity about the world?
AR: When I was a kid, my next-door neighbor was a reporter, or a photographer, and he got to travel all the time. I was in charge of feeding his fish and he always brought me supercool gifts.
NGT: What inspired you to travel in the way that has resulted in your being chosen as a Traveler of the Year?
AR: I am walking across Africa because it’s what I felt God led me to do. I have strong convictions about fighting injustice and poverty in sustainable ways, which led me to be an advocate for Charity: Water. I saw this trip as a potential way to support them and help end the world water crisis.
NGT: Who is your hero and why?
AR: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for giving his leadership and voice to the Civil Rights Movement. His dream of the “Beloved Community” reaches beyond racial reconciliation to justice and equality for all people. It’s about moving past tolerance into love—a dream that we can still chase today.
NGT: Do you have a personal motto or mantra that embodies your approach to life and travel?
AR: My teammate, Aaron, made up a good one the other day: “Live life to the top!” To me, it speaks to the idea of not letting time be wasted; living every moment for all it’s worth.
NGT: What do you never leave home without when you travel?
AR: My passport. Everything else is dispensable.
NGT: What is the most beautiful place you’ve experienced while traveling?
AR: Before Africa, we did a warm-up walk from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and the combination of forests, cliffs, and ocean along the Pacific Coast Highway was absolutely spectacular. Though there are amazing places in Africa, those views were still the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen.
NGT: Name three places that you’d like to visit before you die and why.
AR: Southern India. I’ve heard great tales of houseboats, elephant rides, and beautiful fields of green.
Alaska. When you have to take a snowmobile to get around, it must be a cool place to visit.
NGT: What's one place you’ve been to that you think everyone should visit?
AR: We unexpectedly ended up in Lesotho, but it was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen. Everyone should visit Sehlabathebe National Park, and see the homes and cave paintings on the sides of the mountains. You’ll have to be ready to walk a good distance, or take a horse, but you won’t be disappointed.
NGT: What’s next?
AR: After walking Africa, I’d like to spend some time in Europe. The one main question right now is Eurorail, bike, or both?
Introducing the 2014 Travelers of the Year
National Geographic Traveler celebrates individuals who travel with passion and purpose, have an exceptional story to tell, and represent a style of travel, motivation, or method that can inform and inspire us all. Discovery is the destination for these travelers, who are driven by curiosity and transported by passion to overcome any obstacle along the way. On Traveler’s 30th anniversary, our third annual list proves that there’s no barrier to entry for anyone on a mission to embrace the world and bring about positive change. Get to know the honorees in photos and interviews.
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