How To Live Without Borders In A Land Rover Defender
Story by Graeme Bell, Photography by Luisa and Graeme Bell
I sat in my Land Rover, stuck in Cape Town traffic. Another torrid day in the office under my skin, trapped in a sea of metal built for mobility but going nowhere. I drove that same Land Rover from this port city to Dar es Salaam, my wife and children trusting me completely, by my side. For six months I had been liberated, I had been the man i was born to be. The sun set over a horizon I longed to chase while exhaust fumes filled my nose. I remembered the freedom of the open road, the daily, tangible, difficult reality of Africa. I remembered the Mozambican virus which had wracked my body, my children swimming blissfully in Lake Malawi, the ice cold beer I had shared with new friends in the Zambian bush. We had returned from that journey cloaked in dust and a film of joy, all too soon washed clean by the arduous monotonous demands of civilized life. “Fuck it, Luisa. Lets go.” “Go where?” “There, South America, lets go there.”
It took almost two years to extract ourselves from the real world, to remove the straightjackets we had once willingly worn and worked for. We sold all the crap, the business, the cars, everything except that with which my wife Luisa could not part with. We removed the children from school, canceled the debit orders and prepared our Defender for the journey across the Atlantic. In November 2012 we escaped on a jet plane and arrived in The New World.
The Defender joined us in Uruguay, and over the next two and a half years we circumnavigated South America, gasping in the beauty of the tips of the Andes, soaking the moisture of the Amazon jungle, and shivering through the gales of Patagonia. The vehicle broke down, we ran out of money, we faced down government thugs in Venezuela and fell deeply, madly in love with a continent which we would call home tomorrow—if there were not others still left to explore.
Slowly, day by day, we transformed as if from a cocoon, we grew and broke and were reborn under a blue sky. We were reinvented, I as a writer, my wife as a photographer, and our children as free spirits. We were no longer South African or white, or rich or poor. We were stateless, free agents of the universe, limited only by our imagination. And the fuel in the tank…
Our first book paid our way through Central America to Alaska and back down to Mexico. Then we needed a brief break. The road teaches but it also takes, and living in a tent loses its luster after four years. You need to stop, think, re-evaluate, plan. In Mexico’s San Pedro de Martir mountains we again changed, from travelers to professionals, eager to learn and teach and grow and achieve the impossible. Six months after working day and night on new projects we emerged from our seclusion ready for the next stage. With our own hands we converted the Land Rover into a globe-roaming super-camper, capable of providing shelter and protection and the ability to travel to even the most remote corners of the planet. We have never before worked as hard.
We again crossed the Atlantic and soon found ourselves on the shores of the Mediterranean, the snow falling while I wrote my third book, cosy in the camper, Luisa working tirelessly to deliver our story to a new market, becoming a filmmaker while the children prepared themselves for their own worlds.
Crossing into Asia, our son chose to become a man, deciding that it was now time to meet the world on his own terms. He is ready to make his own mark and we are delighted that we have filled him with a courage and curiosity to do so. He will now go off into the world while we continue to discover ours until he returns, understanding us better than he could have before.
The future is our own and we will write the story as it unfolds. We will be free.
To stay up-to-date with Graeme and Luisa’s globetrotting and to support the work that comes from it and goes into it, pay a visit to their Patreon site to learn more.