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Driving From Europe to Seoul
One Also Can Drive From Korea to Europe
Swedish journalist Christer Gerlach arrived in Seoul this month after driving more than 17,000 miles to get here.
He left Stockholm on Aug. 18 in a Sorento sports utility vehicle provided by Kia Motors of Sweden.
From his homeland, he drove through Denmark, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Russia, reaching the Pacific Ocean at Vladivostok on Oct. 3. From Vladivostok, he took a ferry to Sokcho, on Korea's east coast, then drove to Seoul.
For Gerlach, the trip from Stockholm to Seoul is part of a 24,000-kilometer, around-the-world drive. He now will ship the Sorento to Los Angeles and drive to New York. There, he'll put the Sorento on another ship for Liverpool, England, from which he can drive home.
For intrepid Koreans and Europeans, however, his journey may spark awareness of new opportunities for adventure travel. As he has shown, it's now possible to drive from Korea to Europe, or even farther, although it takes a ferry ride to get started.
The roads are still very bad, Gerlach says. ``In Kazakhstan, they are so bad you can't drive on them, so you go off of them.'' One day he covered only 160 kilometers there. But with a dependable vehicle, he says, one can make the trip.
The Kia Sorento 4x4 that Gerlach used was a standard model, although he equipped it with more durable tires to cope with rough roads.
``Out of those 17,000 kilometers, I would say something like 3,000 to 3,500 kilometers were on gravel, dirt roads, or off roads _ particularly in Mongolia and Kazakhstan,'' he said. He had only two punctures, however.
One thing that made the trip possible, he said, is a Russian construction project to build a new road across about 2,000 kilometers of Siberia where there was no continuous road before. Some previous expeditions that crossed Siberia did so by driving on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, bumping along over the railroad ties, he said.
The new road, named the Amur Road, will stretch from near Khabarovsk on the east end, to Chita in the west. Russia hopes to finish it in 2008.
It won't be paved, but it will be the first road there with a roadbed strong enough to use year-round, he said, adding, ``It's probably the biggest road-building project in the world at the moment.''
From Chita west to Moscow, and onward to Western Europe, one already can follow paved roads much or all of the way, Gerlach said. One doesn't have to use his route through Kazakhstan and Mongolia. He chose that route because it was more adventurous, and also more interesting.
``Across much of Mongolia, there was no road _ it was mostly tracks made by lorries,'' he says.
On the high plateau, each driver chooses his own route, so one sees numerous vehicle tracks carved across wide swaths of land. When the route comes to a pass, these many tracks converge into one that leads upward, but once the pass is crossed, they again spread out into many.
Once, Gerlach drove for five hours without seeing another vehicle, although he sometimes he would see another vehicle's dust rising in the distance. The steppes have no fences and few people.
Gerlach made the trip solo, and often slept in the back of the Sorento.
In remote areas, most of the other vehicles were trucks. His best friends, he says, were truck drivers, who would tell him about the road ahead, and where he could buy gasoline. He didn't carry extra fuel because there was always somewhere to buy it, he says.
Truck drivers usually stopped for the night at small restaurants along the way, where they would eat borscht, sausages, and other food, and drink beer or vodka. They would sleep in their trucks, and drive on in the morning.
It's only a matter of time before this route becomes more popular, Gerlach said. Over time, he predicts, ``It comes naturally that in the future there will be McDonald's, motels, better petrol stations, and camping sites.''
``This will be the second longest road in the world,'' he said, after the Pan American Highway from Alaska to Argentina. Gerlach drove that 46,000-kilometer route solo in 1998.
He has made two previous 'round-the-world trips, driving through South Asia and shipping his car to Japan, then the U.S. This is his first trip via Korea.
``This trip is more difficult,'' he says. ``There's more water on that route,'' which means less distance to drive.
``As far as we know, there's nobody else who has driven around the world solo,'' he says.
By the time he reaches home, the 61-year-old Swede will have passed through 19 countries on this 'round-the-world jaunt.