For Mario Rigby, walking the length of Africa was just the start. Now a renowned eco-explorer, Rigby returns home to tackle the next challenge. Traversing the Turks & Caicos archipelago under his own power. From Salt Cay to West Caicos, the journey would be completed through a combination of swimming, biking, kayaking, running, and hiking. With the intent on inspiring people locally and globally to get out, be brave, and see the world.
The Caicos Challenge
For years, Mario Rigby has considered the Turks & Caicos archipelago as the perfect setting for an adventure. Growing up on the island chain, he spent his adolescent years wandering the landscape with friends, camping out in coastal caves and swimming in the turquoise waters.
Stirred by these childhood memories and inspired by the islands' seafaring history, Mario has long been compelled to return. After his first life-altering eco-adventure—a 2-year, 12,000 kilometer, trek across Africa—helped open his eyes to the world, he saw his island home in a new light. With a better knowledge of his own ancestral history, Rigby was eager to test his endurance once again and traverse the islands in much the same manner as the earliest indigenous seafarers once had. Looking to share the experience with others, the Caicos Challenge was born—with an aim to explore some of the islands' rich history, educate locals and visitors on recognizing their environmental impact, and help push the initiative to protect and preserve the islands' fragile ecosystem.
The Caicos Challenge would take Mario along nearly the entire length of the island chain from Salt Cay to West Caicos. Two considerable ocean crossings set the tone of the swift 5-day journey across all eight of Turks & Caicos' main islands. Accompanying Mario across the oceanic waters was Chev Dixon, an accomplished sea kayaking instructor and explorer in his own right. The two men completed 3 crossings during the Challenge, including conquering the Turks Island Passage, a 33.8km stretch of open ocean between the Turks and Caicos island groups. Mario and Chev are the first in recorded history to have ever crossed it by human power alone.
During the course of the journey, Mario explored the stunning terrain of the islands while highlighting important issues of sustainability and development. Introducing his followers to the eco-diversity of the archipelago and the unique beauty of the landscape that he grew up exploring. With an abundance of sea life around the islands, it was not uncommon to see lobsters, fish, crabs to larger creatures such as sea turtles and dolphins. However, a surge in population and rise in tourism over the past 40 years has put incredible pressure on the sea life surrounding the islands.
Each day, Mario also shared his adventure with his global community of followers over social media. Alongside the test of his endurance, Mario hoped to raise awareness around sustainable tourism, partnering with the Turks & Caicos Reef Fund to raise money and give back to the local communities. Mario focused on issues specific to each area such as coral reef bleaching thought to be caused in part by coral-harming chemicals in popular consumer sunscreens (two harmful chemicals include oxybenzone and octinoxate) and the importance of maintaining the precious natural resources of the Turks & Caicos. Looking to educate and give the power back to the people that live on the islands, Mario hoped to inspire others to be the caretakers and advocates of the places they call home.
Mario Rigby is no stranger to testing his body’s limits and the Caicos Challenge was not the first of his human-powered eco-excursions. In 2015, he sold nearly everything he owned and left the comforts of his home to take off on his first major expedition, Crossing Africa. Traveling by foot and kayak, Mario traversed nearly the entire length of Africa. Crossing the mountains, plains, deserts, and valleys of eight African countries, Mario first set off from Cape Town, South Africa on his 30th birthday.
At around 7,456 miles (12,000-kilometers) and fraught with obstacles, Mario’s journey across Africa opened his eyes to how much the world had to offer and inspired an incredible amount of confidence in his own ability to persevere and achieve whatever he set his mind to. Getting attacked by wild dogs, spending a night in jail, getting caught in the middle of a gunfight between rebel soldiers, and combating the loneliness of traveling on his own through miles of isolated wilderness, the journey has made each of his subsequent adventures feel small to him in comparison.
Crossing Africa also led him to encounter many diverse cultures and vast human kindness in the most unexpected places. Offered compassion and aid from complete strangers throughout his trek – many of whom invited him into their homes to eat and rest during his trek. The experience inspired him to try to help bridge the gap between different communities, teaching others about the cultures he encounters on his adventures to help accept and celebrate the differences between different groups of people. Mario’s trek took two and a half years, ending in Cairo, Egypt.
A strong component of Mario’s expeditions entails endurance focused training. During the months leading up to the Turks & Caicos Challenge, Mario trained in Canada. Following an intense regimen, Mario completed what most would consider a full triathlon each day as he prepared for his 140-mile trek across the island archipelago.
While, expectedly, a difficult feat to physically prepare for – Mario also faced some unexpected hurdles when it came to launching his Turks & Caicos Challenge from checking logistics and raising funds. One of the larger obstacles that Mario and his team were forced to work around was the Covid-19 pandemic. With travel restrictions and his initial plans for the expedition cancelled due to the pandemic, Rigby tested his mettle and filled his time with smaller, but no less impressive, escapades. Setting off with a sea kayak mid-2020, he took on a challenging 220-mile (355 km) long Lake Ontario crossing to prove that you do not have to travel far to find adventure.
Pushing body and mind to the limit, Mario’s adventures have carried him throughout Canada and even across the entirety of the African continent. In his travels, he looks to inspire others to venture out, explore their world, and break their comfort zone. Empowering the next generation of travelers and explorers to construct their own journeys. Working to shift the narrative of what exploration looks like, he has worked to introduce new sites and destinations to his followers and supporters, revealing hidden gems and educating others about local customs and the ecology of each location. Inspiring others to get out, be brave, and see the world.
Learn more about Mario’s human-powered eco-adventures in our #TowingAdventure film, ‘Son of the Soil.’