Finally uploaded photos into our gallery!
Posted by Tom at 31st October 2010 at 18:56
Posted by Tom at 17th September 2010 at 20:39
Here's the official list of winners in our contest. Thanks to everyone for their support! Your hard earned cash is going to a great charity!
The beginning odometer reading was 44859.
The final odometer reading was 54006.
Converting to kilometers, that makes it a 14,720 km journey!
First Prize of the MacBook Air (and super drive) goes to Oliver Dutczak with an entry of 14750.
Second Prize of a Sony Blu-Ray player goes to Emily Wendland with an entry of 14567.
Third prize (to a faculty or staff member) of Fisher $100 credit and one of three IDT gift cards goes to
Dr. Eef Harmsen; $100 credit from Fisher Scientific (15000)
Dr. Louis St-Amant; $100 gift card for oligonucleotides from IDT (15750)
Dr. Rudiger Krahe; $100 gift card for oligonucleotides from IDT (16000)
Dr. Jonathan Davies; $100 gift card for oligonucleotides from IDT (13500)
If you think that an error was made (some of you sent a separate message and not associated with the same message with your contribution) let me know ASAP - I hope I caught them all!
Note that the odometer is in miles and not kilometers (later we found out that it was pretty easy to reprogram the odometer to km!) - see galleries as I was not able to paste photos into the blog (?).
there's no place like home, there's no place like home
Posted by Tom at 17th September 2010 at 20:06
After a peaceful night in Bayanhongar, we made our way to the last bit of hell road to the town of Avryheer. We knew that after Avryheer the road supposedly will be paved all the way to Ulan Bataar (UB). We were excited to see that it looked like they had extended the paved road - but alas it was under construction. Instead we were forced to take a nasty bit of road along side the "highway" which eventually veered south towards the Gobi desert. The road was grdaully taking us further and further away from the main road and after a few hours we knew we were lost perhaps having taken the wrong track.
We eventually came across another vehicle with a group of gold miners. Very friendly and trying to help by showing us a short cut that would put us back on track. After fixing a flat they got while directing us, we pushed on on our new path. However, we must of once again taken the wrong track as we soon entered the road to hell! The raoda over a mountain pass was the worse as the stones were so large and space close together that the only way we could pass was when Joe removed the stones as I proceeded ever so cautiously.........
UB - We made it!
Posted by Tom at 31st August 2010 at 11:12
Greetings from the Siberian Frontier
Posted by Tom at 22nd August 2010 at 05:55
Crossing the border between KZ and Russia was a piece of cake! The roads leading towards Barnual were excellent - brings tears to this ex-Californian's eyes. We are once again in the land of ATMs and VISA symbols at hotels, shops and restraunts. Today we will make our way to the western border between Russia and Mongolia. We've heard that the wait there can be measured in days (at least two). This means we will have to camp out in no man's land with likely other teams. Network access is likely not possible in Mongolia accept in UB so apologies for the sudden silence.
We were stopped by the Russian guys with the large hats at a check point while cruising into town. The first guy seemed very serious and demanded some documents. I handed him something in our "blue" folder. He seemed a bit perplexed and went to grad another officer who spoke a few words of engilsh. Turns out he just wanted to show us how to get to our hotel! Once there, we saw that a half-dozen teams were already checked in.
Time to stock up on food/water, mosiquio protection (they are the size of small mice) and to hunt for some cold weather clothing as its snowing at the border!
Prairie Home Companion
Posted by Joe at 21st August 2010 at 05:43
Posted by Joe at 13th August 2010 at 20:19
Cut loose by our guide, we crossed the first checkpoint at the Iranian border with Turkmenista. A digression on borders. First, we are finally becoming accostomed to the notion that, unlike say the border between Canada and the US which are major traffic hubs fed by interstate highways and designed to facilitate international trade, the borders here are practialy cow paths. This threw us several times as we followed the major road assuming that must be the one leading to the border only to find that the road to the border in fact is a barely paved spur that wanders through mud villages, mountain passes or deserts. An indication that you are close to the border is that traffic disspates save for the occasional truck. When you do find the border, rather than one crossing where you pull your car up to a booth, show your passport and go on your way - or possibly stop to get a visa - here there are a series of checkpints you must cross. These can be a few hundered yards for the actual crossed or as much a ten kilometers before the crossing. Each typically involves showing passport at least twice, once to civil authorities and once at a military checkpoint just 20 meters further on. Then there are always two crossings at each border, the exit crossing were they stamp your passport and make sure your car is the same one brought into the country and the entrance crossing to the next country where they stamp your visa and document the car you are bringing into the country to confirm it is the same one at the next exit crossing. Then perhaps another military checkpoint for good measure. At the crossing itself, it is never clear where to go or what to do next. The confusion spawns a vibrant industry of border brokers. They swarm like flies over any traveler who shows hesitation, a tell indicating lack of familiarity with the process. There are the exchange brokers, consisting of preteen kids who hang on your open window, elbows in, trying to get you to trade dollars or the previous countries currency for the currency of the country you are entering at rates 30% below the standard rate. They are harmless - their earnest entrepreneurial spirit even has a charm. Then there is the old man, wearing an army uniform from some well past war, who is in charge of opening a gate - it's his job but through an intermediary requests $5 for the service anyway. He is easily convinced that you have no money to give and opens it. More insidious are the middle aged men whose dress mimics an official's without actually being a uniform. They will ask for your passport, stepping out of offical buildings and one becomes so habituated to handing your passport over to random officials, a half dozen times some days, one does it mechanically. Then, when you realize what you have done, it becomes difficulat to negotiate to get your passport back. They will try to convince you of all manner of necessary procedures must be executed and their modest fee of $40-$150 dollars (only US $ accepted) is the best investment you can make lest you run afoul of the authorities. These can consist of pointless offical stamps, bogus car insurance or registration, useless gas cards. What makes it insidious, what makes it so difficulat for even the vigilant traveler to avoid them, is that they sometimes provide necessary services. For instance, crossing into Iran, one cannot simply walk into the customs office - even if you could find it among the other non-descript warehouses and offices at the bottom of the hill 100 yards from the last checkpoint - and expect to have your vehicle documents stamped. You will wait hours unless you hire a broker $40 (bargained down from an asking rate of $60) to take your documents into the building and return 5 minutes later with a stamp (it's not clear how many hours you would you would wait because everyone breaks down and pays the broker eventually).
Then there is no man's land where many Mongol Ralliers spend days. There is the wasteland between checkpoints leading up to the crossing which are way points to rest when you arrive too late to cross the border that day because they close at 2PM or while the border official are eating lunch. The are also places to plan strategy if your visa is not in order - to find someone who will grease the wheels ("someone said that last year they got a visa at the border by paying...") or decide whether to try to force their hand by just showing up at the entry crossing. The wasteland the wasteland is not a point of no return, you are still in country. But once you cross the exit crossing there is not return, your visa has its exit stamp and there is no visa to get back into the country you just left. This is forcing their hand. If they don't let you into the next country, you are stranded. We passed a team residing in the Turkemnistan/Uzebkistan no mans land for four days because their Uzbek visa did not begin untial four days after they exited Turmenistan. Another rallier was left behind by his team because only he had no visa to enter Turkmenistan. He decided to exit Iran anywayand force them to let him enter. Last we saw of him he was sitting hunched in the shadow of the of the first Turkmenistan Guard Stationin no man's land- his red shirt a bleeding contrast to the gleaming white marble that coats the Turkmenistan Border Crossing. That was 3 days ago
Sun, sand and border administration crapola
Posted by Tom at 13th August 2010 at 19:33
While in Turmenistan, we were stopped by the police a few times. The guys in the big hats were just checking our papers or merely curious. We were stopped once for speeding - 110 km/hr in a 90 km/hr zone. He gave us a warning and wrote with his finger on the windscreen "90 km" in case were to forget!
Our stay over in Turkmenibat (near the Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan border) was at a terribly designed hotel just outside of town. It was the usual enormous white buildings but the steps of the stairs were of different heights and the only way to get to the lobby was to walk two flights of stairs. Everything seemd to be put togetherin ainconvinient way! That being said it was comfortable. So it goes.
After a long day dealing with the Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan border officials (we didn't have pay any "special fees"!), we are finally in Bukhara. Pretty straightforward from the border but the ancient city center is a maze of small poorly paved roads. Frustrating and wonderful at the same time! We eventually resorted to following a taxi to our B&B (Emir) - located among the sites and a former Jewish merchant's house. Looking forward to walking thru town - checking out the sites and the baazars (including the moneychanger's baazar).
Amazingly our steed is pretty much intact and hardly burning any oil. Amazing! Though Kazakhstan and Mongolia are just days away. - the real acid test! Our current disussions seemd to gravitate to the items we should have brought with us - the list is long!
Oh, I think I mentioned that I lost my sunglasses (prescription) in Turkey. I am really paying for it now as the sun is unrelenting, Desperately searching for "clip on" sunglasses - perhaps at the baazar. May have to resort to buying a pair of cheap shades and ducktaping the lenses to my glasses. A new Mongol Rally fashion statement?!
Posted by Tom at 11th August 2010 at 19:25
We are currently in Mari, Turkmenistan. We've hadn't had a proper connection since the we entered Iran. We heard about the unfortunate news concerning the fatality from a Spnaish team stuck at the Iran-Turkmenistan border with no Turkmenistan visa (hope you guys get things sorted out). We will likely upload more updates soon when we get a better connection in Uzbekistan.
Iran was great! The people are so friendly and helpful. We had no problems except for an apple incident (to be followupped later). Though the food was on average good - I think I can'r eat another kebab for some weeks. The non-alcoholic beer was surprsingly tasty. The baazar in Tabriz was fascinating and so much nicer than the so-called Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Although we took a northern route we did get a chance to see a few historical sites in Ardabil and Sultanyeh - both amazing!
Had to spend the night camping at the Iran-Turmenistan border as the customs/passport office closed at 2PM. The Iran border guard was very nice and although delayed we were in good spirits. Peolple came out the woddwork to talked to us and offer food. We had the most amazing berries I've every eaten - so sweet and flavorful. Other than the Spanish team mentioned above there were three other teams in the same situation.
Ashgabat - the white city. Very surreal as almost every large buiding was in white marble and of gigantic dimensions! You rarely see any other cars or people. We visited a couple of bazaars and I tried on a traditional men's Turkmen robe (made of raw red silk) and fuzzy hat - pic to be posted soon.
Camels! We saw several camels enroute to Mari from Ashgabat. They're enormous and completely fearless - will cross the orad in front of trucks if so in the mood. My God the roads are bad. We managed to dent our sump (oil pan) a few times! On the plus side it cost US$5 to fill up the tank in an ultramodern petrol station. While entering Mari, we got pulled over by the local police. He looked over our papers and waived us on. Phew!
Tomorrow we are off to the ruins of Merv (a UNESCO site) a few km from Mari and then the Uzbekistan border.
Posted by Tom at 3rd August 2010 at 05:38