By Luke Voogt
After thousands of kilometres, closed borders and nasty bouts of food poisoning Myles Benham has conquered the great continental adventure: the Mongol Rally.
Luke Voogt takes a look back at the Barwon Heads local’s amazing journey.
If Myles Benham learnt anything from his 10,000km-plus adventure in an old Citreon, it’s that generosity exists in unexpected places.
“We have met countless people who have shown us the most incredible hospitality,” he says.
“But Iran has easily set the bar for generosity and kindness.”
Myles and his German friends David and Maja drove through the “Axis of Evil” country in their quest complete the Mongol Rally.
They joined hundreds of people in the rally, driving busted up old cars from Europe to Ulan Bator each year.
In Iran the trio stopped in Hamadan – one of the world’s oldest cities – and asked a young man for wi-fi.
The Iranian invited them to stay, took them to the world’s largest underground lake and threw a party – just to show them a good time.
He even phoned his cousins in Tehran and Esfahan to show the trio around when they got there.
“All from one question on the street,” Myles exclaims.
“So many Iranian people helped us with directions, invited us for lunch or dinner and were generally interested in ensuring we enjoyed our time.”
The Geelong Indy first spoke to Myles in September as he and “Team Pineapple” reached Turkey, after travelling through Austria, Slovenia and the Balkans.
“My friends and I just wanted to do something different,” Myles said.
“The opportunity of going to places like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, which are not normal travel destinations, was something that we found very exciting.”
Myles had jumped 24m from Stari Most Bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina a few weeks before.
The 16th Century Ottoman bridge was reconstructed after being destroyed during the Croat-Bosniak War.
“Making the plunge into the icy water below was absolutely insane,” Myles said.
The trio launched their quest from Germany in an old Citreon, which had been gathering dust in Maja’s parents’ garage.
“After some convincing and pleading to her parents we were allowed to drive it to Mongolia.”
The trio camped and paraglided in the Iranian desert and rode borrowed horses to cross a river in Georgia.
They flew over the Turkish city of Goreme in a hot air balloon at sunrise, drove on winding European roads through the mountains and ate with Kyrgyzstan nomads.
Their 20-country-plus journey even brought them to the “Gates of Hell”.
Myles was amazed by the flame-ridden Darvaza Crater, known locally as the “Door to Hell”, a five-hour drive from the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat.
“The crater is the result of soviet exploration in the ’70s I think and it’s emitting natural gas, which is what is burning,” he says.
But the trip had its challenges.
The aptly-named Team Pineapple hit a roadblock in Montenegro due to a small landslide in the mountains, and closed borders in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.
“The greatest challenge was trying to leave Uzbekistan,” Myles says.
“We planned to be in Uzbekistan for their Independence Day and after visiting the Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand we wanted to leave for Tajikistan.
“What we didn’t know when planning the trip was that Uzbekistan celebrates Independence Day for five days and during that time almost all the borders are closed down.”
The trio also ran short of money in Iran.
“Iran has no international ATMs and therefore you need to take all the cash you need into the country,” Myles says.
“We vastly underestimated how much we would need for two weeks and got stuck with no money, not enough petrol to get to the border and a bill at our hostel.”
Luckily a nearby high-end hotel had a service which the German Embassy organised for them to use.
“We paid our bills, drove through the night on chocolate, energy drinks and loud music and were able to leave without any more problems.”
The three friends suffered food poisoning at the worst timer possible – when they needed to cover a long distance due to visa issues.
“So instead of lying in bed close to the bathroom we have all been forced at different times to endure long hours cramped in the car and many stops in less than ideal places to relieve ourselves.”
And despite it being the Mongol Rally Myles never entered the country.
“I had some trouble with my visa so I couldn’t enter Mongolia but instead entered Russia from Kazakhstan and took the train into Siberia.”
“The train back to Moscow was 86 hours with the typical drunk Russians which was an interesting stereotypical experience.”
Myles was amazed by the generosity of locals everywhere the trio went.
“A Turkish family hosted us for two nights in Bursa and showed us around, which was a great experience for all of us,” Myles says.
An elderly Montenegrin couple allowed the group to camp in their spare paddock, overlooking the mountains, while a Herzegovinian invited them to a secret garden party on an island near his village.
“We also stopped at some random blackberry bushes in Serbia for a photo,” Myles says.
“The lady there was so welcoming – despite not speaking English. She showed us which ones to pick and wouldn’t let us leave without taking a huge basket of them.”
After the “blur” of the rally Myles is settling back into the daily grind after moving to New Zealand.
“It’s been a little tough getting back into the real world and setting the alarm every morning, but my mum is happy that I’m back in countries she has heard of and knows are safe.”
The car made it back to Germany but it was in serious need of a good service.
“I think it’s currently for sale in Germany although there are not too many takers considering its recent journey.”