A north-east couple overcame life-threatening illness, sub-zero temperatures and corrupt policemen to traverse some of the world’s least-travelled locations.
Dave Spinks, 53, and Angela Brown, 57, drove to the Nadaam Festival in Mongolia in an an 18-year-old Land Rover Defender.
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The Newtonhill couple’s trip consisted of 200 days, 26 countries of more than 24,000 miles.
On the way they passed over the Swiss Alps, through Armenia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russia and Kazakhstan.
Mr Spinks thirst for exploring the unknown was sparked by years of working in places like Namibia as an offshore driller.
Ms Brown, meanwhile, has worked as an administrator.
The couple said the trip was eye-opening for them as it gave an insight into the people and cultures that often go unreported.
Mr Spinks said: “I think the biggest takeaway for me was that you hear a lot of bad things about these countries but the people were so welcoming to us, we had very few bad experiences.”
Ms Brown added: “We were maybe very lucky, I’m sure other people have their own experiences.”
But their memories of the trip could have been very different, after Ms Brown almost died when a stomach problem escalated and her bowel nearly ruptured.
She had to be rushed in for emergency surgery at a hospital in Uzbekistan and eventually had to have part of her bowel to be removed.
“We had thought we would be able to fly back and get the surgery done at home but we were told it was too dangerous because of the air pressure,” Ms Brown said.
“It was quite scary because you don’t understand the language and the doctors and nurses would be having conversations. But the care in the hospital was amazing.”
After just a few days she was out of hospital and was flown back to the UK, with a nurse by her side.
But the adventure was not over for Mr Spinks, who had to fly back to Kazakhstan and pick up the Land Rover in order to drive it back 7,000 miles back home.
He said: “To put it in perspective, I drove across Europe in three days, Kazakhstan alone took me 10 days.
“It’s not about actual distance in miles over there, it’s about how many days it takes you to get anywhere.
“I’ve travelled all my life, I was in the Navy for years and then I worked offshore and on ships. But you’re only seeing the bad bits of a country, like the airport. When you travel in a car you’re travelling among the people and you get to meet them, everywhere we went we were welcomed.”
The next adventure
The couple’s next trip they hope to go on will take them to South America.
However, due to her surgery, Mrs Brown has to rest her body for up to six months.
And the pair also plan on returning to work to raise enough funds to pay for their next adventure.
But despite the extreme nature of their trips, the pair – who have become grandparents – show no signs of slowing down.
Mrs Brown said: “Before we started travelling we had the ambitions for a nice big house and other nice things but I think we are not quite so materialistic now.
“You surprise yourself with how little you need when you’re away, and you also see how other people survive with such few possessions when you’re in these different countries.”
On their travels they met scores of other people travelling, some in similar vehicles as them and others who were cycling or even travelling in a red London double-decker bus to the Mongol Rally.
“There’s an amazing amount of people who were cycling, one guy we met we are still following online. He’s on his way to Siberia with a tent on his back.
“Lots of people are in their 60s and 70s too, everyone is a family.”
Mr Spinks said: “You meet people along the way and give each other tips and advice on where you’ve been and the best routes to take.
“You also have a big community on social media, people were offering me places to stay all over the place when I was on my way back.”