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South America on double four wheels

Maciek is an avid poker player. “The time I have spent in my life at the green table, playing in different part of Poland, as well as in the world adds up to as many as 10 years!” – he assessed in one of his e-mails that we exchanged. Poker is this kind of intellectual entertainment that requires a quick mind, a fair dose of luck and capable hands to hold the cards. The perfect entertainment for someone who enters a casino or tournament venue in a wheelchair. As Maciek is the person that moves in a wheelchair.

Michal is passionate about photography. Through camera’s lenses he enjoys watching vast spaces and the changing horizon, as well as people far away from him with a paradoxical feeling of getting to know them closer. Photography, as he frames it, is symbolic. As it is the perfect alternative for someone who had given up his beloved sport, cycling, enforced by the disease which confined him to a wheelchair. As Maciek moves in a wheelchair too.

Photo: Rafał Masłow

Photo: Rafał Masłow

Maciek Kaminski and Michal Woroch met 12 years ago in the hall of the physical therapy clinic in Bydgoszcz, Poland. That’s where they decided they would embark together on the world’s expedition and they would challenge the popular misconception that disability puts end to our dreams and adventures. Europe came as their first endeavor. They bought an old car and drove it across several countries. But it was only an introduction, a warm-up before far more complex of a journey: traveling across South America.

Photo: Michał Woroch

Photo: Michał Woroch

In March 2016 Maciek and Michal submitted their candidacy for Andrzej Zawada Award which is granted by the Jury of Kolosy to promising young explorers with the most extraordinary ideas for expeditions. Kolosy is the annual three-day meeting of about 25,000 travelers and explorers held in Gdynia, Poland with the competition for Polish, and foreign authors for the most interesting expeditions and exploration achievements. Maciek and Michal had only five minutes to introduce themselves and pitch their story. Within those five minutes they – metaphorically speaking – kidnapped me and other members of the Jury and sent us over on a trip to South America; from skeptics we became enthusiasts. Which determined the verdict – the win for Maciek and Michal which came with a financial award to support their expedition.

Photo: Magda Woroch

Photo: Magda Woroch

On November 9th 2016 Maciek and Michal are flying from Poland to Buenos Aires. There, they will get into their 1996 Land Rover Defender 110, which they have repaired and adapted to their needs over the past few months. “The list of changes to our Defender is really long – says Michal, who was responsible for preparing their car for the trip. – The most important was to change the manual transmission into automatic and to install special equipment allowing gas and brake to be hand-controlled. Also, two lifts were mounted. One – to get into the car and the other – to get to the roof where the platform was installed for pitching the tent. We wired our modified vehicle ourselves. We installed additional water and fuel tanks and made many other, smaller improvements. “

From Buenos Aires they are planning to go south to reach Cape Horn. It has been the dream-come-true destination for Maciek ever since he read books on sailors navigating the waters around Tierra del Fuego. In the following stage of their adventure, they will drive along the Pacific coastal line through Argentina, Chile and Bolivia and they will complete their journey in Peru.

Photo: Michał_Woroch

Photo: Michał_Woroch

In the Amazon jungle, somewhere over Ucayali River, they will visit the Indian shamans. One of friends of Michal is a tourist guide in this region and he has an access to one of the healers. He sent them an invite to stop by during their journey. – Michal ‘s friend has been inviting us to visit these shamans for several years now. He keeps saying that they will be able to heal us. It sounds like a science fiction. Since it’s crazy, we appreciated this exotic idea and we incorporated it into our plans – Maciek explains. – Alternative treatments’ experts have been approaching me for quite a long time – Michal makes a confession. – On my previous expeditions, there were people showing up on my way who tried to perform some unconventional therapy to heal my condition. I always look at this carefully, without a specific attitude, without either a belief or denial. This time is similar. Also, the encounter with shamans is not the main goal of our expedition.”

So what is the purpose of this, as well as any other travel? Getting to know themselves through the discovery of new places. Examining life’s battles from the perspective of other people they encounter on their expeditions. Proving to themselves that it means more to discover the world than to endure inconveniences of the travel. Handling the problems – an important part of the travel – as challenges rather than obstacles. 

maps_wheelchairtrip_lato

Learning to ask others for help. Which is not always easy. But both Maciek and Michal believe that it takes human kindness for other people to respond with kindness as well. – Previous expeditions have taught me to have my eyes and ears wide open and to keep a big smile on my face at the same time. This prevents dangerous situations from happening – Maciek explains.

Michal also awaits the evening ritual he had already implemented on his previous trips: night-time siestas. “They provide me with a calm moment to look at the horizon and reflect why I am right here in my life and not somewhere else. My disease is progressing – he adds – I often think that travels push me to act with determination so I will make enough time to the discovery of myself. “

The travel by car and wheelchairs, therefore on double four wheels, is expected to last about six months. However, it is possible that it will be slightly extended if friends decide to proceed through additional several thousand kilometers to reach Costa Rica. And…. if all goes well, they will continue their journey all the way long to the United States – they have already obtained American tourist visas just in case.

I hope to meet them in Washington DC!

Piotr Chmielinski
Washington, November 1, 2016