15 - Countries we'll visit
10s - Friends we'll make
100s- People we'll meet
1000- $s our car cost
7000 - miles we'll drive
100,000s - $$ the Mongol Rally will raise for charity.
The Mongol Rally is a truly special event held annually. It is essentially a race begining in 3 cities London, Barcelona (our start city) & Rome. The teams meet in Prague and the real race begins the next day. The teams will travel through a wide variety of climates and cultures depending on the route chosen.
Our route will be through the heart of Europe into Russia and down through Central Asia.
Besides adventure and general awesomeness the main goal of the rally is to raise money for charity.
We are open to all sorts of sponsorship ideas and can offer a wide variety of benefits.
For your generous donation you will receive a copy of our video diary of the trip, whether you want it or not. As well as photos and stories from some of the most remote and remarkable places in the world. Not to mention the warm feeling of giving to those in need!
We will be travelling in harsh conditions and climates for over a month through 15 countries. We will be camping in fields and on the side of the road at night but also driving through major European & Asian metropolises. We can offer promotional ad space on approx 75% of our car (the other 25% is reserved for charitable sponsors). There is also a kick-off event, an event in Czechoslovakia where all the cars from the three start points must pass through Prague, and an event at the end in Ulaanbaatar where we can further promote your products among the hundreds of other drivers, thousands of spectators and millions of local people. Further the event will be filmed and clips can be used by you of the race and of our team using your product or equipment for future promotional events. The distribution of the video in itself also provides further promotion.
All good things...
Posted by Den at 29th August 2010 at 09:47 in The Trip
Initially, we waited out side to see if Max and Andy would be able to clear through customs. As time passed we increasingly thought that it would be unlikely that they would be getting through customs anytime soon. We therefore decided that we would get a taxi into Sukhbaatar and then get the train on from there to Ulaanbaatar.
First though I thought that I would try and get rid of the remaining Tenge; this turned out to be a mistake. I got the Tenge that I had out of my wallet and no sooner than I had done this than the exchange lady had grab the money from my hand and put it in her purse. She then proceeded to offer a rate of 5 to 1, which is about half of what it should have been. After I told her that the rate she was offering was a joke she moved up to a massive 6.5 to 1. For some reason she didn’t seem to understand that I didn’t want to change my money at that rate. This then led to the odd situation of her trying to press money into my hand whilst I was trying to get my money back. In the end she did throw the Tenge down on the floor and parted with a spit at Callum.
There we were waiting for the ticket office at the train station to open when a random guy of the street comes up to Mark Jr and indicates that the phone call he just received is for him. Mark was greeted at the other end by BB, who we later found out was running out to Andy in a similar way to Anika Rice in Challenge Anika. Andy then proceeded to tell us that the customs officials had decided to let both the ambulance and our car go. Why this was none of us were entirely sure but we weren’t about to question it.
So Mark Jr and I jumped back in a cab still not quite believing that we were going to get the car. When we got back everything had changed; the customs officials were smiling, eating ice cream and actually being helpful.
After returning to Sukhbaatar and picking up Mark Sr and Callum and still in something of a state of shock we set off from the train station on the home stretch down to Ulaanbaatar.
Our final camping spot of the trip turned out to be the best, or at least the most scenic, of the trip.
There is a fairly large Buddhist monastery near(ish) Darkan which was, only, about 100 km off the main road to Ulaanbaatar. As we had plenty of time to get to the finish line we decided to go and see it. This was a little bit of a mistake as the last part of the road out there was a dirt track that wasn’t in the best condition. After having driven a couple of hours out of the way and only about 10 km away from the monastery we managed to put a couple of wholes in the full tank (after bottoming out for the millionth time on the trip). This meant that we had to patch the wholes up with a couple of screws; some rubber tubing and, later, some liquid steel (it was kind of a McGiver moment).
Not wishing to push our luck we turned around and set of for Ulaanbaatar. When we got there a few hours later even the atrocious traffic could damped the good mood of the team.
After 10,000 miles, 32 days, 15 border crossings, 8 spare tyres and one lost compass we had finally made it to the finish line.
I think that it’s safe to say the it was a great adventure.
The Internet, the Internet my Car for the Internet
Posted by Den at 26th August 2010 at 03:26 in The Trip
As I said in my earlier brief post I didn’t think that this would be an easy border to cross. Unfortunately, I turned out to be right.
It was with a certain amount of inevitability that we were held up at the border. This was because we did not have the original copy of the vehicle registration form (V5) only a copy of it (albeit a very fine colour copy; thanks to Monica). The customs broker (I won’t tell you the nickname she gained but I’ll call her BB) said that despite all the information being on there and despite the fact that the V5 is not proof of ownership (although we did not say this to her; imagine the trouble that that would cause!) we had to turn up with the original document.
This, while faintly ridiculous, was not entirely unexpected. We had advised BB that we would send over the V5 to Ulaanbaatar and present it to the customs official there or bring it back to the border all we needed was an address. It was at this time that we entered into what may have been a heated discussion were it not for the fact that we spoke no Mongolian and the customs official didn’t speak much more English. What ended up happening was that Mark Jr and Callum camped in the broker’s office largely for the purpose of being a nuisance to them.
In the meantime I went off to see if I could find an internet café as we had already been told by the customs officials after asking to use theirs that the customs build was not an internet café. On the way out I got talking to the border guard at the gate who said that if I came back on his lunch break he would take me down to the government house and I would be able to go quickly on the internet their. (Who thought that the internet would become such an integral part of everything we do!?)
Sure enough I turned up at 1 and the guard took me and Callum down to the government house and I was able to get onto the internet. Few calls on Skype to my Mum and Dad later and the V5 was in the process of whizzing its way to Mongolia. (I have to say a very big thank you to Mum and Dad not just for helping us out with the V5 but with every time they have got me out of a bit of a whole)
Not too long after we returned we were told that the big boss was coming round to inspect the premises and because of this we were not allowed to wait in the customs control area. (I felt that this was odd as neither team’s vehicle had cleared customs so, surely, the customs control area is exactly were we should be. I suppose it doesn’t look good to have a gang of smelly rallyists hanging about) This led to another bit of a stand off with the customs that ultimately led to us leaving the customs area but not after the big boss had seen our merry band.
Don’t think that just because we had left the customs area the strange events of the day had finished.
Into the Twilight Zone
Posted by Den at 26th August 2010 at 03:09 in The Trip
I said in an earlier post that Bishkek was a random place. I can safely say that crossing the Mongolian border makes our trip to Bishkek look as normal as the sun rising in the morning or as a pot hole on a Kazakh road.
It all started off sane enough, the car got to the Russian border in good shape (and in part thanks to directions from a Russian general). The fact that my passport said I was called Patrick in Cyrillic (a fact that I had first noted in Trabzon) finally got spotted and held us for a while but eventually they decided that I either wasn’t a terrorist or just wasn’t worth the trouble.
Then we entered the Mongolian Customs Zone and although we didn’t realise it at first we had also entered the Twilight Zone.
The first sight that we were greeted with was the stricken ambulance of The Ghost of Captain Oates a Fiat Ducato as it happens (it most have brought a tear to Callum’s eye). Andy and Max had arrived at the border a day earlier to be told that the ambulance that they were driving was actually a bus. This was despite the vehicle having been, always, kitted out as an ambulance and the word ambulance being on the vehicle, by the engine and on the vehicle registration form. On the other hand the customs broker thought it was a bus because of a search of the web. (This is one of the odd things about Mongolian customs; the customs documents were done by a broker rather than a government official).
We stayed in a hotel in the border town the first night with the happy, but incorrect, assumption that we wouldn’t be held up at the border for too long and would be able to clear customs the next morning.
Posted by Den at 23rd August 2010 at 02:00 in The Trip
Posted by Den at 23rd August 2010 at 01:51 in The Trip
The reason for staying in Russia for longer was that we thought that the roads would be better than those in Mongolia and so we would get to the finish line sooner and importantly before we had to catch our flights.
It was not too long before we ran into what I will say were extensive road works. (I’m sure that this is true for some parts of the road but for much of it I think that maybe they are permanently like that). This put the brakes on our progress and at one stage it was looking touch and go as to whether we would make it to Irkutsk that day.
As it was we managed to make to finish the Irkutsk that day but not with much time to spare (we rocked up to the town centre at about 11.00 pm). Irkutsk is not one of those cities that never sleeps. At 11.00 pm it was very much asleep, with the exception of one police car who seemed to be pulling every car that drove passed him.
After much searching for a place to eat we ended up going to Dominos (not the proper Domino’s you are used to mind; not even a Domino’s Food System like the one we saw in Almaty). In Domino’s we had an interesting conversation with a genial, and slightly drunk, Russian guy. Whilst his English was good, certainly better than my Russian, it was not quite good enough to express what he wanted to say. So he would start a sentence and stop mid way through it and try and start again with a new one. It was kind of like watching a fly trying to get through a glass window repeatedly; you wanted to try and wind down the window but we couldn’t.
We appear to be getting worse at finding hotels or at least finding hotels in our price range. (It is easy to find expensive hotels; you just go to the centre of town and look for a big expensive looking building). So by 1.00 am we decided that it would be better just to leave town and find a tyre place out of town. Luckily, on the way out of town we managed to stumble a across a 24 hour tyre change shop (one of the more random things to stumble across and want to go to).
So less than three hours we said good bye to Irkutsk.
A Vintage Night
Posted by Den at 22nd August 2010 at 14:56 in The Trip
After the tough times that we had in Kazakhstan Novosibirsk was a refreshing change.
We got into town and mulled about for a relatively short time; usually we take a good while to find the internet and even longer to find some where to stay. At this juncture I think that it is worth mentioning the hot chocolate I had. Now I don’t know if this is a thing that is wide spread across Russia but when I got my drink it came as a mug of mouse and a glass of water, which I had to mix my self. It kind of reminded me of salt n shake crisps from when I was younger.
The evening was spent ‘surviving’; by which I mean eating lots of food and drinking a few beers. First, we had a huge, and good, meal at a Russian restaurant, which was made better by the fact that after we bought a cooler of beer we were given (as a “present”) a second cooler for free. Then we went out for a few hours at a pretty decent club in town. All-in-all a good night.
Posted by Den at 19th August 2010 at 07:38 in The Trip
The next morning we managed to find our way, with the help of a couple of locals, to a car parts market. Here we were able to get an inner tube fitted into the slightly dodgy rim we had and find directions to a place that would be able to fix the other rim.
By the time we head for the Russian border we were back up to two spare and were feeling in better spirits (although still being quite keen to get off the Kazakh roads).
Our penultimate border crossing turned out to be a fairy simple affair and we were across the border within a couple of hours. I can only hope that the final border into Mongolia will be as easy.
The trip from the border to our camping spot was a good journey. We were able to trot along at 110 km for pretty much the whole way and didn’t get pulled over once by the police.
Camping was, for the first time in a while, like camping back at home. The site we picked was in a wood (of which there is very little in Kazakhstan); there were a lot of bugs (for some fortunate reason the mozzies in Russia are slower than the ones in the BVI, maybe it’s the cold); the night was chilly; and it rained! (we had only one tiny spattering near Almaty in the whole time we had been in Kazakhstan)
We are now in Novosibirsk looking for a hotel. More details of our exciting adventures here are sure to follow.
Posted by Den at 19th August 2010 at 07:31 in The Trip
After Alamty we turned back northward toward the Russia border. This meant getting back on the road toward Astana. Fortunately this time we managed to avoid any further damage to the tyres. In fact we made good time and were able to camp just outside Karagandy.
The next day we turned Eastward with the aim of crossing the border near Semey. The roads from Karagandy to Semey go through some very scenic countryside and would be a very pleasant drive if it weren’t for the fact the road is as bad as the view is good. (If it weren’t for the road I would have said that the traffic department is managed by an aesthete who wanted us to revel in the natural beauty).
Things started off quite well until about noon. Then in the space of a couple of hours we managed to go a few miles down the wrong road and get a couple of flat tyres. We were therefore down to only the tyres that were on the car and so it was important that we did not get another flat before we arrived at Semey.
You’ll no doubt be surprised to find out that at about 7.00pm this is exactly what happened. So, we found ourselves 80 km away from Semey in a car with only three wheels, which wouldn’t have been so bad if we were driving a Reliant Robin (actually, maybe it would have). Fortunately, we stumbled across another car just down the road and we were able to communicate to him that we had flat. I would like to say that this was through our superb grasp of Kazakh but largely it was by pointing at the totally deflated tyre.
After checking if the spare wheel on his Lada fit, which it didn’t. Mark Sr and Callum set of in the Lada with a good tyre on a bad rim and a bad tyre on a good rim to see if they could be turned into one good wheel.
As an aside at this stage and to keep the suspense of this gripping tale up (Will Mark Sr and Callum come back!? Will they have a working tyre!? Why was Lada man stopped in the middle of nowehere for no good reason!? Dun, dun, duuuuuun) let me tell you a couple of things about rims on a Ford Fiesta. One, the holes for the lug nuts are, somewhat frustratingly, slightly further apart than those on other rims you find in Kazakhstan. Two, don’t have low profile tyres when driving in Kazakhstan, they tend to get dinked very easily.
Anyway, back to the story; after a couple of hours Mark Sr and Callum managed to return with a fully functioning tyre. As it so happens, there was a small town a short distance down the road where they (Lada man and a couple of other guys) were able to switch the good tyre.
Everyone, was keen to push on into Semey and so another bout of night driving was called for.
We arrived into Semey just before midnight and seen as everywhere was closed we stayed in the Hotel Ford Fiesta. (I had the driver’s suite, which was not the most comfortable place to stay).
To Boldly Go Fourth
Posted by Den at 19th August 2010 at 06:56
It was only a brief stop in Almaty (as so many of our stops have been) but nonetheless it brought about a significant change.
First though, let me mention Almaty. I like Almaty; it seems like a proper city. It feels like it has a bit of history about it. Importantly, it has a place that describes itself as a brewery (called Ultras), which I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get chance to take a tour of. Also, apparently, you can go skiing near there.
Anyway, the important news is that we now have a fourth team member: Callum Ettles. (I have been advised by a total independent source who only identified himself as CE that Callum is awesome)
As I have mentioned previously we had been travelling in convoy with a team of Imperial med students who were travelling under the moniker of The Wailing Phoenix (which is a reference to the Imperial Med School logo). They had encountered some difficulty when travelling on the road to Aktobe (principally the engine on their ambulance was knackered) more on which can be found at their blog. It turned out that the engine was beyond repair.
We therefore agreed to take Callum and the other team members are riding in a golden Rolls Royce. I think that the other guys on the team might have got a better deal.
Lost in Translation
Posted by Den at 15th August 2010 at 13:14 in The Trip
We were now in Kyrgyzstan so we went to get a taxi to Bishkek. We managed to haggle the price down from 600 Som (~$13) to 200 Som (~$4) largely by just walking passed the taxies in order to change money. (This price, I am quite happy to mention, was later described as ridiculous by the English speaking cabbie who sorted out our taxi back to the border).
We were dropped off in what we were assured was the centre of town (we did have our doubts initially) and found the nearest hotel. From the outside the hotel almost looked as if it was abandoned. Inside we were greeted by a receptionist who spoke pretty good English. Whilst the hotel turned out to be a bit more expensive than we had hoped for the receptionist had an apartment that we could stay in for $30 for the night. The apartment turned out to be a nice little apartment and I suspect it was better staying there than in the hotel.
Without hanging about too much the three of us set off to get a bite to eat and take a look around town. It didn’t take us too long to find a Chinese restaurant that fortunately had English translations of the dishes on the menu. Unfortunately, the translations appear to have been done by an automatic translator so you could order dishes like Chicken Saclike, Bowels with Sauce and Turnover of the Sand Dasheen. I felt that I had to order The Murphy the Baked, which turned out to be pretty good beef and potato stew.
The next stop on our tour of the town was the fair. The fair seemed to be the most popular hang out in town with its bumper cars, tiny trains, Viking ship ride and, of course Ferris wheel.
One of the things that is odd about Bishkek is that there appears to be very few bars and the bars that there are don’t appear to be particularly full. This might be just my English outlook or maybe we were just in the wrong part of town.
We also came across a reminder of who won the cold war when we passed the American University in Bishkek, which is housed in the building that used to house the supreme soviet of Kygryzstan.
The next stop is Almaty and then its pretty much straight onto Ulaanbaatar.