Snow, sickness and Stans.
The Last Overland has come a long way since our last dispatch from Nepal – and not just in terms of kilometres covered (although at 5,500km, that was pretty hefty too). As we came up to the half way mark on our journey from Singapore to London, we were expecting the coming three weeks to be our toughest yet, and we were not disappointed.
Acute mountain sickness, minus-20 C temperatures, and Oxford breaking down 50m from Afghanistan were just some of the highlights (or lowlights) of Oxford’s first venture into China and the Stans.
The rewards however, were some of the most stunning scenery any of us had ever witnessed in our lives. Oxford looked like a matchbox car as she stormed past Mount Everest, climbing to well over 5,000m with no difficulty whatsoever. While her two younger diesel-powered compatriots could be heard struggling to life in the bitter cold mornings, Oxford started first time, every time.
Sadly, her human team mates weren’t as resilient. The extreme altitude and bitter cold quickly took their toll, with almost every member of the crew having to resort to supplementary oxygen, and get used to a life of continual headaches, shortness of breath and restless sleep. When even The Doc fell ill and was submitted to hospital, we knew things were bad.
But it’s in those moments of hardship that teams are built, and we’re proud to see that all three cars and all 8 members emerged a little battered but unbowed from China into Kyrgyzstan on October 24th. It wasn’t all struggle and strife however – we did still have time to sit down in Shigatse and respond to some of your wonderful questions (in equally wonderful Tibetan headgear!)
After spending two weeks crossing one country, we picked up the geographical pace and covered three countries in eight days. Heading out of Kyrgyzstan, we crossed into Tajikistan and onto the infamous Pamir Highway.
This rugged route tracks the border with Afghanistan for hundreds of miles, and in recent years tourists have been targeted. But we’d done our homework with our security partner AKE and our travel insurance partner battleface, and made the call that it was now safe enough to pass. The views were stunning, and seeing Afghans going about their daily lives in this unforgiving environment, just across the raging river Panj, was a site we won’t forget.
What we also won’t forget was Oxford deciding to give up the ghost just metres from the Afghan border and miles from the nearest town. Luckily the combined forces of The Doc, Larry and our Russian fixers Alex and Vladimir quickly identified the problem (a knackered dynamo) and switched out the batteries from our support Defender 110, PAC.
Home team extraordinaire Adam Bennett also sprang into action, popping a replacement part in the post. It just proved the incredible lengths people are prepared to go for this little old car (as Alex noted in a recent post). Oxford’s going to be moving a little slower until she gets her transplant in our next stop, but for now she’s still tootling safe and well here in Uzbekistan. We’ve still got the delights of Bukhara ahead before we head on to country 11 (Turkmenistan).
We hope to see you all at Folkestone, if not before. For our mates in Europe who can’t make it to the UK, we’re putting the final touches to our Europe schedule in the next two weeks, and we’ll be letting you know where you can pop along and see us.
Thanks for your patience!