Loughegar man travels length of Myanmar and makes history
A Loughegar man who has dressed the president of Myanmar, taught scuba diving in Thailand, and helped get a range of construction projects off the ground across Asia plans to retire this year – at just 42 years of age.
But fishing and golf are not what Adam Clarke has lined up for his retirement, having just done what’s never been done before – driven the length of Myanmar – Adam has set himself two new long-distance challenges: a drive from Mongolia to Beijing, and then from Alaska to Argentina.
And, he reveals, he and his fellow Myanmar travellers – including the famous 92-year-old American writer Harold Stephens – will release a book together called: ‘We Found The Road’, detailing what proved a fascinating trip.
Adam, who is based these days in Koh Samui, was born in Mullingar in 1977, and grew up at Loughegar. He was just 17 when he headed for England, where he spent five years in construction before deciding he wanted to see more of the world and starting travelling.
Along the way, Adam took up scuba diving and he began working as a diving instructor, first in Thailand and then Australia, Turkey, Greece, Italy.
“I could never get used to being away from the beaches, easy going lifestyle and freedom of Thailand,” says Adam.
However, after five years of diving, he returned to the construction industry and since then has developed business interests in Koh Samui, Bangkok, Myanmar and Shanghai.
Adam knows when to work and when to take his breaks, and his inspiration for the historic Myanmar trip came from the fact that he has long been fascinated by that country – but shocked to discover no one had ever successfully travelled the length of the state.
“I have been visiting Myanmar since before it started opening its doors to visitors,” he explains.
“When I first used to go it was very difficult getting from A to B because officials had roadblocks everywhere and they wanted us to go home.
“Eventually, as the country opened up, I managed to buy some beautiful beach land there and set up a fashion shop: we made the suit for the president that went to meet Obama.
“The country has always drawn me back time after time.
“I have been reading round the world books for years and they all had one thing in common; no one had got from the top of Myanmar to the bottom.
“So I tracked down Harold Stephens and accused him and his fellow expeditioners of lying and I gave him the opportunity to be the first writer who actually went around the world totally.”
Although Harold was at that stage 90 years of age, he took up the challenge, and after two years of planning, Adam and Harold set off together with Steve Perks, an English engineer and route planner based in Stratford Upon Avon, and Robert Stedman, an American photographer based in Singapore.
“There was many things blocking this trip and that’s why it hasn’t been done before but I knew I could make it happen and once I had the finances to sponsor the trip ready, we just had to book the tickets and start praying,” says Adam.
Loughegar man Adam Clark (right) and writer Harold Stephens, trying to find an alternative road for part of their trip over the length of Myanmar.
However, he continues: “I knew with my unique knowledge of the country what we could and could not get away with, how we had to behave when interrogated, how to prepare our survival equipment and get it into the country without being stopped, where we could get vehicles that would be fit enough for the trip and finally the biggest one: how foreigners could manage to drive the cars by themselves without Myanmar guides driving for us.”
It was wise that they had done their preparations in advance, for there were many difficulties along the way.
Roads terrible or non-existent
“The journey was rough going. The roads were either terrible or non-existent apart from wheel tracks,” says Adam.
“In the territories up north, the authorities did not want us there and after interrogating us one night till late, we agreed to go to bed with two guards at the entrance to our guest house.
“However, we got up very early and managed to escape from there – and as our vehicles were a higher standard than anything they had, we got away.
“But we had to be careful after that and use a quiet country border crossing to get into India, where we met a border patrol with M16 riffles that sent us back super quick. They wouldn’t even let us get a curry!
“But apart from the authorities being tetchy up north, everywhere else we went we just saw extreme, untouched beauty, a way of life maybe 100 years behind us, and the most cheerful, hospitable people.
“We broke down a few times in the jungle in the middle of nowhere and we always got help from the people, and they managed to fix us up enough to limp on to the next town.
“We got to use an airfield to race the vehicles up and down because there were no flights that day; we got to see Aung San Suu Kyi – the president – at our hotel lobby; we spent several nights on a deserted island staying in tents.
“We saw the most amazing beaches and got to travel down them by motorbike; we got to see the almost extinct white-rumped vultures and watch people farming with wooden ploughs using buffalo and ox to pull ploughs and haul carts. We even saw cows and cart carrying a boat down the beach.
“We drove on mountain passes with dangerous drop-offs with landslides, and very poor mountain people trying to farm the harsh landscape. We found an extraordinary orphanage in the middle of nowhere, where a gentleman called Eric is changing the lives of 182 children. What an inspiration he is.”
Inevitably, on a trip of this magnitude, there were mechanical setbacks too. “We managed to crack a wheel in the middle all the way around, so that only the tyre kept the two pieces together, and then we got a second puncture with no spare left.
“We wrecked the clutch on the backup vehicle in the middle of nowhere and locals helped us limp on for another two days every time it failed in order to get it back to the nearest civilisation,” says Adam.
Despite all the excitement and drama of the country, for Adam, one of the greatest highlights of the trip was the fact that Harold Stephens, whose unique writing style has fascinated expats living in Asia for the 50-plus years, was one of the team. “At 92 years of age he was hassling us the whole time to get up early; to drive for longer hours; to research the history of different places we saw and he spent hours telling us tales of his lifetime of adventure,” says Adam. “He is a truly remarkable man and I feel very lucky to have spent so many fantastic days and nights listening to his escapades.”