Kit debrief

If I can scan the kit list of what we brought, I thought I should extol which was good and what was a waste of space.

The good

Tomtom & Google Maps

We cheated. Team Geekout relied heavily on GPS for navigation during the Mongol Rally. The Tomtom saved us hours in Europe until it stopped working as we entered Ukraine. From that point on Google maps helped us, except for a fairly entertaining instance in Ukraine.

Otherwise we didn't use it for turn by turn navigation, just as a guide to ensure we were going to the right direction on the right road. The new-ish Google maps pre-cache map area looked cool, but since you can't search offline I must say it sucked. Especially in big crazy cities like Tehran. It was better than nothing though.

There are lots of annoying seething bugs in Google maps for Android, like when you accidentally press the back button and lose current navigation. So sometimes I would switch to using the Iphone4's Google maps application, or use both and as both would somehow have different levels of cache of the same road.

Spot connect

IMG_0234

Despite my initial apprehensions, the SPOT connect actually worked rather well. The device demands lithium batteries which are frankly impossible to source. Normal Alkaline Duracell lasted about 2 working days and cheap Chinese ones, less than a day. Which was very annoying. It does have a mini-USB slot underneath it and looks like it could be powered by it, but it didn't seem to work frustratingly.

Despite the clunky client and UI, the SPOT tracklog worked and we now have a fantastic tracklog of our journey. Was that worth 300GBP despite fact one could collate GPS tracklogs?! I think so... because it kept our followers engaged in realtime. It was also handy in the very rare instances our mobiles or Jamie's kindle didn't work to send a little 41 character message out.

Our blogging platform, Branchable

Many other Mongol rally teams failed to get past one or two blogs. Jamie and I blogged continuously through the trip... How? Without an internet connection? We used git to commit blogs, and when we had internet in the briefest of moments we pushed and our readership got to enjoy our updates! Other blogging platforms basically assume you are on the Internet whilst writing the post, which sucks. Branchable powered by Ikiwiki rocks.

The Kindle

Jamie has talked about this before in numerous tweets and FB updates. Amazingly this device kept him connected in every country bar Turkmenistan, though it was a bit flaky through the 'stans. From our experience Amazon's coverage map seems quite accurate. Incredibly useful. I will purchase the next update myself.

Apparently newer "Touch" Kindles will not offer free 3G browsing.

Moo business cards

Could have printed my mobile number though, otherwise super useful. Expensive unreliable mobile calls were the no. 1 way teams communicated unfortunately.

Vegabond Systems Source Widepac Water bladder 3L in the micra

IMG_0395

I love this bladder, although Jamie correctly pointed out we could just use water bottles. I liked it because:

  • We could hang it off the headrest behind the passenger seat and have the tube sit around the handbrake, in easy reach of hydration.
  • One could hydrate while keeping both hands on the steering wheel and have clear vision
  • We kept it in hot countries in a cooler box with ice, so it delivered cool water all day (You can actually freeze the whole damn thing)
  • 3L typically holds two plastic water bottles and it's less unsightly than keeping bottle upon bottle in the car

It did exhibit problems after hard use. Later in the car journey it fealt a bit gassy, as we sucked there seemed to be air coming in from somewhere. Near the very end of the journey the Widepac started to leak. :(

Update: SourceOutdoor replaced the Widepac and threw in a Spresh. I highly recommend Source Outdoor products!

Korean cooker

We got gas

It amazes me how many different camping stove non-standards there are. I recommend the Korean gas cooker. It's not great if you are hiking since it fits in a bulky looking briefcase. Though if you are in a car, it's perfect. The butane gas canisters are the easiest fuel source to obtain practically anywhere in the world.

I must also mention that our Korean Nong Shim ramen we bought, esp. with an egg is a much better meal than some of this dehydrated protein ration packs we saw other teams use.

Crafty Plugger

Jamie was dubious as to how well the Crafty Plugger would work on a puncture caused by a stone, but we used it on the one puncture we had after the Pamir Highway and it was very quick and easy and worked very well.

Non-Slip Mat

Jamie laughed at Kai for buying the non-slip mat, but has to admit that it was pretty useful, until Kai lost it. It was one of Geekout's lowest days.

GoPro Hero HD

The GoPro was going strong, until we ran it over. The camera itself was undamaged (despite getting wet) but the sucker mount was broken beyond repair and the clip holding the main case together was broken. We resorted to one of the sticky mounts and tape respectively. Unfortunately I didn't realise that the white rubber bit is for damping those mounts, and consequently the audio is pretty much useless, and the video not much better. The angle that it shot from the dashboard was pretty bad too, I should have taken the plunge and stuck it straight onto the windscreen.

The GoPro UI is pretty simple, just two buttons. However if you don't use it much and can't see the light or hear the beeps, or know what the beeps mean, then it can be difficult to know what/if the button you have just pressed has done. Hence we have a lot of recordings of quizzical faces looming into view to check that it's recording. I personally found it difficult to remember which button did what when the camera was upside down. It also wasn't much cop in darker conditions.

The battery would last for approximately two to three hours, which was enough, the problem was that the battery meter was practically useless, it would sink from three bars to empty in minutes, meaning that we had to either remember how much we had used it, or just charge it whenever we could. Strangely the GoPro seemed to use almost as much battery while on but not doing anything as it did when it was actually filming. While it does have a battery meter, there is no meter at all for available space on the SD card, which is something that GoPro really needs to address.

HTC Double USB Car Adapter

Very useful and lasted the entire journey. In fact it was probably one of the most reliable things we, erm, relied on. Especially once Jamie had taped it up with the cigarette lighter splitter.

Kelly Kettle

My Dung is on Fire

The Kelly Kettle was very good at what it did, boiling water, quickly and efficiently. We could have used it a bit more if we'd camped more, it wasn't great in desert conditions, unless you could find some dung. I have to admit that it was a bit bulky and didn't pack-up that well.

The bad

Ortlieb 10L water bladder

I wanted to love the 10L Ortlieb water bladder I bought in Dresden. Unfortunately the tap became far too stiff and it leaked. The rubber ring was far too easy to dislodge I suspect. Also the straps could be far more comfortable to carry. Pity it sucked compared to my wonderful Ortlieb pannier which I took with my on the Mongol rally for keeping my documents and laptop in shape!

Sony ICF-7600D

I was in uproar when I heard BBC were suspending shortwave broadcasts, though honestly trying to use my shortwave kit whilst Jamie was say reading the Guardian on the Kindle, made me think... maybe the world has moved on. I did catch FOOC once in Iran, but I could have downloaded the podcast in a number of previous opportunities.

Shortwave broadcasts still work in the Afghanistan region and I wish I could jettison my kit there somehow.

And going back to Iran, their Internet needs improving... I wonder if Tooway could maybe made to work in Tehran. That would be cool.

Iphone4

Love the quality of video and how easy it is to mail off photographs on the move. It has some bad sides, like how do I now update the "Standard Definition" video uploads with "High Definition" videos now that I'm on a better internet connection? Suck...

Travelling with two passports

Jamie had two passports. One had four valid visas in that Jamie needed for the trip, but which was full up and had been invalidated by the passport office by having the corner removed. The other passport was fully valid and had my three remaining visas in. Generally this wasn't a problem, surprisingly especially at borders. More often it was local police that saw an opportunity for a bribe.

The ugly

PowerMonkey Explorer

I bought the "PowerMonkey Explorer" which I was excited about at first and it stopped working on day 2. Although emily@powertraveller.com provided good customer service, she could have told me: "Send to this address and we will re-imburse you". It takes two backpack pouches and I ended up carrying it needlessly for 20k kms, which is madness. I seeth with hate when I accidentally open one of my pouches and all it's bit and bobs fall out. The device was completely unnecessary since we had a 2 Slot micro-USB car charger anyway. Avoid!

CB radio

#mongolrally folks with CB radios, we are on EU 23

This 50GBP kit I ended up giving away in Ulaanbatar because I couldn't sell it. Later as I took a taxi to the airport, I did realise he was using a CB radio and I therefore should have pitched my wares to a Taxi firm. We used it once with Rick on the road out of Goodwood. Since that we found no other team with such communication kit. It's a far better idea to buy good quality small walky talkies. I recommend the Motorola T8s.

Jerry can

You seriously don't need a jerry can on the Mongol rally. Petrol in a can expands and it's often pressurized when you open it. The vapour can easily ignite and can leave you in a very dangerous situation!

Spare shock absorber

We lugged around a spare Micra shock absorber. Wtf Jamie. WTF? :) [It was about as heavy and bulky as your pillow, you pussy :P] Spares like the air filter were unnecessary as you can easily knock the dust out of a filter on the move.

Car Cigarette Lighter Socket Splitter

We tried two of these, we didn't even bother taking the 4-way (bottom right here, detail here), the 2-way was still very annoying and Jamie ended up taping it right up in order to stop it cutting out on bumpy roads. If we'd been using the CB radio we would have needed it, but as it was the double USB adapter we had was enough.

What we didn't take

Mains USB Charger

Although we didn't really miss it I recently bought a 4 port mains USB charger which handily comes with both UK and EU plugs, which would have been very handy.

External Microphones

There are plenty of cheapish external mics for iPhones, any of which I'm sure would have improved our audio iPhone recordings no end. One particular problem was that it seemed quite easy for Kai to cover the mic with his hand meaning we got virtually no audio at all.

I assume that we could have also attached an external mic to the GoPro, whose audio is even worse than the iPhone's.

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Ulaanbatar

Geekout mascot

So I'm alone now, no Icelanders or Jamie to entertain myself.

Yesterday I was aiming to watch the Rugby world cup, though whilst trying to find the recommended expat bar Casablanca at Hotel Bayangor in Ulaanbaatar, I was invited to ride on a bus with the Uzbekistan national Judo team to the Judo World Cup. I accepted the offer and it made my day. Took me some time to understand how the points were scored, the most important one is when you manage to fling your opponent on their back.

The opening ceremony was weird at first with a Ghinggis Kahn brigade on horses crapping everywhere. The second phase was a parade of participating countries, however none of the participating countries athletes actually paraded. Only Mongolians holding the flags of the countries, which I thought was a bit odd. The final part of the opening ceremony was the best. It had some Mongolians dancing and I took a video, which I'll share here later TODO.

I left after 3 hours of entertainment to try catch the second half of the England/Argentina rugby game. This was a mistake and I was stuck in traffic for an hour since a vehicle hit a passing train. UB's traffic problems are frankly bonkers, when trains intersect key roads (like the one from the airport), you just have to wonder what idiot came up with this.

I did catch the last minutes of the rugby game to see England scrape through. I then wondered around town like an alien and settled on a huge UB burger for dinner. I then tried to play Counter Strike with the locals but there were frustrating problems with joining the server, so I spend the rest of the evening reading Wikipedia about Mongolian history, dress and combat strategies.

Random thoughts about Mongolia

This probably applies to any country that uses the Cyrillic alphabet, though I find it extremely annoying how the latin / english versions of place names vary in spelling. You might have noticed some inconsistencies in our posts. This makes it really hard to search for things at times. I probably need to read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanization_of_Russian and weep.

Still something like Ulaanba(a)tar or "Ghinggis Kahn" could be consistently spelled could it not? Variations for example could be Genghis Khan, or Khaan. Nightmare!

What's the deal with the random swastika symbols in UB?

Why can't these people negotiate like other Asian countries?

Why have Mongolian people on two occassions just given me money?

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The Finish line

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The tarmacked road from Arvaikheer was pretty uneventful. There were some bad patches with huge potholes that would probably shock most European drivers, but by this time Jamie and I have seen (and possibly hit) every state of road detriment possible.

Last camp lunch

We ate some dry food packs from the Icelanders and I must say they were awful compared to Nong Shim with an egg. I am going to miss our little camp lunches on our butane powered Korean stove.

As we entered Ulaanbaatar we had to navigate bad roads and a ton of traffic. Painfully but surely we found the Adventurist Mongol Rally finish line. Of course it was a little anti-climatic. There was no one there to greet us. Though a fellow rallier who finished a week before, Kathleen from http://teamrecklessabandon.org/ was passing and congratulated us and gave us some advice where to stay and eat etc, which was helpful.

Our little finish line celebration dinner at a North Korean rest

We settled on Seoul Hotel, checked in and then went for a Korean meal. Other teams like Team Bear joined us and surprisingly the restaurant served items from North Korea. Joviality ensued and I thought it was quite a good celebratory dinner.

Later we went to an Irish bar and drank some more. Delightfully I received a call over Skype from the Icelanders. They had been in town since the morning! They had taken an overnight bus from Bayankhongor and actually beat us to UB by several hours. However they recalled the 15 person minibus carrying 21 people and a lot of luggage, how cold it was and their "brace ball" position they adopted for the 13hr journey. So we met at the State department store which is by far the easiest landmark in UB and went back to Irish bar... to drink some more.

I became pretty drunk and ended up in some over-forties live music joint a taxi ride away with Thor & Egill. We suitably partied the night away and entertained quite a hangover the next day.

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Arvaikheer

Cold in Mongolia

We towed the Peugeot 306 to the drop off point in Bayanhongor and said goodbye to the Icelanders. :( They were going to catch a bus and meet us in UB (Ulaanbaatar).

Altai to Bayanhongor definitely seemed like the hardest stretch and we saw 5 or 6 cars at the drop off point that also didn't finish. We ate our last packet of Nong Shim Ramen from the 20 pack box I bought back in New Malden and we got underway by 2pm. I was quite worried we might be pushing our luck as we had been told that it would take 4-5hrs to get to Arvaikheer. Thankfully the weather was fine, most of the snow seemed to disappear and we made it in 4.5hrs. This was our last piece of dirt road, since we knew the next leg was all sealed. How I am going to miss those Mongolian roads, they were really good fun. Intense concentration was required.

So we arrived in Arvaikheer with an hour of sunlight left, so we thought we had plenty of time to evaluate its hotels. The first one was a building site outside, but was warm and an OK standard, but a bit dear at ~40USD. The next place didn't have its heating on and it had a policemen's party on the floor below. You could clearly hear the excruciating Karaoke from below. The next places were shitholes and we were directed by a Mongolian guide to a couple of other hotels, but we frustratingly couldn't find them. After an hour I thought we should go for the very first hotel, only to find the room was now unavailable. Tired, cold, hungry and frustrated. Not a good combination. So we settled on the place with the Karaoke and we told it would finish by 11pm. Which it did actually, thankfully.

Next we tried to find food and we did find a place with a waitress who was about 16 but amazingly could speak English. We ate dinner and breakfast there. Breakfast is a nerve racking affair in Mongolia. I am in wonder how they will screw up the eggs. Broken? Stone cold? Anything is possible.

I almost forgot to mention we went next door to a night club called "New Leader" in Arvaikheer. It was cold, the sound system sounded like the speakers were all blown. The music was a bit hardcore and there tables of mostly hard looking men ordering a beer for each and a large bottle of vodka for the table. No doubt people were going to get seriously drunk!

Anyway Arvaikheer was our last night on the road and I was miserable, I hope you can tell by reading this. ;)

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Altai Mongolia

We set off for the Altai Mountains from Novosibirsk by keeping to the rather good M52 road. We knew we were in the Altai when we started seeing these quite beautiful mountains and accompanying rivers. There were many guest houses and some camp spots on the way, though none seemed suitable to us. Too close to a house. Too close to a road.

As dusk fell we found ourselves in a very wet misty area of the Altai where the road struck off from the main river. After some abortive searching we found a suitable place, though the road was too muddy to take our Micra to our camp site. We ended up parking the car by the road and carrying our stuff to the sodden camping ground near a worryingly high stream. We setup just before a downpour. In the rain we cooked Ramen and we ate it in the tent. Thunder and lightning made it a bit of a dreary/exciting night, nonetheless I am kind of glad to have the experience.

Breakfast Picnic and Drying

The next day we were back on the M52 heading for Tashanta. After a couple of hours the damp mist lifted and a warming sun came out. We stopped and made eggs with smoked wieners on the bank of a scenic [apart from all the rubish :(] river where we found out that we had been featured in an online Nsk newspaper, being the most popular article (15,000 hits!) and even acquired a female fan! We laid out all our wet camping gear, which dried very quickly in the morning sun. The news, the drying and the breakfast all lifted our previously damp [haha] spirits and we hit the road, very keen to get into Mongolia.

Somewhat surprisingly the landscape very quickly changed from green mountainsides to light brown sandy slopes. It looked like Mongolia all of a sudden. Usual border crossing shenanigans entailed, including our first really thorough search upon leaving Russia, though I felt like a veteran at this stage and I was almost sad that it was our last one!

It was off that the Russian immigration officer wanted 100 rubles in some registration fee. What cheek. It was worse on the Mongolian side. A 5USD disinfectant fee? Passport control offering to change money? Various fees from 7 to 10 dollars for god knows what. Anyhoo, we got through.

There was a list of all the Mongol ralliers and it was interesting to see that yes, indeed, we were one of the very last to cross.

Mongolia

We met 2 Norwegians in a fire truck which was good. Then on the road we met the four motorcyclists/mopedists we'd met in Turkey, who'd already stopped to camp. They were in good spirits and I must say they must have had quite a strenuous rally! From the insurance office on the border we'd picked up a female hitch hiker, who later sang in our car, which provided us some entertainment on the way to Olgii.

We were keen to get to Olgii as Team America had been in touch with us, they must have realised we were only a day behind and were looking for someone to travel with to UB. We were too tbh, so I was glad to see their invite. We are about to breakfast with them and they are keen to go off the beaten track and take the more challenging "Northern route". As opposed to the "Southern route" which the Mongol Rally handbook seems to only mention. Tbh I am keen to do the track other ralliers do, but then again I am brimming with confidence.

As the handbook says, fast speeds and big rocks end badly. It also mentions if everything goes well, you should make UB in 5 days. Jamie now has 6.5 days until his flight, so this going to be tight.

Novosibirsk

So after our early start we headed for Novosibirsk and the road was fine.

We made a wrong turning getting into Lenina, the place to hang about and ended up having to cross the river Ob (strangely the same name as "water" in Persian) again and I was furious. Traffic was pretty awful.

Anyway, after that navigation blunder (google maps routing does not work here) we did find parking and we nervously checked into Centralnaya Hotel. Centralnaya looked like a typical Soviet hotel and it is. However it's the best run hotel of its kind. Its a little dear, but those of us who have had nightmares staying in similar looking hotels should try this. Everything works. Including Internet. And it has a fantastic central location.

We then had a leisurely lunch at "Pechki Lavochki", an excellent Russian restaurant a few doors up. The food was great and it was just so awesome not to be in some shithole for lunch or eating Ramen (again) on the road.

In 2004 I took this photo of Novosibirsk's theatre

dcp_8932

Again in 2011, the roads are better and the roof is looking good. Otherwise, nothing has changed drastically like Kazakhstan, which personally I find comforting.

Largest theatre in Russia

Later Kas, a friend of Ivan who hosted Antoine and I when we toured the region in 2004, met Jamie and I, team Geekout.

He asked us lots of questions about the Mongol Rally, and like my other journalist friend in Kazakhstan, seemed to have little idea that 300 or so teams are gallivanting across their backyard!

Later his colleague met with us from their Novosibirsk news site, asking us about our impressions of the town, since not many tourists come here. Tbh I think Novosibirsk has a lot going for it:

  • It's on the trans-siberian railroad
  • It's not an overbearing city like Moscow or St. Petersburg
  • Great Russian food can be found here
  • Best Jazz club in the world here, Tuba
  • Providing you have a host or contact, they treat you like gold
  • Lots of students and there is some nearby science town

After a lot of good conversation with Kas, his wife & colleague, Jamie and I wound up in the said Novosibirsk Jazz institution to see some remarkable impromptu performances by locals. Fantastic stuff.

The next morning we are taking it easy since from this point on, it's camping. I've now booked my flight out for the 12th to see my sister and girlfriend. Jamie is off on the 10th. So we have 9 days to reach Ulan Bator, else Jamie misses his flight back home to dreary London. Wish us luck!

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Kazakhstan

I was fearing the border crossing to Kazakhstan from Kyrgyzstan, just north of Bishkek and most of my fears came true*. I would like to call it the worst border crossing I've been to, though all in all, despite some confusion, we crossed in probably 2 hours, which is pretty remarkable. Still the fact that people in camouflaged balaclavas are milling around the Kazakh side armed to the teeth was a bit unnerving to say the least.

Meet Up

We filled up without issue and on we went to Almaty [Pronounced Al-Murray]. We then spotted a Mongol Rally ambulance in a scenic lay-by (above). We stopped, chatted and with the 3 girls and 2 boys of that team [They hadn't seem to have decided on a name] and they kindly made us some Earl Grey tea. Yes, they were English too. They had been in Kazakhstan for 3 days already, and were taking it slow.

We made it to Almaty, a place I actually visited 7 years ago, to be met with my old Russian Kazakh friend Ivan. I incorrectly remembered Almaty as being quite small and initially I felt confident I would find the centre. Second time around Almaty seems to have changed dramatically. Many more cars and buildings.

Ivan did find me and on we went together with the 3 Icelanders to find an apartment. The first lady swiftly excused herself from offering a flat after seeing us... 3 of us had long beards, all of us had tans, shorts and looked pretty ragged.

Eventually Jamie and I stayed at Ivan's and we found a place for the 3 Icelanders really close to city centre. Not without incident, since we had dinner before where we all had a glass of beer. Ivan then said, in no uncertain terms that we could not possibly drive, since Kazakhstan is zero tolerant on alcohol (which we didn't know, apparently enforced by police using just their noses). We tried to go out though a couple of us still had diarrhoea and the bar we initially went to had a private function. At 1am we were all glad to get some sleep. What a long day...

Speaking with Ivan the next day, he seemed incredulous that we have driven all this way. Through Kyrgyzstan which he regards as being very unsafe, and then onto Russia which is 3 days solid drive away. He also informed us there is a petrol crises in Kazakhstan, making it hard to find fuel. Not again I thought... most of central Asia and even Iran can have long queues for petrol. It was particularly bad in Uzbekistan. Though we have avoided most issues so far, I guess mainly due to friendly locals sharing private stock.

The days we spent recovering and catching up on the few days we were off the Internet. The Icelanders left for Astana yesterday (Sunday 28th), though I was too ill to leave. Also Ivan's mother was very kindly cleaning our laundry.

It's Monday morning now and we've packed up after enjoying a couple of poached eggs for breakfast. It's time for the 16-20hr drive north to Astana.

* False. Kai told me that the Kazakh border would be the most corrupt and dodgy border that we would encounter. I was asked for $10 in order to re-enter the border after accidentally leaving it, but I didn't pay and we didn't lose any money or possessions, unlike many other borders that we have crossed so far.

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Kyrgyzstan

So after waking up in the yurt after an uncomfortable night's sleep we packed up early for a dash to Murghab where we should have been that morning and onto the border. We met An American Team Bruce Almaty and a South African solo team named Guy there, which was nice. We also took on an Israeli hitchhiker called Dal who was desperate to get to Bishkek by the 26th for a flight to India, which was the matched our itinerary.

DSC_9992

We were a bit nervous as we heard a couple of reports of challenging roads once we set off. We went through one after another fearing that was worse to come, and we were all surprised when we unexpectedly hit the border. The border was just a shack where it looked like a checkpoint that we've seen time and time again.

We struggled to pay the least possible bribe and eventually settled on $10 for both teams.

At this point we had a flat and another tyre had a bulge in the side the size of a golf ball, so we did the Pamirs with some scars to prove it. As usual we completed a major leg of the journey and it was an anti-climax. It is difficult to celebrate when you're exhausted and there is no champagne. ;)

We pushed onto Osh and after some insane night driving where there was far too many animals and other dangers on the road. We checked into a LP recommendation Hotel Altai and it was absolutely abysmal. Nothing worked, not even in the taps in the room.

The next day we wanted to deal with the two tyres before setting off on the 10hr drive to Bishkek. We found the "Car (Machina) Bizaare" with the help of Team Bruce Almaty and we hoped we could get everything sorted in a bit more than an hour, in order to leave by midday.

Two hours later, blood, sweat, tears and ~30USD lighter we managed to get both done. What was silly was that the power for the block was out, so I to search out a place with a generator. It also didn't help the first second hand tyre we were sold had a massive hole in it. The next one was the wrong size, slightly bigger. We didn't notice until we drove off with it. So now when we hit a bump on the back right side, we can hear it hitting the wheel arch!

Nonetheless we moved on with Dal still in the back. It soon transpired we could not close on Bishkek, though we managed to find a pleasant hotel in Totagul on the way. Early next morning we aimed for Almaty.

Jamie's Day

Jamie fixes a punctureAfter spending most of the night weeing out of my bottom in the absolutely disgusting, but thankfully en suite and functional (unlike the "shower" or basin) toilet of our room at Hotel Altai (I must appologise to the four other people sharing the room) I wasn't exactly feeling great. As I didn't think stopping every five mintutes for a toilet break was really an option I decided to take something to stop the diarrhea, and then we went out for a hearty breakfast, one of the heariest breakfasts we've had. Taking Imodium and then eating a large meal is not something that I recommend. As we looked around the tyre market in the heat and checked out a few prospective tyres I felt sicker and sicker. Really like the food in my stomach had nowhere to go. I just prayed that it wouldn't go upwards. Kai took the bulging tyre off to be changed and left me with the car. I got the punctured spare out and started the process of fixing it using the Crafty Plugger kit I'd brought from London, battling with a kid from one of the tyre places who thought, wrongly, that he knew how to use it better than I did. The sun beat down. I got a bowl out of the car and prepared for the worse.

Two days later and I have finally recovered. I swear I will never drink that fizzy yak's milk again. Though having said that no one else was fool enough to drink it, and they all came down with the same symptoms, at some point.

Khorog

Pamir camp

After camping near Kevron (where the M41 hits Afghanistan) on quite a nice spot on the River (Afghanistan a stone throw away), we woke up to drive to Horugh which is also known as Khorog, depending on how the Cyrillic is transliterated (so annoying).

We were feeling pretty bad because we were supposed to be in Khorog that night in order to keep to the plan to do the Pamirs in just 3 days in order not to overrun our Tajikistan visa.

When we finally arrived in Khorog around lunch we were delighted that we caught up with the Icelanders who we've hung out before in Turkmenistan. We were convinced they were a day ahead of us, so we were really surprised we somehow caught up with them.

We also came across an Ambulance rally team who were stuck in Khorog because of some repairs they needed. They said they predicted they would only be in Almaty on the 2nd of September (last Mongol Rally party is on the 3rd in UB). All this time I had thought we were running incredibly late. I'm writing this from Almaty and we plan on leaving on the 29th, so we are days and days ahead of that convoy we came across in the Pamirs.

So we hastily pushed on east on the Pamir in convoy with Thor, Gunnar & Ale, and we made good progress. The roads were actually quite alright, it was only the first stretch around Khist where it was crazy.

We didn't make Murgarb and by nightfall but we found a "Yurt hotel" and agreed on 50USD for 5 of us to sleep there, including a dinner of Plov and a breakfast of slightly sour, undercooked rice pudding.

I've never stayed in a yurt before, though after freezing my ass off in there with a bit of altitude sickness (we were at 4200m+), I must say I am not keen on ever staying in a yurt again. Our hostess was very nice, but it was clear to me she was extremely poor so the food et al was pretty unsophisciated and meagre by my snobbish standards.

The next day we made a bid for the border in order not to overrun our visa.

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Tajikistan

After being frankly disappointed by Samarqand town, I was looking forward to getting into Tajkistan to do the Pamirs.

We crossed from Denov from the south as advised by our kind host Zafar. Unfortunately the direct border has been closed from 2001. So it was quite a long drive and thankfully we did find a place with petrol along the way.

For the first time we looked close at our Tajik visas and my heart sank as I saw the visa expires on the 24th and it was the 21st. I allocated 1 week in my mind to do Pamirs, there was no way we could do it!

The Uzbek/Tajik border near Denov was probably our quickest, but we had to pay 10USD bribe / dodgy admin fee and the car insurance seemed to be negotiable from 45USD down to 25USD. All very silly.

Getting into Dashunbe in darkness was not so bad, since there was good car I followed all the way into town. I was copying his every move and flinch through pot-holed roads. Next finding the recommended hostel "Adventurer's Inn" must have consumed a good hour, but we found it after a taxi driver rode with us for 5USD.

We then tried to get some food which always seems to be a chore. Everyone eats at sundown and then seemingly closes up. Nonetheless we ordered an expensive Chinese take out, which later transpired could have fed four.

Jamie chatted to the English and rag tag bunch of "adventurers" in the Inn. Most if not all were cycling or motorbiking the Pamirs. Although many of them took weeks if not an entire month, though they all agreed we could do it in the time we had.

  • Down south from Dushanbe to Kulob, up and around to Horugh should take 15hrs (22nd)
  • Horugh to Murghab (23rd)
  • Mughab to the Kyrgyz border for the 24th (the same day the visa expires)

Tbh I previously thought Osh was in Tajikistan, so I agreed to this plan. Previously I assumed we had to go straight up to Kyrgystan to avoid over-running our visa.

The Pamirs

Road Clearage

So we woke early. Jamie had a bad night sleep as there weren't any free beds that night. I had the shits all night, so I pledged I would not eat meat again.

Snooze

The long drive to the Pamir Highway itself, from Dushanbe through Kulob, turned out to be some of the most spectacular driving, possibly even more so than the the traditional M41 Pamir highway itself. It started winding up and down bigger and bigger hills, eventually turning into very colourful mountains and sheer drops. The going was fairly slow, as we were quite concious of the terrible condition of the road and our tiny front wheel drive car. We even had to stop while a very large landslide was cleared by some heavy machinery.

We reached the Pamir proper, where there is a roaring river separating Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and it was stunning. The road was quite challenging at first, then we later got used it and in fact started to enjoy it.

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