Alan Taylor’s family thought he was just dreaming when he first shared his travel plans.
WHEN respected engineer Alan Taylor first floated the idea of driving around the world, his family and friends told him ‘he was dreamin’.’
Wife Lynn only went along with talk of the idea because she was sure it would never happen.
Well, happen it did, and in March 2015 the couple left their comfortable home in Bonny Hills and headed north on what has become the adventure of a lifetime.
The long road trip to Darwin was followed by some island hopping through Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, China, Mongolia, Siberia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
By Christmas the pair had travelled over 43,000 kilometres and taken the odometer of their trusty 1991 Toyota Land Cruiser over the 450,000 kilometre mark.
In the process they visited 12 countries, caught 10 car ferries, fixed 10 flat tyres and paid the equivalent of AUS$600 in dodgy fines and so-called levies.
And they are not travelling alone.
Travel companions Barry and Donna Armstrong have known the Taylors for about 20 years.
“Barry is a builder, and we first met when I did some engineering for his project homes,” Alan said.
Both men are big practical jokers and their wives have seemingly endless supplies of tolerance, so the foursome make ideal travelling companions.
The Armstrongs’ vehicle of choice is a 2007 Ford Ranger, and not surprisingly, a Top Gear-style, pseudo-macho competition has evolved between the two men regarding the relative merits of their wheels.
A travel blog (www.pmfmotorchallenge.com.au) set up to keep friends and family informed of their travel progress is filled with car comparisons.
“The prevailing tone of the publication is one of total irresponsibility, where fact has been cleverly blended with a certain amount of journalistic license to keep the reader entertained without any obvious departure from the truth,” the blog states.
“Quotes attributed to other persons may not necessarily be as they were said, but it is envisaged that this is what they would indeed have said had they been given the opportunity.”
In between stunning photography and descriptions of some of the wildest corners of the globe are frequent and often hilarious motoring critiques and counter claims of embellishment.
In one post, Barry lists no less than nineteen separate defects and disparagements about the Taylor’s Land “Bruiser” before finally focusing on the original task – to share the news that they had left Azerbaijan, and were now in Georgia.
“Did I mention the Ford’s on its 8th tyre?” Alan posted dryly in response.
Asked to choose a favourite place or memorable moment, Alan and Lynn clearly struggle to select one or two moments from months of travel.
“The wooden cargo boat we caught between Sumatra and Batam, in Indonesia was pretty special,” Alan said.
“The police tried to stop us, but we could fit the car on, so off we went.
“17 hours later we had crossed the equator, and spent a memorable night sleeping on the deck, under the stars, sharing the space with about 40 goats.”
When Alan describes being held at gunpoint by the Mongolian military and having an AK47 pointed at his belly because the group were too close to the Chinese border (2km), it is hard to know whether this was a high point, or not.
On the travel blog, Barry frequently refers to Alan’s run-ins with various authorities, and his mounting tally of fines.
In Kyrgyzstan Alan was taken away in the back seat of a police car, forced to go to an ATM to pay a dodgy fine.
Shortly after he narrowly avoided arrest at the border crossing from Azerbaijan to Georgia after leaving the dash camera on, thereby filming the border guards.
“That was a close thing; I thought I was going to be deported,” Alan said with a chuckle.
We’ve tried lots of unusual ingredients, including yak butter, horse and camel milk, dog, marmot and lung.
Both men have now learnt the finer points of negotiating one’s way out of being fined for unauthorized window tinting.
“That’s happened in three different countries,” Alan said.
When the conversation turns to exotic meals and culinary experiences, the Taylors grin knowingly.
“Well we’ve tried lots of unusual ingredients, including yak butter, horse and camel milk, dog, marmot and lung,” Lynn said.
The site of two heavily laden 4WD vehicles with New South Wales registration plates has drawn the attention of curious locals in places like Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
“People in some of these remote places don’t come in contact with Australian travellers very often, and they’re always keen to hear what we think of their country,” Alan explained.
“We’ve got maps on the windows and signwriting on the cars that says hello and something about our travels in seven different languages.
“It’s amazing how many people read that and then come up and speak with us.”
At the end of December 2015 the Taylors flew back to Australia to take a brief break from their journey and spend time with family and friends.
The Toyota head office “suits” in Istanbul have agreed to store the plucky Land Cruiser safely until their return.
On ANZAC Day, Alan and Lynn flew back to Turkey to pick up where they left off; they plan to drive from Turkey to Morocco via Bulgaria, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, before heading to Germany.
From there the mighty Land Cruiser will be loaded onto a container for Newark in the United States, where their road trip will continue as they zig-zag across the United States.
A further container ride from Seattle to Fremantle will set the Taylors up for the final home run, across the Nullarbor to the NSW Mid North Coast.
“I reckon it will take us about four months to get home,” Alan said.
Barry and Donna Armstrong have also been spending time back in Australia. They too plan to resume their travels in May, spending more time in Turkey before they head to Bulgaria, Croatia and then on into Europe and the UK.
It will be a bittersweet moment when the couples head off in different directions, after travelling an almost identical path for so many months.
Good communication and a positive attitude are what Lynn lists as the two key factors in making their relationship work so well, often under considerable stress.
“Right from the start we agreed to speak up quickly to ensure any issues were dealt with swiftly and openly,” Lynn explained.
“After all, we’re there to enjoy ourselves.”
In a recent blog post, Barry made a point of thanking Alan and Lynn for their great mateship and company.
“I think we have all learned something from each other on this magic journey,” Barry said.
“We really do appreciate (Alan and Lynn’s) friendship; there is probably no one else we could have done this trip with.”
Perhaps when both couples are safely back home, regaling stories of crooked cops and dazzling sunsets, they will truly appreciate the enormity of their journey.
It took a year of intensive planning, dreaming and scheming before the intrepid foursome were ready to hit the road, and they are keen to share what they have learnt about visas, shipping routes and the location of the world’s best and worst roads and restaurants.
“We’ve tried to follow a fairly loose itinerary, and to just head towards the parts of each country that sound interesting,” Lynn explained, adding that her Lonely Planet guide has always been close at hand.
“Despite how stressful the driving can be, and the difficulties you can experience at border-crossings or with visas, most of it is fun and relaxing.
“Every day is different, and it’s a good feeling when you don’t know what’s ahead of you.”