Thursday, September 19

Living out wanderlust in a motorhome

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Experiencing early snow in Mongolia last October.

WHEN it comes to travelling to other countries, the mode of transportation for most people is either an airplane, a ship, a train, or even a car.

But imagine travelling from one country to another in a vehicle that’s not just any car but one that’s double the size of a pick-up truck.

Bernard Salzmann, a retired engineer from Switzerland, has been travelling for the past one-and-a-half years in a 4×4 2,225kg truck called the Brimont Brutt.

Formerly used by the French army, the truck has been personally modified by the 67-year-old Swiss into a motorhome capable of withstanding long overland trips and still be comfortable enough to live in.

Salzmann in his trusty Britmont Brutt.

“I knew when I retired, a good project would be to get a vehicle which allowed me to go on a long journey. So 10 year ago, while scouring the internet for a suitable expedition vehicle, I came across the Brimont Brutt up for sale.

“I went to Paris to view the vehicle and the ruggedness of its design and construction was exactly what I wanted, so I purchased it for Euro 12,000,” he told thesundaypost during a stopover in Kuching recently.

Though the truck did not come with all the bells and whistles, Salzmann did not mind as he wanted a basic vehicle he could modify and equip with accessories such as a bed, a proper sitting area, and a chemical toilet.

The Brimont Brutt parked at an arch in Shangri-La, China.

“Cars these days tend to come with high-tech features and if you travel across countries, there are some parts of the world where the infrastructure will not be as good and it’s difficult to get good decent fuel, and should the car break down, it won’t be easy to find mechanics with proper diagnostic tools and so on.

“So I definitely wanted an old vehicle with a simple, basic mechanical engine, no electronics, and though it’s cheaper, the simple mechanisms would mean it could be fixed anywhere in the world,” he explained.

Salzmann gave himself five years to travel around the world, setting off on his journey from his hometown Geneva in Switzerland last year.

He has since covered about 50,000km through the Middle East, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia before arriving in Kuching.

Salzmann at the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan, once the world’s fourth largest lake but has now nearly dried up due to factors such as drought.

First Sarawak trip

“I’ve travelled a lot to the African continent, Europe and also part of the Middle East but I’ve never been to Central Asia and Southeast Asia.

“This is my first time in Sarawak and I must say it’s really nice to be here in Malaysia,” said Salzmann, who shipped his truck from Port Klang to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, before driving down to Brunei, Miri and Kuching.

He was also in awe of the prevailing harmony among the multiracial and multireligious people of Malaysia which, according to him, could be a rare sight in some countries.

Salzmann drives past the Darvaza gas crater, also known as Gates of Hell, in Derweze, Turkmenistan.

“There are countries with tension and clashes between ethnic groups and it’s nice to see it doesn’t have to be that way here in Malaysia.

“You can be of different ethnic origins and still live peacefully together. I think Malaysia is doing a good job,” he added.

 

Get the visas

On some of the challenges of overland cross-border travels, Salzmann shared they included making sure you had the required visas with you.

“For example, when I started my trip, I only had the visa for Iran, which I applied for when I was in Switzerland.

“So when I was in Iran, I had to make sure I applied for the visas for the countries I would be visiting next – namely Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Driving down from Lake Iskanderkul in Tajikistan.

“I also had to check the weather of the countries I would be passing through and avoid the rainy season as well as periods of extremely hot weather.”

To make the overland trips, he pointed out that he must also make sure his truck was in tip-top condition.

“When you drive 50,000km on the road, sooner or later, there are bound to mishaps – which was what happened when I was in Kazakhstan.

“There was a problem with the clutch and I had to get some spare parts flown in from Ulaanbaatar.

“Fortunately, I know how to drive without clutch, so I managed to drive another 3,000km. When I got the spare parts, I had them fitted to get my truck fixed,” he recalled.

Salzmann has modified his truck to include facilities such as a proper sitting area.

Much easier now

According to Salzmann, over-landing or self-reliant travel these days is much easier – thanks to digital technology.

“Compared to some over-landings I did 30 to 40 years ago, it has become much easier now that we have internet connectivity and the various apps.

“I can look up websites to find out the beautiful places I should visit. Usually, there is a lot and unfortunately, I cannot go to all of them,” he said.

He also enjoys meeting people and making friends from different countries during his journey.

“Part of the fun is meeting people as I travel … I’m not a good cook, so I can stop at local eateries along the way and talk to people I meet there and see how the locals live, what they eat and so on.

“What I have discovered is that there are good, helpful people everywhere,” he added.

His truck also never failed to draw attention wherever he went.

“The design, together with my motto – ‘This Land Roamer is my home’ and ‘Planet Earth is my backyard’ – are good conversation starters.

“I’ve also put a map on the door so I can show them where I’ve been travelling.”

Driving along the Tropic of Cancer in Oman.

Bound for Indonesia

After his short trip to Sarawak, Salzmann’s next destination will be Indonesia where he plans to spend the next four to five months, discovering the country.

He will start from Kalimantan, planning to stop in Sulawesi, Lombok, Bali and Sumatra before shipping his truck to Australia by the end of the year.

He hopes to arrive in South Australia, maybe Adelaide, by January next year before making his way up north to Cairns in Queensland by June or July when it won’t be as cold compared to other Australian states in the south.

After his trip Down Under, the adventurous traveller will ship his truck to South America while he flies to New Zealand.

“I plan to rent a camper van in New Zealand and travel around the Land of the Long White Cloud before flying to South America to reunite with my truck.

“My idea is to travel to a place called Ushuaia in Argentina, then to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, driving the whole Alaska Highway and crossing over to Canada to a town called Halifax, which has a big harbour where I can ship my truck back to Europe,” he said.

 

Beautiful Oman

Having travelled to quite a number of countries since embarking on his journey, Salzmann shared that one of his treasured memories was taking a ferry from Iran to Oman.

“Oman is a really exceptional country with its scenic and beautiful attractions such as the desert, mountains and the sea.

“Unlike wealthy United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Oman manages to strike a balance in terms of its development – good infrastructure and good roads. The people are also happy and friendly.”

He also enjoyed his time in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan where he drove through the Pamir Highway which traverses the Pamir Mountains.

“From my travels, I learn to enjoy discovering new places, new people and new countries and once I complete my journey, I hope to publish a book titled ‘Smiles of the World’ which will feature photographs I’ve taken during the trip,” said Salzmann, who has also created a blog (http://landroamer.blogspot.ch) to document his travels.