Learning from mistakes.
I admit to being a bit green at Overlanding - back in 1997.
First expeditions are always a steep learning curve and my own, back in 1997, was no exception. I had bought my dream machine - the Carawagon, which I still own today and set my sights on a trip through France and Italy to drive the World’s first ever road. The Via Appia runs south from Rome to Brindidsi and much of it still exists. The cobbles at the Roman end still have ruts from Ox drawn carts 2000 years ago. I had read about this chunk of history in a book somewhere and seduced by thoughts of Italian food and wine, loaded the Carawagon with basic essentials and headed for Dover.
My preparation was minimal. The 1970 Land Rover was fitted with a V8, 3.5 engine that had an alarming thirst for petrol, but other than that went well. I treated it to a new set of tyres and a service, but using the first tankful of juice before I even reached Dover was a sharp reminder of how much it was going to cost me to get to southern Italy, but at least I could save on accommodation and food by being self sufficient.
The drive through France was simple enough. I avoided the Autoroute and pottered down the Route Nationale roads stopping in villages to buy food from markets wherever possible and camping in Municipal Campsites. Skirting round the lower Alps the rain started and I soon became familiar with the various leaks associated with Land Rover ownership. A supermarket carrier bag over my right shoe kept that foot dry and remembering to turn the drivers seat upside down when parked kept it dry for my return. Living in the Carawagon was a joy and a system of order was soon established as things found natural homes that made them easily accessible.
As I emerged from the Mont Blanc tunnel into Italy the rain disappeared and glorious sunshine soon dried everything out. I felt like my adventure was really starting as I had never visited Italy before and knew little about the country except that their driving habits were a little erratic and food style and wine took priority over politics and paying taxes!
I stuck to toll free roads but there was a noticeable lack of camp sites. Those I did spot were big places designed for caravans and offered far more in the way of facilities that I needed. I adopted a strategy of driving up a minor road, then a lane, then a track until I found a suitable place to pull over. If all seemed quiet I pulled the cork on a bottle of wine and got the evening meal on. Comfortable with this situation I was a little worried to see an approaching flashing blue light, then another. Must be on a call somewhere nearby I reasoned, until they pulled up just a few metres away. Four armed Carabinieri approached me as I was grating the parmesan cheese over a freshly made chicken risotto. With no common language,conversation was limited, but from sign language it appeared that a local resident had seen me turn up the track, thought it suspicious and called the Police. They wanted to know if I was smuggling guns! At this point a stray cat was showing great interest in my supper and the Carabinieri, who like all Italians have the greatest respect for food, helped me frighten the cat away. By way of thanks I offered them a glass of wine, which they politely refused, but the barrier between us was broken and they bid me good luck and drove off. It was from this experience that I learnt a valuable lesson. If you assume the stranger is your friend he usually will be. Act like a gullible idiot (not hard in my case) and you can usually bluff your way out of most situations with a hand shake and a lot of nodding and smiling.
Parts of the Via Appia, as it traces it’s route out of Rome still have
cobbles dating back 2000 years as a surface.
With renewed confidence I continued the following day, found the start of the Via Appia in Rome and drove the entire length of it to Brindisi, sometimes on tarmac, sometimes on 2000 year old cobbles. I had many further adventures - one involving a massive five hour lunch in a farmhouse where one of the guests was a prince! I achieved all of this in a 10 day break and although I spent a fortune on petrol, I only spent £30 on food and accommodation. I learned many lessons from that first trip; that it is best to travel with an open agenda and that every ‘problem’ presents an opportunity to meet new people who, in general, like to help travellers. I discovered that it is unecessary to carry too much food and equipment as, believe it or not, they sell food abroad too! Above all, it sowed the seeds for many more adventures in my Carawagon, though now fitted with a more economical 200 Tdi engine.
A deserted quarry seemd like a good place to camp for the night and
Toby had a good nights sleep.
Copyright Toby Savage.