New Year’s Eve 1992, shortly before the turn of the year, in the middle of the Sahara desert: Among all the orange-coloured sandhills, you can see a white Mercedes-Benz. Forcefully, the off-roader navigates through the soft ground, climbing the sand dunes slowly but without any problems. On a vast plain it comes to a smooth stop. Some minutes later, two people get out of the vehicle. – It is an unusual situation as both of them are wearing fine evening attire despite being in the middle of the Sahara, far away from civilisation. Dressed in an elegant black suit, Richard jumps out of the Unimog and offers his arm to his wife Catherine so that she may safely leave the vehicle. Catherine’s flashy pink evening dress contrasts perfectly with the bright orange-red environment as the warm evening sun creates a slightly exalted atmosphere. Bewildered, the couple look around: There isn’t a soul in sight. This is one of those special moments for which all their efforts have been worthwhile. One of those moments which shows them that life is there to be enjoyed. This is precisely where the two of them – which appear sort of crazy – want to be in order to start the new year and embark on many more adventures.
Richard, who was 55 years old at the time, used to work in the biochemical industry until he turned his life around for the first time and started working in an advertising agency. But the daily grind was not for the liberal-minded man. In 1989, an idea began to grow in his mind: “’Life is short’, I kept telling myself. I was not happy any more; I wanted to explore the world and get away from the routine of everyday life“, recounts Richard. The idea to travel the world with a camper van had taken shape. “For this purpose I wanted to have the best vehicle my money could buy“, remembers Richard. “At the same time I wanted a vehicle that was reliable and well-prepared for all eventualities and hardships.“ The search began. In 1990 Richard eventually found what he had been looking for in Gaggenau, where the Unimog factory was located in those days. For the next two years, the brand new Unimog was modified to adapt it to Richard’s needs and prepare it for the requirements that might be facing him on his trip around the world.
830 litres of fuel and a 600 litre water tank is all that Richard and Catherine need to spend five to six weeks away from civilisation. In South America, the couple was on the move for a full two weeks without meeting another living soul. Besides, the offroad properties of their vehicle allowed them to master virtually any terrain or surface. And a refrigerator and a freezer, a big, comfortable bed, a shortwave radio, a hot water shower and a 500 watts solar panel on the roof of their vehicle provided the two travellers with a certain luxury while en route. The couple have used all these facilities as they have been travelling the world for over 20 years now: Their long world trip began in Spain from where they continued on to southern Morocco in order to cross the Sahara desert. From there, they travelled to countries like Ethiopia, Saudi Araba, Jordan, Israel, Syria and Turkey. “Next, I would like to explore Patagonia. We want to leave in Januar 2018“, Richard recounts.
We would like to get to know different people and their various views and become enriched by something other than money.
A life on the move – this is what many people dream of. But very few have the courage to leave behind the security of a steady job and a permanent home. For Richard however, his sense of security does not depend on such things: He feels safe and secure in his “survival Unimog“. “Anywhere in the world, people just like you and me live simple lives. Why not take a look at them? They survive in their countries, too“, says Richard. War zones are the only places the couple stays well clear of, apart from that, regular checks of the Unimog are part of their security routine. However, the couple feel at home and safe in their Unimog anywhere in the world. “We are driven by the desire to explore the whole word. We would like to get to know different people and their various views and become enriched by something other than money“, explains Richard. “Of course, we have encountered difficulties here and there, but these errors have occurred and we have learnt from them.“ For Richard, one thing is clear: “I would never want to exchange the lives we are leading now for anything else.“
Jozef Balemans is in a wheelchair. And yet in his entire life he has never been as mobile as he is now – thanks to a Sprinter that bears his name.
> Read more about Jozef and his journey
Photos: Richard Desomme