Ger-to-Ger... to Ger, to China
Having only just made it, it was time to repack our bags - as we were off again, to live with Mongolian nomads for 8 days...
We "decided" to leave the packing to the morning of the 1st day. Managing this, we set off to the bus stop to catch the 11am bus to Terelj National Park. We arrived 40 minutes early (as instructed) and met a German family-of-4 and an Austrian girl also heading to Terelj. We waited, and waited... Finally after 2 hours of waiting, the organising company - Ger-to-Ger (a Ecotourism agency organising nomadic travel routes, rural cultural home-stay programs, festivals and events) - told us that the 11am bus no longer existed! So in compensation they 'organised' us a minibus for 2pm (to keep us sweet). Of course this minibus didn't materialise, as apparently there "is only one minibus available in Ulaanbaatar (population 1.2 million), and it's busy...". Instead we had to wait until 4pm for the daily bus.
After a 3 hour journey we made it to Terelj village and were collected by the first of the families by ox-cart.
After loading our baggage we set off, quickly encountering a rather large and deep river... One of the oxen obviously realised this and decided to stop in the middle of the river, stubbornly refusing to move, regardless of how much it was whipped.... We definitely now understand the expression "as stubborn as an ox". Eventually, after the carts passengers had been evacuated by horseback, we were on our way. Our first nomadic family invited us into their Ger, and served us dinner. Ger-to-Ger had supplied us with about 100 stock Mongolian phrases, so to the great amusement of our hosts (mainly because of our pronunciation) we made small talk with phrases such as: "Are you having a good summer?", "I hope your goats are fattening nicely" and Scott's favourite... "How old is your daughter?".
After a solid 10 hours sleep (a luxury we didn't have during the rally) and a breakfast of bread and fresh butter, we departed on horseback for our first day of riding. In Mongolia, there is a 13:1 ratio of horses to humans... Apparently Mongolian horses only respond to the word "Go", although ours didn't even respond to that... Like the oxen, they were pretty stubborn, and had to be coaxed into moving by using tree branches and by shouting "Chu". We quickly got the hang of riding, and within no time were galloping through Terelj. Obviously impressed by our 'natural' riding abilities, our guide let us go off on our own for 2 hours - while he stopped to scythe his field... We stopped at another Ger for a local lunch, which (as we discovered over the next week) always consists of some kind of carbs (potato or pasta) with meat and vegetables. We use 'meat' as a general term, as we're not sure what kind of meats they were... maybe horse?
Our next Ger was a 5-hour ox-cart ride away, where we spent the day playing with their two young children. Our hostess was a renowned seamstress, and showed us how she made traditional Mongolian clothing on a push-peddle sewing machine. Impressed by her skill, we - and the two Americans also staying with them - purchased custom-made mobile phone covers and laptop cases, along with a traditional Mongolian vest for Scott.
Our next stop was an overnight horse-trek to the "Princess Temple" (or “Gunj” - as our new guide Mr Zorig called it), though unfortunately torrential rain prevented this. Instead we spent the day at Mr Zorig's Ger, a professional herder and former national tractor champion (although we weren't sure what exactly a tractor champion entails...).
Mr Zorig's English was limited to "cow", "horse", "good" and "no good" (only the essentials), as his wife speaks English fluently (although she wasn't there). As he usually guides the overnight horse-trek, he doesn't usually host tourists at his Ger. Through hand gestures, sounds, and his list of stock English phrases from Ger-to-Ger, we discovered that his wife was in Ulaanbaatar and that tomorrow we would trek to the Gunj - statements he repeated numerous times. At a loss of what to do with us he kept cooking us food until we refused through fullness, then he gestured for us to help him saw wood, and shovel horse/cow manure.
Mr Zorig was 54, and a funny man... Often while we were sitting in his Ger eating, he would suddenly stand up, run outside and start shouting... after which you would hear the sound of horses galloping... On one of these occasions we peered outside to see horses galloping passed - being chased by Mr Zorig in full sprint, waving his hands and shouting "Hooo! Hooooooooo!".
After lunch the next day, we started our horse-trek to the 'infamous' Gunj (Princess Temple). As we had spent the previous day shovelling manure, we had to 'ride' the 80km journey in one day... Although it would be more accurate to say that we were in fact 'herded' the 80km... Unlike the previous horses, these did not obey. Living up to his profession, Mr Zorig actually herded us. He rode behind us with a stick shouting "Hooo Hoooo!". We're no experts, but we're sure this wasn't the best technique... The horses, obviously frightened of him, would run forward scared - trying to avoid being whipped. This caused Sean to be thrown from his horse, which galloping blind and scared had lost it footing. The other major disadvantage of this herding was that the horse pretty much constantly trotted for the entire 8 hours... which wasn't exactly comfortable...
Although we were relieved to arrive at the Gunj, we were thoroughly unimpressed by it... It was just an overgrown compound, which unless someone told you otherwise - you would have just dismissed as a luxurious stable... After 10 minutes of looking around, we sat down with Mr Zorig and waited for the horses to graze. During a stock phrase conversation, in which he asked if we were all engaged or married, he suddenly went silent and touched his front tooth and went "Ohhhhhhh"... His front tooth was ludicrously wobbly, and in imminent danger of falling out! While Sean attempted to stifle a laugh, Mr Zorig grabbed his wobbly tooth and went to rip it out!! Faced with the situation of watching a man pull out his own teeth, Simon reached for his camera... With Sean still trying not to laugh, Mr Zorig made a sudden jerking movement and pulled out his tooth!! Well so we thought... We realised it was all just a gag when he started laughing and pointing at our faces...
Simon's horse had a tendency to stop abruptly mid trot/gallop to graze. Much to the amusement of Mr Zorig and Scott (who were riding ahead), they turned to see Simon (who had been thrown off during an abrupt graze-stop) attempting to corner his horse in an open field... As we were attempting a two-day journey in one day, the last two hours of the trek was at night! With no moonlight to guide us, we just hoped that the horses could see as they trotted/galloped through the national park...
We arrived back at 10pm to find his wife, all our previous hostesses and the entire Ger-to-Ger staff (also all women) there for a monthly meeting. With so many guests staying (and being the only men), we and Mr Zorig slept in the 'supply' Ger - complete with sheep’s heads... The next day while shovelling more manure, Mr Zorig casually walked passed (and in the cover of a Ger) "pssst"-ed and beckoned us over, where he pulled out three cans of beer that he'd 'smuggled' out from the Ger-to-Ger meeting...
Our next two days and two nomadic families were not as interesting as our time at Mr Zorig's. In the late afternoon at the first family, a random man (unrelated to the host family) comes into the Ger with a bow and 3 arrows. He 'demonstrated' how to shoot one arrow, gave us the bow, and then simply disappeared... We also met an annoying Australian guy, whose response to Simon's question about where he was from was "you'll never guess...". Later that evening he proceeded to give us "life advice" - being younger than Sean at 30... Idiot... At the second family - the hostess of which was a nomadic shaman - we were given time to 'explore the area', so climbed the nearest mountain - spending a good hour taking photos at the summit.
In our opinion it was a great 8 days, and an awesome experience to live with nomadic families and stay in their Gers. We would thoroughly recommend a Ger-to-Ger trip to anyone.
After returning to Ulaanbaatar. we caught the 32 hour Trans-Mongolian train to Beijing. We shared our cabin with an 18 year old Mongolian called Tuk, whose mum told him to move to China to learn Chinese (he currently spoke none at all). Once in Beijing, we caught the 186mph (300kph) bullet train to Shanghai (where Sean and Scott's parents currently live). Simon stayed in Beijing for a few days to be a tourist, and whilst there he ate a scorpion...
And so ends our penultimate blog post! In a few days we will be flying home (sad times), but before we do we'll write a 'conclusion' post.
Simon, Scott & Sean
All Roads Lead to Ulaanabaatar
Having gained our freedom, we looked at the map of Mongolia and realised there were two “main” roads we could take. The Northern or the Southern route, but essentially if we followed the sun in the early morning and had the sun behind us in the evening, then all roads led to Ulaanbaatar - or so it seemed...
Due to our 26 hours “detention” we only just made it to Olgii that evening, after having had to reverse/push the car up a steep hill (due to the car’s lack in power in first gear, combined with 92 octane fuel). The following morning we headed into town to stock up on supplies and get cash. We bumped into other Mongol Rally teams. As we had never convoyed with other teams up to this point, we decided now was the time and teamed up - with one English and one Australian team. As we left town we were shocked to see the “trouble makers” tagging along at the end of our convoy…this experience could become very interesting...
With our expert navigation skills, we lead the other teams into the Mongolian wilderness….after 25km our car let us down for the first time, when we realised we were tilting to one side….the left front tyre was completely shredded! In what we considered a ‘record’ time of 16 minutes, we had a spare tyre mounted and drove on. After a good couple of hours travelling at an average speed of maybe 20 mph (32 km/h), we found a nice muddy patch at the entrance of a small village. The “ladish” nature of the trouble makers with their Suzuki Jimmy (a small 4x4), resulted in them driving though this mud patch at full speed, which in itself was alright, but what followed next was not expected.
As they tried to manoeuvre their car back onto the road after crossing the puddle, they took such a sharp left (near 90 degrees) that they managed to topple their car onto one side. Luckily they were alright, with the car only losing the springs from its suspension, its rear window and visibility from the front windscreen. Within two minutes, half the village’s population (ranging from 2-year-old children to old men) had arrived at the scene and the car was ready to go after 30 mins of repairs, all of which were carried out by the locals, in such a rapid/casual way - as if it happened every day...
Surprised that the toppled car still worked (apart from riding a bit lower on one side), our convoy spent the rest of the day crossing further mountain passes and at least three rivers. As the sun was setting, we arrived in Hovd and carried on alone, as the other teams were stopping to have their cars checked for various reasons.
Day two took us from Hovd to Altay, travelling over 400 km - again no faster than 20 mph. The car was taking a battering because of the corrugation in the road, and it was no surprise when our overloaded roof rack mounts sheared.... This roof rack only had to survive the last 1000km! So using all the string, ratchet straps and bungees we had left, we ‘strapped’ it together. Having considered the troublemakers “idiots” for toppling their car, we thought we would have an attempt of being a bit reckless. Sean suggested a hand break turning in the middle of a mud patch. The first attempt was a great success and we spent the next hour skidding and spinning our car. As a result, our Kia Rio was no longer blue - rather Khaki - but hadn’t sustained any noticeable damage.
Unfortunately, in order to reach Altay a bit of night driving was required. Never a good idea when your headlights only illuminate 5 metres in front of you, and you cannot properly distinguish “hazards”... It results in several near misses with football-sized rocks in the middle of the track (“sump-killers” as we affectionately named them). As a result, we decided to call it a night and set up camp 10 miles outside Altay.
The next morning we were woken up by Scott sounding the horn of the car. At the beginning of our travels, we had agreed that when wild camping one person should sleep in the car, and that person should sound the horn if there was an imminent “danger”…
Rolling out of their sleeping bags (and Sean grabbing his pocket knives - plural), Simon and Sean bolted out of the tent to assess the situation….Scott was honking the three Mongol Rally teams we had been convoying with us the day before, all of which had driven all through the night to catch up with us. False alarm...
Having had a late start to that day we drove most of the afternoon in convoy, half the time all driving next to each other as there were at least ten tracks running next to each other, all leading to Ulaanbaatar. As the sun set we left the other teams behind us to ensure we covered enough ground to make it to Ulaanbaatar for the 26th, however this resulted in very low visibility for Scott who was driving the car at night. Sean had just mentioned that there was a river crossing coming up, when Scott crossed a crest, the last thing we remember saying was stop!!!
It was too late... the front of the car was already stuck at a steep angle in the middle of a muddy riverbank. We were confident that our technique, which we used in Kazakhstan, would get us out of the mud. However unfortunately, after 30 minutes of wheel spinning we realised we were not going to get out without assistance. So we were very glad when we heard a faint noise of a tractor in the distance. Out of the darkness came a man driving a tractor, followed by his two sons on motorbikes. We flagged him down and he offered to tow us out, which seemed far too easy... We decided to give our football to his sons, as a token of gratitude. However, he seemed to be insisting that he wanted to continue to tow us. After multiple diagrams drawn on our muddy car, we understood that he wanted to tow us through the river, which we couldn’t see properly in the distance as it was pitch black. Not sure whether we really needed his services, we followed him to see for ourselves whether our reliable Kia Rio was up for the task... it wasn’t... The river was flowing at full speed and was at least 1 meter deep at points. We agreed to be towed. At one point, we felt the car become buoyant and water started to seep through the doors.
In the end the river crossing cost us £12.50 and Simon’s head torch, as the tractor apparently didn’t have headlights, so he insisted that he needed light for his return journey to his Ger. In the grand scheme of things it was not a steep price as all roads leading to Ulaanbaatar had to cross this river.
The following day was relatively uneventful as we covered another 300 km, realising that the road were slowly becoming more and more asphalted. However, when we stopped in Bayanhongor to stock up on snacks, a woman offered to buy our car, as it was “extremely nice”. Sean had to respectfully convince her that we were not going to sell our car, as it was going to charity.
That evening, the last night of the Mongol Rally, we camped on top of a mountain. The next morning we navigated our way on mostly asphalted roads to the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, where we were trying to look for a shooting range, which allows you to fire RPGs and apparently any type of weapon you wish (snipers, AK-47s, Tanks...). The only problem was that nobody could give us directions and we spent most of the afternoon driving around in endless circles. During which time we ended up at a children’s centre and in a U.N training facility! So instead we headed for the centre of Ulaanbaatar, crossing the rather chaotic city with a last few drops of fuel in the petrol tank.
We had planned it perfectly according to our average mpg, that we would have just enough to make it to the finish line…Sean had just crossed the final junction before having to turn left to our final destination, when his face went blank (his ”out of control” face). The car had no more power, or in other words our math had let us down and we had too little fuel. Pushing the car along the road to the first available side junction in the middle of Ulaanbaatar, Simon and Scott went on the search of a petrol station to get 5 more litres of fuel. This time we weren’t going to take a risk... We eventually made it to the Lotus Guest House we were staying, and as the finish line was “closed” for the day, we had to hand over our car over the following morning.
All we can say about the finish line was that the Adventurists provided us with a total anti-climax. When we arrived we didn’t get a cheer or any form of congratulation. However, after 16,000 km we were not going to let that bring us down. We took all our finisher photos with our newly named car called “Smiles” and left it parked there - with the only major damage to the car being a cracked bumper.
Thank you very much for all the support and there are more updates coming related to our further travels in Mongolia.
26 hours in a 'detention compound'...
As soon as Russia ended, so did the roads... after the 7th Russian checkpoint the asphalt abruptly stopped - being replaced with the crater filled dirt track of no-mans land... These type of ‘roads’ were all that spanned the 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from the border to Ulaanbaatar... No wonder 25% of the teams don't make it through...
At the end of the valley linking the two countries was the Mongolian border... the only structure visible as far as your eyes could see... Wondering around this no-mans land was a Mongolian man, who in broken English offered currency exchange at ‘good rates’, sure...
Inside the border everyone who didn’t personally know a random suit-wearing Mongolian had to pay $1 USD to ‘disinfect’ their wheels. The border guards themselves seemed agitated - demanded that we unpack the entire car, while they occasionally pointing at items and aggressively asked “What?!?”... Good job they didn’t find our remaining smoke grenade...
Sean and Scott passed through Passport control, the other side of which they spotted 13 other Mongol Rally teams, parked in what can best be described as a detention compound... Once our car had finally got through their rigorous inspection, and Simon had been told to stand in the corner of Passport control - so as not to interfere with the border guards forehand as they played table tennis - we were also directed to the ‘compound’, where we were told about the interesting series of events...
It is common for Mongol Rally teams to spend a night at the border, as before the cars are imported into the country, the importing charity (Adventures for Development Mongolia, AFDM) must pay a $500 USD import tax per car. The speed at while these payments reach the border depend on banking hours, border opening times, electricity supplies, internet connections and numerous other factors... However the whole process doesn’t start until you pay your $7 USD import fee.
A few of the teams had arrived that morning, and knowing they most likely had to spend the night, they decided to have a ‘casual’ drink... though a few of them inevitably got ludicrously drunk... and amongst other things: smashed a glass bottle on the floor, ate some of a glass bottle and managed to crack another teams windscreen by kicking around a rugby ball...
From what we understand, after the bottle had been smashed, an English speaking border guard approached this one team - with something like the following conversation apparently ensuing:
- Border Guard: “How many people are in this vehicle?”
- Drunk Guy: “28”
- Border Guard: “I know thats not true...”
- Drunk Guy: “Ah f**k them”
- Border Guard: “Don't tell me to f**k them! as i’ll show you exactly how much I can f**k you!”
The border guards then proceeded to detain the drunk guy, and informed the rest of the teams that the border was now closed to them. After threats of deportation, the drunk guy was later seen bursting out of the border offices and sprinting towards the Mongolian border... By the time we had arrived (5:00pm) the situation had calmed down, and the drunk guy was sleeping off his hangover.
Most of the other teams were distancing themselves from the ‘troublesome’ team, Even though each car has the same official Mongol Rally stickers, no one wanting to be considered associated with them...
We chatted to the other teams, and swapped stories from our travels. We learnt that one team rolled their car while attempting to take a near 90 degree corner at 70 mph (~120 kph), another team’s front suspension had shot through the bonnet and shattered their front windscreen, while a third had to rebuild their engine after using low-quality fuel... There were numerous other stories involving punctures, electrical failures, cylinders misfiring, sump guards ripping off and a Vauxhall alternator being swapped with a BMW alternator as “there wasn’t a single alternator in Turkmenistan that would fit the car”...
Most teams had travelled the Southern route, and told stories of being charged ridiculous taxes in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, with crossings across the Caspian sea costing ~$600 USD per person - with car costing $80 USD per metre... There was also this one Romanian woman who was making a film about the Mongol Rally. Instead of taking part in with a car, she was hitchhike with other teams.
Once the border had closed (6pm) the locals descended... Men walked up and down the perimeter fence offering currency exchange and attempting to buy anything teams would sell. While children - many of which were wearing (fake?) ‘designer’ clothing - kept repeating “Hello!” and pestered teams for anything they could get, or selling anything they could find - such as a yaks head! Later, once it was sufficiently dark, a few locals jumped the perimeter fence and suspiciously wandered around the compound staring into peoples cars... They do say that border towns are always dodgy...
We should also mention that there were no real facilities in this compound. With the ‘toilets’ being 4 horrendously smelling huts, each with two planks of wood that supported you above a ‘pool’ of feces.
The concrete floor coupled with the high altitude (~2500m) resulted in a horrendously cold nights sleep. Where Simon’s thin sleeping bag meant he had to wear 9 t-shirts and 2 jumpers...
The next morning the guards decided to reopen the border to us. So we paid our $7 USD import fee and waited the whole day, uncertain about whether we would be spending another night. Many teams had to reach Ulaanbaatar by Friday 24th (it was currently Monday 20th), so with the drive apparently taking (on a good day) 5 days - people were getting anxious.
Finally at 6:30pm (after the border had officially closed) we, and 3 other teams were given permission to leave. As we had arrived later than some of the teams who hadn’t been given permission, tension began to mount - with one team accusing us of some underhand dealings... Although in all honesty we had done nothing to ‘aid’ our release, and had spend the whole day reading or playing Yatzi...
Once we had passed another vehicle check and paid another $10 USD import fee, we were free to leave and drove towards the exit gate. However the gate guard had other ideas... He stood in the way of our car and told us that as it was past 6pm the border was now is closed... Faced with the prospect of sleeping another night on the concrete floor, Simon went and stood motionless in front of the guard, staring at him... after 2 minutes of silence the guard relented and let us and the other 3 teams pass...
We were free!!! - well nearly... 10 metres outside the gate we were flagged down by another border guard, and made to pay another $53 USD for insurance and road tax... Then we were free - at 7:30pm!
We had spent over 26 hours at the border... Although the guards had been extremely pleasant to us, we are pretty sure a significant amount of time we spent there was a result of the troublesome team...
Bath of whiskey or whiskey & a bath?
Leaving our lovely hotel in Kyrgyzstan we head north to the border hoping to get a solid start to ours day’s drive. Closing in on the border the traffic was increasing and we all started to have a bad feeling about this crossing. Moments later we discovered we were right… a huge line of cars and only 2 or 3 being let through at a time. After a long wait we eventually made it through, where Simon (driver) was put through to a customs check and Sean and Scott (passengers) were added onto a huge pack of people. While waiting to get to the passport control, Sean and Scott were herded like cattle, being pushed into a funel like cage. Again they were only letting 10 people go through at a time, each time accompanied by a motivational speech:
- Border Guard: “Look ahead of you, its freedom, take it, it’s yours!!?”
- Crowd: (Cheers)
- Border Guard: (Unhooks chain) “Go go go!!”
At least that’s what it sounded like.
Once into passport control it was no longer a problem, besides the fact that the border guards were reluctant to let Scott through as apparently he did not look like the picture on his passport, and was told that the picture was not taken in the UK. Odd how the border guards decided they knew this….
Once back in Kazakh territory, we were back to good old times filled with lots of honking and waving, so much so that it became a natural reaction to cars passing by. To our disappointment we were quickly stopped by policemen, with us already worrying that this was the fining that everyone was talking about! However he quickly realised that we spoke no Kazakh or Russian and gave up just waving us on.
Not long afterwards we got stopped again. However instead of trying any scam, fine or bribe he introduces himself to Sean, shakes hands and just wanted to chat, inquiring about where we were going and helping us with distances and directions.
Wild camping was our type of accommodation until we got to Semey where we got a hotel to wash up and get ready for our last stretch to Mongolia. We quickly found a hotel, Sean and Simon entering to investigate. In the mean time an Old Jeep pulls up to the car and Scott exits to chat to the people. He was offered to either have a bath of whiskey or drink whiskey and have a bath with them, the first option worrying Scott as the Jeep was predominantly male populated. As politely as possible Scott declined, got a blown kiss from the female passenger and returned to the car.
We headed out for dinner to a nearby restaurant, and quickly made friends there, Beibit and Kairat, who were curious of where we were heading and why. After chatting for a good half an hour, we exchanged email addresses, gifts (a rugby ball from us, a lighter and a hat from them). We decided there that these had been the friendliest people we had met so far!
The next day we set off to the border and surprisingly we had no trouble at this little deserted border and got through in record time. Heading north we made it as far as Barnaul where were took a small side street and found a grassy patch to set up camp and make a fire. The first of the freezing nights, where the fire was very welcome, mainly being the reason why Scott got emotionally attached when we had to put it out in the morning. We thought we could make it to the border the next day but we did not as we decided to stop along the river for lunch, and pay $6 USD to get a return trip across a very dodgy looking bridge! Later in the day we found a very long straight section of road, where to set up cameras, attached smoke grenades to the roof, set them off and blasted down the road! Eventually we made it about 200 km from the border and set up camp alongside a small river, nearly getting stuck trying to access it.
Finally came the day we were goiong to enter Mongolia, the last country on our list. The Russian side of the border was a 7 checkpoint border, thankfully empty. We headed out into the 3 km long no man’s land....the worst was still to come………
The 'Switzerland' of Central Asia
The Tajikistan situation caused us to re-route through the Urals in Russia, missing out both Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the Pamir Highway - which was a bit annoying as we spend £259 on visas which are now redundant. We still however planned to drive through Kyrgyzstan. (Although the Tajikistan borders are now apparently open - the Pamir Highway region still isnt). When we arrived at the Kyrgyzstan border, the guard took our passports and before stamping them asked: “Why you have visa? you not need visa to enter our country!”. Apparently the Kyrgy-UK regulations have recently changed... another £160 of redundant visas... great...
The Kyrgyzstan language - Kyrgyz - is a turkish style language, written in cyrillic. The country is occasionally referred to as: “the Switzerland of Central Asia”, mainly due to the fact that 80% of it is covered in mountains. However unlike IN SWITZERLAND, Kyrgyzstan lease their land to foreign military. The US Military use Kyrgyzstan as a transit stop for their Middle-Eastern operations - paying the Kyrgyzstan government ~$20 million USD for the privilege... (their contract came up for renewal in 2007, and Kyrgyzstan upped their price to ~$60 million USD! get in!). Obviously the Russians didn't like this and felt left out, so they opened a base here as well...
Our first stop in Kyrgyzstan was the capital Bishkek. On route we somehow managed to lose our Central Asia Lonely Planet... So feeling a bit gutted, we arrived in Bishkek and eventually managed to find a hotel - although they wanted $72 USD a person!!!! The hotel obviously wasn't full, and the receptionists were most likely bitter about working the night shift... So after some battering by Simon, we managed to reduce the price to $22 USD a person, cash in hand - with an 8am checkout.
We paid and were told to go to the 7th floor, where we would be shown our room. We took the lift and arrived at a very dated floor, where the only light in a corridor of ~40 rooms was that of the elevator foyer. We waited aimlessly for a good five minutes, and just as Scott said “I think we have been conned” a rather large Kyrgyz woman appeared out of the darkness and beckoned us to follow her.
We followed her to the end of the corridor where she opened 3 separate rooms from her large bunch of “master keys”, each time detaching the key and giving it to us. She then silently walked off - walking past a fuse box on the way, flipping some jumpers and turning on the corridor lights.
The whole event was definitely off the books, the management probably didn't know we were staying there, and the reception didn't take any details off us... So when the phone rang at 1am both Simon and Scott ignored it, while Sean - thinking it was probably Simon having worked out how to use the internal phones answered:
- Sean: Hello?
- Female Borat Voice: Hello! would you like a massage?
- Sean: No!
- Female Borat Voice: OK! Good night! [hang up]
The next day we drove around lake Ysyk-Kol, and wild camped along its shores. The lake itself is at 1600m and is surrounded by mountains - some of which exceed 5000m. There is a circular mountain road which leads through these peaks. The road (in our opinion) was more challenging and exciting than the Romanian Transfăgărășan Highway, where after climbing up to the mountain pass, you reach a valley at 4000m - where the air temperature is <10 degrees and the snow line is 500m above you. The landscape was absolutely stunning!
Although we had wanted to drive the complete circular road, we were forced to turn around after reaching a private gold mine - although this was probably a good idea as Simon had suddenly become silent, appearing ‘drugged’ from the altitude...
The following day, although we tried to leave Kyrgyzstan through their North-Eastern border with Kazakhstan, the border guards said “no”, so we had to drive back to the the nearest border crossing near Bishkek. As it was late, we stopped over in Bishkek, staying in the same hotel. The same receptionist recognized us, instantly giving us three rooms with the same conditions as before - but this time on the slightly more ‘luxurious’ 6th floor...
So these are some things we have observed in Kyrgyzstan:
- Kyrgyzstan and particularly Bishkek has the most foreigners we have seen since Hungary. On our drive around the lake we passed dozens of foreign cyclists
- Cows, sheep & horses roam freely, and are often found standing in the middle of the roads blocking traffic
- The country seems to be a bottleneck for the Mongol Rally, with teams following the Central and Southern routes converging before driving onwards to mongolia. Since being here we have seen 6 different teams
- The english here is significantly better than Russia or Kazakhstan, although we haven't ventured far from the capital
- All hills are apparently 12% gradient regardless - they definitely just bought a bulk number of road signs
- The petrol generally comes in lower quality octane levels (80/92/93), which we have noticed has given our car considerably less power - particularly when combined with the thin air of higher altitudes...
- We have seen our first chinese trucks
Simon, Scott & Sean
Kazakhstan - the Country of Borat(?), Deserts & Friendly People
Apparently Kazakhstan is notorious for its bad roads and desert landscape, which is why we were so surprised when we found ourselves on a stretch of 200km long “highway” travelling at the max speed limit (55mph / 90kph) heading to Konstanay. Arriving in the city we were confused with what we found! There was an abundance of modern looking banks, hotels, streets and shopping centres - the way you would find them in most European cities. On top of this nearly everybody we saw was extremely curious and was either waving, pointing, honking or simply trying to give us directions in Kazakh on how to get to Astana, the capital.
We decided to stay the night in Konstanay in order to 'register' our visa, they had to be stamped by the migration police in one of the regional capitals within 72 hours of entering the country, otherwise we would be fined $100! The next morning we went on the search of the migration police office, which to no surprise was not officially open, they only spoke Kazahk and need us to fill out a form in Russian. Being face with this task, we decided to take our chances and spend the day driving to the next regional headquarters, hoping that we would be able to register it there. We all had the faint hope they could speak English in the next place… which was wishful thinking.
So we headed out into the desert with our map of Kazakhstan and a compass, confident that we knew the way to Zhezkazgan. After 200km we encountered our first major junction, which was a round-about with four roads leading off it, we were confident that taking the first right was the best choice. The road was in terrible condition, which gave us a great sense of security that we were heading the right direction. After about 2 km (10 mins) we were waved down by locals, which were once again trying showing us the way to Astana and were also indicating that the road was probably going to end, by forming a cross with their arms. Being engineers we 'knew' better that the locals (silly us) and thought that they were just trying to send us to the capital...
Our confidence in our route choice was slowly reducing and after 1 hour (45 km) of potholed roads and ambient temperature of 35 degrees - we arrived at the dead end the locals had tried to tell us about!! Disappointed with our navigational skills, we turned the car around to discover that the fuel indicator was showing nearly empty. With no other choice we headed back on the tough 45 km road and ended up in the next village trying to find a petrol station. Having found one, Sean went in to ask about fuelling the car and returned promptly being escorted by a Mongolian looking security guard wielding a shotgun and a pistol... Apparently he was told to come back in 20 minutes to fuel, so we waited for half an hour to make sure we didn’t have another encounter with the man packing some serious fire power...
This time we took the correct route and ended up stopping for the night after having witnessed a full double rainbow in the middle of Kazakhstan! It was the first time we were camping in the wild, so it was no surprise that we got a rather unfriendly visit from a family of hungry mosquitoes.
With an early start the next morning we thought we were going to make it to Zheshkegahn some 350 km away in time to register our visas that day. After about two hours of driving and only having covered 80 km we realized it was going to be hard to reach our target. The fact that we arrived at a river crossing to find that the bridge had been destroyed didn’t help. Trying to find an alternative route across the river, we were forced to cross a muddy river bank. Confident that our Kia Rio was up to the task we were left laughing at the side of the road when the wheels of the car started spewing up mud and the car sunk into the mud. This meant we had to jack up the car and dig/push it out setting us back by another hour and 15 minutes. One would have thought we had learned from this experience, but apparently we hadn’t, when we found ourselves pushing our car through another muddy part of the otherwise dry desert.
We went to the migration police the next day, expecting to be faced with a load of Russian paperwork and communication problems. Arriving there we were met by the chief police officer and his secretary, both of them not really speaking any English. After they understood we wanted our visas stamped, they still insisted showing us the best route to get to Astana and then to Mongolia. At this point we were starting to wonder, what was there in Astana that we were missing? We managed to convince them we wanted to take the long and complicated route, to which they replied in Kazakh with a head shake, probably meaning “Typical foreigners, they always think they know better!”.
Having got our visa stamped the Chief police officer escorted us out into the parking lot to inspect our car, before laughing, shaking our hands and wishing us good luck. With an afternoon start we headed even further into the centre of the Kazakhstan desert, where we nearly toppled our car getting stuck on a sand bank, before we finally stopped and set up camp in the middle of a desert plain.
Getting up the next morning we headed for Turkestan to visit the Hodja Ahmet Yasawi Mausoleum, on the way meeting loads of wild camels, also starring at our car! The Mausoleum was worth while visiting being an impressive piece of architecture. At the Mausoleum we met a group of Chinese travelers in a van, who were doing a similar trip to ours just in the other direction. After the visit to the Mausoleum was continued to head direction Kyrgyzstan, again sleeping in the “wild”. Although that depends if one classifies “wild” as camping in a construction site next to the train tracks!
The following morning we headed for the Kyrgyzstan border, en-route meeting two Mongol Rally cars which had come from the south. Having three Mongol Rally cars parked on the side of the road, attracted so much attention, including hundreds of car honks and even people stopping to take photos with us and asking if we were heading to Astana.
As a conclusion from out first visit to Kazakhstan: it is nothing like what you would expect from the movie Borat. Also the people here are the friendliest and most curious people we have meet on this trip so far.
However the question still remains, what is there in Astana?
That is all for now.
Simon, Scott and Sean
Finding the famous Ice Caves of Kungur was not as easy as we had thought, as until the actual cave there were no signs in English and it came down to our Cyrillic skills to determine where we were supposed to be heading. Eventually we found the little village outside of Kungur, where the Ice Caves were located and went to enquire about ticket prices. Having to be part of a 20 person group the tickets are not always guaranteed however Sean and Simon managed to secure tickets for the three of us later in the afternoon.
To make sure we had somewhere to stay the night we had a look at the hotel next to the Ice Caves and since this was pretty much the only hotel around we decided to take a 3 person room, which was explained to have “no hot water”. Left with little choice we would just have to man up and enjoy a lovely cold shower. When we say cold, we mean ice cold…
We then headed over to our planned tour of the Ice Caves with a jumper in hand as it can apparently get quite chilly. On entering we found out that it can get as cold as -5 degrees, at which point we were seriously concerned as the tour is meant to take 1h 20m. Protecting our extremities we moved on through a very interesting (although Russian spoken) tour and we very happy to exit at the other end to the boiling sun. For the rest of the day, we simply relaxed in our ‘luxurious’ hotel room, enjoyed ice showers and drunk a few ‘beers’.
Trying to leave reasonably early we drove to Perm-36 (an old Gulag camp) about 100km from the caves. Nearing the location we turned on to a side street which was no longer paved and pulled up to what looked like an abandoned building. On entry we bought a few tickets and were given a map of the camp. Following the map we tried to make out what each of the buildings was and translated what we could of the Russian signs in to English. Although it was hard to make out everything we found it was a worthwhile visit as it still provided an idea of the atmosphere in one of the camps, and compared to most sight-seeing was very cheap.
Personally, we found the Gulags much more interesting that Dachau – even though we couldn’t understand anything. It seemed that in the Gulag camp they focused more on the terrible condition and atmosphere, whereas in the concentration camp they mainly provided information on the founding of the camp system more than the atrocities committed.
On the way back from the Gulag camp we passed by the ‘tourist’ Europe-Asia continental boundary, never having found the official one! Jumping from continent to continent we took plenty of photos while being attacked by mosquitoes. From what we understood they have a huge complex with stadiums, bridges and housing planned for the boundary, although it all seems a bit over the top!
That evening the target was to make it as close as possible to the border with Kazakhstan. We managed to drive as far as 60km South of Yekaterinburg, where we found a modern and cheap hotel to sleep in. Profiting from the canteen like food service, we ate and got a good night’s sleep ready for the next days border crossing.
For breakfast we had the exact same meal as for dinner (kebabs for breakfast is absolutely ideal!) It appeared to have never moved and was simply microwaved before being handed over to us. With an unsure future for our stomachs we set off direction the Kazakhstan border. Unlike all previous border crossings we were never searched at the border, and simply had to fill out a small form and get our passports stamped. Unsure if that was really all we had to do we set off into the desert which is called Kazakhstan…..
That’s it for now.
Sean, Simon and Scott
Potatoes, 'but first fornication'
Since our last blog post the situation in Tajikistan has escalated. All border crossings with neighboring countries have been closed, and all Pamir Highway (GBAO) permits suspended...
We are all pretty gutted about this, especially as the Tajikistan may have provided some of the most stunning scenery and challenging driving of the whole route! Although we weren't about to let this ruin the rest of the rally... So after some research, we decided instead to drive to the Ural mountains in Russia.
The Ural mountain range runs north to south through western Russia, from the Arctic Ocean to northwestern Kazakhstan. The eastern side of the range is considered the continental boundary between Europe and Asia (there is even a monument at the boundary, near Yekaterinburg, where you can "straddle the continents"). Our new 'planned' route can be seen as a hashed/dotted line on the Live Tracking page.
The last native english speakers we met were the first Mongol Rally team we saw at the Hungarian-Romanian border, and as the first Mongol Rally arrival party is this weekend, we had assumed that we probably wouldn't bumping into any other teams either... so we were pretty surprised when we arrived at a Russian petrol station and heard a Canadian voice say: "what's up guys!? Mongol Rally!!".
Josh worked for the University of Calgary in Canada, and had saved up two years of holiday to do the Mongol Rally, only to get his motorbike 'rear-ended' as he drove it out of Frankfort airport. The bike was a write-off, but instead of giving up he purchased a 50cc Honda scooter in the Czech-republic, a scooter whose tank had to be refilled every 100 miles... committed...
On our journey up to the Urals we have stayed in a combination of motels, hotels and cafe car parks. At each of these places we are met with different reactions. The Russians are on average very friendly, but in this region their level of english is little or none - so about the same as our level of Russian. Some smile and nod as we proceed to communicate through hand gestures, while others (usually the younger generations) pull out a few stock phrases/words that we assume they learnt at school.
At one cafe car park, the apparent owner (our now good friend Ilgis) came over, pointed at Simon, then at a door and said "bath". After Simon politely declined he tutted, shook his head and walked away looking disappointed... Only to come back at 7:30 am and wake up Scott asking (in suddenly pretty good English): "do you have Facebook or Twitter?" - He had definitely been practicing... Scott then had a lengthy conversation with Ilgis, where one of the only parts he understood was when Ilgis pointed and said: "Sulis Pizza". Unfortunately Scott forgot to tell him it was 2-4-1 on Tuesday, gutted....
Here are a few Russian observations:
- Russian roads are much better than those in Romania or Ukraine, with the driving standard also increasing significantly. Although they can still often be seen undertaking in the 'hard-shoulder'
- Unfortunately the area surrounding pretty much every layby is covered in a ridiculous amount of rubbish
- As we go further east, the locals are starting to possess more Asian features
- It was very common for towns in the western part of Russia to have some form of war monument/memorial, these usually involved a military vehicle (tank, fighter-jet, etc) attached to a podium
So to explain the title of this blog post... At one shady motel we stop at outside Volgograd, the guy got out his laptop and opened Google Translate to translate items of the all-Russian menu (of the motels attached cafe). He typed and translated two words, then looked at us... After a few seconds (and most likely after judging our reactions) he shook his head, deleted it and translated "potatoes". We're not sure how much was lost in translation, but the first two words had been "first fornication"...
That's all for now!
Simon, Scott & Sean
Moldova & Ukraine
Getting into Moldova lead us over our first non-EU border crossing. Arriving at the border early morning (10:30), we passed through the Romanian border quickly and ended up waiting in "No Man's" land for one hour in the scortching sun. Suddenly the Moldovian border police waved everybody through, which resulted in everybody trying to push infront of the other... total chaos... Our car was searched and gestures were made, in the end after a two hours we were on our way having paid 2 Euros for an undefined tax. Eventhough we were now officially in Moldova, we still had no car insurance, so Simon ended up going to a hut which was marked "Carte Verde" and was repeatedly asked something that sounded like 'machine, machine, machine', by which he apparently ment that he just wanted to know our engine size.
After our long and tiring border crossing we ended up driving through the capital Chisinau to an apparently "fancy" resort in Vadul lui Voda. The roads were just as bad as in Romania, so it was no surprise that we got held up by a van which had burst into flames in the middle of the road. We felt bad as we had no water/fire extinguisher, although there were already 15 Moldovans trying to put out the fire with theirs. The fire was successfully put out, and as we drove past we saw that a huge blackened hole in the bonnet where the flames had errupted from.
Arriving in the region of Vadul lui Voda, we realised how close this town was to the self-declared republic within Moldova called "Transdniestr", when found ourselves on a bridge guarded by their own border guards... who were quite heavily armed... We quickly turned around and tried to find a campsite with no luck, so we quickly settled for a hut in a resort complex as the sun was going down. We kept on running into the border police, at one point that evening we were stuck in a dead end with roughly 30 soldiers heading towards our car. The other "clients" of the resort complex were particularly interested in our car, with two kids wanting a photo with us.
We left Moldova the next day, passing through the Moldoven border in a speedy manor, being left in "No Man's" land between Ukraine and Moldova. One would have thought that you couldn't get lost in "No Man's" land, but we proved that theory wrong and spent 30 mins driving in endless circles, until we finally found the Ukrainian border some 5 km away. The Ukranien border police were friendly, but it still took us one hour to get all the paper work sorted. We then headed for Crimea a Peninsula in the Black Sea.
As the Sun was setting in our rear-view mirror we realised that we were not going to make to Crimea that evening. So we spent our first night sleeping in the car outside a petrol station. Being woken up by the sun rise and a relatively stiff neck.
Recovering from our night in the car, we spent most of that day sleeping at the beach or trying to cool ourselves down in the Black Sea, as the outside temperatures reached 35+ degrees. Nevertheless, in the evening we ventured into the town of Sevastopol, which is also the port for the Russian Black Sea fleet. We were all pleasantly suprised with how nice and lively this city was, which was toped of by fireworks and a shooting contest between the three of us in a fair ground.
As we can only enter Russia on the 31st July we decided to stay a second day, during which we visited the famous Khans Palace, the Uspensky Monastry which is built into the side of a cliff and the 6th century cave city of Chufut-Kale. Having under-estimated the distance we had to walk and the heat around midday, we found ourselves dehydrated and retired to the beach for the afternoon. While on the beach a friendly Russian started a conversation with us and asked about our planned route for the Mongol Rally, when we told him he simply laughed say "Oh, sh*t... very bad roads". It seems each country thinks the next has worse road than itself...
Here are a few interesting facts about Moldova and Ukraine:
- Moldova has virtually no road signs, hence us driving in endless circles
- There is a self-declared republic of Transdniestr within Moldova. This republic has its own currency, police force, army and borders and is one of the "last surviving bastions of communism in the world"
- Ukraine is the first country we have visited which uses cyrilic, which makes things extremely complicated for us
- Ukrainian police can be found at nearly every large intersection, along with a few official check points along the road
- The port of Sevastopol is the base for the Russian's Black Sea fleet. The Russian's have a lease until 2017, by which point they will apparently 'leave', a likely story...
Unfortunately we discovered that war has broken out in Tajikistan which requires us to completly replan the second part of our route! We will keep you updated about the situation...
That is all for now, as we head for the Russian border.
Simon, Scott and Sean
We have just reached Braila, Romania and have finally managed to find an internet cafe! Tomorrow we leave for Moldova.
We left Budapest and drove directly to Sibiu, Romania. At the Hungarian-Romanian border we bumped into the first Mongol Rally team we’ve seen since the French motorways. They were 5 guys from Cambridge uni, driving a 7-seater Scenic Grande. We had arranged to meet up in Sibiu, though that fell through because of mobile reception.
The next day we attempted to find and drive the famous Transfăgărășan Highway (driven by Top Gear), the highway is 90 km of ridiculous bends, running north to south across the tallest sections of the Southern Carpathians. I say attempted as we accidentally took the DN7 road, not the DN7c, so spent the a good part of the day anticipating the highway to start over the next ridge...
On the plus side, we saw Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle) on route to Brasov. The Castle itself doesn’t really have anything to do with Dracula - just it looks like it should. The locals obviously cash in on this as the whole town is full of useless ‘Dracula’ merchandise and ‘Dracula’ cafes/restaurants.
I should add that before leaving Sibiu that morning we visited the ‘Museum of Traditional Folk Civilisation’, which is basically a park full of traditional Romanian houses that have been relocated from all over Romania. Though it appeared that some of these houses were still inhabited, as the park was full of ‘elderly’ Romanians tending their ‘properties’. In one house we walked into a room to find a Romanian hastily getting dressed...
After some research in Brasov we worked out where the Transfăgărășan Highway was and drove it the next morning. It was awesome! and the views were stunning!
After the highway we headed for Mamaia, a town on the Black Sea coast. The drive took us on the ring road surrounding the captial Bucharest, where the roads and traffic were horrendous and at least every 30 minutes you got an overwhelming smell of human feces...
Today we drove up to the Danube delta. The mighty Danube is 2,872 km long and passes through or touches the borders of ten European countries. Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered one of the most beautiful deltas in world, we obviously expected it to be stunning... Either we saw the wrong part, or all the guidebooks say it's amazing because it ‘should be’, but we were thoroughly unimpressed... Maybe it’s best viewed by boat or helicopter instead of a car...
So these are a few of the things we have observed in Romania:
- Romanian roads are not ideal... they will suddenly change from new tarmac to gravel tracks and back again without much warning
- A lot of buildings and infrastructure projects are being funded by the EU. Which is good as it’s helping to rapidly develop the county. The Romanians are also VERY proud to be in the EU, with the EU flag always being flown next to their countries flag, or just randomly on telegraph poles.
- The inner part of every town is often run-down and very blatantly communist in architecture. As soon as you drive to the out-skirts there are completely new buildings, houses and warehouses that wouldn’t look out of place in western Europe.
- Romanian drivers are ridiculously crazy! Some of the maneuvers we have seen are unbelievably dangerous... Like trucks overtaking other trucks on a single carriageway road while approaching a blind corner... We commented on this to a Romanian we met in Sibiu and he simply replied “Good luck in Russia!”... great!
- No one seems to abide by the speed limits, although there are so many ‘speed cameras’ (rusty boxes) and traffic police on the roads. As we haven’t been driving above 70mph (to prevent unnecessary damage to the car) we often get stared at while people overtake us - so Simon has taken to waving at them as they pass.
We’ll leave you with one final thing: we received an email today from a English man who now lives in Bucharest. He emailed after we waved at his wife, and said that we looked like we were having a great time, and wished us good luck for the rest of our travels.
Thanks all for now! - Although we have now uploaded loads of photos to the Gallery.
Simon, Sean & Scott
Heviz & Budapest
Having left beautiful Austria behind us we headed towards Hungary. As we entered Hungary the edge of the road became bumpier and there were loads of road works, all interestingly funded by the EU.
Arriving in our first destination Heviz, we listened to Simon’s advice and went to the largest thermal lake in the world, which has radioactive properties. We spent roughly three hours floating around in the lake feeling our skin become softer and softer by the minute!
Again Simon’s knowledge of Eastern Europe was vast, so on his recommendation we had Cevap, which were small sausage fingers. We then finished it off with a huge ice cream and headed towards Budapest. Due to Simon’s previous visit to Budapest he managed to flawlessly navigate us to our campsite in the middle of town. Until now we had nice grassy camping sites which were ideal for putting tent pegs into the ground without a hammer. We weren’t so lucky here, the ground was rock solid and having forgotten to take a hammer with us, we used our saucepan...
Having not had much of a lunch, we headed into town by foot and ended up having Beer and Hungarian Goulash, while a pretty hefty storm passed over Budapest. All the beer made us feel very tired and we headed straight to bed, as we knew we would need all the energy for the next day.
Feeling that we were not sexy enough for all the beautiful Hungarian women in Budapest, we decided to start the day with a morning in the Thermal Baths. The various temperature pools and a lazy river gave us a relaxing morning, after which we decided to take a free guided tour around the city.
Learning a lot about Hungarian history we learnt that people such as Steven Fry were actually of Hungarian decent, and that in most Hollywood alien movies they use Hungarian as the language all the aliens speak, as Hungarian is so complicated. We wonder what happens when the movies are shown in the Hungarian cinema….
Being convinced a large city would have millions of internet cafes, we started looking for one after the guided tour, in order to update you guys. After 2.5 hours, 2 closed internet cafes, 3 km and a lot of head shaking, we finally found one in the centre of town.
Now we plan to find a restaurant which serves Hungarian specialties and BEER, before we head towards Romania tomorrow.
Munchen/Red Bull Ring
After a solid nights sleep in Zurich we set off later than expected to München. It should have taken us about 3 hours, although some serious road maintenance and a tunnel closure meant it took us 8 hours!
We arrived in München and found a campsite just off the motorway. In the morning we made an improv decision to stay two nights, so we could visit the concentration camp at Dachau. The concentration camp was an interesting experience; however we found that the majority of the history was related to the founding of the concentration camp system, more than the atrocities committed there.
Instead of spending more money on a city tour, Scott took over the roll and showed us the sights. Their town hall (or as Simon has repeated numerous times “Rathaus”) has a glockenspiel instead of a bell which rings/plays 3 times a day. We arrived just in time for the “afternoon performance”, and were surrounded by a rather large crowd of people watching and filming it, including someone filming it on their iPad… loser…
There was also a really cool outdoor artificial surf wave, which was caused by the river beds shape. Being foreigners we had to behave like them so we took pictures of us leapfrogging infront of national museum which caused a few frowns.
The next step was to make it to the Redbull Ring in Austria, to see Team Bath Racing (TBR), and our housemate Graham, compete in the Austrian Formula Student competition. We arrived late in the afternoon, just after the wishbones of their car had unfortunately broken during a break test. We sincerely hope that this wont happen to our car, as unlike TBR we don't have replacements. We returned to our 5 star camping, where the owner cycles around to all day to assist all guest, instead of having a reception.
The next morning we returned to the Red Bull Ring to follow some of the racing, then set of for Budapest, Hungary!
Zürich & Ironman
Since the previous blog we have set off and made it all the way southwards to Zürich, Switzerland. To drive through the night was always the plan, and we managed to safely arrive in Zürich at around 5AM.
The actual “launch” at Goodwood was accompanied by torrential rain. The parking spots where our car was located were the ones that got flooded, as the there was a broken drain. We collected our freebies, sized our competition and watched two random guys race mobility scooters at nearly 80 mph! With a kind last visit from Simon’s family we set off for the “official” departure.
We decided to go out on a bang…not literally but close. Using an industrial smoke grenade (attached to our roof) we crossed the start line and completed a lap of the racecourse. Just about to exit the launch area we were asked “Have you used any fireworks” and were eventually told off as there was an active airfield next to us. The Evans family kindly put some video clips of the launch together for us, which we have uploaded to our Youtube channel. The video can be view at: www.youtu.be/7CG6gpskm4U
The first step was Dover and the ferry crossing which we managed to complete earlier than expected. Arriving at Dover gave us a taste of the future with a fellow team asking if we had any spare petrol as they thought they could make it to France with what they had left!
Arriving in Calais was the start of the night-drive to Switzerland with the three of use rotating throughout the night with a drive, navigation-expert and sleeper. The most important part of this journey, was Simon’s repeated statements of the terrible conditions and marking on French roads, as well as “twatty drivers who drive right up you’re a***”
With the sun rising we entered Switzerland and drove the last distance to Zürich to immediately drop our things of at a friend’s house and head out to watch Sean and Scott’s dad compete in the Zürich Ironman. After a long day of spectating (which is debatably more tiring than the actual competition) we had a nice last meal and got a solid nights sleep.
We are currently heading off with our next destination being Munich! Hopefully we will touch-base soon!
Simon, Sean and Scott
Hola! Its Race Day!!
We are writing this on our way down to Mongol Rally 2012 start line at Goodwood Racecourse, Chichester. Where the adventurists are hosting the infamous "festival of slow" – the launch party before the rally begins.
(although you may think we have our Alzheimer's Research UK t-shirts on backwards – the 'Pioneering' text has actually been printed on the front... definitely a mistake!)
Since our first blog post we have been sponsored by Sulis Pizza, Allen Ford (who apparently sell Kias as well...) and ColourWorks Bath. Allen Ford/Kia was kind enough to supply us with all the spare parts for our car (including two brand new wheels!), while Colour Works Bath printed out all of our car stickers.
Having no space in the boot we put our engineering skills to the test and made a roof-rack out of decking, to which we have bolted both tyres and two 10L cans of petrol, so in theory we are driving with two bombs attached to our roof... although being metal cans we shouldn’t have a problem (hopefully...). We also looked at making a sump guard, although decided against it as the bottom of the car had absolutely no practical mounting points (unless we made it out of a 1m x 1m sheet of metal, which would have been ridiculously heavy!).
We sent off our passports 10 weeks ago to The Visa Machine asking for 7 visas. At the time they told us we might not get them all in time... our passports arrived on Wednesday... cutting it a bit fine... although they now look pretty awesome with all the full-page visas!
In the weeks leading up to 'race-day' we got vaccinated against all kinds of diseases, picked up a small course of malaria tablets, bought a couple of military grade smoke grenades (for fun) and tested our SPOT satellite tracker. Luckily all our last minute orders from Amazon (like our European road map) arrived in time, even though the expected delivery date was 2 days after we left...
After applying all the ColourWorks stickers, we packed the car for the first time and it all fitted perfectly! Which is lucky as it would have been effort cutting down our stuff.
So having had our last 'luxury' meal at TGI Fridays last night we went to sleep early, as one the race starts we're going to drive 11 hours (+ 1 hour time difference) straight to Switzerland to watch Sean and Scott's dad in the Zurich Ironman tomorrow.
Once the rally starts (between 2-4pm this afternoon) you will be able to follow our progress live on the Live Tracking Google map.
That’s all for now! Let's hope our car makes it to the starting line!
Simon, Sean & Scott
Colorworks Bath Sponsorship
Colorworks in Bath has kindly sponsored us for our trip by providing us with the stickers for our car.
Colorworks is a local printing company in Bath, which provides a variety of services including Stationery help, large format printing, promotional printing as well as other design and artwork.
For more information, visit their website at: www.colorworksbath.co.uk
6-8 Cotterell Court,
Monmouth Place ,
01225 464 366
Allen Ford Bath Sponsorship
We are again proud to announce that we are now sponsored by Allen Ford Bath, who have kindly supplyed us with all of our spare car parts and components!
Allen Ford Bath is part of one of the UK's leading Ford franchise dealer groups. Being part of a large dealer group enables then to offer main dealer quality products and services but at exceptionally competitive rates.
As a premium Motability dealer they offer exceptional levels of service and can help make the Motability scheme work for you. Their sales staff and service technicians are fully trained to Ford main dealer standards to provide you with the best Allen Ford experience every time you visit one of our sites.
Along with Ford motors, they also support Kia. At Allen Kia they pride themselves in offering the highest level of care. Whether your current model needs servicing or you are looking to buy a new or used Kia, visit their dealership in Bath for a test drive today!
Come along to Allen Ford Bath, or contact them on 01225 402 200.
For more information, visit their website at: www.allenford.com/west
|Allen Ford Bath,
Lower Bristol Road,
01225 402 200
Sulis Pizza Sponsorship
We are proud to announce that we are now sponsored by Sulis Pizza!
Sulis Pizza is situated opposite the Weir on Grande Parade (Newmarket Row). They provide enjoyable and tasty pizzas, using homemade sauces and pizza dough to ensure a unique Sulis taste! All their pizzas are complimented by freshly chopped vegetables and quality meat toppings.
As well as a wide variety of pizzas, side orders, desserts, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Sulis Pizza offer a number of meal deals, particularly Buy One Get One Free On Tuesdays! (applies to regular 9" and large 12" pizzas before 10pm).
For their menu or to order online, visit their website at: www.sulispizza.co.uk
2 Newmarket Row,
01225 447 037
Our FIRST blog post!
Hello! And welcome to our FIRST blog entry!
Since we first announced we were taking part in the Mongol Rally, both Simon and Sean have finished their degrees, meaning they have loads of free time to organise everything before race day! Scott is unfortunately in the middle of his exams. However has started to learn to drive, so hopefully we will have a 3rd driver for our 10,000+ mile journey!
- We have bought a car!!! It was a bit of a struggle considering that it had to be below a 1.2 litre engine, but at the same time have enough space for the three of us and extra equipment. After a lot of searching, we found an extremely spacious and reliable blue KIA Rio, which we hope will survive the trip! To see photos of our car, click here.
- After realising you can't travel from Georgia into Russia and that Tajikistan doesn't have a boarder with China (well they do but it is at 4500m and only open to people from either country), we decide on a provisional route. Some of the highlights will be crossing Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan on the Pamir highway, and yes some of you will think we are nuts, but secretly you wish you were coming with us! Click here to see our proposed 'route', which will give you an idea of the 15+ countries we will be crossing.
- After answering questions such as "have you had fire arms and explosives training?" or "list all the countries you have visited over the past 10 years", we eventually sent off all our visa applications. We have got two already, and are waiting for the rest. Hopefully the Russian embassy won't quiz Scott and Sean about their fire arms training...
- In terms of charities, we are raising money for both the official race charity (The Lotus Children's Centre) and Alzheimer's Research UK charity, the UK's leading dementia research charity. Who specialise in funding world-class, pioneering research at leading universities to find preventions, treatments and a cure for dementia. All three of us have/had relatives suffering from this terrible disease, and with Alzheimer’s research being seriously underfunded (12 times less than Cancer research), we felt it was an apt cause to support. See the 'Charities' page for more information.
If you haven't sponsored us yet, please dig deep! Any donation, big or small, would be greatly appreciated – as every penny counts!
We will be updating this blog regularly as the preparations progress!
Simon, Scott & Sean