Encounter Overland Asia 1978 - The start

 

 London to Kathmandu - Europe

Autumn 1978

It was a cold wet autumn morning in London. Was it? I don't actually remember the weather. I had driven the truck down from Wren Park the evening before and parked up. I stayed in the Company flat overnight. Then, bright and breezy took the truck the short distance to Old Brompton Road. All shiny orange, bold as brass, parked for everyone to see as the Expedition Members (EMs) slowly congregated, full of expectation and excitement, for the start of their trip of a lifetime, to Kathmandu, overland.

The date was 28th September 1978, a Thursday. It was not long before everyone had arrived. It was time to get underway. However, not together. I would drive the truck down to the ferry and the EMs would travel by coach. English Public Service Vehicle laws were difficult for a truck in those days and near impossible these days. For instance, how do you construct a truck that has both a low skirt, like a coach for UK roads, and a high ground clearance for the off road segments? We would join up again on board the ferry.

Below is a photo I found on Facebook posted by Terry Williams, with "Me, Terry, out in front of the EO office in Old Brompton Road, London, March 1993" Not our trip but very familiar all those years later. It is interesting to see that in this photo it was Sundowners, another overland tour operator, that provided the coach to the ferry.

 

This was my first trip with Encounter Overland but I had had previous overland experience on my own account. Probably one of the reasons I got the job, and even more so, the reason I was Leader/Driver straightaway without having to do a whole trip as a trainee. Alan did start the trip with me to show me the EO way, but left before we got to Istanbul.

I have complied a Google map below showing indicative routes taken by Encounter Overland Expeditions, London to Kathmandu. It is indicative as the Leader/Driver and the group discussed points of interest on the way.

 

 

The drive to the ferry was uneventual, as was the ferry crossing. Driving through Europe was, as with the begining of all expedition trips, a chance for the team to form and bond, and get used to the routine of life on the truck, with tents up, cooking, washing up, cleaning, sleep, and then tents down. Some were better at it than others, but it was improtant for the team to be pulling evenly together. If there were slackers carried by workers, eventually there would be discontent.

At one campsite I felt the need to pick on one of the EMs in front of everybody and tell him off for constantly leaving his tent peg bag outside his tent every night. It could be stolen and whist there were spares to replace general losses, it was selfish to think that, just to keep the pegs out of the tent, everyone else may have to make do with less, to replace stolen ones. Yes, anything can be stolen outside the tent. Values are different as you travel East. Not morals, but the value of an item such as a tent peg is much more that in our western consumer society. Part of the telling off was as a lecture to everyone about theft, and part to stop him leaving stuff outside. However, in hindsight, this was wrong. Not the telling off in itself, but not, at the same time, letting the group know that I had already told him quietly and privately at least three times previously. He did stop doing it, albeit somewhat disgruntled. The good thing out of it was that we had no losses by theft as far as I can recall.

By the time we were in Greece we had started to gel. We stayed two nights at the ancient town of Kavala. We ate out at a local restaurant and much Retsina and Domestica was consumed. Just as well it was two nights.

Then it was the almost real beginning. Turkey and Istanbul. Not yet Asia, as still in Europe on this side of the Bosphorus, but definitely the gateway to Asia, and most certainly different.

I recall a group of us going to a Turkish Bath. An ancient and somewhat tired place, but full of character and authenticity.  Boys and girls separate of course. Some of the lads decided on having a Turkish massage. Not exactly the spa treatment you might expect today. A very large bloke comes in to sort you out. Hot area, even hotter area, that is enough hot, out to a side area and a plunge pool, with real ice, like mini icebergs, floating in it. The impression is that if you don't jump in, he will physically pick you up, like or not, and throw you in. As I said he was a big guy. That did turn into a bit of a problem for one guy. The massage involves bending limbs into apparently impossible positions and pummelling muscle and bone into submission. The expression of immense pain appears to be the indicator for a successful and enjoyable Turkish massage. However, if you are very ticklish and you are laughing a the same time as grimacing with the pain, how is the goliath of a man meant to interpret that. More pummelling and twisting apparently. Is he being laughed at, or do you just want more. We had to intervene in the end, and try to explain in hand gestures what the problem was. No point in taking a broken EM back to the truck. However, through all the long aches and pains, he was more subtle. I doubt if it is anything like that now.

Not everyone enjoyed their trip to the Turkish Baths, I don't recall what other people got up to as it was not compulsory. Below is an extract of the Encounter Overland internal newsletter. Leader/Drivers had to submit reports / articles when the location allowed. The newsletters were called Enflash and this is from the October 1978 edition.

Enflash extract Oct 78

 

What is that I see, another meal out. This time in one of the famous fish restaurants under the floating Galata Bridge. Not the bridge that is there now, but the previous one which burnt down in 1992. It was towed up the Golden Horn to make way for the current bridge. The Galata Bridge was a lively, hustle and bustle place, full of people not only crossing the water, but shoppers, fishermen, and diners, as well as ferries and fishing boats.  It was entirely possible that the fish you ate had been caught on a fishing rod above your head, only hours, or even minutes earlier. The restaurants were on the lower level, beneath the road. Click the link to see a photo taken in July 1979, not very long after us.

 I don't recal if we crossed into Asia using the Galata Bridge or the Bosphorus Bridge, or back on ourselfeves towards Gallipoli and took the ferry, it is without doubt that we did cross and in so doing entred Asia on or about the 11th October 1978. That, however is another story.

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