REYKJAVIK, Iceland- Vehicular monstrosities — construction and military trucks converted into travel vehicles — often ply the wild hinterlands just outside of mainland Europe. Getting a dump or military truck, adding on a cabin, throwing in some beds, and tons of survival gear and going off-roading to Africa, the Middle East, or Iceland is becoming a somewhat popular passion in Europe. The more I travel around the fringes of this continent, the more of these insanely huge travel machines I come upon.
These huge trucks are usually made of steel, and have the ambiance of tanks. The back ends of these trucks are generally converted into large sleeping, living, or passenger quarters, and the outsides are generally painted with “adventure” slogans as well as a list of all the countries that the particular vehicle has been driven through. Some of these lists are very impressive, more than a few times these monstrosities have been taken around the world.
In Iceland, I woke up one morning at the campsite in Reykjavik to find a beast of a machine bearing down on my tent. It was bright yellow and had the countenance of an earthquake. Adventura.cz was written across its side, huge wheels were attached all over it, and it roared through camp, inviting “what the f’ck” responses from all the campers hiding out in their tents like lemmings. Eventually, the monstrosity stopped rumbling, two guys stepped out, and I walked over to find out what they were doing with such a ridiculous machine.
I introduced myself to a guy who could not speak any English, and he waved me over to his companion. I shook his hand, told him who I was and what I do, then jumped into satiating my curiosity.
The truck was run by a Czech tour company that runs trips to Africa, the Near East, and, apparently, Iceland. For 1,500 Euro each, twenty something passengers can ride in the big yellow battling ram for two weeks into some worldly hell and back — all expenses included. The tour guides seemed to think this was a good price, and, honestly, I had to agree: the operating cost of shipping and driving this truck alone had to be nearly as large as it was.
“So how much does it cost to drive this truck, how much is the gas?” I asked.
The tour guide was vague, and just repeated that the cost was 1,500 Euro to ride in it. I tried again, and was met with a similarly vague response. “It is 400 horse power with a 90 liter engine, and 16 cylinders,” I was told. I took this as a simple way of saying that that it takes A LOT of gas.
“So how did you get this truck to Iceland?” knowing damn well that they couldn’t have drive it here.
“From Denmark, we put it on the ferry boat from Denmark.”
“I bet that was expensive?”
“Now, did this truck use to be used for construction, it sort of looks like a dump truck?” I asked.
What I was told came as a surprise, the guide said that it was not a conversion project, that it was made by the Tatrabus company specifically for adventure tours. But it was my suspicions that the Czech guide misunderstood my question, and upon checking the website found that the truck was actually first made and used for military purposes:
It was built in 1991 as a military special and adapted for supporting a vehicle off-road competitions. He participated in the competition, Marrakech Munich, and Paris-ridden Beijing, and several “Dakar”. -Auto translated to English from Tatrabus Vehicle History
“The back use to be a soft top, but now it is a hard cabin,” the guide explained as we looked at the passenger seating area of the truck. It looked as if someone mounted the rear of a school bus onto a dump truck — the form meets its function.
I looked over the truck and at the list of countries it had been too. Reading the Czech country names, it became clear that this vehicle had been driven in Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, and, of course, Iceland.
These “adventure” trucks are usual run by a tour company or by individuals on trips comped by corporate sponsorship, but I have also seen more than a few fully operated by self-supporting travelers. As I was exiting the campsite in Reykjavik I saw a large military cargo truck being used as a traveling machine by a Dutch couple.
The dream here seems to be getting the largest truck you can possibly find, outfitting it for war, and then driving it through the landscapes of earthly hell. In actuality, it is my impression that they just drive on somewhat rough roads in remote locations to get to places that weaker vehicles could not manage — though, I cannot hold back my opinion that these massive trucks are slight overkills — you need a sturdy and powerful 4 X 4 to access many places on this earth, but a military cargo truck seems to overdue the function. But it is also my impression that the size and power of these trucks are part of the general appeal in and of itself.