Around the world in an elec­tric car

3 MARCH 2017

WKND - - Eco Drive One For Planet Earth -

t 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, ex-

At the mo­ment, I’ve had al­most 700 peo­ple from 44 coun­tries and four con­ti­nents plug me in... It taught me that all hu­man be­ings are good by na­ture”

THE KIND­NESS OF STRANGERS: ( above) Weibe Wakker ( right) with Marc de Beer, gen­eral man­ager of Park Rotana Abu Dhabi; the ho­tel is spon­sor­ing Wakker’s stay while in the UAE cited 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.

janice@ khalee­j­times. com

This started as per­sonal quest for me — then, it de­vel­oped into a mis­sion. My ul­ti­mate goal is to be part of the progress the world is mak­ing to­wards sus­tain­abil­ity”

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