Friday, August 29, 2014

Ex-Torquay pupils travel through 'hell' on trek to Mongolia

Having passed through “Hell” to get there, a pair of ex-pupils from Torquay Boy’s Grammar School and two university friends have nearly completed their 4,300 mile journey from London to Mongolia’s capital.

Dominic Falcao, 23, from Teignmouth and Steven Brace, 23, from Holcombe have been taking part in the Mongol Rally, a charity race between the two capitals, with Steve’s friends from the University of Bath Jack Chartres, 21, and Ollie Skittery, 23.

Quite unlike most races, the Mongol Rally challenges groups to travel halfway across the world unaided and unassisted, with a strict rule that the vehicle must be rubbish and that they have to raise money for charity.

Raising funds for Medicins sans Frontieres and Cool Earth, the boys have made it to the former Kazakhstani capital Almaty in their 1994 Rover 827Si Regency limousine.

Dominic said the highlight of the trip so far has been visiting the infamous “Doorway to Hell”, a 70 metre-wide burning collapsed gas mine in the desert village of Derweze in Turkmenistan.

He said: “It was the fact that it was genuinely so dangerous and we were completely free and relatively unobserved. Plus the attempt to drive there.” Writing on their blog, the boys said the man driving them there seemed like he was lost and doing the drive for the first time.

Managing to break down during a test drive before the race even started, the limousine has proved a concern at times and most recently saw its suspension snap in Turkmenistan, dropping the car onto the drive shaft which in turn snapped as well.

Replacing the suspension and getting towed 200km, the boys got the drive shaft “bodged” in Uzbekistan and managed it another 200km before breaking down and having to be towed again. They are currently waiting for repairs to finish the final leg of the journey.

Yet breakdowns are not the only problem they’ve faced, with Dominic saying the police are “quite difficult east of Turkey.”

“We get pulled over fairly frequently, often they are looking for bribes. We haven't paid any, we just pretend not to understand and say ‘embassy’.”

It’s not just rogue officers who have proved an issue for the boys, with nature sometimes sneaking up on them.

Dominic said: “We were camping by a lake just outside Shymkent (Kazakhstan). We had met some fishermen earlier who had warned about snakes and thought they were joking.

“Steve and Ollie slept outside on a tarpaulin and when we woke a two-metre snake was just a couple of metres away. It quickly got under the car, which we tried to move, but it must have liked the heat from the engine so slid right up under the engine bay.

“We think it was some kind of viper. We live in constant fear for our ankles, although we’re fairly sure it’s been toasted by now.” The snake has since been named Roger.

After studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of York, Dominic is the only member of the group working, with a renewed contract waiting for him when he returns.

He said: “We got some commercial sponsorship, but a lot of the expense is out of pocket. We keep costs low by camping where possible and eating locally. A post about a hotel where we stayed in Uzbekistan topped Reddit travel recently – it cost 1 dollar each.”

Asked what advice he would give anyone back home considering the mammoth journey, Dominic gave some expertise pearls of wisdom.

1) Do it in a ludicrous vehicle, something that should never be able to make it.

2) Keep your insect repellent close and your forks closer (we lost all of ours in Turkey).

3) Do not ever, ever buy a Rover limousine.

Read more of the boy’s adventures on their Mongol Rally blog.

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