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Episode 82 Marcel and Chiara of Overland Vagabond

Show notes for podcast 82
Marcel and Chiara of Overland Vagabond

In this podcast from the field, Ashley Giordano interviews Swiss overlanders Marcel and Chiara of Overland Vagabond. Currently in Saudi Arabia, the couple has traveled from Switzerland to Iran, along the Silk Road to Singapore, and through Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and the Arabian Peninsula in their 2016 Ford Ranger with a Geocar Shell camper conversion.


Guest Bio

Overland Vagabond

The perspective Overland Vagabond attempts to convey is from a retired couple (Marcel and Chiara) that has chosen – for as long as good health keeps them going – to discover the world! We’re total newbies, but full of dreams, visions and ambitions.
Our origins are from the Italian-speaking southern area of Switzerland, we have been living abroad for most of our lives, though. We have never done this before, but we want to learn and get better at what we’re doing… and during this process hopefully inspire our audience to embrace a similar path. @overlandvegabond

Host Bios:


Ashley Giordano completed a 48,800-kilometer overland journey from Canada to Argentina with her husband, Richard, in their well-loved but antiquated Toyota pickup. On the zig-zag route south, she hiked craggy peaks in the Andes, discovered diverse cultures in 15 different countries, and filled her tummy with spicy ceviche, Baja fish tacos, and Argentinian Malbec. You can usually find Ashley buried in a pile of travel books, poring over maps, or researching wild medicinal plants. Ashley is a co-founder of Women Overlanding the World and crew member of Expedition Overland. You’ll find this Canadian-born couple exploring a different continent in 2021, and sharing their trip every step of the way at Desk to Glory. @desktoglory_ash


Website: https://www.overlandvagabond.com/


Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/overlandvagabond/?hl=en


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OverlandVagabond/


YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/OverlandVagabond


Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/OverlandVagabond

Also featured on Expedition Portal

Expedition Portal Feature Vehicle :: Overland Vagabond’s 2016 Ford Ranger w/Custom Geocar Camper

Ashley Giordano
/ February 23rd, 2022

Full Transcript

Ashley Giordano: Hello and welcome to the Overland Journal Podcast. My name is Ashley Giordano and I’m Senior Editor at Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. Today I’m joined by two, as they call themselves, Crazy Swiss Overlanders, that have come all the way from Switzerland to Saudi Arabia, and I have the great fortune of being able to speak with them in their overland rig today. We’re going to talk about their journey over the last several years and how they’ve made their way from Switzerland to the Middle East. So thank you so much for joining me, Marcel and Chiara. Maybe you can just talk about yourselves a little bit and introduce yourselves and tell us how you made it here.

Marcel: Hello Overland Journal audience. This is Marcel speaking, and Chiara will introduce herself in a short moment. We call ourselves Overland Vagabond. [00:01:00] So like, you know, the vagabonds people without a home that are roaming around, around the world. And as a matter of fact, we started with our journey, let me see 5, 6 years ago.

Ashley Giordano: 2018?

Marcel: 2018. That’s the moment we sailed off from Switzerland. I mean, they don’t want to talk too much because Chiara also should say something right? But nevermind, we in 2018 yeah, we departed. And the ambition those days was to go around the world one time, at least one time. And we arrived after 18 months or so we arrived in Singapore just before the Covid. Starters and we took a break, but we were never able to get back to our car anymore. And that’s why when actually our dream to go in one goal around the world yeah, faded away. Back to your question. What are we doing here where we are having a second attempt? We [00:02:00] started four months ago, roughly from Switzerland and we are attempting to reach Cape Town in these what we call season four in season five of our journey. And so far we have arrived in Saudi because we were not able in Africa to get to Sudan and Ethiopia. So we took the Middle East route the FD, sorry, the Arabian Peninsula. And yeah, so far we like it a lot, but why doesn’t Ciara also say something.

Ashley Giordano: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about where you guys are from in Switzerland.

Marcel: Okay. We are from the south part of Switzerland, the Ticino and but actually we never lived in Ticino. We spend our life in Singapore. So Marcel was working in Singapore. I was a housewife taking care of my, our daughter. And after 20, yeah, [00:03:00] 20 years, we decided that it was it was enough. Time to, to change the lifestyle. So our daughter went to university in UK and we decided to do something, something crazy.

Ashley Giordano: How did this idea come about? So you’re working in Singapore and you have a dream to overland the world. Where did this come from?

Chiara: But actually, the crazy idea come from Marcel.

Marcel: I mean, you know, you make choices in life and I wouldn’t say it’s a dream, but it was a kind of a an attraction, you know that I would not have to, or, I mean, let’s put it that way. We, we are really lucky people. I mean, I’ve been working hard. Yes. We have been putting some, some money aside. But the luck is in the fact that I don’t have to work until my year of retirement, the official year of retirement, [00:04:00] which many countries is around 65 years old. And I was 56, 57, and I decided that I think we have done enough in terms of career, in terms of you know, having an executive job in, in big companies and these kinds of things. And we wanted to discover something a bit more humble or something simpler. Something that allows us to discover ourselves and ourselves discover, discovered the, the world. I mean, we have been traveling in so many places, but we actually did never understand and never grasp the content of what we, what we had visited and, and the people we had to met.

Ashley Giordano: Why do you think that was? So you were traveling before this, but you just didn’t, was it not enough time or you didn’t have the, like a vehicle or something to get to where you wanted to go?

Marcel: The vehicle used to mean to perform [00:05:00] your dream if you want? No, we, I mean, I, in my function, in my career, in my job, in my profession, I was traveling essentially, almost every other, other week, one week at home the other week I was traveling. And if you traveled for business, you know, it’s, it’s not, not just the way you can really learn the country or get to learn the people in a specific place. And, and the attraction was there. I mean, we want to do, if I can speak for the health of both we wanted to have a cert life. If you want to meet, there is the w we know the early years until you, you know, you are 20, 25 years old, then you come, you have the middle section, which is the big career, you have to work and you have to make money. And so, well, these is our served life, and we want to enjoy it in a different way, you know, not in having to care about yet making money, but really having, having the [00:06:00] option, having the luxury to to, to travel the roots, which sometimes are also quite..

Chiara: Dangerous, complicated?

Marcel: No, I would say unique.

Ashley Giordano: And did you have to convince Chiara?

Marcel: Oh, yes. It cost me a bottle of wine.

Chiara: A very expensive bottle of wine.

Marcel: I think this was about six years ago, seven, seven, maybe seven years ago. Yeah. And I said, okay. Now obviously I get, I have to get the partner, my partner on my side, right? So we went for dinner and when the bottle was empty, I obviously introduced the intention and Ciara was, you know, immediate, agreeing with, with such a plan. And the day after I started to already do, you know, doing the old plans, and one of the things we had to obviously decide was to get a vehicle and deciding how the vehicle has to be is actually [00:07:00] quite an interesting process.

Ashley Giordano: Yeah. A lot goes into it. That is for sure. And did you see this coming? He sat down..

Chiara: Yeah. Something like that. Yeah. Something is going on and they will say, yeah, maybe I was like a boat or a car. That was the question. I didn’t know which one, but I know something was coming.

Ashley Giordano: When the bottle of wine came out?

Chiara: Not really the bottle of wine, but I will think something is happened here.

Ashley Giordano: Because you did talk, we talked about this earlier about how you were trying to decide whether boat or vehicle, right. So why did you end up choosing the vehicle as your platform for travel?

Marcel: Well, both are actually both are actually a good way of traveling the world. But you have to kind of understand what you like most are you liking, you know, [00:08:00] more the water and being able from port to port to enjoy the freedom on, on sea, or are you more interested in discovering what the land has to offer? You know, the mountains and the deserts, we are passionate about deserts.

Chiara: I love deserts.

Marcel: With a boat, you can’t, you can’t, you know, see a desert, it doesn’t work.

Ashley Giordano: What do you love about the desert? I know you guys are so passionate about the desert landscape and we’ve really enjoyed speaking with both of you about all the different desert scapes that you’ve seen all over the world.

Chiara: But they’re very peaceful, yeah, peaceful. They are nice. They are, they have history. They, I dunno, they are, they, what we say they are fascinating or what is the word I don’t know in English. And we love, we love the desert. It’s it’s nice. I can we can spend many [00:09:00] days inside the desert and it’s never enough. It’s it’s amazing.

Marcel: It’s maybe a call to us. I mean, we were born in Switzerland in the south where there are still quite important mountains. So we are mountaineers, if you can say and the desert is pretty much a contrast to being in the mountains because it’s all flat, normally, there are hills, but it’s essentially flat. Right? But what is also very amazing is the fact that you may be, you know, hours or kilometers away from getting another human being or finding another human being you are destined, you know, in you, you have to cope with nature in a really extreme fashion. If you take the Bashir route ? In, in, in Iran, these is probably the hottest place on earth where [00:10:00] the temperature can go above 50 degrees Celsius.

Ashley Giordano: Wow.

Marcel: I don’t know in Fahrenheit. But it, it’s known to be the hottest place on earth. Right? And, and you go there, there is no one else. You have a car. If it breaks down, you are in trouble. Right. And and these kinds of challenge. What is, is very kind of intriguing to me. I like that.

Ashley Giordano: So speaking of challenges, you agreed that you were both going to go overland together around the world and the vehicle was the next step. So maybe you tell us a little bit about which vehicle did you choose and why, and how did it come together?

Chiara: First, we tried to find the pickup and the choice was the first choice actually was the Toyota Hilux. And because we were in Singapore, we [00:11:00] went on the Asian part and look at that. But the Hilux, we would like to have in Europe, it was not possible. So we we chose the Ford Ranger. That was a good, a good price. Like a dealer saw that it was the ranger and after it was the, the shell, right. Shell, no, go ahead.

Marcel: I mean, to be, to be honest there is actually a YouTube video. I can’t remember whether it’s season zero episode, I think two or three, where I explained the process of choosing, you know, your own rig, your own vehicle. Which by the way is, can be completely different from person to person for, from couple to couple of family, to family. And I try to several times to highlight the fact that you need to understand you own the requirements first you know, are you using it [00:12:00] to do what? What are you really pursuing? Okay. Do you want to, you know just to off-road all the time? Do you want to do, you know, do large, long kilometers, do you need a certain comfort or are you more sporadic in the way you, you, you you installed your equipment. These are all things you need to understand. First. We went to the process to understand our requirements and eventually, well, the result is what you see here. It’s a compromise. Obviously we would like to have more space, more, a better toilet if you want, or, but on the other hand, we wanted to be also quite quick, quite agile in the way we, we traveled. I mean, we can title like a normal car and it goes theoretically into a container. I mean, it was one of the requirements so we can ship it across, across continents, but things may change or, or other people [00:13:00] may have different requirements. So the outcome would be a different one.

Ashley Giordano: Well, besides fitting in a shipping container and being agile, What were some of the other requirements that you, that were important to you?

Marcel: Well, obviously all-terrain. I mean, we, we want to, you know, to be able to visit deserts as an example, and you, you can’t do that with a normal camper. You need a specifically equipped four by four rig that’s he’s capable of doing that. Yeah. But yeah, I mean, there are other requirements, like it has to be reliable. We had, as Ciara explained, we had to opt to get the Ford Ranger, which is by the way, not an American, but it’s a, it’s a European or Australian, better safe, eh, type of vehicle. But we have traveled in several countries where these brands and these model and make doesn’t exist [00:14:00] at all. You know, you traveled through Iran to these are kilometers and kilometers you drive. And if something happens, you are in trouble because there is no workshop who is going to repair anything because these car does not exist in those countries. So that was a compromise. I would have liked to have a Hilux.

Ashley Giordano: Did you buy the Ford in Singapore? Did you buy it in Switzerland? How did you, how did that work?

Marcel: Well, the entire planning lasted about four years. I planning and built a shot. Sorry. I have to be planning and built lasted about four years. Two years was the planning itself and two years to build.

Ashley Giordano: Wow.

Marcel: Now the platform had to be built after two years. And by that time we were about to ship everything from Singapore back to, to Europe. So we bought the Ford Ranger in Germany [00:15:00] because it was just easier to get it there. Right. And we imported it to Switzerland. We drove it straight to Vietnam close to eh, where D cell, which is no, the camper side of the car was started to be. And that was the year number three, the cell got molded attached to the, to the frame and so on. And the force year that’s when I took over and I did, I did the entire interior and also the change to, to the vehicle like, you know, new suspension, new shocks, new bumpers, the winch, usual stuff.

Ashley Giordano: Right, which suspension did you go with?

Marcel: I originally shocks I changed I, well, I, I didn’t use the stock ones because they were not rough or tough enough. So we bought the Old Man Emu, that’s an Australian product, unfortunately, after 40,000 [00:16:00] kilometers, the shocks were completely dead. And now I have the second version of you know, the, the heavy duty shocks, which are Konis and hopefully they will last a deal until South Africa.

Ashley Giordano: Nice, and you put on a snorkel?

Marcel: Oh yes, yes, a snorkel.

Ashley Giordano: You said front and rear bumper?

Marcel: Eh, yeah, the front bumper because we had to host a winch, right? So you need another bumper. And the rear bumper is, I mean, they’re all custom made and get a bumper is actually a air on their tank. And because it’s, when, when I let the compressor run, it actually fills my rear bumper with air, which yeah, it’s something, you know, particular to this built.

Ashley Giordano: Nice. Okay. So you had the vehicle and the cell or the camper [00:17:00] and the camper was, came empty, is that correct and then you built it out?

Marcel: Yes.

Ashley Giordano: Okay. And you took a lot of inspiration from boat building and how boats are built for the interior?

Marcel: Absolutely, I mean, being close to north Italy and the low Como Lake you know, this is an area where there is lots of craftsman craftmanship about boat building. There, there is a lot of people didn’t know how to build the interiors of those boats and we copied or took over some of these techniques, techniques, and technologies in, in making the interior of our cell. You can see lots of it’s Teakwood and you can see, you know, usual stuff that you normally would see on a sailboat.

Ashley Giordano: Definitely. Yeah. And then how did you decide where to put everything, I guess, did you, did you come in and say like the sink here or the kitchen here?

Chiara: No, that was [00:18:00] Marcel, here is Marcel.

Ashley Giordano: Did you see other vehicles that inspired you or did you kind of sit in the camper as an empty shell and visualize or

Marcel: No, I mean, I discussed it also with the guy he knows together, built the, the shell because we had obviously to prepare things a little bit for what was to come, but there are a few rules that you have to follow, so everything which has weight which is heavy, you try to keep it between the two axes axles.

Ashley Giordano: Yeah. Yeah.

Marcel: Okay. So you don’t put any big weights to the very end for the valley back. The kitchen is quite light and that’s actually white went there.

Ashley Giordano: Nice.

Marcel: The bed was clear. I mean, it’s, you know, the front side where we can sleep very comfortably. I have to say we sleep very well, right?

Chiara: It’s very comfortable in the bed, actually much comfortable than the one at home.

Ashley Giordano: Wow, [00:19:00] that’s great! I like how, I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of overland campers that have this kind of rounded shape and with the Ranger you’re quite narrow. So it’s obviously easy to fit in tight spaces to a certain extent. This was kind of really, unique.

Chiara: The nice thing is sleeping with the stars.

Ashley Giordano: Yeah. You have a window right above your head.

Chiara: Yeah, nighttime, it’s wonderful.

Marcel: Yeah. We have a window up our head. But we also can open completely the roof the entire roof section, which is very good when it’s hot, we could not afford the an ac simply because of weight reasons. An ac takes a lot of energy, so you have to have big batteries and it’s not something that goes in into these kinds of builds. So you need to have lots of air. So we have ventilators. Yeah. The roof, the open, [00:20:00] open roof.

Ashley Giordano: Yes. And you have a heater as well. Which one do you have?

Marcel: It’s a Truma 6 D if I’m not mistaken it’s over, over specced for this guy. I mean, it’s, it’s incredible. In five minutes, I can turn this into a sauna.

Ashley Giordano: Nice. That’s great. Cause you’ve been in some really cold places.

Marcel: Yeah.

Chiara: Oh yes.

Ashley Giordano: So tell me about, you got the vehicle built, done. You’re ready to go. This is season zero, I believe on your YouTube channel. You’ve document documented all of this and you go to leave and you do a few countries in Europe, right? And you’re learning along the way. What did you learn from the, I guess maiden voyage or the test trip?

Chiara: Oh, I know the tests, the trip. We went to friends actually just [00:21:00] for two weeks if I’m not wrong. So we just went to the node of friends too, just to check the, the car if it was a good, any problem. And you know, just to be, to understand the, how things are working and yeah, it was it was okay actually.

Ashley Giordano: And what kinds of things did you learn? Do you remember ? It was a while ago.

Chiara: A long time ago. I have to think about it.

Ashley Giordano: Yeah.

Marcel: I mean, essentially we tested that everything works. I mean, feeding water, you know, or, you know, I mean, there are simple stuff that you need to know how they worked and those, those, if you find yourself somewhere in central Asia and you know, you have to know how, how things, if things actually work the way they were planned to.

Ashley Giordano: Sure.

Chiara: Yeah. But the, actually, after we came in. I [00:22:00] change all the organization of the kitchen. I changed everything because it was not on the way I like it. We change a lot of things actually, but then it was, I think September, we were ready to start our journey.

Marcel: We were not ready,

Ashley Giordano: You’re never ready.

Marcel: It was time to leave and okay. That, that, that is back in 2018, 18 years, you know, our, our dream was to drive from Switzerland to Singapore, then continue to Australia, then South America, North America then Africa and back to Europe, that was our, our dream. And obviously things happen. Yeah. And as I was mentioning before, eh, arrived in Singapore, you know, our dream came to a halt.

Chiara: But not in Singapore, in Johor in Jabara.

Marcel: Essentially.

Ashley Giordano: So take me through, you did the trip in France and [00:23:00] you learned these things, rearranged your kitchen, and then it was time to go then, where did you go?

Chiara: So we started from Italy. No, from Switzerland. Sorry. We started from Switzerland and we arrived season one. It wasn’t until oh, Marcelo, Marcel.

Marcel: Okay. We, we split our entire journey into what we call seasons. Season one was from Switzerland to Georgia, Georgia, not Georgia US, Georgia, Georgia in in Asia. And I would say the highlight of that trip was about two months that we spent in Turkey, which by the way, is a fantastic, fantastic country to visit. I wouldn’t do it in the winter, but anything close to the winter is, is fantastic. And you can choose, you know, north or south, if you want more cold, more warmer weather.

Ashley Giordano: What did you enjoy about Turkey? Because [00:24:00] I’ve heard a lot of people say they really love Turkey for a variety of reasons. Why did you like it?

Marcel: Well, first of all it’s the closest you can get out of Europe from, from home, right? I mean, the moment you, you cross the Bosphorus and say Yagi Nasia and probably you, you know, you heard it before, but we have a special affection for Asia. I mean, being, living 20 years in Asia. So getting into the same continent again what was it? A bit of space? Yeah, it was special, but the nice thing about Turkey is first of all, from a cultural site I mean, there are so many you know, Greek Roman old cities that you have to visit and one is just more beautiful than the next then the other one the food is, is good. The people are nice. The infrastructure is actually excellent. I have to say, so the roads are [00:25:00] paved above 2000 meters. Yeah. Which is yeah. Excellent. You have a 3g coverage across the nation. It’s it’s, it’s fantastic. The only part where we felt it had still to be developed and then talking about 2018, was the Kurdish area, but having visited again the career distance when was that? 3 months ago, October, I could see a major upgrade in these last two.

Ashley Giordano: In terms of infrastructure?

Marcel: Yeah.

Ashley Giordano: Okay. Interesting. All right. So you got to Turkey and then?

Marcel: Turkey, actually, you cross into Georgia and it was close to Christmas. And for us time to have a first break, right? I mean, our out philosophy is that we move the vehicle across the globe and whenever we feel we need a break, we take a [00:26:00] break, we go back home, we fly back home, leaving the vehicle where it is. And I take two to three months in order to digest and to recharge, digest what we have learned, seen. And, and to recharge our own batteries?

Ashley Giordano: I think you said earlier every four to five months or something like that, which I think is if you can do it, it’s a good idea. Like you were saying to process what you’ve seen, what you’ve learned. Yeah. It’s great. See family.

Marcel: Exactly. You have friends or family that you, you have to see from time to time, right?

Ashley Giordano: Yeah. Do you get lonely on the road? Just the two of you ever?

Chiara: No.

Marcel: I don’t feel at all. No, no, not at all. I mean, we are quite open and we like to approach people and talk to people and if you have that kind of attitude, you will [00:27:00] never be alone.

Ashley Giordano: True. Yeah.

Chiara: Everywhere we go. We found the nice people. We it’s, it’s fantastic traveling like that because really you, you have friend everywhere. We have friends everywhere actually. And it’s amazing.

Ashley Giordano: Breaks to go back home and see friends and family probably as well, a little bit of a recharge and you come back fresh.

Chiara: Yeah because after five months you start to say, you see a nice place or something. Very nice, or a, an archeological site and you start to say yes. Nice. Very nice. Okay. Another one. So it’s really time to stop because you don’t enjoy anymore. What are you, what do you have? So it’s it’s time to really have a break.

Ashley Giordano: Nice. Okay. So you made it to Georgia.

Marcel: Yes.

Ashley Giordano: Had your break. And came back.

Marcel: We came back in March. [00:28:00] We paid the fine of..

Chiara: 600 Euro.

Marcel: 600 Euros because we overstayed, the car overstayed in Georgia.

Ashley Giordano: I was going to ask about that. Have you ever had an issue, like not being able to find somewhere to leave your vehicle?

Marcel: No, that’s not the problem, but sometimes you just don’t know all the rules and Georgia, Georgia allows you 90 days. And we overstayed, I mean, the vehicle overstayed and stayed 120 days or something like that. So we have to pay a fine whatever. Okay. Yeah. Anyhow, Georgia, Azerbaijan first highlight was Iran. I know that some of us are not allowed to travel freely through Iran, but I can say it is an amazing country and the people are extremely nice. So that was one of the highlight of season two. The second highlight, I would say was the Permian highway. When you start to, I mean, obviously you use the Silk Road, you go through [00:29:00] Pakistan, Samarkand, and all these nice places. But once you start the Wakhan Corridor and you go up to three, 4,000 meters and you reach this plateau, which is a like the roof of the word. I mean, it’s just amazingly beautiful. And that’s the Pamir, Pamir Mountain and Pamir Highway pay me, which is not a highway. It’s actually a track full of portholes. That’s what the Pamir Highway is. Then you’ll you go down the other side and you’ll reach Kyrgyzstan, which is like Switzerland of Asia. Everything is green. There are pastures all over the place and beautiful. And then we ended season two in our team, which using the Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan being the four, five biggest country in the world, I mean, huge.

Ashley Giordano: Wow, [00:30:00] amazing. What was it like keeping track of documentation for all those border crossings? Was it difficult or not?

Marcel: Well, in comparison to what we experienced these last few months, we are talking now actually for rights. You know, going through some of the middle east countries, I have to say it was fairly easy. I mean, if you can cross the border within three, four hours, I think I mean to us easy border crossing no, I mean the former Soviet union countries, they are pretty well organized.

Ashley Giordano: Gotcha. And did you need to get visas or did you need to get visas in countries, embassies beforehand or?

Chiara: Yes.

Marcel: I mean, most of the countries allow you to organize either the visa electronically or on arrival. Right. There are three [00:31:00] countries in our first three seasons that where we had to get the visas upfront one was Iran. There is no way you can, or at least there was no way before you could get the visa outside of you, your home country. Okay. The second one was Russia and the third one was China. I will come when we talk about season three. And the problem is that when you get your visa in your home country, it’s normally only lasting or, you know, it’s expiring normally after six months. So what happened is that’s actually the reason why we also putting the breaks when we came home from Almaty, we, flew home. We flew home to get the Russia and the China visas. So we could go for another leg, which works with season three.

Ashley Giordano: Right. And what about a carnay? Did you have to get a carnay at all?

Marcel: Yes. You need to carnay for a dog, [00:32:00] many countries. But definitely for all of those, I just mentioned you run that’s a must.

Ashley Giordano: Gotcha. Yeah. You guys are so fortunate that you can travel freely, like you were saying through Iran. Cause I know British American and Canadian need to hire a guy that goes with them or have restrictions on travel.

Marcel: Unfortunately. Yeah. Maybe this will change one day.

Ashley Giordano: We’ll see. Fingers crossed.

Chiara: Yes.

Ashley Giordano: So you end up in?

Marcel: In Almaty, Kyrgyzstan. That was the end of season two. We started three months later,

Chiara: July, July. Yes.

Marcel: Okay. So we started talking months later from Almaty, we drove north, we went into Siberia into the Thai area. We didn’t spend a lot of time, frankly, in Siberia to spend as much as we could. [00:33:00] We got one month visa in Mongolia and we wanted to have 30 days in Mongolia. And we had an appointment at the Mongolia China border that we couldn’t miss. It was the 10th of September. We had to be there. So eventually we stayed on the only two weeks in Siberia. But it was enough to learn the Atelier area. Very beautiful area in the summer.

Chiara: Yeah, wonderful.

Marcel: And then one month in, in Mongolia, which was fantastic, that’s the paradise of every Overlander.

Ashley Giordano: Why is that?

Marcel: First of all, there are no roads. There are only directions. So when you go from one place to the other, you just had one place head towards that place, but there is no road to follow. You, just follow a track or the track that goes closest in the direction you want to go.

Chiara: And the best thing was the washboard, Marcel.

Marcel: No, it’s not the best [00:34:00] thing. The best thing is that when it’s 5, 6, 7 o’clock and you think, or maybe we should find the cave wherever you are, you just stop. That’s where you put your put your camp.

Ashley Giordano: Wow.

Marcel: It’s it’s one huge campground.

Chiara: Yeah.

Marcel: Okay. Apart, apart from that, I mean, the, the landscape is fantastic. We started to visit one part of Mongolia, which is not known at all, which is the Atelier side. And what we experienced in that one week was sensation really the seconds I would say, highlight in Mongolia was the Gobi. We crossed the Gobi, you know, in each direction we were a bit crazy because we were alone. You know, Mongolia is quite tough on the vehicle of three cars that go to Mongolia, one breaks down completely. The second one [00:35:00] has some major failures that need to repair. And the third one gets through unscathed. We had absolutely no problem. Probably lucky. Yeah.

Ashley Giordano: That’s awesome. Yeah. Wow.

Marcel: Then came the crossing of China from north to south.

Ashley Giordano: So you met up with a few other travelers?

Marcel: You’ll can’t do that on your own. You need a guide. Yeah, we, we were actually, I and another lady from Germany, we organized a group of four cars and the four of us hired a guide. And then with the guide 40 days, we crossed the entire China.

Ashley Giordano: Wow, cool.

Marcel: That was, that was a tiring because you do a lot of kilometers. China’s not small.

Ashley Giordano: Right.

Marcel: And and frankly, you know, 40 days are, I mean, you, every day you have to travel about two to 300 [00:36:00] kilometers.

Ashley Giordano: Wow. What was it like having a guide there? How did that work, logistically?

Marcel: We, we were extremely lucky. I mean, we were on our own normally, for one or even two days. And after two days we met the guys and we go and have dinner together and we are left alone again for another two days. Really, very easy, extremely easy. Nice. And the good thing, the guide was organizing the entry tickets for all the sites visiting. So yeah. Doing a lot of things that we could not as Europeans, because we don’t speak the language. Yeah.

Ashley Giordano: And how did you track down a guide?

Marcel: Well, social medias, they help a lot.

Ashley Giordano: Like Facebook groups and things like that?

Marcel: Yeah, you ask around and eventually we found these these company and the guide because every company has a number of [00:37:00] guides. Not all are equally good, but the one we found was really, really good.

Chiara: Really good and nice. Yeah.

Ashley Giordano: Nice. Yeah. Those Facebook groups can be really helpful. I mean, the overlanding Overland Middle East Facebook Group. That is how I found you guys. That’s how we met. That’s how I found out a lot of information about this area before we decided to come to Saudi. So it’s really helpful. And it’s awesome too, because you get to connect with other people, you know, so.

Marcel: Well, it’s not like the Panamerican and Panamericana where sooner or later you bump into other overlander because it’s just one way, right. In Asia or even here in the middle east you don’t see other overlanders, you are essentially on your own unless, you know, you know, someone that is traveling there and you can make an appointment, you could meet, you know, but it’s very tough to meet other overlanders.

Ashley Giordano: [00:38:00] Yes. Yeah. It’s a whole different ball game over here I’m realizing.

Marcel: Or at least the way we travel, because you know, we are now in middle of January in Saudi Arabia. Okay. It’s probably not, how should I say the best season to do Saudi Arabia? Definitely not December, but sure. You know, and, and the country is so big.

Ashley Giordano: Yeah, it is. It’s huge. Huge.

Marcel: So, so just to complete, we did China after China, we went into Laos for the first part because you know, Laos and Thailand are two countries which are very long from, from top to down. We went from the first time to Thailand just to visit places we know pretty well, like just to tick them off with our own car instead of having a rented car. So then we went back into..

Chiara: [00:39:00] Into Laos.

Marcel: Into Laos. We met some friends there, which were coming also out of China. Then we traveled south. We crossed into Cambodia. We went back to Thailand. From Thailand, we went into Malaysia and then our trip was coming towards the end because I mean, the season was coming to end and we actually were at quite fast because that’s an area of Asia. We know we very well.

Ashley Giordano: Right. And the countries are getting smaller in comparison to central Asia.

Marcel: In comparison to China, absolutely. But yeah, our target was to reach Singapore, which means Johor. You know, maybe Singapore is the only country in the world that does not allow overlanders a vehicle in .The moment you have either a kitchen or a sleeping capability, the car is not allowed to enter. So we parked just outside Singapore, [00:40:00] which is Johor.

Ashley Giordano: Gotcha.

Marcel: Yeah. And that was the end of season 3.

Chiara: 2019.

Marcel: It was Christmas 19. And we flew home with the intention to get back in February, February 12th. And in the meantime, COVID came up and we didn’t see the car for another 18 months. It was just stuck, stuck in Malaysia. And we could not fly to Malaysia to pick up the car.

Ashley Giordano: And where did you park it?

Chiara: And we park it to some some friends, very good friends. So just leave with the car at the place. And th the car was safe, but under the rain and under the sun, that was the problem. Yes, especially the rain but when they had the car come back, came back, actually Marcel was doing a lot of,

Marcel: There has been in [00:41:00] the last few weeks before the car was shipped back to Europe there has been some heavy flooding in the area and our car got flooded as well.

Ashley Giordano: Oh, no.

Marcel: It was full of water. And as you can imagine with all the wood that we have, I mean, every thing it was a moldy and a stinky. So it took me three months to repair it. But, but the most important thing is that it took us about 18 months until we got the car back from Malaysia. Thanks to our friends. We managed to get it onto a ship in Germany.

Ashley Giordano: Okay. So did your friends have to drive it on or did you end up able to come pick it up?

Marcel: It was just to move it from Jabara to the port, it took me six months and I’m not joking because at first, I mean, the COVID every country implements restrictions in its own way. And Malaysia, [00:42:00] they decided to block the interstates. That means you cannot move. You cannot drive, you know, from one country within Malaysia, or let’s say from one province to the next province. So these, you know, these two, two months until this, this would happen, then when it was ready to be driven to the port, the port was about 300 kilometers away and there was no ship, the ship canceled, you know, so no vessels, no vessels.

Ashley Giordano: Yes.

Marcel: And the moment the vessel was available, the drivers turned down and say, no, I’m not driving the car anymore because of fear because of COVID and all this stuff. So eventually a tow truck from Jabara to Port Klang, which is the port of equality and finally make it, it made it all on the vessel. And the months later it was in Germany.

Ashley Giordano: [00:43:00] So what did you do for those 18 months? That must’ve been tough because you had..

Marcel: We gained weight. For sure.

Chiara: It was boring at home.

Marcel: Yeah. I mean, what I was doing most of the time is editing videos because I had enough material. And so eventually yeah. Few YouTube videos got uploaded.

Chiara: Oh, yes.

Marcel: Yeah. But yeah, it was about learning what was coming next, what was about to happen next? So I had to buy all the pieces. Repair, do all the repairs to the vehicle. And eventually once that was done, I started to plan what we are doing now, which is season four and season five.

Ashley Giordano: Okay, nice. So then did you leave again from [00:44:00] Switzerland or from Germany?

Chiara: From from Switzerland, we left on the 5th of October. We left Switzerland, so we just Italy, the Balkins, Turkey, again. And after it was the Iraqi Kurdistan after we try from, from the Iraqi Kurdistan in the Iraqi and the Arab part, but it was impossible. So we went back to Solemania and try to get the visa for, for for Iran, from Iran, just the transit visa for a five day visa after long discussion and waiting and waiting three attempts. Yes. After three of them, we got it. So we went to Iran five days and finally we enter in in in Iraq.

Ashley Giordano: So this is where things get very interesting [00:45:00] because I don’t think a lot of people have gone through Iraq as over overlanders. And you were saying that you think that possibly you guys were the first in almost 30 years.

Marcel: Well, first of all, we knew you need to know Iraq has actually has the northern side, which is the crude Kurdistan and the Kurdish side of Iraq is something that you can explore as an overlander. So when we talk about the real Iraq, we talk about the Arab side of, of Iraq. That’s where Baghdad, Najaf, Basra, and these cities are. And as you correctly say, I think it’s about 30 years. No one is traveling that, that country.

Ashley Giordano: Why were you like, let’s do this, let’s go through here?

Marcel: Well that’s our, our adventurous spirits, right? Someone had to do it first. [00:46:00] And and we felt, we felt predestined it’s in the sense that I mean, you just don’t drive to the border and you knock the door and say, Hey, we are Swiss, can we get through, right. That’s not the way. We prepared this trip for about six months. And we obviously got in touch with the Consoles in of Iraq and Switzerland and had long conversations with them. And eventually they helped us to understand what is the procedure to get to Iraq? It’s actually something that the country Iraq has not been pursuing before these days. And now they want to open up a little bit and yeah, we were probably just the first doing that.

Ashley Giordano: Wow. So what did that, what did those procedures entail? Short story, long story short, six months of planning and research.

Marcel: [00:47:00] But the fact is, is that Iraq is willing to open the borders to travelers like us.

Ashley Giordano: Okay.

Marcel: So the procedure is essentially to arrive at the border and explain them what they have to do. And no, it’s stupid what I’m saying, but, but the fact is really that no one knew what to do when we arrived.

Ashley Giordano: Gotcha. Because why would they?

Marcel: Because we were the first one that and and no one knew that Baghdad, Baghdad, that being the capital of Iraq, the Baghdad government is actually interested in having foreigners traveling to their country, but they don’t know that at the border.

Ashley Giordano: Sure.

Marcel: Okay. So it was absolutely not easy to get to get through. And the first, the broader crossing from Iran to Iraq took an entire [00:48:00] day. I think we, we arrived at the hotel in Basra, it was about 11 o’clock.

Chiara: 11 o’clock at night, yes.

Marcel: And we started very early in the morning. Okay. So we took us, I don’t know, 15 hours?

Chiara: 15 hours, 16, 17 hours, yes.

Marcel: And then comes yeah, the crossing of Iraq. Which is we have overlanded in over 50 counties, but these is really, really another dimension in terms of challenge, in terms of difficulty of traveling.

Ashley Giordano: What did you have to overcome throughout traveling throughout the country?

Marcel: Whether it’s it’s ambivalent on, on one side, you have extremely nice people. When you go to the villages. I mean, you can explain, Chiara.

Chiara: Yes, the people are very kind and very warm. They, they open, they open their house, they give you food. They, they give you everything. You are [00:49:00] like a king and the queen, really something amazing. They they’re wonderful.

Marcel: So the people, the villagers and so on are extremely nice to be with, but to move around, you have to go through main roads that are filled by checkpoints. And checkpoints, you saw some checkpoints here. Those in here in Saudi, those in Iraq are of complete different nature. You get stopped in any case, every time. And if you are lucky in 10, 15 minutes, you can go on. If you’re not lucky, you wait two, three hours until they let you go.

Ashley Giordano: Wow. How far apart, far apart are the checkpoints usually?

Marcel: Well, it can happen that you drive another kilometers and you get to the next checkpoint, which does not talk to the [00:50:00] previous checkpoint. So you start the entire procedure again.

Ashley Giordano: Wow.

Marcel: And, and, you know, the, the difficulty for us is that you actually don’t know what are they are checking. I mean..

Ashley Giordano: I was going to ask you what are they checking when you’re there?

Marcel: They, they take, they take the passports. They, they make pictures of all our passports. There are a few other papers that we have with us and then starts, you know, the entire process of talking to the superior, talking to the superior of the superior, talking to the general, talking to, I don’t know, to whom they talk. And eventually, you know, they say, yeah, you can go.

Chiara: But, but.

Marcel: But I mean, it’s, it’s very, it’s very tedious.

Ashley Giordano: Who is manning the checkpoints? Is it military? Is it who, who are the what group I guess make up the checkpoints?

Marcel: These are military, [00:51:00] checkpoints.

Ashley Giordano: And what are they, you don’t know what they’re, what are they looking for? Are they there to protect whoever’s going along the highway from..

Marcel: I mean, they always say it’s for your safety, you know, they check you. But yeah, we don’t understand. We, we rarely understand exactly what, what they, they want to check.

Ashley Giordano: I see. How many days did you spend in Iraq?

Marcel: In the Arab Iraq? So from Basra to the Jordan border, yeah, we spent in total about 10 days. I think that’s that’s enough.

Chiara: Oh, yes.

Ashley Giordano: Yeah. I was going to say, did it feel worth it for all of the checkpoints and the paperwork and the time to be able to experience those beautiful sites and chat with the local people?

Marcel: It’s an adventure challenge that we wanted to undertake. And we, we are extremely happy that we did it, and we opened the routes to be very frank because it’s the only way you can drive today, a car, from [00:52:00] Europe to Middle East without having to ship it.

Ashley Giordano: Amazing.

Marcel: I mean, Syria would be another way, but it’s closed. You don’t drive to Syria these days. And Iran, there is a ferry from Iran to, not to, to Saudi, sorry to, to the Emirates. Since COVID these families not working or at least it’s only working in part. You can ship the car, but you can’t go, I mean, it’s, it’s a failure. The only way, you know, on the road to come from Europe to drive from Europe to Middle East is through Iraq.

Ashley Giordano: And I thought it was really interesting that we were chatting earlier. And you were saying that a couple of other groups have actually now come through Iraq into Kuwait or..

Marcel: Yeah. You mentioned these Overland Middle East Group..

Ashley Giordano: Facebook.

Marcel: That’s where I posted, just a short article about our experience, to [00:53:00] drive through Iraq and I don’t know how many people have asked me questions. How did you do it? But a lot, there’s a matter of fact, t wo months later, a German couple has done the same. However, after three days, I think they turned into Kuwait and didn’t go. They didn’t go ahead any longer in through to Iraq, which is understandable. Iraq is really is a tough, very tough country to overland.

Ashley Giordano: And how did you find accommodation there? Like how did you, were you camping? Were you not camping? Were you doing hotels there? Did you feel safe?

Marcel: And there are places you have to go into a hotel simply because there is no way you can find a camp, a camping ground, actually, a camping spot. Where you, you are not spotted by someone.

Ashley Giordano: Right.

Marcel: But the problem is if you stop somewhere, it’s a matter of 10 minutes, half an hour, [00:54:00] and you will have to police there checking you out around close to the big cities.

Chiara: It’s impossible.

Marcel: It’s impossible. You have to go into a hotel. Yeah. But the good thing is when you go into the small villages, so in the marshes, which is in the south of Iraq, there are many such little villages. You just drive into those villages and normally you will see a big house in the middle the, in the moody. And there, that’s where the Sheikh of the village is normally hosting his his guests. Right? And once the Sheikh accepts you as a guest, you are protected by him. There is no police law officer, no military or whatever that can harm you. He takes responsibility and and there you can camp, you can camp in his village, you know, and he tells you what to do. And it gives you, you know, [00:55:00] access to his house. You can do everything.

Ashley Giordano: That’s fascinating. My other question was about preconceived ideas about a place. So Iraq is somewhere I think that globally, we have preconceived ideas about what that country is like. Did you have any of those when you went in and how did the trip through the country changed them?

Marcel: Well, I don’t know. Do you?

Chiara: Go ahead, and then we learn.

Marcel: Okay. You can’t avoid it to have preconceived opinions about a country simply because our opinions are influenced by the medias and the way, how things are presented to us. Luckily, and it’s just one way, but luckily there are social media platforms that allow you to gain experience from people who have traveled before you that works as an example for Iran. I mean, everyone, you know, in the Western hemisphere [00:56:00] thinks, Iran is probably the, one of the worst places to go. I’m so sorry, but it’s not apart from being fantastic from a landscape perspective, people are genuinely nice. Really, really, really, friendly and, and overwhelming which is totally opposite of what the media will tell you.

Ashley Giordano: Yes.

Marcel: Okay. Now Iraq is a different pair of shoes because there are not many who have traveled to Iraq and it has obviously nothing to do with them, you know what Western military forces have been doing in those countries. So you, you, you have to kind of find the, I would say your own, you have to make your own experience, you know,? Why for certain countries, the social media platforms can help you have a a more balanced opinion or a more objective opinion before you travel into the country. This was not really possible in Iraq because [00:57:00] no one has traveled Iraq before, at least not the way we have done it.

Ashley Giordano: Right.

Marcel: And so we had to rely on our own gut feel and our own experience. Having traveled in a number of countries The moment you are opened, the moment you, you have a smile on your face, the moment you are honest and you are yourself and 99% of the cases you will find, you will have a very positive feedback from, from the people. And these happens everywhere. Yeah.

Ashley Giordano: Yeah. I always, I think there’s a quote about you don’t judge the people of a country based on their government or whatever. Right. So, okay. So you got through a Iraq trailblazing, then what?

Marcel: Then the intention was to obviously go into to Jordan because that’s the best way of exiting Iraq entering, entering Jordan. We did [00:58:00] that. We went into Egypt, which was a nightmare.

Chiara: No, it was nice.

Marcel: No, no, not, not Egypt. Sorry. The border crossing was a nightmare, was it was absolutely challenging. That’s where we spent 24 hours on the border and we slept on the border. I mean, we don’t have to go into the details, but that’s the kind of border crossing that as an overlander you really don’t want to have to do any of.

Ashley Giordano: Truth.

Chiara: But we managed.

Marcel: Egypt was, is actually a very beautiful country..

Chiara: It’s a very nice country.

Marcel: To, to travel a part of, you know, this usual checkpoints and..

Chiara: Yeah, but it was quite fast to checkpoint and..

Marcel: Yeah, but you get escorted. One police car in the front, one police car in the back and there are areas you are not allowed to drive along the road. Right? [00:59:00] But, our plan was from Egypt to drive to Sudan, Ethiopia, and then go straight towards not straight but gently towards South Africa. We knew Ethiopia was a challenge by the time we departed from Switzerland, but Sudan was actually something that we had not expected before. There has been a coup a military coup in Sudan and Ethiopia is essentially a civil war going on with the borders all closed. So our intention to drive down the African continent down towards south along the east coast vanished.

Ashley Giordano: Right?

Marcel: So we had to make a U-turn which has not been easy at all. It has taken about one week of organizing our exit from Egypt back into Jordan. [01:00:00] We wanted, we wanted to get from Egypt straight into Saudi Arabia, which was not possible because of COVID. And the only way we could, you know, get back to the site the Arabian peninsula was to travel again across the Sinai, eh, with a four by four, and then from Nuweiba, which is Sinai ferry into Acabar Jordan. Right? Unfortunately no four by four has done that before, or at least not in the last I don’t know, five, five to 10 years. So we had to get the permits to drive our own vehicle to the. Which took us for four days. And once we had the permits, we made it through.

Ashley Giordano: Wow.

Marcel: And that’s another article we put, you know, in Facebook just to explain the, how other Overlanders could do it in the future.

Ashley Giordano: Nice. So, yeah, you’re traveling in a really tricky [01:01:00] time in tricky places and trailblazing through, and you made it into Jordan.

Marcel: We made it back into Jordan. The choice of Jordan was also because it was Christmas. Yeah. We could enjoy a little bit of Christmas, you know, in the Arab countries. It’s not as easy as you can imagine, but Jordan has a Christian community. So it was good. Nice. And preparing our crossing into Saudi was meant to be a short trip in the?, now has become a highlight of these entire seasons. We would spend probably about two months. And I think we, we enjoy every single minute in Saudi it’s. It’s fantastic.

Ashley Giordano: It is incredible. I had seen you guys in the Overland Middle East Facebook group, and then followed you, I think on Instagram at some point, and I had been following your journey through the area and I saw your post on that Facebook group about [01:02:00] Iraq. And I was like, what is going on? What are these crazy Swiss people doing? Like, I think it’s it’s incredible. It’s like a Testament to patience and tenacity and resourcefulness that you’re going through. These areas that people haven’t gone during a pandemic at the same time. It’s not easy to travel right now. I think it’s pretty cool. Yeah, but Saudi right, this place is special, really special.

Chiara: It’s amazing, yes.

Marcel: I mean, I wasn’t prepared for Saudi to be frank apart from a few places, you know, I had, I had not a real clear clue of what Saudi was and I thought, well, it’s essentially a big desert empty and boring. It’s it’s, you’ve been traveling as well. Ashley, it is..

Chiara: Surprise after surprise.

Marcel: It is one huge national park.

Ashley Giordano: It is. Yeah.

Marcel: [01:03:00] Right? And, and he doesn’t finish to surprise you.

Ashley Giordano: Yes. It was like overnight Overlander paradise. Like almost every single time, like you were saying about Mongolia, you could just pull over somewhere incredibly beautiful to camp. And there was no one really there. Most of these places are empty or not very many people around. So it’s really special here. I feel like there’s so much to see, so much history. The people are incredibly welcoming and friendly. I’ve never experienced that enthusiasm before and a diversity of terrain. Like we just went through this Wadi together a couple of days ago, that was like an Oasis in the middle and there’s water running through it, and it’s green and beautiful, and these big orange cliffs. And then, you know, the next day you’re in the dunes or in a volcanic area, like, it’s it, it’s overwhelming. I think. Yeah [01:04:00].

Marcel: Yeah. That’s what I said, I think to you two days ago, right? I’m afraid actually to move off into, or go into another county because I kind of feared that I won’t experience this anymore. So I’m a bit afraid actually to leave several Saudi, but I mean, obviously we will do it and it.

Ashley Giordano: Oman is supposed to be incredible, so..

Marcel: Oman is our next country and we will probably finish in the Emirates in Dubai and close our season four. That’s why we take a break, right? Yeah. Close our season four in Dubai and then continue our journey from Kenya. We were shipped our vehicle to Kenya and, and drive from Kenya to Cape town.

Ashley Giordano: Fun plans on the horizon. That’s very exciting. It’ll be really, really nice to watch you guys continue on your journey. Yeah. I was going to ask you about how, [01:05:00] if you have any travel tips for women traveling throughout the Middle East that have come from the west. Because I found when I was researching for this trip, I was a bit unsure about like what to wear or how to, how to, how it would be received. You know, if I don’t have a headscarf on or, or things like that.

Chiara: I think if you are in a big city, you don’t have really to cover yourself. The people in a big city, they are more open, but if you are a visiting, a small village or a small village, especially, it’s nice that you cover a little bit, you don’t really need to wear this yeah, but just, you know, just cover your under your knee. Maybe put the scarf sometimes also, if it’s not required, it’s just, you know, sometimes the people they are looking [01:06:00] at you like you are coming from the another planet. So it’s just a little bit of a respect to, to the local people. But otherwise like a woman, I don’t have a big problem. It’s it’s okay.

Ashley Giordano: Yes.

Marcel: Saudi is opening up itself, incredibly, I mean, five years ago, it was more, much more difficult for a woman to travel a Western woman Saudi. But today I would say, yes, you have to obviously be respectful.

Chiara: Yeah. A little bit of respect too, because you are visiting the country, but otherwise is I don’t feel, it’s okay. No problem.

Ashley Giordano: I feel that way as well. And I think, you know, wearing loose clothing was one thing that I heard that was important. Like nothing too low cut. So like kind of a looser top and no, like tight pants or wear something over top. Like you have a great it’s like a jean dress.

Chiara: Yeah. [01:07:00] It is a long dress and a, in some time, if I really in a small, a small village, I put my scarf and it’s all. And now you have also to wear the mask. So it’s it’s okay.

Ashley Giordano: Exactly. I know. I you have an Abaya, which, an Abaya, like listeners aren’t familiar with it is which I wasn’t either before I came to this part of the world, but it’s like a long black robe and you can pick them up. I think I got mine in Saudi..

Chiara: I also, I also pick it up here in a, everywhere you go in a smaller market or in the mall, you can found the, you can find it easily. It’s not a problem, but actually I come with my things from Europe and it was a little bit of color.

Ashley Giordano: Yeah. It was interesting. Cause I was trying to watch, well, Richard would like watch the reactions of like the men that [01:08:00] were passing me by just to kind of see. And it seemed like if my hair, like I have long hair and if it was out, I think they kind of would like look and do a little double-take and then like look away. And so sometimes if I had a scarf over my hair, I drew less attention. But it’s not required. You do not have to wear an Abaya. We don’t have to wear a headscarf here. We can drive. It’s legal for women to drive, too.

Chiara: The only things is sometimes when you go to the restaurant that you are not allowed to sit down with with the man. So they just ask you please just go with your husband to the family room. So it’s but okay. No problem. No problem for me.

Ashley Giordano: Because they have in restaurants, some of the restaurants, like you were saying, there’s a family section and then there’s like a men’s section as well. So you kind of get shuttled over to that, which is fine. I think it might be more [01:09:00] difficult sometimes if you’re traveling, as a solo female? I think.

Chiara: Yes, but it’s a, it’s a for solo female. They just you go there and they come to pick up your older. So it’s not it’s not too. It’s not the big deal.

Ashley Giordano: I think the cool thing too, is that we get to see things that, you know, like Richard doesn’t get a chance to see. Like we got invited to somebody’s house and he kind of got shuttled away into this back room and he got to hang out with the husband and the boys. And I got to hang out with the, you know, mom and grandma and the and the kids and got invited into the kitchen and, and you get to see them without the coverings, and..

Chiara: I got the, I got the same experience. Yes.

Ashley Giordano: Yeah, what was that like for you?

Chiara: It was nice because, you know I was really curious to see actually the local local women here because they are covered. So it’s and they are nice ladies. They are really pretty ladies.

Ashley Giordano: Beautiful. And I [01:10:00] think, I would say like 95, maybe even 98% of the local women here seem like they’re, they’re full, full covering, so you don’t really see eyes. And that’s it, so it’s kind of nice.

Chiara: I just saw maybe two, three ladies without with their open..

Ashley Giordano: Covering. Yeah. Yeah. It’s a special experience for sure. There was a lot of Google Translate happening when I was over in their kitchen. I don’t speak Arabis, sorry..

Chiara: She, she was talking a little bit of English. Oh, it’s a..

Marcel: Normally women are more educated in terms of English, English language. Eh, so that’s something I, I experienced if I see a couple and I have to ask any question, I normally try to ask indirectly, obviously, because you’re not supposed to talk to the lady, but [01:11:00] try to get her a chance to answer because she will understand English. He will maybe not understand English.

Ashley Giordano: For sure. Yeah. Yeah. That’s been our experience as well. Yeah. It is interesting, the first few days when you arrive and you don’t really know like what, how to interact sometimes. Like you’re, I was a little bit nervous and intimidated almost, and I didn’t know how, but it’s like a human, it doesn’t matter.

Chiara: And after a few days, you know how to, to communicate and how to manage everything.

Ashley Giordano: Yes. It takes time. But if it’s good. What have been some of the highlights for you guys traveling through Saudi, like history wise or see like specific spots, or food, or w what do you think is your, is the highlights so far?

Marcel: Well, in terms of, in terms of history I think we haven’t seen yet the real [01:12:00] highlights in Saudi or at least compared to what you can see in Egypt or in Jordan. Places like Petra, Saudi so far hasn’t yet offered a comparable highlight historically speaking.

Ashley Giordano: It seems to be like woven into everything.

Marcel: Yes, yes. But yeah, I mean, a castle or you go and see some in the former, I mean, everything is restructured in a way that is almost, you know, Disney World type it’s too nice, you know? I, I miss a little bit this you know, let it be how it was and let it show how it was before. They just do it a bit, a bit too much, but again, the north is not supposed to offer a lot of history. It would be actually more the south. And they have a few places, a few spots that obviously we’re going to, to visit.

Ashley Giordano: Nice.

Marcel: Yep. Starting with [01:13:00] Jetta. Yeah. Jetta. Jetta has, has a few very, very nice historical sites to visit food, sorry, no, it’s pretty much the same everywhere you go.

Ashley Giordano: Right.

Marcel: I would say there are two things, one are the people, as you were saying, people are very friendly. The Bedouins, they invite you everywhere now to have a cup of tea or they want, you know, they are very open. And so the people and the landscape, I mean, those deserts, some of the deserts are just fantastic.

Ashley Giordano: Correct. Nice.

Chiara: I’m a same opinion. Food is not a good, good food, but it’s maybe after three months of Arab food, that it’s enough chicken. Yes. It’s, it’s a mix of Syrian, Bangladesh and Indian food. So it’s actually, maybe we try local food, but this kind of local food you have you [01:14:00] have it only when you are invited in someone’s house. Yeah. But outside of their wife, it’s a mix of food.

Marcel: Yeah. We have been invited by a local family a week, a week back, and that family has been very nice in terms of offering us all sorts of really Arab dishes. But you can’t buy them. You have to, you know, you have to be invited, you can’t go to a restaurant and enjoy the same, the same culinary experience.

Ashley Giordano: Yes. Yeah. We had really good Syrian food in Riyadh. And that was the gentleman that invited us over. But that was Syrian food, it’s not quite the same. It was delicious, nonetheless lots of different influences from this side of the world here too. So, interesting. Take me through a typical day in your life. And I think that that is a hard question to ask because every day is so different, [01:15:00] but do you have certain rituals or things that you do that are the same every day?

Chiara: Wake up, breakfast, coffee, first thing is the coffee. The first things morning time is coffee.

Ashley Giordano: What kind of coffee do you make?

Chiara: Oh, yes. That is the typical Italian coffee with the mocha.

Ashley Giordano: She makes a killer cup of coffee.

Chiara: So we do the coffee, and after we, after breakfast, we try to be ready in around the 20, 30 minutes. And then we start our journey. So or we already have decided what to do that the night before, or we just go inside the car and we drive. Marcel, go ahead.

Marcel: Well just to clarify one thing, I mean, I know that [01:16:00] especially the non non-overlanders, they believe we have a perennial holiday.

Ashley Giordano: I was going to ask you too. I was going to say, what is the, what is difficult about overlanding? Cause you’re not on a holiday, it’s not a vacation, so sorry. Continue.

Marcel: No problem. So I try to explain that this is absolutely not a holiday. The holiday is when we take a break and we go home. That’s our holiday. When we are overlanding, I mean, I feel these as a full-time job.

Ashley Giordano: It is, for sure.

Marcel: Okay. Apart from the six months it took me to plan this trip, Switzerland to South Africa, I had to find probably 250 or 300 sites apart the fact that it took me about six months to plan this trip from Switzerland to South Africa. And I have pinpointed about 300 places that we want to do. Okay. And that wasn’t it. You have to choose, which is [01:17:00] the place or the places you, you want to put on your list. And you have to do a lot of reading, a lot of research. So this is something you do before that. But once you are on the road, I mean, every day you have some challenges, you know, be it where do I get water to fill my tanks? Where do they get diesel? Where can I get grocery? And the groceries here, it’s not like going into a mall in Canada, right, ? It is, sometimes it is a challenge.

Chiara: You have to check two or three small shop to found the..

Marcel: You know, come four o’clock, okay, Saudi is very easy. There are countries where at four o’clock, you really have to find a camp a place where to spend the night. And it’s not that easy. It’s not that easy. So every day you have a number of challenges to solve and I, I find it very rewarding, but [01:18:00] again, it has nothing to do with holiday.

Ashley Giordano: No, no, no. I confirm for sure. Yeah. Everything is like trying to figure things out, talking about where do you get water? And obviously like, from our experiences in Latin America, you can get water at some fire stations or the store or whatever, but here is different. So we were talking about that today..

Marcel: We are in the desert. Where do you get water in the desert? And you find it.

Chiara: Actually, it was now we know that we, if we go close to this kind of Mosque, that there is the tank and the filter, and we can have the water from there. But when we enter, it was like, oh, now where are we can get some water? Yes.

Marcel: Oh, but they are gravity, gravity fed those, those water tanks. And frankly it takes one hour to feed our, our tanks, you know, until you have the pipe sorted out, you [01:19:00] know, I mean, it takes one hour just to fill our water tank.

Ashley Giordano: Yes, everything does take longer. I feel like you’re not like I’m going to put my dirty laundry in my washer and dryer.

Chiara: That is another problem. But here in here in Saudi it’s easy because wherever you go in a, in a, in a hotel or, you know, somewhere there is a laundry every everywhere you can found the laundry or dry cleaning, whatever you call it. But in some places it’s, is expensive or you don’t have it. So you have to go back like you, you know, the old time handwash. So I really want to go to Alaska that I want to do it. Yes.

Ashley Giordano: Amazing, why?

Chiara: I don’t know. I like the idea to spend the, sometimes in [01:20:00] Alaska with this snow cold, the dog. Yes. But you know, it’s nice to have all the experience together and you can compare which one is the best or not, which country is the best because all the country are the best.

Ashley Giordano: Yeah.

Chiara: They are nice. And, but the experience at the moment or the moment, yes.

Marcel: Well, I mean, we, we will eventually visit all continents and it will take us another three, four years. But this is a project that we will complete for sure. Unless, I mean, as long as we are in good health, we are going to do this. Now, the question is what will [01:21:00] we, will we be doing next?

Ashley Giordano: So what are you really looking forward to next?

Marcel: Every continent has a number of highlights or every season as we call it has a number of highlights. So I can tell you, we know which will be the highlight in season five because I have planned already. And I know already, which was to say, okay, next would be Australia. Yes. We have been different times or several times in Australia. But there are a few areas we would like to join the dots because we have seen the dots, but not what is in between. Right? Patagonia, central America, or North America, Alaska. Since there are many beautiful places, but what I’m trying to figure out now is which are the places we will revisit after, after, because we need to have a story after the story. Right? So, and since one of our missions is to share what [01:22:00] we see with our own eyes you know, th the question will be which friends are we going to include in our next big, big journey, yeah?

Ashley Giordano: Amazing. I love that. So if people want to find you on the internet or they want to watch your YouTube videos of the Pamir Highway, or of the vehicle build, or through the Balkans, where can they find you?

Marcel: Well we are called Overland Vagabond. We have obviously our overlandv agabonds.com site. And that’s from there on, you can find all our social presences in Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. That’s where we communicate while traveling. So we write one or two posts per week with lots of pictures. The moment we are not traveling [01:23:00] we work on editing videos, and that’s where YouTube and Patreon channels are being active. But Overland Vagabond is what the way, how to find us in all those places. Patreon is for the very close friends and family. But obviously everyone who wants to know more about what we are doing is welcome to join us on Patreon. They enjoy a number of services that are unique. For instance, we are traveling now and they can see in real time where we are, they can send us in real time, you know, questions or yeah, we, we do special videos for them. I try to post every two months a specific, a specific message about what is going to happen next. So they have an advantage over all the others because they know exactly what we are about to do. I mean, I don’t know how long it will take to publish [01:24:00] these podcasts, but there are not many people who know that we are targeting to drive to South Africa. That’s insider info, but our Patreon people, they know it, they know it all they know.

Ashley Giordano: Well, thank you guys so much for taking the time to chat with me and for coming on the Overland Journal Podcast. I super appreciate it. And it’s been really lovely to talk to you and hear about all your experiences trailblazing through the world.

Chiara: Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Ashley, and thank you very much.

Ashley Giordano: Thank you everybody for joining us and we’ll see you next time.

Lisa Williams is an Arizona native that spent much of her childhood exploring backroads with her family in whatever project vehicle her father was wrenching on at the time. She has traveled the continental United States by foot, by Ford Econoline, and, most recently, by Jeep Cherokee. All her passions center around driving, connecting with nature, and a deep love for adventure. Though a practicing weekend warrioress, she aspires to write, photograph, and eventually rally race around the globe and share her journeys through photojournalism. Upcoming goals include competing in the Rebelle Rally, the Baja 1000, and an immersion into the less-traveled roads of New Zealand in her 2019 Toyota Tacoma.