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From Cape Town to Paris:

By Séverine Koen

Following French footprints

Its hard to believe Enora Nedelec and Guillaume Combot have been walking for over a year. Smiling, energetic and fresh-faced, one cannot readily fathom that they have been living all this time without the comforts of a home and have more than 4,000 km behind them.

Both French nationals, Nedelec, 21, and Combot, 31, began their walk across Africa in February 2009. Combots objective is to walk from Cape Town, South Africa to Paris, France (through the Middle East) whilst Nedelec will end her journey in Jerusalem. The rule of the game is simple: getting from place to place by foot (any other mode of transportation is avoided) and meeting people along the way.

Youre walking across Africa? You must be crazy! is a reaction they have encountered both from family at home and from Africans they have met during their travels.

Combot is no stranger to adventure. From parachuting with the French foreign legion, to sleeping under bridges in England, to helping remove cadavers on the beaches of South-East Asia after the tsunami of 2004, Guillaume has constantly been searching to define himself, both personally and professionally. For him, his walk across Africa is a chance to refresh my mind, break the solitude and explore life rather than theories.

Nedelec, a seasoned girl-scout leader, has just completed her third year of midwifery studies. Originally only intending to accompany Guillaume for a couple of weeks at most, she has now embraced his personal quest into the complexities of human minds and human interaction and is enjoying the “richness of bohemian life, as she calls it.

Challenges along the road

Indeed, walking across Africa has given them the opportunity to meet all kinds of different and interesting people and to enjoy breathtaking landscapes and off-the-beaten path treasures. Yet, whilst they are certainly having incredible experiences during their travels, not everything has been easy. They have struggled to come to terms with what they call the mzungu effect whereby their skin color has sometime prevented them from encountering the meaningful interaction they seek.

In addition, their efforts to survive on their budget of 1.5 Euros a day per person (approximately Ug. Shs.4000)  are sometimes difficult to uphold. This is mostly because they are white and are thus commonly seen as rich. For instance, although Nedelec and Combot have been drinking tap water, rain water and other sources of water throughout their journey, some locals refuse to give them anything other than bottled water, commonly bought by most mzungus.

The way of life the pair has embraced is not without its risks. Whether walking through national parks in fear of wild animals, worrying over their next source of water, or simply falling ill from parasites in food or drink, the couple takes each challenge on with a positive attitude.  Nedelec also recently suffered from a stress fracture to her left foot. She walked for 15 days and over 400km with the injury, which is now healing as she and Combot rest for a month in Kampala, where they are staying for free with different hosts they have found via the social website couch-surfing.org.

In a couple of weeks Combot will resume his journey, walking through Southern Sudan. Nedelec, meanwhile, will stay in Kampala until Combot reaches Khartoum, where she will fly to meet him. Both Combot and Nedelec deem it too dangerous for Nedelec to walk through Sudan, hence why Combot will complete this leg of the journey solo.

Commercial output?

Although every adventure is new, this walk across Africa has been done before, by a French couple some nine years ago: Sonia and Alexandre Poussin. They wrote two books, Africa Trek and Africa Trek II and produced a television series about their adventures. Others have also walked across Africa in different ways: Author and public speaker Fran Sandham walked 3,000 miles from the Nambian coast to Zanzibar, recounting his solo journey in his book Traversa, published in 2007.

Nedelec and Combot, on the other hand, do not know for sure if they will be writing a book of their experience. They are both keeping diaries, but (for now at least) only as personal recollections of their journey, not as the basis of future manuscripts. The trip is primarily a personal challenge and human adventure, not a commercial stunt.

So, what is the lure of embarking on such a journey? On their website, the pair states that the physical extremes of our journey serve only as a pretext. It provides us with valuable perspectives as we contemplate the Human spirit . The slow, methodical rhythm of our steps leads us towards a better understanding of ourselves and humanity. As we walk, people confide in us their fears and hopes, their failures and dreams.

Thus, their journey is not only a physical walk, from point A to point B, but also a journey inward, into the very heart of what makes us human.

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