“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have, if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
An ongoing overland journey that started in 2003, this is not an average story. We are among the slowest overlanders in the world, averaging some 50 kilometers per day. To us, travel is not about covering distances, or about driving from A to B as fast as possible. Life on the road is about being in a place, not only to see it but also to feel it, hear it, taste its food and sniff its smells; to connect with people and share their lives.
When we started our journey, we had no idea it would transform into a way of life. The idea was to travel for a year or two. How did it start? What happened?
Spring 2003: The Netherlands
When we informed friends and family we were going to drive from the Netherlands to Southeast Asia, quite a few considered us insane.
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
“You can’t travel in Iran and Pakistan! Those are hazardous countries!”
“Will you take a gun with you?”
“What if you’re robbed?”
East European countries like Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria were notorious for corruption. There was avian flu in Hong Kong and SARS, the virulently infectious disease in China, threatened to become pandemic. The world lived in fear, a destructive emotion largely stirred up after 9/11.
The Americans were searching for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan and they were about to invade Iraq to eliminate Saddam Hussein. Especially a potential uprising of Kurds in Iraq, Iran and Turkey could easily cut off our route east. We had no idea if we would ever reach the Far East. But those fears of the outside world didn’t bother us; we were too excited about our journey.
We both stood on a crossroads in our lives. We had met only months earlier and were both ready for a drastic shift in the course of our lives.
One Sunday afternoon we lay stretched out in deck chairs in a remote corner of a lawn, still steaming from the sauna we had just left. We heard the twittering of birds and in the distance sounded idle chatter of other sauna visitors.
We let ourselves drift in the comforting temperatures of the Indian summer and contemplated our lives.
“If I were going to travel through the world for two years, would you come with me?”
’I glanced sideways and looked at Coen.
“Yes, I would.”
“What would you do with your house?”
”And your job?”
2003–2006: Southeast Asia Adventure
Within months we got rid of our home, found homes for our cats and dogs, and bought a 30-year old Land Cruiser BJ45. We drove off with little more than the idea that we would drive as far east as the Asian continent would allow us.
A fantastic journey followed during which we took 3,5 years to drive from the Netherlands to Vietnam.
We crossed expensive Europe in a matter of days but lingered in Greece. From Turkey we drove to Iran, Pakistan, northwest China (backpack), India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar (backpack), Cambodia, Laos, China & Tibet (backpack), and Vietnam.
2007–2015: South America
We shipped the Land Cruiser from Malaysia to Buenos Aires. From here we took 9 years to travel to the remotest corners of all 13 countries of South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Why did we spend so much more time here than in Asia?
In South America it was easy to cross back and forth between countries, whereas from Europe to Vietnam we were sort of forced to continue east. We often wanted to stay longer in a country but bureaucracy (visa and car papers) didn’t permit it.
In South America, on the other hand, paperwork was easy and free of charge (for Europeans). We got visas and temporary import documents for the Land Cruiser at the border, and they could generally be extended.
We learned Spanish and Portuguese on the road. In South America we could to talk to 80% of the people, whereas in large parts of Asia few people speak English (the educated, often upper class, or people working in the tourist business).
One of our great joys in South America was to talk not only with the educated, but also with those with whom in Asia we had been able to speak only hand-and-feet language with. This made for a much richer experience when it came to connecting with people.
2016 - Today: Northeast Asia
Our initial plan, when shipping to Argentina in 2007, had been to drive all the way north to Alaska.
Why didn’t we?
After 9 years of South America we had fallen back into a comfort zone, the one that in 2003 we had wanted to leave. Traveling in South America had become too easy and, in a way, more of the same. Continuing to Central and North America no longer felt challenging enough, at least for the time being.
A change of scenery
We took a look at the world map: Africa or Asia? Central Asia, the Stans in particular, had been on our wish list for a long time. A good indication on where to go next is to go wherever your eyes continue to be drawn to.
Korea and Japan
Russia and Mongolia
Our Russia visa expired and so we entered Kazakhstan and drove on to Kyrgyzstan in Januari 2019. We’ll be in Central Asia for quite some time.
Our future is today. Our troubles about the future are generally related to visas running out or where we can get the Land Cruiser fixed.
Our journey is not about covering distances or about ticking off countries. We don’t care if we ever get to see Australia or Africa. If we do, great. If not, that’s okay too. We are traveling today and here, wherever that is.
Having said that, visas do run out and something of an itinerary is required. So from Russia we’ll drive to Central Asia, also known as the Stan countries (winter 2018). That should keep us busy and challenged for while.