An innovative new television documentary, Thumbs Up Africa, will record a remarkable journey three young Dutch students are set to embark on in October 2012: to hitchhike over 15 000 kilometres from the Netherlands all the way down the continent of Africa to end up, three months later, in Cape Town.

Thumbs Up Africa

The Thumbs Up Africa hitchhikers: from left, Sierd van der Bij, Christiaan Triebert and Neda Boin.

The three – Christiaan Triebert (21), Neda Boin (22) and Sierd van der Bij (23) – were chosen from a by the newly formed Thumbs Up Foundation from a flood of applicants wanting to make the trip. But it’s not just about adventure and movie-making. The aim of the journey is to provide an intimate and sometimes visceral on-the-ground view of Africa and its people: its beauty and humanity, but also the local impact of war, climate change and socioeconomic injustice.

Along the way they will volunteer at various development and aid organisations, giving them – and the documentary series – in-your-face insight into the real problems facing many African countries.

In a video of the trio posted on the Thumbs Up Africa website, they explain what they hope to get out of the trip. “I hope to show the beauty of the continent – by means of hitchhiking,” says Christiaan, an international relations student. “Every single car has its own story, and these stories I want to show you.”

For the entire 15 000 kilometres of the trip, the three will be followed by a film crew, recording their adventures, the people they meet and the volunteer work they do. The footage will be put together to make a TV documentary series once the trip is finished. While they are still travelling, shorter films will be posted on YouTube and on the Thumbs Up Africa website.

“We’re going to hitchhike from Groningen to Cape Town, South Africa, and on the way we pretty much don’t know what’s going to happen to us – where we are going to spend the night, and which projects we’re going to visit,” says Sierd, a freelance journalist and student of Dutch who already has experience hitchhiking in Iran and Iraq.

“We want you to join us on this amazing road from Groningen to Cape Town, because on the road we’re going to need a lot of help hitching rides, finding places to sleep, and just ordinary suggestions in any category whatsoever. And that’s possible through Twitter, Facebook and all the social media platforms.”

Through the website, social media, multicasts and the Thumbs Up Africa mobile phone app, followers of the journey will be able to keep track of the hitchhikers in real time, help them find places to stay and help decide which development and humanitarian projects they work on. People across the world will be able to communicate directly with them and the people they encounter live online through live video feeds. The three will also write blog posts and Facebook updates, allowing their followers to respond to their latest news

Smart phones will be a valuable tool. As Sierd says: “When we can’t find a ride somewhere around Addis Ababa, we’re going to put that on Facebook and say something like: ‘Hey, we’re stuck in Addis Ababa! Can anyone help us out?’ Maybe someone will pop up. That would be nice, because we have to make it to Cape Town!”

The three will be supported by a support crew made up of a medic, two mechanics, one overall fixer and several guides with local knowledge in specific countries – fixers who know the area well, speak the language and are familiar with local culture and customs. But the crew will only step in during emergencies. Most of the time Christiaan, Neda and Sierd will have to hitch by themselves, feed themselves and find their own places to sleep at night.

“I just love Africa. I’ve been there once myself for development work,” says Neda, a music student. “It’s really my passion to do development work, especially combining music with it. I just want to raise awareness and I want to see the world, and I want to share it with the rest of the world.”

Sierd adds: “We would like to knock down some expectations that people have in general about Africa. Hitchhiking provides first-person contact, because one travels with the people. By staying in people’s homes to see how they are living, we can get a better picture and tell it to the people of the Netherlands and the rest of the world.”

The route

Thumbs Up Africa map

The hitchhikers will take the eastern route through the African continent, crossing five European and eleven African countries. The journey will begin in Groningen, a university city in northern Netherlands. Christiaan, Neda and Sierd will travel southeast across Europe to Italy, from where they will enter Africa at Egypt. From Egypt the journey takes them through Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and finally South Africa. If all goes according to plan, they will reach Cape Town on New Year’s Day 2013.

“I consider myself to be a writer,” says Sierd. “One of my biggest passions is travelling and the joie de vivre side of life. I’d like to see the real story, the real Africa, and share it.”

He adds: “Of course I also want to see the Victoria Falls and do some bungee jumping.

“That would be nice.”

Follow the hitchhikers

Watch Christiaan’s application video:

Watch Neda performing with her band with her band Music behind Bars:

Watch Sierd’s application video:


More recent stories

A different kind of crossover
25 June 2012 – Supported by the GFC, Lucky is a drama about a 10-year-old South African orphan who leaves his Zulu village to make his own life in the city, only to find no one will help him – except a formidable Indian woman called Padma.

Leon Schuster, SA’s Mad Buddy
25 June 2012 – South African movie legend Leon Schuster hit the circuit this weekend with Mad Buddies, his 15th feature in a career that has tickled the national funny bone for more than three decades. Anton Burggraaf gets a handle on Schuster, the madness and his rampant success.

Out in Africa call for film entries
14 June 2012 – Part two of this year’s three-part Out In Africa South African Gay and Lesbian Film Festival will take place from 27 July to 5 August 2012 at the Nu Metro V&A Waterfront in Cape Town and Nu Metro Hyde Park in Johannesburg.

GFC and FPB sign agreement
14 June 2012 – The Gauteng Film Commission and Film and Publication Board have signed a memorandum of understanding to help grow and develop the film industry, and reduce the distribution and consumption of unregulated content.