Tuesday 23 October 2018

Seven attempted robberies, AK47-wielding soldiers and aggressive elephants - Limerick man's incredible global adventure

58 countries in 1,105 days

Looking out at Llanganuco lake in Peru (Will Bennett)
Looking out at Llanganuco lake in Peru (Will Bennett)

Sean Nolan

A Limerick man who spent three years cycling around the globe has said that despite seven attempted robberies during his journey "99pc of the people I encountered were genuinely decent folk."

Will Bennett, a 27-year old from Caherdavin in Limerick, returned to his native city last month after a truly epic trip that took in 58 countries and five continents.

The route Will took around the world
The route Will took around the world

Along the way he encountered bandits, wild elephants and met his current girlfriend but it was the overwhelming generosity of people all over the world that has stayed with him.

Will set off in January 2015 after five years of planning and saving for his adventure.

"I've always had an intense love of travel and knew that at some stage in my life I wanted to take off for an extended period of time and really see the world," he told Independent.ie.

"Not just the parts of the world that are deemed safe to visit but many of the parts of the world that are portrayed by the media and our government warnings as dangerous places filled with despicable people. I really wanted to see these countries for myself, sampling each and every culture, doing my best to understand them and then forming my own opinions."

Crossing the Banditlands of Northern Kenya (Will Bennett)
Crossing the Banditlands of Northern Kenya (Will Bennett)

Added in with Will's love of mountain biking and interest in adventure he tells us that setting off to cycle around the world "ticked all of those boxes".

After his initial European route that took in Poland and western Ukraine during their winter, he eventually crossed the Bosphorus Strait and entered Asia

Will's trip across Asia saw him pass through countries that have a reputation as being potentially dangerous, such as Iran, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, but Will says that the people he met there were some of the most welcoming and generous in the world.

“During my crossing of Iran, not a day went by where I wasn’t invited for lunch or welcomed into a family home to spend the night. And in countries like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the biggest danger was accepting too much vodka from the friendly drivers who would pull over and demand that you eat and do shots with them before midday!”

Will, with his girlfriend Elana, as family and friends welcome him home to Limerick (Kieran Ryan)
Will, with his girlfriend Elana, as family and friends welcome him home to Limerick (Kieran Ryan)

However, in his very first day in Mongolia, Will suffered one of the worst experiences of his trek, where he was attacked, an incident that put him off the road for two months.

While spending the night with a family near the Russian border the father of the house robbed two of his bags in the middle of the night and after Will threatened to call the police, a row broke out.

“After receiving seven punches to the head, and with no way to escape I had no choice but to fight for my life, throwing a punch so hard that it shattered my knuckle and broke my attacker’s jaw, dislodging two of his teeth and knocking him unconscious in the process.”

Will fled on foot and hid while the man, after waking, searched for him in the remote village.

After making his escape from the village with his belongings Will had to have surgery on his hand and was out of action for seven weeks. Once his hand healed he then had to cycle across China in winter, at a rate of 100 kilometres day, every day, for two months to beat an expiring visa.

Will describes it as a "a horrible, cold, unfriendly and lonely time."

Will cycling through Germany in winter on his way home
Will cycling through Germany in winter on his way home

Other attempted raids on Will during his trip included

  • Three attempted robberies by men who tried to tackle him off his bicycle in very remote regions where they knew no help would come along.
  • One was by a man who pretended to have a gun pointed at him through a bag in Ecuador
  • Another by some Kurdish shepherds who blocked the road in front of him and had their sticks raised ready to attack
  • Another by some Turkish opportunists who tried to rob the bicycle when it was left unattended

Better times returned as he island hopped across south east Asia followed by pedalling south from Darwin across the centre of Australia before departing to South America from Sydney.

His South American leg took him from Colombia, through remote and dangerous roads in the Pervian Andes and southern Brazil before he flew to Cape Town in South Africa for the long journey northwards up the African continent.

Will describes Africa as being "by far the hardest part of my cycle."

He encountered aggressive roaming elephants in Botswana, passing 60 of them in three days, and had to negotiate a dangerous four-day journey through a section of Kenya where bandits target travellers.

In Egypt, government fears over a tourist coming to harm meant he was accompanied by AK47-wielding soldiers for his transit there.

The Oodnadatta Track, a remote part of the Australian Outback
The Oodnadatta Track, a remote part of the Australian Outback

"This would be quite stressful at times as some of them would shout at you any time you stopped," WIll said.

"The majority of them were quite nice however and happy to help with blocking the headwind by driving in front of me as I drafted behind their trucks. I even camped at one of the police stations one night and was welcomed in with open arms."

The final leg, a 4,000km 'dash' across Europe saw him finish up in his home town of Limerick on January 13, 1,105 days after he set off.

Despite the robberies and other drama, Bennett was left with an overwhelmingly positive view of the world.

"Without exception, in every single country I've passed through, I've been met with some act of generosity or hospitality. Whether this was the countless people in Iran who would invite me for lunch in their homes, the farmer in Turkmenistan who invited me to sleep in his house after getting caught out cycling in the dark, the soldiers in Tajikistan who arrived at my tent one night to give me food when I had all but run out, the tribes in Borneo who would invite me to stay on the floors of their communal homes, the family in Indonesia who put me up and took care of me for five days as I recovered from dengue fever, the countless Australians who filled me up with food and water while crossing the outback, the large amounts of potent alcohol shared by the Peruvians and the people of Zambia who would always welcome me to pitch my tent at their school, clinic or police outpost.

"No matter what country or continent I'm on, I've been welcomed with some truly astounding hospitality and although there have been some hiccups along the way, I can safely say that 99% of the people I have encountered have been genuinely decent folk."

Will, who also met his girlfriend Elana on the trip, while in Turkey, says the plan now is to "rest the legs" before writing a book about his travels.

And he will probably be off on another trip sooner rather than later, though this time it won't be solo.

"I definitely have a few more adventures planned down the line, maybe with my girlfriend this time," he said.

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