Above: Eoin pictured at the ‘Door to Hell’. “In 1971, Soviet engineers looking for oil found a gas reserve; they decided that the gas would burn out in a few weeks so they set fire to it. Now it is a 200-foot crater that has been burning for 40 years.”
Adventurer Eoin Murphy, 30, from Clonakilty, recently partook in the Mongol Rally 2015 covering 10,000 miles across the mountains, desert and steppe of Europe and Asia in a 15-year-old Nissan Micra. His partner in crime was Marty Gregor, 37, from Brisbane, Australia. Having met each other during and survived the Rickshaw Run across India in 2010, the couple of daredevils kept in touch and decided the thrills and spills associated with the Mongol Rally sounded right up their street as a joint venture. In between, Eoin also took part in the Mototaxi Junket in 2012, driving Mototaxis on off-road tracks and over massive mountains across Peru. Eoin talks to Mary O’Brien about his latest adventure.
Eoin currently lives in Seattle, USA, working for Microsoft. Marty lives in Jakarta, Indonesia working as a chiropractor and travelling the world in his spare time.
Run by a British company called the Adventurists, the rules of The Mongol Rally are very simple… 1. You can only take a farcically small vehicle. 2. You’re completely on your own. 3. You’ve got to raise £1000 for charity.
There’s no backup, no support and no set route.
“Driving half way around the world in a 15-year-old Nissan Micra sounded exactly like an adventure that would suit myself and Marty,” says Eoin “The Adventurists have several other events but, as we weren’t keen on rafts or paramotors, we decided on the Mongol Rally. We are both very passionate about travel and experiencing new cultures and liked the challenge of attempting to see so many new countries in such a short space of time. We are also very passionate about raising money and awareness for important charities through these ridiculous adventures.”
The Adventurists provide the start point and the end point of the trip but the route in between is completely up to each participant. Eoin and Marty’s route took in the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania, Iran and the Pamir Highway. “Some teams went through the Scandinavian countries and straight to Russia, some teams took the ferry across the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan (by all accounts a horrible experience) and a lot of teams took a route to the south through Iran,” explains Eoin. “We originally had another team member in England, Phil, but disagreement about going through Iran saw him leave the team.”
“Once the route was agreed upon, we needed to get visas for all the different countries, seven in total. This was a long drawn out process…”
A friend of Marty’s, Jesus, offered to sponsor the car through his company App8.eu. “He bought the car and had it serviced, then drove it from Belgium to the start line at Goodwood racetrack in England and joined us for the start of the Rally back to Belgium,” explains Eoin.
“The car is a year 2000 1 litre Nissan Micra — it comes without power steering, power windows, central locking, heaters or fans that work. But the Micra is a staple of the Mongol Rally, there is even a rumour that no Micra has ever failed to finish the Rally. One team lost the keys to their Micra and so tried to open it with a crowbar; after 30 minutes trying to pry the door open, they gave up and decided to smash the window, which took four attempts. Micras are a lot tougher than they look. A lot of cars on the Rally have snorkels fitted for river crossings and sump guards for off-road driving and show up with four spare gravel tyres. Marty and myself decided this was not in the spirit of the Rally and did not make any modifications or bring any tyres besides the spare in the boot.
“In a clear violation of the rules, one team brought an old Porsche. Everyone was slightly disgruntled by this fact, until the Porsche hit a rock in Turkmenistan, caught fire and burnt to the ground. The team was fine, but off home, to the delight of the other teams.”
According to Eoin, one of the biggest challenges of the Rally is spending 24 hours a day with the same people. “Some teams didn’t even make it two weeks into the Rally and gave up and went home due to the in-fighting. Myself and Marty always got on well together and never had a problem.”
Another challenge on the Rally is river crossings. “The Pamir Highway and Mongolia constantly have bridges and roads that are washed out by floods. A lot of time is spent knee deep in freezing water searching for a shallow spot where a Micra can cross. Eventually everyone’s river crossing luck runs out and the car will stop in the middle of the river; we were lucky enough that locals in a jeep were nearby to tow us out when this happened to us,” says Eoin.
One day in the town of Kvod in Western Mongolia, the lads’ engine decided to die. After a day at the mechanics, it was determined the distributor had failed. “The mechanics drove us to 25 shops and garages in town to try and find a replacement distributor and failed. The next day we were discussing getting buses and flights home when the mechanic drove us to an auto-electrician, giving it one last shot. The electrician smashed open the distributor, soldered some wires to the circuit board and calmly said ‘ok’. The car started first time every time from then on. It was our first experience of ‘Mongolian Magic’.”
The Transfagarasan Highway in Romania was an amazing experience. “It is a long winding road full of switchbacks, snaking up a valley with an amazing view at the top.” Another highlight was seeing Iran. “It was amazingly welcoming and we constantly had people shout, ‘Welcome to Iran, brother’ at us,” says Eoin.
The guidebook describes Ashgabat in Turkmenistan as a cross between Las Vegas and Pyongyang. “It is a very strangle place…It has more fountains than Vegas and is full of giant marble buildings. The previous dictator built a giant gold statue of himself that rotated to follow the sun, and then announced that the sun was actually following him.”
Eoin and Marty drove through a sandstorm and thunderstorm to get to the ‘Door To Hell’ and had to spend an hour digging the Micra out of a sand hill. “In 1971, Soviet engineers looking for oil found a gas reserve; they decided that the gas would burn out in a few weeks so they set fire to it. Now it is a 200-foot crater that has been burning for 40 years.”
The Pamir Highway is described as a road that is an excellent challenge for 4X4 adventurers. “It is even more of an adventure for a Nissan Micra,” says Eoin. “The Wakkan Valley follows the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan with amazing views of the mountain ranges on each side.”
An Australian team that Eoin and Marty met along the way, called ‘The Drop Bears’ had their car die in the Gobi desert. “They got an official police report stating that the car was undrivable and headed for UlanBaataar. Once there, they were told that they would have to drive back the 200 miles to the car and have it towed to UlanBaataar where customs could inspect it and confirm that it was unusable. Not wanting to do this, they jumped in our car and headed for the border, hoping they would be able to get away without the $5000 fine. After a tense few minutes at the border, the Australians literally skipped through the border with stamped passports.”
In Uzbekistan, the pair asked a family stopped on the side of the road for directions. “They demanded that we drive seven hours out of the way to have dinner and stay the night with them. They were four brothers accompanying their sister to her university entrance exams to become an English teacher. Dinner involved the traditional six shots of straight vodka. In the morning Marty gave the children a chiropractic assessment for some problems with their hips and we were gifted fabulous woolen Uzbek jackets.”
In Iran, Eoin and Marty met Bahar, who said: ‘You are from Ireland? I know Ireland. 2002, Roy Keane, Robbie Keane’. “He spent the entire afternoon with us and helped us negotiate a good price for a souvenir carpet,” says Eoin. “He also told us, ‘It is my dream to live in America for one hour’. He has always wanted to travel to the West but he has no family and he cannot travel on his own because he will be suspected as a terrorist.”
Eoin and Marty’s four-week journey took them through England, France, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and finally Mongolia. “All of my US vacations for the year,” says Eoin wryly.
The car did amazingly well on the journey and survived to Ulan-Ude in Russia where it was loaded on a train to go to the scrap yard. In previous years the cars were sold or given away in Mongolia but the Mongolian government has taken a hard line on leaving scrap cars in their country and now look for $5000 for any car left behind.
“The only thing I would have changed about the trip would be the amount of time we took,” says Eoin “Our route was extremely challenging and really should have taken five weeks. There was a lot of driving through the night in order to make up the time. But we made it just in time to the airport, extremely wrecked but extremely happy!”
Eoin and Marty have raised $1122 so far for Cool Earth, a charity that works alongside indigenous villages to halt rainforest destruction (£1,076 has also been raised so far for Classrooms in the Clouds. Classrooms in the Clouds works in the Everest region of Nepal in remote villages building classrooms and training teachers. You can still donate to both charities www.mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raidersofthelostyak and www.coolearth.org/542/mongol-rally-2015.