Though some may think of travel as staying in hotels and taking public transportation through the countries they visit, others prefer to trek their own way.
Gary and Monika Wescott have driven from South America, the southernmost point possible, to Iceland, through Russia, and even across a frozen river with no defined path.
“We were the first vehicle we know that drove from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean from Magadan all the way to Finland and Norway,” Gary Wescott said.
The next adventure on the couple’s list is the Silk Road, where they will journey for three years through 26 countries, never staying in a hotel and instead using the added facilities of their customized Ford F-550.
The couple will drive to Baltimore this week, to have their car sent to Germany, where they will drive to Lisbon, Portugal, and then to Beijing, China and throughout Asia.
“We’ll drive down to Switzerland and then south into France and Spain and across to Portugal, where we’ll start our trans-Eurasian odyssey, following any number of the things people call the Silk Road, along the Afghanistan border, China, all the ‘stans’ — Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc.”
The original idea to travel came from Gary Wescott in 1972, when he planned to journey through South America with his girlfriend at the time.
“People would say, ‘Far out,’ when I told them, expecting we’d be gone a couple of weeks, and we went three to five years,” Gary Wescott said.
“We called it the Turtle Expedition, and never intended it to be any more than a trip to South America.”
Wescott later met Monika in Baja California, and the couple have traveled together ever since, making their first trip together to South America in 1987.
Both are photojournalists and Gary Wescott writes for magazines, while Monika serves as editor for his articles.
“We are self-employed and can write from anywhere in the world,” Gary Wescott said.
Through all the encounters with various cultures worldwide, the Wescotts have found that people are just people, no matter where you go.
“You can go into the back yard and pick up dirt and it feels just like Turkey,” Gary Wescott said.
“What makes it different is the culture and foods, and in some cases the geographical landscape.”
To fund the trip, the Wescotts rely on sponsors, the names of which are emblazoned on their vehicle, which includes brakes, lights and bumpers of certain companies the couple features in magazine pieces they write.
“We’re sort of like a race truck, which puts big names on the truck for exposure,” Gary Wescott said.
“We guarantee companies exposure in many different magazines and sometimes in video.”
The vehicle is equipped with 4-wheel drive, locking differentials, a manual transmission, a 7.3 diesel turbo-charged engine, and the camper includes solar-powered electricity, safety harnesses and monitoring cameras, a propane stove, a shower and port-a-potty that slide out into the doorway.
“We try to make it as big on the inside as possible, but as small on the outside as possible,” said Gary Wescott, who noted that he took the idea for the placement of the shower and port-a-potty from German travel vehicles.
“It’s a curtain that goes around and has a water tank right underneath it and the toilet slides out,” Gary said.
“We tell people seriously and jokingly that if you are driving around in a small camper in a third-world country and you can’t go to the bathroom in front of the person you are traveling with, you’re in trouble,” he said, chuckling.
Monika Wescott said she even feels spoiled by the amenities and that oftentimes when camping, a lot of time is spent outdoors, which prevents a crammed feeling.
“For me, this is a luxury,” Monika Wescott said. “We have a stove and refrigerator and heat, so it’s warm and comfortable, so I don’t need more,” Monika Wescott said. “I’ve never been a person that needed a lot of luxury and I just enjoy what is around me and I don’t have to have stuff around me.
“My dad called me a gypsy when I was two years old and I think it stuck with me.”
To cope with the experience of constant contact with another person, Monika said it is important to create your own private space and learn to adapt.
“You could be traveling along without saying a word for an hour or two or go for a walk by yourself,” Monika Wescott said. “We’ve just worked it out for us, working as a team.”
When visiting a new place and getting to know new people, Monika advised that following the “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” approach is best.
“You are very careful of what you’re doing, you have to be observant,” she said. “I would always observe the local women, how they dressed and acted and interactions with men because I didn’t want to offend anybody; and didn’t want to be considered rude. And I think that sort of becomes second-nature and intuitive.”
One of her favorite experiences was when they encountered a family in the mountains in Siberia.
“We were in this very isolated area and her came three people, two on one horse and a lady on a big white horse came galloping across and the lady wanted us to come and have Chai,” Monika Wescott said.
The family spoke Russian and the Wescotts spoke back and forth using a Russian-English dictionary, they said.
“We would go back and forth and draw pictures,” Monika Wescott said. “They were as curious about us and our lives as we were about them and we learned so much. You work with pictures, make sounds, play it out. If they’re interested, they will figure out what you want to say, so it just goes back and forth.”
The couple stayed with the family for three days, shared stories and ate soup and yak’s milk, which, Monika said, was creamier than cow’s milk, and the Wescotts offered popcorn and hot chocolate, foods common to Americans, but foreign to the Siberian family.
“We were able to share some of our culinary culture and they were doing the same with us,” Monika Wescott said. “They’ll never forget that moment there and we won’t either.”
Monika Wescott, who speaks five different languages, said the experience of not speaking another language as someone else can actually be a good thing.
“We have learned that you don’t need to speak the language to communicate,” Monika Wescott said. “Oftentimes it’s better if you don’t speak the language because what you’re doing is listening very intently to what the person is explaining to you and if you speak the same language, you oftentimes don’t listen and continue the conversation of what you had to say.”
Though the couple has traveled around the world, they still say their favorite place is home in good ol’ Nevada County.
“Really the most beautiful place is where we live in the California Sierras,” Monika Wescott said.
For the travel-shy, Monika said travel opens up the mind and offers perspective and experience.
“Governments are governments, but people are people. They are concerned about raising their children healthy, a roof over their head, that’s the same all over the world,” she said.
“I would encourage anyone to travel the world, because it gives a totally different perspective of life and what’s going on; and it’s so big.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
“I would encourage anyone to travel the world, because it gives a totally different perspective of life and what’s going on …”
— Monika Wescott