Muscat: A young Frenchman, who has spent over a year driving from Paris to Central Asia and the Middle East in the hope of breaking a Guinness Record, has gained a lot more than a record, thanks to the places he has been to and the people met.
Inspired by adventurers such as Ibn Battuta and Wilfried Thesiger, 25-year-old Vincent Gelot is exploring this region and learning about its countries and cultures. He is travelling alone in a rather worn out 1988 Renault 4TL. This is the first time this type of car drove through many of these countries, including Oman, which would qualify him for several records.
"The record is a goal but it's an excuse, also. The journey is more important. You go through all these countries and have an open mind and an open heart to what you will discover. Also, I learn a lot about history and culture," Vincent told the Times of Oman while sitting in a coffee shop in Muscat.
He's travelling very simply, as his little car is old (it doesn't even have air conditioning, which meant the inside temperature in Oman often reached 60°), and rather than staying in hotels, he camps along the way or accepts hospitality from welcoming locals.
"I don't drive fast. I prefer to go deep into the culture. I am with the people. I have crossed many countries that had a big tradition of hospitality. For example, in Oman I went first to Sohar and arrived in time for an Omani wedding, joining the people there for two or three days," he said.
He left France in August 2012 and drove through Europe, visiting a number of Eastern European countries before arriving in Turkey, from where he took a ferry to Lebanon and back, and then continued his journey, driving to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and beyond, deep into Central Asia.
A month ago he arrived in Oman, having first explored the UAE. His time here has been filled with wonderful experiences, such as visiting Sur, Nizwa and the Wahiba Sands, and going fishing with a man in Sohar.
"What I can say about Oman is that the people are very nice, very simple. They have a peaceful nature and balance between modernity and traditions," he reflected.
The highlights on his journey included Lebanon, which fascinated him because of the diverse, lively people, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan for their beautiful landscapes, Uzbekistan and Iran for their rich history, and Oman, since he finds it such a peaceful oasis in the Middle East.
Alongside setting records and seeing new places for himself, Vincent also wanted to highlight these countries and show people back home in France what lies beyond the media's portrayal of the region.
"We have a lot of ideas about a lot of countries. For example, they think Iraq is just war, and Iran isn't open," said Vincent.
Of course, Vincent's journey wouldn't have been possible without sponsorship. Renault has been very generous, as have been different companies and organisations along the way.
Now he hopes to get more support to finance the last leg of the trip, which includes sending the car on a ferry from Muscat to Djibouti, driving through Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, taking another boat to Italy, before returning home.
"If people are interested in sponsoring me, they can call me or send an email," he said, his voice full of hope. "I'll put their logo on my car."
By the time he crosses the Italian border back into France, he'll have driven about 70,000 km, visited over 30 countries, filled pages and pages with notes and memories, and taken thousands of photographs. All combined, it will be more than enough to write a book about his journey, which is what he hopes to do once he's home, so that he can inspire others to follow their dreams.
"I never thought about giving up. I want to finish it. I want to show young people that the borders are not real, but only in their minds. Anything is possible today. If you have a dream to travel this way, just try it," Vincent said.