Person of the Week: Marianne Du Toit

Marianne Du Toit is taking an 18-month, out-of-the-ordinary journey, riding by horseback across South, Central and North America and raising money to help disabled children in the Dublin, Ireland.

She has traveled 10,000 miles from Argentina to Bolivia, then Brazil and Venezuela. From there, she rode to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, into El Salvador and then Guatemala.

"I am very independent. I like to do my own thing," said Du Toit, 32. "I've always wanted to do a journey that's a little bit out of the ordinary and something that would also benefit people or individuals and … I've been dreaming of doing something on horseback."

ABCNEWS caught up with her in Saluda, S.C., which is just west of Columbia. Born in South Africa, she now lives in Ireland.

Her journey has been pretty rough at times.

"During the day you have to put up with the heat, with mosquitoes and insects, horseflies that bother the horses," said Du Toit. "You're hungry and thirsty. And you don't know where you are going to stay that night … You begin to see shapes and things in the trees when darkness falls and you feel a little bit weary and you realize you are so on your own."

She traveled alone, she said, to get better exposure to the local people along the way, which at one point meant scaring away a thief who tried to hold her up. But she learned to overcome fear. "If you're fearful, you project vulnerability," Du Toit told ABCNEWS.

‘I’m a Doer’

"I'm a doer. I like to go out and do things and I like to finish things," she told ABCNEWS. "I just knew I had to continue, didn't matter how bad it gets, and there were days where it got really, really bad and you just knew that it must get better."

In many places in Latin America, she had no idea where she'd stay on any given night and if villagers didn't put her up, she had a tent.

When roads were impassable in Brazil, Du Toit and her horses traveled down the Amazon River on a cargo boat.

But two of her original horses, named Tusa and Tufein, died of tropical diseases.

The $1 million she hopes to raise from sponsors and donations will go to build an equestrian center outside Dublin for disabled children. Riding is great therapy for the disabled. It has done wonders for children's self-confidence — and a relationship with horses can be very much about love.

"I used to be terrified of horses," Du Toit said. "For me, it was such a challenge just to get on top of a horse. Imagine somebody who doesn't have complete ability to do that."

Finding Her Route

Du Toit first rode on her parents' farm in South Africa. She went to Ireland on vacation eight years ago and fell in love with the country. Her inspiration for this trip was the Swiss explorer Aimé Tschiffley. In 1926, he traveled the same 10,000 miles.

"By chance I ended up reading Tschiffley's book, and I thought, 'That's my route,' " she said.

In her spare time — when she gets it — Du Toit has played the piano in restaurants and does portrait photography. Some days, when she has a need for music, she plays the Irish whistle.

She trained hard for this strenuous journey on horseback, but even so, some days she could hardly walk after riding that long.

She thinks she has two months to go and wants to finish her trip in New York City on March 17, St. Patrick's Day.

"I'm a positive person," she said. "For me, I think the cup is always half full. I think you need to have a good attitude when you are traveling. Otherwise you should stay home, I think. It's not good to travel when you are afraid."

And so Marianne Du Toit is World News Tonight's Person of the Week.

For more information on Du Toit's travels, go to her Web site: http://www.tatachallenge.com/

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