Weekly Feature: Karin-Marijke of Landcruising Adventure
Hi, I’m Karin-Marijke, from the Netherlands. I had been working for an in-house catering company for ten years and was ready for a change when I met Coen. He wanted to travel the world and asked me to join him and I immediately said yes.
In May 2003 we set off and took 3.5 years to drive from the Netherlands via Iran, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh to Southeast Asia. From Malaysia we shipped the Land Cruiser to Argentina with the idea to drive to Alaska in 3 or 4 years. 9 years later we were still in South America… By then I was ready for another big change, so instead of proceeding north we shipped the Land Cruiser to the Far East in 2016. For the past 3.5 years we’ve traveled in South Korea, Japan, Russia, Mongolia and are currently in Central Asia.
The first three years we lived off our savings and have since worked as a freelance duo, selling stories and photographs to magazines.
Who or what inspired you to choose independent vehicle travel as your mode of transportation?
When Coen asked me if I wanted to join him on a ‘round-the-world’ trip, we initially talked about flying to Bangkok and using public transport from there. I read a number of stories of such travelers and while I loved their stories, something essential was missing. They were going from city to city, from hotel to hotel.
I’m an outdoor person and love sailing, hiking, camping. All this seemed to be missing from those stories.
Coen had a motorcycle and suggested we’d go by bike. I didn’t fancy that; I like pillion rides for a weekend or week but not on a round-the-world trip. He then suggested going by car, and I laughed. This was 2003, and the Internet – or the world – wasn’t overflowing with overlanders. This wasn’t such a common thing to do, like today. But we reflected on the idea and the thought of being entirely independent, of having the option to stop and camp wherever we wanted, nailed it. We were going by car and bought a beat-up 1984 Toyota Land Cruiser BJ45.
Everyone always asks a traveler what their favorite country is. Do you have a favorite country? If not, what is a place that is special to you?
I felt at home in South Korea, no matter the language barrier (very few people speak English and Korean proved impossible for me to learn). The one thing South Korea doesn’t have is spectacular off-road opportunities as all roads are asphalted and the country is too small to have wide-open spaces.
But South Korea has everything else.
First of all, I felt safe. Super safe, all the time. Also when I was alone. In which capital in the world can you walk alone as a woman at midnight? Nowhere, it seems, except Seoul. That says a lot. Korea is a country where I’d be at ease traveling alone.
I absolutely love Korean food with lots of vegetarian options. They do have spicy foods (which I can’t eat, being a congenital anosmic) but there are zillions of dishes without that mouth-blistering red sauce.
I felt welcome. People were kind, helpful, and super hospitable. We made some very dear friends.
I love the rich history and culture. We visited many temples, historic sites, and South Korea has some of the best museums we’ve ever seen.
We did our first thru-hike in South Korea, the 750-km-long Baekdu-daegan Mountain Ridge. It’s a tough hike, with never-ending, super steep ascents and descents. You can’t find wilderness in South Korea when driving but all the more so when hiking. It was an awe-inspiring experience and a massive boost for my self-confidence that I could pull this off.
And then there was a connection, something intangible which is maybe best explained like this: I can cry for South Korea when I think about it or see photos of our journey there; I experience a sense of homesickness.
I'm a badass woman because...
I don’t know about this ‘badass’ term but I’m proud of the woman I have become.
What do you think the biggest challenge is for women overlanders?
To find a balance in what is safe and what is unsafe – where (not) to go and what activities (not) to take up.
On the one hand we’re told the world is a dangerous place for women, especially to travel solo. On the other hand, women travel (solo) more than ever and we get these hallelujah stories like, ‘Oh, but as a woman I can go everywhere. It’s not a problem.’
I don’t believe the latter is true. Just because ‘you’ haven’t had a problem doesn’t mean problems don’t exist for female travelers. They do. I have noticed in so many countries the difference in how I’m approached by men when walking in the streets alone versus when Coen is walking next to me. For a woman alone there’s a lot to put up with compared to traveling together or for a man traveling alone.
It’s fantastic to see that an increasing number of women are getting out there and how ‘things’ are getting better for us. It is inspiring and promising. And so, yes, we ‘must’ go and explore. The Dutch like to use the term ‘common sense’ for a lot of things – we don’t like exaggerations either way. And I guess that’s a good one for traveling in general and all the more so for (solo) women travelers: use your common sense when deciding what to do or where to go.
Traveling has taught me...
To let go of that Dutch sense of control, efficiency and punctuality. Overlanding – or travel in general – is full of uncertainties. If you try to mold them, it either creates a lot of stress or starts working against you. I believe in setting things in motion and allowing the universe to work on them.
Let me give you an example.
We just returned from a thru-hike in Turkey. It happened that we’d arrive in a village where we saw no good spot to pitch a tent and were too tired to carry on. Especially in bad weather and when you are tired this can cause stress, bad moods, and arguments. Instead, we went to the local teahouse and drank lots of tea. When the curiosity about these foreigners with their trekking poles had died down, Coen would ask the owner if he knew a place to camp.
Then, we’d sit back and wait, not expecting an immediate answer or solution. These things need time. We’d see people talking among each other, walking outside, etc. It could take ten minutes, an hour, or two even (make sure to always carry a book/Kindle!), and eventually somebody would say,
“You can camp in the schoolyard,”
“Why not sleep here inside, it’s cold outside.”
“Come and stay at my home.”
There was always a solution.
During our 16 years of overlanding we’ve seen this happen with car problems, with paperwork (having to keep your temper while working and talking for 14 days to cross a border is an extreme situation, but it worked) and so much else. That doesn’t mean we’re always patient and in a good mood. On the contrary. We both believe in ‘letting go’; however, some days Coen is better at it, on other days I am.
Overlanding sucks sometimes because...
I am far away from family and friends. The first years I found it very hard to be away on my birthday and for Christmas, for example, which were always such happy days in good company of many loved ones. Also when something difficult or tragic happens to one of them, I’d like to be home. Generally we feel that the world is so small, but at such a moment, the world is too big. A ten-hour flight across the ocean is nothing compared to the time it took 100 years ago; but it’s not something you do to visit and console a friend or sister for an afternoon.
What is some advice you would give to someone with a dream to travel overland?
Go! Make it work! Think small, start small. Just go. Don’t get carried away by everything you supposedly need for an overland adventure, whether you have the perfect vehicle or equipment. With every purchase you’re tempted to make, reflect for a minute, “Do I really want to spend this money on article XYZ, or do I keep it for X days of traveling?”
And if you think you have a perfect reason why NOW is not a good time, Coen and I have put together a free e-book debunking all kinds of overlanding myths why you cannot travel (now). Fellow travelers chimed in with their reasons why yes, you can travel with kids, a chronic illness, dogs, etc.
So, no more excuses. Go and enjoy the road. Hope to see you there!