IMAGINE... living, working & sleeping in 4 cubic meters for 4 years while travelling from Belgium to South Africa...
Imagine... being the only vehicle (and people) in one of the largest NP in Africa!
Imagine... crossing sensitive borders with a fortune of hitech equipment including 20 modems in a metal chest on the roofrack!
Imagine... not seeing another vehicle for 7 days while covering 2000 km!
In December 1993, after contacting hundreds of people in search for a teammate for an African expedition, I called a woman called Petra...
"Hello, I am Paul, I would like to talk to Petra Vandecasteele, please.
Sorry Sir, she is not in the office! May I take your message?
Yes please tell her to return my call. I am a friend of Andre and it is about an expedition through Africa."
She returned the call... and that changed our lifes forever!
Indeed 9 months later, we were embarking for a (supposely) 1-year overland expedition through Africa, which lasted 4 years in an old Land Rover!
The first adventure was to find the road to a small town in Germany, Freudenburg, where a friend had invited us for our first night. You know what... we arrived 4 hours late because we didn't had a map and no gps at the time! Well prepared for Africa, we had forgotten the first country!
We had no money, but we stayed focus and we managed to get the whole expedition sponsored by corporates and funding agencies, even if most of the people we knew were not convinced of it.
I believe we had a good project... Gondwana. The project was aiming to help scientists to communicate better with the use of email. So the idea was to give a talk in each visited country and connect a few scientists supported by the International Foundation of Sciences.
Our dream was to travel by land from Brussel to Cape Town.
At the time we travelled through Jordan, the peace treaties had been signed with Israel. The border was open to vehicles but soon after we crossed, it closed again, not that we had anything to do with that! Every single item had to be removed from the car to go through x-ray... the search lasted 7 hours! The officials couldn't believe that everytime they lifted something there was something underneath.
We were 4 months on the road, when we recieved a very sad news... my father had past away. Two days later we were on a plane to Belgium to attend his funeral.
Despite of being devasted by this great loss, we flew back to Sudan a week later. Looking at the desert from the air, I knew that my destiny was in Africa.
Then after an incredible journey through East Sudan, North Ethiopia and Eritrea, we arrived in Addis Ababa.
As usual I was connecting to the IT guys in town for my surveys when I heard that the UN was organizing the first conference on "Internet for Africa"a few weeks later.
What an opportunity! Although we were definitely not on the guest list, we managed to get in and even to present a paper about the Gondwana project.
Like usual the local press interviewed us, just in time for all the deleguates to read about our project in Addis Fortune and Ethiopia Observer. We were so excited!
The outcome... we signed new contracts to organize more talks and to connect many more scientists. At the end of the 4 years we had given 130 seminars, connected 240 scientists and probably inspired a few thousands people.
At the same time, one African country after another was getting full internet connectivity. It felt good to be part of it!
We climbed 3 of the 4 higest peaks of Africa, we met thousands of people from the most remote Ethiopian tribes to Uganda vice-president, explored all corners of every national parks... what a prililedge to see all this beauty and be more conscious of interconnectiveness and circle of life.
All this reconfirm how right we were to give up everything to live our dream!
What we received in exchange are memories so vivid that will never fade.