The Colas family have completed their tour of the world for solidarity, with Frédéric, Estelle and Héloïse returning to Paris at the end of June after travelling around the world for one year, covering all the continents. Time to take stock of this outstanding adventure, and the results are more than positive because “we like the world” is:
- 108,800 km traveled in 351 days, with 83,200 by plane, 20,900 by car, 1,400 by bus, 1,400 by boat, 1,200 by train, 600 by foot, 50 by horse, 50 by helicopter, 15 by elephant, 10 by bicycle and 2 by camel
- 17 countries visited
- 209 nights hosted by 52 families
- 80% success rate when looking for accommodation, including 27% with families that were already known, 50% with friends of friends, 15% with unknown friends from Facebook and 8% with people met during the trip
- $65,000 raised for the creation of a primary school in Burkina Faso, including $23,000 thanks to staying with families
- 1 primary school built, welcoming 400 pupils in 6 classes from ages 6 to 11
- 90% of the trip connected to the internet
- hundreds of thumbs raised!
After sharing his impressions with us midway through their journey, Frédéric Colas has given us one final interview to tell us about the second half of his small family’s trip. Highlights include an improvised dance show in a shop in Vietnam, a puzzling customer experience to buy a SIM card in Ladakh, as well as Asian philosophy and Burmese spirituality, and even the inauguration of the school in Burkina Faso and Fred’s favorite memories.
How did the second part of your trip go?
Our travel experience was completely different between the first six months when we were in North America, South America and Oceania, and then the final six months when we were primarily in Asia. First of all because we were much more flexible: sometimes, we decided on our itinerary at the last minute. For instance, we decided to go to Burma one week before; in Ladakh, India, four days before…which was not the case during the first part of the trip, when everything was more planned and scheduled. Secondly for the choice of families: sometimes, we found families who were willing to put us up just a day before we arrived in places like Rangoon in Burma.
In terms of mobile telephony, what were the most striking differences?
A few months before we were due to arrive in Burma, a SIM card cost $1,700, equivalent to six times the average annual salary for someone in Burma. When we arrived in Burma, the country was opening up, the elections were underway and Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament. Prepaid SIM cards were launched on the market. I had to buy myself a small phone and prepaid SIM card, and it cost me $40 to cover the entire three weeks we spent in the country. This was a phenomenal change at a speed that would be inconceivable in the West. In less than a few months, mobile telephony is transforming communications in Burma.
In Delhi, I was able to go online and use the phone without any problems at all, but when we arrived in Ladakh, which is part of India, we realized that the phones weren’t working. We made some inquiries and found out that as there are tensions in the Ladakh area – since it has borders with Pakistan, China and India, and the borders are not recognized – there is a strong military presence and communications are closely monitored. To get hold of a SIM card in Ladakh, you need to buy a special SIM card, but they are not readily available. Indeed, you need to go to the shop, show your passport and also come with someone who lives in Ladakh, who also needs to show their passport and then acts as a guarantor for what you can do, just in case you ever do anything not good. Once this obstacle has been overcome, the cost is no obstacle at all, with the price per minute of call time coming in at less than 1 euro cent, so you can use your phone as much as you want. But first, you still need to get hold of a SIM card!
What are the main cultural differences between the West and Asia?
They are very, very strong. Our arrival in Asia corresponded with our first real culture shock. During the first six months, we had stayed in civilizations that had Christian roots. Now, we were in Buddhist countries. It is fascinating and this is possibly the region in the world that most made us think about the meaning of life, the priorities we set ourselves each day, as they themselves are torn between the Buddhist values and development, business, materialism. I believe they are experiencing these contradictions even more strongly than us. However, depending on the country, one was dominant compared with the other. Vietnam is growing rapidly and materialism is very strong there. We stayed with families representing the middle-class, which is developing at a strong rate, with access to a consumer society. In Burma on the other hand, a country that is still closed off, we saw the influence of Buddhist values and I admit we had the impression that they are not necessarily much less happy because they are poorer. Sometimes, we asked ourselves whether the opposite is true.
What about Burkina Faso?
Burkina Faso is very influenced by France from a cultural perspective. We did not stay long enough to make any in-depth analysis of the cultural differences. However, what struck us most were the school and children. When we arrived at the school, the classrooms were already being used. There were between 80 and 90 pupils in each class. This is far more than the maximum of 35 to 40 seen in France. In France, people complain about there being too many pupils, the noise, the difficulties educating children in such conditions, and so on. There, we arrived in the classroom and there was not a sound. We said to ourselves that the children might be intimidated by our presence. Except for the fact that when we left the classroom to talk with the teacher, we did not hear any noise inside the classroom for the entire time we were talking. This made a huge impression on us.
We believe that to some extent these children are aware that education represents their opportunity to escape from poverty and they appreciate this. Which reassured us about our own initiative to build this school.
How did you manage to communicate in countries with so many different languages?
In the end, it wasn’t very difficult, because a lot of people speak English. In terms of the families we stayed with, once again people spoke English or French, with just one exception: a Vietnamese family in a small town where tourists never go. This family did not speak English or French, so we had to communicate by signing during the two nights we stayed with them. Admittedly, this was hard, but the sense of achievement with what we managed to do and the memories it created were well worth the effort. We tried to communicate by stringing a few words together and ended up laughing a lot because even when we couldn’t understand one another, we laughed about this. And we discovered that children have no need of language to understand one another. After five minutes of shyness, Héloïse made a connection with the family’s two young girls, who were the same age. They started to play blind man’s bluff, they spent their days together, Héloïse went to school with them…And the highlight of this experience was an unforgettable moment that took place on the second evening. The family’s mother kept saying the word “ballet” to us over and over. We could not understand what she wanted to say, then after a few minutes, she put on a classical music record and we understood that she had seen that Héloïse had done classical music. In this way, Héloïse and the two young girls improvised an absolutely magical dance show during which they managed to coordinate with one another. On top of that, this all took place in a slightly unusual location: in a shoe shop open onto the street!
Has work to build the school officially been completed?
Yes, it’s done! The school was inaugurated in June in Cissé Largo, Burkina Faso. Indeed, one class is already using it and the other classrooms will be used from the start of the new school year in September, with 400 children attending this school every day. We hope they will be happy there. At least the school’s future is relatively secure in terms of the teachers, since they will be supplied by the government. Our work is not over. We need to build housing for the teachers, because when they have good accommodation, they tend to stay; we also need to organize a canteen because the children often have only one meal a day. If they could have a second one, it would help them in terms of their life and their education…we still have a lot of projects.
What is your best memory from this “we like the world” adventure?
The countries that marked us the most were Patagonia and Burma. But looking beyond that, what was really exceptional with our trip was getting to meet the families. 52 families hosted us for 209 nights, and everything went extremely well with all of them. We met some extraordinary people, we had truly in-depth discussions about their life choices, we learnt about their lifestyles, their cultures…Now, we have a network of true friends around the world, and that is magical. We wish everybody could experience this. Indeed, we would really like to find a family to take up the baton and set off on “we like the world 2” because it would really be worth it. More than an extraordinary trip, it is an extraordinary life experience!
You have heard Frédéric Colas’ appeal: head off on your own adventure, continue building the extraordinary solidarity chain and embark on “we like the world 2”! If you are interested, do not hesitate to contact the Colas family on their Facebook page, their blog or their Twitter account @thecolasfamily.