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Francis Tapon is an extreme adventure traveler who has hiked across America four times, walked across Spain twice, and has traveled to 100 counties.  An incredibly inspiring traveler with a thirst to see more of the world, he is currently on a four-year voyage to visit all 54 African countries.

And he’ll be filming his four year journey along the way to bring us a groundbreaking new TV series with footage and film from the places that CNN and Nat Geo don’t show you. His aim is to show the world the Unseen Africa.

What is the Unseen Africa Kickstarter Project?

We want to make a TV series about the unseen sides of Africa. To do that, we need to show TV executives a trailer and a pilot episode.

We’ve invested tens of thousands to make the trailer. Now we need your help to make the one-hour pilot episode. In exchange for your help, we’re showering our backers with awesome rewards!

What is the Unseen Africa TV Series about?

The Unseen Africa is an adventure travel TV series that will take viewers to all 54 African countries.

Think Rick Steves meets Bear Grylls. Part documentary, part reality show, The Unseen Africa will show sides of Africa that few see.

The Unseen Africa will allow you to meet the locals of lesser known countries.

The Unseen Africa will introduce us to the locals of lesser known African countries.

Which countries will you be covering? Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt and maybe South Africa right?

Yes, and 50 other far-less known African countries like Comoros, Burkina Faso, and Equatorial Guinea!

What will a typical episode be like?

We’ll feature the most unseen sides of an African region. We’ll feature interviews with everyday Africans to capture their voices, perspective, and thoughts— we will move beyond the cliche of simply filming primitive tribes dancing.

You’ll see the life of middle-class Africans to contrast the standard image of abject poverty. I’ll climb the highest peak of each African country, so at least one mountain climb will appear in each episode too.

Celebrating after sneaking to the top of the tallest mountain in Mauritania.

Celebrating after sneaking to the top of the tallest mountain in Mauritania.

You’re the host – tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a global citizen: I’ve got three passports thanks to having been born in the USA with a Chilean mom and a French dad.

I’m a TEDx speaker who likes to get people out of the house and out of their comfort zone.

What images are we used to seeing of Africa? Are these images accurate?

There are two basic African themes that we always see on TV:

THE GOOD: safaris, wildlife, tribal dancing, pyramids  

THE BAD: war, famine, disease, chaos

They’re as accurate as the standard images that foreigners see of America: impressive metropolises, school shootings, and flag-waving, fat people.

In other words, all these images are accurate – those elements exist in America, just like those classic African images exist in Africa. However, it’s just part of the story. I want to focus on the untold part of the story.

Focusing

Focusing on the untold stories.

Why do you think CNN and National Geographic don’t cover these unseen sides of Africa?

Because they don’t sell. They’re “boring.” Who wants to watch a CNN news report that says that all is well in Togo? And who wants to see a Nat Geo program on Mali’s tallest peak when they can watch yet another program on Kilimanjaro?

Still, I think some people will find the everyday lives of Africans interesting.

Tell us about your most memorable African experience to date.

While I was going up Liberia’s tallest mountain, my guide abandoned me without telling me, leaving me alone, with just a machete. The sun set and I got lost on my way down.

I spent two nights outside without shelter with just the company of biting ants!

Why should people travel to Africa?

To get out of their comfort zone.

Try to live without piped water and reliable electricity for a few weeks. You’ll spend more time with people and less time with the device you’re looking at right now.

Spending more time with people.

Spending more time with people.

Where should people travel in Africa?

Anywhere is great, but I like to encourage people to step out of the standard tourist countries. It’s not that they’re bad; on the contrary, they’re popular because they’re amazing.

Still, it’s special to go to less popular places and interact with people who are rarely see tourists.

Are parts of Africa unsafe for travel?

Yes, but contrary to popular belief, it’s just about 1% of landmass. I’ve been to 5 countries that the US State Dept has a Travel Warning on. They were all completely fine.

Remember that most conflicts are just in pockets, not in every corner of the country. For example, the Central Africa Republic is having a mini-war right now, but it’s not in every corner of the country.

I was in northern Mali in September 2013 and things were peaceful, even though I saw military patrolling the area. In short, most places in Africa are safer than NYC.

What are some common misconceptions about travelling through this continent?

That you will die, get some incurable disease, and get raped daily. I’ve picked up over 1,000 hitchhikers and nothing bad has ever happened. On the contrary, many have invited me to their homes afterwards and treated me like an honored guest.

In Morocco, I picked up over 100 hitchhikers. Here's one of them. He invited us to hang out with his 600 camels afterwards.

In Morocco, I picked up over 100 hitchhikers. Here’s one of them. He invited us to hang out with his 600 camels afterwards.

Why is Africa the adventure of a lifetime?

It is if you go to all 54 of its countries in one shot, which I doubt has ever been done before. But Africa’s tourist industry is not as developed as other continents, so it always feels like an adventure.

Tell us about some of Africa’s unseen cuisine?

In the Western Sahara, some Sahrawis made bread by tossing it in a “dirt oven.”

Tell us about some of Africa’s unseen terrain?

In Sierra Leone, I drove a road that nobody had ever driven in a car. It was made for motorcycle. They had to modify a few bridges and I got stuck in the mud several times. I like to push the limits.

Tell us about some of Africa’s unusual customs.

Polygamy is widely practiced in West Africa. It doesn’t seem to be diminishing. What I’m trying to understand is why aren’t there any single, unmarried men over 40. A polygamous society ought to have them. That’s a mystery.

What are the most helpful things people can do to help this project? 

Or more succinctly: (1) Spread the word and (2) Pledge as much as you can!

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Francis Tapon has hiked across America four times, walked across Spain twice, and has traveled to 100 counties. He has written two books, Hike Your Own Hike and The Hidden Europe. He is currently on a four-year voyage to visit all 54 African countries. He has a Religion BA from Amherst College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

    8 Comments

  1. Very Interesting! I like that the documentary will be covering middle-classed African life as well. We rarely see that. I’m looking forward to watching this!

    • Completely agree – I also can’t wait for the first episode! Will be really refreshing to see something from the area which has never been touched on before.

  2. Very interesting, love the way Francis expresses himself. Incidentally, just finished reading his post on Nomadic Samuel “Top 9 Myths about West Africa”. Great stuff, anything but boring.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • I’ll have to head over to Nomadic Samuel and read his guest post – I love Francis’ writing; as you said, it’s always anything but boring! Can’t wait for the TV series!

  3. I loved the trailer for this show! I am extremely excited for this to begin. You never see this side of Africa ever and I love how you will also be showing the lives of your average middle class African rather than just the poor and less fortunate population.

    • It’s a great concept! I was instantly inspired by the trailer also :)

  4. Megan, I love this interview like no other (even more than the one with me haha).
    Francis, since I’m so much into Africa, I find your idea simply great. There are so many places, customs and people which are totally out of reach for most of us and TV doesn’t really show them too. I’m really looking forward to seeing the first episode :)Good luck!

    PS. I’d love to have you with a guest post on my blog!

    • Thanks Justyna – glad you enjoyed the interview! Shoot me an email to megan@mappingmegan.com and I can put you two in touch if you would like :)

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