OPEN a map of the world for Paul Moody, point to a far-flung land, and there’s every chance he has been there, or if not, may have his sights on discovering it.
The avid Cork traveller has visited 85 countries and completed more than 26 marathon road trips, driving around the world twice, whilst clocking up more than 200,000km. That’s more than halfway to the Moon!
I expect a bearded ex-hippy, addicted to the wandering life, or an ultra-tough adventurer with an eye on a listing in the Guinness Book of Records when we meet at his home overlooking the harbour in Kinsale. Paul Moody is neither. Clean-shaven, in smart casual attire, he turns 72 this year but could easily pass for ten years younger.
“No pipe and slippers for me,” says Paul, who believes age is only a number.
“As we get older, time becomes more precious and there’s so much to do whilst we have our health; for me travel has always been inspirational, addictive, a way of making sense of things.”
He doesn’t want to preach or put himself on a pedestal. Still, Paul, who is originally from Yorkshire in England, would be happy if his zest for travel encourages more seniors to get out of the armchairs and their comfort zones to widen their horizons.
A visit to Australia might inspire some to take a saunter along Bondi Beach or a snorkel around the Whitsundays. When Paul got there to visit one of his daughters in Adelaide, he drove anti-clockwise on a circumnavigation of the continent! “I’m a coast hugger,” he told the astonished local newspaper reporter after completing Highway 1 and almost 16,000km.
The travel bug bit him early for all the usual reasons — seeing new places, meeting new people, having interesting encounters, educating himself in life — but also to inspire his six children to get out and explore the world for themselves. “I wanted them to realise that anything is possible when you have goals and want something badly enough and travel is a great educator,” he says.
The open road first lured Paul as a school leaver aged 18, when he bought a truck and set off to make his fortune. From there he developed and built up a string of successful businesses, supplying equipment to the dairy, food and beverage industries.
A milestone birthday brought the realisation that he was working and travelling for work all the time and seeing little of his wife, Wendy.
A re-location from the UK to Ireland, where four of his children were born, was the life-changer. Many years earlier Paul had visited Kinsale and fell in love with the location, its historic winding streets and cosmopolitan atmosphere.
“It was a great new beginning,” he says of his move. “I could still reach my meetings, often faster than driving up north from middle England, with Cork airport only 20 minutes away and the Amsterdam connection for taking flights east.”
Travel by now was part of Paul’s DNA, having notched up at least 60 countries on business.
“I was always travelling, but whenever possible I would drive between locations; I’ve always been a high mileage driver so distance never mattered; if I could avoid taking a flight and driving, that’s what I’d do.
“When I finished a meeting in New York and had to be in Washington, I would jump in a car and drive there.
“When my kids were growing up we were the only family in Kinsale who drove all the way from here to Majorca for our holidays,” he laughs. They were also among the first on board the short-lived Cork-Swansea car ferry.
Whilst running his UK-based businesses, Paul Moody developed an unusual hobby, one that fed his love of travel and exploration.
“I used to buy old cars in Spain and drive them down as far as I could into Africa, sell them and come home; I did it for fun and the experience.”
His adventures were legion on these journeys, travelling from Spain into Morocco, through Mauritania, the only road south into equatorial Africa because Algeria’s borders were closed to foreign traffic.
“The route he took, travelling it several times, was desolate and dangerous, driving at low tide along the coast for many hours, dodging minefields, coping with endemic corruption at borders. Mauritania’s main town of Nouadhibou, which he got to know well, is one of the world’s car wreck capitals, poverty-stricken and under-developed.
Paul drove a 20-year-old Toyota down to Timbuktu and sold it there, becoming the richest man in town. Timbuktu may be ultra-remote but their bush telegraph system is excellent. Word soon spread about the millionaire in their midst. Paul narrowly escaped death for his bulging wallet.
“I had to buy my way out in bribes and most of what was left went on the journey across Mali to the nearest airport 900km away.”
Returning in 2007 with his travelling buddy Alan Routledge, a fellow experienced overland driver and good mechanic, they motored all the way down the west coast of Africa. They travelled in Paul’s beloved Toyota Hilux truck, the same trusty vehicle that’s taken him around the world, transiting through countries that included Ghana, Nigeria, Congo, Angola and Namibia among others.
Arriving in Cape Town, it seemed only logical to drive all the way back up the east coast of the continent to Egypt on the return journey!
It formed a five-year long round the world jaunt covering 60,000 miles that also took Paul and Alan through Jordan, Syria, Turkey and right across Russia, all the way to Vladivostok, from where they shipped themselves and the Gibraltar-registered Hilux to the U.S port of Seattle.
From here they motored on down to Mexico, Central and South America, reaching the end of the road at the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. Their return took them up through more South American countries, ending in Colombia.
These epic journeys have been taken in stages because of family and work commitments back home. A huge amount of planning, intensive research with maps and guide books, and importantly having a vehicle up to the journey with all the necessary equipment, are key to all such trips. The 4WD Hilux has reliably crossed deserts, climbed mountains and forded rivers. Incredibly, the worst that happened was a broken windscreen wiper high up in the Peruvian mountains.
Three years ago, whilst driving to visit his daughter Camilla after she moved to Adelaide, Paul, accompanied by his son William, then 20, broke down in Baluchistan in Iran — an arid desert and mountainous region.
They were more than 140km from the frontier town of Zahedan that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan, with steam pouring out of the engine.
“It was as far as you could get from anywhere, couldn’t be worse; after a while a tiny car came down the dusty track and the driver got out, had a look under the bonnet and delivered the Arabic version of ‘its f*****’.”
Paul had a rope and asked for a tow.
“The old car’s little wheels were spinning in the sand but he pulled us up two mountains; at the top of one he unhooked me and I was clocking 140km with no brakes working all the way down.”
The following morning, the vehicle started perfectly, having suffered nothing more than an overheated engine.
Dervla Murphy, Ireland’s famous travel writer who also travelled the world, insists that most people are humane and helpful. Paul Moody agrees: “I have met kindness everywhere,” he says.
“The Iranian good Samaritan who towed us through the desert insisted on taking us to his home for food and a bed for the night, even though it could have got him into big trouble with the authorities.
“We slept on the customary carpet on the floor inside the house whilst he and other male relatives were outside laying on bare concrete.”
It’s just one an example of many kindnesses and hospitality he has experienced, the goodness of the global family.
In May last year, Paul set off on a five week long bumpy ride as a passenger on an overland truck adventure through five Silk Roads countries of central Asia.
“To my surprise, I was not the token silver-haired nomad, the majority on board were fit and 50-plus, all with a story similar to my own, seeking the trip of a lifetime,” he says.
He is busy now with plans for his next adventure, the longest road trip on land possible, starting in Japan and via Vladivostok, driving all the way to the western perimeter of Portugal.
“A lot of logistics to be tackled, countries to go through, also remembering that winter comes early to Siberia,” he says.
You get the impression that he revels in the challenge ahead.