Expatica news

Dutch adventurer reaches South Pole on tractor

Dutch actress and adventurer Manon “Tractor Girl” Ossevoort arrived at the South Pole Tuesday after chugging along on a tractor from Europe through Africa and across the frozen wastes of Antarctica.

“It’s quite emotional, I’m very happy,” Ossevoort told AFP by satellite telephone shortly after arriving at the Pole and fulfilling a decade-long dream.

“It feels quite magical really, to have made this happen and arrived here!”

The ebullient new mother of a 10-month-old baby said the the 16-day, 2,500 kilometre (1,500 mile) trip across the largest single mass of ice on earth from Russia’s Novo base to the Pole had been tough.

Driving the huge red Massey Ferguson tractor over the rugged, icy landscape at an average speed of about 10 kilometres (six miles) an hour was “like rodeo riding”.

Ossevoort said the worst part of the trip was “the day that I was driving for hours and hours and could not go faster than between 0.5 and five kilometres (three miles) per hour”.

“I really was worried then that the expedition could come to a halt if conditions would get just a little bit worse.”

Now she has to do the return trip.

It will be a race to make it home to the Netherlands for Christmas but the “return journey to the base will be faster because the tracks of the tractor will be frozen up and it will be easier to drive.”

Ossevoort began her trip in 2005, taking four years to drive from her home village in the Netherlands to Cape Town at the southern tip of Africa — and then missed the boat that was due to take her to Antarctica for the final leg due to delays.

Frustrated, the former theatre actress spent the next four years back in the Netherlands, writing a book, working as a motivational speaker and desperately trying to get back on a tractor.

With sponsorship from Massey-Ferguson and other companies, she finally made it.

– ‘The best adventure’ –

Ossevoort travelled alone through Africa, but in Antarctica the tractor needed to creep forward day and night, so French mechanic Nicolas Bachelet shared the driving.

In total, she was accompanied by a team of seven, including crew who are filming the journey for a documentary.

Asked whether this was the end of her crazy adventures on a tractor, Ossevoort’s infectious laugh bubbled through the crackly satphone: “Yes. I think this is the best adventure on a tractor that one can come up with.”

She now plans to write a children’s book and produce the movie of her journey.

Asked what she is looking forward to most about getting back to civilisation, she replied: “To go back home to my happy ever after and to hug my little daughter.”

Ossevoort’s daughter, Hannah, has been in the care of her partner, airline pilot Roger Nieuwendyk.

Cradling the baby in a tractor shed in Cape Town as Ossevoort made final checks before leaving for Antarctica, he told AFP she had his full support.

“We’ll be there to meet her at the airport when she comes home,” he said.

Ossevoort’s tractor is named Antarctica 2 in honour of legendary explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, who travelled to the South Pole on a tractor in 1958.

His vehicle was equipped with full tracks, however, while Ossevoort’s has normal inflatable tyres which have been slightly modified for better grip on the snow and ice.

While fulfilling her own long-held dream, Ossevoort carried with her thousands of ‘dreams’ collected from people in Africa and around the world.

Scraps of paper and emails have been converted into digital form and will be placed in the belly of a big snowman she will build at the pole — to be opened only in 80 years time.

“I want to turn them into a beautiful time capsule of the dreams of the world so that in the future children and people can read something about our dreams and not only about politics or war,” she said.

Fear holds people back from pursuing their dreams, she says, and many believe that “putting them into reality is as impossible as driving a tractor to the South Pole”.

“The tractor for me symbolises this very down to earth fact that if you want to do something, maybe you will not be so fast but if you keep going and keep your sense of humour you will get there.”