The Hidden Journeys Project – Travel Africa By Air

Royal Geographical Society’s Hidden Journeys Project

The Royal Geographical Society is a highly august institution founded in 1830 by the learned gentlemen of London as a debating and dining society, but also to promote geographic awareness and to provide some intellectual and financial impetus to the exploration of a world that, although broadly speaking mapped and understood, was nonetheless still largely a mystery to the academic world. The Society began as the Geographical Society, but was awarded a Royal Charter in 1859.

An enormous amount of study and exploration took place during this period of history, much of it driven by the British intellectual classes, but also much of it philanthropic, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, which by the time of the Royal Charter in 1859 had been so comprehensively looted of its human resources by the east and west coast slave trades. This prompteda massive effort, mainly by British imperial resources, to uplift many of the utterly broken nations and ethnic entities of the region.

The principal geographic conundrums of the time were the source of the Nile, and in general the make up of the Central African Great Lakes complex that was under exploration at about this time by such giants of British geographic outreach as Sir Richard Burton and John Speke, both of whom claimed to have discovered the course of the Nile as being Lake Tanganyika in regard to the former, and Lake Victoria Nyanza in regard to the latter. Speke was in fact closest to the truth, since the Nile does indeed flow out of Lake Victoria, but in fact it was the fractious, ambitious and persuasive Henry Morton Stanley who claimed the laurels of this particular discovery by being the first white man to record a sighting of the snow capped peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains, the principal catchment of the local lakes complex.

The Nile also fascinated another Royal Geographical Society scion, Dr. David Livingstone, something of a personal protege of Sir Roderick Murchison, who presided over the Society between 1951 and 1853, and in whose honor natural features across the globe are named, not least the Murchison Falls in Uganda, and of course the Murchison Cataracts on the Shire River. The latter were so named by David Livingstone during his Royal Geographical Society sponsored Exploration of the Zambezi and tributaries between 1858-1864.

With such a legacy of exploration to call upon, it seems quite natural the the Royal Geographical Society would involve itself in the current global geographic thrust, which is to educate the wider public on matters of conservation, environmental threat and to promote a wider understanding of the world’s cultures, geographic peculiarities and natural phenomenon. The Society has created a web page detailing images and information on some of the better known air travel routes worldwide, offering a unique insight into the vast regions and landscape that as a rule air travelers tend to ignore. This is a superb resource that is available for users to contribute to as they journey across the globe.  The official preamble to the Hidden Journeys website states that:

The Hidden Journeys Project is the[Royal Geographical] Society’s public engagement program to turn the international flying experience into a fascinating exploration of the people, places and environments below.

This website allows you to interact with the parts of the earth beneath certain flight paths, each of which can be explored at three different altitudes, illustrated with inspiring photographs, paintings and informed descriptions of what you can recognize from the air.

Of particular interest to us here at Eco Travel Africa is a Kilimanjaro expose detailing the attempted summit in 1909 by American hunter and explorer Peter MacQueen, excerpts from whose diary can be found here. Below are a selection of the images associated with this journey:

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