Here is a summary of some of the minor pieces of equipment we carry that are so useful on a daily basis we now couldn’t imagine adventuring without them. At the start of any trip it’s difficult to know exactly what to take when you have limited space and budget but as this list of little gems proves, it’s often the most basic, cheap and unassuming objects which are the most ingenious, utilised and valued.
The Red Basket
Pegless Elastic Washing Line
'Baby Legs' Torch
Sticky Back Velcro
Knife, Fork and Spoon Set
Galileo Pro Maps App
Sunglass Case Multi-holder
Following on in our ‘Adventure Annoyances’ series we look now from the surface of the roads to those driving on them, specifically the Bad drivers. Every country has atrocious drivers; only some have more than others, the worst offenders we have found being in Albania, Turkey, Russia and Georgia. Tailgating is a huge problem in all countries, with cars literally less than 2m from your rear bumper at speeds of more than 50kph.
The Georgians & Russians in particular have a unique style of overtaking, which involves passing as close as possible to your vehicle; behind, along side and in front. We have witnessed vehicles overtaking vehicles that were already overtaking other vehicles. We frequently see people being forced off the road by on-coming overtaking vehicles, usual accompanied with a kind, informative light flash which states “I’m coming through, even though you have right-of-way and I’m going to have to force you to brake and swerve”. The hard shoulder, when it exists, is also a valid lane for ‘undertaking’.
We rode in several Taxis in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi and not once did I see the drivers use their mirrors. One driver purposefully inched sideways todays a lady driver to intimidate her and another reached out his window and snapped off the wing mirror of another car who refused to move out his way.
Outside of Europe no one uses baby seats in cars, it’s not unusual to see children playing on dashboards, sat on laps (without seatbelts) and standing in the gap between the two front seats. In Bishkek (a city renowned for it’s chaotic, fast traffic) we witnessed a 5-year-old boy steering the car from his fathers lap whilst dad sat back and ate a sandwich.
On one occasion in Armenia crossing an icy, snowy pass we encountered a white Lada on its roof being retrieved from down a steep verge. 30 minutes later the same white Lada overtook us on a blind bend!
Seemingly it doesn’t matter what the driving conditions are, the drivers don’t seem to change their driving habits. We had several near misses in fog because other drivers failed to use their lights; rain, snow and ice also have no effect on drivers speed or care. Bright sunshine in your eyes? Just cover your driver’s window completely with a towel, shading your eyes and also obscuring your entire peripheral view. Why just drive when you can multitask? - Combine it with messaging on your phone, reading the paper or eating your dinner?
The condition of the cars also doesn’t fill you with confidence, bald tyres, broken windscreens, no lights and often completely overloaded (and that’s not just our car!), sometimes to the point where you are swerving to avoid tumbling items from the truck ahead; from rocks and gravel to onions and potatoes.
One positive side to all of the bad drivers (excluding taxis!) in the countries mentioned is that these motoring misdemeanours are rarely carried out in an aggressive fashion. People seem to accept each other’s stupidity, dangerous manoeuvres and blatant disregard for human life as all part of normal, daily road use. Horns are beeped cheerfully to let others know you’re about to do something reckless and stupid, rather than as a hostile reaction to others foolish and careless driving. Narrowly missing a head-on collision at 60kph on a blind bend from an oncoming, overtaking pickup with windscreen obscured by the tons of hay precariously piled on top… a wave and a big happy smile from the driver on the phone with his baby on his lap and it’s all OK.
Gaze at the constant stream of romantic overland expedition posts on social media and it’s easy to believe that it’s all exotic sunsets, idyllic camp spots and laughter with locals.
In reality however, it’s not all thrilling and fulfilling- overlanding has more than its fair share of exasperations and frustrations. But surely that’s part of the experience, right? Most days these provocations can be shrugged off, even laughed at, but even with the strongly developed tolerance and patience of an overlander sometimes these few repeating niggles make you want to scream from the roof(tent)tops.
In this short series of blogs I retain the right to rant, expose the things that have left nail marks in the steering wheel and detail our main adventure annoyances, our overlanding irritations. So here is my stage on which to vent. First up, bad roads. Expected? Yes. Tolerated? Mostly…
We’ve experienced some pretty terrible roads on our travels. Just to clarify, we’re not talking about off-road dirt tracks high up into the mountains here, we’re talking about main roads, motorways and city streets.
Russia, Kosovo, Albania, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan all have their fair share of ‘bad’ roads often with potholes larger than your car.
Deep chasms are not the only surface danger, due to heavy truck traffic many roads become furrowed, once in a groove your vehicle handles like it is on rails, without a vigilant steering wheel wrestle this can suddenly send you veering towards oncoming traffic.
Travelling in Armenia in your own vehicle is costly, on entry we paid at least £50 for ecology and road tax. Ironically when we left we should have billed Armenia for the damage done to our car for using such terrible roads. I’m not sure where the tax money is going but it certainly isn’t being spent on the roads.
The highway system in Armenia consists of 7,633km of (apparently) paved roads, of which, 1,561km are supposedly expressways; our average speed on Armenia’s M1 was about 28mph.
One of the worst stretches of urban street we encountered was in Sevan; some of the potholes on the main high street are so large you can see them on Google Earth!
It is not just the road surfaces that are dangerous in these countries; the lack of road markings, signals and ambiguous road junctions are equally hazardous, as are open drain covers and deep gutters. Other potential dangers include animals, overloaded trucks and clueless pedestrians. In Georgia we narrowly avoided hitting a child, who crossing the road with his mother, ran straight out in front of our vehicle. Fortunately the only physical damage done to him was from the heavy clout round the ear his mother gave him for being so careless.
Georgia’s excessive use of speed bumps is simply annoying. A motorway should never have speed bumps! Especially unmarked speed bumps.
In Western Europe we have a system for using roundabouts, it works because every roundabout employs the same system, you know your place and everybody else knows theirs. In Eastern Europe the system fails as every roundabout operates a different system. Some roundabouts allow vehicles that are approaching to have right-of-way whilst others allow the vehicles on the roundabout to have priority, some even employ both on the same roundabout. Some roundabouts even have traffic lights mid-roundabout whilst others have no road markings at all and are simply a massive city square with six lanes of traffic and a fountain in the middle. So, bad roads, the first of my adventure annoyances- the logistical network allowing me to traverse this wonderful planet, but at times my reason for breaking the 6pm G&T rule.