Since my 101 Forward Control last appeared in LRO (July 2010), it's changed from baby blue to Land Rover Desert Sand and has crossed 27 countries - the route I had planned didn't work out, so I ended up passing through many countries I never intended visiting! It turned into a thoroughly enjoyable voyage of discovery.
I drove down through Europe and along the top of North Africa. I planned to head south but civil unrest stood in my way at almost every turn; so I headed north. From Egypt, it was too hot to journey south, so I waited for cooler conditions - but then political unrest broke out in Sudan. Trust me to be in this part of the world when the Arab Spring kicked off (2010). I left Egypt just as the revolution was starting and headed into Jordan.
Jordan is a fantastic country - I really enjoyed it but had a major problem with tyres. I'd been running on fairly old ones and the heat of the desert just killed them. They cracked and I lost three tyres in a few days. The only option was to ship the last five 9.00x 16 Michelin XZL tyres in from the UK - and that took three months.
On the very day that I'd planned to cross into Syria, the trouble there broke out and the border was closed. I couldn't go back the way I'd come, so where could I go? I looked at Saudi Arabia but the visas were problematic. There's a boat that sails from Haifa in Isreal to Cyprus, so I caught that and then another ferry from there to Turkey. It cost me £835 instead of £200 for fuel through Syria, to get to where I wanted to be.
Then I went through eastern Turkey into Kurdistan and into Georgia. Again, I intended only spending two or three weeks in Georgia but I stayed for three months. From a 4x4 point of view it was stunning; 10,000ft passes and narrow tracks. My 101 isn't an amazing off-road vehicle; it's so heavy, it feels like driving a house sometimes. But it'll go places no other camper will go. Georgia was enjoyable - great people, food and wine.
My office is my laptop so I was able to pick up a bit of work to earn enough money to pay for the trip. I'm in a very fortunate position to be able to do this. After Georgia, which was a highlight, came Armenia, a hidden gem.
I thought about going into Iran, but things were difficult there. I also looked at going to India via Pakistan, but that wasn't without its issues either. So, reluctantly, I did a 360° turn towards western Europe and caught a boat from Georgia to Ukraine, where I drove around for a bit. It was amazing in the Crimea (and for once I was a couple of years ahead of all the bother that broke out there).
I then parked the 101 at a friend's farm in Poland for six months and flew back to the UK to do some work. Afterwards I flew back out, with the intention of driving a big arc around Europe. I got as far as Romania and got 'stuck' - I was enjoying the off-roading and scenery so much, I hung around for a few months, staying right through summer 2012 at a campsite.
I've met loads of people on all my travels, often through situations I get myself into with the vehicle. Back-street garages around the world are great - and it's amazing how often I found that people knew enough English to understand me. A lot of the mechanical repairs I can do myself but some are awkward. That's when I need help.
I'm in the UK but always thinking of my next trip. That's in about 18 months' time when I'll head to Morocco - and further south if I can. 'Adventure starts when planning fails.'
I can't wait.
Originally featured in the May 2014 issue of Land Rover Owner International. Download a digital issue, or order a back issue by calling 01858 438884.
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