“HORROR, worst case scenario” is how Wiebe Wakker described his predicament.
“I’ve run into a lot of problems which I’m solving at the moment. Mechanics from Holland need to fly in.” Stuck in Surabaya, Indonesia for more than two months, his electric vehicle dubbed the Blue Bandit had broken down after making it all the way from Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
The epic journey prior – across Europe, the Middle East and Asia – saw him relying upon the generosity of strangers for food, shelter and electricity to recharge his vehicle.
The Plug Me In project, as Wakker has called it, aims to promote sustainability and demonstrate that renewable technologies can replace old ones.
“Sustainability is not just solar panels or green agriculture. You can do really cool things with sustainability,” Wakker told Asian Correspondent in a phone interview, noting that the idea was inspired by his love of travel and the need to complete a final assignment for his events management degree at the Amsterdam University of the Arts.
“I told my teacher for my final project I want to travel around the world. He said ‘you’re crazy’,” Wakker recalled. Yet a few months later, he was on the road.
Asked if the prolonged breakdown in Indonesia undermined the credibility of electric vehicles he said: “I drove 60,000 km so far and 31 countries without having major issues. This is a very old car and from 2009, custom made. It requires some specific knowledge to fix the car, whereas if you’d bought a production line electric you could fix it anywhere.”
“There’s actually less that can go wrong with an electric car because there’s less moving parts,” he added.
Experts from the Netherlands are now in Surabaya helping to fix the Blue Bandit, the costs of their travel and expenses being covered by a Plug Me In crowdfunding page.
“I really like the countries where things are a bit different to Western countries, India, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia as well. If you bring an electric car into country like these, it feels like pioneering,” Wakker said.
Yesterday when I hit the water and inspected the car Ayuarah approached me. He recognised me from TV in Solo. He and his wife did everything they could to make it easier for me. They brought me to a police station, brought food and later took me into his house were I could rest during the night. Indonesian people are really helpful and making me trip a lof easier. Also because of the request by @ridwanhr I got a lot of people who contacted me and wanted to help me! Thanks a lof for that! I ❤️ Indonesia! #PlugMeIn #Car #Carsofinstagram #Indonesia #Surabaya #Carproblems #EV
Iran, though, was his favourite. “I didn’t know so much about this country. I was really surprised by the hospitality, it was a beautiful country also,” he said, adding that: “people there are so kind, so generous. They take me into their home so then they bring their cousins, then their cousins’ brothers, so then I have to tell my story 20 times a day. It can be a bit challenging to travel alone.”
The challenges haven’t been limited to the Indonesian breakdown and curious Iranians. Wakker said that the process of organising visas and bringing a car into 31 separate countries had been a headache.
Moreover, in more remote parts of the globe, people’s home generators only have around 900 watts, whereas the car requires 2000 watts to charge. “In Kalimantan (Indonesia), I was in villages looking around to factories to see if they could help me. In parts of India, the power cuts for hours at a time.”
With the Blue Bandit almost ready to return to the road, Wakker will head across Bali and eastern Indonesia towards Timor Leste, prior to shipping it across to Darwin in northern Australia. After this, he will begin the final leg across the continent to Sydney.
Wakker reflected that many countries he’d visited in Asia still had a lot of work to do to reach basic levels of sustainability. “Indonesia is on the equator and there is so much sun, but you don’t see any solar panels. It’s a pity, I hope that people will realise that there are better alternatives,” he said.
Nevertheless, he added, “I find it interesting that in every country there is something going on in terms of sustainability. There are always people working on it.”
Update as this piece went to publication:
It's done! The car is fixed and drives better as she's even done. Tim and his father have done an amazing job. They worked for 6 days straight to repair the battery and upgrade other parts. We also got a lot of help from VW Surabaya. Thanks everyone who helped the past weeks! pic.twitter.com/WGOhNn77Dw
— Plug Me In (@WiebeWkkr) March 6, 2018