It’s not everyone who can say they passed through 19 countries on a road-trip to Ulaanbaatar, but Andrew Hawick, Kevin Williamson and Stuart Cameron made their way to the Mongolian capital in a one-litre box car – and survived.
What’s more the men have proved their worth as an intrepid trio of adventurers while raising thousands of pounds for charity.
They’ve also discovered abilities they didn’t know they had, such as bribing police or border control officers, struggling to mend broken shock absorbers … and even performing as belly dancers (more on that later).
The men were taking part in the ultimate 10,000-mile endurance test, otherwise known as the Mongol Rally. For a gallery of 18 more photographs, click here.
Their trip took them through four deserts and five mountain ranges, in a car that hardly seemed up to the job: a tiny tin box called a Perodua Kenari (air conditioning not included).
But while the journey proved to be challenging in the extreme, it was well worth it.
Donations are still rolling in, but the men hope to raise up to £20,000 from the trip, which will be divided between the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation, which helps care for abandoned children in Mongolia, the RNLI and the Shetland Befriending Scheme.
The impressive sum is the most any of the 200 teams to finish the race has managed to raise as well.
Andrew said they made good progress after setting off from their starting point at Goodwood on 23rd July.
They took the Perodua to Folkstone before heading by train through the Channel Tunnel and motoring on to the Czech Republic – the meeting point for European competitors.
There they stayed the night in an impressive castle, where the party theme was “Arabian knights”. Naturally, the men thought it wise to dress as belly dancers.
“There wasn’t as many folk dressed up as we were expecting. We never paid for a drink all night,” said Andrew.
After that came a drive through Austria, into Slovakia, through Hungary and into Romania.
They even drove on the Transylvania Highway, a sweeping mountain road built during Ceausescu’s rule. Andrew said the road had featured on the BBC’s <i>Top Gear</i>, although they did not drive a Perodua.
“It was a beautiful drive, and then we got over there and stayed at a campsite down from Dracula’s castle.”
The men were fearful of what they might find in Georgia, but the experience proved far better than their expectations.
Kevin said: “We went to the embassy website, and read ‘you can’t go there, don’t go on this road, don’t go at night’. There’s only two roads that you can get to where we were going and one of them was pretty much right through a civil war. It just sounded absolutely awful.”
At the Georgian border control, however, they were warmly welcomed and treated almost as celebrities once the guards knew they were taking part in the rally.
Andrew said: “We rocked into Georgia at the border control and the guys were like, ‘ah, how’s it going?’ They shook our hands, stamped us in. The manager saw us and said: ‘Mongol Rally: go! go!'”
Kevin added: “A car came up behind us and overtook us. We had windows rolled down and they started throwing fruit in to us. Then they did it round the other side. They were giving us the big thumbs up and throwing plumbs in at us.”
They thought their luck had run out, however, when they reached the border with Azerbaijan. Ominously, a sign had been erected which read, in English: “Good Luck!”
What followed was a lot of tactful negotiations and bribes to help the trio pass through. They crossed the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan in a “rickety old boat” with “horrendous toilets”, before being made to stand in 40 degree heat for five hours until they were let through border control.
Once they were finally in Mongolia, however, they had to admit the experience was “awesome”.
“That’s probably the country that will leave the biggest impression on me,” said Kevin. “Roads had pot holes the size of the car. That was when I had big doubts in my mind that we were actually going to make it.”
They were delighted to reach their destination, however. The car was sold on, and the proceeds from the sale divided between the designated charities.
Selling the little Perodua proved to be a lucrative experience as well. It fetched the equivalent of £2,500 – small cars clearly being highly prized in Mongolia.
The men are adamant the rally was well worth the experience, even if it did require a whole year of preparation beforehand.
“It’s only six weeks, but there has been so much going on in that six weeks. The amount of information that passes through your brain is just colossal,” said Andrew.
He said 750 teams had signed up for the event, with 350 reaching the starting point and 200 finishing the event.
The Mongol Rally is rightly regarded as the ultimate endurance test. Despite that, the men only recalled two incidents that were really too close for comfort. One came on a desert trail when they hit a rock at 75kph, damaging their two front wheels.
The other was a near-miss on a dual carriageway – about 30 miles outside Aberdeen.
To see more photographs of the epic trip, click here.