Cassandra De Pecol now holds the record as the fastest person to do so after breaking the record in half the time! She has called her adventure Expedition196, which took a total of 18 months and 26 days to complete. Cassandra’s journey totalled a whopping R3 million, which was mostly covered by sponsors. She was traveling on behalf of the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism and said that, “despite what you may think, this expedition has not been easy”. Part of trip was spent meeting politicians and students in order to promote the institutions primary goal- mobilising the travel and tourism industry as a leading force for poverty reduction.
“The value of travel is understanding the world in a better way, and that’s through breaking down barriers and just being completely open-minded,” says Cassandra.
The planning Cassandra had to do for this trip around the world took her half a year to do. It involved intensive networking to secure funding and sponsorships. She had a website made, social media campaigns set up and research about the requirements to break the record.
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In the beginning
“Before this whole thing, I was working two babysitting jobs. I really didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself. The expedition really morphed me into the woman that I am now. I walked into it kind of a selfish person. I walked out of it kind of silent, but with this great understanding about life and a great hope for what I can do for the world. I tried to get to know someone in each country, to learn his or her story — because everyone has a story.”
Choosing which path to follow
“My route was based on a level of difficulty regarding visas, meeting with university students, meeting with mayors or Ministers of Tourism or filming for an educational documentary. I was trying to plant trees and collect water samples. My plans would change constantly.
“If I ever had any free time, I would just walk around and explore. I tried to veer off the beaten path as much as possible to really see a place. For example, Oman is a pretty safe country and there’s so much to do once there. But I found that once I wandered the little side roads, I was invited into the home of a woman who shared bread and camel milk with me. I didn’t know Arabic, and she didn’t know English, but we sat there and smiled. She thoroughly enjoyed my company and watching me consume her food. There were plenty of experiences like this one that made me really appreciate the authenticity of travel and cultures.”
Going down the path less travelled
“I wasn’t really as nervous to head to Syria, North Korea, Iraq and Sudan as other people were for me. I was nervous to go to Somalia a bit more than the others (the amount of security was the most I’d ever experienced), and Yemen, since I crossed the border by bus (the risks were higher when staying in the mainland of Yemen from sunrise to sunset).
“Something that most people don’t understand is that the fear of terrorism exists among the people who live in these countries as well. They are victims of terrorism just as we are in Western countries, so there was a common level of understanding and bond between these people and myself when I’m in their country.”
“Surprisingly, there were only a few moments on my expedition that weren’t that great, but the online negativity surpassed any of them. Witnessing how terribly degrading and judgmental people can be online is one of the scariest things I experienced, more so than anything that’s ever happened in person. I was alone, and at times depended on technology to take my mind off of things, but it ended up being the culprit for being able to mentally manage situations while on the road. It also took away my focus when it came to experiencing new places, so I tried to stay away from it as much as possible.”
“Either crushing through icebergs in a dingy in Antarctica surrounded by penguins, or spending a week in the Mongolian wilderness in a yurt, free of Wi-Fi, cell service and completely alone.”