Skip to main content

'Expedition' retraces steps of early adventurers

  • Story Highlights
  • Modern-day expedition re-creates journey of 19th-century explorers
  • "Expedition Africa: Stanley & Livingstone" premieres Sunday
  • Four explorers travel 970 miles across Tanzania in 30 days
By Marnie Hunter
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

(CNN) -- Four strong-minded, self-sufficient adventurers set out on a nearly 1,000-mile journey into the heart of Tanzania, using only basic maps and a compass. Were they vying for a million dollars, trying to knock each other off the route and out of the running?

The group traveled 970 miles across Tanzania, through jungle, mountains, rivers and swamps.

"Expedition Africa" retraces Henry Morton Stanley's quest to find Dr. David Livingstone in 1871.

Hardly. The explorers were re-creating the journey that American journalist Henry Morton Stanley took in 1871 on his quest to find Dr. David Livingstone, the heroic 19th-century Scottish explorer who disappeared during an expedition to locate the source of the Nile River.

"Expedition Africa: Stanley & Livingstone," an eight-part series from "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett, premieres Sunday on the History Channel.

The four explorers -- experts in navigation, survival and wildlife, as well as a seasoned war correspondent -- make the trek using resources that would have been available to Stanley, a correspondent from The New York Herald sent for the scoop on the fate of the famed Livingstone.

"We were really trying to challenge ourselves and get into the mind of Stanley and find out whether or not modern-day explorers are as tough as the originals," said Mireya Mayor, a wildlife expert and Ph.D. in anthropology.

And are they? "It's quite a blanket statement to really know that," Mayor hedged. "But we all gained a lot of respect for the pioneering explorers and what they must have gone through at that time."

Mayor and the rest of the group -- navigator Pasquale Scaturro, an expedition leader for more than 25 years who guided a blind climber to the summit of Mount Everest in 2001; survivalist Benedict Allen, who has been abandoned and left to die twice in the Amazon; and Kevin Sites, a solo journalist who has covered war and disaster for the past seven years -- faced hurdles ranging from crocodile-infested waters and agitated hippos to malaria and dangerous drinking water shortages on their 30-day expedition.

Don't Miss

As the navigator, Scaturro was the "frontman," Allen said, but the four adventure-seekers never were able to settle on a sole expedition leader.

"There was always a bit of a question mark there," Allen said.

"We valued each other's skills," he added later. "There was no one there who was an idiot."

Unlike on the popular "Survivor" series, the show's producers sought experts in the field of exploration and survival to participate in the recreation of the historic expedition.

"You're out in the jungle, desert, the mountains, the rivers, swamps; you don't want to get people killed," Scaturro said. "You want to at least be able to have a fighting chance of making it."

The explorers traveled with porters and Masai warriors as well as the requisite camera crews. But the group was not allowed to interact with the crews, and everyone was expected to keep up with the pace of the 30-day trek.

"I think what's nice is that we weren't going to stand around and repeat something that was important. If they missed it, they missed it, and that's life, and I think that's what gives this program a sense of a real expedition," Allen said.

And by all indications, despite one explorer's life-threatening bout of malaria, the expedition was a success. The group arrived in Ujiji, the spot where, after nine months, Stanley's path finally crossed Livingstone's.

"That feeling when we finally arrived in Ujiji at the end of the expedition, the very place where Stanley met Livingstone for the first time and uttered those immortal words, 'Dr. Livingstone, I presume?' was a wonderful moment to know we had managed to do the journey," Allen said.

And as with many expeditions, "you enjoy having done them more than the actual journey, the actual enjoyment at the time," he said.


Allen hopes the show will convey that exploration is still very much alive.

"Because people often think ... the golden years of exploration were back in the Victorian days of Livingstone and Stanley, but there's still so much out there," he said. "And that's what I hope the series will give to people: the sense of Africa and the present day that's still so exciting."

All About Travel and TourismTelevision

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print