Dutch sustainability advocates, Wiebe Wakker and Rudy van der Aar are known as unique travelers as they have made an adventurous yet durable journey. Sharing two contrasting stories of two different globetrotters with one goal: raising awareness about sustainability.
Text by Samen Rehman, photos by Wiebe Wakker & Rudy van der Aar
Wiebe Wakker drove 100.450 km through 34 countries, from The Netherlands to New Zealand, in his electric car called the ‘Blue Bandit’ with the goal to inspire, promote, educate and stimulate the flux to a low-carbon future. His goal was to drive from The Netherlands to Australia, but he ended up going all the way to New Zealand. Wakker reached Sydney in April 2019 after 1.119 days, 34 countries and 95.000km to get there and it became the longest journey in an Electric Vehicle, ever. The arrival became global news and was featured on TV channels in over 40 countries.
‘’Back in 2014 Dutch people started talking about electric vehicles. I thought this is something interesting as it’s a sustainable way of mobility. Unfortunately, I saw that people didn’t massively switch to electric cars as there were a lot of prejudices. People thought they were not reliable and it is not designed for covering long distances. So, I thought maybe I can do my bit in promoting this technology and prove the viability of electric cars. By thinking out of the box, I decided to drive alone to the other side of the world. My motivation for this came from a backpacking trip I did in Australia back in 2009. I read a lot of books by other travelers who uniquely saw the world. I thought it was cool to do a similar thing once in my life but had no idea how or what or when. When I returned from my trip, I started studying Events Management and that was where all the pieces came together. In my graduation year, I had the opportunity to graduate in what they call the ‘entrepreneurs lab’, where you write your thesis about starting your own company, or project in my case. My aim was to create a travel project that was an extension of myself and wanted to combine the skills I learned at University like storytelling, concept development, marketing, and organizational skills. On the other hand, combining it with my interests in traveling, videography, photography. Throwing it all together I was planning to create something crazy.
I made a list of tools I thought were required to make the journey. Which was not a lot: clothing, photo/video equipment, charging cables with many adapters, a website that was built by a friend of mine and of course a car. As a student, I tried to find sponsors to supply me with this. I found Canon who could supply me a camera, Adobe who gave me access to their editing software and eventually I came in touch with Marcel from Bundles who was so enthusiastic about my project that he lent me his car. I told him I would need it for a year, year and a half and that became three years. He still likes me though and even came to Sydney to attend the finish of the journey. As I had no idea what the route of the journey would be, I took warm and cold clothes with me.
I wanted to educate people in a fun and not pushy way, showing that sustainable mobility is possible. Electric vehicles are a good way to tackle the climate problem. After completing my journey, I hope people have more understanding about the impact they have on the environment by their actions and lifestyle. The journey changed me in a way mentally and physically. I have more faith in people now and have more understanding of different cultures and religions. Furthermore, I can hardly walk because of a hernia I got by sitting for a long time in the car.’’
In eight weeks, Rudy Van der Aar (29) cycled all the way from the Netherlands to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on a wooden bike to raise awareness about sustainability within Islam. The journey was in the sign of personal reflection and compassion. Thousands of people followed his journey on Facebook and learned about the small and bigger actions for sustainability he made during the travel.
‘’I went on a pilgrimage to Mecca for the first time in 2014. While taking, I concentrated on hearing the roar of aircraft engines. Europe shot past me in a few hours and I drove with a touring car to the holy city. I felt like a tourist. I missed the physical and mental effort that comes with performing a pilgrimage. I had this book with me called ‘Green Dream’ and it opened my eyes to the importance of living durable. While sitting in a mosque back in Mecca, I really wished that I could return here in an environmentally friendly way. Eventually, when I came back home in The Netherlands, I came to know that my friend Mohammed Kechouh (28) shared the same wish: to one day cycle to Mecca. So, we started training every day to get in shape. Our plan was to get bikes with 24-gears for the bike trip to Mecca. Suddenly while telling our story in a very casual way to the owner of the company Cocomat, they got impressed with our plan and offered us two wooden bikes. Minor disadvantage: the bikes only had two gears. Luckily the wooden bikes matched our goal, so we decided to use them anyway. The bikes turned out to be an excellent conversation starter with all the curious people we met on the way.
Besides having fun, I have faced many challenges during the journey, for instance having disagreements with my travel buddy. We often didn’t agree with each other and in Budapest, we planned to get some distance from each other. This plan was healthy for us friendship and as individuals. Another example was a personal issue I had with the government of Saudi Arabia. After being restless for more than a week I had almost decided to go back to the Netherlands. This had to do with the extra costs we had to incur due to a new regulation from the government of Saudi Arabia. They had doubled the visa costs which was meant for contributing money to the oil business. This was controversial with my whole idea of being sustainable. Still being in doubt, I decided to make a prayer when I woke up at half-past four, asking God to give me signs that would influence my choice. Immediately afterward, I switched on my phone and I received an emotionally charged message from my father. He was proud of me and thought that I just had to continue despite the extra costs. I saw it as a sign and being thankful to God, I finally made a choice to continue.
During our travels, we inspired and activated a lot of people. In Mecca at the holy mountain Jabal Al Nour, we started a clean-up. This mountain is full of plastic and garbage as Muslims from all over the world with all different cultures come there. We thought the mountain would be a good place to start an action as it’s a unique place to raise awareness about waste. We also encouraged people to use refill bottles instead of plastic bottles and plant trees. Involving people helps addressing people from a positive perspective and make them believe that you literally can make a change.