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Articles

AROUND THE WORLD IN A LONDON TAXI

By Johno Ellison (@JohnoEllison)     29 Jul 2016

Three friends set off from London in hopes of bagging a Guinness World Record. Fifteen months later they return with not one but three records—and enough stories to last a lifetime

‘I wonder what the most expensive taxi ride ever was?’

This was the simple question we asked one night after a few too many drinks at our local student bar. The next morning, bleary-eyed, instead of forgetting all about our silly idea we decided to actually find out if there was a Guinness World Record for the longest cab ride ever.

Before long we had formed a plan to drive from London to Sydney and, along with my two best mates Leigh and Paul, I was the proud owner of a 1992 black cab, bought from eBay with the dwindling dregs of our student loans.

Fresh from eBay. Little did we know what we were getting into
Fresh from eBay. Little did we know what we were getting into

In February 2011, after making some homemade additions to the cab (including a winch and a huge sound system), we switched the meter on and trundled out of London. Before leaving we had joked that ‘all true taxi drivers never drive the shortest route’ so our plan was to wind through Scandinavia to the Arctic Circle before heading into Russia and then south toward Australia.

The stupidity of our plan quickly became apparent as we chugged through mile after mile of snowy pine forest with the passengers in the back wrapped in sleeping bags and woolly hats due to the taxi’s broken rear heating.

Our tight budget meant we were mostly couchsurfing—staying with friendly local people in their own homes—and this led to some interesting experiences. In Amsterdam our host was arrested, in Berlin the cab was towed away by the police and in Sweden we stayed in a farmhouse full of Beatles lookalikes who were seemingly stuck in a 1960s time warp.

As soon as we crossed into Russia we realized what a magnet for the police an old black cab covered in sponsor stickers was, and were often stopped for attempted bribes. The worst case was when we got caught sharing a bottle of vodka with our Russian host outside the Kremlin in Moscow—a rookie mistake that led to us being arrested and taken to the local jail before eventually managing to secure our freedom.

From Russia we re-entered Europe, which was now pleasantly entering spring, and this gave us the opportunity to camp wherever we could find a space for our tents. Traveling southward we laid our heads in Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and even Iraq, where some friendly local men (cradling AK-47s) caught sight of us and led us off to sleep in a local mosque.

Armed escort, Pakistan
Armed escort, Pakistan

Guns, cows and Everest Base Camp

Next we entered Iran—chock-full of amazing architecture and incredibly friendly people. Unfortunately, our campsite selection skills weren’t the best and one morning we awoke to discover that we had actually slept right next to an artillery installation. Before we could hit the road the secret police arrived and subjected us to an intense interrogation that eventually led to Paul being deported…

After crossing the notoriously dangerous Balochistan Desert with machine-gun-toting armed escorts, we made it through Pakistan and into India. Amazing food awaited us but in places the roads were truly terrible. This was made all the worse by the fact that we shared them with trucks, cars, rickshaws, bicycles, people and, of course, cows. The harsh conditions took their toll and Leigh and Paul both became extremely sick but we pushed onward, driving the breadth of India from Mumbai to the Nepalese border in one extremely challenging week.

The taxi continued to struggle on valiantly, even when we entered Nepal and Tibet and started to climb up into the Himalayas. The lure of world’s highest mountain was too much for us to resist and after one bone-rattling day on a steep track intended only for four-wheel-drive cars we finally limped into Mount Everest Base Camp and set a new Guinness World Record for the highest altitude ever reached by taxi. A few days later we also broke the record for the longest taxi drive ever, surpassing the old record of 21,691 miles.

The whole team
The whole team

China presented a whole new challenge in terms of language barrier but we passed the infamous Chinese driving test and zig-zagged through the huge country before exiting into sleepy Laos and the livelier backpacker scene of Southeast Asia. Here things really did feel a world away from the soggy streets of England and the reaction to the cab was frequently one of amazement:

‘Wow, a black cab! How’d you get it here?’ asked one British tourist we bumped into.
‘We drove it…’ replied Leigh.
‘Oh, wow, you bought it in Singapore and drove it all the way to Laos? That’s a long way!
‘No mate… we drove it from London.’

Over land and sea

From Singapore we shipped the ailing cab over to Darwin in northern Australia. The car was now in really bad condition and everything except the engine had broken and been hastily fixed countless times. Luckily we were extremely fortunate to partner with a new large sponsor and we decided to extend the trip. Now we wouldn’t be finishing in Sydney but continuing onward to the US and then back to Europe having circumnavigated the whole world!

Yes, that is a lit cigarette!
Yes, that is a lit cigarette!

First priority was to fix the battered cab to enable her to actually finish the extra 10,000 or so miles we had just tacked onto her route. We found a great mechanic in the Outback who did all the work for free and refused to take any payment other than a few crates of beer. We were extremely surprised to be contacted by the Australian police a few months later. Apparently we’d had a lucky escape as soon afterward our ‘great Aussie bloke’ had murdered two of his customers in an argument over their repair bill.

From Sydney we shipped to San Francisco, drove cross-country to New York and then freighted back to Europe via Israel and Russia. All told, the trip covered 43,319 miles and passed through 50 countries, picking up more than 100,000 passengers along the way.

Our stupid question was well and truly answered when we finally stopped the taxi meter 15 months after we had first switched it on, at our starting point in London’s Covent Garden. The final fare came to a whopping £79,006.80, now officially the world’s most expensive taxi ride.

Luckily, Leigh, who was driving at the time, agreed to waive the fare.

Did you see the black cab on your travels? Share your photos on Instagram @momentumtravels.

Photos: Johno Ellison

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