Some 200 days and 44,000km after leaving Nairobi, we finally reach Rio de Janeiro, one day after the start of the World Cup. With football fans from around the world, we celebrate on Copacabana Beach and at the Statue of Christ, the symbolic end point of our journey.
I can hardly believe that this journey around the world is over – in a way it is not as we continue driving through Brazil following the German team during the World Cup. In less than 2 days, we drive almost 2000km from Rio to Salvador to watch Germany's first match against Portugal, and as I am writing these lines, I am sitting in the back of Pele as we are driving through the night towards Fortaleza where Germany will square off with Ghana on Saturday.
We frequently have breaks to watch the other football matches in little restaurants and bars along our route – this is a great way to explore Brazil and experience the World Cup. The excitement for the National Team among Brazilians is beyond all imagination – virtually every shop sells Brazilian flags, shirts and an incredible variety of green & yellow colored items. Whenever the Selecao plays, life comes to a complete standstill and literally every shop, office, bar, restaurant and even public toilets have at least one television screen in front of which people huddle. In the morning of the Brazil-Mexico match, we are walking through the atmospheric historic center of Salvador de Bahia - the excitement is palpable and creates goose bumps. The people are in celebration mood - Brazilian flags and electrifying bands with thumping drums everywhere! The match is at 4pm but from noon onwards, people start convening in the squares around television sets. We watch the match in front of a gigantic screen at the so called FIFA Fan Fest at the beach, together with at least 50,000 people. At the end, the score is 0:0 and most Brazilians we speak to are a bit anxious about the performance of their team. So far, they haven't played in a convincing manner but Brazilians wouldn't be Brazilians if they weren't hopeful that at the end they will still clinch the trophy, and after the match Salvador erupts into a huge Samba party.
Our long driving days are giving me time to reflect on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure…
The unexpected experiences and encounters with local people are the moments I cherished most - stumbling upon a traditional bull jumping ceremony in Ethiopia, staying with an Iranian family in a small fishing village in the Persian Gulf, camel riding with local herders in Mongolia, exploring and snowboarding over frozen Lake Baikal, spending a freezing night in a cozy Siberian chalet complete with traditional Russian sauna, being struck in awe at the view on top of Machu Picchu Mountain, smoking Shisha on the sunny ski slopes in Iran and meeting Laura in Quito, the elderly and blind lady who every day plays the accordion in a historic square to supplement her meager pension and who in spite of her difficult life circumstances radiates a joy of life that touched me deeply.
In the middle of nowhere in Honduras in Central America, the most dangerous country in the world, we all of a sudden passed a sign at the roadside reading "Salle de Beleza de Kenia". Intrigued why someone here would name their beauty salon "Kenia", we followed the sign to the salon and met the young owner. It turned out that her name is Kenia and that is the reason why the salon bears her and our country's name.
A Landcruiser is probably the ideal car for such a journey as it is strong, comfortable and incredibly reliable. Pele has been doing amazingly well – he faithfully took us with not a single issue except routine service and some spare part replacements, and not even a single flat tire!
In many situations, we have been very lucky - I remember the moment in which I broke through the ice of the frozen Amur River and our near collision with an oncoming speeding bus after spinning 360° on an icy road in Siberia. Our guardian angel has been working overtime!
There are many moments during this journey that I will treasure and forever carry in my heart, and I am not the same person who left Nairobi seven months ago. Travelling opens the heart and somehow encourages the people we meet to open up as well. One observation that struck me is that however different people may be in their customs, beliefs, clothing, architecture or food, I encountered similar kindness everywhere - whether in Iranian youths or in Mexican police men who miraculously appeared when I needed help. Coming to the close of this journey, I feel - in spite of its many glaring evils - inspired by humanity.
Embarking on this journey around the world has been a dream of mine for several years and I am tremendously grateful that I have been able to live this dream. Our primary goal has been to travel from Africa to Brazil, but there is an equally if not more important goal that we hope to accomplish through this journey – giving bright but less fortunate Kenyan kids an opportunity to also live their dreams, through completing their high school education. Our goal is to raise 100.000 US$ which will cover the cost of the secondary education for 30 kids. For this purpose, we partner with the Jubilee Scholarship Fund, a registered Kenyan charity we have been working with for several years and which currently sponsors 200 Kenyan kids.
If you have enjoyed the stories from our expedition over the last seven months, I would very much appreciate if you support this cause with a donation, however big or small. I pledge to match each of your donations with an equal amount donated by myself. For more info and an easy way to make an online donation, see www.africatobrazil.com/jubilee-scholarships.html. In supporting this cause, you enable bright and needy kids to pursue their dreams, just like we pursued ours in embarking on this journey!