Coen had gotten an address of Yakmobil, a company that designs and manufactures custom boxes for (off-road/overland) vehicles. It is situated outside Ulaanbaatar. Our visas were about to expire and our way to exit Mongolia, we decided to check it out.
In the parking lot stood several vehicles. Bert de Ruiter stood there, with his impressively big truck, called Piggy, which he was about to store at Yakmobil for the winter (more on that below in his story).
We connected and met again a year later or so, in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan). As you will read in this story, Bert is a man with a long history of traveling and adventure in hiking, cycling, and skiing. With retirement not far away (in the Netherlands around the age of 65-67), he started planning seriously for an open-end trip. He settled for a big camper, for comfort and which would allow him to take passengers.
Overland Travel in Retirement
Travel in retirement is on the rise in all segments. Among the overlanders in retirement that we know, many couples combine for example 6 months of overlanding with 6 months at home (esp. when there are grandkids, it seems). But Bert has other plans. While he plans on visiting the Netherlands annually, he’d like to spend most of the year on the road (Covid-19 destroying that idylle for now).
How is life on the road after retirement? How is it to travel with such a big camper truck when not enjoying to do car repairs yourself?
We decided to ask him. His stories are filled with details, which I feel is how he looks at the world, taking every little bit in with enthusiasm and curiosity. I greatly admire the way he faces his challenges, is open in meeting people and connecting.
Bert, thanks for your time for your super extensive replies. I hope our roads will cross again.
Readers, have fun, and if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask them in the comment section below.
Check out the fascinating stories of other overlanders:
- Meet Throttle Adventures; the First Kenyan Couple to Motorcycle Around the World
- How to combine careers and overland journeys? Marijke & Joost will tell you
- An Overland Trip Inspired by the Book ‘First Overland’ (or: why drive a Land Rover and not Land Cruiser?)
- How to combine overlanding and rock climbing? Here’s GrizzlyNBear’s Story
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey
After my physiotherapy study in Amsterdam, I was lucky enough to be employed as a physiotherapist during my military service. Although I had a great deal of freedom in my work in a rehabilitation center in the woods around Doorn, the hierarchical rules made me very nervous.
Before and during my studies I had roamed in Iran, Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan, and had experienced ultimate freedom.
Traveling has been in my blood since childhood – many of my paternal family members share the same gene. To me, traveling should be a combination of adventure, exploration, variety, as well as an inspiration for my photography hobby.
I am not keen on following a guide who will lead you the way. I want to know and do it all myself, although by nature I am someone who rather feels comfortable in the background. I do not aspire to have a real leadership role.
At the beginning of my ski-touring period, I was used to following such a guide until he disappeared into a crevasse. In response, I followed a training as a ski-touring instructor and after that hiked independently every year, in wintertime, into the mountains with two mountain friends. This was a great extension of my sense of adventure, freedom and risk management. I experienced that same feeling during my countless bicycle trips around the world.
I still experience this as the best way to explore a country. Nice and slow. All senses are stimulated and it is easy to get to know people along the way. And it’s ideal for the photographer. Stopping for a photo is easier than when you are driving a car.
Read More: Kyrgyzstan Overland Travel Guide
Buying a Campertruck
The world trip that I have been doing for the last four years, however, I do with a big campertruck. Before the journey, I obtained my truck driving license (category C) and used the first year to increase my driving skills under different circumstances and to get to know the truck. Morocco was extremely suitable for this. I soon found out that such a journey with a 35-year-old truck often comes with technical defects.
In the absence of any technical knowledge, I relied on helpful people, the ANWB (Dutch Automobile Association), and the ingenuity of technicians in countries outside Western Europe.
Whereas in Europe it is quickly clear that the relevant part is no longer available (so it cannot be repaired), I noticed that there is an incredible amount of knowledge and improvisation outside Europe. If necessary, a part is overhauled or recreated. And that for ridiculously low prices. My technical knowledge increases every year, but I like to leave the real crafting to others.
After this educational year, I left east and spent a long time in the Balkans, visiting all the countries there. My journey then went through Greece, Turkey, the Caucasus countries, Chechnya and Dagestan to Kazakhstan. In Mongolia I parked Piggy (the camper) in a garage in Ulaanbaatar for the winter and flew to Indonesia to travel to many islands by bicycle, scooter and backpacking.
After these seven months I returned to Mongolia and continued the journey back to Kazakhstan and the other Stan countries to finally arrive in Saudi Arabia via Iran, the UAE and Oman. During all those years I returned to the Netherlands every year for a few weeks to maintain contact with family and friends and to arrange administrative matters.
The corona crisis locked the world. I stored Piggy in a garage in Riyadh for the time being and flew to the Netherlands on a repatriation flight.
Meanwhile, Piggy and I are itching again to continue the journey.
What was the reason behind buying, building & equipping the campertruck the way you did?
My original plan was to undertake the world trip by bicycle. But because I would be on the road for many years and not be able to bring all my photo equipment, including a large laptop to edit the photos taken for the stock agency Alamy (which sells some of my travel photos), along with camping equipment and necessary luggage, this is impossible.
Moreover, I noticed that with age I have less strength than before. I got more and more trouble with the mountain routes and combined with tropical climates, cycling was not always a pleasure trip.
From Bicycle to Car to Truck
I once rented a Toyota Hilux camper in Namibia, and I traveled around with it with great pleasure. An identical car could possibly become my travel car, but, spoiled as I am, I soon realized that I had to live outside, in all seasons. Cooking, sleeping in a roof tent that you had to fold in and out every time in cold, wind and rain or snow did not appeal to me.
In Africa I have regularly seen large overland vehicles. I was very attracted to these. As a result, I continued to grow into my travel plans. What could be better than always having your own house with you. With a 4×4 I could also go off-road. A roof tent was intended for the not too cold, dry, windless nights. Perfect.
Waking up with birdsong in the morning. Sleeping indoors in worse weather. Everything at hand: kitchen, shower and toilet, cupboard space, heating. You name it. My choice was ultimately made.
I bought a Steyr 1291, Steyr Daimler Puch 1291 4×4 double cabin, manufactured in 1982.
Her name is Piggy, because she felt in her element in the mud. The rig was imported from Austria by the first Dutch owner who converted it into a camper. Being the third owner, I had it technically checked and repaired. Small adjustments, such as a closed luggage box at the back, have been carried out by others.
As I said, tinkering is not my thing.
Specifics of Piggy, a Steyr 1291
- Engine: 260 HP, 6 cylinders – 9726 cc Turbo Diesel
- Diesel tanks: total 560 liters
- Weight: 12000 kg
- Engine: 2 × 4 and 4 × 4
- Double cabins for 6 persons
- Hydraulic Winch
- 2 Spare tires
- Parking heater in front cabin
- Electric cool box in the cabin
- Total length: ca 9meters
- Water tank: 520 liters
- Waste-water tank: 100 liters
- Kitchen unit with refrigerator
- shower and chemical toilet
- seating area for 6 persons
- air conditioning and heating
- Dvd player
- sleeping place for 1-2 people
- Luggage boxes on the roof
- Large roof tent for 2-3 persons
- 2 down duvets with linen
- Large awnings on both sides
- Folding chairs, tables, dishes and cutlery for 6 persons
- 2 x 2 person tents with self-inflatable mats
- Electricity supply (batteries, generator) for wild camping
- Set of 4 walkie talkies
Piggy didn’t give you an easy start. What happened in Mongolia and where/how did you find the motivation not to give up?
Apart from the many repairs I had to have carried out on the way – among which leaking air pipes, rusted parts, electrical problems, starting problems mainly caused by the age of the truck and poor maintenance of the previous owner – I am dealing with a recurring problem.
A part of the cabin stabilization continued to break regularly. Every time something had to be welded or replaced. In Greece, I noticed that the entire cabin leaned on the engine at a curve, causing the cabin to vibrate and even slightly block the pedals.
Miraculously, I found a garage in Thessaloniki that was more or less specialized in Steyr trucks and had a number of discarded Steyr 1291s on site. Everything got repaired with second-hand parts.
Check it out: Our Landcruising Adventure Magnet Collection
Problems and Help in Mongolia
However, during the crossing of Mongolia over pitiful ‘roads’, I noticed that the problem was slowly returning. In Ulaanbaatar I found a garage where I could park the truck for the winter. During my winter stay in Indonesia they stripped the entire cabin, repaired or replaced the rusted parts, renewed the interior, repainted the exterior and, of course, repaired the main problem.
Unfortunately, they did not think about using hard steel bolts for the hinges at the front of the cabin. (The hinges on which the cab is tilted forward to access the engine). I decided to remove my second spare tire from the cab roof. We agreed with others that the heavy roof tire could be the main cause of the problem.
During the southern route through Mongolia towards Russia and Kazakhstan my heart stopped for a moment. With a crack, the cabin dropped back on the engine. Accelerator and brake pedal were completely blocked. Broken bolts of the hinges. There I stood, right in the middle of the desert, 850 kms away from Ulaanbaatar.;
I managed to contact Yakmobil, the garage in Ulaanbaatar, via a satellite phone in a neighboring settlement. Within two days, my three friends were right beside me. They worked on it for almost two days, the first day until 11 p.m.
After five days I was able to drive back to Ulaanbaatar independently, and I was about to return to the Netherlands.
Read More: Mongolia Overland Travel Guide
Giving up? Or Go on?
I was fed up with it. This time I wanted to return to the Netherlands via Russia because the roads were less bad there. It was only possible to get a five-day transit visa. Because this is too short to reach Europe, I was obliged to drive to Kazakhstan first and then apply for a transit visa again. I had agreed with myself that I would return to the Netherlands in case of recurring problems. If not then I wanted to give it a chance to continue the world trip.
And you see… We are now a year further and I am still on the move, were it not that Piggy is currently based in Saudi Arabia because of the corona crisis and I am waiting in the Netherlands for the moment that the journey can continue.
To answer your question where I get the motivation to not give up, I have to do a little introspection. Not easy. Maybe I’m a little stubborn. Along the way I also noticed that so far there is a solution for every problem. Furthermore, I am not tied to a timetable.
I have plenty of time, so while waiting is not always fun, with patience you can go a long way. Furthermore, after each repair, the euphoria dominates that everything is back on track and I quickly forget about the tough times behind me.
You retired as a physical therapist and are overlanding with an open end. What was/is the motivation behind this choice?
I had been thinking for years about traveling for a long time. I wanted to see more of the world than I had so far. Additionally, I had a bad time after a broken relationship and an extremely bad working relationship with one of my colleagues. My job satisfaction was undermined by the privatization of health care, which made you more and more a slave to health insurers. Administrative burden caused irritation to both myself and the clients.
In short, it is time to spend the last quarter of my life on things I like. I wanted to retire at the age of 61, but first I had to sell my house with a heavy mortgage. It took more than three years for that to actually happen. The housing market had fallen badly during that time.
Once the house was sold, I sold or gave away just about everything.
I bought a camper truck and stopped working a few months later. A month after I retired, I went on my way to the other side of the world. On average, I return to the Netherlands once a year to see family and friends and to handle some administrative matters.
I want to keep this up for a few more years until I don’t feel like it anymore. Then, another episode in my life will follow.
You have invited friends to join on your trip. Have you also had local people join you? Do you take hitchhikers or in what other ways do you interact with people?
I bought a double cab truck with the idea that I could inspire people to experience a part of the journey. I had room for five people, chairs, tables, tents, bed linen etc. In the beginning there were some enthusiasts. This journey seemed AMAZING to them.
But gradually everyone dropped out. Too little time, difficult to plan, too uncertain. In short, as we say in Holland, ‘people see too many bears on the road’. During 4 years time, there were 5 passengers for a few weeks, one of whom I didn’t know before hand.
Hitchhikers & Meeting Locals
Sometimes I take hitchhikers. Especially when I see someone walking in the middle of nowhere. The disadvantage of local people is that you don’t speak each others’ language. So zero communication. The nice thing is that they are always very grateful. Sometimes they insist that they pay me for it, but of course I refuse to accept it.
In Morocco I once took a big woman in a long robe and a headscarf. She struggled to scramble in the high cabin, so I helped her by putting my hands under her full buttocks and push her up. ‘Shukran,’ she said shamelessly. So she didn’t mind at all. After I dropped her off in the next village she kept waving me all the way till the end.
In the meantime I have discovered that I would like to take a maximum of two persons. But that also causes problems with determining a meeting place and a farewell place. Especially if you want to book a few months in advance and are also bound to a certain period. Of course I never know exactly where I am at that moment.
In short, the few times that someone can join me is fun. It also important that characters match and I am now happy that it will mainly remain a solo trip.
What was the best experience you had on the road so far?
There are so many fun experiences, but one of the best was the experience with the corrupt police in Kazakhstan. In Kazakhstan, I was stopped by the police for various reasons. Driving ‘too fast’, crossing the line in the middle of the road, no daylights or just checking my papers. A foreigner in a large truck is, after all, a potential source for an extra supplement to their salary.
In a town, I slowly drove down a road looking for a bank to pin highly needed money. At the last minute, I saw a parking lot on the other side of the road. Because there was no traffic at that time, I quickly crossed over to check my mobile phone where I could find an ATM. I noticed that I was crossing a continuous line across the road.
In seconds, a police car stopped next to me. Papers please. You crossed the line. Traffic ticket. Until then I had always been able to talk myself out of it, but now it was more difficult. As always, I played the stupid tourist and didn’t understand what they wanted from me. I indicated that I had a major problem. Money, money, bank, bank, where? and showed my empty wallet. So there was no money to get from me.
The conversation lasted more than five minutes when the youngest suggested they would take me to a bank.
“But I will not join you in your car,” I said. “I will go with my own car.”
After a short consultation with his colleague, the youngest suggested that he would join me in the truck and follow his colleague to the nearest bank.
When he got into the truck he couldn’t suppress his enthusiasm. Wow, how wonderful. It turned out to be a childhood dream to drive around in such a big strong truck. On the way he waved triumphantly to acquaintances. His smile reached from ear to ear.
After withdrawing my money from the ATM, I brought up my next problem. I was looking for a shop where I could buy a local SIM card. The youngest knew a shop across the street. Still delighted with the ride in the truck, he treated me with a free SIM card. I was not allowed to pay him back. There was no talk about my traffic offense anymore. With a warm handshake and a pat on the back I was able to continue my journey again.
And this is just one of the many fun events I have experienced along the way.
Overland Travel Resources:
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What makes you pack up and move on to the next destination?
Sometimes I get a bit tired of traveling. I then stay in a nice place, where I can read, edit my photos, go for a walk or explore the area by bicycle. When I have seen and experienced everything, I move on. I also read the travel guide to visit the sights. I mark this on the map so that I can devise an ideal route.
What is the biggest challenge you face, being on an open-end trip on your own?
Perhaps my biggest challenge is to be able to continue the journey within my budget. There are always unexpected costs. Especially Piggy is a money guzzler. Sometimes something breaks and, as you know by now, I am not a tinkerer so a visit to a garage cannot always be free (which sometimes does happen).
Another challenge is to keep my health up to scratch. This is extra important with my type-2 diabetes. The age also noticeably plays a big role. So the next challenge is to keep traveling until the age of eighty.
What’s the best thing you packed? And what have you thrown out?
The best thing I brought is my photo equipment. Without this, my journey will have much less content. I even dare to say that I would never take such a trip without a camera.
The first thing I threw out is, of course, the extra spare tire on the roof. The cause of all cabin misery (see question #3). I now have one spare tire left and have never used it yet. I have additionally disposed of a number of camping chairs and table. I have four left. So for the time being, some people can still join in and sit in a chair 🙂
More Vehicle Details
- Vehicle: Steyr Daimler Puch 1291 4×4 double cabin
- Fuel consumption: 25–30 liter per 100 km
- Age: 38 years (1982)
- 2007 – custom built camper box ( Old Fokker container) with kitchen, toilet, shower.
- 2016 – Back box with electric winch.
- 2019 – Back side of the double cabin customized with a convertible bed
Preference of tires:
I started with Pirelli PS 22, 14.00 R20, regroovable radial tubeless. I am using my second set now. I have no experience with other brands/types.
Tips for fellow overlanders who want to travel in retirement?
O dear. There are so many different types of pensioners. So many personalities with their own preferences. There are spoiled people like me and people who want to go down to the basics.
I can only speak for myself: my truck is a bit too big for me alone, but only because it has limitations in off-road driving and is rather clumsy in cities. Shipping is also more difficult because it does not fit in a container. RoRo connections are not available everywhere. Fuel consumption is also large and therefore expensive. But that hardly plays a role in the Middle East. The Stan countries are also relatively cheap.
Overall I can say, “Do not worry too much during the trip. Usually everything ends up well. If not today or tomorrow, then (maybe) the day after. “
DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!~Bert de Ruiter
Favorite book(s) to share?
I usually don’t read travel stories from recent travelers. I read classic works by Marco Polo, Sven Hedin, Robert Byron (The road to Oxiana).
And recently I read the Manon Ossevoort’s latest book, Het meisje en de tractor (only in Dutch for now; hopefully a translation in English follows soon, an interesting travel memoir of a young woman who undertakes a solo expedition by tractor from the Netherlands to the South Pole.
Where can people read your travel stories?
Check out my blogs on www.ww2xplore.com. At the bottom of each blog (44 blog posts to date) you will find a link to photos of the trip on Flickr.com (mostly made with a Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S10 smartphone).
My high-resolution photos, taken with professional cameras, are for sale at the stock agency ALAMY (find them here).
What’s Your Story?
Are you a overlander in retirement? Or what you thinking of overland travel in retirement? Is it a ridiculous idea, or would you like to do that, too? What are your experiences/expectations? We’d love to hear about them.
Please share in the comment section below!
Check it out: Our Unique Collection of Backpacks
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