A VETERAN adventurer has completed a road trip half a century after he first set out with a little help from a Stratford businessman.
Steve Perks joined 92-year-old American traveller and writer Harold Stephens on an expedition across Myanmar in South east Asia. The country formerly known as Burma was the one place which eluded Harold’s record breaking round the world motor trip 50 years ago.
Steve had never met Harold or fellow travellers Adam Clark and Robert Stedman until the trip, after his cousin who lives in Thailand, arranged for him to join the team as the ‘chief navigator and engineer’.
The 47-year-old, who owns his own painting and decorating business, was delighted to join Harold on the 12-day journey.
He said: “Harold was inspiring in many ways. He has been there, seen it, done it. He told stories at the table that made us forget to eat.
“When I told him that I didn’t think there were still people on this earth like the real life explorers and personalities he wrote about, he shot me down and barked at me ‘you just have to look, there are stories everywhere.”
And true to Harold’s word, Steve was met with sights from gold panning and rubber tree plantations to meditating monks and a abandoned 20-lane highway – as featured on Top Gear – in the still near empty new capital of Naypyidaw.
He said: “It’s a massive new city with huge infrastructure but there was hardly anyone there and the police didn’t want us to take photos.”
Other locals were a bit more accommodating.
He told the Observer: “We found a seemingly dilapidated airport which only has two flights on two days of the week. We convinced the chief officer to take the trucks down the runway at full pelt, screeching the tyres. It was mad.”
Other places gave way to more reflective moments.
The group visited the ‘death railway’ built in 1943 to connect the country with Thailand during the war. It was so-called because those who built it were subjected to cruel conditions and abuse, resulting in the death of thousands.
Steve said it was ’emotional’ particularly for former marine Harold who, he added, once body doubled for Marlon Brando in the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty.
His best moment was documenting the plight of a guesthouse owner Eric, who is living with HIV and whose guesthouse funds a school for orphans. The group plans to raise awareness on Eric’s behalf and help him find an English teacher to volunteer at the school.
A new book chronicling the journey will be published later this year.