The homepage of the Double Dutch World Safari greets readers with the following quote: “You only live once, and when you do it right, once is enough.” After 300,000 km through Australia alone, 343,000 km through Africa, Europe, and Asia, and traveling from the bottom of South America through Central America to the US, it seems Robert and Clary Van Den Hoven are doing it right, indeed.
When Robert first reached out to our Director of Programming in early March about attending Overland Expo Pacific Northwest 2023, he and Clary were doing their best to obtain a visa to enter the US with their Mercedes Atego. After 19 years of traveling around the world in 4×4 expedition vehicles, it turns out US Immigration had some questions for them. But after a six-month wait for their interview with the USA embassy for their visa, an 8000km round trip flight to Sydney for said interview, 25 minutes to pass security to get into the embassy, and a three-minute interview where Robert says, “all that was asked was the reason for my visit to Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, and Saud Arabia.” In mid-May, the Van Den Hovens received their long-awaited clearance to enter the US, and we are thrilled to announce that they will be giving presentations and sitting on panel discussions at Overland Expo PNW.
Robert and Clary have lived (traditional stationary lives) in Holland, the Caribbean, and Australia. Robert was a Royal Dutch Marine from 1974 to 1977. He and Clary married in 1977 and moved to Australia a few years later. In 2004, the couple decided to travel around the world, starting in Australia, followed by Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Russia-Mongolia-China-Tibet, Southeast Asia, Borneo, India, Pakistan, Iran, Europe, South America, Central America. On June 1, 2023, they entered the USA and plan to spend the next 2-3 years exploring the US and Canada.
While at Overland Expo Pacific Northwest, attendees will be able to check out a highlight reel of some of Robert and Clarys incredible videos at 10 am in the Around the World Pavilion on Friday, July 7. At 4:00 pm on Friday, Robert will give a presentation called “Outbush Around the World: How a 5-Year Journey Became a 19-Year Odyssey,” where he will discuss border crossings, Carnet de Passage, TIP, insurance, traveling alone or in a group, whether or not overlanding is dangerous, travel advice and much more.
To learn more about Robert and Clary, continue reading for their interview with us below.
Can you start out by telling us about your rigs?
We’ve had a number of more traditional 4WD wagons, including a Nissan Patrol, Toyota Landcruiser 60 series, Toyota Landcruiser 80 Series, Toyota Landcruiser 100 series, and recently we purchased the new Toyota Landcruiser 300 series.
When we started our around-the-world travels, we upgraded to a Mitsubishi Fuso 4×4 Canter Turbo diesel, a mid-size truck that we converted into a motorhome.
After three years of traveling, we upgraded to a larger truck, a Mercedes Atego 1318 AK 4X4, with a specially built garage with a crane to get the bike or scooter out of the garage, and it also allowed for 1,000 liters of water capacity, a larger shower, a kitchen, and a very comfortable seating area. Except for adding a winch, lights, and new tires, we made no modifications to the vehicle. Our current Mercedes Atego is a rigid two-axle truck. It is a militarised commercial design to suit specific requirements.
Why did you sell the Fuso and upgrade to the Mercedes Atego?
After we realized that overlanding was something very different from off-road driving as we did in Australia, we also realized very early in our travels that the real off-road work and weekend off-road trips we were used to Australia is not something you do with a large truck 7500KG and over when driving around the world.
What is your all-time favorite place that you have camped?
There are many places but the beach at Khao Lak in Thailand, around 100 kilometers north of the island of Phuket; the Beaches in Northern Mozambique; camping with the Kalahari Bushman in the Kalahari desert; the Mursi Tribes in Southwest Ethiopia; and camping at the rim of the Katze dam in the small African country of Lesotho in Africa.
What are your top three favorite countries and why?
Very hard to answer as every country we visited had special places and memories or events.
Our number one destination would be Southern Africa due to the combination of wild camping, wildlife, culture, and cost.
Two would be the combination of Tibet and China. The scenery is amazing in Tibet, and so are the culture and history. The disadvantage is cost as you are required to have a guide at a very high cost per day.
Number three would be the combination of Nepal, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Wonderful scenery, amazing hospitable people, and lots of history.
What’s your go-to overlanding meal?
Campfire meal or charcoal. Prefer chicken legs and potato salad – easy and fast.
What is your best silver-lining story?
We purchased a brand-new Mitsubishi Fuso 4×4 Canter Turbo diesel, and after we were traveling six weeks in Africa, we encountered rear differential problems. Mercedes, who handles Mitsubishi in Australia, was no help. Mercedes South Africa called and sent detailed information to Mercedes Australia that the rear differential was faulty and should be replaced under warranty. Mercedes Benz Australia refused to accept the findings of Mercedes Benz in South Africa. The only offer they made was if I would ship the vehicle back to Australia, they would investigate. (Imagine the cost of shipping back and forward again.) Long story short, we replaced the faulty differential at our own cost, and the people in South Africa who helped became lifelong friends who we have visited numerous times in the past 13 years and still do.
The argument Mercedes Benz used, in the end, was that once the Fuso was shipped overseas, there was no International Warranty. Hence the only way (to receive warranty benefits) was to ship the vehicle back.
What is an area of overland travel that you think you are extremely skilled in? And, after 22 years, is there an area of overland travel that you feel you could use some improvement in?
I think my best skills are in negotiating with corrupt police, the army, and customs. In 20 years of traveling, I never paid a bribe and never paid a fine.
I am completely a-technical, have a complete lack of mechanical skills, and believe that none is required when driving around the world if you don’t have a vehicle full of computerized stuff. Keep your vehicle simple, and as they say, in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, they can repair your vehicle with a hammer and a spanner for a fraction of the price in South America, Central America, Europe, Mexico, or America. What is very important is that you service in time and any little issue gets looked at immediately. This allows me to sit next to the fire with a nice cold beer instead of lying under my vehicle. After 20 years of travel, I am sure this works.
What does your “division” of labor look like while traveling?
My cooking skills go as far as boiling water, boiling eggs, and doing the BBQ on the campfire. Clary does all the cooking, shopping, and washing. As for maintenance, we don’t do it, we use local labor, and I am responsible for trip planning, website, blogs, and social media.