Truckin' with Nikki
courtesy of Nikki Hall

That thing that she does: “She spent over four years driving truckloads of camping tourists through the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and Africa — on the trip I took, she was the sole support throughout Nepal, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan etc. She constantly amazed us by repairing the truck and dealing with tremendous challenges on the road. She was always having to deal with attempts at extortion and amazement: “What? A woman driving that giant truck??” She also gives good haircuts and is strikingly intelligent. Recently, she tired of killing chickens for tourists to eat, cutting tourists’ hair, and enduring numerous bouts of malaria and salmonella and she’s currently working her way around the world.

Marie Javins, fellow traveler


"I trained as a hairdresser originally, turning down the chance of an art degree to do so … (a move not exactly relished by my parents) … suffered from severe dermatitis … gave that up and went to do a diploma in business studies and travel and tourism … this led to a great job selling flights to Australia, New Zealand and the Far East … six years later, I decided that I had had enough of a desk job, steady decent salary, nice house, hairdryer, bed to sleep in etc. and jacked it all in to go and work for Dragoman Adventure Travel and drive overland trucks. I had no idea if I would be able to do it, but off I went to the workshop, where I spent six happy months learning mechanics, overseas first aid and generally getting cold, dirty and grimy and, of course, poor. (Overland driving is not renown for making you rich.) I also had to take my bus license, and then off I went to Nepal to do my first training trip, driving a sixteen-ton truck 20,000 kilometers back to the UK, not only as driver, leader and guide, but also as friend, mother, nurse and entertainer to 23 passengers."

Nikki Hall has maneuvered trucks full of backpackers through India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Jordan; through Greece, Italy and France; from Kenya to Zimbabwe via Tanzania; through Malawi, Zambia and Uganda; through Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique. That’s almost four years of, as she puts it, “having an adventure everyday.”

She recalls a couple of choice moments.

There was the time in Nepal, when her truck was held hostage by extortionists at a police checkpoint. Earlier, a pedestrian had run into the street and glanced off her truck, unharmed. By the time she reached the checkpoint, the authorities were demanding big bucks on behalf of the pedestrian’s “uncle”.

"…By now I had a headache, a group of people on holiday imprisoned in the truck on their first morning, a new co-driver who was rather bewildered by his first impressions of Nepal, and an angry mob of people outside demanding money for something that I hadn’t done. I did what I always do in a stressful situation: I sat down and had a Coke."

She made nice with the police chief for a bit, and then she dug in.

"I informed him that for the sake of others coming through, I would not be paying $500USD. He could keep us there as long as he liked, but I wouldn’t be paying. I also negotiated with him to allow my passengers to set up and have lunch (under guard of course) so that they could be occupied for a couple of hours while I continued with negotiations. …

‘Uncle’ would not deal direct with me, so I sat and read my book (actually I didn’t read a word) and instructed my passengers to look as though it wouldn’t bother them if they spent all day there. We made as though we were enjoying ourselves and could stay for a month.

It worked. The police chief brought “uncle” in to see me and we began, with the chief doing the translation for me."

Eventually, they made it through for $25USD.

And then there was the struggle to dig out the truck after it had been mired in the mud alongside a rain-drenched road in Malawi for five days.

"With hope once more, everyone gave it everything to rebuild that track. Passengers sweated next to locals, language becoming less of a barrier as African songs rent the air. Rocks, wood, sand, trees, branches…everything went into the mud and gradually, a firm base was formed. Finally, at midday, it stopped raining and the sun came out. Our efforts doubled. By about 4 p.m. we were as ready as we would ever be to try out our new track. The rain was just starting again when the three of us who were to drive our trucks out solemnly shook hands, wished each other luck, climbed into our respective cabs and started our engines.

Then came one of the most stressful moments of my life, when I had to drive that truck out of mud hell in front of eight exhausted, wet, desperate travelers who had paid thousands of pounds to be there, plus about 80 Malawi locals, with the rain still coming down in sheets, ready to wash it all away over night if I didn’t make it. It was almost as though I could feel everyone willing me up the track that we had all built with blood and guts.

Make it we did though, all three trucks, and when we finally hit the main road again, just as night was falling, we all did a little dance and kissed the tarmac.”

Nikki Hall

Truckin' Queen


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