Adventure Special, part 6: Never say die...

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28 May 2024
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Dot on the landscape: deep in the dunes of the Lut desert : credit: © Martina and Tobias Baumeler
Concluding our Adventure Special, we meet a couple whose world tour opened their eyes to how vast and supportive the Land Rover community is

Martina and Tobias’ 110, Olga, is their home-from-home

Our journey began full of excitement; after three years of planning and transforming our Defender into an overland camper with just our own hands, we hit the road, embarking on the adventure we’d dreamt of for so long. Full of enthusiasm, we set out to explore the world, relax in dream places and drive remote trails. But then, only three months after we set off on our world tour, our dream teetered on the brink of collapse. In one short moment, everything changed – our 27-year old Defender 110 slipped off the track, tumbled down a slope, and rolled over. Our world was literally turned upside down, leaving us disoriented and unsure what the next steps were. Was our dream about to end so shortly after it had just begun? Did we have to return home, having barely scratched the surface of the many countries we wanted to visit?

Tobias escapes the Defender after the off-road crash

What happened next would be the essence of what our journey turned out to prove to us. Strangers became our saviours, offering support and helping us to move forward. Together, we managed the challenge of salvaging and rebuilding our beloved 110, so that we didn’t have to return home. After three gruelling months straightening, fettling and repairing the damaged Defender in a Turkish workshop, we were ready to continue our journey around the world.

Olga underwent serious surgery in Turkey

With renewed optimism, we continued through the Caucasus into Iran, where we were enveloped in hospitality unlike any other we’d experienced. Out of the blue, we received invitations for meals, overnight stays and excursions. The joy in people’s faces upon seeing tourists was heartwarming. They generously shared their culture with us, fostering an exchange that filled our hearts with gratitude.

Hospitality in Iran; a delicious meal, traditional clothes and a floor to sleep on

Some ‘roads’ are only driveable at low tide; faithful Olga takes it all in her stride

We then explored the rest of the Middle East for seven months. The Arabian Peninsula, with its lonely deserts, cheeky camels and vibrant culture, fascinated us. Our Defender proved its worth, taking us to remote places accessible only by a 4x4, allowing us to immerse ourselves in untamed nature.

Cheeky camels in the Middle East – this one stole the guys’ breakfast

The deserts became our sanctuary, and we often spent several days alone in these magical places. This open country also became a big playground for us with lots of adventure. For example, when we decided to cross the largest sand desert, the Rub’ al Khali, also known as the empty quarter, on our own from east to west, where 1000 miles of dunes without roads, paths or civilization were to be conquered. We researched and prepared ourselves for weeks, and after informing local guides and other travellers, packing our car and filling the diesel tank and additional fuel cans, we set off.

Help is always at hand when you drive a Land Rover

We left the new transit route, which leads from Oman through the desert to Riyadh, at a random place and drove out over endless sandy tracks. Prepared but cautious, we embarked on this journey, facing the wilderness with a mix of freedom and fear. What if our car breaks down? What if we have a medical emergency? Despite all the preparation and protection with satellite communication devices, the drive into the middle of nowhere took a lot of courage.

But we didn’t regret it. The forces of nature we encountered left us in awe, and for four days we made our mark on the endless canvas of sand, driving approximately ten hours each day.

The drive through the desert landscape had a few challenges in store for us. At one point, in the middle of a sand dune, we could no longer start our engine. After a long search, we discovered that our starter battery’s fuse had blown. The problem was solved faster than the search took. But another problem was lying in wait behind the next dune…

A reminder to walk dunes before you drive them... weee!

Grains of sand blown by the wind made the plain difficult to read; for a long section, we drove straight ahead without any elevations. Suddenly, totally out of the blue, that changed. A rise with a sharp drop sent the Defender into the air. A rough landing later, we realised that our extra water canisters were empty. Now not only is our interior completely soaked, but we are also almost out of water. Would this be the reason why we have to leave the desert sooner than planned? Nope – the water spill was a mere inconvenience by comparison.

On the third day, in the middle of the towering dunes, a loud noise exploded from beneath Olga. A look under the Land Rover revealed the bad news: the bolt which holds the front differential’s pinion flange had sheared. The propshaft had come off, flailing around at speed, and the gears in the front diff were destroyed. There’s nothing but sand and high dunes around us for miles, and no help could reach us out here for quite some time.

Tobias assesses the damaged front diff, and makes a plan

The noise and violence of the propshaft coming loose had shaken us, but we started immediately to look for a way to help ourselves out of the situation. Toby managed to remove the remnants of the broken bolt and fit a new (albeit shorter) one, which allowed us to escape the high dunes. We limped 45 miles on, until we reached the more level part of the desert, where we had to take the propshaft off. With just rear-wheel drive and relying on significantly lowered tyre pressures for grip, we conquered the final 250 miles of desert terrain.

Our heart rates stayed high, and the sense of relief was immense when we finally hit paved roads again. However, we were still far from civilization and our 110 was still wounded.

Land Rover enthusiasts wherever you go

​​​​​​But, as we experienced often, the wonderful Land Rover community came through for us in an unexpected way. A British Defender enthusiast, Rory Lowther, who was living in Saudi Arabia and for some reason drove a LandCruiser, warmly invited us into his home. Over five days, he offered us advice, support, and ultimately, a piece of his own Discovery 2 – a functioning front differential – to replace our damaged one, as we couldn’t track down the spare part needed. This kind gesture was a remarkable show of support. A big thank you to Rory for his generosity and help.

The landscapes change drastically across continents – here, epic Africa

We were able to hit the road again and our journey led us to Jordan, Israel and then to the next continent: Africa. We travelled only by land, which was a challenge in itself. After three days of discussion and a lot of paperwork at the border between Israel and Egypt, we finally reached the new continent. Fascinated by the new landscapes, a Land Rover saying which had become well-known to us on our travels accompanied us again: ‘Always sick, never dead’.

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African locals always friendly, intrigued and interested in the 110

Getting stuck is always a risk, so self-recovery is a vital skill to have

Sudan surprised the Baumelers with its beautiful sands and luscious palm trees

Roadside Diner, African style

​​​​​​Olga was in need of some maintenance, so we moved from workshop to workshop, spending many days on self-repairs. Despite the ailments, our trusty Defender took us everywhere, over every obstacle and beyond every hill. On this continent too, we repeatedly benefited from the incredible Land Rover community, and we’re overwhelmed with gratitude to be part of it.

Self-sufficient repairs in the middle of a city in Saudi Arabia

Our adventure was filled with stories too numerous for this article, such as finding out about a pregnancy in Tanzania, repairing a crack in the chassis ourselves within four weeks, and the transit home journey from South Africa to Switzerland within ten weeks because our new family member was on the way.

An experience they will never forget

The endless stories and adventures extend far beyond the snapshot of our travels that you have just read about here. These, and more, will be shared in our upcoming travel movie, capturing the essence of our extraordinary journey.

 

More about Olga

All the guys’ gear (and themselves)

​​​​​​We had the following criteria when looking for a vehicle to travel around the world with. For a start, we needed four-wheel drive with good off-road ability, and basic mechanicals with as little reliance on electronics as possible. This naturally meant a 4x4 from a number of decades ago, rather than merely a few years ago.

As we both already had an admiration and love for Land Rovers, we chose a Defender 110 station wagon from 1997.

The back of Olga is a cosy living room no matter where you are

We converted our Defender, lovingly nicknamed ‘Olga’, into a motorhome ourselves, from adding essentials such as a fuel-fired heater, dual-battery system, fridge and solar charging, to designing and building the interior fittings to incorporate plenty of living and storage space. The only thing we didn’t do ourselves was fit the pop-up roof. Once the conversion work was completed, we were ready to hit the road and be completely self-sufficient, as long as we carried water and food on board.

 

Film star to be

The pair travelled 56,000 miles across 44 countries in two and a half years

Roll-over accident, African jail, many breakdowns and huge hospitality… The adventures and mishaps came thick and fast on our 2 1/2 year trip around the world. We are processing our experiences in the form of a travel film. This film shows not only our journey through this beautiful world, but a journey of growing and developing ourselves; the epic proof that solution-orientation and working as a team are the key to overcoming every problem.

Olga's route around the world

More information will be coming soon on our website and Instagram. We would really appreciate your support. Be part of the journey by following us on Instagram: @olgaontour_. Or read more about us on our website: www.olgaontour.ch

 

See all other five parts of our Adventure Special here.

 

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