At Home With Rob Martineau
We were interested in what Robert Martineau, friend of Hamilton and Hare, thought of as home after spending months walking through West Africa living out of a backpack. Encountering Voodoo and walking with strangers as journaled in his new book ‘Waypoints’, we talked about how the experience has shaped his life back in London and his current vocation as co-founder of TRIBE.
Did your understanding of home change through your journey and what does home mean to you now?
Walking those months, physically home became what I carried in my pack and the tent I slept in each night. Part of the appeal of the journey for me was to try to cut back the amount of things I'd surrounded myself with before, and to detach myself from the volume of inputs that were coming at me. The idea of the walk was that it would be a kind of fast.
One of the main things I took from the walk though was the importance of having and nourishing roots. I'd lived in a way that was pretty detached from any place before. Since I came back to the UK I feel much more at home here. I have my place in Shepherd's Bush that's home, and other places - Oxford, where my family live, and the Lakes, where I go a lot to run, which I feel a real connection with too.
Condensing your belongings into a single backpack must have been a challenge – what was the most important item in there, was there a home comfort that was important to you or was everything purely practical?
I reckon the most important was my little tent - I loved it, and it meant I was happy sleeping anywhere. I had a couple of home comforts: my journal and a little iPod shuffle, but I kept things pretty minimal.
Is music important to you – did you listen to anything on your walk or when you run now?
I very occasionally listened to music when I walked, but only as a treat (maybe an hour or two a week). I didn't have access to power all the time so I tried to conserve batteries. I also don't like being plugged in all the time. I do listen to music when I run, but mainly as I find it motivating if I'm trying to push myself.
At home do you have any special objects that are particularly sentimental?
I have objects from all sorts of adventures I've been lucky enough to go on at home. I have lots of mountain kit that is hanging up in the hall - ropes, ice screws and so on. I have some of my dad's old mountain gear too - his ice axe and the old sunnies he used to wear in the 80s, which I love.
At the beginning of your walk, as you left Accra you talked about truckers hooting at you on a 4 lane motorway and later losing the trail in a dense forest and enduring 45 degree heat on a desert road among other challenges. How did you deal with that stress?
Ha. The truckers were just being friendly…I think! I suppose I'd just feel uncomfortable if there were particularly challenging moments, but I'd try not to let the external stuff get to me, and always remember the bigger picture, that I was lucky to be where I was, and had chosen that path. The only thing I could do was just keep going, and so I'd just keep on, with the promise of reaching the end of the day or the next rest point being a motivator. It's a bit of a cliche but that's what makes walking so powerful: all you can do is keep going or stop. Life becomes very binary, and very simple. One of my favourite writers is Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who wrote The Little Prince. He has a famous quote, which I love: "What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it."
You talk in you book about Vodou (or Voodoo) and have some experience in Benin. Can you tell us more about that, what was your impression of it?
Vodou is the traditional religion of the Fon peoples and practiced widely in Benin. Today religions closely related to Beninese Vodou are practiced all over the world, notably in parts of the Caribbean and the Americas, but also in Europe. Walking I had lots of interactions with Vodou, through conversations with the people I was staying with, and at services and festivals which I was invited to along the way. There's too much to condense into in an answer here, but my overriding impression is that it was one of the most misunderstood / misrepresented religions in the world, as in popular culture in the West it has become unfairly associated with lots of negative things. I can't speak for Vodou, but from the people I met who practiced it, to the priests, the masquerades, the dances and the temples, my impression - as a passerby - was of an important and beautiful culture.
You talk about the welcome you had into people’s homes along the way, no questions asked. Did you eat anything particularly unusual? What was the most memorable guest experience you had?
The food varied lots along the way, but broadly it was full of good veg and starches, and very high energy, so good for walking! In northern Ghana, when I stopped in villages, often we'd eat outside on long mats, with dozens of people from different households sharing food together outside (although often men and women would eat separately). I loved those evenings, where we'd sit, eat and talk for hours.
Although you were walking solo, you talk about the value of company and that fact that you were rarely alone because people wanted to talk. What sort of conversations did you have?
One of the things I love about travelling on foot is the lack of barriers. I would often walk beside people for an hour and then they'd peel off for wherever they were stopping and I'd continue on. Sometimes we'd talk, sometimes go in silence: because we were both walking, that felt natural. It was the same too arriving in a settlement on foot that might be far from a guesthouse or store: it felt natural to be asked to share food and given a safe place to set my tent. We talked about the usual things: what home was like etc. but I loved the pace of life on foot, and all the fleeting connections it enabled.
Now you’re back in London, how do you hold on to the elements of the walk and that way of life that you liked?
Lots of the ideas I explore in the book - connecting with nature and wilderness, living minimally, having an element in self-set struggle in life - I try to keep in my life. Luckily with TRIBE, the sports nutrition company, and its sister charity, TRIBE Freedom Foundation, both of which I started with 2 friends, I get lots of this in my daily life, as we're all about adventures and as we have an amazing community of runners, hikers and cyclists who we put on events for. It means I'm still often on trails with TRIBE.
What can you tell us about the TRIBE Freedom Foundation?
TRIBE Freedom Foundation grew out of a running project called Run for Love: a thousand mile run undertaken by Tom, Guy and me (TRIBE co-founders) to raise funds for a human-trafficking charity. Run for Love evolved into a sort of Forrest Gump community of runners, with 250 taking part in stages of the 1000 mile run we did across Eastern Europe.
We started TRIBE after Run for Love to create natural nutrition to fuel our adventures, and the TRIBE Freedom Foundation to continue the mission of the original Run for Love runners: to end modern slavery. Since the first Run for Love seven years ago, the TRIBE community has raised close to £1m to fight human trafficking, and carries out vital work supporting human trafficking victims. A % of each TRIBE product sold goes to the Foundation, and the TRIBE community raises funds through runs, like Run for Love.
What’s the best way to get involved?
There are tonnes of ways: runs, volunteering, coming to our events. Check out https://tribefreedomfoundation.com/ for more info
If you're up for an adventure, join for Run for Love 4 - 250kms running as a crew through the Croatian mountains next May.
The Rings of Saturn by W.G Sebald.
Is there a podcast you’re enjoying at the moment?
The Adventure Podcast is one of my favourites.
What’s next for you?
TRIBE is the main focus now: we have so much exciting stuff, from new products to amazing adventures like Run for Love 4.
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