One of the things which has been a pleasant surprise about this trip has been the “fellowship of the road”
I was concerned about some sections of the trip as I knew I would be travelling alone and mostly in areas such as Iran and Pakistan where it would be difficult for family members or friends to get to me if I fell ill, as both those countries have extensive visa application processes and you cannot enter without a visa, in the case of Iran if you are from the UK (as many of my friends and family are) then you actually need to be on a forma tour with a guide you cannot just jump on a plane.
My main companion for the trip was of course Lee, she has joined me three times for two weeks at a time but as she is not yet retired those trips are fitted in with work and family commitments, here she is in Nepal. It is the best fun to travel with Lee as we share the driving and we travel very well together, she is a good balance to my “press on” tendency and helps me find a better balance of stopping and exploring vs just driving !
And I was very lucky to have both Poppy and Holly join me in Nepal and India, that was a real treat.
My other main companion was Tony, he and I travelled together for 7 weeks and he was a complete star, it is hard to thank him enough for the support and friendship, bearing in mind we hardly knew each other before the trip it was remarkable that we did so well. I think it would have been very difficult to survive the Gobi desert and the Pamir highway (the latter when I was quite ill with “tummy trouble”) without Tony to help me along and selflessly share some heroic driving to get to Dehli in time for me to meet Poppy and Holly. Here he is in typical positive fashion happy as he brings some boys with eagles to the truck for a photo, and he takes great photos as many of you have seen.
Lee and Tony, and of course Poppy and Holly who joined in India and Nepal however were pre-planned what I wanted to talk about in this post is the surprising and amazing collection of friendships I have made along the way and the generosity and support I have received along the way from people I did not know before hand.
It all started with some Iranian hitchhikers I picked up in Turkey on the second day I was travelling “solo”
I travelled with these lovely people (Mohhamad, Mahdi, Miram and Mahid) for nearly a week all the way to Tabriz in Iran, there they handed me over to a friend Abdol and his son below who helped me get diesel and service my car and taught me my first lessons in eating on the floor.
This pattern continued as I went to Isfahan and I was introduced by my friend Mohammed to Rami who allowed me to stay outside his house and use his shower and showed me the sights of that wonderful city.
Then as I travelled on to Shiraz my other friend Madhi introduced me to Masoomeh Kiani and her lovely family, I stayed outside their house for a few days and visited again on my way back through Shiraz a few months later, the sisters have both become close followers of my blogs and posts over the months
Later in Kazakstan Tony and I met with an nice American guy called Eric and enjoyed travelling together for a few days adding to the list of Nelsons “guests”, nice photograph with Tonys camera in this case.
We also had a nice group of about eight people that we travelled across China with, in this case Nelson was acting as the “mother ship” for a bunch of motorcyclists so we had some good company for China and northern Pakistan, Marc in the first photo below was the group organiser and we have stayed in touch since, swapping road information and travelling tips on a regular basis.
In Pakistan when I returned I was stuck at Quetta with some other Overlanders, this poor guy Manuel is just being informed by me that the approval he thought he had for his Iran visa is actually just an acknowledgement that they have received his application and not an approval, this caused some dispair on his part as his Pakistan visa was due to run out that day but we were able to help him with some contacts and get him on the bus to Islamabad to extend his visa the next day.
The first night when I arrived in Quetta, that memorable trip with the armoured car and the special forces guys, I discovered that a Chinese backpacker was also in the police station along with Manuel above, however he was in a bit of a pickle as he did not have anywhere to stay and the hotel the police were trying to get him to go to is an inflated racket of a place charging 5 or 6 times more than local hotels (were we were not allowed to stay) . So I took pity on him and let him stay in Nelson, the benefit of having two separate sleeping areas in the truck has been surprisingly well used! In the end Libo and I travelled together all the way to Iran. Here he is with some Iranian soldiers filling out one of the various forms we had to complete at the checkpoints on the way.
Once I had dropped off Libo in Zahedan in Iran I stayed in a bus station with a group of staff and drivers and the next day made my way via the Lut desert to Kerman, in Kerman there is a nice hotel with a big rear yard and the English speaking owner is a great friend of Overlanders so I could stay in the yard for $4 and get a shower and use their internet. While I was there I met these three backpackers who were also heading to Shiraz and enquiring about a bus ….why take a bus when Nelson is outside so we all travelled to Shiraz together, rucsacks on the roof and all the bench seats used to good effect – at least my music got a rest and we listened to their music.
Once we reached Shiraz my friends the Kaini sisters persuaded Helene on the left to stay with them while I camped in my car outside, so for the next few days we did day trips from Shiraz to the surrounding ancient cities of Bisapur and Fazibad with Helene briefing me on the history of the ruins as we drove
So the fellowship of the road has been strong and I have rarely been alone, at the moment I am in Turkey and I will spend the weekend with fellow Land Rover enthusiasts who are based here in Antaya and I even got to meet some famous overlanders who were passing through.
Above and beyond these folks who have actually travelled with me I constantly meet friendly and engaging people along the way in every place I stop, here are some of my favourite images of these people from the trip
These guys were pleased to pose for a photo while our guard went for a smoke, this village in Pakistan was supposed to be “unfriendly” but actually we had lots of handshakes and interest
This Iranian family found me and walked up a steep hill from a village to have a chat with “the foreigner” and granny came too
In Kyrgestan Tony caught this lovely picture of two local ladies having a laugh about us as we looked around for some bread
In Mongolia this herder came for tea and offered us snuff again another great Tony photo, later his son and wife came along and sat and chatted for a while among the goats.
So if you are concerned about travelling on your own or as a couple I hope this piece reassures you, if you are prepared to have an open hand and heart then the people of the world in general are interested in your story and you will meet some really authentic and generous people in all the places you visit, much more so than if you are insulated in hotels or resorts on a normal holiday.
One thing is worth considering is having some space for passengers if you can, people are not so worried about seat belts and such but having a space where you can squeeze someone in (or in my case four) has proved very useful and even occasionally has allowed our guards to travel with us which allowed us to travel fast. The other thing which is very useful from a design point of view is having two separate sleeping areas so one can travel with friends or family without having to share the same sleeping space, that has made things much more manageable.