Felsige Wüstenlandschaft, ein Land Rover fährt durch die Landschaft.

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Road trip with bumps aplenty featuring a 25-year-old Land Rover

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Porträtbild Tobias
Tobias
Guest author
© Fotos

Martina and Tobias are on an open-ended tour of the world with ‘Olga’, their 25-year-old Land Rover. Here’s the story of their journey.

So, here we are. Trapped in a sandstorm, eleven days since we showered last, just arrived in a foreign country after being unable to start the car for three hours just before the border in the desert.

Our fridge has also packed up. We’re hungry but have no energy to cook. So we plug the yawning hole in our stomachs with a bland instant noodle soup, crawl into our ‘emergency bed’ and fall asleep in the windswept car, with the feeling that sand occupies every nook and cranny of our bodies. But let’s start from the beginning: we’re Tobias and Martina, two young people from eastern Switzerland with a burning passion for adventure and travelling. We gave up our secure jobs, left our comfortable flat, gave away or sold a ton of material possessions and bade farewell to our families and friends with no date set for our return. At the end of March 2021, we packed all our belongings into Olga, our Land Rover Defender, and headed east. And 39,000 kilometres later, we are in Saudi Arabia.

  • Ausgebauter Land Rover von innen.
    Photo © Martina und Tobias Baumeler
  • Ein Land Rover im Strassengraben, hinten zur Tür hinaus steigt ein Mann.
    Photo © Martina und Tobias Baumeler
  • Vier Personen an einem behelfsmässigen Tisch, darauf steht essen.

    An accident in Turkey costs Tobias and Martina three months’ travelling time.

    Photo © Martina und Tobias Baumeler
  • Zwei Männer beim Reparieren eines Autos, die Szene spielt draussen.

    One of the best things learned on this trip: help is never far away wherever you are in the world.

    Photo © Martina und Tobias Baumeler
  • Zwischen zwei Campervans ist eine Slackline gespannt, ein Mann balanciert darüber.
    Photo © Frieda Maelle
  • Eine Frau sitzt im Sand, hinter ihr stehen berittene Kamele.

    Four tyres up against four legs: camels avoid punctures much better than Olga, the Land Rover.

    Photo © Martina und Tobias Baumeler
  • Aufnahme von oben: Zwei Land Rover in der Wüste an einer Wasserstelle.
    Photo © Martina und Tobias Baumeler

Had all gone to plan, we would have loaded our Landy into a container in Vladivostok last November and shipped it to Canada. From there we’d have travelled down the Pan-American Highway to Argentina. But, as we all know with plans, life rarely respects them.

The La(n)dy is easily piqued

Just two days after leaving Switzerland, we’ve already hit Croatia. We want cover the ground quickly on the European leg of our journey, drawn as we are to the more distant places, new cultures, far away from everything we know. But we hadn’t reckoned with our 25-year-old Defender’s say in matters. On the eighth day of our journey, we had to have its entire front differential replaced. Which cost us more than our entire monthly budget. We spent several days in a tent on a snowy campsite waiting for the repairs to be completed.

‘Oh well,’ we say, consoling ourselves with the reasoning that ‘we’ve been driving the thing for three years and it is the first breakdown.’ Of course we had no idea that this was just the start of a veritable breakdown odyssey. In Montenegro, the viscous fan, a splash guard flap and an LED all fail. And the differential has to be redone because the last mechanic messed it up. In Albania, we replace the brake cylinders and the rear universal joint: in Greece, it’s the windscreen.

In Turkey, we almost lose our front wheel because the steering knuckle housing bolts were loose. But our old, fragile Olga ploughs on unconcerned, getting us from A to B. We drive through some breathtaking landscapes, meet interesting people, kite in the sea, climb mountains and explore numerous challenging off-road tracks. We enjoy the freedom, the adventure and the chance to simply live each day as it comes.

The three-month mark sees us reach Cappadocia – a favourite destination for overlanders. We’re also captivated by the rock formations, which have hundreds of hot-air balloons rising above them every morning. As it turns out, this place will become our surprise home for a long time to come...

Forced stopover in Turkey

As we often do on warm summer days, we explore the surroundings. We end up on a road that would have been better to avoid. The terrain is very challenging and turning round in the narrow canyon was soon clearly out of the question. We are creeping along at walking pace when it happens: the front wheel slips, Olga rolls over with a loud crash and finally comes to a standstill on a steep slope – held up on its descent only by a bush.

We sit there as if paralysed. Everything is quiet, but inside we’re all over the place. Our heads are teeming with thousands of thoughts. Is that our journey over now? Has all that we’ve worked towards for years been for nothing? Has everything we have lovingly built up been destroyed? All our dreams shattered?

Luckily nobody was seriously injured. Olga, though, has taken some serious punishment: the roof rack was torn off, several windows smashed, vital body parts were badly bent or completely broken. It takes us five hours to get Olga back on the road. To our surprise, she makes it to the garage under her own steam. It seems to us that, come what may, nothing stops an old Land Rover like this from being driven!

Zwei Personen sitzen vor dem Rad eines Range Rovers.
Photo © Martina und Tobias Baumeler

Martina (28) & Tobias (32)

Before embarking on her trip around the world, Martina was a specialist in company healthcare management as well as staff and organisational development. Tobias is a qualified metalworker, his most recent post being a project manager in St. Gallen. Not knowing how long their trip would last, Martina and Tobias both quit their jobs and terminated their tenancy agreement for their shared flat. If you want to keep track of the two overlanders, you can do so on Instagram:

Hakan has been restoring Defenders for 15 years and was now determined to get Olga back into shape too. In the end, it takes him three months. There were many emotional low points in this period. We often gave up hope of a happy ending, became insecure, annoyed and lacked energy. But because we were well insured and thanks to Hakan’s tireless efforts, Olga escapes the scrapyard. All these many weeks of forced downtime taught us a few life lessons. That for example, there is always a solution for any situation, no matter how hopeless it may seem.

Our journey then moves on to the beautiful Caucasus. We drive into the green land of Georgia and travel through Armenia with its countless mountains and hills. Unfortunately, Olga 2.0 doesn’t spare us entirely when it comes to problems. In Georgia, the clutch and alternator have to be replaced and we fix the engine’s overheating problem. In wintry Armenia, the parking heater gives up at minus 20 degrees and, to make matters worse, a quick-release axle breaks. New parts have to be ordered from Germany and Holland. We wait 25 days for the deliveries and customs clearance.

We realise that we’ve already spent more than a third of our travelling time in the delightful company of mechanics – not to mention all the days we spent waiting for spare parts or sorting out car issues ourselves. To be quite honest, it really saps our energy. It’s exhausting and frustrating. Many times we thought of abandoning the trip, but our curiosity and desire to travel are just too ingrained, and keep pushing us from adventure to adventure.

Taking a breather in Iran

In faraway and impressive Iran, things finally settle down a bit with our Defender and we can fully focus on travelling. We cross several deserts, visit bazaars and mosques, get to know the Persian and Baluchi culture and are given a warm welcome in the country by the locals. The unbeatable hospitality and natural surroundings often leave us lost for words. Sometimes we can hardly believe our eyes, everything is so beautiful, so extraordinary, so colourful. The landscape changes so quickly that we can’t keep up with processing what we see. And all this despite the fact that we’re travelling with Olga on poor roads and at nothing more than a leisurely pace.

After two and a half months in Iran and on the point of leaving the country, the universal joint on the Defender fails for the second time. However, thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the large Defender community, the problem is quickly solved. Our journey continues in transit through Iraq and Kuwait to Saudi Arabia.

We receive a very warm and traditional welcome in Saudi Arabia: we spend time on a farm in the desert and get to take part in a camel race. But we soon travel on to the south of the Arabian Peninsula to escape the relentless heat. We drive to the United Arab Emirates and then on to Oman. The vastness, the tranquillity of the desert and the imposing dunes fascinate us. Alas, we stay true to our faithful motto: new country, new car problem. In each of the 17 countries we’ve visited so far, we’ve been plagued by faults, both major and minor. But what we’ve learned on the way burns just as brightly: ‘We’ll find a solution and somehow it always works out.’

The journey is the goal

We do have moments when we are truly envious of others travelling around the world with less vehicle troubles. But we try and look at all the things we have learned and experienced thanks to these challenges. The contacts we’ve made as a result are special and the memories will last a lifetime. We will never forget how delicious our Turkish mechanic’s pide bread tasted. The memory of the homemade cognac we drank in the morning with Georgian car mechanics will never fade. And we will forever cherish the incredible readiness to help of the international Defender community. We are grateful for all we have experienced, everyone we’ve met and for the huge privilege of being able to travel the world.

Our journey now takes us even further across the globe. Our thirst for travelling is not yet quenched. Where will we end up? We don’t know. We’ve learnt not to get hung up on fixed plans. It’s the only way we can free up space for new ideas and journeys.

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