Day 427 – Wednesday, June 25th 2014
Catching a ferry for Le Havre at 10:30pm was our sole objective for the day. Now we’d been in this game long enough, and we know our truck sufficiently that we were leaving plenty of margin, arriving in the port town in time for lunch.
With time to kill we blew a load of euros at a car washing station, finally blasting off some of the mud that had been clinging on since Mongolia. We also took the chance to make sure that all of Ivor’s lights were behaving before going for his MOT (safety test) tomorrow; they weren’t, both the front parking lights had blown. As ever a simple bulb change conjured up an element of drama as a variety of fixings crumbled – requiring a dash to a garage just as they were closing so that we could use their drill, and put everything back together properly*. The garage didn’t charge anything, but we gave them some mini bottles of rum punch we’d been carrying around as a thank you.
*a word in engineering that means ‘with minimal duct tape’.
Lighting drama aside we headed to the port to take our place in line ready to board. We still had so much time at our disposal that we could leave Ivor queuing on our behalf and nip off to swig a celebratory pression at a nearby bistro.
With Ivor boarded, and another cold beer in hand on the ferry bar there should have been some kind of mixed emotions riding though us – excitement that we would soon be seeing people that we knew, that the ‘challenge of a lifetime’ was nearly at an end, and sadness since the experiences would soon be behind us, and just another part of our history. But looking back writing this, all that we can honestly recall from this moment was over-riding exhaustion. Getting back to this point had not been an easy task, and with a large amount of the stress now behind us, it was time to unwind.
Day 428 – Thursday, June 26th 2014
Portsmouth, for all its sins as a city, is one of finest welcomes back to the UK that you can hope for by sea. Where the beige cliffs of Dover do little to excite, and the drab industry of Southampton can bearly muster a “welcome-back”, the wight isle, the ancient forts, docks and striking towers provided the backdrop for a stirring return to the UK.
And what would fill your mind in these final moments when something you’ve been working towards for more than 3 years is quite literally in the final moments? If television programs are to be believed we would have some kind of happy montage of the various highs and lows of our far eastern adventure set to heart-warming music that can make even the brakes catching fire in Laos seem positive when the friendly locals rush to get water…
In reality, neither of us were ready to stand out on the deck, and have UK soil approach us as quickly as it did. Slightly numbed by the shock that this was finally happening the emotions of joy, relief, and pride of a job well done all started to vie for our attention – though there was never a “YES, WE DID IT” moment, the sensations built steadily throughout the following days as we finally started to believe it ourselves.
We were pulled over at customs, of course, but it gave us a chance to get the final squiggle on our Carnet de Passage – proving that we hadn’t sold the truck in a far flung land, so would not need to pay tax on it. It doesn’t sound very exciting – but it meant that we could get refunded part of an almighty deposit – Amounting to more than two thousand pounds, so the drudgery of the paperwork achieved a certain sense of appeal.
Now back on UK soil in almost 15months, our first act? To find a relay for our hazard warning lights.
Sometimes, we just let our emotions get the better of us.
The second act was to find some proper bacon rolls, and then get ourselves up to the village of Liphook, to be reunited with Vaughan’s Parents, and after the welcome hugs it was not long before we were sat in their living room with a cup of tea and a slight sense of disbelief.
We couldn’t rest up for too long however, since if we wanted to drive him on the UK roads, Ivor would have to have an MoT (like a Canadian ‘Safety’, but yearly) straight away. Ivor showed he’d finally learned how to behave by getting through his with a clean bill of health, and we didn’t even have to keep pulling out dollar bills until he passed – old habits die hard.
And talking of giving up habits, mooching around in the UK and eventually finding our way back to Toulouse is hardly deserving of a captains daily log format, so we can just skip ahead to the weekend, where we tackled the only remaining entry on our ‘to do’ list; we rounded up as many friends and family as we could at short notice and made for the pub.
The pub-with-no-name played host to us for the whole afternoon and evening relaxing, celebrating, and catching up on the changes in other people’s lives since we’d been away – and the campsite meant that we didn’t all have to be able to drive home afterwards.
It seems fitting that we finish our reporting with family and friends, so how about we just take a look back over our trip and sum it up in a few words before signing off? We’ve tried to pick out a few of our favourite pics from the trip while we’re at it… but 14 months of shutter clicking will only reduce down so far, so please do bear with us.
Reunion – Turkey – Georgia – Azerbaijan – Turkmenistan – Uzbekistan – Kyzgyzstan – China
It was quite an eventful year or so in the end so it’s a little difficult to summarise. Being engineers we do tend to think in numbers, so how about we kick this off with a list to put the trip into perspective a little?
Approx 53000: Total kilometres travelled by Ivor
29 Countries visited
41 Hours of Accumulative Time Zone changes
51322 Blog Views
1 Hospital Stay
6 Engine Oil Changes
2 Performances of ‘The Time Warp’ to bemused Chinese audiences
2 + 2 Punctures + Valves shaken loose
4 Seas that Ivor crossed
50 USD Most expensive bribe (Nepal to India Border)
42 International border crossing
2 Camels ridden (one each)
2 frightening events involving monkeys
441 Days before returning to Toulouse
Thailand – Malaysia – India – Nepal – Thailand (flying visit)
But what happened between the numbers, what did we actually do? If we were to put together a more cohesive answer than someone usually gets when someone asks “so what did you do on your trip?” on the spot? Well it would look a little something like this….
After that brutal start where we made Toulouse to Istanbul in two and a half days, we’d crossed central Asia, wriggled through a border incident at the Uzbek – Kyrgyz frontier, traversed China, and made it to the far and distant Kuala Lumpar. We negotiated Ivor onto a container ship, and toured India, made a fuss out of an insect bite, had our breath taken by the Himalayas in more ways than one, and crossed the forbidden kingdom of Burma with a merry band of travellers. South east asia had been a travellers dream, and our return through china was shared with yet more like minded souls. Outer Mongolia beguiled us with the isolation of it’s Steppe and Gobi Desert, and Russia blew any preconceptions we may have had before our visit.
Australia – North East India
But these are simply opinions and facts that you can scoop out from the rest of the blog, what about between the lines? Did we learn anything? Are we the same people that left headed east from Toulouse back in April 2013, or have we just discovered that we quite like being on holiday all of the time? Well that’s going to take a little more thought, but we’ll do what we can….
So the most obvious discovery is that people really are nice, almost exclusively, and if you have just a smidge of common sense the world is not the dangerous place that lazy journalists would have you believe. Irrelevant to the intentions of governments and biases of religion, the people on the ground are really just trying to make sure they have enough to get by, and if you really are in a jam there is always someone that will come to your aid – no matter how little they have themselves.
Burma – Thailand – Cambodia – Laos
Throughout the trip we were impressed at the support we received just because they realised we were far from home – the goat herders in Uzbekistan that helped us fix our exhaust by the side of the road, the numerous mechanics that wouldn’t accept any payment (thanks Ivor, for introducing us), the folk in China that took us out for the night and insisted we didn’t pay for anything, the Russian men that fed us for free while their friend went to get us some coolant hose, all the Burmese traders that wouldn’t let us leave without a gift, and the Nepalese garage owner who let Ivor take up a prime undercover workshop spot while we flew off to Australia and again didn’t ask for anything in return (though we gave some anyway) – That teaches you a thing or two about how strangers should be looked after for sure, and if we can keep one lesson from our adventures it should be that attitude towards those that are really in a jam, or out of their comfort zones.
Surely that can’t be it? “People are normally nice, be nice back to them”? What kind of van-dwelling-peace-sign-flashing-dreadlocked-hippy has scrawled this nonsense?
Well sorry, cliche as it may seem, we’re standing by that as the most important lesson, but there are perhaps a few more:
– if you have either time or money, you can get yourself out of almost anything – be grateful if you have much of either
– mosquitoes should go extinct, no-one would miss them – any animals that are currently one step above them in the food chain can move on to eating flies, there will always be plenty of flies
– anyone who uses the expression “the world is getting smaller” too often should try driving across China, or Mongolia, or both.
– when monkey’s attack; throw stones
– The worst toilet in the world (or at least Asia) can be found outside a truck stop near the Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat (see aforementioned ‘plenty’ of flies)
– The line “We’ll laugh about this one day, so we might as well start laughing now” applies to almost every tight spot you might find yourself in (ref: Gisela in Burma, whose clutch had just failed as night was falling, and we we’re still a long way from the only place the government would allow us to stop for the night).
Some more photos? Oh, go on then….
China – Mongolia – Russia
So all that is left for us to do is to answer that questions we often get asked; “So, what are you going to do next?”
Well who knows?! We’re settled down in Toulouse for the moment and we seem to have reintegrated ourselves with that thing people call “normal life”, all is going good. Ivor is still rolling along as happily as ever, if not more so…
So is another Mega-trip on the cards?…. Well not yet, but we won’t rule out one at some point in the future…. The Americas do have a certain appeal don’t you think….?
’til next time…..