Two friends, a VW Golf Mk 2, 22 countries, 42,000km – and one epic journey
Photos: Nick Rogmans, Beernt Berghuis
Call it the perfect long-distance drive that was achieved by putt-putting along: In early November, two drivers arrived in Singapore. Unlike most drivers who cross the Causeway, they came from much further away: The Netherlands. Having started their drive in March 2017, their journey crossed 42,000km, and 22 countries.
More than a few long-distance riders and drivers have passed through Singapore, on vehicles ranging from BMW R 1200 GS to the Mercedes-Benz G Wagen and more. But these guys had a very unique choice of car: A 1991 Volkswagen Golf Mark 2 1.6 Diesel.
The mad thing is, though it was almost twice as far this was actually the duo’s second long road trip in a Golf.
Nick Rogmans, 26, and Beernt Berghuis, 24, both Dutch university graduates, met on an internship in Pretoria, South Africa, and decided to go on a road trip explore the massive continent, covering 11 countries and 22,000km.
Their first car, a precursor to their longer journey, was a 1998 Volkswagen Citi Golf, a ‘reissue’ of the original Mark I Golf, sold in South Africa.
It sounds strange to take on the Dark Continent in a beat-up little city hatchback, but a little serendipity was involved, and as we’ll see, the classic Golfs were able to prove just how tough they were.
The pair actually chose an old Land Rover Defender for their African epic, but they couldn’t get it restored to full working condition in time – so they cut a deal with their mechanic to exchange it for the very different Golf hatch.
“We visited South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Burundi and Mozambique!” says Nick. “It was amazing and after that we really fell in love with the Volkswagen Golf. The old Volkswagen Golfs are incredibly strong and they have driven us through desserts, mud, stones, rivers, snow and more.”
That sparked a wanderlust in the two, to go even further. What started out as a joke for them, driving from the Netherlands to Indonesia, soon became a reality after they did the research. In Nick’s words, “When we found out that it was possible we said to each other: Lets just do it!”
A daunting task indeed, but their choice of car was already clear, at least. Their second old, tough Golf, was bought from a dealer in the Netherlands for just USD1,200, and they were its second registered owners. In the course of their 42,000km pan Europe/Asia journey, they kept an exhaustive list of all the major replacements and bits that were changed, including no less than 19 flat tyres. They also fixed the roof rack 19 times before getting fed up and abandoning the piece altogether.
“When we found out that it was possible we said to each other: Lets just do it!”
Most of the bits were regular wear and tear items, including three oil and filter changes and four sets of tyres, but they didn’t suffer any major mechanical issues.
“In most cases the repairs were minor issues and it were quickly fixed. The 1.6 diesel engine is still working fine – actually it’s unbelievable how strong it is. In Myanmar we had a problem with our oil pump. Luckily the mechanics were able to fix it. In Thailand our wheel bearings were worn out and we had to replace the brake pads,” recounts Nick.
The conditions the duo (or the trio, as the Golf is nicknamed Elanor) encountered were equally extreme and enthralling, as they tackled varied conditions including mud, dirt, fording rivers, going through deserts, snow and more. “We drove everything, including mountain roads with 4,000-metre-plus elevation, and weathered monsoon season in India and Nepal.”
While driving through different countries for months on end sounds like a dangerous feat to most folk, like many long-distance explorers, what the pair remember most is the warmth and kindness shown to them on almost every part of their journey.
“What really stood out for me is the amazing people that we met and the stunning kindness, hospitality and friendliness of people all over the world. For example, we have been invited to stay at family homes in Germany, Kazakhstan, Tadzhikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Thailand – and Singapore too!”
Nick and Beernt (and Elanor’s ‘name tag’) enjoying the weather and beaches of Bali
They often found home on the road, so it’s a fitting end to the story that Elanor will too. The pair originally intended to donate her to Indonesia, but red tape scrapped that idea.
At the suggestion of their social media fans, they crowdfunded the money – in just 17 hours – to bring her back home to The Netherlands, where she will continue chugging along in rather more familiar surroundings.
“Even now she is still in good condition. The outside of the car is a bit damaged here and there – but beside that she is driving perfectly.”