Three Berwickshire men are relaxing after a 10,000 mile journey to Mongolia in a battered Nissan Micra.
Or, rather, Dave Munroe, who now lives in Edinburgh, has been reflecting on the trio’s recent Mongol Rally, while his fellow travellers, Muir Gibb, from Duns, and Josh Hebdon, from Leitholm, have continued even further in their travels, on to China and New Zealand.
The three took on the challenge of getting to Mongolia in a clapped-out Micra in order to raise money for the friends of the BGH, where Josh and Muir were born. They raised over £1,000, as well as entrance money which went towards the Rally’s chosen charity, helping indigenous people in endangered rainforests.
Their route took them from the south of England, through France, Switzerland and eastern Europe, before heading on through Turkey, Iran, Russia and ‘The ‘stans’, as they are known - Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan.
And the three ha plenty of adventures, including being woken in their tents by Turkish soldiers.
“We were travelling through an area where in the days before there had been a suicide bombing, by Kurdish rebels,” said Dave, “and we thought, to be a bit safer, we wouldn’t stay in a town, but we’d drive out a little way, get off the track and camp.
“So we got out there, and we started getting the tents set up, when I hear this fizzing sound go over my head - it was just like a firework, but without the bang at the end.
“I said to other two that something was up, that it sounded like someone was shooting, but they weren’t having it. They said ‘How do you know what gunshot sounds like?’ So we ended up carrying on, and getting ready to sleep. And I was sure I heard the same noise again, going over my head, but again we just decided to turn all our lights off and go to sleep.
“I was just drifting off when I hear something else, and I pull open my tent to see all this sudden bright light everywhere, and Josh and Muir, nearly naked, kneeling outside their tents. There are these soldiers everywhere with big machine guns, and this guy, obviously their boss, gets out of a massive armoured vehicle, with a guy pointing a gun at us over his shoulder, shouting “What are you doing here?”
“And I’m shouting back at him: “We’re British! We’re British! We’re just...camping!”
“Eventually he understood, and he told us off for not staying in town. I told him we’d thought it would be safer outside, with the bombing, but he said, no, and that they’d been watching us all night. They had spotters all over the hills with rifles, and what I had heard had been ‘warning shots’!
“I asked him why he hadn’t just come and talked to us, and he just shrugged.”
The story doesn’t quite end there, either.
Having reached Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia’s capital and the end of the Rally, the three were swapping stories with some Australian participants, who started telling them about a team who had got lost and wound up near Syria, being woken up by the Turkish army.
“I thought, hang on that sounds familiar - is this story about us? I’m sure it was,” said Dave, “It was fantastic to get legend status on the Mongol Rally straight away like that.”
Other stretches of the journey were easier, although sometimes red tape at borer crossings was a problem.
“We were alright going through the ‘stans,” Muir said, “they wanted to check our documents again and again, but we got through pretty easily due to the guards helping themselves to our collection of miniature whisky bottles, that we had packed for bribing purposes.”
And in the days following their military eviction from their Turkish campsite, the trio crossed into Iran, which might have been thought the least hospitable of their destinations.
They soon found the opposite was true, though.
“The only problem in Iran was that Facebook is illegal there, so our families were a wee bit worried with us out of contact for a bit.
“But the country itself was amazing, actually very westernised, and everybody was very up for a good time. We had spent a bit of money on a guide to get us through, so we went on easily while other teams were waiting for like eight hours at the border.
“It helped that Iran had just signed the nuclear treaty, I think, because everybody was in a really good mood with us!
“Actually, that was true of nearly everywhere. It was great to see all these different cultures and the way people live in different countries. You would worry about offending people sometimes, but the majority know that you’re not from that culture, and just laugh at you making an idiot of yourself!
“There were some great surprises, as well. Countries that I’d never really thought about, like Slovenia. We’d travelled across from Venice that afternoon, and when we were stopping for the night, we came across a massive death metal festival in this tiny little village. We went out and had a great laugh with all these hundreds of Goths!”
The car that bore the trio 10,000 was eventually passed on to a French mechanic in Mongolia, who thought it could still serve a purpose, and Dave imagines that it’s somewhere in the middle of Siberia, now.
And another great thing, he said, was that the three are still friends despite being cooped up in a Micra for three weeks.
“That’s mainly down to not pushing people’s buttons,” he said, adding “and not letting Muir drive! Honestly, he drove it once, a few hundred yards, while Josh adn I were on pee break, but that was it, we wouldn’t let him do any more!”