This photo shows the group we travelled through Ethiopia with, including our guide and driver. We are all standing in front of Christie, our truck.
Our first sight of Christie

Overlanding is defined as ‘travelling a long distance over land to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal’.  There is also usually an element of self-reliance associated with an overland trip which you wouldn’t get with any other form of travel, that is to say, the vehicle carries everything the traveller needs in order to survive in ‘off the beaten track’ locations – food, water and shelter.  Applying this definition, when we embarked on our tour around Ethiopia, we were definitely overlanding virgins.  Previous trips around Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and other far flung places, when we were transported in air-conditioned minibuses and deposited in four-star hotels every night just don’t meet the criteria!

We first considered overlanding more than ten years ago when we saw one of Dragoman’s trucks at a travel show.  I was very taken with the idea of spending several months travelling the world, living out of such a head-turning vehicle.  Life, however, got in the way and the idea was pushed to the back of our minds.  Last year, at the Destinations Show in London, we again spotted a Dragoman truck.  This time, we went so far as to get on board, watch a presentation and listen to a talk by a company representative.  Our interest in this form of travel was reignited, but, at the time, we were not in a position to do anything about it.  Then our circumstances changed, fate intervened and, with little time to prepare, we found ourselves booked on to a 21 day Dragoman overlanding trip from Addis Ababa to Gondar in Ethiopia.  What had we done?  Would we be able to cope with this far from luxurious trip?  Thankfully, the answer to this question turned out to be a resounding ‘yes’ – we had an amazing time!!
 
Christie in the Simien Mountains
We flew to Addis a few days before the start of our overlanding journey.  The first sight we got of our truck, Christie, was when we returned to our hotel with our guide, Yuhn, after a day out exploring the city.  We were all surprised and delighted to see her!  Later that evening, we got to meet Kate, our tour leader, David, our driver, and the rest of the group we would be travelling with.  I had assumed that the majority of our fellow travellers would be seasoned overlanders and I was a little nervous about meeting them and finding out that we were the only novices.  In the event, of our eight travelling companions, only one of them had been overlanding before.  For the rest of us, this would be our first time.  I felt reassured!
The next morning, we set off on our journey.  For the first of many times, we had to load our luggage into Christie’s back locker, a task that involved one of our number grabbing hold of a rope and hauling themselves up inside whilst another person passed the bags to them.  Once the luggage was loaded, we boarded the truck, found a seat and had our ‘truck briefing’ from Kate.  Christie has 22 seats so, as there were only 10 people in our group, we had the luxury of a double seat each – plenty of room to spread out!  As the trip progressed, I was very grateful for the space – I don’t think I would have enjoyed the trip nearly as much if we’d had a full truck!  Kate explained to us the normal overlanding etiquette of changing seats every day, moving around the truck to give everyone the chance to try every seat.  This worked very well and meant that no one person could hog the table or would have to put up with the dodgy window all the time!  Not that we had any such issues really.  For a group of strangers thrown together, we all got on surprisingly well.  We were the only couple – the rest of our party were all individual travellers.  We ranged in age from late twenties to late seventies and hailed from the UK, Ireland, the USA, Canada and Australia.  As you would expect on a trip of this kind, we were all pretty well like-minded people and one of the highlights of the journey for me was swapping travel stories with them and being inspired as to where we want to go next!
Anyway, back to the briefing, Kate explained all the features of the truck, including the fridge, the library and the on-board safe for storing our valuables.  Crucially, she told us where to find the toilet paper and the trowel for digging a hole, should the need arise!  She also advised us that it was our responsibility to keep Christie clean and germ free, sweeping and mopping her regularly and using hand sanitiser every time we got on or off.  We were told about the rules associated with Christie, too.  These were few, but the most important thing to remember was that she was a truck, NOT a bus!!  We were threatened with severe penalties for using the ‘B’ word, but, for some of our group, they just couldn’t help themselves, even at the very end of our three-week journey!
With our little chat over, we hit the road.  That first day was a long one – 13 hours driving to our overnight stop in Debre Markos, but Christie proved to be very comfortable and most of us were kept occupied just by watching the changing scenery through the window.  For me, this was how I spent all of our driving days.  Most of our driving was over rough terrain or up and down steep inclines, making it very slow going, but meaning that we could take reasonably good photos as we went along.  Others in the group spent the time listening to music, chatting, or playing cards – our Australian travelling companion taught us all an interesting game with an equally interesting name, ‘Arseholes’!!  Having so much space on board meant that we could mix with the others when we felt like it, but, equally, we could have time alone.
We often drove for hours at a time, with no opportunity to stop in towns for refreshments and toilets, so toilet stops were made at the roadside.  Wherever we decided to stop, even if we were apparently in the middle of nowhere, people would appear, invariably trying to sell us something!  Finding a bit of privacy was often difficult, so much so that, after a few days, some of our group had adopted a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude to being observed!  My first experience on day one had me being watched by a little boy and his goat which kind of put me off and I avoided going in the bushes for the rest of the trip!  Having said that, some of the facilities we did get to use were so bad that they would have you running for the trees!
Enough of toilets!  Back to overlanding!  One of Christie’s features that we weren’t told about on that first morning, but which was shown to us later in the day when we began our 1.5km descent into the Blue Nile Gorge, was the roof seats.  By opening hatches at the front and the back of the truck, we had access to eight seats on the roof from where we could get fantastic views of the stunning scenery we were driving through.  For safety reasons, we could only use these when we were going slowly.
 
Mark in a roof seat!

 

The view from inside the truck when people were using the roof seats!
Where Christie really came into her own, though, and where overlanding differs from other types of travel, is when it came to camping, but that will be the subject of a later post! 

 

The only thing I didn’t particularly like about the whole overlanding experience was that we didn’t have a local guide.  I don’t travel just to see, I want to understand what I’m seeing.  We had guides with us when we stopped in places of interest, but I missed the insight a local person would have given us as we were driving.  It was the first time our crew had done this particular trip, too, so they were unable to shed any light on what we were seeing through the windows.  Would I overland again?  Yes, definitely, but I would choose a trip which had a local guide. 
 
Our group with Christie on our last evening together

 

Waving goodbye to Christie!
 

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