Around the world in an electric car
Dutchman Wiebe Wakker is on a mission to travel from the Netherlands to Australia in an e-car, relying on nothing but the kindness of strangers. Temporarily in Dubai, he talks to Janice Rodrigues about his many adventures, the importance of sustainability and the basic goodness of human nature
It all started with a project. To graduate with a degree in event management in his arts school in the Netherlands, Wiebe Wakker had to pick an intensive graduation project - and he wanted something truly unique. Having rarely travelled before, a road trip was in order, but it had to go beyond that. He wanted a project that would teach him more about different cultures and people, that would be challenging and, above all, would be kind to the environment. Having "thrown all these ideas into the mixer", Plug Me In was born.
"I got my inspiration from another Dutchman who had a project called 'Let Me Stay for a Day'," explains Wiebe, who is currently in the UAE, financing the next leg of his journey. "Basically, he asked people to take care of him for one day in return for a blog post on that day."
Wiebe's brainchild is a lot more complex. The Plug Me In project, which took a year-and-a-half to organise, has him travelling from the Netherlands to Australia in an electric car. He doesn't carry money, so his mission is completely dependent on the support that people offer him on his website (plugmeinproject.com). It's through this site that people can offer a meal, a place for him to sleep or energy for his car, and Wiebe's route changes according to these invitations. So, he's not moving in a straight line across countries but 'zig-zagging' his way through.
"At the moment, I've had almost 700 people from 44 countries and four continents plug me in," he says, chuffed - and it is an accomplishment indeed, considering that he only started his project last March. Since then, Wiebe's supporters have sent him on adventures to Italy, Scandinavia, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and, finally, Iran, before he landed in the UAE. In fact, he is believed to be to first person to cross Iran in an electric car.
"The way I was received by the people in Iran was heartwarming," says Wiebe. "You won't believe how many people told me not to go to the country, but the people there were open, warm and always ready to help me. It taught me that all human beings are good by nature. There's no country that is good or bad - that's only the way the media has portrayed them."
Wiebe claims he hasn't had any bad experiences as of now, and is pleasantly surprised by how many people go out of their way to help him. But he can't deny that the trip has been challenging. The hardest part is when he has to start asking strangers for help to survive. In the rare event that he's unable to charge his car (which happened once in Poland), he's forced to stop and wait until someone can tow him to the closest charging station. The good part? His trusty electric car regenerates electricity when it is not being used. "It's an adventure, all right," he says.
Wiebe's car is a VW Golf that was converted to a fully electric car in 2009 by Electric Cars Europe. It was previously used by the CEO of Bundles who, excited about the project, lent it to him. Other than the obvious advantage of saving on fuel, Wiebe is proud of the sustainable tag that comes with it.
"I haven't always cared about sustainability," he admits. "When I started this project, it was more of a social experiment. But then I was naturally being very sustainable because of the electric car and because I was being careful with my resources. So, I started to research sustainability and was surprised by how simple it was. This started as personal quest for me - I wanted to see how sustainable I could be. Then, it developed into a mission. Now, I'm trying to make more people understand the impact they can have on their environment. Even the small changes you make in your lifestyle can make a big difference."
Environmental issues are something of a hot topic around the world today - with many environmentalists worried about changes under the current US President. Does Wiebe think the environment is in greater danger? "Not really," he muses. "Global warming is a serious problem which puts the planet at risk. And the problem is the lack of knowledge and understanding about these issues - but I think all that is changing. Environmental groups are very strong and Donald Trump's actions have only led to more publicity on the subjects. So, I hope more people will take an active interest in learning more about what they can do to help."
The Dutchman is waiting for the next part of his journey, which will take him to India, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia or, as he puts it, "any country necessary to reach my final destination of Australia". In the UAE, he is sorting out finances for this long trip, including working for events such as the Emirates Electric Vehicle Road Trip (which he helped organise) and visiting sustainable projects around the country such as Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. EmiratesNBD recently agreed to sponsor his move to India - and he couldn't be more excited.
"My ultimate goal is to be part of the progress the world is making towards sustainability. In every country that I cross, I visit organisations, companies and events, and try to interview people about their goals. I'm making videos about these encounters. One day, I hope to turn it all into a documentary." And that'll just be another feather in his cap.