Or: Why drive a Land Rover instead of a Land Cruiser; and if so, why a Discovery over a Defender (or the other way around)?
What do the Book First Overland and the Journey The Last Overland have in common? Until a few weeks ago, I had heard of neither. Until Chris and Charlie stopped by at the Airbnb we were staying at in Bishkek to give the Land Cruiser a much-needed overhaul (read here).
Below, Chris will tell you the story of how he got a beautiful copy of First Overland that had been long out of print. In the book, author Tim Slessor details the first London-Singapore journey by car, in the 1950s by young men from England in Land Rovers.
First Overland was Chris’ peek into a world of adventure and overlanding. Of course, we wanted to see the book! He walked to his Land Rover to get the copy, which he carried with a reverence with which one may carry a sacred document. I had the privilege to read the first couple of pages but Chris & Charlie’s stay wasn’t long enough for me to read the entire book.
There is nothing better than turning actual pages, feeling the book you’re reading but ala, I’ll have to do with the e-book version from now on. Because, yes, the First Overland got republished.
A fun detail: In the 1950s, David Attenborough was a young man working at the BBC, and when the First Overland guys were looking for sponsorship he was the one to support their journey and gave them 200 pounds or so to buy a camera to film the trip. The today famous Sir David Attenborough wrote the introduction to the republished version of First Overland.
Anyway, where’s The Last Overland part of this anecdote, you may wonder. Well, as it happens, the author of First Overland, Tim Slessor, now 87 years old, is currently on a trip back from Singapore to London in one of the original Land Rovers of First Overland.
How cool is that?!
If all goes to plan Chris and Charlie will meet the team in Nepal.
All this, plus Chris’ Tinder profile was more than enough reason for me wanted to do an interview with Chris and Charlie on our website.
It was a great pleasure to have Chris and Charlie in our ‘home’ for a couple of days. And, we will be forever grateful to Chris’ helping hand (and brains) on the big enigma of the Land Cruiser, electricity.
Chris and Charlie, keep up the overlanding vibes and sharing such passionate stories. Enjoy the road!
Check out the fascinating stories of other overlanders:
Tell us a bit about yourselves and your journey
We are Chris & Charlie. Chris has a passion for cars and travel, so a road trip across the world seemed inevitable for him. I (Charlie) am a Behaviour Analyst with an equal passion for my work and travel. Yet to work out how to do both simultaneously, I am currently putting the career on hold to pursue travel.
Our journey started in Newcastle (UK) when we crossed the Tyne bridge, and will run via Singapore to the Sydney Harbour bridge. After that we have decided to add New Zealand on too – because when you’ve driven through that many countries, what‘s one more?
We are currently in India, and five months into our trip. After Europe we drove through Russia from Ukraine, spent some time in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and then crossed China from Kyrgyzstan into Pakistan.
We plan to arrive in Singapore around March 2020, a year after leaving home.
How this journey came about and how you met
The story of how we met is a modern-day love story, through the dating app, Tinder.
Chris’ profile sought an “adventure partner for an epic road trip to Australia”, listing essential criteria for the role – map reading skills, able to sit in a car for a long time without saying “are we nearly there yet” and enjoying falling asleep gazing at the stars every night.
Our first conversation revolved around the trip – where we would go, did we have similar music tastes, could Chris cope with getting rid of large spiders from the tent. Our fourth date was an off-road driving day in the car that Chris planned to complete the journey in.
We didn’t set off on the trip until just over 2 years after first meeting, however from day one we were planning our trip, designing and modifying the car, going on ‘practice runs’ across the UK, Europe and North Africa, and saving as much money as we could to fund our time on the road.
Please give us a tour of your overland rig
The third member of our trio is Natalie, a 2002 Land Rover Discovery Td5.
For me (Chris), the choice of vehicle was not between a Land Rover or a Land Cruiser, but rather a Land Rover or none at all. As I have told my Land Cruiser owning friends: if we simply wanted to ‘get’ to Australia, we would have taken a plane.
Why a Discovery and not a Defender? Having been a previous Defender owner, I truly believe that anyone who sets out on a long overland journey in a Defender can’t have driven it further than the end of their driveway in preparation (or has already had their right arm amputated)! In short, what we were looking for was something with a bit more comfort.
The build of Natalie centered around our wish to have four seats so that we could be joined by friends/family along the way. This made the build a bit more out of the ordinary, and was therefore designed, and mostly constructed, by Chris – using his background as an automotive engineer.
Where the fifth seat was, we now have a 42 litre water tank, a tool box in the footwell, and a box of other heavy equipment above the tank. The ethos was to keep everything as light as possible, so in the back, fabric and wood have taken the place of the more common steel and aluminium.
A local carpenter assembled the rear structure, which encompasses a pair of drawers for food/kitchen utensils, as well as space for our Engel MT35 fridge, table, and chairs. On top of this we have some more drawers for our clothes, and finally a shelf for everything else.
Upstairs is our bedroom (an Eezi-Awn 1.4m roof tent), a big blue box in which we store our pillows and sleeping bags, and a 2.5m ARB awning from which we can hang an awning room for when we have guests.
Mechanically the car is largely standard, with the exception of Old Man Emu springs, Nitrocharger Sport dampers, and an ARB front bumper (which is good for when people drive into you in India). Our tyres are a set of BF Goodrich All Terrain KO2s, which are as close to the original size as possible. The car was built with this trip in mind, and our route has been planned around warm weather, so all of our living is outside.
What was the best item you packed, and the stupidest thing you brought?
Chris – We made a last minute change from a gas stove to the Coleman 424 unleaded stove, which was largely due to reading an article on some website by a couple of Dutch travellers. Little did we know, several months later we would be staying with this couple in Bishkek, and that they weren’t just a random Dutch couple but the authors of Landcruising Adventure!
Although the stove isn’t the last word in sophistication, it does mean we never have to worry about where we are going to get fuel. Originally the stove was going to be attached to the rear door, so it could swing down to form our kitchen. We were hesitant about doing this, so held off, which turned out to be a great decision as having it free standing gives us so much more flexibility when cooking.
The stupidest thing I bought was a Land Rover Discovery, because what those one-armed Defender drivers probably already know is that a Defender can carry over 600kg more weight than a similar Discovery. When this weighty fact was discovered we were already too far down the road to do anything about it other than to really consider every item we were packing, and whether we really did need to take it.
I now think this was one of the better things that happened to us during our preparation as it really focused the minds about what was important and it has resulted in us having almost no unnecessary ‘stuff’.
Charlie – Currently, the stupidest item I have is probably my denim shorts. When we drove through Europe it was too cold for shorts, and ever since we have left Europe, we have been in predminantly Muslim countries where I haven’t wanted to wear clothes that are too ‘revealing’. At some point they will get some wear, but it might not be until Australia.
When every single item has been as carefully considered and thought out as ours have, it is hard to single out one as the best item. So I will cheat and have two. Firstly our LifeStraw Mission 12 water purifier. We can filter up to 12 litres at a time into our water tank, and also take it with us and filter on the go when we have stayed in hostels and hotels. This has not only saved us lots of money, but also saved on the huge amounts of plastic we would have had to buy if we had been using bottled water.
My second item is our on-the-go washing machine, the Scrubba Washbag. This brilliant little bag makes hand washing our clothes really easy, takes very little time/effort and the clothes come out just as clean as going in a washing machine. Again this has been really convenient for us, and also saved us lots of money as we have only paid to do laundry once or twice on our trip.
Chris, your drive for this journey is the book First Overland. As an avid book reader I fell for the story, please share it with our reders.
Although the first mile only really passed under the car in the North of England, the journey started long before that. When I was 13, my Dad bought me a second-hand book called First Overland which had been out of print for 45 years. This was long before the days of online shopping, so he must have searched high and low to find a copy of this, but as a passionate browser of second-hand books shops I’m sure he enjoyed the challenge.
The book is written by one of six young men from Oxford and Cambridge Universities who in 1956 were the first people to successfully drive from London to Singapore. They completed this mammoth journey in two Series 1 Land Rovers, provided to them, free of charge, by the Rover Company.
Soon after this, though, is where things became less easy for them. Whilst still in Europe they began to consider a ‘good road’ as one where speeds of 40mph could be obtained on the smooth-ish gravel surface. As they reached Burma they were having to rebuild war time roads that hadn’t been driven during the intervening 10 years, and ford bonnet-deep rivers next to collapsed bridges.
But they made it, and only half an hour later than planned! Instantly the book inspired me to follow in their footsteps in my own Land Rover, however it took over 15 years to turn this dream into reality.
Whilst we don’t expect our journey to be anywhere near as epic as the original, neither is it now as challenging for you to get your hands on a copy of First Overland as it was for my Dad all those years ago. First Overland has been both reprinted recently and is now available as an e-book too.
But if you choose to seek out an original copy like mine, you will be rewarded by being able to fully immerse yourself in 1950s literature.
Tim Slessor, author of the First Overland happens to be on the road too, The Last Overland. How did you find out about this, and will you meet him?
We were in Kazakhstan when we saw an article that had been shared on the Overland Sphere Facebook page about ‘The Last Overland’ trip. Tim Slessor, the author of First Overland, now 87 years old, was planning to complete a journey from Singapore to London in one of the original cars.
We were excited enough just to find this out, but on further reading we realised that he planned to leave for his 100-day trip in August, so our paths could potentially cross! Their social media pages barely had more likes than we did at this point, and we’d never met anybody else who had read the book. We got in touch with them and they seemed equally as keen as we did to meet up.
We’re hoping to join them for a few days of their trip whilst they are in Nepal. Now that their social media has exploded, we hope that they will still be able to find time to meet us.
Charlie, what’s the motivator for you on this journey? What are you getting out of it?
It sounds very cliche, but I have always loved travel and dreamed of taking a year or two out to travel the world, but I also loved my education and career and found it hard to leave that to pursue the dream of travelling.
Overlanding wasn’t a concept I had even heard of before I met Chris, but I am now convinced that it is the best way to travel – we are in complete control of our own journey and have our home wherever we are in the world. We have stayed in a few hostels and hotels on this trip, but my favourite places to stay have been when we have found a remote wild camping spot, surrounded by beautiful scenery, and we have the place all to ourselves.
On the occasions where we have met someone who can speak English, I have loved learning about the different cultures, and day-to-day lives of other people (both locals and other overlanders).
Overlanders often debate Pakistan’s safety. What has your experience been and what tips do you have for fellow overlanders?
If we hadn’t read any of the hype about it being dangerous, we would have never drawn this conclusion for ourselves. At no point during our three and a half weeks there did we feel that we were in an unsafe or dangerous situation.
Our biggest recommendation would be to go to Pakistan. We only spent time in the north (Gilgit-Baltistan region), and it was absolutely beautiful, we loved it.
We followed the UK Foreign Office travel advice regarding which areas to avoid, but this is something we do in every country to avoid being in an area where help wouldn’t be provided to us if we needed it (from both the British embassy and our travel insurance company).
Another tip would be to consider the time of year before going. We were there in August – when we were in the mountains, this was absolutely fine, however as we moved to lower ground it became extremely hot and humid (40C, 95%), making it less fun.
What has this overland journey brought and taught you as a couple?
Before we left, lots of our friends and family questioned how we would cope spending so much time together in a pretty confined space, with nobody else to keep us company. Now five months in and we are yet to get bored of each other’s company. We have become stronger as a couple, and the journey has shown us what a great team we are.
Separately, and together, we are also learning to be more patient – with each other, with other people, with the car, and with the (in our eyes) illogical processes and systems that many countries have.
An unexpected learning experience we’re having is that we don’t miss eating meat! Once we left Europe we became vegetarian – mainly to try to avoid getting ill but also due to the conditions that the animals are kept in and the way in which much of the meat is stored (e.g. out in the open, not refrigerated, and covered in flies). We thought this would be really difficult as we both ate meat almost every day at home, however, we have found it very easy.
Whilst we will go back to eating meat, we already plan to do this differently; buying locally sourced meat, choosing quality over quantity, and going veggie much more than we did before.
In what country have you felt most welcome, and/or interacted most with locals, and in what way?
Pakistan. Our arrival into the country was definitely the most welcoming – we sat with the customs officers chatting and drinking cold mango juice, provided by our hosts, whilst waiting for the Carnet de Passage paperwork to be completed.
The locals in Pakistan were friendly but not overwhelmingly so (bar a few Pakistani tourists who just wanted selfies with us). This was probably aided by the fact that they could speak English, so there was less of a language barrier than in many other countries on our trip.
We stayed in a couple of different places for longer periods of time than we had in previous countries, which gave us time to get to know the owners/managers, and we had many enjoyable afternoons chatting with them, finding out their histories, and thoughts on current affairs.
Where can people follow your journey?
website: Starry Nights and Insect Bites
All images @Starrynightsandinsectbites
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