Ulster medical student hitch-hiked across two continents

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It has been a bumpy ride in more ways than one, but Belfast doctor-in-training is safely back home after hitch-hiking roughly 24,000 miles to east Asia.

Patrick Burke, a University of Oxford medical student, said he feels lucky to have returned in one piece after the globe-trotting trip, which saw him brave a number of fraught moments ranging from being placed under armed escort in central Asia to dealing with a sleepless and enraged Russian driver.

He has kept a record of all 350-or-so journeys which kindly motorists offered to him during the nine-month solo trip, and lists them on his website (see top right).

The 23-year-old east Belfast man undertook the challenge not for charity, but simply for his own enjoyment, with the aim of meeting up with friend Peter Neill in Beijing upon completion.

He said it was a great way to get to know each country he passed through because as well as being offered lifts, many strangers would also insist on cooking for him and putting him up for the night.

While most of the journey was “ a pretty pleasant experience”, there were times when he found himself on edge.

One of the first rides he accepted was from a Russian man with no English whom he met on the Rosslare-to-Cherbourg ferry.

“We had 24 hours in the car, and he just kept going,” said Mr Burke, adding that his driver became increasingly irritable the longer he went without rest, and started missing his junctions and shouting furiously.

“I guess that would have been a gruelling moment,” said Mr Burke.

Arguably the most risky part of the trip was crossing the Iran-Pakistan border, in a province known as Baluchistan, on Boxing Day.

He said: “As soon as you pass the border, you’re under the control of the military and you’re given a guard. It’s the place where most tourists get kidnapped in Pakistan. Two weeks after I came through, a Spanish cyclist got shot.”

He only told his mother that he had been in the country after successfully making it out, because she would be so worried for his safety.

He said one of the reasons he had not sought to fundraise for charity during the trip was because he was simply not sure if it could be done.

Asked if he felt lucky to have made it through ok, he said: “It seems bizarre now that I’m back. I was quite a big journey. I guess I was pretty lucky – you hear of others not being so lucky.”

He estimates the total journey as having been 24,000 road miles; a distance which is quite close to the circumference of Planet Earth.

He lists all of the hitch-hiking rides on his website – www.findingpatrickburke.com – along with occasional comments such as “#40: Annoying Turkish Man”, and “#154: Family Wedding Bus!”

He added that he was very grateful for all the assistance given to him.

“Every one of those dots was someone helping me out,” he said, pointing to a map of the route he had traced.

“It’s a special feeling to say there was so much kindness shown to me.”

Although he billed the trip as being from Belfast to Beijing, once he reached his destination in the Chinese capital he opted to go on to Japan.

Having left Northern Ireland on August 14 last year, he arrived back in the UK on July 11 – just in time to see his brother graduate in medicine at Oxford the next day.

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