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