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Green travel pioneers: Guillaume Combot and Enora Nedelec



 

I first heard about green travel pioneers: Guillaume Combot and Enora Nedelec, when I read an article about them in our local paper.

I was amazed, imagine, two people who literally walked through Africa.

What we were contemplating (driving with biofuel) seemed like child's play in comparison.

About a week later (the forces of the universe working in the background, of course), I received a couchsurfing request from them, asking to stay with us for a few nights in Dubai.

Holding walking stick up to Burj Khalifa

Needless to say, I was thrilled to accept.

Green travel pioneers: Walking through Africa, one step at a time

In fact, Guillaume (nickname Giom) and Enora were at the end of their epic journey (for Enora at least, as Guillaume would continue to walk on to France) from Cape Town to Dubai when we met, after walking nearly 14,000 kilometres across some of the continent’s most unforgiving terrain. 

Walking through Swehan dunes, Abu Dhabi -Photo by Christopher List


The childhood friends started out in February 2009 from Cape Town, with nothing more than a backpack and a dream. Walking through South Africa to Mozambique, across Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Sudan, Enora and Guillaume were refused entry to Egypt, so instead made up for lost kilometres walking through Iran, Oman and the UAE.

 

Leaving Iran after an early start - Photo supplied

Despite sleeping rough and living on a budget of USD 2 a day, Guillaume (nickname Giom) and Enora were filled with positivity about this now almost defunct form of long-distance travel, saying it’s the best way to meet people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Pakistani man offers dates to French travellers -Photo supplied

Green travel pioneers: For the love of walking

Much to my surprise, considering their chosen mode of transport, I discovered that these inadvertent green travel pioneers weren't even interested in sustainable lifestyles and travel when they started out.

"We took off without really knowing why. I was a little lost and I knew that I just wanted to walk”, said Giom. “People can understand why runners love running, but can’t believe it when we tell them we actually enjoy walking and choose to do so”, he continued.

He tells me that locals would stop and talk to them, astounded that two Europeans were actually getting around on their own two feet.

friendly Omanis- Photo: supplied

The intrepid two started the trip as a way to challenge themselves and pursue new adventures, though they were also driven by a need to connect with people and felt that walking was the best way to do that.

Green travel pioneers: Keeping it simple

Travelling with backpacks, which at their heaviest were around eight kilograms (17 lbs), Enora and Giom often slept on a groundsheet in the open air.

sleeping rough in open air of Swehan desert
- Photo by Christopher List

“We’d open up our bags to show people what we carried and they’d be amazed, because they actually owned more. But if you carry a backpack, people know you’re just passing through, so they feel more comfortable opening up to you”, said Giom.
Everything in one backpack Rolled-up groundsheet

 

brushing teeth in desert worn backpack
-Photo's by Christopher List

In fact, in most cases, they believe they were poorer than the average African, who can at least produce his own food and knows where to get water. Their journey helped them feel a lot closer to people, having experienced first-hand how it feels to be poor, and to receive the charity of others.

Giom and Enora travelled without electronics aside from a camera: no mobiles, laptops or GPS, using only a map to navigate. “We realised that nothing was essential, only potentially useful. You soon start seeing everything purely as weight”, they laughed.

“We started out carrying paper and pens, but found even that was unnecessary, that any memories worth keeping we’d remember. The camera, a Canon G9, was our biggest burden, we’d take turns to carry it!”

 

worn trainers-Photo supplied

Claiming their shoes were their most treasured possession, Giom and Enora went through about nine pairs of trainers between them, wearing out the tread every 3000 km or so.

“We were pretty strict about what we carried, everything needed to have two or three uses”, Enora said.

Green travel pioneers: A burgeoning interest in the environment

Naturally I took the opportunity to grill the two about their increasing commitment to preserving the environment and how it came about. Enora tells me that there was plastic littered throughout Africa, even in the desert.

“One issue was the fact that there were no bins anywhere”, she said. “We talked about it often and became more aware of the environment and our impact on it. We have come to realise that if everybody took responsibility for themselves, the world would be a better place”, she continued.

Melissa Andrews interviews Guillaume Combot, French adventurer
                     - Photo by Christopher List

Eating at only local establishments, the two green travel pioneers unwittingly ensured an even lower carbon footprint.  They didn’t carry any food, only eating when they could find it.

However, this could be challenging as locals would assume they were wealthy merely because of their skin colour. Prices were literally determined on the spot, they tell me, they’d walk into a shop that had no prices, hold up a pack of 2-minute noodles, and the shopkeeper would try and charge them five dollars for it!

So keeping to their budget was sometimes difficult, and they had to learn to be tough negotiators.

Green travel pioneers: Conserving water and plastic

Giom and Enora only drank local water (another wonderful way to help the environment) without the benefit of a filter other than a piece of cloth.

This cloth served multipe purposes: it was used as a quick-drying towel, worn by Enora as a skirt and also wrapped around her head and neck to protect it from the sun, as demonstrated below.

Enora demonstrates how to use cloth as a head cover Enora demonstrates how to use cloth as a head cover
Enora demonstrates how to use cloth as a head cover Enora demonstrates how to use cloth as a head cover
-Photo's by Christopher List

However, locals would see that they were tourists and only offer bottled water, not understanding that their budget didn’t stretch that far!

Surprisingly, the two hardly got sick either. Amoeba sickness (a type of dysentery caused by eating contaminated water or food) struck them once every two or three months, but unless it was severe they let their bodies fight it off naturally. Metronidazole pills, an antibiotic used to fight bacteria, were kept on hand for serious cases.

Giom and Enora tell me a story of how they were offered water out of benzene cans, and with no and with no other choice they were forced to drink it. “It tasted horrible”, Guillaume said, shuddering involuntarily at the memory, “and we’d struggle to get it down, but other than getting a headache, we were fine”.

Green travel pioneers: Living in the moment

During their walk, they didn’t know where they’d be sleeping or how many kilometres they’d walk (miles) until they reached the next village and could eat and drink again. “We just accepted it and enjoyed each moment for what it was”, Guillaume said.

Giom and Enora tell me that the slow, steady rhythm of each step put them into an almost meditative state, and led to many philosophical discussions about the meaning of life, and what makes us human. “The biggest journey is inside yourself”, Enora continued.

French couple walk in desert carrying backpacks
-Photo by Christopher List

Enora relates how in Sudan, they’d sometimes cross 75 kilometres with no villages in sight. “But when we met people they were so friendly, even though they were impoverished. They survived on bread and ful (fava beans), but we’d be invited into their home and they’d rush off to buy coca-cola and biscuits to serve us”.

“It was knowing that they have nothing which makes the sacrifice so much more meaningful”, Enora said. Indeed, it was accepting this hospitality that made them realise the simple power of shared humanity and the connectedness of us all.

Green travel pioneers: Dangers on the road

A true adventure seeker, Giom has past experience as a paratrooper, training to be a monk in a Canadian monastery, and forest management, to name a few.

So it’s no surprise that he walked alone (it was deemed unsafe by both for Enora to continue) through south Sudan, a region still recovering from a civil war with the north and known for its ongoing conflict with rebels.

“I was stopped around 10 to 14 times day and asked why I was walking”, said Giom, “while in one of the more remote villages, they asked me to eat something to prove that I wasn’t a ghost!”

But the most dangerous time was when he was held captive by Kalashnikov-wielding policemen who chained him to a tree for the night, only releasing him the next day. “They screamed at me at first”, he told me, “but after a while I was joking with them and they shared their coca-cola with me”.

Though the two faced many dangers including having no water or food, being threatened and harassed as well as suffering bouts of illness, they state that the true magic in the trip lay in experiencing the freedom of having nothing.

Sleeping in a tunnel under freeway

Emerging from tunnel under highway -Photo's supplied

Green travel pioneers: Finding inner strength

On being asked whether there were times they ever considered giving up, the two paused for a moment and laughed. “Many! But there wasn’t anything else to do, this was our goal”. “To stop would have been harder than going on, because to live with that kind of (personal) shame and sense of failure was not an option”, Enora continued.

French couple walking in desert smiling -Photo by Christopher List

Giom related how he wanted to find out how far he could push himself, as “just an ordinary guy”.

He tells us how inspired he was by Sonia and Alexandre Poussin, a French couple who walked through Africa nine years ago and wrote two books about it: Africa Trek and Africa Trek II. “I thought they were extraordinary, but in doing this, I realised that everyone can do it”.

“It’s become more than just a trip, but a lifestyle”, Giom continued. “I might consider travelling the world by foot at a later stage, but my main drive is a desire to add value”.

Meanwhile Enora tells me that she’s going to walk more in future: “The experience has definitely changed me”, she continued, “I now feel more confident, more able to face any of life’s challenges”.

Green travel pioneers: Advice for fellow travellers

Guillaume advises fellow travellers to slow down and enjoy the journey. “It’s so easy to travel throughout Africa without connecting with people”, he said.

“They think you are from another planet! If you have too many possessions, they won’t treat you in the same way and become hard to approach. So, try and reduce your needs, your living standards, and live like an African. You’ll find you have a much more valuable experience”.

Enora Nedelec and Guillaume Combot -Photo by Christopher List

“The most important lesson we’ve learnt on this trip is about people”, the green travel pioneer continued. “We have discovered that people are all essentially the same. We all have the same dreams, the same hopes, the same fears. No matter what our upbringing, no matter what our income, we all have the same capacity for happiness”.

Green travel pioneers: Future plans

The two then went their separate ways, with Enora doing some more travelling (by more conventional means), before flying to Canada, where she will complete her studies to be a midwife, while Guillaume will be raising funds before completing  the 7,000 km trek to Paris alone.

French travellers Guillaume Combot and Enora Nedelec part ways in desert-Photo supplied

To find out more about Guillaume and Enora’s African adventure, and his solo walk to Paris, visit his website www.20000km.com.

If you'd like to travel without impacting the environment, check out green travel tips for some ideas, green camping or how to pack light.

Or discover the adventures of Eco-travel guru's Chris and Elayne Clash, who have driven through 86 countries, and over 200, 000 km around the world in Victor, a buggy made out of junkyard scrap.

Return from Green Travel Pioneers to Eco-friendly Africa Travel



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