I’d like to introduce you to traveller, entrepreneur and first of all adventurer Josef Říha. Over half a year ago he got in touch with me via email, saying that he would like to contribute to our forest-protecting/developmental/educational programme and help us with saving the mountain forest in Northwestern Cameroon. Not many people offer their help on their own accord, therefore I am very happy to pick his brains and find out more about his adrenaline-infused life.
Hi Josef. We’ve only met a couple months ago and have only seen each other twice, yet you have decided to support our programme in Cameroon. How did you find out about Kedjom-Keku and what made you want to support us?
I’ve heard about your programme from Lida Stellova, who knows many people in Africa and so I got in touch with her to get some contacts for a planned trip across the continent. Mrs Stellova had already helped me organize many things in remote areas of Africa in the past, for instance obtaining a permit to reach the mountain gorillas in the south of Uganda. What made me support Kedjom-Keku was probably a desire to improve the environment and save the original fauna and flora. I’ve always been against the destruction of forests and the following reduction of animal habitats which leads to the decline of their populations. I wanted to help out at least a bit, since I’m not courageous enough to take things into my own hands like some others do.
You are an entrepreneur working in different ranges of services and local development. I’m sure that must take up a lot of your time and energy. Where did you find the strength and determination to start travelling? What are your favourite destinations? Which form of travel do you prefer? Or do you simply walk?
Yes, I worked hard as an entrepreneur and that allowed me to become independent and earn money which gives me the freedom to do what I enjoy. Travelling and sports are my biggest hobbies, but they take up a lot of time which I also try to devote to my girlfriend and recently born daughter. I like to travel to places which are not packed with tourists, which is why I only use travel books of the Lonely Planet type to see which places to avoid. I use local public transport, but I prefer to simply go by foot. Be it walking through mountains or hiking through jungles, and I sleep in my hammock or tent. I can’t really say where I liked it the most, every country has its own beautiful nature and people. At one point I kept returning to Southeast Asia and I simply could not tear myself away from it. I think that the time I spent there would add up to 14 months. Then I had a Central American period and now I’m returning back to Africa.
You were trying to get me into the traditional Paris-Dakar rally last time we saw each other. (You can’t imagine how much I would love to complete it with you, but sadly, time is relentless.) In the end you successfully crossed the finish line in the Senegalese metropolis of Dakar. The route leads through the most dangerous parts of Africa. Did you ever get into a situation where you feared for your life? Do you seek adrenaline or do you prefer calm trips?
I have completed the Intercontinental rally in February this year. And because we picked a good category and were very lucky, we ended up winning the old-timer’s race. Nobody else in our category had managed to complete the route 🙂 It was a beautiful and difficult 14 days, during which we were often trying to find our way at 2am because we got lost and then we were already waiting at the starting line of the next stage a couple hours later. I spent more time holding a shovel than behind the wheel during the desert stages, because our Toyota was too heavy so we were constantly buried in sand. When it comes to safety, the organisers ensured we had an armed escort in Mauritania. About 100 soldiers including cars with machine-guns were watching over every single one of us. I don’t seek out dangerous situations and I especially hate armed conflicts. On the other hand, I love the adrenaline that you get from sports or nature. I did get into dangerous situations several times of course, but this rally went smoothly.
Where are you planning on going now? Won’t you come visit us in Cameroon?
I would like to go back to Senegal in October because I left my zebra (how I call my 1985 Toyota) there. If she’s still there and I manage to start her up, I’d like to continue on through Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast to Ghana. And if it works out, I’ll hopefully manage to somehow drive all the way to Cameroon.
We also talked about your plans to invest in Cameroon. What branch of economics are you interested in and why did you pick Africa?
I’ve been playing around with the idea of building an eco-resort for people of a similar mindset somewhere in the nature for quite a while now. It doesn’t really matter where, I already have some activities in Central America as well. But this sort of project would make me really happy even when I’m not be there. So Cameroon is still an option 🙂
I sometimes wonder whether I shouldn’t start putting my experiences from the Kedjom-Keku community on paper. I’ve read that you’ve already started doing that. What’s your book about and when will it be released?
I think you should definitely start doing that. Even if it doesn’t end up being a book, it’s very important! It could be both inspiring and enlightening for many people. It could inspire people to start similar projects and educate young people who wish to help, but don’t know how to start and would make unnecessary mistakes in their efforts to be helpful. I started writing a book about 6 years ago, but it had nothing to do with travelling or anything similar. They were just ideas I’ve learned from my relatively successful business career. I tried to show how things are between normal people. When people read a book by a business mogul like Donald Trump it all seems unattainable and impossible, but the experiences of a small entrepreneur are something different. I put it aside due to lack of time though, so it’s lying in a drawer in my study.
Thank you for the interview and your support, have a great time and perhaps see you soon in Cameroon.
Thank you and I’ll gladly come visit.