Othmane Zolati jumping for joy after he crossed the border into South Africa. Picture: Supplied
Othmane Zolati jumping for joy after he crossed the border into South Africa. Picture: Supplied

Othmane Zolati maps out his inspiring journey in ’Africa and I’

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Aug 10, 2021

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At 20, Moroccan-born Othmane Zolati had a burning desire to visit Cape Agulhas, which is located on the southern tip of the African continent.

Having never travelled out of the country, this was a scary but exciting decision.

Having just finished university, the expectation was for him to follow tradition and start working to contribute to the household. But he baulked at the idea of a 9 to 5 job as an engineer and waiting for a salary at the end of the month.

Although his parents weren’t comfortable with him venturing out into the world, especially with so many news stories painting such a bleak picture of Africa as unsafe and dangerous, he wanted to experience the continent and its people, first-hand.

As such, he left home with about $80, a backpack and a borrowed, inexpensive camera from his sister.

Little did he realise at the time that his travels, which took him over four years to complete, would turn him into an internet sensation through his blogging as well as bag him the Adventurer of the Year at the 2018 Moroccan Adventure Film Festival.

He was also named as one of the world’s best travellers at the Dubai Travelers Festival in 2017.

His journey, which saw him visit 24 countries, wasn’t easy. But as a free spirit, his easygoing personality saw the locals warm up to him and invite him into their homes.

In “Africa and I”, a 90-minute Showmax documentary, viewers get to live vicariously through him.

Despite the exhaustion, Zolati pushed on with his journey. Picture: Supplied

To get to South Africa, he covered well over 30 0000 km. But what was most jaw-dropping about his backpacking journey was the fact that he did so by walking, hitch-hiking, cycling and skateboarding.

There was one occasion where he had no choice but to fly from one destination to the next. And, given his easy-going personality, he took setbacks – and some near-death experiences – in his stride.

His first pitstop was Senegal. He started his journey at 10am on January 29, 2015.

He was struck by how close the culture here was to his. He pitched his tent on the beach and, in befriending the locals and fishermen, he was invited to their village.

The local language was a bit of a stumbling block when it came to communication but he made an effort to learn it.

The more he explored Africa, the more he fell in love with the continent and its people.

Everywhere he went, the locals “adopted” him. Their warmth, generosity and humility warmed the cockles of his heart.

At one point, he said: “This is not what I’ve seen in the media all my life; this is not the Africa I was warned about. This is why I’m here, to see things differently, to have my own experiences, and to change my way of thinking about this continent.”

His highlights include being invited on a skateboarding tour of Ethiopia, stumbling across a make-shift professional music recording studio in a rural community, being exposed to the Maasai, the Hamer and the Himba people, surviving war-torn environments, among others.

In Ganvie, Benin, which is dubbed the Venice of Africa, he celebrated Eid al-Adha with the townsfolk, who were so impressed by his skillset in skinning an animal for sacrifice that they allowed him to help with.

He said it was comforting to be part of this custom despite being so far away from home.

While on his travels, he found odd jobs to fund his trip and to purchase new equipment.

He found himself infected with malaria on three separate occasions and, by the grace of God, he pulled through. Along the way, fate intervened, especially when he reached a major hurdle in securing a visa for South Africa.

Despite braving the elements and having to ration his food supply, Zolati’s courage, positive mindset, adventurous spirit and endearing personality saw him realise his dream. And he has a football shirt from every country to prove it.

After over four years on the road, he is now a resident of Cape Town and looking forward to his next adventure: sailing around the world.

“Africa and I” is currently streaming on Showmax.

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