Adventurous Life Is the Reel Thing

Bandits and Hippos and Crocs, Oh My

When Pasquale Scaturro calls, he is at Montreal's airport, on his way to Bismarck, N.D., where he will meet up with a group from Missouri.

And, in fact, a world-class explorer and geologist should be calling from an airport in Canada, waiting for a flight — or from a police station in Ethiopia, waiting to be released from custody — and not from a Lay-Z-Boy in his den, watching Seinfeld and eating Cheetos.

"It's called Great Escapes," he says of the next "adventure" in a life already filled with enough expeditions and stories to fill a book or two. "I am leading an expedition from the source in the Centennial Mountains downstream to the mouth of the Missouri River," he shouts, as the planes and recorded announcements drown him out.

For Scaturro, it's just the latest in a long line of adventures for the AAPG member that have taken him from the world's great seas to the top of the world — literally — often with film crews close by, documenting his trips for TV, documentaries or commercial films.

"It's pretty soft core," he adds of his next venture, an almost 2,600-mile journey he's leading for an MSNBC special, equating these types of excursions with those of a professional golfer playing in a Pro-Am.

"But I love doing these things," he adds, "and it helps being a geologist, because I'm more intimately familiar with what's around me."

It's a long way and a welcome diversion from the hardcore Christmas day in 2003, when Scaturro and a team of explorers set out to become the first to complete a full descent of the Nile River, from its Blue Nile source in the mountains of Ethiopia to its terminus just north of Rosetta, Egypt.

Four months later, he and his expedition partner Gordon Brown reached the mouth of the Nile at the Mediterranean Sea, completing the 3,250-mile journey.

To reach their destination, Scaturro and Brown overcame:

  • Class IV and V rapids of the upper Blue Nile, where two capsizes forced one team member to quit the expedition.
  • Deadly crocodiles and hippos.
  • Arrests by Ethiopian and Egyptian militia.
  • Gunfire from Sudanese bandits.
  • Extreme temperatures.
  • Violent sandstorms.
  • Exposure to malaria.

All this, of course, while attempting to film the journey's events with an over-sized IMAX camera — a camera, Scaturro says he worried would be confiscated by any number of armed militias.

Image Caption

End of the journey: Pasquale and the pyramids.

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When Pasquale Scaturro calls, he is at Montreal's airport, on his way to Bismarck, N.D., where he will meet up with a group from Missouri.

And, in fact, a world-class explorer and geologist should be calling from an airport in Canada, waiting for a flight — or from a police station in Ethiopia, waiting to be released from custody — and not from a Lay-Z-Boy in his den, watching Seinfeld and eating Cheetos.

"It's called Great Escapes," he says of the next "adventure" in a life already filled with enough expeditions and stories to fill a book or two. "I am leading an expedition from the source in the Centennial Mountains downstream to the mouth of the Missouri River," he shouts, as the planes and recorded announcements drown him out.

For Scaturro, it's just the latest in a long line of adventures for the AAPG member that have taken him from the world's great seas to the top of the world — literally — often with film crews close by, documenting his trips for TV, documentaries or commercial films.

"It's pretty soft core," he adds of his next venture, an almost 2,600-mile journey he's leading for an MSNBC special, equating these types of excursions with those of a professional golfer playing in a Pro-Am.

"But I love doing these things," he adds, "and it helps being a geologist, because I'm more intimately familiar with what's around me."

It's a long way and a welcome diversion from the hardcore Christmas day in 2003, when Scaturro and a team of explorers set out to become the first to complete a full descent of the Nile River, from its Blue Nile source in the mountains of Ethiopia to its terminus just north of Rosetta, Egypt.

Four months later, he and his expedition partner Gordon Brown reached the mouth of the Nile at the Mediterranean Sea, completing the 3,250-mile journey.

To reach their destination, Scaturro and Brown overcame:

  • Class IV and V rapids of the upper Blue Nile, where two capsizes forced one team member to quit the expedition.
  • Deadly crocodiles and hippos.
  • Arrests by Ethiopian and Egyptian militia.
  • Gunfire from Sudanese bandits.
  • Extreme temperatures.
  • Violent sandstorms.
  • Exposure to malaria.

All this, of course, while attempting to film the journey's events with an over-sized IMAX camera — a camera, Scaturro says he worried would be confiscated by any number of armed militias.

"The stress was daunting," he says.

His trip down the Nile, which took them through the remote desert gorges of Ethiopia, through the arid plains of Sudan to Khartoum where the Blue Nile merges with the White Nile to form the Nile proper, through the port cities of Egypt and on to the Mediterranean Sea is the focal point of a new IMAX film, called "Mystery of the Nile."

That movie is slated for release in February.

"I love doing these things," he says.

You want to ask an explorer "why." But if you wait, they'll tell you anyway.

"I have this expression," Scaturro says. 'How hard can it be?' You get on a raft, try not to drown; you try not to be eaten by crocodile. And if it gets too hard, you stop."

At the time of the trip, Scaturro was quoted as saying, "The Nile is the most magnificent river in the world. And no other river in the world is as closely associated with a particular culture and society as is the Nile. And without (it) there would be no Egypt, no pharaohs, no pyramids. The history of the Western world is inextricably tied to the Nile."

But that doesn't mean the frontier is accommodating to visitors.

As for being arrested, Scaturro laughs. Well … now he laughs.

The first occurred in Ethiopia.

"We were about to set up camp one night in Ethiopia, when we were approached by soldiers from Benishangul-Gumuzo (a region inside Ethiopia that isn't happy with the government). That night, we set up perimeter guards. Two on guard, one for each raft. After going to bed, I heard yelling across the camp. I come out and saw that the militia commander was sitting in my chair, telling us to come with him. I told them we're not leaving the camp, we're not leaving the equipment, the camps, the rafts, and we're not going anywhere."

Then Scaturro saw dozens of armed men and thought, "Ahh, ——!"

The situation was resolved the next day, but only after satellite cell phone calls to Addis Ababa, hours of negotiations and overtures to both the Ethiopian and American embassies.

He was arrested the second time when the team tried to get into Egypt.

"Now that was scary," he said. "Egyptian soldiers are serious."

Scaturro, who just turned 50, is having a mid-life crisis. But men who have climbed Mt. Everest with blind men (at least, as the joke goes, that's where he told the blind guy they climbed) have different kinds of mid-life crises than the rest of us.

Scaturro laughs. "Yeah, we joke with Erik (Weihenmayer, the blind explorer) about that, and he gets pissed. We tell him we took him to Rainier."

Then the talk gets a little serious.

"Turning 50 is kind of sobering, and then it's a matter of getting your ass in gear," Scaturro says. "I decided not to worry about getting old, just to enjoy myself."

Maybe not just.

"Look, I am heavily involved in oil and gas," he continues. "I'm not a commercial guy; I usually prefer a career in the oil and gas industry. For one thing, the money's better."

He says, again, how much he enjoys the industry and those in it.

"Most of them are just drunks," he laughs, knowing he'll see many of these geologists at an upcoming convention or other meeting and have to explain this comment. "I don't know why they're in science. But petroleum geology is a fun science and geologists are fun guys — not like engineers."

As for the difference between climbing up Everest or rafting down the Nile:

"It's a different game, operationally more difficult than Everest," he says, specifically about the ordeal of the six-month journey and the matter of the Ethiopian crew, which, surprisingly, could not swim.

"If you lost someone, you might never pick them up.

"Then there were the crocodiles," he says.

"Anyway, when there are crocs," he laughs, "Ethiopians can swim.

"Exploration is exploration, I get a thrill out of it," he says. "And you know, there are only so many months in life left. I wouldn't do the Nile again, but there are other rivers I would."

But first there's that group from Missouri waiting in North Dakota.

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