In their fifteenth and final travelogue, our tuk tukers reveal the highs and lows of their trip by sharing the answers to some of their most frequently asked questions.
A month after finishing the expedition of a lifetime, our tuk tuking days seem like distant memories. We’ve already grown accustomed to our creature comforts: a warm and comfortable bed, a variety of delicious home-cooked meals, fresh cups of English breakfast tea and being reunited with friends and family …
In an effort to engage young people in development debate and provoke a consideration of the importance of education, we’ve now started talking about our experiences to schools around the UK and Ireland. We’ve been ambushed by all sorts of difficult questions; here are some of my favourite along with my best efforts at answering them.
Which was the worst border crossing?
As we were leaving Slovenia for Croatia, right at the start of our journey, we had our first major incident. For starters, the border police found it highly suspicious that our passports were issued on the same day. Before leaving, Nick and I had ordered new jumbo-sized passports with extra pages to allow room for all the visas and stamps we would acquire. We sent our applications off together. They were processed on the same day. The guard nodded reluctantly at our tale and began to go through the immigration formalities. “There is a problem here, sir.” A small group of bewildered officers were clustered around a computer screen, snatching concerned glances at us and our vehicle in between thorough examinations of our passports. “These passports expired in 1923.” Well, we weren’t expecting that! While the correct expiration date – 2023 – had been printed in the passports, the all-important internal chip had been configured incorrectly. The grinning guards let us pass and told us we should go directly to the British Embassy in Croatia where we could order replacements. Our Egyptian and Sudanese visas were already in these faulty passports though – replacing our permit to enter Sudan would have meant returning to their embassy in London. Besides, our vehicle insurance for Europe was expiring in a few days and we had to get to Africa. We decided to risk it … Over 60 immigration checkpoints later and, thankfully, the Slovenians were the only ones to notice!
What was the scariest moment?
Almost being charged by an elephant in Uganda and then again in Botswana certainly made the adrenaline surge. Being shunted from behind by a truck in Malaysia and skidding uncontrollably into a stream of fast-moving traffic was also terrifying. These experiences happened so quickly though, that panic immediately dissipated into jittery relief. Whole nights were spent restless and wide-eyed, however, sitting bolt upright at the slightest stirring outside our tents. With only a flimsy film of nylon and netting to protect you, the mind goes wild with the quiet scratching and scurrying of the smallest creatures … Scottish deer became the dreaded offspring of the Loch Ness monster; Slovenian rabbits were fearsome prowling bears; Kenyan porcupines sounded like mythical beasts communicating with a strange, clicking dialect; gentle snores from a nearby tent became the roar of distant lions. Sometimes this was just in our heads, but the warnings we received from locals, footprints and other signs of life and the occasional sighting of wild animals were very real indeed. A particularly scary job was checking the tuk tuk each morning to ensure no snakes or scorpions had made it their home during the night. I am certainly not cut out for that sort of work!
Did you face any human danger?
We are of the opinion that the vast majority of people in this world are good people and our experiences certainly backed this up. We were overwhelmed by the kindness and support we received from people all over the world, regardless of their background or means. Having said that, there were moments when we did feel rather unsafe. Exploring the slums of Kampala was a nerve-wracking experience. Our guide, a former street child, was well-liked and well-respected so we were unlikely to come to any harm but we did feel quite threatened on occasion. While camping on the beach of a small town in Peru, we were woken up to the mumblings and silhouette of a man waving a machete. It turned out that he’d just chased away a group of young men who had been lurking nearby, eyeing us up and our tuk tuk. He’d accidentally terrified us in his efforts to reassure and protect us!
Which was your favourite country?
I hate this question! It’s just impossible to choose. Every country we passed through had something special to offer and I’d like to return to all of them!
What was the best part?
As clichéd as it sounds, the best part of our journey wasn’t the beautiful places we saw or any of the exciting things we did – it was the people we met along the way. One of the aims of our endeavour was to find inspirational local people who were working tirelessly to combat the educational challenges faced by their communities. When we set out, we knew people like this existed but had no idea whether we’d be able to find, meet and support them in their work. I feel so lucky and so privileged to have had the opportunity to meet the most wonderful people over the last 16 months, to share their stories on our website and through this blog and to support their work. That’s what our journey was all about and for me that makes it all worthwhile.
Would you do it again?
Certainly not! Driving around the world in a tuk tuk was a wonderful and unique experience … but I have no burning desire to undertake any more long-distance travel in such a slow, uncomfortable vehicle completely exposed to the elements!
What will happen now with the education projects you have visited?
Over the course of the next year, videos and stories about these projects will gradually go up on our website (www.tuktuktravels.com/projects). Through our UK registered charity – The Tuk Tuk Educational Trust – people will be able to support and donate to projects that particularly appeal to them, knowing that 100% of any funds raised will go directly to these communities, where even a small amount can go such a long way. In this way we hope that our endeavour will have a lasting impact on the lives of those enriched by the awesome work of these inspirational local heroes, the stars of this travelogue.
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Tuk Tuk Travels: Entry 15: What you always wanted to know