Maxine, Carol and Andrea – all in their 50s and all born and bred Lancashire lasses – had been friends for years when they piled into a rickshaw together and rattled across Sri Lanka in 2017.
Run by Large Minority
, the Lanka Challenge involves driving a tuk-tuk 1,000km across the most beautiful parts of Sri Lanka, while completing challenges such as preparing and eating a meal with a local family, and capturing moments with the incredible wildlife you’re bound to encounter along the way.
Clearly, they’re still great friends after everything they’ve gone through on three rickety wheels, and as Maxine says,
“We have so many tales to tell about this adventure, from start to end and we just wish more women our age, would let loose and give it a go.”
Here they tell us about how their friendship fared on the road (clue: bedtime singalongs helped a lot), what gave “women of their age” the winning edge, and why you should give something like this a go too.
What on earth made you take the Lanka Challenge?!
Maxine: We heard about the Lanka challenge as it popped up on my Facebook page in 2016 and I happened to share the link with a friend of mine, more as a kind of a joke. Andrea who is probably the most tenacious of our team, saw the post and simply replied ‘I’m in’ and there it all started, she was relentless..
“Andrea is the kind of girl who will throw herself out of a plane, ab sail down the Shard and dive into shark infested waters… We had no option but to agree to go.”
From start to finish it was a fantastic adventure and we were more surprised than anyone to win it, being all too well aware that we are three middle-aged women from Lancashire and were without doubt the rank outsiders.
What were you most worried about before you started the Southern Sri Lanka Challenge?
Maxine: Where to start... I scared of my own shadow. I thought I would die on the roadside.
Andrea: I didn’t really have too many concerns pre- Sri Lanka - we had decided beforehand that it was all for one and one for all and if anyone was not enjoying it we would whip out the plastic, hand back the tuk-tuk keys and find a nice hotel. My only real concern was that our friendship would suffer under the various stresses and living in close quarters for 3 weeks.
How did your friendship fare under the strain of the Challenge?
Carol: I think we did very well and can’t recall any tense moments between the three of us. Just remembered – Maxine’s bag exploding like a coiled spring with all her things all over our hotel room every night as we travelled round, her packing skills left a lot to be desired – I do suffer a little from OCD.
Maxine: In a tuk-uk for 10 days, 24/7 with two other women, if there hadn’t been tense moments that would’ve been a miracle. One particular occasion (we had run out of petrol) it all ended in a stony silence, until we broke the deadlock with a game of shag, marry and avoid. Laughter is the best tonic. But it’s about perspective, let’s fall out about the life changing stuff, not getting lost, taking a wrong turn, or running out of petrol etc.
Andrea: I think our friendship has actually strengthened as a result of the trip. The only tense moment I remember was down to me – we ran out of fuel and had to buy some from the back-up new. I wasn’t impressed at the mark-up they added on. It was pence really but I did go on a bit!
What did each of you bring to the team?
Andrea: Whilst I am, maybe, more reserved than the others I admit to being rather competitive and not bothered by physical challenges – we have a hilarious video of an attempt to climb a coconut tree in the traditional way. Maxine is so creative and was great at thinking of ideas to meet some of the challenges. Carol has the wonderful ability to talk to anyone and get her message across which was essential when we needed help.
Was it a bonding experience?
Carol: Yes, as we all stayed together the whole time and we made a pact before we left that if one of us couldn’t cope or felt uneasy, we were there as team and would all support each other. We also shared a room every night so we never got our own space as such but everything just went perfect including our bedtime singalong every night.
Maxine: Oh yes, it’s an amazing experience and the things you will encounter and have to deal with bring you closer without doubt. And not just within your team, we have made friends all over the world from this one experience.
What was your highlight of the experience?
Andrea: The overall friendliness of the Sri Lankan people was a major highlight. Any time we stopped on the road it seemed to be only a few seconds before someone was asking if we needed help. Also a lovely lady called Shireen invited us into her home, took 2 hours out of her day to teach us to cook curry, daal and roti with only the most basic facilities and then sat us down with her best china and glasses to eat with her family. We were in tears when we left – it was such a humbling experience.
Maxine: Crikey... so many to choose from: running the gauntlet with an elephant, conquering rubble road, being humbled by the kindness of locals are all highlights but I think that it was the reaction of the other teams towards us when we won the challenge, which was simply fantastic .
Carol: Just the actual taking part having never done anything like it before in my life. The fact that we won was too overwhelming for me as I never imagined, even when we finished that we would have won.
Any low points?
Carol: Upset tummy for two days when we arrived in Sri Lanka so couldn’t leave the hotel room!! The night camping wasn’t really my thing either.
Andrea: Saying goodbye to our fellow challengers, and a worrying time when one team rolled their tuk-tuk down a 40-foot bank. Thankfully they came away with just bumps and bruises but the tuk-tuk was a write off.
What do you think gave you the winning edge?
Carol: We were the rank outsiders, in our opinion, as we were the oldest over 50 all-female team, never having done anything like this challenge before, so had no experience and didn’t have a clue what we were letting ourselves in for. BUT, we were steady away every day, took all the challenges seriously (well, Andrea and Maxine did), and Andrea was an absolute wizz with the picture taking of some very obscure animals that she managed to capture, which we needed as part of some of the daily challenges.
Andrea: There were challengers from all over the world: 2 couples from USA, 2 super-funny guys from Australia, some travel bloggers from the Philippines, an Essex boy and his calming influence from Huddersfield who were based in Dubai along with their Syrian cameraman as they were making a documentary about the trip, an Irish team, 2 girls from Manchester and a trio of awesome young things from London. As regards our winning edge, I have no idea really. My teamies will say that I’m very competitive but maybe it was that we assumed we’d be last and we really wanted to avoid that.
As “women your age”, were you treated differently to the other competitors?
Carol: Definitely not!
Maxine: Ha ha, NOOOOOOO absolutely NOT and nor would we want to be.
What are you hoping to achieve at the India Challenge?
Carol: I am just happy to be taking part, travelling and seeing what I understand to be a beautiful part of India, with two other good friends who make me laugh.
Andrea: All I want is to have as much fun as we did in Sri Lanka and meet another group of great people. It will also, hopefully, be a chance to explore the region and interact with the local people in a way that you don’t get to do on a “tour”.
How are you preparing for the next Challenge?
Carol: We have got our travel visas, international driving licenses, thought of a name for our team and have been shopping to get our matching outfits!
Andrea: Apart from the stress of getting an Indian visa – that form is soo long – we have gone through our usual preparations of getting the essential international drivers permit, £5.50 from the post office, shopping trips for our matching outfits, evenings of booking flights and hotel for our extra nights (a little alcohol involved) and trying to come up with a team name and decor theme for the tuk-tuk which is, of course, very important.
What would you say to other women your age who might consider doing the India Challenge, but are hanging back for some reason?
Andrea: All I would say is go for it and if you can’t do this then do something that pushes you outside of your comfort zone, whether physically or mentally. Whilst everyone has things that make them apprehensive, if you have the right team, whether friends or family, there is a way through everything. Nothing feels so good as conquering a fear, especially if you have great time doing it.