Overlanding Vehicles || The Stories Behind the Pictures

I grew up when there was no internet, and you explored your neighborhood as far as you could ride your bicycle. On Sunday evenings, I remember watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. It was a show about wildlife and nature. The show introduced me to the wilds of Africa and other exotic locales. Watching the show's cast, driving Series Land Rovers and Toyotas across African grasslands. Viewing lions and elephants was an incredible journey if only experienced through television. Likewise, Natural Geographic magazine sparked my curiosity about the world around me. I always enjoyed the issues that had paper maps in them. You could spend hours exploring the map after reading the story.

I did end up owning a 1990 Ranger Rover and a 1998 Land Rover Discovery. It was my dream to modify them as overlanding vehicles. But due to the expense of repairing the vehicle the dream never transpired. I still live vicariously visiting Land Rover sites and following adventure travelers on social media. The more obscure and unusual the vehicle, the more I like it. 

During my military service, I have had the opportunity to travel to Central Asia and Eastern Europe. I have seen some unique overland vehicles during my travels. But it's the stories of those adventure travelers that I meet that are so interesting.

I want to share some of those vehicles and the stories behind the photographs. I hope they spark the spirit of adventure with you.

Victory Monument Tajikistan
Land Rover-Defender110: Background WWII Monument, Dushanbe Tajikistan.

Victory Monument is a monument that sits in the middle of the busy street of Ayni in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Due to the traffic on Ayni Street, it's not the most accessible monument to visit. While the tall steles tell part of the story of the Soviet Soldiers' victory over the Germans. The main attraction of the memorial is the Soviet IS-2 tank. The tank was part of the 170th Brigade and saw action in Hungary and Austria during WWII. 

As I made my way back across Ayni Street from the monument. I spotted a Land Rover 110. While I have yet to learn the story behind the Land Rover. My imagination takes me from the memorial. Thinking about the Land Rover's journey to get to Dushanbe. Tajikistan is the poorest country of the former Soviet republics. Many non-governmental agencies are operating in Tajikistan;; most likely,, the white Land Rover belongs to an NGO.

Mercedes Benz Unimog
Mercedes Benz Unimog

Making my way back to my hotel I spot a Mercedes Benz Unimog parked in the hotel parking lot.  This thing is a beast and looks like a gypsy wagon. I know there is a story of adventure waiting to be told. I keep my eye out and wait for the owners to return. A German couple owned the vehicle and drove this truck from Afghanistan to Tajikistan. The German couple had been traveling in Afghanistan when religious tensions made it too dangerous to cross. They hid their vehicle with a guy who owned a scrap yard and flew home to Germany. Eight months later, they returned to recover their truck to continue their journey. With amazement, I asked them you know there is a war going on in Afghanistan?  I know it will be something I will never understand. But traveling in an overland vehicle through a country in an active conflict takes adventure travel to another level.  

Mercedes Benz Unimog
The decal on the side of the door of the Unimog.

The couple's truck had broken a bolt on the suspension and they were trying to get it repaired. They were also waiting on a visa to enter Uzbekistan. The broken bolt was the main point of discussion about the truck. The sticker on the door of the truck tells me their rig has a story of its own. A little internet research leads me to believe that this vehicle was used for tourism. The Acacus Mountains range in the desert of the Ghat district in western Libya. In that area are thousands of prehistoric cave paintings and it is a UNESCO/World Heritage Site

Once they obtained their travel visa the German couple still had an 8000km journey to return to Germany. What I took away from my conversation with this adventurous couple. People, let the fear of the unknown or the fear that adventure travel is too dangerous. We let those fears stop us would-be travelers from ever exploring. 

Mercedes Benz Unimog
Unimog taking a break waiting for a repair.

I am not a motorcycle guy and when I saw these motorcycles I thought they were BMW R71s. But they were Urals and they were modeled after the R71s. After the war motorcyclists were attracted to the Ural's reliability and off-road capabilities.

Tajikistan MOD Russian Made Ural Motorcycles
Russian-made Ural motorcycles

These Tajikistan MOD motorcycles are painted with gloss paint and are used for ceremonial events. These were Russian-built Urals due to current world events. Production of the Ural has been moved to Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan.

Russian Jeep UAZ 469
Russian Jeep, UAZ 469

The UAZ 469 is a legendary military light-utility vehicle. Used by the Soviet Union and many Warsaw Pact countries. The UAZ 469 saw widespread service in governmental agencies in Eastern Bloc countries. The UAZ 469B is the civilian version, and I cannot tell which version this vehicle is. The UAZ 469 was not sold to the public but found a way into enthusiasts' hands through surplus sales. Very interesting to see such a vehicle and it is an everyday driver.

White NGO Toyota Land Cruise
Toyota Land Cruiser used by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Whenever you see natural disasters or humanitarian crises on the news. You see the iconic white Toyota of the United Nations or non-governmental agencies responding. Toyota Gibraltar Stockholdings is Toyota's official seller of 4X4 vehicles to humanitarian agencies. TGS makes simple modifications to make the vehicles more capable. The Land Cruiser in the picture above is standard. But you could see modifications such as bull bars, HF radio, spare tires, and fuel cans just to name a few. This was the first time that I had seen NGO White Toyota. You know you are in an austere part of the world when you see a white NGO Toyota. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC provides capacity and support to hospitals along the border with Afghanistan. The ICRC also provides training to enhance the skills of medical doctors.

Swiss Army Pinzgauer
Swiss Army Pinzgauer.

Named after the Austrian breed of cattle. The Pinzgauer is a highly mobile off-road vehicle. The Pinzgaur came in both 4WD and 6WD models. I was supporting a Boy Scout Camporee when I found this Pinzgaur in the parking lot of the park.

Swiss Army Pinzgauer

When I was a Scout, one of the troops I was in had a school bus to take us on campouts. The Pinzgauer is a lot cooler than our troop school bus. This variant is the 710 model 4x4 and could transport 10 troops.

Ex-MOD Land Rover Defender 90
Ex-MOD Land Rover Defender 90

This Defender 90 was the first attraction I saw when I reached the UNESCO/ Archaeological Site of Philippi, due to a weather delay earlier in the morning. Unfortunately, I was only at Philppi for a very short time. This Defender is a right-hand drive and has a two-color camouflage paint scheme. Most NATO Land Rovers that I have seen are green only or a three-color camouflage.  

Ex-MOD Land Rover Defender 90
Passenger side view of tools and equipment on the roof rack.

There is an odd bit of gear on the roof rack and it was hard to determine if it was an overland rig or a work vehicle. 

EX-Army Mercedes-Benz Truck
Named after the Laubrosch European Tree Frog.

While I was exploring Matka Canyon located west central of Skopje, Northern Macedonia. I spotted this Mercedes-Benz overland rig. It's an ex-military truck that has been converted into an overland camper. Large diamond-plate storage boxes have been added for additional storage. On the rear of the camper, bike racks had been added. Laubrosch is a green European tree frog that seems to be a fitting name for this green beast of a rig. 

This family of overlanders had found a nice spot for the day to enjoy the Teska River and the mountains around Matka Canyon. This area is a popular destination due to its close proximity to Skopje. There are numerous outdoor activities and cultural things to do and see. The canyon is Northern Macedonia's foremost area for alpine hiking. 

Toyota Land Cruiser HZJ78

Toyota Land Cruiser HZJ78 on the streets of Munich Germany. At first, I saw the Land Rover badge on the grill and thought to myself this can't be a Land Rover. The truck has heavily modified body parts, making it unique from its original design.  The rear of the vehicle was built with storage and a sleeping area. I wish I could have found the owner to learn more about this truck. 

Lade Niva Legend

Whenever I see a Lada Niva, I think of the one scene in the Jason Bourne movie where Bourne is looking for the girl in the Russian apartment. Now called the Lade Niva Legend, it has been in production since 1977. It is a series of vehicles (hatch-back, compact wagon, pick-up). It was originally built for a rural market. In other countries around the globe, it is known by other names and it competes with the Suzuki Jimmy. I saw a lot of the Lada Niva while I was in Tajikistan.

It's just interesting to see different 4X4s, everyday drivers, and overlanding vehicles around the world. Each one is as different as its owner as well as its capabilities. 

Now It's Your Turn-

I would love to hear about your favorite Overlander and the stories behind it. If you happen to know of an Overlander blog that has great adventures and stories. Please share their blog or website in the comments.


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