What’s overlanding? Travelling Patagonia with Dragoman

Have you heard about overlanding? I hadn’t until I travelled Patagonia on Gus, a sturdy orange truck who drew looks everywhere she went and provided a homely if a little drafty home for our group.

The idea of overlanding is to travel off the beaten track, as a group, with your own truck. I travelled with Dragoman, a company who’s been in the business since the 80s, and has routes covering Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Indian sub-continent. I joined the group in Santiago – like most in my group, although some had been on the truck longer – and we set off for five weeks on board Gus.

Overlanding trucks become your home for the time you’re travelling on them. Gus was our vehicle, but also our kitchen, our DJ, our workplace, our living room, our late-windy-night hangout; it housed our bags, food, tables and chairs, tents and somehow also fitted 24 grown people.

Packing up after a windy dinner

Being studious and updating our travel diaries

Jacolien loves nothing more than flapping dishes to get them dry

You’ll need to be flexible, adventurous and ready to get your hands dirty if you want to enjoy life on the road. A driving day goes like this: you’ll get up at the crack of dawn, zip up your bag, pack your tent, eat a quick breakfast, get in the truck and drive. You’ll get one or two breaks in the morning to stretch your legs or wee in a bush. Lunch will be on a sidewalk by a supermarket, or cooked for you by one of the cook groups and served on the side of the road, eaten on well-loved low stools in the cover of the truck. Then off you go again, perhaps with a shopping stop to pick up groceries for the evening, all the way until an appropriate field is found to camp in. Then tents go up (more or less easily depending on the wind), bottles are cracked open, the cooking team gets to work, a bonfire is lit up and you’re soon eating fuming spag bowl in the pearly evening light.

There are bad days: we found ourselves entering Tierra del Fuego in graying weather. A few hours later, as we stopped for lunch, rain was falling hard. We parked up by a seemingly abandoned administrative complex, struggled to get a pair of hobs on in the rain to boil the kettle for some hot drinks, while we dined like (fallen) kings on cold pasta so compact it felt like cake and cold tomato sauce straight out of the packet.

You’ve got your insufferably stuffy, long driving days when even the breeze coming through the open windows is hot and leaves your eyes dry with dust. You’ve got nights so windy that you wake up every hour or so to check that your fly sheet is still attached to your tent. You’ve got lunch stops at services where the only option is a sandwich filled with a tough chewy slice of beef. You’ve got miserable evenings, flapping wet dishes in the drizzly wind after yet another version of spag bol.

But the good days more than make up for it. One night we stopped Gus right at the border between Chile and Argentina. The wind was so intense we had six people putting up the one tent and a seventh running after a flying peg bag. Then the sun came out, the wind slowed down, and a rainbow came up as we sipped on mulled wine. The cooking team got to peeling potatoes, some went for a walk, a big few sat down to retrace the last few days in their travel diaries, and I sat in the truck, typing away. Overlanding has its own rhythm and if you manage to get onto it, you can get filled with such happiness that it gives you that: this, now this is why I’m travelling.

We found this abandoned house in the Tierra del Fuego and decided to make it home. The Ghost House was the location of some of the trip’s most memorable moments: a dinner cooked inside, a dance party to the light of head torches, and an “actual” bathroom – as seen below

On days without driving, you’ll be stationed in a town with time to go and explore on your own. Depending on the country you’re in, it could be museums, day trips, hikes, sporting activities, or just a day off sitting in a coffee shop to update your blog… You’ll share a hostel room with your truckmates, alternating taking over the kitchen to cook yet more pasta, or heading out for the first vegetable in sight in weeks.

I mentioned Gus being our workplace. For me, stop days meant getting to work on cleaning the truck. Each in our group got given a job to do during our time travelling: some were in charge of security, others of setting up our kitchen sink and handwash station, others still of loading and unloading our backpacks into the back locker.

One of the parts of overlanding that seems to most confuse people is the kitty. It’s not a truck pet, but rather the common fund that all passengers contribute to at the beginning of the trip and that serves to pay for group spends: lunches and dinner while camping, mostly, plus campsite fees and the occasional team punch. It’s an aspect of overlanding that helps it be a relatively cheap way to travel, as a lot of the spending is spread across the group. And with all cook groups being keen to shop cheap, there is sometimes money leftover at the end. We had enough for a tango show and a few bills each!

But like so much when it comes to travelling, I’d say the most important, and undoubtedly best part of overlanding, is the people. This mode of travelling isn’t for introverts. Like I said earlier, the truck can get a little cramped, so I’d end up falling over people and asleep on their shoulders before knowing what their day job was. I would get stuck knocking knees for 10 hours with truck mates and shared a tent with someone who was barely more than a stranger. But that’s a quick and easy way to make great friends real fast. We shared snacks, jokes, stories, photos and clothes; we experienced together some of the most beautiful places on Earth and some of the best moments of our lives. Such as taking a walk with a dozen people through fields and streams, with sheep loudly bleating as we walked around the few tombs of the smallest cemetery I’d ever seen, placing sheep bones by headstones and sharing one white wine cup between most of us. Or sitting down for a lunch of empanadas, sweaty and exhausted, at the foot of Mount Fitz-Roy. Or dancing around a bonfire to Macklemore’s Downtown like it’s the last night on earth.

On our way to lunch by Fitz Roy 

The cemetery mentioned above

The gang at Torres del Paine

If you’re curious about overlanding, don’t hesitate to leave your questions in the comments – I’d love to get more people to experience life on the road, is a big orange truck…

3 Comment

  1. Papou says: Reply

    “Gus” what? Nearly seems as fun a scout camp…

  2. maminette says: Reply

    unbelievable !! 24 persons living during 5 weeks in that big and slow truck . I hope you have odd , beautiful stops (towns, landscape…)
    Thank you for your vivid account .
    Attractive for young people but impossible for old ones

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