From the searing heat of the Sahara Desert to the freezing heights of the Tibetan Plateau, chances are you'll see Fiona Easterby chugging past in an old VW, or similarly unsuitable vehicle. Fiona has always loved travelling; she has travelled the world working on the Formula One races, walked with lions in Zimbabwe, kayaked crystal clear Fijian lagoons and took her mum scuba diving on the barrier reef. A health scare forced her to reassess her life and she realised she hadn’t seen anywhere near enough of the world to consider checking out yet! While in hospital she read about a car rally through Africa; her first car was a 1965 Austin Healey Sprite and the idea of combining her passion for cars with her love for travel was a hit.
Her vehicle based travels began in earnest in 2007 when she drove from the UK to Gambia in a 1972 Beetle. If that doesn’t sound like an epic road trip at only 4,200 miles then bear in mind that the car had been purchased for £99 and hadn’t run for 15 year! The journey also included a three day off-piste crossing of the Sahara Desert in Mauritania. At the finish line the car was auctioned for charity, sold to an Iranian princess and later pressed into service as a tourist taxi.
No sooner had she returned home than Fiona found herself driving a Volvo to Italy for a friend who was relocating; the deal was “I’ll drive your car to Italy if we can follow the Mille Miglia when we get there”. So the 2 day drive from the UK was followed by a 1000 mile jaunt from Brescia to Rome and back chasing the famous Mille Miglia vintage car race.
A chance invite to a Mongol Rally launch party at the Ace Café led Fiona to her next adventure; Simon’s co-driver had dropped out and he needed a replacement to travel the 10,000 miles to Mongolia. It seemed too good to be true, and it was! Fiona and Simon clashed and wound up going their separate ways in Kazakhstan. Fiona continued through the Altai Mountains and the wilds of western Mongolia in a Micra with Maso, an Irish man she’d met in a strip club (disguised as the hotel bar) in Ukraine. While Simon and his Suzuki SJ teamed up with Maso’s friend Aaron for the quicker route across Russia.
After three incredible trips in the space of one year Fiona was raring to go further. “Why don’t you drive out and see me in Australia.” Her friend Tracey had joked. That was all it took to sew the seed of an idea. Looking at the map revealed several clear overland route options as far as Singapore; the furthest it was possible to drive without a sea crossing. Since Fiona’s Beetle had been so well received in Africa she set about looking for another for this journey. She came across the perfect car in San Francisco, a Californian Baja Bug! It was ideal, it had superb off-road credentials, would be easy to get parts for anywhere in the world, was simple to work on and it also fitted Fiona’s number one criteria….it was cute enough to make even the sternest border guard smile. Pedro the Baja Bug was shipped to the UK and modified further with a roll cage and nudge bars, ready for the adventure ahead. Why the name Pedro? Pedro is a popular name in Baja California where the style of car originated, it’s also Fiona’s dad’s name in Spanish (Peter) and is the name of the tow truck driver who helped fix the car she drove to Gambia in 2007. So it just seemed to suit.
Fiona’s choice of co-driver was perhaps not the wisest, a Texan Paris Hiltonesque diva who never did master clutch control. Tensions flared when they broke down at the Channel Tunnel terminal on day one, the starter motor had failed before they even left the country! The tunnel recovery team showed them where to hit it with a hammer and they continued undeterred to a VW drag race meet in Belgium where they sourced a new one. Now the journey proper could begin. From Belgium they travelled through Europe to Croatia and along the Adriatic coast before turning inland through the mountains of Montenegro and into Kosovo where they would visit the first of the charity projects they were supporting. Kosovo is littered with grenades, mortars, mines and cluster bombs from the war that ravaged the newly formed country. Fiona and Rica visited a site being cleared by the Mines Awareness Trust and were given the honour of detonating that mornings finds, 2 grenades and a mortar bomb. “This is a treat for us” said one of the de-miners, “we are normally only visited by serious men with beards.”
The second landmine charity they were supporting was the Cope centre in Laos who provide prosthetic limbs for people injured by ordnance left over from bombing during the Vietnam War. First though they would have to traverse Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Tibet! Being American Rica had been unable to obtain an Iranian visa. Instead she would fly from Istanbul to Lahore, leaving Fiona to drive most of Turkey, all of Iran and most of Pakistan alone. Well, almost alone, she had the company of strange stalkers in Turkey, rogue lorry drivers in Iran and police escorts in Pakistan. The police escorts were an interesting mix of characters ranging from completely nuts to smooth Miami Vice style. If chatting to the escorts didn’t give Fiona enough insight into Pakistani culture then her stay in a Quetta hospital did! Severe food poisoning is apparently common, even amongst locals, in Quetta and Fiona had fallen foul of a dodgy kebab. The ladies on her ward were fascinated and spent hours brushing her hair, massaging her feet and, with the help of the nurse translating, trying to tempt her into marriage with their sons!
Fiona and Rica became the first people to drive a VW Beetle on the Tibetan plateau, much to the disappointment of the Nepal Beetle Owners Group who had been trying to get permission to make the journey to Everest for years. The girls also ran into more than their fair share of red tape. Visiting the hotel ‘spa’, to ease the stress of Chinese bureaucracy, turned into an eye-opener culminating in a tour of the local brothel! Fiona’s book “Beetle Drive” gives the full account of that and an equally entertaining visit to a blind massage centre.
In 2010 Fiona drove a borrowed BMW E46 M3 to the Spyker factory in the Netherlands. Then filmed a supercar tour through Denmark and Norway, switching between BMW, Ferrari 328, Ferrari, 360 and Ferrari 575. A head injury on a roller-coaster then put her travel plans on hold for a few years, instead she published her book and is now planning her next adventure.
Fiona is a broadcast camera operator with over 20 years’ experience. She has worked on productions for Sky, Formula One, Channel 4, ITV, BBC and Channel 5. She has worked on a wide range of programming from sport and documentaries to live music and international F1 races. In 2015 she was given the option of redundancy, a daunting prospect after so many years in staff roles but made easier by her new boss’s reluctance to allow time off for extended travelling. Whilst weighing up her options Fiona was approached by Rally Round and asked to film their Thunder Dragon Rally. Given the choice of spending her days in a west London studio with a bunch of football pundits or driving across Bhutan with interesting people and beautiful vintage cars, well, which woFiona set up World Rallies Productions and now specialises in filming vintage car rallies around the world.
Highlights of The Thunder Dragon Rally and Paris – Vienna Rally can be viewed on her Youtube channel, soon to be joined by the Samurai Challenge Rally through Japan, The Paris – Prague Rally and Odyssey Italia which will take her from Liguria to Tuscany via Corsica, Sardinia and Elba; all in the company of some of the world’s most drop dead gorgeous motor cars! www.youtube.com/easterbyf When not on the road she continues to work freelance as a broadcast camera operator for the BBC.uld you choose?!
That doesn’t mean Pedro the Baja Bug has been retired though, far from it, he has undergone further modification in preparation for the next adventure. A roof tent has been added to save money on accommodation (it’s already been tested around the UK) and he recently had a fresh engine fitted. Re-wiring, an LED light bar and new shock absorbers are also in the pipeline for 2017 when funds allow. Maps of the world are once again strewn across the table, a time window has presented itself and a route plan is coming together…..watch this space!
If you have a question for Fiona, or would like her to write you a review in association with The Sisterhood Of Speed, please email email@example.com