Straffan couple’s self-sufficient adventure of a lifetime

Merv and Sarah at Angel Falls, Venezuela
A Kildare couple who left Ireland for a trip of a lifetime have just returned after two and a half years.

A Kildare couple who left Ireland for a trip of a lifetime have just returned after two and a half years.

Straffan based Merv Colton and Sarah Cooper have spent the last two and a half years travelling on four continents in a refurbished former German army vehicle, known as the Moglander to those who have followed their adventure on social media.

They left their north Kildare home on St. Stephen’s Day in 2011 and arrived back on 4 July. “Nine months before we left, we were dreaming about it,” said Merv, an Offaly native.

The break gave them an objective look at Ireland. “I could not get over the amount of homeless people on the street in Dublin, many of them well spoken,” said Sarah.

Merv, an IT specialist, and Sarah, who previously worked for firm of solicitors, have spent most of the time - two years - in South America.

They were in Brazil recently for the World Cup but opted not to pay hundreds of euros for black market tickets to the Italy-Uruguay game.

Their trip brought them to the Antarctic and the grave of Ernest Shackleton.

They visited the Galapagos Island and travelled through Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil.

Many will, based on the headlines coming from that part of the world, wonder if they were safe. “A lot of people thought we were a bit mad for leaving good jobs,” said Sarah, a native of Tinahely, Wicklow.

Speaking to the Leinster Leader in the Celbridge Espresso cafe last week, there were no regrets. “It’s the best thing we ever did.”

Work is required now but the duo are toying with an Asian venture. But there’s no hurry. “We met travellers like ourselves in their 70s and one couple in their 80s,” said Sarah.

They bring back a very upbeat, heartwarming view of South America, of generous and kind people.

Budget wise, they lived most of the time in the Moglander. “Everyone recycles in South America,” said Sarah.

They worked with paper maps of the countries they visited - to plan routes - as well as higher tech - to ascertain where they were.

Armed with some Spanish lessons taken in Clane, they spent some time in Europe and a three month “test” run in Morocco before their departure. “We wanted to see if you could live in the truck for a long time.”

Then it was onto a cargo ship at Le Havre in France for a 28 day sea trip to Montevideo in Uruguay. “Magic,” was how Merv described the relaxing journey.

The Moglander, which was sold to a US citizen in Brazil - he plans to bring it to Oregon, USA - cost them, excluding diesel, €10 a day when the cost of buying/converting and the gain from selling it is counted.

Merv and Sarah counted a lot. They had to plan. They used 30 litres of water a day, not for clothes washing, and are a bit surprised to see some saying households will use 70 litres. Food? “We are down to two meals a day now.”

The Mog, which sailed on a barge for five days down the Amazon, carried up to 300 litres of water, around 12 days supply before restocking. It did 66,000km, diesel averaging 80 cents a litre..

They spent 18 days in Antarctica, visiting the grave of Kildare born Sir Ernest Shackleton in South Georgia.

Trust? Merv and Sarah found high level of trust in areas where we here in Ireland, perhaps having lost the benefit of greater personal and community trust, might not think it exists. “In Bolivia people would come out of their shops after you to give you your change,” said Sarah, who added that they bartered from time to time. Once they were told to come back tomorrow and pay. “We could have drove off,” said Merv.

With Colombia, for the most part most think illegal drugs, maybe football a poor second. But Merv and Sarah loved Colombia best of all.

They also loved Venezuela. “The Colombians and Venezuelans would challenge us (Irish) for friendliness,”