Tuk-Tuk rides are a must for any visitor who arrives in Asia. Few, however, drive to their hometown airport in one.
But for UK schoolteachers Rich Sears and Nick Gough, an Indian-made Piaggio auto-rickshaw has proved roadworthy for more than 30,000 kilometres – since their journey began at the British Museum in London.
On Thursday, the duo arrived in Phnom Penh, having left England last August on a quest to break the world record for the longest trip ever taken by tuk-tuk, which stands at 23,245 miles (37,409 kilometres).
Their 11-month journey has taken them across Europe, Africa, India and Southeast Asia, and will end in Brazil in December. They expect to beat the record when they reach Las Vegas on the journey’s upcoming North American stretch.
“We thought a tuk-tuk would be great to go on a long story, to take in different cultures and communities,” said Sears.
He and Gough, co-founders of the UK-registered Tuk-Tuk Educational Trust charity, hope also to spread awareness of global educational projects in the 34 countries they visit. They have maintained a video blog that documents each initiative. Each video is accompanied with a request for direct donations to the highlighted project.
Last weekend, their Cambodian stop took them to the Centre for Children’s Happiness, a residential centre for orphaned and abandoned children in Phnom Penh.
“We are both teachers and we are very passionate about the role that education can play in development,” said Sears.
“We also wanted to highlight some of the really positive, inspiring success stories of local people standing up in their own communities.”
Despite the durability of the tuk-tuk, which has not yet suffered a major breakdown, the journey has not been hazard-free. A particularly rough stretch came in northern Kenya.
“[The area] was quite notorious, with a lot of people getting mugged and tribal conflict,” said Gough. “There were no roads, so we had eight days without road, which involved a lot of pushing.”
Sears said that the ordeal, which concluded on Christmas Day when they arrived in Nairobi, took its toll on the pair.
“We thought ‘this is no way to spend Christmas, what the hell are we doing here? How did we go from teaching just south of London to stuck in the mud in a swamp in the outskirts in Nairobi?’”
Elephants in Uganda and Botswana also posed a danger. “One up ahead on the road looked around at us, and we thought it didn’t like the really loud engine,” said Sears.
“But as soon as we turned it off, it squared up to us, ears flapping, trumpeting, and we’re just panicking. I had the camera trying to take a picture, and Nick is trying to turn it on putting it in reverse.”
One of the biggest challenges for the pair, who have known each other since they were babies, has been maintaining their own relationship.
“It’s like being married, but worse,” said Gough, adding that he is never more than a few feet away from Sears.
Both Sears and Gough said that when times get tough, they keep their educational goals in mind.
“The initiative of education for all is at the heart of what we’re doing,” said Sears.