Part 16 (21 May - 26 June) Canada


After 1 year of driving across Asia we were looking forward to a change of scenery and, well, some solitude! In Vancouver we checked in to our AirBnB of very friendly Taiwanese hosts and discovered that Vancouver has a large Chinese population similar to what we have seen in a lot of Asian countries we've visited. Our hosts were lovely and gave us a room with a wall-to-wall poster of Amsterdam, making us feel right at home. Funny fact was that they bought it at IKEA never knowing this was Amsterdam. 




The ship carrying our car would arrive the next day, and at customs we were informed that the car would only be released to us if it would succesfully pass a soil exam (dirt check). This exam would cost 280 euro and if our car would fail, it would not be accepted into Canada. In that case it would need to be shipped to another country, because Canadian ports don’t have cleaning and quarantine facilities... This was trickier than we thought! We soon found out that some people shipping their car from Germany had been rejected and were forced by Canadian customs to ship their car back to where it came from. For us this could mean back to Indonesia. So we kept our fingers crossed and hoped that all our cleaning efforts in Indonesia would pay off!

After 2 stressful days of waiting we received the great news that our had car passed the exam with flying colours and we could come and pick it up. Clearing customs was a breeze and after almost 5 weeks without our car we were reunited and our Canada adventure could begin!

First stop: Vancouver Island


We took the ferry to the south of Vancouver Island and noticed right away how easy it was to drive in Canada. Wide, quiet roads without potholes, with functioning traffic lights and clear rules for speed and overtaking. Our first day of driving and we already loved Canada! 

Our Canadian dream consisted of: beautiful nature, cooler weather than sticky hot Asia, not-so-sweet bread, easy bush camping and some solitude. And Jeroen wanted to fish for some dinner.

Vancouver Island provided all this within the first week we were there. We found great camp spots at the most beautiful blue lakes surrounded by snow capped mountains, where Jeroen was able to catch some fish which we prepared in our first self-made campfire on this trip. It was great weather, 20 to 24 degrees Celsius with lots of sunshine. There were Black Bears and Grizzlies on and next to the road, and at a beach campsite we were treated to the lovely sight of 2 Grey Whales playing just off the coast. We even spotted a Cougar! This is extremely rare, locals who have lived on Vancouver Island all their lives told us they had never seen one and that we had been very lucky!  

Incredibly, the wildlife we saw in 1 week on Vancouver Island was more than we observed in the whole of our trip so far! The animal we really wanted to see was the killer whale or Orca, it was on the top of our wildlife-watching-bucket list. We were told that these don't come close to the shore and therefore you need to book a tour to spot them from a boat. But even then this was still considered to be a lucky shot as they only visited these waters 3 to 4 times a month. 

A tour operator told us they had spotted killer whales that same morning and that the chances of spotting them again was very high that day, so if two more people wanted to come along they would take the 4 of us that same afternoon. We waited it out and again we were lucky, two cool Dutchies showed up to join us on the trip. Keeping our fingers crossed that our lucky streak would continue we hopped in the boat, looking like Michelin dolls with our red life suits on, and headed in the direction where the Orcas were spotted that morning.

After half an hour the boat came to a stop and our guide told us that he couldn`t find them, we had to wait for one of the other boats to radio them in and give the location. Just as we were about to give up and head back, one of the other boats spotted them and with high speed we raced to their spot.

And there they were! A pod of 5 Orcas,  2 grown male, 2 female and 1 baby. Absolutely stunning to see these wild animals up close and personal, a dream came true! With 8 minute dives, they all came up at the same time for 45 second swims at the surface. Beautiful! 

All happy and exited we returned to the car where a German couple had stopped their bikes to check us out. They told us they owned exactly the same car, even in the same colour and that they had made almost the same trip as we did. We were invited to their home to trade stories, and unbelievably, on their driveway we found an almost identical copy of our car! We joined them for dinner, took a shower, did a laundry and slept at their driveway in our car. Everything an Overlander could wish for. We had a great German BBQ meal with bratwurst and ‘saur kraut’, and couldn't stop exchanging stories of our travels. The similarities between Marcus and Jeroen and Verena and Nicolette were really funny. Marcus and Jeroen both being overly cautious on where to camp and Verena and Nicolette making a big deal out of parking “levelled” for example, it made us feel a bit less strange as a couple :). We had a great time with them and had to say goodbye too soon, but that is also part of being an Overlander, the road calls and the journey must continue.




At one point we were driving toward a campsite which was very secluded, we had to reach it by following a logging road. Arriving at the campsite we found a big sign: Campsite closed due to aggressive bears in the area. Right, let`s move on.

5 minutes later we got our second flat tire on this trip... uh oh...

Needless to say, Jeroen was a bit nervous changing the tire, so with Nicolette on the lookout for bears, Jeroen was able to change the tire with Formula 1 team speed.

From Tofino we made our way to the north of Vancouver Island but soon discovered that our original plan to take the famous Inland Cruise-Ferry to the Canadian north was extremely expensive. So flexible as we must be on our travels, we changed our plans and after almost 2 weeks of exploring Vancouver Island we took the regular Vancouver ferry back to the main land. While waiting to board the ferry there was a knock on our window. A gentleman introduced himself and told us he and his wife made the same journey as we did 15 years ago, they now lived in West (North) Vancouver and invited us to their house. As a week had passed since we had a shower, laundry and shared great fellow Overlander stories, we happily accepted his invitation and were welcomed to their beautiful villa.


Again we had a great time. It is hard to explain but fellow Overlanders tend to have an instant connection because they understand the challenges involved in this kind of travel so well.

Going north from Vancouver we took the scenic road up to the ski resort village of Whistler and found out straight away that we much prefer the less touristic logging roads instead of the main tarmac roads. These gravel roads go straight through the rugged mountains and green meadows of British Columbia where there is less traffic and the chances of spotting wildlife are much higher. It is also easier to find a nice quiet camp spot along the logging roads as the big rental RV’s cannot use them (their insurance doesn’t cover that, yay :)

Canada is overflowing with RV’s both rented and privately owned, we were amazed to see so many and decided to avoid the main touristic routes as much as possible.

Many camp spots were free to use and even provided a table, fire pit, well-maintained toilet and sometimes even chopped wood ready for you to burn: this country is bush camp heaven! Canadians clean up after themselves and follow the “leave no trace” policy to the letter. We loved it and we were doing great on our budget at the same time. Every 3 to 4 days we would do some grocery shopping and get a shower somewhere to freshen up.

We reached the 2 most touristic and well known national parks in Canada: Jasper and Banff, connected by the “most scenic road of Canada”: Icefields Parkway. Yes it was a very nice road... for RV’s. Smooth tarmac surrounded by snow capped mountains, waterfalls and blue lakes on the route. But to be honest, we preferred the rougher, less touristic back country logging roads. In the parks we found many tourist elbowing their way to a selfie spot and needless to say, little wildlife besides deer and elk accustomed to people. We decided it was time for us to move on. 

Driving away from the tourist madness we came across a bush camp spot at a totally secluded lake at the edge of British Columbia. Within an hour we got company from a local hunter who had battery problems with his Quad and was afraid he would have to walk home. We were able to help him out and were treated to funny local hunting stories about moose who got upset and bears chasing his quad. When he left and peace returned to the lake, we were visited by a moose mom with 2 babies, an incredible sight! Check out our Canada video for these adorable images.



We left British Columbia and entered Alberta, the scenery changing the instant we crossed the state border. British Columbia is very rocky, with lots of tall trees, blue lakes and waterfalls. Alberta on the other hand resembles Flevoland in the Netherlands. It is flat, very flat, with lots of grassy fields and lots of farming lands. The difference couldn’t be bigger.

But as we drove along, the earth suddenly seemed to open up in front of us to reveal Dinosaur provincial park and the Royal Tyrell palaeontology (dino) museum in Drumheller. This was the most awesome Dinosaur exposition we had ever seen. We were blown away by their multitude of perfect dinosaur skeletons and their research facility. Check out the pictures!

Waterton Lakes National Park


In the south of Alberta, just before the USA border we visited our last Canadian National park called Waterton Lakes. This park has some really cool trails and we decided to stay two days to walk two of these famous trails. The guidebooks didn’t exaggerate. The trails were pretty tough, the first one very steep up with an amazing view when reaching the top and the other 17km through forest, mountain trails, meadows, slippery glaciers and finishing at a completely iced over glacier lake. This was an amazing trail! When we almost reached the top, there was an older lady who came up to Nicolette. She had just passed by Jeroen and asked Nicolette if he was her “fellow”. Nicolette told her he is and the lady sighed and said: “Ohhh he smells so good! And that after such a tough hike, he is amazing!”  Nicolette didn’t have the courage to tell her that we didn’t have a shower for a week...

Part 15 (2 March - 3 May) South east asia Part 3 (Indonesia, Borneo, Hong Kong)

Indonesia  (2 March – 21 April)



Overlanders (idiots like us who take their car to the other end of the world) have mixed feelings about Indonesia. Some really love it, spending up to a year island-hopping through the whole nation. Others recommend against going, advising to leave the car in Malaysia and just use train, boat & airplane between the interesting sights. Circumstances lead us to take the car (see our Cambodia blog final paragraph) and ours and Ed & Sue`s car arrived on schedule on the 2nd of March in Surabaya, Java. 


However, we hit some bureaucratic booby-traps and got stuck for 10 days(!) before our cars were released to us. Luckily we found a company called ‘A. Hartrodt’ who did a great job of helping us clear customs. Without their employee-of-the-month Adjeng the process would surely have been more expensive and taken even more time!





Where at first we really disliked the crowded, polluted and traffic-jammed city, Surabaya eventually grew on us and by the time we left the city we could almost say we liked it. Most Indonesia-travelers will probably call us either insane or brainwashed for saying this J 



In the streets friendly Indonesians wanted to talk to us but often the only 2 English words they knew were “Hello Mister!”... which they also said to Nicolette J We quickly realized that we had risen to superstar-status again because, like Iranians, lots of Indonesians wanted to take “selfies” with us. And they could be very persistent. While we were driving people tried to stop us by jumping in front of the car and we have even been chased by some guys on a moped trying to get us to stop for a quick picture!

Life was not expensive for us in Surabaya, it was easy to stretch our budget and still live in relative (and sometimes shameful) comfort like the Indonesian upper class does. We spend our days going to the cinemas, scouting car paint shops to get our car coated (for the trip to Canada), arranging car insurance (which failed miserably) and trying out lots of different restaurants to sample the delicious Indonesian food. 


 To give you an idea of our cost of living in Surabaya:


-        Luxury hotel incl. breakfast: 20 euro per night

-        Taxi to downtown and back: 2 euro incl. tip

-        Nice dinner for 2 incl. drinks: 6 euro

-        Cinema tickets for 2: 4 euro


Needless to say, cooking in our car in Indonesia was not worth the trouble. We were lucky that eating out was the standard here, as it was impossible getting our European gas bottles filled due to a different filling method. 

Mount Bromo


On the weekends, we got some days off from our bureaucratic battles with Indonesian customs and we took a train ride to Mount Bromo, an active volcano about a half days travel from Surabaya. A piece of advice for travelling around in Indonesia: use the trains wherever possible! They are very well organized using an airline-style boarding pass system and the ride is very comfortable. Just remember to bring a jacket (you need one anyway for Mount Bromo) as the air conditioning tries to put you in cryogenic stasis.

Entrance fee to the mountain is a whopping 220.000Rp (15 euro) for foreigners and 10.000Rp (0.70 euro) for Indonesians so we opted to take a backdoor horse trail to avoid these costs and buy some souvenirs from locals instead. This trail took us into the eerie sand flats surrounding the volcano where the environment is absolutely surreal. Before we reached Mount Bromo we had to cross a small desert shrouded in mist, as we passed the remnants of an old mosque. You can hear Bromo`s roar growing louder as you approach, turning into a deafening thunder once you arrive at the rim of the crater. The smell of sulfur is overwhelming and if not for the awesome and raw beauty of it all, it feels like you have arrived at the gates of hell!


The next morning we got up at 5 in the morning to catch the famous Bromo-sunrise, resulting in a cool intro of our Indonesia movie (see here).





Once back in Surabaya we spend our last days here with Ed & Sue and after paying a lot of extra money for the customs clearance, storage/demurrage and cargo manifest re-addressing we finally got our cars back. We had slain the so-called Shipping Dragon! Suffice to say: we were very happy. But the total costs of shipping from Cambodia to Surabaya added up to 4000 euro for 2 cars, and it took almost 1 month… Ouch.

Back on the road again!


We decided to take the touristic route via Southern Java towards Sumatra, which meant we said goodbye to our China-crossing buddies Ed & Sue, who took a direct route to Sumatra as they had visited most of Java already.


We expected after leaving busy Surabaya that we would be treated to open roads and wide views of rice fields. Unfortunately this was not the case. The ‘main’ roads throughout most of Java (and southern Sumatra as we later found out) are lined with often improvised houses and little businesses, blocking the views of Indonesia`s beautiful landscapes. Even worse, most roads were just as busy as in Surabaya city with endless lines of trucks and mopeds weaving through the traffic. Because of all this, our daily average speed almost never reached above 30kph and death-defying overtaking is the name of the Indonesian driving game. Pretty exhausting if you are like us and want to keep your car in 1 piece! Check out our Indonesia video to get a glimpse of our experiences.



Our first goal was to reach the city of Yogyakarta, next to which lie the marvelous Borobudur temple complex and one of the world`s deadliest volcano`s: Merapi. It took us 2 days to get there and during our trip we found out that finding a quiet place to park the car for the night is virtually impossible in overpopulated Java. However, people are generally very friendly and don`t mind us parking our car somewhere. Most are just very interested in us and getting some peace and quiet is therefore pretty rare.


We did find a wonderful spot on the slopes of mount Merapi amidst fields of red hot chili peppers and other produce. Volcano slopes are very fertile due to the ash deposited on them and thousands of Indonesians risk their lives every day working and living in the “blast zone” of Merapi.  The view of the mountain was spectacular, check out the pictures below! 

The next day we headed for the Borobudur temples which are magnificent, but they cannot compare to the awesome beauty of Angkor Wat which we visited in Cambodia. Yes, we have become very spoiled J



Half the mosques give wannabe Muezzin`s of around 10 years old the opportunity (and great honor) to announce morning prayers. These kids tend to go full throttle on the microphone once given the opportunity and it sounds, to put it mildly, not very pleasant. And this happens 5 times per day, starting at 6am taking up to an hour per session... We really started to miss the melodic Iranian Muezzins.

To the coast


From Bandung we headed south to the coast in search of some nice beaches but this proved pretty difficult. We did find very nice viewpoints of the rugged Indian Ocean coast, and as population density went down the views on the rice paddies also improved a lot! We parked in the jungle near the entrance of a small national park where we quickly raised a crowd of people around the car. They got bored after a while and we could spend the night in relative peace.

The jungles of the park should contain a large group of gibbons and the next day we geared up to take a short walk through the jungle. However, this being off-the beaten track Indonesia, our peaceful walk was disturbed by a some 20 guys on mopeds following us, so we turned back as the chances of spotting Gibbons had been reduced to zero.

The road along the coast towards the Java-Sumatra ferry was very beautiful and the next day we found a great spot to camp at a recreational site run by a young guy. It was kept clean (rare for local recreation sites) and the views of the Sunda strait between Java and Sumatra lined with fishing rafts were beautiful. The shower / bathing facilities were classic Indonesian; a big tub filled with water with a small bucket. You scoop some water from the tub and poor it over yourself to get a good rinse. It is important not to jump in the tub and bath in it (as a former colleague of Jeroen did when visiting his Indonesian parents-in-law for the first time JJ). These tubs store several days’ worth of clean water also to be used by other people!  

Island hop


Saying temporarily goodbye to Java we boarded the ferry to Sumatra. Quite the experience getting on board as the ship didn`t lay completely still and a moving ramp can be tricky to get on to. The boat trip gave some great views of both islands. Arriving in Sumatra we got what we wanted, at least for the first few miles. Beautiful rice paddies with hardly any buildings spoiling our views. Also, because the region inhabitants mainly follow the Hindu religion, the small towns and villages are filled with beautifully designed private Hindu temples.

We found a nice hotel where we could sleep in the car for a small payment, close to the Way Kambas national park, one of the last sanctuaries for Sumatran Tigers, Elephants and Rhino`s. It holds a huge amount of wildlife and the best way to explore it is by boating through the interior. We met a Hungarian sea-kayak instructor who frequently visited Sumatra in search of wildlife and we decided to take him along on a short safari on the parks roads. The rangers had to accompany us for a nominal fee (for our protection, against the wildlife… Riiiiight). Once we arrived at the center of the park we were allowed to wander through the jungle on our own, which was pretty exciting because we often had to cut our own trail through the jungle and the grounds were littered with fresh Elephant dung. Less exciting were the massive leeches we had to remove from our legs after the walk J

The boat trip the next day was the highlight of our Indonesia adventure. Lots of exotic birds, rare monkeys, deer and even a salt water crocodile. We came close enough to a herd of wild elephants to smell them (much like a zoo) and to see the trees move as they quickly retreated into the jungle upon our arrival. 


For once, failure is an option


After Way Kambas we started moving into northern Sumatra, but gradually the roads became very congested again, with deep potholes and lined with houses and other buildings blocking our views. The travelling became very tiring and after 3 days we decided to break off our attempt to reach Atjeh in the north of Sumatra. We envisioned more peace and quiet in Sumatra which we value a lot, but this proved impossible in this part of Indonesia. Since we are free to choose whichever route we like, we decided to head to the western coast of Sumatra and travel downwards back to Surabaya to put the car on the boat to Canada.



Our travels to the west coast took us through the interior over the very beautiful Barisan mountains where the traffic was much less intense. The interior of Sumatra is less populated than the coast due to the lack of level and fertile farming grounds. And where there are no people, wildlife thrives, so we could see monkeys in the trees and snakes on the side of road, with some great views of jungle covered mountains. 

Once at the western coast of Sumatra, we were treated to one of the most beautiful beach camp spots we have come across during our travels. In the evenings we were treated to the most spectacular sunset of our trip!

The quick way back to Surabaya


In the mean while we were discussing with our shipping company how to get the car to Canada. It turned out they had a container available to ship out from Surabaya on the 23rd of April which would take 30 days to cross the pacific to Canada.

This sounded good and we took the fast toll roads back to Surabaya, avoiding Jakarta altogether and travelling the toll roads along the northern coast of Java. The contrast with the other roads in Indonesia could not be bigger. Almost no traffic, meaning no hair-raising incidents every 10 minutes, yay! Except for 1 idiot who wanted to give Jeroen a high five while driving 90 kph…. really??

Once back in Surabaya we checked into the same excellent-value-hotel and started cleaning the car, as we knew Canadian customs could be very picky about dirt under the car and in the tire grooves. We heard of a German who got send back to Germany after dirt was found under his car.... ouch. By the time we were done (5 days later), the car had a new underbody coating, freshly painted sidesteps and roof box, tailor made seat covers in the color of the car, and the inside and the outside of the car were thoroughly cleaned. The car was ready to ship... we thought...

On our drive to the container loading point we decided to get one last car wash. The guys were curious why they needed to clean an already clean car. Apparently they thought it a challenge to find any dirt on the car and they were good, very good. Balancing on a lift clearly not designed for the weight of our car these heroes pulled another 5kg of mud and dirt from under the car! A big tip was in order and after some handshakes and thank-you`s we drove off to the container loading point. Over a very dirty road. NOOO! At the docks we got another bucket of water and cleaned the car again. Then had to drive the car into the container... through some mud... So we cleaned it some more. It really seemed impossible to ship a clean car from these docks but we did the best we could, strapped her down and chugged her up, and locked the container. Fingers crossed!!


We enjoyed a last night in Surabaya and the next day (after getting our incorrectly stamped Carnet de Passage back… Really, how hard can it be?!) We slapped on our backpacks and took a flight to Malaysian Borneo!



From all the countries we have travelled through, Indonesia appeared to us to have the lowest environmental awareness and the biggest difference between the rich & poor. It also suffers from religious fanaticism and open discrimination against the rich Chinese middle class and gay people. Traffic has been the most terrible of our trip so far, with infinite congestion on every road except the single toll road the country has. See our dash cam video featuring the appropriate Magnetic Man`s ‘Getting Nowhere’ song.


But the people were friendly, interested and helpful to us, despite our Dutch colonial past. The food is amazingly good and there is a raw and immense beauty in the volcanic landscapes of the islands we have travelled through. Stick to the tourist sites and you will have a great vacation. Rent a car and drive through Java and Sumatra and you will discover the real Indonesia with some pretty low ‘lows’ and some very high ‘highs’!


Malaysian Borneo   (21 April – 29 April)



With our car on the boat we were free to explore some regions hard to reach by car, we decided on Borneo, Hong Kong and Japan, from which we would fly to Canada. We started by taking a flight to Pontianak in Indonesian Borneo, where we wanted to take an overnight bus to Kuching at the Malaysian (north-western) side. The only problem was that the international bus station was 10km out of town and there were no taxi`s available… 




We therefore walked a bit through the city and in a desperate attempt to hitch a ride on a random bus parked on the side of the street. It happened to be filled with students who were eager to – you guessed it – take a selfie with us! We could get a ride in exchange and these lovely people even shared some food with us. A very nice experience before saying goodbye to Indonesia.

In Kuching Jeroen lost his wallet, whether it was lost in the streets or got stolen is uncertain but what was certain is that the car papers and his driver license were in there... As we have done many times before on our adventure, we quickly changed our plans and decided to skip our Japan backpacking plans and go back to the Netherlands to get new papers.

Malaysian Kuching was a lovely city by the way, much more laid back than Indonesian cities and their police officers were very helpful in getting a ‘lost items report’, although Jeroen had to type it himself J


The main attraction of Kuching is a little bit outside of the city; a nature reserve for recovering Orang Utan apes. The place was magnificent and with set feeding times it was not hard to spot the gentle giants and shoot some great pictures!

We loved the jungle boat tour in Sumatra so much that we arranged to spend another day on the water in the Kuching jungle. We spotted salt water crocodiles, many birds species, monkeys and a magical firefly show. The funniest was the Proboscis monkey, also known in Indonesia as the “Dutch monkey” because of its big nose and beer belly J

Meeting the Spanish episode 5 


From Kuching we took a flight north to Kota Kinabalu to meet up with our Spanish friends again, who were shipping their car from mainland Malaysia to Malaysian Borneo. They would arrive the next day and we spend our day visiting a salt water crocodile farm, see pictures below! We also enjoyed a wonderfully authentic (and very romantic) Italian dinner at the seashore. 

It was marvelous seeing Javi and Ines again. We could spend 2 days in tropical paradise together before our flight to Hong Kong. We visited a mangrove forest and spend a whole day snorkeling around the small Islands on the coast of Kota Kinabalu. We`ll let the pictures do the talking!

Hong Kong  (29 April – 3 May)  


To Hong Kong! As Jeroen had never been here, Nicolette could be his lovely guide. The small city-state isn`t the total chaos we imagined it would be, but that`s probably because Phnom Penh easily takes the chaos trophy J If you stay a bit away from the tourist traps the city is also pretty affordable and by taking the various ferries we could see a lot in the few days we had to spend here. Real highlights were eating in a completely packed Chinese lunchroom where no tourist ever comes, seeing the nightly skyscraper light show and visiting lovely Cheung Chau Island to witness their famous Bun festival. Some advice to all South-East Asia travelers, Hong Kong can easily be added to any SE Asia trip and we can highly recommend it!

Part 14 (20 December – 2 March) South east asia Part 2 (Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore)



After visiting our family back home for the holidays, it was time to return to the far east and continue our adventures! Although our car was parked in Phnom Penh, we decided to fly to Bangkok, spend 2 days there and take a bus from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. This would save us a lot of money but the 19 euro bus ride would take 16 hours. But what the heck, we have the time and our trip is all about the journey. Turned our choice wasn’t so bad. In total it took us 18 hours to get to the car, where we convinced the guard to let us sleep in the car so we could get some rest, get organised and leave the next day.


It was our second time in Cambodia so we knew what to expect. We made a plan to explore the country, cleaned up the car and left for the coastal city of Sihanoukville.



Sihanoukville`s Otres beach was nice, but the beautiful Thai beaches had spoiled us. The restaurants were a great place to relax, eat and drink and get into the Cambodian rythm. The downside was that Cambodia doesn`t have very strict law enforcement and lots of people come here to get stoned and party all night. Let’s just say, Sihanoukville is no Koh Chang, but we enjoyed the laid back, hippy atmosphere and the white sand palm tree beach. Interestingly the beach next to Otres, which is mainly used for recreation by local people, closely resembled a…. garbage dump…. Sadly, just like in Iran, the local people have zero environmental awareness…

National Parks


After a couple of days relaxing we headed into the mountains. Cambodia has a couple of beautiful national parks, which charge little to no entrance fee. There are hardly any other visitors which gives room for wildlife and plenty of places to bush camp. During our 4 weeks in Cambodia we tried to spend as much time as possible in these national parks to enjoy nature to its fullest. We were warned though, that we shouldn`t stray off the beaten track because millions of landmines are littered across the countryside. See our previous blog post for more information on Cambodian landmines.

Cambodia`s road infrastructure used to be one of the worst in the world. Not surprising, since after decades of civil war the country is also one of the poorest in the world... But to our amazement, lots of roads were brand new and in very good shape!

We soon learned why… The Cambodians sold large swaths of lands and national parks to Chinese investors who cleared much of the forests to build luxurious vacation resorts along the coast and in the mountains. They also loaned huge amounts of money from the Chinese, which was all used to improve the Cambodian road infrastructure.

But we would be hypocritical if we said we were not loving these new roads. We took one of them into the Cardamom mountains and soon were all alone in a beautiful jungle, with big Hornbill birds flying overhead and monkeys calling in the distance. 

On the way back we tried an “old road”, and we soon understood the need for road improvements! It started out ok, a bit steep and narrow but nothing our car couldn’t handle. The conditions then quickly worsened, leaving us 4x4-ing across some very challenging terrain.

Soon the path became too narrow and made us come to a full stop because it was completely overgrown by dense bamboo forest. This road had beaten us, we had to turn back. We managed to get back on track and made a promise to each other not to experiment with these kind of tracks in Cambodia anymore!

Our experience with the Cambodians


The Cambodian people were really friendly to us. Because most Cambodians we met spoke very little English, they were a bit shy and getting into a nice conversation proved to be difficult. But what we loved about the Cambodians which we met is that they are laid back and respect other people’s privacy. We were never bothered when bush camping and only got friendly waves, smiles and thumbs up from the locals when we drove past.

What we really found funny was the typical Cambodian clothing, especially of the women. Adult women wear “Brigitte Jones like” pyjamas as daily street wear in all kinds of funny prints (incl. Sponge Bob!), sometimes combined with fluffy bunny flip flops! 


Motorbikes are used to transport everything. We have seen motorbikes as complete driving markets, or transporting living pigs and yes, even a cow... People on the back holding a door (of a house and of a car), front hood of a car, TV’s (the big ones), everything we transport in a car, the resourceful Cambodians find a way transport on their motorbike. Because of the low costs, the number of motorbikes outnumber the cars by 10 to 1.

They are also the means of transportation for the whole family. It is completely normal to see 3 or 4 people on 1 motorbike. Very often you see a 3 year old kid standing between the legs of daddy, while holding the steering wheel as balance, with mommy sitting on the back squeezing one or two children between her and daddy. Oh and of course all without helmets, barrelling down the pot-holed roads at speed up to 70kmph…

Car trouble!


Our car didn`t agree with Cambodia. We had our first flat tire, we broke our airconditioning and our fresh water pump, our auxilliary battery died and the clutch decided to lose pressure every once and a while... The tire and battery were easily replaced, the airco we could fix temporarily and having no running fresh water was annoying but we could manage without. However, the clutch issue was particularly nasty as it caused the car to suddenly start driving even with the clutch pedal depressed… Very scary, especially in busy city traffic with motorbikes zooming past us left and right!

We tried to fix this by pumping any air out of the system (bleeding) and refreshing the fluids. But this only made it worse. Jeroen figured out that we had to replace a vital part (master clutch cylinder) to fix this problem. Delivery time: 2 weeks...


Our Cambodia visa was going to expire in 5 days and the initial plan was to drive back to Laos, then through Thailand to reach Malaysia overland. With the car in this condition and a lot of uncertainty on getting a second permit to enter Thailand again, driving to Malaysia just wasn’t going to be an option.

From being almost a year on the road, we got accustomed to changing our plans. Then we heard that our China Crossing friends Ed and Sue were rejected to enter Thailand. Because of this, they were forced to ship their Landcruiser from Cambodia to Indonesia in a big container, which happened to have space for our car, so we decided to join them!

During the shipment we could have all the needed parts shipped to Nicolette’s friends Hjalmar and Nynke in Singapore and combine the pickup with a nice social call to them. We managed to cram both cars in the container and then we found ourselves to be homeless for the first time! We strapped on our backpacks and were on our way to Malaysia. 




We had two weeks before the parts would arrive in Singapore, which gave us ample time to explore Malaysia. First stop: Kuala Lumpur!, the very modern capital of Malaysia. A 3-day stay was enough to explore the city and we stayed in a nice backpackers guest house in China town, visiting the highlights of the city by foot, public transport and taxi. It had been a couple of years since we had been backpacking, we almost felt like normal people on holiday J


The next stop would be the Cameron Highlands in the Northern interior of Malaysia, a lush green mountainous area with some beautiful scenery. Bright green tea plantations are draped on gentle mountain slopes, surrounded by moss covered forests and low hanging clouds, very pretty!

We booked a tour with a group of youngsters :) for a hike through the so-called ‘Mossy Forest’, views of the tea plantations and a visit to the local tea factory. It was fascinating to see the whole production process from the tea plants to actual tea. We had an excellent guide who took us on a challenging hike through the cloud forests pointing out things we would have never seen or realized ourselves.


Some of the prettiest beaches in the world can be found on islands that lie just off the coast of Malaysia and now that we were car/homeless, we had an excellent opportunity to visit one of the nicest islands, Perhentian! Again a bus ride, which should take 5 hours but ended up lasting an annoying 11 hours because of a huge detour to collect more people from the middle of the country. But we were just in time to catch the last speedboat of the day to the island. This boat ride was rougher than we expected, but pretty spectacular, check out the video!

The snorkelling on Perhentian was absolutely epic and after 2 days of relaxing and enjoying the company of 2 lovely British backpackers, we left for Singapore. Again by bus because there is just no cheaper way to travel through Malaysia to Singapore. As usual in SE Asia the bus turned up 3 hours late and drove us in a 12 hour race-like ride to Singapore. As our British friend Rob commented; ‘Where else in the world is a public bus the fastest thing on the road’ J



Singapore is familiar territory for Nicolette as she has been there 12 times before. For Jeroen it was the first time, so Nicolette made a plan of all the things she wanted to show Jeroen and see again herself. Singapore is known for its modern high-rise but it also has a nicely preserved old city centre and botanical garden, and its Zoo and Bird park are rated amongst the most beautiful in the world. Singapore is also known to be a ‘fine city’, meaning that you can get fined for a lot of different things, most famously: using chewing gum and neglecting to flush the toilet!

We made a plan for 4 things we wanted/needed to do in Singapore: 

  1. Visit Nicolette’s old friend Hjalmar and his family who live an expat life in Singapore for the past 2,5 years
  2. Picking up our car parts
  3. Sightseeing
  4. Applying for a USA visa as we couldn’t apply for an ESTA because we have been in Iran

Visiting Hjalmar, Nynke and the kids was really nice but at the same time a bit of a culture shock for us. We have been living as nomads in a car while Hjalmar and Nynke live a very comfortable expat life with a full time helper in an amazing house with gym, pool and all the luxury one could imagine. Hjalmar has a challenging job at Shell and works long hours making multi-million dollar decisions on a daily basis. Nynke started her own company as a marketing consultant and managed to get away from the sometimes judgemental Dutch pressure of what an ambitious educated young woman should do with her life. We really admire how she has been able to look back on her life in Holland as being overly stressful and a drain on her energy levels.

Staying with them really was a welcome break from the hardcore travelling we have done in the past year and something we realized we shouldn’t get too used to as we knew that a couple of days later we were back to our basic nomad life in our car!

Sightseeing in Singapore was nice for both of us as the city has really changed since Nicolettes last visit. Singapore zoo is indeed the most beautiful in the world, mainly because Singapore was once a jungle and in order to create this zoo, the only thing they needed to do was groom the plants and trees, bring some animals into the place and build some paths and fences. Check out the video to get an idea what we are talking about!


USA Visa application


Applying for the USA visa in Singapore is not for the faint-hearted: First of all, in order to make an appointment we both had to fill in an online application form of about 30 pages. Then we had to make a $320 fee payment to the Singapore bank account of the US embassy, just to be able to schedule an appointment for an interview. Luckily, Hjalmar was able to make the transfer from his account and almost 1 week after we started this process we were allowed to schedule the appointment. We prepared all the paperwork we could need to support our story (pictures of our car, a print out of the route, copies of our bank statements). The interview lasted no more than 5 minutes and we needed every document we brought with us! The people at the embassy were all very friendly, our interviewer even told us he was a Land Cruiser fan and told us on the spot our visa was approved. 2 days later we could pick it up, everything went according to plan, yay! We booked our tickets to Indonesia for the 2nd of March, back to the nomad life!! 

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Part 13 ( 3 November - 19 December ) South east asia Part 1



After saying goodbye to our China Group at the border we rushed through Laos to meet with Nicolette`s English family Bob and Ana Maria Gomez. Coincidentally, they just happened to be in Vientiane (the capital of Laos) for 1 day, as part of their Indochina trip. This meant driving 650km from North to South Laos in 3 days. The Chinese have 'financed' new roads from the Chinese border all the way to Vientiane, so 2 days later we arrived with a day to spare to freshen up.




We met the next evening at their posh hotel and were invited to join their tour group for dinner and a show. We were happy that we took the time to freshen up and change clothes, looking like somewhat normal people again! We had a great evening, it was lovely to see them. Meeting their tour group gave us an insight in their trip which was the complete opposite (very fast and organized) from the way we are travelling (very slow and in seemingly random directions)!



After driving through Laos we caught a glimpse of the beauty of the country, but we were so tired after our crazy China crossing, that the only thing we could think about were Thai Beaches and Pineapple Shakes. So we decided to go straight to Southern Thailand for some much needed R and R.



Getting into Thailand turned out to be a challenge. The Thai Department of Land Transportation decided in all their wisdom to ban foreign motor homes, trucks and van-like cars from the country. This meant that from our China group, 4 out of 6 cars were not allowed to enter Thailand! Fortunately our Land Cruiser is  a ‘normal car’ so we managed to get a permit to enter Thailand by car for 30 days with the help of Thai travel agent Thipp.



There were some things we really wanted to arrange in Thailand, so first stop: Bangkok! Our to-do list consisted of: 6 new tires for the car (in case you’re wondering, we carry 2 spares), Japanese Encephalitis vaccinations at the Bangkok hospital, Christmas gifts for our family and friends, a total car cleaning, and the very necessary night out to the cinema  which we had missed so much over the past months J.  Within 2 days we arranged everything and were ready to crash at a Thai beach. 

Our China Crossing friend Mathias who was able to cross the Thai border with us had send us the coordinates of a great camp spot at the beach of the island Koh Chang, which Jeroen had visited 16 years ago and was eager to see again. As the Thai beaches are known to be very touristic and overcrowded we gladly followed his advice and took the Koh Chang ferry.


Debbie, the lady who rents Nicolettes house in Zandvoort coincidentally happened to be at Koh Chang following a yoga/massage course. She described the island as still being a paradise and suggested we should come and visit. Her resort turned out to be 200 meters from the coordinates send to us by Mathias! We definitely had to check it out.

And paradise it was! The camp spot was located in between two resorts, at the most beautiful palm-tree-lined-white-sand-beach we could imagine. We met with Debbie who was really surprised we actually came and spend 3 lovely days together. She introduced us to a Dutch guy called Tommy who had sold his business in Holland, packed up his things and moved to Koh Chang. There he had a wooden house build, from which he started a SUP business (Stand Up Paddling). He had two of his Dutch friends come over to visit him and together with them we had a great time eating, drinking, SUPping, snorkelling, swimming. Thai beaches are hard work J

This was truly the first time during our whole 10 month trip that we felt like we were on holiday, contrary to hard core travelling. Every morning Nicolette started with a morning swim in the clear blue ocean, Jeroen was able to snorkel around and went fishing to provide us with a Barracuda dinner for 6! We finally had the time to catch up with our blogs and videos for our website and we met some wonderful people like Astrid, a dentist from Estonia, who also became a real friend in the short time we spend together!



When Astrid came to say goodbye, we were visited by a pack of monkeys. They looked cute at first, but when they jumped on our table and grabbed our box with tea bags and started tearing open every bag in the box we decided to chase them away. The monkeys were not impressed and responded with an aggressive charge, baring their teeth and screaming at us! A local jewellery sales man had handled them before so he took a 3m long tree branch and smashed the monkeys away from us.  They took off and headed towards the resort next door, where they raided the kitchen and came out with all the food they could get their hands on... We now understood the signs at the road: don’t feed the monkeys!

Visit our friends


Harm is an old friend and ex-colleague of Jeroen from the time he worked at the hardware store in Heemstede. Harm met a beautiful Thai girl in a Thai restaurant in Haarlem and decided to marry her and move to Thailand. We waved them off 3 years ago and hadn’t seen them since so it was great to see them again! We were really impressed by their beautiful house, huge garden and the apartments they rent out, all guarded by their crazy dogs Bonkers and Zwaffel (yes those really are their names J). They offered us the use of one of their apartments and Jeroen could work together with Harm in his man-cave to do some much needed upgrades to the car. When finished, the car had gotten a lot more comfortable! 




After 4 wonderful days together we said goodbye and moved on to Khao Yai National park.


On our way we made a quick stop at an open air metal mania museum where they make freaky statues out of scrap metal. Check out the photos!

Khao Yai national park


Khao Yai national park has good asphalted roads going through dense jungle. Every couple of meters we had to brake for rogue monkeys crossing the road which really felt like the national park experience we were looking for. Khao Yai still has some elephants roaming around but the chances to spot them are slim, unfortunately we only saw their tracks and piles of dung in the roads. But we were treated to a lot of other animal-encounters, like Toucans, Sambar deer, large Monitor Lizards and many monkeys crawling around our car.

It felt like camping in a zoo without the fences, not very natural but a cool experience.




This national park also has many waterfalls, one of which was used in the movie ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo di Caprio. Because we visited it early in the morning we were the only ones there, just the way we like it!




As Thailand limited our stay to a maximum of 30 days, we crossed the Cambodian border with the intention to leave our car in the capital Phnom Penh. We were heading home for Christmas to see our family again and arrange stuff we couldn`t do from a remote location. But before leaving we had one week to visit Siem Reap in the north of Cambodia where the ancient city of Angkor  is located!  

We read that the tourist police in Siem Reap doesn’t want people to bush camp, so they accommodate over land travelers to camp on their grounds and offer the use of the shower and toilet for free! For us this was a win-win situation. They would not have to chase us out of the park and we had a free and safe place to stay in a country yet unknown to us. The officers were very friendly and spoke so proudly of Cambodia. No wonder as the country finally seems to be on the right track after decades of war. When tourists in trouble came by the police office they immediately asked us “what we did”. They were amazed to hear we were just camping there and told us their story. Apparently buying pot from an undercover cop is not the smartest thing to do in Cambodia... 

The police office was located next to the entrance of the magnificent Angkor temple complex and if we had to name a final goal of our great overland adventure, this is it. To drive from Holland to the ancient city of Angkor.

We bought a 3 day access pass and rented 2 bicycles, as we were told we were not allowed to enter the Angkor area with our car. It felt great to cycle around in this awesome place surrounded by the ancient buildings (and about a million other tourists). Fortunately the place is huge and only at 2 of the sites it felt a bit crowded. The main temple is called Angkor Wat, but there are many more temples and sights in this area, the most beautiful being Bayon with its carved-out stone faces. After seeing it, we wished we could have our car right in front of it and take a photo! 


So we decided to give it a try on the 3rd day of our ticket, to our surprise we were allowed to take our car in! At risk of being kicked out any moment we drove straight to the best spot in front of the Bayon temple and took these photos. Whatever happened next, we had the photo we wanted!


We used the fact we had our car with us to visit the far away temples of the Angkor site and to visit a landmine museum where we learned more about the horrors of the Cambodian history.

Around 6 million mines and UXO`s (unexploded bombs) remain scattered around the Cambodian countryside. 


This statement showed us the reality of this war:

‘Two kinds of landmines were used: 'people targeted' and 'all destructive' landmines. The 'people targeted' landmine was used most often because this was aimed at wounding, instead of killing people. A wounded person would occupy a non wounded person to take care of him, so this mine was double as effective as the 'all destructive' kind was.’  


Cambodia has the highest amputee rating in the world, with an estimated 40.000 people living out their lives missing 1 or more limbs. Many of them are children... 

Phnom Penh


Fellow Overlanders provided us with an address of a garage in Phnom Pehn for long-term parking our precious car during our visit to the Netherlands. It was owned by a Norwegian businessman who also produced body armor for the protection of people removing landmines. He likes to help out Overlanders by storing their car for a daily parking fee.

We went to check the place out and found our German friends Wanja and Julia there! They were not allowed into Thailand so they were preparing their car for shipment to Dubai and drive the car home. We had a great dinner together and exchanged stories on the last month we spend apart (after all, we traveled 3 months together!). It was really great to see them again.


The next morning we headed to the airport to fly home and finish Part 1 of our adventure, exited and ready to make plans for Part 2!  

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Part 12 (17 September - 2 November) China / Tibet

Never during our travels have we and our car been tested as during our China trip. Let`s just say that we are not made to travel in a 6 car group with a fixed itinerary and a guide for 38 days, travelling a distance of 7500km!


Our group consisted of the most wonderful people and we consider ourselves very lucky! However, travelling for us is something we do as a couple, accompanied by 1 or 2 other cars, as we have been doing so happily with Javi & Ines and Wanja & Julia for the past months. We love the freedom to travel to where our imagination (and guts) take us, without a fixed itinerary.

During our China crossing all the days had to be set according to a tight schedule, which left little space for any spontaneous exploration or for setbacks like road constructions or cars braking down.


In comparison to the other cars in the group our Land Cruiser had a hard time keeping up with the pace, especially in the mountains at high altitude. This made us skip the necessary breaks during the day.  And sleeping in the car in the extreme cold nights (-10C) at high altitude (+4000m) was a challenge.


To communicate with each other we bought 6 walki talkies and had lots of fun with sharing our daily observations during the drive, warning each other about the dangers of the road and agreeing on the places to break, sleep and eat.


We travelled mainly through Tibet from west to east. The single road took us through ancient kingdoms, passing sacred mountains and crossing passes at literally breathtaking altitudes.

Looking back, the trip through China can only be described as absolutely epic!


Entering China


We started out with a 2 day delay on our itinerary in Kashgar because the border crossing didn`t go as smoothly as planned. There we learned that every Chinese problem can usually be solved with a lot of patience. When that is not enough a large bribe does the trick. Strange start of our Chinese journey where we learned to have more patience we as travellers could handle.


Happy birthday


We both celebrated our birthdays in the first week of our trip and these are the special moments you really feel blessed with such nice travel mates. They organized not 1, not 2 but 3 birthday cakes for us, one of them home/car-baked by Julia. They sang happy birthday for us multiple times also through the walki talkies in several languages and from our guide we got traditional Tibetian scarves to wish us good fortune. Really cool way to celebrate our birthdays.  

Leaving Kashgar we headed for the ancient capital of Tholing, where we would visit the magnificent Tholing monastery. It took us 4 days of driving to get there, as distances in China really are huge, and we steadily climbed from 1700m altitude to the Tibetan plains between 4000 and 5000m. Thank Buddha for our acclimatization in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan! The Tholing monastery was nice, but for us the real highlight was a detour through Zamjan Stone Forest, a series of geological formations resulting in a massive canyon through which we were allowed to drive! We missed our drone so much...

25 days in Tibet


We entered the Tibetan Autonomous Region in the Peoples Republic of China. It is better known as Tibet, the country that was invaded and taken over by the Chinese in the 1950`s. The situation here was not quite as we expected…

The Tibetans are culturally and religiously oppressed. Any resistance to the Chinese rulers is met with teargas and riot police. The Tibetans are on the verge of losing their identity and own culture, due to the Han Chinese moving into the Tibetan cities. 

But there is an upside to the Chinese presence. Because of massive Chinese investments, the standards of living have jumped upwards. The Tibetan main roads are now in great condition, poverty is down, levels of education are up and electricity is now widely available. Would this also have happened if Tibet would have remained in its isolation or would it be a developing country?


Mount Kailash trek


The next days we had a big challenge ahead: the mount Kailash Kora. This 'kora' is a 53km round-trip hike around the Buddhist`s most sacred mountain, where we met many Buddhist pilgrims wearing their colorful clothing and happy smiles while doing this grueling trek over a 5600m high pass.

The Tibetans are culturally the opposite of the Chinese. Where the Chinese are generally rude, loud and ignorant to others, the Tibetans are a warm and caring people. We felt like they would give us their last piece of bread if we were in need of it. 

At Mount Kailash Jeroen had his first ever physical breakdown and nearly collapsed due to a the lack of sleep and food for the past days (he is 38 now, no wonder J). Sleeping is hard above 4500m, especially if you suffer from Periodic Breathing at altitude, causing you to wake up every minute with a feeling of suffocation. Annoying and very tiring! The loss of appetite is also normal and you should eat more than your body wants to in order to compensate. After an hour or so of rest in a tea house along the way, Jeroen could continue and finished the trip with the others in 2 days. 

Kailash is said to be a tough trek, we didn`t expect it to be this hard, but the awesome beauty makes it very much worth while!

It was one of the best treks we have done in our lives, so incredible to make the Kora amongst a huge crowd of devoted pilgrims. After the first day we were the only non-pilgrims on the trek. Buddhist teachings say that if you do the Kora 13 times, all your sins are cleansed.

Or if they do it 1 time 'procrastinating'. This means taking 4 steps, falling down on the ground and stretching out, standing up, again taking 4 steps and so on, for the whole 53km! We were honored to be allowed to follow in their steps.

Mansarovar lake


After our Kora and being 1/13 cleansed of our sins J, we could relax a bit at Mansarovar lake. It was extremely windy but the sights sure were beautiful!

Mount Everest


As we headed deeper into Tibet, the mountains of the Himalaya that we could see in the south grew higher and higher. We were getting closer to Everest! It took another 4 days and about a 1000 more km`s to reach the legendary Rongbuk monastery, located at the Tibetan base of Mount Everest.

It quickly became clear to us that this place had become a high profile tourist location. Busloads of tourists come here to get a look at “Goddess Mother of the World” as the Tibetans call Everest. So where all the tourists take the minibus to the basecamp, three of us took a mountain path to Everest …. and kind of got lost :)  We ended up about 200m above basecamp, at a viewpoint covered in Tibetan prayer flags, which we later learned was very much off-limits. It felt great to move a bit off the beaten track and not follow the crowds, our bad behavior was rewarded with some of the best views of the great mountain! The only bad part was that Nicolette sprained her ankle on the way down, which made walking and driving the next days very difficult for her. 

Trying to keep up became though


The fast pace at which we had been travelling was taking its toll. We were becoming exhausted and irritable and the car was having problems keeping up with the rest of the group, especially going up the mountain. Also, because our space in the car is limited and the outside temperatures barely reach 0 Celsius, for us getting up, organized, washed (a bit) and having breakfast in time before our caravan left again was a challenge. Especially after a bad night of sleep because of the altitude.


So we weren’t enjoying it very much and we decided to seriously start skipping monastery and temple visits, just to be able to stick as much as possible to our own pace. This worked like a charm AND saved us a lot of money. With the insane entry fees the Chinese are demanding for Tibetan temples and monasteries, China was quickly destroying our budget!



The rest of the time we just soaked up city live by strolling through little alleys in towns and cities like Lhasa and Shigatse. For Potala palace in Lhasa we made an exception and loved visiting this beautiful home of the Dalai Lama. 



Next stop was the city of Shangri-La, meaning ‘Paradise’. The city was touristic but had a nice laid-back atmosphere.

Tiger Leaping Gorge


We had another trek on our 'China tour' itinerary; Tiger Leaping Gorge. But Jeroen had just had a nasty cold and Nicolette`s ankle was not healed yet, so we opted to just drive the Tiger Leaping gorge road. The first part is extremely touristic and, much to our amusement, they even have guidelines for the Chinese tourists how to behave! The second part of the canyon is much more quiet, resulting in stunning and peaceful views of this natural wonder.

Lijiang and Dali


As we had left Tibet by now, the places we visited became classic Chinese. By the time we entered the cities of Lijiang and Dali no trace of Tibetan culture could be found. These 2 cities are said to be the most touristic places in Southern China and it soon became clear why, as both are very scenic. And although the touristic shops are crawling with Chinese tourists (and the occasional European) they, have retained a pleasant ‘old Chinese city’ atmosphere that we very much enjoyed, especially in Lijiang.



Xinjie Rice Terraces


Before leaving China we visited the Xinjie Rice terraces, according to travel books a must see for all tourists. Although the Chinese asked an insane entry fee for viewing a rice terrace, it was beautiful. 


China crossed √ 


As we drove the last stretch towards the border with Laos, passing the cities of Jianshui and Kunming, Javi`s car started to act up and at the very last part of our China adventure an injector seal blew, causing the car to sound like a thai Tuk Tuk. Fortunately he could drive on (a 400km tow to the border was offered at 500 euro!) and all the cars in our group made it to the finish line!

It was an amazing ride. Everybody was very glad to have made it to South East Asia in 1 piece and we made one last group photo to celebrate, before each of us would go his own way again.

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Part 11 (6 - 16 September) Tajikistan

We had heard many stories about Tajikistan. About epic landscapes, beautiful off road tracks and the very friendly Tajik people. But also about travelers suffering from extreme altitude, the cold climate, bad quality of water and lack of hygiene.

Road conditions were universally described as terrible, if there are roads at all. Landslides and waste-deep river crossings make the Pamir region hard to traverse and the border zone with Afghanistan is, as expected, not the safest place. 

We were advised not to drive through Tajikistan alone, so we teamed up with our fearless German friends Wanja and Julia and together we prepared for a real expedition! 

With our cars stocked up to the rafters with food and water we entered the stretch of no-man`s land between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The trip through no-man`s land took 2 hours over a dirt track, so we arrived pretty late at the Tajik side of the border.

When we finally got there we heard that the only senior border patrol officer who was allowed to let us in had car troubles at the base of the mountain... We had to wait 4 hours, at an altitude of 4200m, with a freezing temperature of -4C… Boy were we happy that we had acclimatized our bodies to the altitude at peak Lenin!  When we were finally admitted into the country, we had to drive down over a mountain road that could easily feature in an episode of ‘The world’s most dangerous roads’ … in pitch black darkness… and it started to snow. We slowly make our descend into the Pamirs.

We camped at the first available spot and the next morning it looked like we landed on the moon! There was nothing but rocks and sand… and a huge fence that belonged to China, who was engaged in a cold border-war with Tajikistan.


We headed for Karakul lake, but first we visited the town where we could see how the local Pamir people live: very basic under some tough circumstances due to the altitude and the extreme weather conditions.

The spot we found to camp was directly at the lake, in the middle of nowhere and completely deserted. Of course at 4000m altitude it was a bit too nippy to swim. The car also didn`t like the altitude so much, see the photo below what happened every morning when we were able to get it started J

Off road experts


Wanja proposed the next day to take the off-road track back to the Pamir Highway and we had a blast, some pretty tough conditions but nothing our cars couldn`t handle. Just before entering the main road again, we met Camil, an organizer of 4x4 off-road trips for those who like to do a rugged but safe off-road only trip. We decided to continue together by taking a detour over some nice dirt roads towards Shul Kul lake (lakes have a great attraction to us somehow J). 

When we tried to continue the next day we passed a Tajik military base where 2 military guys came running out stop us. They wanted to see our papers and explained very politely that we were entering a disputed border zone and if we were to continue, we would most likely be arrested by the Chinese for entering ‘their’ territory (although we would still be in Tajikistan). Okayyyy, let`s turn back to Murgab then…Camil wanted to explore some other dirt roads to use in his trips and we wanted to continue, so we said goodbye and headed south towards Yashil-Kul lake. On the way we visited a (small) geyser that gave Nicolette a (big) scare J See the dashcam video at 55 seconds J

To lose and get lost


The off-road bits got more rowdy and at one point we kind of lost the road and were trying to find our way back over some really rough tracks. Here we noticed ‘something’ flying out of our passenger side window, but didn`t see anything when we looked… we should have looked better, because once we arrived at Yashil Kul after an exhaustive drive, Nicolette noticed her phone was gone… After a harrowing drive back where Jeroen almost tipped the car over on a very steep incline, we amazingly enough found Nicolette`s phone lying on the side of the track. Good fortune for us!

Hidden gems


The next morning we headed in the direction of the Wakhan valley. This river valley forms the border with Afghanistan, so close that you can wave to the Afghan people living on the opposite side of the river and tending to their fields. The mountain roads were treacherous, and we were praying to the weather gods that the weather remained stable. The Wakhan valley was so epically beautiful that it became the highlight of our journey through the ‘–stan’ countries. At the beginning of the valley the roads were really rough and dangerous with stunning mountain views. But after 1 day they mellowed out into the bottom of the valley where Tajik farmers were merrily harvesting their crops in sunny weather.


We were greeted by so many beautiful smiling faces, it was a big contrast with the other ‘-stan’ countries. When we did a little walk towards a hillside stupa we stumbled upon rocks full of ruby gemstones. Up in the hills we had the luxury of spending the night next to some wonderful and revitalizing hot springs. All this made the Wakhan one of the highlights of our trip so far! 

Midnight troubles


But going up north we found that the region is not without its problems. A Russian fellow hot spring user explained to us there is a lot of Islamic extremism plaguing Tajikistan, and that the recently appointed ISIL minister of war actually is a former chief of police in Tajikistan.

This became very visible, along the border we encountered numerous Tajik armed patrols, some carrying sniper rifles, to fend off Taliban invaders and drug smugglers. On the Afghan side we could see heavily armed armored police trucks patrolling their side of the border and we had been warned not to stay in the area too long. 


So this is where we found a beautiful camp spot where we had the not-so-great idea to spend 2 nights instead of the usual 1 night. 1 night is a lot safer, because if you stay longer, people notice you and you are virtually painting a bulls-eye on you and your car.

It should not have come as a surprise that we got some company the second night. A car pulled over and 4 guys in leather jackets came out. They immediately rushed to the car of Wanja and Julia and, fortunately for us, only wanted money because they claimed we were standing on 'their' land. Wanja kept a cool head and settled at 40 Somoni (13 euro), which is pretty cheap for 2 nights with 2 cars at a good camp spot J. But an experience like this rattled our cage; what would we have done if these guys were trying to rob or kidnap us…

Shaken but not stirred we left the next day for the city of Khorog along the Tajik – Afghan border, the lowest point on our route at around 2000m altitude J Since this area has seen a lot of combat the last years and is still not considered stable, we decided just to pass through to fill up on fuel, food and cash. And a bit of souvenirs, as Julia bought a traditional Tajik dress which immediately gained her the favor of the Tajik people, great tip for all you travelers out there!

The hidden valley of Shadora


Entering Shadora we were amazed by its remoteness and complete lack of foreigners. On the Pamir highway and in the Wakhan you meet the occasional cyclist or overlander, but here, nothing. We were pleasantly surprised to find the roads were in pretty good condition and as we climbed higher, the views became more and more spectacular.

Especially when we reached a little village with hanging bridges that would not be out of place in a Lord of the Rings type setting. Incredibly beautiful! 

And then it became a bit harder


How great the first stretch of road in Shadora valley had been, the last 50km were hard, probably the hardest we had done so far and they even gave fearless Wanja an adrenalin rush. We had to climb steep roads and cross crumbling bridges, boulder-strewn rivers and huge rock slides. Wanja and Julia’s car got suck in the swampy mud and we needed our sand plates to pull them out. It was a magnificent experience. The ride may have been a bit tricky for the cars, but we both came out very dirty but undamaged and were a hell of a lot driving experience richer!

The last part was a big river crossing, but because we were there in the right season, the river was low and the crossing safe. We actually kissed the asphalt when we came out as we were very glad to have made it out without a scratch.

Leaving Tajikistan


There was snow in the air and this can mean trouble at the high passes we still had to cross. To avoid getting stuck in Tajikistan until spring 2017 J, we setup a last camp at the highest pass of 4650m. That night the temperatures reached -10C, a new record for us sleeping in our rooftop ‘tent’. But the sleeping bags, extra blankets and shared body heat got us through the night. In the morning we had ice on the inside of the car windows and our water tap was frozen shut! Brrrrr.

The next day we reached the border of Kyrgyzstan and we could cross without any hassle.


It has been a true privilege to visit unspoiled and absolutely beautiful Tajikistan together with our friends Wanja and Julia.

Thanks guys, we wouldn't have done it without you!

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Part 10 (30 July - 5 September) Kyrgyzstan




After our narrow escape from the clutches of the Kazakh bureaucratic system, we thought it would be easy to travel through Kyrgyzstan. The country is generally stable and not so much plagued by bureaucracy, but more by corrupt traffic police officers.



We spend 2 days in the country before flying back to the Netherlands to arrange our Chinese visa. In this short period we managed to get into trouble twice; the first day Jeroen got bitten by a small black spider near Issyk-Kul lake. It hurt a bit and gave us a scare, but nothing serious. The second day, back in Bishkek we almost got into a fight with some Arnold-sized Kyrgyz taxi driver who almost ran us over. After our Spanish friend Javi made a not-so-subtle remark about it, the Kyrgyz guy went ape, but we managed to get out without spilling any blood. Travel karma says we needed to go home J

Visa run to Holland


The weeks in Holland were quite intense as we had to arrange a lot of stuff; first of all to visit friends and family, hug our cats, get our Chinese visa and, most importantly, buy 6 boxes of chocolate sprinkles and 3 kg of cheese.  We were very lucky with our Chinese visa. 1 week after we obtained the visa, the Chinese shut the door to foreigners, presumably for the G20 summit. Not getting our Chinese visa would have meant a major change of plans as we would have to go round China and ship from Russia to Japan… or something like that… But all went according to plan and 2 weeks later we were on a flight back to Kyrgyzstan.

Return to Kyrgyzstan


We had been in touch with fellow China crossers Wanja and Julia, a young couple on a sabbatical travelling to South East Asia in their VW Transporter van. She is a doctor who just finished her studies and he is an experienced automotive engineer, a great skillset when it comes to overlanding by car. We agreed to meet each other for a drink in Bishkek and ended up travelling together for the next 3 months!


The landscapes in Kyrgyzstan are even more stunning than those in Kazakhstan. Huge lakes against backdrops of snow-capped mountains, you get the picture (if not, read on or watch the Kyrgyzstan dashcam video J) We headed for the country`s biggest lake, Issyk-Kul. Here we were invited by a group of friendly but very drunk Kyrgyzians for a crazy Shashlik BBQ, which came to a very abrupt end when a thunderstorm and massive rain showers chased all of them away. It was a lot of fun while it lasted. 



Considering our terrible physical state after 6 months driving in the car, we were fearing the China / Tibet adventure with planned hikes over 5000m high mountains. So after Issyk-Kul we decided to do some mountain hiking and headed east towards the mighty Tien Shan mountain range and the backpackers town of Karakol. The hike we decided to do was a 3 day beginner trek instead of the 6 day hike to a glacier. Never during our trip have we been so happy with our decision J

Us still being a bit lazy and insecure about our capabilities, the first 5 km we were driven in the back of an old Soviet UAZ truck driven by a local madman. We also met our guide, a nice fellow who spoke no English (English speaking guides were sold out) but who looked experienced. That observation was correct. In fact, he was so experienced that he was always 200m ahead of us, trying to pace us up and down the mountain. Which soon became pretty annoying.


But the hike was amazingly beautiful, the first day took us to a camp at 2500m, only a 400m climb from our starting point at 2100m. A nice way to start, considering we were carrying 10kg+ of camping gear on our backs. The second day went all the way up to 3900m over steep passes and through a hail storm, but with incredible views. Mr. Guide had us cross a wood log bridge over a fast-flowing river about 10 hours into the hike. We were totally destroyed; not the best of ideas. But we survived and that evening we were rewarded with great food and hot springs to relieve the muscle ache of our weak bodies. 

Meet Jenny


The 3rd day of the hike was easy, a nice 4 hour walk back to Karakol, where a taxi would return us to our cars. We had found a nice guest house at the edge of the city where a whole bunch of interesting people dropped by. Among them was a very fit Canadian girl who could best be described as a ‘professional sports adventurer’. She traveled the world to reach goals she set for herself and then writes blogs and books, and talks about this as an inspirational speaker. And she had just started running Kyrgyzstan… Yes you read it correct, this power girl would run almost 1000 km from Karakol to Osh, straight through the country, running an average of 30km per day carrying a 10 kilo backpack. Her name is actually Jenny Tough… look her up at and be amazed!

Song-Kul Lake


We decided our next target should be Song-Kul, a high-altitude lake where we could visit local nomads and ride horses. We found an amazing camp spot at a hill overlooking the lake and stayed there for 2 days, enjoying the views, taking incredible photos and of course, riding horses! Nicolette got a headache that really knocked her out and being at 3200m altitude, we feared it might be altitude sickness. Fortunately, Doctor Julia could quickly determine it was her ‘normal’ cluster headache.


Kyrgyz-style horse riding was quite a different experience than we expected. Of the 4 horses we rented (no guide, no cap, just ride J) 1 was quite active and could be kicked into gear with a single word (yes, unlike European trained horses, Kyrgyz horses are voice-operated) and 3 of the horses were dead boring. Upon returning the horses we inquired to why they would not move, and the owner simply replied; “You need a whip for these horses”. We asked why we were not given a whip then. ”Because you didn`t ask for it” Right. J


Off-roading (on roads)


Wanja proposed to continue our travels by taking the long route all around the lake as he was looking forward to put his 4 wheel drive to use. Somehow for him the crazier the road looks, the more he wants to drive it J. This was great for us, we didn`t do much off-roading so far and with fearless Wanja leading, we could gain some much needed experience. The ride was absolutely epic! Amazing views, steep & inclined roads and a couple of river crossings. It took us a couple of hours to do it, but we can highly recommend it to other travelers. 

At the end of the loop around the lake we entered our first non-highway road of Kyrgyzstan, going all the way from Song-Kul to Jalal-Abad (the one in Kyrgyzstan, not in Afghanistan J) It was pretty bad. Lots of potholes, corrugation (wash-boards) and stray animals on the road and with Wanja and Julia driving in front of us lots of dust was kicked up. But the cars held out fine on these bad roads, it is amazing how much abuse they can take!

The drive took us through some beautiful landscapes and rural villages, where people are still nostalgic about the old Soviet times.

 To Tajikistan or to the Nomad games


Traditional nomadic games are held every 2 years in a big sports festival called the Nomad games. Kind of the Olympics for nomadic people. It is a rough affair, the highlight is playing polo with a decapitated sheep carcass.

Because the date for crossing China was approaching quickly, we had to choose if we would go to these Nomad games or into remote and not-so-safe Tajikistan. Nicolette didn’t feel like looking at decapitated sheep being tossed around, so we decided to head south towards Tajikistan, being with 2 cars made us feel up to the challenge!



Osh, an overlanders hub


We headed for the city of Osh the next day, said to be the informal capital of Kyrgyzstan and much more beautiful and alive than Bishkek. Our sources were not lying, the city is lovely. We got our cars prepared for the journey into Tajikistan and swapped stories with the fellow overlanders we met at our guesthouse. 

Peak Lenin


2 days later we were ready, but decided to make a last stop at the base of 7000m high Peak Lenin near the Tadjik border, to get our bodies used to the high altitude. The drive from Osh to Peak Lenin was only 4 hours, and when we arrived, we could not believe our eyes. The mountain range literally rises 4000m up from the plateau and forms a huge white mountain barrier between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. There are lots of yaks and marmots (which still carry the black plague, we didn`t know and just found them very cute J). The electronic gas pedal of Wanja and Julia`s car decided to retire here at 3600m and -10°C, but the boys like a good challenge and after 2 days it was fixed. Camping in this area is a very cold but very epic affair, check out the pictures!


Tajikistan here we come!


There are some people cycling the Pamir region in Tajikistan, but not all make it and have to be evacuated. The food is scarce, clean water is non-existent and the altitudes can have a devastating effect on the body. On the way to the border we met an evacuated Spanish guy who lost about 25% of his body weight because of exhaustion and food poisoning… his British travel mate wasn`t doing much better, as he also suffered a mental breakdown…

We understood not to take this part of the world too lightly and prepared ourselves for a real expedition. Tajikistan here we come!

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Part 9 (29 June - 29 July) Kazakhstan

We were on a mission

On the 7th of July (in 8 days) the new crew of the ISS was going to be launched into space from the Russian space center of Baikonur, in the middle of Kazakhstan. Since it has been Jeroen`s childhood dream to watch a rocket launch, this was an opportunity not to be missed! Unfortunately it meant a 2300km drive over roads that would probably not qualify as ‘good’, so we had no time to waste!

Kazakhstan and we started off on the wrong foot. We should have taken this is a bad omen for things to come… First of all a border officer wanted money to open the gate because it was almost closing time (we didn`t pay him, we were tired and happy to camp there). Secondly, our suspension broke about 20km into Kazakhstan, because the roads were just as bad as on the Turkmenistan side. Our beloved Land Cruiser couldn`t take it anymore. Our luck was that we could still drive, so after about 300km through oil fields and a night of beautiful bush camping along the Caspian Sea, we arrived in Aktau. Here a lovely young lady working at the Toyota garage (see photo ;-) took care of us and our car and 1 day later we could continue. Hurray! 

Receiving our first camel love 

We moved eastwards into the marvelous beauty of the Mangistau region. The region is little visited, but full of geological wonders, such as Lion`s rock, which you can see below, where Nicolette had a close encounter with a curious camel. It was in need of some love J

Road from hell

The road ahead was described by other overlanders as a shortcut, but it also was the worst road they had ever taken. There was a recommended alternative route, but this would mean a 500km detour! We decided to give the shortcut a try. We gave up after 20 minutes. For the first time on our trip we found ourselves defeated by a road. The potholes were large enough to fit our car in and they were so numerous it was impossible to dodge them. More importantly, there was nobody else on the road, which meant no help in case the car (or we) broke down. So we decided to turn back and to take the long way around.

Endless steppe

There is some real beauty in Kazakhstan, in the form of the endless Kazakh steppe. Roads seem to go on forever towards the horizon and you rarely see other traffic. Strangely enough, this made the roads pretty intense to drive, because we would coast along over perfect roads and all of the sudden a huge pothole or a broken piece of asphalt would appear, putting the brakes of the car to the test! 

We made good progress by driving all day and then eating and sleeping at truck stops. Not the best 'guide book pretty’ places but the Plov (rice dish) and Pelmeni (meat & onion mini-dumplings) were excellent. Also, most truck stops are guarded, which is very nice as this part of Kazakhstan is not the safest, with a high crime-rate and the recent terrorist attacks in the nearby city of Aktobe.


The road we chose took us to the fishing village of Aralsk at the infamous Aral Sea, a Soviet ecological disaster where so much water has been drained for the irrigation of cotton fields that the Sea is actually drying up. But things on the Kazakh side of the Aral Sea are improving with the construction of a dam in the middle of the sea. Waters are expected to reach the shores of Aralsk in 2017, but the Aral Sea will disappear entirely in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan...

Baikonur rocket launch!

The scenery along the way from Uralsk to Baikonur had changed quite a bit, from green grassland steppe to almost desert-like conditions (with lots of camels hanging around) in the area of Baikonur. 

Both the Russian space port and Russian-leased Baikonur city are not accessible unless you are willing to pay... a lot. The Russians charge 500 euros for a spot where you still need binoculars to see the launch and for 5000 euros they take you within eyebrow-burning distance of the rocket J 

So why go then? Well, it “should” be possible to witness the launch from the main road 30 – 40km(!) away. 

We camped at a local café run by 3 local boys and their aunt who let us use their internet and ‘lounge room’. In turn we invited them to go see the launch with us the next morning. One of the boys confessed he had never seen a rocket go up although he had been living in Baikonur city for 16 years! 

We took position at a launch-watching-spot we scouted the day before and turned the NASA countdown and live feed on at our phones. We were ready! 15 minutes later the counter hit 0 and…nothing… 

After 10 seconds Nicolette yelled “THERE!!” and a bright little speck of light could be seen moving upwards with amazing acceleration! It was incredible… with binoculars the shape of the rocket could clearly be seen and after 2 minutes the 4 booster rockets could be seen separating from the main rocket and falling down to earth. Mission accomplished!!

Ancient Sauran and Turkistan

During our 1400km drive east we came across the ruins of ancient Sauran, a city described in Mongol times as a jewel of the Kazakh plains. The massive place was only partly excavated and completely deserted, no guards and no tourists. So an excellent place to fly our drone! You can find the video on the left.


Also we visited the beautiful city of Turkistan, see the pictures below.


Return of the Spanish

We reunited with our Spanish amigos Javi and Ines in the old capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty. They were having some serious car troubles. As our car needed some TLC as well, we decided to share an apartment, do some necessary laundry and visit a garage together. 

Our first victim

To give our cars the needed attention, we went to a dodgy area of Almaty called ‘Car City' where we shopped for gear oil and just-in-case parts for our China trip. 

When we left our parking spot, Nicolette managed in one smooth turn to wedge the gate-beam of the parking area between our spare tire and the car. We didn`t notice, so when we took off we yanked the whole installation off its socket and bended the beam… much to the horror of the parking attendant who dashed out of his office waving and yelling… 

A (very) long story followed, in the end our insurance proved pretty useless, we couldn’t agree on a price to cover the cost of the replacement of the beam, so we ended up driving to the “beam store” (yes there is actually a store like that) and buying a new one and delivering it to Car City. Everybody happy. Cool experience but let`s not do that again J

Getting our car upgraded

The next day we both set out to get our cars fixed and upgraded. Garage 'G-Motors' specializes in fixing Mercedes vans ... and armoring Mercedes G-Wagons with 6cm thick bullet-proof glass and massive steel plating. When we discretely inquired about what customers needed armoring, the owner replied with a smile; “Rich people!” JJ
We had our side panel welded back on again (it came off during our Sauran expedition), the steering realigned and we had our shock absorbers replaced by big-ass ARB units. When we drove back it was like we were driving a new car! The car actually turned when you moved the steering wheel and we didn`t bounce around like a pogo-stick after each little bump in the road. Money well-spent.


We spend a week in an apartment in Almaty while the car was being fixed. This gave us time to visit the markets, to walk in the parks and to catch a movie in a luxurious mall cinema. We found Almaty to be a very laid back city and a week gave us the opportunity to experience what it is actually like to live in it. And this is why we travel, not to tick off the Lonely Planet sights, but to experience life in other places.

Charyn Canyon

But there is a Lonely Planet sight in Kazakhstan that really is a must-see; Charyn Canyon. We can try to explain the beauty of this ‘Grand Canyon’ of the ‘-stan countries’, but you better check the pictures below and watch the drone video we shot there, the place is amazing!

National park Altyn Emel

We said goodbye to Javi and Ines and headed towards the national park of Altyn Emel for some more nature viewing. On the way we booked tickets for the 26th of July to fly out of Almaty back to the Netherlands to arrange our Chinese visa. During our trip it turned out that getting a Chinese visa is almost impossible in any other country then your home country, very annoying. 

National parks have a strange status in Kazakhstan; they are publicly accessible but they have the same security measures as military bases. So lots of paperwork (and money) in order to gain access. But it`s worth the hassle. Altyn Emel is very beautiful, completely void of people, with many huge birds to watch and ancient sites like petroglyphs (caveman rock drawings) to visit. We could even bathe in the lake! Cold but necessary!

How we almost ended up in a Kazakh jail

Back in Almaty we checked in at the same apartment again to spend the last 2 days in Almaty before we flew back home. Little did we know that we would not go anywhere…

Erken, the owner of the apartment, was kind enough to drive us to the airport. After dropping off our luggage and passing through passport control, things took an unexpected turn. A very serious lady told us we had overstayed our visa (30 day visa valid until 22 July). We disagreed and showed the entry stamp of June 27th and the registration form with the 27th of July written on the bottom as last exit date. Apparently the immigration officer who wrote this on our registration form made a mistake, so the next thing we heard was "You will not fly today! You broke the law! You are going to the police now, your bags will be taken off the airplane!"… 

Bye bye tickets, hello Kazach law system.

We were taken to a senior border control officer who told us that: "The migration police officer in Aktau made a mistake by allowing you to stay until the 27th of July ... and you broke the law"….  WTF?! For him this was not at all contradictory so he happily explained to us what was going to happen:
1. “You report to a military base tomorrow where our statement would be taken”
2. “You go to the administrative court in Almaty to be judged”
3. “Depending on your statement (and the mood of the judge) you will receive either a fine, or you go to prison, or you get deported to your home country on the first flight out not to be allowed back in for 5 years (so no access to our car for 5 years!)


What happened next was a roller coaster ride where Erken (see picture below), became our driver, translator, lawyer, guardian and friend. We ended up in a 5 minute court battle with Erken and the grumpy judge shouting at each other in Kazakh. Erken won, resulting in just a 60 euro fine for us. We were so happy! 

4 days of bureaucratic misery later we were allowed to leave the country on a special exit-visa and we had a great goodbye dinner with our hero Erken. And a big thank you to KLM, who were kind enough to return us the tickets in full!  

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Part 8 (25 July - 28 July) Turkmenistan

Entering Turkmenistan


The message is clear, Turkmenistan wants us in and out as fast as possible, 5 days in our case, since this is the period they have allowed on our transit visa. We heard stories about motor-bikers who were asked by the Turkmen border officials if their bike was fast… when they enthusiastically answered ‘Yes!’, the official proceeded to change the transit visa from 5 to 3 days!


Before crossing the border we took our video drone apart to avoid any misunderstandings about us being spies or worse, journalists. Turkmenistan really hates journalists, especially when they write something ‘unapproved’ about their current or former president. An unfortunate French female journalist / human rights activist died in prison in 2006 because of a sharp article she was writing on President Niyazov. Turkmenistan is now rated as having the second-least freedom of press in the world, only surpassed by North-Korea… So we were prepared for the Turkmen border officials… we thought.

Iran exit was very smooth, only brief checks and a stamp on our all-important Carnet de Passage document and into no-man`s land we went. On the Turkmen side we were again separated from each other, Jeroen had to go through the passenger terminal and Nicolette had to stay with the car. Then Nicolette was very seriously questioned in a small room by a panel of 3 male border officials about 1 single topic; ‘Why don`t you have children?’…. really, there was little interest in the car or why we wanted to go through Turkmenistan, the 3 guys only wanted to know why we did not have children! After 45 minutes of patiently and politely answering every question (‘Don`t you like children?’, ‘Is something wrong with you?’ and ‘Is something wrong with him?’ ‘Is the bed in the car big enough?’ etc) the border officials gave up and decided to let Nicolette go to the car inspection. Here they were only interested in the medicine box to check us for possession of illegal substances… on top were Nicolette`s birth control pills, so while showing the pills to the officials she exclaimed; ‘Look, no children!!’. And that was it, with a good laugh from the border officials she was sent off to pick Jeroen up to proceed to the last checkpoint some 10km further down the road.

The last checkpoint was easy and we were allowed to proceed into Ashgabat, a gleaming white city build by the previous president to show off his power. The city was built by a French company and has cost so much money that it left Turkmenistan virtually bankrupt, although the country has huge natural gas reserves. 

Ashgabat, city of insanity


Upon applying for the visa we had to indicate which route we were going to take through Turkmenistan. This meant we had to go in a straight line from Ashgabat to the Kazakh border, and if we would deviate from this route the police were allowed to deport us by plane… But we were allowed to stay in the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, for 2 days. We had read much about Ashgabat but nothing could prepare us for the real thing… it is truly amazing, surreal, megalomane and it looks like some sort of whacky mix between downtown Manhattan and Disneyland! 

All the buildings are marble-white, adorned with golden ornaments and blue glass. The cars in the city are mostly white, with the occasional and very daring silver car driving in between, so you can imagine how our camel-colored Land Cruiser stood out from the crowd. Before entering Turkmenistan we were ordered to clean the car, because entry with a dirty car is illegal in Ashgabat and we could be rejected by the border officials. But the weirdest thing is that there seem to be almost no people in the downtown buildings, streets and parks, only cleaners, police and military. The downtown part of Ashgabat is clearly meant to amaze, not to be effectively used...


We read on our new favorite website that we could sleep in our car at the car-park of the Ak-Altyn hotel, so we drove there to check it out. The hotel turned out to be a bit of a run-down Soviet-style building, but to our surprise it had a great outdoor pool which we could use for 20 Turkemnistani Manat (about 4 euro). More importantly, we could get a beer here after 5 weeks of Islamic prohibition in Iran, yay! :-) 

Away from the center, the city more or less came alive, there were a few shops, a decent restaurant and even some people in the streets.  The 2 days gave us more than enough time to both relax at the pool and explore the city. We were told it was forbidden to take any pictures of the buildings in downtown Ashgabat, but apparently this also goes for the parks… Nicolette found this out the hard way as she was screamed at by a police officer from across the street when she was taking pictures of 1 of the central parks. So we developed a new strategy; drive around in our car with the excellent dash-cam, secretly videoing the whole city.

This worked like a charm, see the results HERE! 


After dinner we headed back to the car to find a party going on in the back yard of the hotel where we had parked, lots of dancing and fun, even some very good salsa, so at least some of the Turkmen people know how to have a good time! This all ended abruptly at 22.45 because Turkmenistan has a ‘curfew’, meaning no one is allowed outside after 23.00… (We asked around, but it remained unclear at which time people were allowed to come out of their houses again, probably at sunrise?!)

The second day we visited the very new and sterile bazar just outside of the city. It mostly sold cheap Chinese goods so it wasn`t very interesting and we tried to change some money, but without result. There should be a black market at around 5 Manat per Euro, but as this is very illegal, people were too afraid to change money with us here. So the only other option was changing money in the city mall against the official rate of 3.7 Manat per Euro. So be it, we were not spending a lot anyways. After another stroll in a huge empty park with only police officers, we headed for a high pyramid shaped building which had a nice panorama bar. The guys running it didn`t mind us taking a look so we could photograph the whole city, safely out of sight of the police officers :-)

Into the deserts


We learnt that the last stretch of road from Turkmenistan to Kazakhstan was a real car-breaker, so we decided to cut our Turkmenistan journey 1 day short to prevent overstaying our visa if the car broke down. This meant that the next day we had to drive in 1 straight line to the oil & gas town of Turkmenbashi, located on the Caspian Sea coast. As soon as we left the city the landscape changed drastically into a real desert (Turkmenistan is 80% desert).


The ride was pretty interesting as we encountered lots of camels (on the road), had some rain (in the desert!) and were caught in a full-on sandstorm! We were also checked by the police several times, but with papers checking out ok, we were allowed to continue each time.

The final stretch to the coast was particularly nice, with the Caspian Sea nicely contrasting with the sandy deserts surrounding it, really beautiful!


The city of Turkmenbashi got its name from the previous president, Turkmenbashi meaning ‘Father of all Turkmen people’, as this narcissistic president saw himself. It was not very inspiring, lots of industry and old Soviet buildings, but with a nice hotel where we could park our car safely. We decided not to sleep in the car but to check in at the Hotel as we were not feeling very well (first time on our 4 month trip, this must be some sort of record for us!) and could use a good shower. The hotel was mainly used by expats hired to work in the Turkmen oil & gas industry. There was even a cool Dutch guy with some interesting stories, apparently business visa are also not easy for Turkmenistan. Although he had to work In Turkmenbashi for 1 year, he only got a 1 month visa each time, so he went home for 2 weeks to get a new visa and then went back again. He also was totally surprised why anyone would want to go to Turkmenistan on holiday ;-)

The Road from Hell


A good night`s rest helped us a lot and the next day we were ready to take on the dreaded border road into Kazakhstan! The first part was pretty bad but do-able, lots of potholes but still reasonably surfaced, and it took us along the beautiful Caspian Sea coast dotted with big oil & gas rigs. Again we got checked several times, this time by military guys controlling access into Turkmenistan (ours was the only road) with 1 guy making 5 phone calls to confirm that we were allowed to be there!

From the small city of Karabogaz road conditions went from bad to downright terrible… we were glad we took the extra day in case of problems. Along the road we encountered an abandoned aircraft on top of a hill and again lots of Camels and horses next to and on the road. The main road really was undrivable with potholes the size of a small car and 10cm high corrugation (wash-bord) which certainly would chew up lesser cars than ours. So most of the time we took the improvised sandy tracks next to the main one. 


We made it to the border around 17.00. Border formalities on the Turkmen side were fast, but the Kazakh side was an entirely different story! 

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Part 7.2 (8 July - 24 July) Iran chapter 2



In the mean while the Ramadan period had started and we were anxious to see how it would be experienced in Iran. We were told we could be sent to jail or be deported from the country if we were caught eating or drinking in public. For the same ‘crime’, Iranians would be punished by whiplashes. We were amazed to see that so many people didn`t participate in Ramadan! People were eating and drinking in the parks or cars, and so many told us that although they are Muslim, they drank water and even had some food during the fasting period between sunrise and sunset. This is something that was unheard of 5 years ago!


Of our journey through Iran we liked Esfahan as a city the most, it truly is the jewel of Iran, incredibly beautiful! The main square is lined with ancient mosques and the nicest bazar in all Iran.

We met a nice jewel-seller who we had dinner with, while later that evening we met a very nice family in the central square with whom we shared fruit and stories until 1am at night. Travel in Iran during Ramadan is not that bad at all.




After Esfahan we did a 500km drive south to the city of Shiraz, where we wanted to visit the ancient capital of Persia; Persepolis!

That day with 42 degrees it was blistering hot, especially when you are officially not allowed to drink during the day. Nicolette did a nice imitation of a ‘walking shower’ in her Sharia-approved dress and we managed to spend a nice couple of hours exploring the beautiful ruins.


Back in Tehran to pick up our Kazakh visa, we first paid a visit to the former US embassy in the center of Tehran, now named the ‘US Den of Espionage’ by the Iranian government. This is the place from where the US helped to keep the Shah of Persia in power and where angry Iranian revolutionaries kept 50 Americans hostage for 444 days… the graffiti on the walls speaks for itself, the Iranian fanatics really don’t like the Americans.

At the Kazakhstan embassy for some reason we got our visa, but with a validity of 30 days instead of the regular 90 days…. which would come back to haunt us in Kazakhstan in a very bad way. But we were too excited to pay much attention to it and started to prepare for the much feared Turkmenistan transit visa application!


The Turkmenistan visa lottery


The next day we went to the embassy at 8:30. Don`t think the consulate is a nice place where you can come in and have a chat with the consul about the needed documents etc. As an unworthy and annoying tourist, you are directed to a 30x30cm hole in the wall where a grumpy guy hands you some forms to fill out. He then closes the window until 10.45 and when opening again, he takes the forms and checks them. If something is then wrong, you will have to come back the next day because the consulate is only open until 11.00am. We were told it would take 10 working days for the visa to be ready… and our Iranian visa was about to expire in 9 days, so we had to request an extension for our Iranian visa. More bureaucracy, yay!

It`s the Po-lice


If the visa would be approved, we could pick it up in Mashhad close to the Turkmenistan border, so we would not have to wait 10 days in Tehran, very nice! On the way to Mashhad we decided to go via the Caspian coast again, we parked in Mahmudabad close to the beach and went to bed to watch a movie. After an hour or so there was a knock on the window, which we ignored, shortly followed by a short burst of a siren… uh oh…

Before entering the country we had to submit the route that we would follow, including dates and hotels where we would stay, but obviously we didn`t stick to this plan. 

In his underwear, Jeroen opened 1 of the rear side windows of the car and was greeted by a very surprised but relaxed army officer. A police officer was visible in the background (they always travel in pairs) furiously talking on his phone and waving his arms. The army officer spoke English and with a faint smile asked us what we were doing here. ‘Sleeping!’ was our reply, to which his question was why we didn`t go to a hotel. ‘The car is a better hotel’ Jeroen replied and with a short laugh and a wave the army officer ordered the police officer back in the car and they drove off, leaving us a bit shaken but not stirred :-)

For our next stop in the city of Damghan, we decided to use a hotel after many nights in the car. The hotel we wanted to stay in was fully booked so we went to the other hotel in town. Big mistake, as the staff acted like we were the first tourists ever to stay here. The next morning a guy knocked on our door with a telephone in his hand, ‘It`s for you’, he said to Nicolette. Completely baffled because no one knew we were in Damghan, she answered the phone. It was the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, checking up on us… Fortunately we were in Damghan according to our submitted plan and after asking Nicolette dozens of questions, the Iranian interviewer was satisfied and we never heard from them again. 

On to Golestan national park!


We found a nice spot near Loveh waterfall. We were asked by some young guys to join them for a shaslik BBQ including a shisha, which was very nice, until at one point our hosts started rolling little tubes from plastic foil?! We were pretty clueless what on earth they were doing until they pulled out a bag with some brown paste in it. They laughed, pointed at it and said ‘Afghanistan!’…. so this was either heroin or opium and they started happily smoking it away. Remember, this is Iran and they hang you for possession of over 30 grams of narcotics! So we decided to make a polite but very quick get-away and headed back to the car to spend the night in nature close to the waterfall. Despite the encounter with the druggies we liked it a lot at the waterfall and the next day we spend chilling out and swimming in the freezing waters (again fully clothed of course). We attracted a lot of attention as the Iranians had probably never seen this before and were staring in disbelief at these 2 blue-eyed idiots playing in the freezing waters of the waterfall.

Delayed culture shocks

In Mashhad we found a nice guest house (Vali`s) in a side street close to the city center where we were allowed to sleep in the car next to the entrance of the guest house if we would buy dinner there. We happily did this as Vali`s wife undoubtedly is one of the best cooks in Iran! We got to meet many other interesting travelers and as we had to stay 6 days before our Turkmenistan visa was ready, we got to know Vali and his family very well. His children even took us to a swimming pool in the evening to escape the heat of the city. Of course men and women would go separate. That evening to our surprise we discovered Iranians really can`t swim!

While Jeroen and our new Polish friend Jacek were doing some laps in the pool, the Iranian guys attempted something that resembled controlled drowning. But the men`s pool was nice, with full spa facilities and a gym, all included. Just don`t run bare-foot on a tread-mill as Jeroen`s feet found out the painful way.

The women`s pool was a much bigger culture shock…. Nicolette was not allowed to wear her 2-piece bikini with a T-shirt over it, but had to wear a 1-piece outfit. So Vali`s daughter Sanaz and her cousin took Nicolette to the swimsuit shop which led to some hilarious situations! First of all the girls suggested Nicolette should buy something as shown here, amazingly this is completely legal as it is a 1 piece outfit and many of the Iranian girls were actually wearing it! When Nicolette suggested she found it way too sexy the girls burst into a giggle… apparently it is not-done for a girl to say the word ‘sexy’. Jeroen and Jacek soon found out it is no problem at all for men to say this about a woman. Nicolette asked for a nice Speedo swimsuit, but the item the Iranian girls came up with was way too small, Nicolette again caused a lot of giggles when pointing this out. It is not done for a lady to talk about her body, especially not the size of certain body parts! When Nicolette finally got to the pool she found out all the girls had to hand in their phones (no photo`s!!) and put on her swimsuit in a small closet-like space to prevent anyone seeing them naked… even though there were only ladies present…

In the women`s pool it was even worse than in the men`s pool, no attempts at anything resembling swimming was made, all the ladies were just standing in the shallow part chatting with each other! And then there was the swim cap. Absolutely no hairs were allowed to appear from under it, so every time a few hairs dared to pop out, a loud whistle from the life guards sounded and the hairs were hastily put back in place.

Holy Shrine visit

We visited the Holy Shrine of Mashhad together with a Swiss girl Elena we met at Vali`s guest house. At one point we accidentally entering the area reserved only for Muslims. At each entrance men and woman are separated and then Jeroen lost Nicolette and Elena in the massive crowds. When the girls started looking for him, they attracted attention… a lot of attention, of very angry chador-clad women. Instead of offering help or guiding them to the exit, these women were yelling and pulling on Elena and Nicolette`s chador to a point where things got scary and a guards wanted to takethe girls away for their own safety. They escaped and fled back to the entrance where Jeroen was waiting for them, completely oblivious to what had been going on…



The next day the Turkmenistan visa were supposedly ready for pickup and upon asking the guy at the consulate, we got a positive reply, the visa are ready!



Yay, Turkmenistan here we come!

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Part 7.1 (26 June - 7 July) Iran chapter 1

The moment we stepped through the gates into Iran we had arrived in a different world. Headscarves, long trousers and shirts were mandatory and had to cover everything but hands, feet and faces, especially concealing Nicolette’s female curves as much as possible! 

With our pale skin, blue eyes and blond hair (what`s left of it in Jeroen`s case J) we became overnight 'celebrities'. Everybody wanted to take a picture with us! This happened all over Iran, as pale-skinned foreigners appear to be rarer than the Persian Leopard and pictures with foreigners are collected by the Iranians with the same fanaticism as western kids collect Pokemons.

The Iranians are the friendliest people we have met on our trip so far. Not a day passed by without being invited to lunch, dinner or some (non-alcoholic!) drinks. 

When we were spotted trying to spend the night in our car, somebody always tried to persuade us to come and sleep at their house. People approached us in the streets, trying out their English skills and wanting to express their happiness that tourists were visiting their country again. Every 5 minutes we heard somebody calling out to us “Welcome to Iran!”


We thought our travels through Georgia and Armenia had prepared us for the Iranian driving style. Wrong. Driving in Iranian cities is at times like being in a Mad Max movie without the special effects. As our Overland guidebook put it; 'Don't worry too much about hitting another car in Iran, as long as you don't leave half a bumper dragging over the ground, just wave and don't bother stopping'. Right…

We found Iran a very much polarized society; some people spoke to us about how much they despised their (religious) laws and leaders, and they claimed that 70% of the women would not wear the scarf if the laws allowed for it. Other people proclaimed to us how much they loved their leaders and would do anything for them. The Iranian government blocks an estimated 30% of all internet pages, mostly social websites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, to prevent Western influence. But the outside information stream is unstoppable and Iran is changing fast, with more and more people challenging the current system. Hopefully the transitions will be peaceful…

Our trip through Iran



We decided to travel the classic Silk route through Iran taking us from North to South and then back North through the most interesting part of the country travelling 5000 km in 4 weeks.


In Iran we found countless of great wild camp spots! We spend nights overlooking spectacular snow capped mountains, at waterfalls, national parks, a salt lake, the Caspian sea, next to the ruins of Persepolis, in the middle of cornfields and so on.  

We have visited many of the silk route sights and were blown away by all the beautiful mosques, bazars and the many traditional houses open for tourist to visit. 

Starting at Tabriz, a Turkish/Kurdish city, experiencing the true Iranian culture for the first time, buying a proper wardrobe for Nicolette and getting used to the Iranian driving style.

At our next stop in Zanjan we stopped at spot in the middle of nowhere an Iranian man passing by (there are always people, everywhere!) took pity on us poor travelers and shared some wonderful bread with us. Before we knew it we were invited to his garden a little further up the hill where we spend 2 lovely days relaxing and chatting with our new Iranian friends.

Meet the Spanish


During the past few weeks we were in touch with a bunch of fellow travelers also looking to cross China by car. One of these were a Spanish couple, Javi & Ines, who happened to be travelling through Iran too. So we arranged to meet on our next stop in Qazvin near the famous Valley of the Assassins.

Soon enough we discovered that we were on the same page about travelling and some company is always nice, so we headed into the mountains to the Valley of the Assassins together. We proved to be a great team, as our Land Cruiser beast nicely complemented their luxurious Mercedes Sprinter which is equipped with shower, toilet and dining table for 4 persons!

From Alamut Castle we started moving towards the Caspian Sea, via a barely used dirt road that passed over a 3200m high pass. The map showed a restored ‘caravanserai’ (ancient silk route hostel) located at the pass and we liked the idea of spending the night there, as a real part of our Silk Road travels.

Because the road was so little-used we expected few people at the caravanserai, but soon after we made it to the top, an old Land Cruiser showed up with 9 drunk people in it. Remember, this is Iran and alcohol is illegal! Doors flew open, people moved out and the music was turned on to have a party at the roof of Iran, way out of sight of the religious authorities. Of course we were invited to join, and soon enough we were dancing and drinking with our newest Iranian friends, 1 of which was a high ranking military official… The party lasted for a couple of hours until the Iranians were too drunk to continue and headed home down the mountain at dangerously high speeds, leaving us in peace and quiet to have a nice dinner and admire the beautiful starry night.


After spending a great couple of days together at the Caspian Sea, Javi and Ines left Iran for Turkmenistan and we headed for Tehran to first apply for our Kazakhstan visa which we needed to apply for the Turkmenistan visa. The Turkmenistan 5-day transit visa is probably the hardest visa to obtain and it really is a lottery with as much as 30% seemingly random rejections.

As Tehran hotels are ridiculously expensive, we used a suggestion from Javi and Ines to park the car in the south of Tehran at the Imam Khomeini mausoleum. It`s a huge shrine devoted to the Imam and is visited by many, many people, especially on the day of his passing, which is a national holiday. Coincidentally, this national holiday was also the date of our arrival and many people camped in their tents in the parking lot, so we blended nicely in with our camper-car!

We had to wait 4 days for the Kazakh visa so to make the most of our time we took off to the deserts and old imperial cities of south Iran. That night we camped near a children`s playground and were stalked all evening by kids very interested what these white-skinned foreigners were doing in their village. But they were lovely and very friendly, they even made us flower-necklaces!

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100 days on the road Stats

13100     KM

3            Timezones

11           Countries

1573       Liters of diesel


Diesel prices



Price in Euro



€ 0,92


Most Expensive

€ 1,23



€ 0,167








Guest house























*        All sandwiches, nothing fancy



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Part 6 (6 May - 25 June) Georgia and Armenia




We had little idea what to expect from Georgia. We had heard it was a pretty laid-back place with friendly people and excellent food and of course the insane driving style already described in our Turkey blog. Imagine only 8% of the Georgian population has car insurance. Consequence is that 1/3 of all Georgian cars lack a front or rear bumper and almost all of the cars have some sort of damage. As Georgian drivers take no official rules into consideration, ‘might has right’ is what counts. Luckily for us we have a huge car J. 

Georgia was one of the republics of the Soviet Union, has had some recent issues with Russia over their break-away province South-Ossetia and their previous prime-minister Saakashvili is married to a Dutch lady. So much for the trivia, let`s see how it really is!

Border formalities were again without any hassle, mainly because of our strategy; Nicolette sits behind the wheel smiling at the border officials and Jeroen does an enthusiastic show-and-tell of the car in case of any questions about our cargo. We managed to enter Georgia in a record-breaking 15 minutes.






When we drove to our first stop in Georgia, the coastal resort of Batumi, it became clear we had entered the former Soviet union. Remnants of border fortifications were visible in the landscape and ugly gray Soviet-style flats appeared in view when we approached the city outskirts. 


We reached the lovely guesthouse ‘Old Boulevard’ in the city center run by a young lady, who was captivated by our car and our travels. After being offered a room with the size of Jeroens house in Haarlem at a bargain price, we were pointed to a great restaurant where we ordered the national dumpling-dish ‘Kinkhali’ for the first time. 



A brief explanation from the waitress: you eat a little (of the outside) than you drink [the juices inside], then you eat (inside+outside), but don`t eat the top, which is just for holding it! It was so good it immediately became Jeroens new favorite food. 



Batumi is a very nice city, with beaches, restaurants and weird architecture (for example a Vegas-like hotel with a ferris-wheel slapped on the side at 100m height! 


In the summer Batumi turns into the Georgian equivalent of Ibiza and is flooded with rich Georgians and Russians coming here to party all night long.


As we took a stroll along the coast we came across a little harbor where we were offered, in Russian, to take a boat ride along the coast. We thought it would just be fun to see the city from the Black Sea so after haggling down the price we got on board. Well, apparently we got on board of a dolphin-watching expedition and pretty soon after we left the harbor the first dolphins were starting to appear (all the while the English version of ‘Suzanne’ from Dutch band ‘VOF de Kunst’ blaring out of the on-board speaker system). Check out our dashcam video of Georgia which includes some dolphin action.



Since we didn`t really prepare for Georgia we just thought we`d head for the capital Tbilisi with 1 stopover in Kutaisi, a small city that doesn`t get many tourists. Here we found the new meaning of hospitality, for which Georgia is so famous. While sitting in the living room of our guesthouse after dinner, a good friend of the owner came in, actor, poet and all-round nice guy Giorgi Zanguri, with 2 Russian friends, Andrei and Theodore. After chatting with us for 10 minutes, Giorgi invited us to join in on a Georgian Supra (a feast in which drinks and food are shared among new and old friends), expressing his wish to share food, drinks, stories and love with us (yes these were his exact words).

The Supra went on until 4am with loads of good food and even better home-made wine, and with many stories told. Supras are especially famous for their endless toasts made by the host also called “the toast master” and this is what happened, Giorgi made around 20 toasts over the duration of the evening with beautiful words we as down-to-earth Dutchies would only say to our friends when we are drunk or somewhat emotionally unstable.  Never have we made friends as fast as this before, we exchanged contact details, took group photos and made plans to see each other again in Tbilisi. So far, we love Georgia! But wait, there is more! J

Walking through the streets of Kutaisi we saw a beautiful opera building which we wanted to see from the inside. We noticed a banner of a band playing at that very moment, so we decided to try to get in. We knocked on the closed door, it opened but these people only spoke Georgian and Russian.

So we explained in our best sign-language that we would love to see the concert. They invited us in and without having to pay for anything we were pointed to true opera house seats and were able to see the entire concert for free. It was pretty good Georgian pop music with some covers of western music (including: “Alice” of Peter Koelewijn translated into a mix of English and Georgian). Since the hall was half-empty and there was no entrance-fee, we figured it was a try-out band playing for friends and family. After asking our host at the guest house it turned out to be the 20 year anniversary of a famous Georgian pop band. Boy, were we wrong J

Churchill (GB), Roosevelt (USA), Stalin (USSR)
Churchill (GB), Roosevelt (USA), Stalin (USSR)



En route to Tbilisi we wanted to visit the city of Gori, where Joseph Vissarionovich Jughashvili was born and raised. You may know him as Josef Stalin. He was the leader of the Soviet Union responsible for defeating the Nazi`s and the rise of the Soviet Union as a superpower. He was also a paranoid madman and killed about 20 million of his own people in Siberian gulags (labour camps). Gori is quite proud of the man and has a Stalin museum which we decided to visit. Unfortunately most of the texts in the museum are in Georgian and Russian and have not yet been translated into English, so we couldn’t get the full experience, but it did give us a good impression of his rise to power. As Churchill put it; he took the Soviet Union with the plow and left it with nuclear weapons…



Next up is Georgia`s wonderful capital, Tbilisi! This city is a must see for everyone visiting Georgia. It is busy, but there are many quiet areas to relax, sightsee and enjoy great Georgian food. Highlight of our Tbilisi visit was having dinner with our Russian friends we met in Kutaisi. We started with just the 4 of us and ended up with a group of 15 people of 7 different countries, including 2 Dutch guys on an internship at the Dutch embassy.


The next day visited the Tbilisi market and took an hour to relax in one of the natural sulfurous hot springs, just as travelers into the east have been doing for 500 years. Very nice and very hot! After all the driving we did over the last few weeks our bodies really appreciated this.



Time to leave the car behind for a couple of days and head into the mountains on a horse riding trip. We booked a 3 day tour with an English speaking guide named Vazha and two horses called Johny and Argento. Vazha trained these horses to respond to voice commands ‘Hatsjoe’ for forward and ‘Drrrrrrr’ for stopping, a reverse was not implemented. So you can imagine Jeroen and Nicolette on horses, constantly yelling ‘Hatsjoe’ to get them going. Eventually we got the hang of it and were able to make an amazing trip through the wild Lower Caucasus mountain range, along steep muddy tracks where the horses kept slipping and sliding. Since this was the 4th time Jeroen was on a horse he had some hair raising moments (is this possible for him?) as his horse loved to walk right at the edges of steep cliffs.

Our guide was a camp fire expert and made a nice fire every day so we could cook great meals and drink tea made from local herbs. We slept on wooden bunk beds in mountain cabins which are open to everyone and the first night we met a nice group of people. Jeroen took out the whisky, Vazha his own home made Georgian wine, and a Russian couple brought cognac. Very helpful when spending the night at 1500 meters altitude J




Vazha was a great guide to us and he always kept us safe. He`s also pretty traditional which means women are considered ‘flowers’ and under no circumstances should they be burdened with hard labor such as collecting firewood or carrying their own backpack. Nicolette wouldn`t have any of this so after a hard fight she was allowed to carry firewood (but only very small pieces), see the picture to the left. After that story Jeroen nicknamed Nicolette ‘Delicate flower ’ at every possible opportunity J  




This is what happened with the horses after 2 hard days of riding.


No they didn`t die, they just wanted to scratch their backs on the grass :)



Before leaving Georgia we wanted to visit two more sites we had seen in the guide books. They were both in the South of Georgia, near the Armenian border around the city of Akhaltsikhe. At the guesthouse we were surprised by a Chinese girl, whom we met the days before at the mountain cabin, she coincidentally booked a room in the same guesthouse. Fang (her name) was travelling solo through Central Asia for 3 months, very brave! We invited her to come along sightseeing with us, which was a great opportunity for us to test out the jump seat intended for our future Chinese guide.  Conclusion; if the guide is the same petite size as Fang, he/she will probably survive 20 days through China`s bumpy roads, but he won`t be very happy J


On the way to cave city of Vardzia we visited a monastery build in an impossible location with an access road so insanely steep our car stalled. Ok this will get a bit technical; if somebody knows if you can safely put a HZJ75 in low gear (4L) without engaging the free-wheeling hubs when driving on tarmac, please let us know! So safe to say we failed miserably to go up by car (we forgot our dashcam chip that day, so no blooper footage available, lucky us ;-) ). As punishment we had to walk up, but we could definitely use the exercise and we were rewarded with some spectacular views.  Our destination Vardzia was a huge cave city build in the mountains that once housed 2000 people. Nowadays there are still monks living there, but the empty houses are opened to tourists. Check out the photos of Vardzia.





The border of Armenia was like a scene out of a Charley Chaplin movie. The road to the entrance of the border was full of deep potholes; we needed our 4WD to get through. First the Georgian exit border: some standard questions, paper work and car checks and a very friendly ‘have a good journey’ to send us on our way. Very easy. To get to the Armenian border we had to drive through a construction site with no signs (or clue) on where to go. After a couple of tries driving around in ‘no man’s land’ between Georgia and Armenia we found the road to the Armenian border. 

This was obviously not a border used by many tourists. After the regular passport and car check, we had to get out of the car and were pointed towards the first desk called “customs”. There the hassle began. They didn’t speak English and tried to explain what we needed to do. Although all the desks were within 20 meters of each other and we were the only customers, they didn`t feel like pointing out the right desk. Instead they kept repeating the command ‘Go to the next desk’ for about 10 times with increasingly raised voices switching between Armenian, Georgian and Russian (we think). ‘Next desk’ was the Customs Broker who handles the import of the car. To pay him we needed Armenian DRAM`s (the money, not the computer memory) which we could get at the bank located at the ‘next desk’. So in the confusion we ended up changing dollars at the ‘office’ were you can buy a SIM card making the SIM card salesman very happy. Last thing to do was to buy car insurance from a guy who set up shop in a very simple looking shed of 6m2 which included a desk and his bed, check out the picture on the left!

This border took us 2,5 hours, 110 dollars for customs, car insurance and probably some other things we couldn’t figure out, and many forms with stamps of different officials from 5 different desks. 

We were happy to finally enter Armenia, but the difference between the easy borders of Georgia and the difficult Armenian border already made us appreciate Georgia more. After our border-adventures we tried to find a wild camp spot in a nature reserve close to the border. We found one, but apparently the spot we found had some kind of military importance. Oblivious to this we were busy cooking dinner when out of nowhere 2 seriously looking guys in uniform approached us and started asking us all kinds of questions. 


After a photo-shoot of us with our passports and calling their superior asking what to do with us, they left with a friendly smile and a thank you in Russian. We continued with preparing dinner when they came back for a second visit, including a third guy without uniform. Some more questions and photos of our passports and of us followed, maybe we didn`t smile enough during the first session J. Then in their best English told us not to take any photos of the artificial dam behind us. Well, that explains why they came to see us! 

The next day we left for Yerevan, the capital of Armenia to make our visa arrangements for Iran. Driving to Yerevan we took the motor highway M1, expecting to do 80 to 100kph on asphalted roads. Wrong! The beginning of the M1 was a dirt road so full of potholes that dodging them became like a video game. The second part was asphalt with even deeper and more worrying very sharp-edged potholes. 

After some intense focusing not to destroy the car in a pothole we finally reached normal roads where we managed to drive 60-something kph, not noticing the signs telling you the limit was only 50. That`s when we got pulled over by the police who proceeded with telling us we drove 72kph. The fine would be 33.000 DRAM, about 63 euro. So Nicolette put on her innocent girly face and tried to smile her way out of the fine.

Then to our surprise the police officer asked: ‘How much would you like to pay?’ and handed Nicolette a pen and some paper. WTF? Nicolette wrote ‘0 DRAM’ which was a bit too low for the cop, so after some haggling we settled at 10.000 DRAM, or 19 euro. We had to pay cash and put the money between the papers he was holding and drove off. After re-thinking what had just happened, we came to the conclusion we had just lost out corruption-virginity J

Let`s say so far Armenia doesn`t agree with us. Continuing our trip towards Yerevan a thunderstorm started and the heavens literally opened up, throwing such severe hail and rain showers at us that our car snorkel saw its first action! Check out the dashcam video of Armenia.

On Thursday morning in Yerevan we went to the Iranian consulate for our visa, but it turned out that the needed information for our visa request did not yet arrive at the consulate. Bad timing, because Iran has its weekend on Thursday and Friday and Armenia on Saturday and Sunday, so we were stuck in Yerevan for at least 5 days. We didn’t really mind as we had a nice guest house and this gave us a very necessary break from the continuous travelling we had done so far. Yerevan as a city was nice but not particularly interesting like Tbilisi or Istanbul. We did manage to find an English spoken movie at a nice Cinema and we had our leaky air conditioning system fixed by a very helpful mechanic.  

Luckily the documentation for our visa arrived on Monday so we could pick up our visa the next day. To escape the city we headed for a night of bush camping at lake Sevan at 2000 meters altitude. The lake had a lot of exotic birds for Jeroen to photograph and we even had a pretty good internet connection to call friends and hear what we have been missing back home. 

The next day with our Iranian visa finally in our possession we left Armenia and headed for Iran. 


Because we didn`t want to cross the semi-warzone of Nagorno Kharabakh we took the secondary road to the border, which was a very scenic mountain dirt road, again full of potholes, which took us 2 hours to cover 30 km. Check out the dashcam video for footage of this challenging but also beautiful last leg of our journey through Armenia! 

Although at times very relaxing and beautiful, Armenia has not quite been the experience we were hoping for and we figure we should have consulted an Armenian friend of ours for some advice on where to go and how to deal with the officials here.  

We are looking forward to Iran now! 

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Part 5 (24 April - 5 May) Greece and Turkey



Maybe it`s because we fell in love with Albania, but entering Greece after Albania felt a bit like a cold shower to us. After a hassle-free border crossing (which included buying a duty-free bottle of Glenlivet, yay!) we found ourselves in a landscape much less lush and with endless road works, well, now we know where all the European money went ;-) Also the prices of food and accommodation tripled compared to Albania. Not what we had expected, but then again, we are getting a bit lazy and didn`t do much research either into this broke holiday-paradise. The Greek animals are better-behaving though, in Albania we had to dodge 4-legged creatures on every road (without warning signs) while in Greece every 100m a sign warned us for crossing sheep, deer, cows and wild hogs but we never saw one on the roads!



Our first stop was Ioannina where we found a simple but official campsite at a lake home to the regional rowing academy. From our car we could watch them shooting across the lake in 8- and 4-man boats, Olympians in the making! Every morning their warm-up consisted of a 10 lap run passing our car, which woke us up and made us follow their example by doing some much needed running ourselves.

The city itself has some nice sights including an old but active Byzantine church from which the eerie Byzantine chanting (singing) can still be heard. The first night we were treated to some severe rain showers and thunderstorms right above our heads with thunder so loud, it was almost scary. The rain didn’t stop until late afternoon the next day, which gave us plenty of time to plan the next leg of our journey.


We decided to head south, into the peninsula of Peloponnesus and visit the ancient sites of Mycenae and Delphi. Heading to Mycenae the landscape gradually changed from dull to one of great beauty, especially the area surrounding Mycenae is very scenic. In modern Mykines (2km from Mycenae) we found a campsite where we had a rare episode of classic role-division; Nicolette did the laundry and Jeroen played grease monkey by doing some needed tune-ups to the car.



Next day we visited the ancient site of Mycenae which once was the center of a vast empire ruled by mythological king Agamemnon around 3500 years ago (see the movie ‘Troy’ for a totally inaccurate but entertaining depiction of him). The site is not as nicely preserved as the Roman sites of Pompeii or Butrint but since it is 1500 years older, this is to be expected. We enjoyed it a lot and check out the awesome spider which headed right for us! (to all the South Park fans, we didn`t kill it J)   

After Mycenae, we headed for Delphi directly, skipping Athens in favor of Thessaloniki. The route took us over some very scenic roads, as the site of Ancient Delphi is located high up in the mountains. The site is stunningly beautiful; draped on a mountain slope with breathtaking views of the surrounding area. It features some reconstructed temples, a large theater and higher up the mountain a large stadium where the Pythian games, the predecessor of the Olympic games, were held. 




That evening we camped near the sea at a location suggested by Emmelie and Harley whom we met in Montenegro, the site can be seen in the dashcam video we posted earlier, it`s where we (almost) drove over the puppy dog J.



Thessaloniki is the nicest large city in Greece our guidebook stated, you should go there! Well, if this is the case than Greek cities are in a pretty bad state. Safe to say we did not like it very much and found it crowded and flooded with cars and their exhaust gasses. So after spending one night in a camper-park (see photo, it was a regular looking car park in the middle of the city, dedicated for campers) we headed for Alexandroupolis near the Turkish border. 

Now this is a nice Greek city! It has a nice atmosphere, its very clean and has a large campsite with lots of facilities to prepare for our trip through Turkey. The city itself has some very nice bars and eateries, and we could even find a shop that could provide us with black & white ‘incognito’ license plates for the car without an EU or NL logo J The only sad experience was the dead sea-turtles that we encountered on the Alexandroupolis beaches. We are not kidding, 2 of these majestic creatures were lying on the beach, apparently this happens every year as turtles returning to their birthplace are injured by fishing boats and nets.



Time to head for Turkey! We have decided to keep Turkey short and sweet (kinda like baklava J) and travel in a straight line along the Black Sea coast towards Georgia. We have 2 reasons for this: first is the internal (lots of protests) and external (lots of wars) conflicts in a country that is slowly sliding into a dictatorship. Second is that in 2016, the Ramadan period is from the 6th of June till the 5th of July. During this period it is prohibited in Iran by law to eat or drink anything, including water, when the sun is up and the dress-code is enforced even stricter. We don`t mind taken part in this, just not the entire duration of our stay in Iran, so we aim to enter Iran in the last week of May. 

Our first stop in Turkey is Istanbul, a huge metropolis positioned on both the European and the Asian continents and the symbolic start of the silk route into the East. The old center of Istanbul is a cultural mix ranging from young people dressed in the latest fashion to niqab covered Muslim ladies.

We found it fascinating that in Istanbul there are shops selling the most imaginative lingerie situated next door (and selling to the same clientele) to the shops selling all-covering Sharia (Islamic law) approved clothing. Since the latter is much needed for Nicolette to visit Iran legally (unfortunately for Jeroen the lingerie is not mandatory) we decided to buy such a ‘Sharia approved dress’ for Nicolette. She was determined to directly give it a try in the streets of Istanbul to see how it feels. Bad idea. Encountering an Islamic culture for the first time together with the confining effect of the clothing was a bit too much. The 20°C in Istanbul turned Nicolette into a walking shower, and to think that in Iran it will be 40°C didn`t make her very happy! On the positive side, it did provide much needed experience for the travels through Iran and gave Nicolette a brief insight in the daily life of a Muslim woman.

The city has been the focal point of terrorist attacks on tourists in Turkey, with suicide bombings in 2015 and 2016 costing many lives. When we walked through the city we noticed police and military armed with automatic rifles at every major tourist site and there were airport-like security measures in place at every museum. Somehow seeing all these security measures made us feel a lot less safe. The upside of all this misery is that Istanbul is no longer overrun by tourists, leaving the tourist attractions we visited pleasantly quiet.  


Highlight of our visit to Istanbul was the magnificent Topkapi palace and its surrounding grounds, which was once home to the Ottoman Sultans. The palace has been turned into a must-see museum, where many of the riches of the Sultans are on display, including an 86-carat diamond, the 4th largest in the world! 



The bazar of Istanbul was also very nice, still breathing the old ‘souk’ atmosphere of the old days, when silk-route traders could finally sell their merchandise after their perilous journey from China. Nowadays lots of Chinese products still find their way to the bazar of Istanbul, it just takes a lot less effort to get them there and the quality also isn`t what it used to be J

After Istanbul we headed east, towards the cities of Amasra and Sinop along the Black Sea coast. The winding coastal road connecting these cities has absolutely stunning views and we had plenty of time to admire them as 300km took us about 8 hours. The possibility to take this road will end soon though, because a highway is being built to replace it (partially in the Sea, see the picture of our GPS below) and when it becomes fully operational, the old road probably will no longer be used.

Trabzon was our last stop in Turkey, where we got a taste of the infamous Georgian driving style, a mad dash to fill up any empty space on the road. Apparently, leaving any space between you and the cars left, right and in front of you is for sissies. Fortunately our car makes an impression, giving us right of way in situations where we almost certainly would have been bulldozed over if we were driving a Fiat 500. In Trabzon we were taken good care of by the hotel manager, who made sure our car was in a safe spot (always a bit of worry in cities) and assisted us in finding a nice Turkish-style restaurant to end our visit to Turkey with.



We`ll come back to Turkey when the storms have died down because it sure is a beautiful country!

3 Berichten

Part 4 (7 April - 23 April) Montenegro - Albania



We booked a Ferry from Bari (Italy) to Bar (Montenegro), a 9 hour overnight trip on a shabby boat operated by a corporation with a pretty bad reputation. Safe to say, we were not looking forward to it. Getting on the boat was a 5 hour hassle, but once on board it wasn`t too bad as we were given a cinema-like chair in a pitch black room so we could get some sleep. As we took our seat we noticed the song coming out of the speakers: Sting – Message in a bottle (for those unfamiliar with the song, it is about a sending an SOS to the world) which we tried not to take as a bad omen J. The next morning when the sun lit up the room, we understood why the ferry company kept the lights off: the furniture was old, dirty, broken or ripped apart, but at least we safely arrived in Montenegro!


From Bar, we drove to the Bay of Kotor (a Norwegian fjord look-alike) on roads that were in a lot better state then most Italian roads are, where we found the most stunning views. At the best view along the coast, we stopped to take a picture and noticed a rusty sign that said ‘camping’. The term ‘camping’ was a bit of an overstatement, but we parked our car anyway and enjoyed the amazing view after which Jeroen went fishing. He didn’t have much luck; after being taught by a 100-year old local guy how to fish in this bay he caught 1 (very) small fish which was eaten by a cat when Jeroen wasn’t looking… 

There we met our first fellow ‘overlanders’, Swedish Emmelie and Kiwi Harley, who are on their way from South Africa to Sweden in their Land Rover Defender. It was cool to listen to their stories and to learn from their experiences and encounters along the way, they even went through Sudan and Egypt and crossed the border to Israel, something many people say is impossible nowadays. We ended up spending two great days together, saying goodbye felt sad and we hope to meet them again someday.

We left for a National Reserve south of Montenegro near the Albanian border, where we found a camp site where we could park next to the house of a Montenegro couple and use their facilities. When Nicolette entered the house to use the toilet she figured that we could have been a little bit pickier in choosing a place to stay. Flushing their toilet and cleaning anything in the house was apparently too much trouble, the dogs had constant itches and the couple smoked so much we had a hard time seeing the other side of the room.


The man was a very active moonshiner, making his own ‘Rakia’ from their plumtrees with which he kept filling our (and his own) glasses. After 1 sip Nicolette stopped drinking (bleh!), which as a woman is acceptable, but for Jeroen it wasn’t so easy to refuse, the man didn’t accept no for an answer. To return the favor Jeroen took out his precious whisky bottle, which he forgot to bring back to the car after dinner. The next morning Jeroen asked for his whisky, the man returned with an empty bottle, he had finished it by himself during the night! Oh well, we`ll just have to add it to the expenses J






The next day we managed to find an epic place to camp in nature with a view of the bird park. Check out the video and listen to the sounds of nature.


Also check out our dashcam video of Montenegro. 





Magical! That pretty sums up our impression of Albania. All our expectations were exceeded, roads are decent to very good, general safety is outstanding, the food is cheap and of excellent quality, and the hospitality and friendliness of the Albanian people has to be experienced to be believed. Albania is thinly populated and not yet discovered by tourism, which made us ‘the talk of the town’ passing the small villages; almost everyone waved and smiled as we drove by. Our opinion may have been influenced by our low expectations created by all the horror stories we have read and were told. 


Now there is some truth to these stories, as Albania has been through some particularly grim periods the past 60 years. After WWII, the country was plunged into isolation, led by Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha. After emerging from the communist era in the 1990's, Albania's weak economy was devastated by a series of pyramid schemes (partially backed by the government!) in which 70% of the population lost all their belongings. Civil war broke out in the entire country and it took almost a year before things settled down again. Then in 1998 the Kosovo war broke out, in which both the Albanians and the Serbs committed war crimes. From 2000 onwards the politics and economy of Albania stabilized slowly but steadily and nowadays a positive vibe can be felt in the whole country, as Albania is making it`s comeback!



We started our Albanian adventure in the mountainous north-east near Kosovo, where we drove on a brand new road to Bayram Curri. The sights we were treated to were straight from a Lord of the Rings set and jaw-dropping beautiful (picture from Panoramio due to a camera fail). 


We read about these mountains through a website “Journey to Valbona” created by an American named Catherine who came to Valbona, fell in love with the valley (and a handsome Albanian) and never left. She has created some excellent trail maps and marked each trail to promote tourism. In Valbona we were pointed to Camping Tradita where the views of the mountains were beautiful, the food in the restaurant turned out to be delicious and the people were very friendly. 

The Albanian mountains are home to many wild animals, such as brown bears, wolves, lynxes and venomous snakes. In other countries sightings are rare, not so in Valbona. We hiked a 13k mountain trail during which we encountered 3 horned vipers (the most venomous snake found in Europe), numerous lizards and birds and 1 unidentified 4-legged creature which stared at us for a while (we stared back!) and then slowly walked back into the forest. Exciting!



We also picked up 2 lovely dogs who stayed with us during the last 5K of our hike, followed us to the campsite and kept watch the whole night next to our car. Sounds cute, but throughout the night every mouse, lizard or fly got a five minute barking concert... The dogs turned out to belong to Catherine, so the next day we brought the dogs back and had a chat with her. She told us about her encounter with a mother bear and its cub last year which didn`t end too well. Upon noticing the cub she yelled enthusiastically for her boyfriend to come and see, which the mother bear didn’t like too much. The bear slammed her to the ground by whacking her in the face, after which it took off, leaving Catherine with a nice scar as a reminder.



We liked Valbona so much that we ended up staying for 4 days at Tradita enjoying the fresh mountain air, with a total bill of 56 euro’s (food, drinks, shower and tip included!)



Our next stop was the capital of Albania, Tirana. Our 2007 guidebook said ‘the most polluted city in Europe with trash everywhere and suicidal traffic, crossing the street in Tirana is only for extreme sports enthusiast’. So we were bracing ourselves for a genuine ‘3rd world country capital’ encounter.

Well, apparently the Tiranians (Tirans is probably not correct) have been spending the last 9 years cleaning up their city and taking driving lessons! Although busy we found the drivers in Italy far worse while cities like Florence are more littered then Tirana. Tirana is a lovely city with lots of young people visiting hip bars and with plenty of green to take a stroll through. There also are some very interesting museums, but the Albanians have a hard time figuring out what to do with their communist past. As wounds of this period run deep, most of their 'commie' history has been erased from view and the few remaining reminders are in pretty bad shape. 

We found the statues of Lenin and Stalin, during the communist era prominently positioned, now tucked away in the back yard of the national art museum, badly damaged, like they were garbage. We hope one day these statues will be restored and back on display as a reminder of this important part of Albanian history.

Jeroen was able to purchase a '35 years of prosperous socialism' propaganda book, pretty rare according to the 40yr old shopkeeper. He explained that he, after the 1990 fall of communism, joined in communist statue-demolishing and book-shredding which is why not many remain. Jeroen liked to believe him and probably paid way to much ;) but since the food and accommodation in Albania is so cheap it didn't really matter.

Divjaka-Karavasta National Park



After an overnight wild camp in the Karavasta Lagoon, we spotted the near-extinct Dalmatian Pelican.

(pictures by Nicolette, Jeroen is jealous)



Berat is an old Albanian town added to the Unesco heritage list because of its beauty.  And beautiful it was! 




Time for some beaches!


We drove through coastal mountains and over coastal roads with excellent views. We arrived at under-development and near-deserted Livadhi beach near the town of Himare and again were told by our 2007 guidebook to expect plastic-strewn beaches. We found nothing of the sort. Entrepreneur Dennis who manages the excellent Kranea campsite also does a fine job of keeping the beach clean and, more importantly, is a lamb-barbecue expert. Slowly cooked, it is amazing how good fresh lamb chops can taste (apparently our lamb was still walking happily in the fields with an Albanian Heidi that morning :).

Safe to say we had an excellent 4 days here! 

Blue eyed lake and Butrint


Before passing the border to Greece we had a relaxing picknick at the blue eyed lake (a natural 50+ meter deep spring shaped like an eye).


At our next stop we played Indiana Jones (Jeroen's BBB's know how much he likes this) at the Butrint archeological site, an ancient Greek and later Roman city in the middle of a national park, nowadays half submerged, overgrown and full of turtles, snakes, lizards, butterflies and birds. A perfect combination of Greek/Roman history and wildlife! 

In the afternoon we had another hassle-free border crossing from Albania to Greece and as we said in our Albania-dashcam-video, we will surely go back, hopefully to find the country in the same or maybe even better state than we left it!

4 Berichten

Part 3 (18 March - 4 April) From Pisa to Castellabate, Italy



We drove from Cinque Terre to Pisa to see the leaning tower, not expecting military security armed with assault rifles keeping a close eye on the crowds every move. Their presence didn`t worry anybody it seemed, and it was really amusing to see the poses people were assuming to get their photo taken (pushing, kicking, leaning into the tower, you name it, it happened) So as good budget-minded Dutchies we took out our self-made sandwiches with peanut butter and enjoyed the show. 



As we drove from Pisa to Florence on the B roads avoiding the toll fees, we were suddenly surprised by a pack of wild Lama’s (yes, the woolly spitting animals, not the comedians) on the side of the road. We stopped for some cool pictures, amazed to see them roam free in the middle of Italy. 







Relieved that we reached our camping without a scratch because of the crazy Italian way of driving (we found almost no cars in this part of Italy without damage of some sort), we chose to use the public transport to visit the city center. We found Florence to be a beautiful city, full of historical meaning with some breathtaking buildings and sculptures.

We visited many museums, churches and basilicas and felt small next to the enormous statues, paintings and buildings (as we are supposed to, us being good Catholics). We thought that we were visiting the city in low season so we were surprised to find it very crowded. The crowds mainly consisted of school kids on a field trip, which was pretty convenient as we could listen in on the teacher’s historical stories in a way that Nicolette never got at school. Jeroen has enjoyed a better education on these subjects than Nicolette, mainly because of his Latin classes in high school (but surely his love for Asterix and Obelix also has something to do with it J.) So he now has a full time job educating Nicolette as we visit places like Florence, Rome and Pompeii with such a rich history.


We left Florence to drive through the Chianti region and found the most beautiful (illegal) spot to camp so far. We pitched our car on top of a nice Tuscan hill, overlooking a valley and surrounded by olive trees and vineyards. Here we could play around with the drone, check out the videos soon!



We left Chianti and visited Siena for a walk through the city center, where we enjoyed lunch amidst lots of students on their lunch break at the famous and beautiful square “Il Campo”, where twice each year a truly mad horse race is being held (the race is mad, not the horses) in a tiny arena. There`s a nice vibe in that beautiful small town, highly recommended!


On our way to Rome we stopped at a nature reserve in San Lorenzo Nouvo, half way to Rome from Siena. We again found a sweet spot to camp for the night in a field near Lago di Bolsena, with only a dirt road to reach it and a nice view overlooking the region from up the hill. When Jeroen got out of the car the next morning he had an encounter with a “barking deer” as it is called, which came to investigate what our car was doing in his territory.  


The next day we drove for almost an hour on a B road connecting Florence and Rome when suddenly there was a road block with a sign “Road Closed”. No sign explaining an alternative route, no left, no right, our only option seemed to go back the way we came. Figuring what to do, we stood there a bit lost when an Italian man drove up to us and started talking to us in rapid Italian. We couldn’t understand a word of it which he eventually figured out from our bewildered faces and simply said: ‘Rome? You follow!’ We followed him up a very steep mountain road through a couple of mountain villages and half an hour later we were back on track to Rome. Without the help of this friendly Italian guy it probably would have taken a lot longer!

Road closed....
Road closed....



In Rome we stayed at a very luxurious camping (it`s still vacation guys Jjust 4km from the Vatican. We took the bus and the metro to visit the city and walked to the famous Spanish stairs, and we couldn’t believe the crowds there! For our Dutch readers; it kind of looked like Amsterdam on Queens Day! We forgot that it was the weekend before Easter and there were many tourist and officials from all over the world getting ready to see the Popes Urbi et Orbi at the Saint Peter square. This meant long lines at the Vatican, helicopters ferrying people above Rome and loads of military forces in the city, not the best time to visit.

We tried to get a look at the Trevi fountain but because of the crowds this almost impossible and decided to return on Monday; the picture on the left was taken on the much quieter Monday. So we decided to go off the beaten track (in Rome, yeah right) and went to a cinema to see the only English-spoken movie in town, appropriately called “Hail Ceasar”. The movie wasn`t that good, but what did make our evening were a couple of Dutch kids (between 18 and 20 we guess) sitting behind us whom obviously didn’t expect anyone else to speak Dutch. As soon as they sat down the queen-bee of the lot started gossiping about us (and others) complaining loudly about having to look at Jeroen`s bald head (she had a point there J), the fact that we were cozying up to each other (again, she had a point) but then, let’s just say, she took her comments a bit too far: time for action. Jeroen turned around and calmly said in proper Dutch: “Young lady, we are Dutch” then paused briefly to wait for the reaction, which came instantly. The girl sank back in her seat, eyes wide open and put her hand in front of her mouth. As she turned chalk white fearing what would come next, Jeroen continued ”But we really don’t care, enjoy the movie” and turned back around. The comments stopped instantly and we had a good laugh, knowing that she had learned a valuable lesson that evening. 

The next day, just before leaving the city we visited Saint Peter Square to see if we could arrange tickets for the Sistine chapel the next day. It was almost 6 in the evening and we saw people going into the Basilica. We followed this crowd and found that we were immediately granted admission. There was a mass going on we could witness from a short distance. We have visited a lot of beautifully build and decorated churches, but Saint Peters Basilica is absolutely amazing, and being able to attend a mass here certainly is one to strike from our bucket list. 

Purchasing next-day tickets for the Sistine chapel was not possible, so we tried the next morning only to find a two hundred meters long line! So we decided to go to the Colosseum instead. It was very nice, we rented an audio-video guide that contributed a lot to the whole experience and gave us an informative history lesson on how the people were entertained in those days. The Colosseum, which seated 50.000 people, has a very bloody history when you realize that at one point during a period of 123 days over 10,000 men (gladiators and prisoners sentenced to death) and 11,000 animals (from chicken to lions) died in publicly accessible games. With the Colosseum tickets we could also enter the Roman Forums (market places) and the ruins of the imperial palace, the Palatino. Dating from the 1st century AD, the forums and the Palatino occupy a massive area in the middle of Rome, good to see that this is being preserved for all to see. 

Pompeii & Herculaneum


In Pompeii we visited the well-preserved ruins of the old city which was devastated by an eruption of mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The place throws you back 2000 years ago, and you can easily imagine what life was like back then: many beautiful mosaiced floors and artifacts, and also grooves carved in the road from the many carriages. Pompeii made a big impression on us, so the next day we visited Herculaneum, a city that had undergone the same disastrous faith as Pompeii, but was even better preserved. What got our imagination going was that a substantial part of the ancient city is still buried under the city of Ercolano, which was build on top of it. The streets in ancient Herculaneum suddenly end into a wall, on top of which the slums of the Ercolano begin. Because excavations of Herculaneum started in the early 1800`s and many of the early finds were stolen or carted off to some private collection one can only imagine the richness of history that is still waiting to be found. 



From Pompeii we went to Castellabate were we had arranged a villa owned by a friend of Nicolette’s mother. We knew there was no heating in the house and were warned by the owner it could get pretty cold in there, but we figured it was the south of Italy so really, how cold could that be? Well apparently the owner was right: very cold! So for the first three days we were not able to relax, fortunately we had some chores to keep us busy & warm. By the fourth day the house had gotten a little warmer and we arranged a heater, nice!!!


In Castellabate we met with Nicolette’s brother, his wife and two kids and had a lovely time together. Because it was Easter, Nicolette and her nephew Jelmer played hide and seek with 22 chocolate Easter eggs for about 30 times. Again, again, again they went. 

Kids are great for a day or three ;-) but now aunty Nicolette and uncle Jeroen are going to relax before heading off to Montenegro!

3 Berichten

Part 2 (4 March - 17 March) From Monaco to Cinque Terre, Italy

Part two of our journey was scary, exiting, challenging and great fun!


Monaco & Monte Carlo


We thought it would be fun to drive through Monaco & Monte Carlo with our 3-ton truck as we passed it anyway on our trip from the Cote d`Azur to Milan. And fun it was, but mainly pretty scary as the roads have narrow hairpin turns up and down the mountain and are filled with cars that cost the same as the average house in Holland. So we were aware of the fact that if we would crash into anything here, we would have a very displeased insurance company.  But Nicolette did a good job, a few close encounters with a nun and a suicidal moped driver, but not an (additional) scratch on us or on any of our fellow road users and we were rewarded with breathtaking views of this movie-set-like country/city/town/centre-of-the-universe (whatever they like to be called). 

Imagine, we had to turn right up here
Imagine, we had to turn right up here
Nun taking a leap op faith
Nun taking a leap op faith
View of Monaco / Monte Carlo
View of Monaco / Monte Carlo

Italy - Milan


We crossed the Italian border and the sight changed into a true Italian landscape instantly, the change in just a few km`s is amazing. We drove to Milan where we planned to spend the night and visit the city. Nicolette has been in Milan many times during the period she worked at IDC, and her impression of the city was not very positive. How wrong she was. The city turned out to be great fun and beautiful if you just know where to look. We got some advice from the friendly camping owner which areas to visit and where to grab a bite, and decided to follow his instructions. We discovered a part of Milan off the beaten track called Lombardy with a surprisingly cool restaurant called "Le Striatelle" where the food is not too expensive and so typical Italian. We found many people in the streets, bars, restaurants, all very lively,  Loved it!

Drive to wintersports


Next morning we drove to the airport to pick up Loes and Sebastiaan so we could drive to Val Gardena (Ortisei) for a week of winter sports. They had reserved a rental Panda prepared for snowy conditions but at the collection Hertz decided in all their wisdom to give us a car with summer tires. But no worries, winter tires would only cost us a measly 20 euro per day extra ( which for 7 days rent adds up to double the rental fee). Unacceptable, so this turned out to be a heated 2 hour discussion, which we won in the end, and we were awarded a Panda 4x4, which turned out to be the best car we could have hoped for.

Navigation showed Ortisei as a 4 hour drive, in normal conditions, but this was the day the mother of all snowstorms decided to hit the Alps. It already rained heavily all the way to the mountains and as we gained altitude the rain changed into snow and visiblity turned to near-zero. So we drove slowly and steadily.

Because we started our trip 2 hours later than expected, it was dark when we reached the mountains which was also the moment the snowfall got worse, a lot worse. Then at the worst moment possible, we took a wrong turn which made us go up a steep, snow covered mountain track where we had to turn after 2km of climbing. Going up was no problem, but within 50 meters on the way back down, Nicolette lost control over the Toyota and it started sliding. She steered towards the mountain wall to prevent the car from sliding down the mountain, luckily the car stopped just before hitting the wall. Jeroen then engaged the 4 wheel drive and took over. He did great (going down at an average speed of 6kph) and got us back on track safe and sound. 

15cm before crashing into the wall coming to a stop, thank god!
15cm before crashing into the wall coming to a stop, thank god!
Snow plow coming to the rescue
Snow plow coming to the rescue

Going up the correct road we noticed many 2WD cars at the side of the road stranded, we were still ok. Then we saw some cars at the side of the road which had crashed into each other or into some other obstacle, we were still ok. Then everything came to a grinding halt as we had to climb a 14% incline which had almost 10 cm of snow on it (with only 8km left to go). There was a chain of stranded cars on our side of the road blocking our way, not able to go up or get back down. We thought we would get stranded there, but the next moment a snow plow came to the rescue, we jumped in our cars and followed it in its tracks all the way to Ortisei. Many other cars tried the same but couldn’t follow and got stranded. Our next challenge was that the apartment was situated on top of a 20% little street, no possibility of parking below, so we took a leap of faith, put the pedal to the metal and made it, sooooo happy and relieved that we and the car were undamaged that evening. Both our cars did great considering the circumstances. Panda 4x4 did better than many Audi’s, BMW’s and Volkwagens. 

Crashed Porsche on the side of the road, ouch!
Crashed Porsche on the side of the road, ouch!
On the right you see the steep snowy road we had to go up
On the right you see the steep snowy road we had to go up

Wintersports in Ortisei


The next day we could start to enjoy our winter sports week together and it was great! Lots of fresh snow, sometimes limited sight due to clouds, but overall good conditions and more importantly, no broken bones or torn ligaments. In the evening we played Ligretto and Wazabi, which (especially Ligretto, go look it up, it is one crazy card game) brought out a highly fanatic side of us. We celebrated Loes her birthday on the Friday with a delicious restaurant dinner.

Stuff we left behind
Stuff we left behind

Before we left Ortisei we gave up many luxury items from our car realizing we enjoy our space more than the comfort these items provide. You should have seen the face of the owner of the apartment when we offered to give her our camping toilet (never used!). We left it all with them and already fear that we will regret leaving the toilet behind, but it saves so much space that we are convinced we made the right choice. 

The trip back to Milan airport fortunately was a lot less eventful then the week before and we made it just in time for Sebas and Loes to catch their plane back to Holland. Next stop for us, Cinque Terre!

Cinque Terre


After a week in the snow we could use some sun & sea so we decided to head for Cinque Terre. These are 5 villages situated on the coastline of the Italian Riviera a little to the south of Genova, and are an UNESCO world heritage site. People used to be able to walk along 4 beautiful trails connecting all 5 villages, but in 2011 2 of these trails unfortunately were taken out by massive landslides, so we were able to visit 3 villages with a nice view on the 4th. The walk was quite tough with lots of uneven Inca-trail-like steps carved from the rock, but look at the view, spectacular!

Time for some culture, we`re off to Pisa, Florence and Siena.

5 Berichten

Part 1 (25 Feb - 3 March) The start of our journey from Haarlem to the Cote d'Azur

Our first on-the-road blog entry! So many things already to write about, lets sum up the events of this week:


25th of February we left home, we must admit it was pretty emotional having to say goodbye to our family and friends. What we experienced was so much love and care, we felt blessed. Everyday life is so busy that we tend to take this love for granted, saying goodbye made us realize this. 

First night we stayed at Durbuy in the Ardennes, at a campsite Jeroen and I went before and really liked (Grand-Bru). We had a blast listening to the fascinating stories of the new owners Errol, Petra and Monique. Camping at -4C isn`t exactly comfy, but it was a great start of our journey.

The next morning we set course to the tiny village of Billy-Sous-Mangiennes in the north of France where we visited the mother of our friend Ewoud, she lives there in a beautiful villa at the country site. We enjoyed her hospitality, stories, jokes and her museum-like house complete with collection of old cars and car parts (pm us if you need any Mercedes part, we`ll hook you up ;) )

Next stop: Paris! After a classic encounter with rush hour traffic at the peripherique we arrived at a busy campsite in the middle of the city, next to Bois de Boulogne. Quickly installed our 'bedroom' for another cold night and used the camping shuttle to visit the city centre. No time for a true french dining experience, so burger fast food it was. A quick walk along Champs Elysee, to the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel tower and the Louvre. Nice! We slept like babies only to be woken up at 7 AM by the loud noise of chainsaws cutting down trees, on a Sunday, those French heretics! It sure made us get up early for the next leg of our journey.

First to Bayeux to admire the oldest cartoon in the world; a 900 year old and 70m long tapestry that tells the story of the battle of Hasting in 1066. It`s beautifully preserved and pretty graphic with chopped off heads and limbs and all, and even depicts Halley`s comet as a bad omen.

In the vicinity of Bayeux lies Omaha Beach, the D-Day beach where strong German resistance cost so many American lives. It sounds cliche, but although little remains from those days it is very impressive to see it with you own eyes.



A little to the south lies Mont Saint-Michel, which is a definite go-to place on our bucket list. Budget-wise we could choose between a good restaurant or a campsite with shower; we chose the restaurant, and found a great french one (Le Grillon) in the tiny village of Pontorson where we made all heads turn because we were probably the only non-locals there and the made the average age go down a lot :) Finding a place to pitch our car is never easy in the dark but we found a nice field, with Mont Saint-Michel as our view, so beautiful!! Visiting Mont Saint-Michel felt like a day of time travel to the middle ages.  Amazing experience!

The next 2 days we drove to Les Camargue, a nature reserve with flamingos and wild horses, were we arrived late only to find all campsites were closed for the season, so we parked at a car park along the road, very abandoned. But at 7.30 AM (we were up and dressed) a knock at the door, and an official asking for 12 euro parking fee. Surprised by this we obediently paid the fee. 

From the flamingos we drove to Mandelieu at the Cote d`Azur, through St. Tropez and along a most beautiful coastal road to enjoy a day of rest at a nice campsite with WiFi and a shower. After 3 nights without, these everyday commodities are very welcome (we know; not very hardcore travelling , but hey, this part of our journey is supposed to be our vacation!). Here we visited the holiday park I (Nicolette) spend my summer holidays as a child. So cool to visit, to recognize the park, the house and the facilities, but nothing of the town. I think back then, I didn't care much about that. Now I see it is actually a very nice (and ridiculously posh!) place. 



Tomorrow we will drive to Milan where we will meet Jeroen`s brother Sebastiaan and his girlfriend Loes to start our winter sports week. More about that in our next blog. 

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One last family picture, and we're off on our adventure! First destination Ardennen. Yessss

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Tomorrow our adventure finally begins!

Tomorrow is the big day that we leave to start our journey, last packing, last goodbyes, and then we are off. Feels like Bilbo Baggins, we're going on an adventure! Exciting!

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The Route

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