First of all thank you very much for your sponsorship, it was much appreciated by Kai and I as it allowed us to get off on our little jaunt, and I'm sure it will be appreciated almost as much by our two charities, Amnesty International and the Christina Noble Children's Foundation in Mongolia. The current total is £1570, though since we've finished we've had a small flurry of donations.
Now on to what you have all been waiting for, the results! We arrived at the finish line at approximately 4:57pm Mongolia time on Thursday 8th September, which I make 6 weeks, 4 days, 18 hours and 57 minutes, having done 12,566 miles, or 20,223 km.
In the distance guess Rachel gets a special mention, as the only person to overestimate, however we didn't quite hit the 30,000 mile mark I'm afraid Rachel. Claudio's guess of 8425 miles was just pipped by Sara and Rob's guess of 8454.4 miles. As Claudio said, we certainly did more miles than planned.
In the time guess Larry and Gez both predicted 4th September, just four days off, but my sister Maddy (Sara and Rob's niece, keeping it in the family) managed a guess just 16 hours out!
Prizes will be distributed to those two lucky, or skilled, winners, but if the rest of you would like to send me your address I will post you a (very small) token of our appreciation.
The rally itself went pretty well for us, if you haven't been keeping up our blog is at https://geekout.org.uk/ and a map of our trip is here: https://geekout.org.uk/map/
Back to work for me tomorrow.
Thanks again, Jamie
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.
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.
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.
We travelled for most of the day in convoy with the five other teams, having fun with the driving, sliding around and racing each other. Micras are definitely well suited to Mongolian roads, Mud Lab's 1.6L Peugeot 306 the only one able to keep up with the two Micras.
After lunch Kai and I and Mud Lab broke away from the four other teams and made it into Altay, Mud Lab running low on both fuel and money. We milled around in the town for a bit, picking up some supplies & money, Mud Lab making some more repairs. This time, worryingly, to their brakes, having already had to fix a fuel leak on the way.
I decided I was tired of noodles and fancied eating in a restaurant. A helpful gentleman said, through a translator on the phone, that he would show us a place. He got in our car and we literally drove around the block. He showed us a restaurant. The guy on the phone then said we should give him 15,000 of the local currency. Reluctantly I did. He refused asking for 20,000. By this time Kai was still sitting in the drivers seat, but I was out of the car and the guy was blocking my way. Eventually Kai started to drive off, I jumped in the front seat and we sped off back to Mud Lab. Considering that it was just around the corner we were concerned that we might have an angry Mongolian or two on our tail and were rather put off Altay.
Kai and I decided to go ahead and scout out potential camp sites, but when we found how cold and windy it was went back into town to have a look at hotels. We weren't impressed and together with Mud Lab and their newly working brakes headed out. We aimed for what we thought could be a natural wind break over a hill, but managed to end up in a natural wind tunnel. It started to rain.
The next day was slow going, partially due to the bad roads, but mostly due to Mud Lab's bad luck. (Or perhaps poor planing in choosing a Peugeot ;).) After a couple of hours driving they sailed over a ridge and hit the other side, blew both airbags, dislodging their front grill and fan. As they couldn't reattach the fan their car started to overheat at regular intervals and they would have to stop and point their car straight into the wind for a while. Moments after one of these stops they discovered one of their tyres had split.
Towards evening the wind was really getting up, causing something like a dust storm, as we approached a gher camp and large river. Looking at our maps it seemed that the road was on the other side of the river. Several locals pointed us in the direction of the river and one offered to tow us across in his tractor for $30 each. We were dubious and waited. After a while a mini bus approached and we followed it, watching as it crossed the river, from one island to another. We followed in its footsteps. It was pretty nerve racking to be honest, especially as there were about four crossings in total, two of which we hadn't seen the mini bus cross, but we made it. I really regret not taking a picture of what greeted us, a desolate, apocalyptic even, vision of dust caught by the sun blowing across several ghers and virtually nothing else for as far as the eye could see.
By this time there was only an hour or two of sunlight left, and we'd only done about 250km of 400km, but we decided to press on. The roads got even worse and our speed slowed and slowed as night drew in, and the wind got colder. About 40km from Bayankhongor the road started to get quite wet and muddy. About 10km from town Mud Lab looked like they got stuck in mud. Their car sounded like it wasn't quite in gear. Ale reckons they might have a broken Axel. We managed to tow them out of the worst of the mud they were in, but didn't think we'd make it the 10km due to the mud, we were having difficulty getting just ourselves out of some of it. So we left them there and went to get help. Practically over the next hill we were able to see the lights of the town and had mobile signal and were able to call the Adventurists hot line, but by the time we got back to Mud Lab to give them the good news they'd already managed to get a tow from a Mongolian mining magnate.
Kai and I visited several hotels before picking one we liked and were just checking in when who should turn up but Mud Lab!
That was last night. We woke this morning, opened the curtains and thanked our lucky stars.
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.
I'm tired, my contacts hurt, it's hot and I am eeking out Internet in the Grand Turkmen lobby surrounded by prostitutes.
Hello from Turkmenistan!
After a long drive from Tehran yesterday, we stayed in Goochan. The next day we drove hungry to the border (no restaurants open on Ramazan of course). Luckily Jamie stopped to cook up some noodles from a side road in the hills. If we didn't I probably would have lost my mind later at the crossing.
At the border we bumped into a team from Iceland called https://mud-lab.com/. Before we were thinking we must be one of the last teams. On the top of the Iran side we bumped into "Team Tigers" and "Two random Germans" who have been stuck waiting for a Turkmen invitation for days. So it was great to feel that whole "Adventurists Mongol Rally" spirit again after a week in Iran.
The "Two random Germans" team asked to interview us which we agreed to, and after an hour or two of processing we met them to give an interview. Little did we know the Iranian official was waiting for us. He came over to us after a few minutes to say "come back tomorrow". My heart sank and I really though we might be trapped in Iran.
Don't get me wrong, I love Iran and it was a real shame that official decided to threaten us. Later he did let us cross.
Turkmenistan was almost more farcical than the Iran side. A ton of bureaucracy, expense (we are completely out of US dollars) and we were through. Unfortunately we had to tell them our route and later we thought this might have been a mistake, since we might want to do a diversion to Darvaza, to the "Gates of Hell".
Coming down from the mountainous border to Ashgabat was frankly incredible. At first one see a collection of modern-ish white building in the haze. As you get closer you see architecture that looks like it came out of Star Wars. Tbh I quite like the look, but it's just scarily unbelievable. I guess this might be like Dubai. Most buildings looked wholly unoccupied... ummm this doesn't make sense. [The heat of this city might mean that folks stay out of sight though.]
We drove in convoy with the Icelandic team and we were really worried about getting our car fined since it was dirty. There is just too much weird stuff in Turkmenistan for me to give it justice in this blog.
Over dinner with the Icelanders we remarked how odd if was to see a women's hair and legs (the Russian speaking waitresses) after sipping some Baltika no.7 and clinking some local Vodka. Iran had affected us.
I wanted to quickly mention we met another team called "Mongols to Mongolia" in the hotel restaurant which I found delightful. They are the first team of Mongolians doing the rally from London back to their home Mongolia!!
I have a ton of cool video and pictures to upload, but sadly despite checking into a recommended LP top pick with Internet. The internet is even WORSE than Iran (FB, twitter etc. are filtered also), which is a remarkable achievement. I really hope by Uzbekistan things improve, so we can share more. Also we have absolutely no roaming on our phones (emergency calls only), so please email us.
Good night... when I wake up... Believe you me it's going to be one of those WTF moments.
The drive to Astana was very long but fairly uneventful. If you have a look at the map you can see we drove around a very large lake in the south of the country, which was an absolutely beautiful perfect turquoise colour, not unlike the Kazakh flag, maybe that's where it comes from.
Darkness fell between 7 and 8 when we still had a considerable distance to go. By that point we'd driven for about 12 hours and covered about 3/4 of the 1100km (passing our 10,000th mile on the way). Passing through Karagandy there were a couple of signed detours along surprisingly bad roads, considering that we were travelling from Kazakhstan's biggest city to its capital. At one point I was following a couple of cars along a flyover when they drove around a small road block. I followed, not thinking much of it. Then we came to another road block and both cars turned off the road. I followed. The road got smaller and smaller until it was barely a dusty track. We crossed several railway tracks. Kai started to freak out. Just as I was beginning to wonder if we should turn around we found tarmac again, and eventually met the main road again.
Reaching Astana at midnight we managed to find a hotel very quickly, and went straight to bed. We'd been driving for 16 hours.
The stories of Astana we'd heard in Almaty led me to imagine something along the lines of Ashgabat, lots of new but empty and useless/already fading buildings. But actually it was pretty normal as things go. Kai and I went to see the Norman Foster "tent" this morning. It looked disappointedly small from the outside, but it does manage to contain a six story shopping mall. As a measure of how bright it is here, I took a picture inside the shopping mall at ISO 100.
We're now rushin' to Russia. We'll probably camp tonight, hopefully inside Russia, and make Novosibirsk tomorrow.
Bulgaria was surprisingly OK. For me it's a strange mix of Russian (they understand it, unlike the Romanians seemingly) and France (cute rustic buildings and amazing countryside). Food is pretty bad and I'm totally unconvinced on Bulgarian's sense of taste and style.
Varna and resorts to the south seemed popular for the English tourists and to be honest the prices and women are quite attractive. Ahem.
So we quickly did the UNESCO tourist trap of Nessebar and headed into Turkey. Border crossing was great... friendly staff and an initial hiccup with their computer failing. What a super drive. The scenery was stunning and dropping into Turkey was like entering another world. Fantastic scenery. Awesome sunset. Incredible.
Turkish roads and infrastructure seem amazingly good. We were a little worried we forgot the Vignette, though we picked up a KSG Auto-bahn card at a petrol station. We were easily averaging 100km/h and we made it into Istanbul with the help of Google maps... without incident. Nuts. [Good driving, huh? - Jamie]
The 50EUR per night twin room hostel in Istanbul's Sultanahmet is a bit poor value for money to say the least. There seems to be a chasm between "hostel" and "hotel" and it's really hard to bridge it. I am not interested really in talking with tourists from UK and the West [unless they're good looking]. I'm more keen to chat with locals. A decent wifi Internet connection would be nice too!
Today the weather is pretty hot, though I've got the Blue Mosque, the bath and the Sofia Mosque out the way and I'm feeling pretty weak and dazed. There is a lot of history here which makes me feel a little depressed tbh. Life is incredibly short in the scheme of things and I worry a bit how I fit in...
Frustratingly Google Maps does not work (very strange) and we don't have a map of Iran*. Can't help but feel our lack of planning ahead is catching up with us. And finding information with a shit internet connection in Istanbul is crazy hard compared to London.
Must thank Ruth who I contacted to help find some accommodation in Turkey for us. I did another shout out for help tomorrow, wonder if anyone gets it (Folks did!! Thank you ). I guess we should just chance it, but it could easily cost us a lot of time. I'm keen to spend 2-3 days in Tehran.
I've had the epiphany that Istanbul is well... the centre of the world. They way it bridges continents and the understated Black and Aegean sea. It's just insanely strategic. I want Turkey in the EU.
* Jamie: After going to multiple bookshops and drawing a complete blank on Iranian maps I was advised by a tourist agency to try the Iranian Consulate. I pictured an office block, but arriving I found a gated community. Nervous I asked the Turkish policeman on guard whether it was alright to bother them, he said yes and upon entering I found a small man, who understood enough English to give me a map of attractions. It doesn't have any roads on it but it's better than nothing.
Campbell Irvine is the de facto travel insurance firm for the Mongol Rally. When I contacted them I was quoted £117 for 45 days or £142 for 62 days. Kai then got wind of an annual (maximum 70 day) policy for £99. Having enquired there apparently is nothing extra included in the more expensive, shorter periods of insurance, so I requested, and received, a refund. It's a bit of a con if you ask me.
Just put together a couple of videos of work we've done to our Micra.
The first is Josh putting together our sump guard. I think we need a bit more talking/commentary, but you get the idea.
The second is me attempting to change the oil and oil filter.
How it ended up doing
Jamie and I spend a lot of time looking at computer screens in order to prepare for this adventure.
We've just reached the Czech Republic after spending a very pleasant evening and morning in Dresden with Kai's friend Felix. Curry wurst was a bit disappointing, think sausages swimming in slightly spicy tomato ketchup, but Felix's traditional German aloo gobi for dinner and cold meat and boil egg breakfast was excellent.
As Kai mentioned in the previous post our first stop was with his sister Jutta and two other Amy Winehouse tribute acts in West Germany. Jutta proved more observant than the two of us noticing almost immediately that our Dunlop sticker, provided my my creative flatmate Larry, was spelt slightly unusually, with an extra "p" coming after the "Dun".
We've been using a TomTom so far, and while it's very convenient I dislike them intensely. It seems to me they remove all sense of where you are and where you're going. The maps don't run out until at least Turkey
Apparently you cannot use foreign bank cards in Iran. I wish I'd brought some pounds with me as now I will be charged twice, once to withdraw the money elsewhere and again to exchange within Iran.
Talking of Iran, we're already finding the car quite hot, Kai's thermometer reading around 27C and the air from the vents seems to be constantly warm, although maybe that's just the ambient temperature.
- Miles: 798.4
- Time: 2 days, 23 hours
- McDonald's visits: 2
- Accidents: 0
Over and out.
My friends and work colleagues are proving to be difficult patrons of poor children. I have since setup a system to punish my colleagues, else God will.
To: london-office@XXXXX Date: Tue, 12 Apr 2011 07:50:28 +0000 Subject: Mongolian Rally charity fund raising for poor children in Mongolia Hello all, Please come to Suite 502 and break the rules of the quiet room. The fine is 1GBP and the money will all go to https://www.cncf.org Not me, not my car, not alcohol, not entertaining women, instead it will ALL go to foreign children. I am aiming to raise at least 500GBP for the charity CNCF as part of my effort to bring peace to this troubled area. https://www.justgiving.com/geekout https://geekout.org.uk/ Thank you in advance,
Remember you don't have to just give, you can also make a bet on a child's life.
We exchanged news of our preparations and I'm shocked to hear that there might not be any hotels along the way to Mongolia, which means we need to camp.
There goes my plan of wearing pressed shirts throughout the trip and enjoying myself.
We chatted about what we could possibly give the locals besides diseases. Should we tell them about our lives back home in Western civilisation? Should we lie to them? Should we spread the message of hope, that we are coming for their oil in exchange for democracy?
Perhaps the people of the East will surprise us Westerners. Maybe they possess technologies we don't know about.
A friend who I met driving his VW camper around South America, Claudio Hatz, has put together a great google maps overlay of our GPS positions:
Thanks Claudio! Claudio Hatz is a good programmer who managed to pull both Google latitude & Spot locations onto one map. Sweet!
About 40 years ago, 300 odd kilometers north of Ashgabat in Turkmenistan some noxtious gases were seeping out of the ground at a drilling site. It was decided to burn off the gases and so they were lit. The ground collapsed, the rig fell into the hole, and the fire has been burning ever since. It's quite a sight, and tourists have been going to have a look ever since. Now apparently the Turkmen authorities don't like tourists, and I imagine the whole episode was a bit of an embarrassment, so they took the logical step and raised the local village, Darvaza, to the ground (leaving the bread oven standing due to religious reverance) to desaude visitors. It is against this backdrop that Kai and I left Ashgabat yesterday afternoon and headed north.
Driving 300km through desert is a thirsty business and by the time we got to what I assume had once been Darvaza, complete with lone bread oven and a handy wall to hide the car behind, we'd already drunk about half of the water we had with us. We also hadn't seen a petrol station since just outside Ashgabat.
Just before Darvaza, suspiciously close infact, had been a police check point. This panicked us a bit, hence the hiding of the car, and we decided to wait until dark and then walk the last three miles through the desert to the "hell mouth". Not quite as crazy as it sounds as Kai had already put the coordinates into his GPS device.
Walking through the desert was a little spooky. Kai claims he saw a snake, but it could have just been a moving stick Gradually in the distance we started to see a slight glow on the horizon, and after climbing yet anouther ridge we saw... the moon. But all was not lost, there was definitely something else glowing out there. After a total of about an hour and a half we did eventually reach the great fire pit. It was nice, very peaceful and we scaled an overlooking hill and sat for a while.
While it was nice to see, and walking through the desert was an experience, I'm not sure I'd recommend it, or at least not the way that we did it. There is apparently a track that leads to it if you can find it, or you can try to find a guide, and you can camp nearby. As we returned and were getting close to the car we heard a motorbike behind us, which by the time we got to the car had caught up with is, and at just the same, as if on schedule, two other motorbikes drew up, from opposite directions. The riders seemed to want to take us on a tour of the flame pit. We tried to explain that we'd already been. They stayed and chatted and gave us some chewing tobbacco, which was a bit strong, and asked for gifts. Luckily we had some cigarettes and a pen and they left eventually.
I'm sharing a wonderfully informative email by Alan Casey, an Irishman I met in Korea. He is married to an Iranian.
As for things to do and places to see in Tehran, I would recommend the following: - Golestan Palace in the middle of Tehan. This was the palace of the ruling Qajar dynasty which ruled Iran around the end of the 19th century immediately before the Pahlavis came to power. - the Pahlavi (ie. the Shahs) palaces in the north of Tehran, namely Nievarand and Sadabad. Interestingly for me anyway, the mullahs have retained these monuments to decadence and opulence as tourist sites for the public. You can see rooms where the Shah hosted foreign heads of state such as Nixon, the Queen, et al. Enjoy a non-alcoholic beer in the grounds of Nievarand! - the main Bazaar in the middle of Tehran, close to Golestan Palace. Has to be seen to be believed. - the mosque right beside the bazaar. Not as spectacular as the mosques of Isfahan, but worth seeing nonetheless. - the house where Khomeini lived. Was interesting for me anyway - a very modest little house in the north of Tehran. - Bobby Sands street near the British Embassy, if you know your Irish history.. - the compound where the US embassy used to be - not much to see here, but maybe if you recall the hostage crisis, then you might want to see it. - outdoor restaurants in the north of Tehran in the foothills of the mountains. Great place to sit and seat and watch the world go by. Places I haven't been to in Tehran but which might be worth seeing are: - the mausoleum of Khomeini to the south of Tehran on the way to the new airport, called, surprise, surprise, Imaam Khomeini international airport! - jewelly museum, we meant to go and see it once, but we hadn't time. - Azadi tower built by the Shah. It's one of the more recognizable landmarks in Tehran. As for general info, remember that you can't wear shorts in Tehran. Sandals are fine though. Booze while illegal, can be obtained relatively easily if you in the company of Iranians. The Armenians normally supply the booze. Basically it's like ringing for a take-away when you order booze. Try and sample the local vodka, arak. You can get anything you want - the government are probably secretly siphoning off their cut from the importation of booze - it's all a bit of a sham really.
After breakfasting on the usual carrot jam and boiled egg with bread that tasted like a rug, we took a taxi to main Iman Khomeni square.
The square is an outstanding piece of Iranian architecture. With an amazing tiled Mosque on one end, a square bizarre around the edge and a couple of "historical houses" dotted above the bazaar.
I found the arts and crafts particularly good. Also the northern mural had a depiction of a battle we've been informed between the Persians and our friends the Portuguese.
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.
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.
We just made the Kazakhstan/Russia border by night fall. It was a little windy and some of the coldest weather we've experienced since Europe. The Kazakh guards were all very friendly, and unusually thorough. Our car got its first semi-decent search, they got us to take everything out of the boot and even had a look at the spare, though not really checking the rest of the car. As ever they asked beforehand if we were carrying any heroin. We proceeded to passport control where my two passports were given even more attention than normal. Slowly more and more senior officials were called, until a small huddle formed, all looking at my passports in puzzled silence, as if they were trying to crack a particularly hard maths problem or crossword clue. The trouble is, once they've decided there's a problem they can't really just let you through without loosing face, you have to come up with some new piece of evidence for them to go "Aaaah, that's ok then." Eventually I pointed out, for the second time, that upon entering the country I'd had both my visa (in my old passport) stamped and my new passport stamped, and we were on our way.
Russia is a serious country and I was expecting a serious border, but it was actually one of the easiest entries we've had. The easiest I would say, very quick and straight forward.
By this time it was 9pm and very dark. We'd always planned to camp the other side of the border as Novosibirsk was quite a drive away, and we'd had to leave Kazakhstan as you have to register after five days and we were on our fifth day. So we drove a little way into Russia, turned into a side road, drove enough of a distance to be hidden from the road (so we thought) setup camp and had noodles with egg for dinner. Again.
We were awoken by the sound of a vehicle. It was definitely coming towards us. I knew it was going to stop at our tent. It stopped at our tent. There was a shout. Probably in Russian. I reluctantly unzipped the door. There were three Russian soldiers with guns standing around their Lada 4x4. Kai got up and I started to pack away our things. We didn't share much in the way of language, but once they'd seen our passports they left. We weren't sure if they wanted us to leave or not, but three guys with guns worked pretty well as an alarm clock and it was past 7am so we decided to leave, without even the cup of tea we'd offered the soldiers.
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.
Driving in Mongolia is a lot of fun. The roads tend to be very wide, usually gravelly, or if you're really lucky very sandy and often splitting off into 2, 3 or even six different paths. There are often obstacles, some of them moving, including camels, stones and various types of holes, dips and ridges.
We spent our second night in Mongolia in a gher camp setup by one of the Mongolians actually doing the rally in Khovd. It was to be the last night of his camp and he had already taken down most of the ghers.
The next day we started the long drive to Altay, apparently the worst bit of the Southern route across Mongolia. I may be tempting fate here, but it really hasn't been that bad so far, more of the above. The worst is the small, regular ridges, possibly caused by tracked vehicles in the winter. The cars vibrate painfully, until you reach the Sweet Spot. Usually at about 90kph.
To our great pleasure We'd met the Icelandic team, Mud Lab, yet again, in Khovd and left with them in the morning, east. In the evening we came across two other teams, Modern Nomads (Kit from Norway) and Hit the Road Yak (George and Matt) and then another two teams that they'd been in convoy with, Fear and Alexes in Mongolia (Alex, whose team mate had had to fly to Ulan bater to get a rabies jab after being bitten by a dog in Khovd) and Banana Hammock (Heather and Justin), which made six teams in total, the largest convoy we've travelled with.
(I would like to to treat the next bit like an episode of Casualty, what could possibly go wrong in the following situation?)
The four teams we'd met had this game they played, called rocky rock, where
they would all throw stones at a specific rock, trying to hit it. A little
while after starting this game,
someone, George I think, Alex aimed a small rock at
Kit's car, hitting the back window and shattering it. Like all good geeks, he
fixed it with duct tape. Taping up the whole window.
We moved on. We were one of the last cars. Just after a particular sandy
section of road we found Kit and his car, pointing in the wrong direction. He'd
spun and both left tyres had deflated, he decided due to the seal being broken
rather than punctures. Luckily he had two spares, changed them with us watching
and we were on our way. The other teams had stopped up ahead to camp and we
formed a bit of a circle with our wagons. Kit was determined to make a fire and
started chopping up a bit of wood he had with an axe. We joked that with the
luck he'd had he shouldn't be wielding an axe. Kit gathered some dung and
asked for some petrol. Being as my mum has always drummed into me not to use
petrol on fires I didn't volunteer our petrol and hoped he could find something
a little less flammable. The next thing we knew he was opening a very large
jerry can in the middle of the circle. For some reason the can was pressurised
and very full and sprayed petrol as it was opened. Unfortunately one team had
already started cooking and in the moment that we all stood, staring in
disbelief the petrol ignited. Now Hollywood (and Casualty) may have lead you to
believe that the petrol on the ground will burn in a nice line until it reaches
the full can at which point the can will explode and everyone dies. Let me tell
you from experience that this is not what happens. The spilt petrol all
ignited simultaneously, everyone ran for their lives and then there was a calm
moment as everything just burned. Luckily none of the petrol had reached the
car. Unfortunately Kit had been sprayed and was now on fire.
Someone, George I
believe Alex, redeeming himself from breaking Kit's back windscreen managed to put
Kit out and the rest of us stood in shock. Kai was the first to remember that
we actually had a fire extinguisher and handed it to me, later saying that he
didn't want to be the one caught in any explosion. Kit's burns didn't seem too
bad, though obviously relatively serious and apparently very painful. Kit
happened to have set his video camera up on a tripod and filmed the whole
thing. Several of us wondered if he'd done the whole thing on purpose
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I bought the "PowerMonkey Explorer" which I was excited about at first and it stopped working on day 2. Although email@example.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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After 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.
Pete made this excellent video and slideshow of the start of the Mongol Rally. Thanks Pete!
Jamie and I set off from Goodwood yesterday. What stress.
I moved several bags of my stuff down to West Sussex via Victoria and luckily a friend was around to help with the move!
I met with Larry and Jamie at Shoreham-by-Sea and the next morning Larry thankfully helped cleaned the car. He designed the our team "Geekout" logo and a whole bunch of delightful stickers for our car.
When we eventually got to Goodwood via Google Navigate which took us to the horse race course via some odd country lanes, the car looked a bit plain. Though whilst Jamie and I were registering et al, Larry applied the decals. Nice.
I was super stressed since I thought we might be off as early as 2pm and my parents said they were running late and would probably arrive around er.. 2pm. I told them to bring some BBQ stuff, but as it transpired, no BBQs are allowed at Goodwood circuit, despite the fact there was only one catering van and quite a large number of people. I became stressed & starved. Not a good start, though my parents did see my off with heartfealt hugs.
So we set off for the Chunnel and after the buzz of going around the circuit, Jamie almost hit a car as we were pulling out (he was looking the wrong way)!
So there were quite a few Mongol ralliers on the road to cross over to France. Lots of waves and good spirits. We met a solo Belgian driver named Rick who also has a CB radio. We chatted on the way to Folkstone which really helped pass the time. There are quite a lot of ralliers, though I would estimate only 5-10% have CBs, so I doubt we are going to get much use out of of it.
350 miles or so later we arrived at JHQ via Queens Avenue. A British base my sister was celebrating her last day on. Her and a couple of friends were dressed up as Amy Winehouse and doing a tribute. Her friend Paul seemed genuinely interested in our rally and we chatted for a bit and wound down with a German beer.
The next day we woke early as Jutta had an early flight back to England, so we left too. We said our goodbyes in the rain and now we are headed off to Dresden to stay with a very good friend Felix from India. Actually he's German, but we met in India.
Following on from the previous Russia to Azerbaijan post, Rob Mills explains that the Azerbaijan border isn't the problem, it's the Russians who don't let non-CIS (ex-soviet) citizens through. I have written to the Russian Embassy in London and tweeted, and they have yet to reply. Drat.
Oh well, that saves on the costly double entry visa for Russia and one for Azerbaijan.
In other news, Jamie and I have convinced his parents that we will keep the car in Steyning, West Sussex once we've bought it. We have been looking for 1L cars on Autotrader and there aren't that many choices. I'm keen on a Polo or a Toyota Yaris, though there doesn't seem to be a lot of choice, especially when you only consider Private Ads and <10 years Mongol Rally car rule. Our budget is 1500GBP btw.
I am quite excited to have met a person from Kyrgyzstan who is doing a English class in the building I live in near Edgware Road. I also heard that Turkmen school here, so I am trying to work out a way of announcing my "mission" to a class of English learners. I am hoping to get hosted / guided whilst we pass through these exotic stans.
We've setup a charity donation page that should make it easy for you all to donate money, not to us, though to Mongolian kids who have had it rough. Our target is 1000GBP, please give something. Anything. Crikey. I am not going to spend it!
- Points of interest along the Mongol rally route
- My German cousins have offered to host us in our first stop over, which will probably be in the VERY early morning of the 24th of July
- Looking into cameras to mount on the dash. Considering the Gopro
- Looking for a good Android tool to post updates on our route to Facebook et al, so you all can keep upto date of our progress. Think average speeds and other geeky statistics. Want.
- Hoping to see Jukka in Odessa, Ukraine
- A Ukrainian friend asked me whether I'm going to drop by Kazantip, that looks a bit too crazy
So we set off from our pitiful campsite too close to the main road to Dervaza and drove back to Ashgabat. Since we left before 9am it wasn't so hot and the ride went quite quickly. Except for the 3 times we were stopped by police and the crazy 30km/h sign and the associated 15USD bribe.
Back in Ashgabat at midday we needed a break, so we decided to go back to Grand Turkmen Hotel and pretend we were still guests. We enjoyed to the pool, tried to use their internet and got some supplies from the Russian market opposite.
We then thought we should drive the 600km/s to Turkmenabat and get out of Turkmenistan as there seemed plenty more to do in Uzbekistan. We left about 1pm.
Unfortunately the road running east of Ashgabat was very poor indeed. We made slow progress as well as lost a hub cab, rattled and swerved the car through mountains and valleys of warped asphalt shaped by heavy trucks no doubt.
Finally we arrived in Mary (200km off our target) an hour after sunset. My impression of the time was surprisingly a very typical Soviet layout with a large square and a horrendous looking Soviet style hotel at one end. In the square we noticed a couple of busy looking restaurants and there we saw a red Mongol rally car belonging to Team America. We joined them and their Turkmen hosts for food and beer. [The food in Iran was really very disappointing, and boring. I can't count the number of times we had rice and kebab, and a grilled tomato if we were lucky. By comparison the Turkmen food has been very good, particularly on this evening when we were served braai-ed lamb with some very nice bread, which interestingly they call "naan" - Jamie]
The Turkmen have been very friendly though it's pretty hard for us to reciprocate when we are frankly exhausted and I speak very little Russian and none of their Turkmen language.
Next phase was the four us trying to find a hotel. I tried to argue for the more upscale one as I know that Russian budget options can be pretty fucking awful. I'd rather start on the high end and then take steps down. The one chosen was a motel a little outside town and thankfully a guy I met at the bar, Max, helped direct us there, by riding in the car.
The motel is quite a sight. Lots of trucks parked to the side. A dark tree/bush lined courtyard crawling with punters, pimps and whores. The room looked like a fight had occurred in it, judging by the broken fittings. [I know Kai will think I'm being pedantic here, but it really wasn't "crawling", I saw one prostitute. And the room was very tidy, not a fight scene. - Jamie] Nonetheless with the revered A/C on, I had a good sleep after the mandatory shower.
All we need now is the car! We are looking to purchase a 2002/2003 Nissan Micra Tempest by the end of the month.
The K10/K11 generations of Micra were known for reliability, excellent build quality, and user friendliness.
In What Car's Reliability Supertest in 2007, Nissan was ranked 6th out of 26 manufacturers overall, with the K11 Micra (1998–2002) being its most reliable model.
We got it on the 22nd of May! ~10 days until the deadline...
Since Facebook groups are a bit of a black hole when it comes to information, I thought I'd copy & paste some useful tidbits.
£1 GBP =
- 1.60 $ USD
- 1.14 EURO
- 28 Czech Koruna
- 4.85 Romanian New Leu
- 116 Serbian Dinar
- 2.23 Bulgarian Lev
- 2.66 Turkish Lira
- 17000 Iranian Rial
- 4.57 Turkmenistani Manat
- 2778 Uzbekistani Som
- 234 Kazakhstani Tenge
- 72 Kyrgyzstani Som
- 45 Russian Ruble
- 1978 Mongolian Tughrik
- 10.38 Chinese Yuan Renminbi
And James on the merits of the IDP.
A lot of negotiating later, and blunt refusal by the corrupt bastard, we got it back for $200. ALWAYS show the International Driving License, and buy two of them. They're basically disposable
Still I think leaving a policeman with your disposable drivers license and then driving away sounds like a recipe for disaster.
From observing hard negotiating Israelis in India, I think good negotiation is about persistence. I plan to brush up on my weak Russian (& learn Farsi?), stay positive, polite and friendly and let the fun begin.
Yesterday was not the best day of my life. My Iranian visa appointment (to pay and have finger prints taken, it's already been approved) was supposed to be last week, but was cancelled. There was another opportunity to go last Sunday at 9am, but I decided that during the week would probably be quieter and less hangover-y. I doubt they're that keen on hangovers in the Iranian Consulate. So I went yesterday at midday. Three other ralliers were there, and a representative from the Adventurists. We waited patiently. And waited, and waited and waited. It was hot, at least as hot as Iran. The Adventurist always seemed to be next in line, but never quite got to the front of the queue. After a couple of hours one of our number got seen, and was dealt with in about ten minutes and left. The rest of us waited some more. A child screamed on and off. At about 3:00 two woman arrived, loudly saying they had appointments for 3 o'clock. At about 3:30 a very arsey English guy arrived, waving his number in the air and asking if everyone else had a number too. At about 4:00 our rep finally got to the front of the queue. A short discussion ensued, and we were told that we wouldn't be seen. It turned out that we didn't actually have an appointment, but had been promised one, unofficially, from the Sunday 9am session. I made my way back to work, arriving five hours after I had left.
Half an hour after sitting back down at my desk, back wet with sweat, I received an email from the Adventurists with the subject line "Visas". But no, it was not in regards to the Iranian visa, this was an email letting me know that the Russian Embassy had returned my passport, sans visa, because there were not enough blank pages in it. The email went on to say that I would have to get a new passport in order to get my Russian and Iranian visas. Now the rally starts in three weeks, can you guess what passport renewal turnaround is? Yes, three weeks. A fast-tracked passport costs £130, almost double the normal price. I don't know why the visa service that the Adventurists offer, The Visa Machine, doesn't check how many spare pages you have as the first thing they do. I know I had at least one spare page available per visa we were applying for, I didn't know how many I would need in total. The Visa Machine website states
You MUST have 1 blank page free per visa (2 for some). A blank page must be completely free of all stamps.
The Adventurist I was emailing now told me:
The requirement of every embassy is to have 2 spare pages at the time of application.
I suggested they amend their website.
So, assuming everything goes ok from now on, I will have two passports, half of my visas in one, and half in the other. I can see this going down really well with customs officials.
UPDATE: We have since been informed that the finger print machine is broken and we will be able to get a visa without going back to the Consulate. Result.
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
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.
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!
We've been getting lots of (well, two) scary emails from the Adventurists regarding all the official, bureaucratic stuff that we need to get done before the start of the Rally, exactly 29 days away now, especially the Carnet de Passage. The Carnet is basically a passport for the car, which we need in order to get through Iran, and to be able to leave the Micra in Mongolia. I sent the form off a couple of days ago along with a colour copy of the details pages of my passport and the V5. Yesterday I realised that I had not ticketed one of the boxes, and after all the dire warnings from the Adventurists and the RAC (for example, if the colour of the upholstery changes, or the make of the radio, you have to get a new Carnet) and the cost of the damn thing I rang the RAC in a panic expecting some boring official to tell me in a nasal voice that I would have to do the whole thing again. But no, to my surprise a very nice, helpful and relaxed guy answered and told me they'd received my application that morning and not to worry, everything was fine.
In other news the Iranian embassy cancelled my first visa appointment. We have used the Adventurists' visa service (the "Visa Machine") to get our visas, which seems to be going well, despite initial hiccups with the website (it kept forgetting our dates) and confusion over what we actually had to do (I assumed, wrongly, that they would even fill in the forms for us, it didn't seem that clear what we had to do once we'd finished the website bit). My rearranged appointment is now on Wednesday, which will apparently be quicker than the more popular Sunday at 9am slot, which I didn't fancy much anyway. I think the reason we need to be there is to get our finger prints taken, something the Adventurists really couldn't have done for us.
We've done over 4k miles now! We covered some distance from Istanbul, Cappadocia, all the way here to this Iranian border town.
Cappadocia, although a tourist trap, was actually pretty good. Through the power of my twitter network, we probably had the best hotel in Cappadocia at a good price. It had a pool, the host Hassan arranged a balloon flight the next morning. Fantastic stuff.
Next after checking cave after cave (btw, I hate caves now) [they were not caves, but hollowed out rock. First the massive underground city and then the Göreme Open Air Museum - Jamie], we drove till dusk and "wild camped" in a nice spot. The Turkish countryside has been stunning.
Today we are quickly going to check out Ishak Pasha Palace and then try the Iranian border. Hopefully we'll be over by lunch and then get a 4-5hr drive to Tabriz to check out another UNESCO site on the way to Tehran.
Our "Interneting", i.e. our internet connectivity, twitter updates, blogs and video uploads might come to a crashing halt. However we do have a SPOT messenger, with map updates however it is limited to only 41 characters. So if you wondering why my tweets are so short in Iran. That's why.
Since I last wrote much has happened, but not much seems to have changed. I got a new passport, at great expense. My old passport, containing four of my seven required visas has had a very large corner cut off the data page, meaning there's no way I'll be able to fool border guards into thinking that it's valid. I've been told I don't need to return to the Iranian Embassy, Masha'Allah, as their finger print machine is broken. I've been told various things about the validity of the four visas in my old passport, ranging from the Kyrgyzstan Embassy telling me that I needed to get a completely new visa, through the Adventurists telling me that the Kyrgyzstan border guards are very relaxed to a very chilled Uzbek Embassy worker telling me that everything would be fine. I've had to pay for my Russian and Mongolian visas to be expedited. The amount of money this is costing is getting ridiculous. Apparently there is much nervousness over at the Facebook group as no one seems to have their Russian, Iranian or Mongolian visas, according to the website.
Parcel upon parcel has been arriving at my parents' house, mostly technology that Kai has ordered, I am wondering whether we will be able to fit it all in the car. I got a distinctly old fashioned Kelly Kettle for my birthday from Mum, which at least we don't need another cigarette lighter adapter for.
I came back to my parent's this weekend hoping to do a last shop for tools and spares, but unfortunately Pete at Steyning Motor Spares hasn't had his delivery yet and doesn't know what he will/won't have. And Hove Motor Spares still doesn't have an extra spare for us. Being a teacher my mum is on holiday from Tuesday, so I might be calling on her time somewhat as I am working right up until we leave.
Jamie and I aren't intrepid buddies from 6th form in a gap year!
Furthermore did you know we are donating our car once we arrive? Mongolians will have less need to cruelly sadle up an animal and parade on its back.
How are you saving the world?
Yesterday we experienced our first proper border crossing, from Poland into the Ukraine. We left Krakow at around midday and had a fairly long though good drive through Polish countryside on good roads. We arrived at the Ukrainian border at about five and joined the back of a long, snaking, stagnant line of cars and trucks.
After a couple of minutes we were amazed to see another Mongol Rally Micra draw up right behind us. It was Ed and Matt of Ice Cold In Ulaanbataar. We chatted, I thought about brewing up. And then a man in a truck drew up behind us and started gesturing for us to drive around. I was hesitant, but after a couple of French and German cars went for it the FOMO kicked in and we drove pretty much to the front of the queue. It turned out to be the EU lane.
On the Polish side our documents and car were examined and we were on our way. Unfortunately a tourist group from Djion France heading also for Odessa were turned back because they didn't have their car passport with them.
We were welcomed to Ukraine with some of the biggest pot holes known to mankind. After similar checking of documents and car we were allowed on our way, into the Ukraine. The whole thing took just over three hours, but felt relatively very quick and efficient compared to awful wait the locals had to endure. We've been warned not to drive through Moldova as the border crossings are apparently even worse.
By the time we got onto Ukrainian roads it was already getting dark and the journey was growing a little hairy. I took the first shift, and tried to ignore Kai's instructions to drive as fast as the locals. I was also concious that we hadn't modified our right hand drive beams.
Kai decided that the best technique for driving on Ukrainian roads was to drive right in the middle of the road, which meant that as the passenger, on the left hand side, I was sat directly in the path of on coming traffic. Kai, as the driver, had the only air bag. We took a very interesting route around our destination L'viv, as an awful lot of the main roads have been closed for maintenance work, but we did eventually find our hostel. On the fourth floor of a dark and slightly foreboding building without a lift. By this time I think we were both rather hungry and feeling rather stressed.
Between us Kai and I managed to avoid an owl and a pussy cat (it lost several lives). Really.
We did bump into another team Immaculate Pasta featuing Donald, Dougle and Jordan. They had zig-zagged up from Budapest and heading for Kviv, then down to Odessa and Iran. Nice.
- Mileage: 1682
Jamie and I have been very busy getting the little bits and pieces together for the Mongol Rally.
- Jamie's sister's boyfriend Josh (who is a Farrier by trade) has made our Micra an awesome steel sump guard
- Found some Mongol Rally statistics with Rob adding: 300 teams and a little over 200 will make it to UB with car
- I'm accredited with a first aid course from Steve Blethyn, so I should be able to keep Jamie alive for a few more minutes
- I'm still waiting for my Iranian visa, as well as Tajikistan & Turkmenistan invite
- Jamie has got his new passport and is also stressing out with the last few visas
- Complained about the FCO Website and yes, I've accepted the potential risks
- Practiced putting up our tent (& Jamie took it down)
- Bought some Korean noodles and supplies with the help of Sean and his fogging machine business
- Ordered some collectible Team Geek out calling cards and stickers from https://uk.moo.com
- Obtained an International Drivers Permit - Trivia: I've actually had one before when I first drove in the UK from South Africa
- Moving the bulk of my possessions out of W2 1DS this Thursday, to storage at Praze Farm
- Doing "hand over" for my work, Marcos will be replacing me. Also about to push out a Webconverger release
- Bought a Central Asia map from Stanfords and I've figured out most of the closest / interesting UNESCO sites on the route!
- We are 50GBP shy of our 1000GBP charity fund raising target! Donate now or during the trip at https://www.justgiving.com/teams/geekout/
Have we missed anything? I am so ridiculously excited.
However we can't figure out if the Russia / Azerbaijan border crossing is possible.
- A friend in Georgia, says her Azeri friend says it's open
- I called the Azeri embassy in London, he says it's open
Bought a SPOT connect geek gadget so that you can track our progress and we can post short <41char updates!
I bought the device from a UK distributor Global Telesat Communications and I found it a tough decision to purchase, because the hardware costs 150GBP and the upkeep is 100+ GBP a year plus extras. Extras like a SOS extraction service I've yet to figure out.
After receiving the device (which I've since called puck) in London, I tried it though I frustratingly couldn't get a message out. The Android application was a little disappointing, and to actually send a message doesn't seem instant. It seems to queue up and sends it over a ~10 minute interval... So the whole experience from the Spot connect Android client is a bit ridiculous. Watch bluetooth sap the Nexus S's battery until the message finds a window to be sent (perhaps). There is no confirmation on the client itself whether it sent or not, only on the puck itself, when it blinks red, meaning that it failed...
Days later in Steyning, I managed to send a couple of messages (to great relief), though they did not appear on a "Public shared map" I created:
Also my initial "testing 123" check-in message was written days back in London, however it only had the timestamp of when it was actually sent today. So... that sucks.
So far the SPOT service does seem quite unpolished, though I hope the SPOT customer services will come through to make this work better for us. My next biggest concern is how long the batteries work. 2xAA batteries will track Team Geekout for how long ? Pity it doesn't have a USB charge interface.
So I spent much of Saturday looking for bits and pieces for the car, and anything else that could be generally useful. I started by looking for breaker's yards in the Yellow Pages, hoping for a bit of a Scrapheap Challenge job: looking around, finding a Micra in surprisingly good condition stacked on top of two other cars, clambering up and ripping the thing apart with an angle grinder. Back in the real world the only place I could find with any Micra spares was Hove Car Spares. They said they could sell me a suspension unit complete with wheel hub for £30 and could find me a second spare wheel. I went and picked up the unit, but unfortunately no wheel, they said they'd have them in this week. They also gave me some handy tips about what might be useful and sold me an ignition coil and recommended some liquid metal and a new fan belt. I was also told that the drive shafts on Micra's were weak, eek.
We'll probably take the hub off before we go, it's quite heavy and would only fit one side.
On the way back to Steyning is a B&Q and Halford's in the same lot. I stopped, felt depressed by the superstore anonymity of it all and left. In Steyning is a lovely little shop called Steyning Motor Spares run by Pete. I stopped off and spent probably the better part of an hour wandering around finding useful stuff, pictured above. I left him a list of things to see if he could get including a pump and a cheap tool set.
Back at my mum's I found my sister Maddy and her boyfriend Josh, who is a bit of a mechanic. Showing him around the car getting tips and advice we reached the engine, he was pointing things out to me, tapping this and that, when there was a crunch and a "Whoops", he'd put his finger through the coolant reservoir. Which I was able to quickly repair using my newly acquired duct tape.
While at Mum's I checked out the tent situation. Not good. Both tents had many broken poles, which makes dome tents difficult, to say the least. It seems like we might as well buy a new cheapo one, that will at least be quick to put up.
In other news Kai and I have been "discussing" the new Adventurists website. For the record I like the new site, it's nice and bright, it looks good, it's easy to get around and I completely understand why they have chosen to compile the handbook into a PDF.
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Indeed Internet is an issue in Iran. My phone also stopped working. I think I did manage to make an outgoing call in Tabriz, but in Tehran it does not work... most of the time. Countless sites are filtered... one could use a VPN. Though I can't be bothered to set one up on Archlinux, and the internet in Iran is incredibly slow to begin with. [My Kindle still works, and seems to get past the filter somehow - Jamie]
So since we can't post Flickr images easily or upload Youtube sites, I hope you'll find words enough!
I just had the name "Bagh Golestan" to find a hotel in Tabriz. No map. So navigating there, finding a hotel and parking was nothing short of a major accomplishment. [More excellent driving ;)] Iranian driving is quite different to Turkey and this is tbh the first time I haven't had Google Maps at my disposal, so I had to talk to locals for directions(!)
The majority of Iranian people are friendly which is great. Other aspects like the tourist sites, accommodation, internet sucking, food, crazy traffic and stuff have made it a bit disappointing at least in my eyes. We did go see the UNESCO market in Tabriz, and then we headed on the long drive to Tehran. Fortunately the road started off really well and it was quiet I assume because it was a toll road. It was a pleasure to drive. [No, it was really boring]
So petrol become a little issue, as it's all Iran state controlled as you may or not know. Petrol stations were surprisingly hard to find and the attendants tended to overcharge us until we requested it at 700 (7,000.00 IRR=0.410966 GBP) per litre (locals get it at 400). [That may be a misunderstanding on our part, there are 17,000 Iranian Reals to the pound, but the locals often use Tomans (sp?) which is 1/10 of a Real, and the number symbols are different. Put all this together and they might have been telling us it was 7000 Reals a litre and we thought they were asking for 1000 Tomans. This seems especially likely as the petrol pumps are pre-set.] We are not sure what Octane the "benzine" is, but we fear it's not great quality judging by the sound of our motor. Nonetheless it's cheap to get around Iran.
In Tehran we navigated miraculously to a contact of ours pretty much in the middle of town. I used a pre-cache of Google maps Tehran, however the pre-cache is a bit unusable since you can't search it off-line. Sigh... bad Google. Interestingly Tehran is cut off into neighbourhoods so you have to stick to these congested expressways and get off at the right place in order to get into the neighbourhood. IIRC Baghdad has been described like this, and I guess it's the same here. I assume it makes it very easy for a neighbourhood to control things as they see fit.
I'm a bit nervous about revealing the identity of our friend of a friend's wife, since she does seem to bend every rule in the Islamic handbook. [Including driving western men around town that she's not even temporarily* married to.]
Anyway she's been very hospitable to Jamie and I and we are learning a LOT about Iran very quickly. [She's been averagely patient with Kai] I'll write that all up in another post, another day.
* Apparently Islamic and Iranian law allows a couple to temporarily marry, the man of course can take more than one full/temporary wife.
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.
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.
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.
So our kind host and guide has been giving us an introduction to Middle class Iranian life, as well as doing some sight seeing.
We drove up on the eastern hills of Tehran to a ski resort to take in some hills and food. Then we visited some palaces and the bazaar back in Tehran.
In the evening we went to an upmarket cafe in northern Tehran and by that stage I was starting to surmise the Iranian lifestyle, as not being all that different from our own.
After reading Persepolis back in Bulgaria I was bracing myself for all sorts of government intervention. Though the rebellious Iranian people seem to know how how to avoid any trouble in their daily lives.
For example the next day we were travelling with our female guide south to Esfahan and we were caught speeding at 135km/h, 15 above the speed limit of 120. After some friendly social interaction with the police, they let us go. The traffic police in a blue car did ask our relationship which she answered "friends", though it all seemed friendly. She later commented they shouldn't have asked questions like that, since they are not the religious police who drive green cars.
Later that day we visited some good historical houses in Kashan and then we drove for an hour into the desert. At first as I was reluctant to go to a desert, because I was worried we might get stuck in the sand, run out of petrol and just die out there in the 40+ degree heat. I mean come on... we all can imagine what a desert is like, can't we?
However the landscape slowly became quite fascinating, we came across a biblical scene of goats and even a camel. Eventually we approached some dunes which we spent a good hour climbing and watching the sunset. All in all, a highlight of our trip so far.
By the time we left the desert, it was quite late and we even thought of staying the night in Kashan. Instead we pushed on down to Esfahan. We travelled a little quicker than usual, since we had the tip from a contact in Esfahan, that the police do not trap at night.
We arrived at about midnight and were greeted by a couple of friends (an Armenian and a lesbian!) in a coffee bar of our guide.
The lesbian drove us to a fast food place with incredibly garish headache inducing neon lighting. The owner was throwing us strange looks and eventually plucked up the courage to talk to us. He said he was a fan of T.S. Elliot. Which was a bit strange, considering he was effectively running the equivalent of McDonalds. I wanted a milkshake and he personally made me a banana milkshake with saffron and it was the best milkshake I've ever had.
After this we crashed. We'd had quite an intense day.
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.
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 https://teamrecklessabandon.org/ was passing and congratulated us and gave us some advice where to stay and eat etc, which was helpful.
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.
As that Queen song goes, it started off so well. We had made it out of Turkey without paying anyone to carry our documents from our car 10 meters to the check point, it was calm and relaxed and we hadn't seen any beards or even guns. We'd had to be a bit patient while they checked our passports, and then took our finger prints. Kai's for the second time as he'd already given them at the Consulate in the UK, I'd thought I'd gotten away with it after their machine broke, at the border we were back to old fashioned, reliable ink and paper. We then gave them the carnet, our car's passport, and waited some more.
We chatted with the officials, they seemed very interested in us, we showed them our Persian guide book on my Kindle (I'd previously removed Salmon Rushdie and made sure not to show them that it could still access Twitter and Facebook), they loved my tattoos, if laughing and pointing can be described as "loved".
One guard in particular became quite interested in our car, pointing at stuff and asking what it was. The first thing that sparked his interest was Kai's Gerber multitool. He pointed at it and said "Gift?" I explained that it wasn't mine. He then went to the back of the car and asked what the long red and blue bags were. I explained that they were chairs (£5 from ASDA), and he got one out, and sat on it, asking if it was made in England. He called Kai over and repeated the multitool-gift trick.
Kai searched for anything else that he might be happy with, trying to fob him off with some "expensive" Cafe Direct tea, the guard asked if it was made in England. Eventually Kai gave him one of his Geekout "KitKai" T-shirts, and he was very happy, asking again if it was made in England. A little while later our documents were ready, and we were asked for 20 Euros. This made me quite cross. I thought we probably could have driven off, but Kai didn't want to piss them off so I offered them 10, which was accepted. We were directed to customs, which we missed and were turned back from the exit gates. We went to a small green cabin, where we were given another slip of paper. We went to a manic building with one small kiosk window and absolutely no form of queuing system and worried that our documents had been lost somewhere. We went back to the green cabin and were asked how much we'd paid at the border. I was honest and we were asked for another 10 Euros. We handed over 10 Turkish Lira, about 5 Euros and were finally allowed to leave.
We had a really good day today, despite some really depressing news last night. As Kai wrote, yesterday we crossed into Uzbekistan, which was probably one of the least pleasant border crossings yet, but still the hardest bit is remaining patient. However last night I happened to check my emails, the first time in a while as internet was really hard to come by in Turmenistan, and Team America had emailed warning that the Uzbek border guards had been wondering where we were as we had "missed a step", and needed to go back to get our "yellow form". As we'd left I did wonder how come we still had both copies of our customs declaration forms.
So we made the decision this morning to go back. I was in more of a mind to risk it, but Kai has become risk-averse of late. Good thing too. It was also lucky that we hadn't gone all the way to Samarqant as I had suggested as there would have been no way we would have wanted to drive back the 700 odd km to the border. (To be honest Buxoro was nicer to visit than Samarqant anyway.)
So after a few last trips to the toilet in our water-less hostel, we left at about 8:30am and made good progress, getting back to the border at about 9:30am. In contrast to the day before the border was very quiet and we got back to the customs office easily. There the two male and female guards recognised us, pretended to be cross with us, told us that we must thank the friends who notified us as we would now be able to leave the country, and sent us on our way. The guards outside were a bit annoyed when I played with their attack dog, it was so cute, but still didn't have any water.
We then made quick time back to Buxoro for a very good lunch (I opted for beef shashlik again, as it was so good last night. Kai's plov was very good too, which I was surprised at) stopping only to see if we could get some fuel from one of the very few open petrol stations which all have very long queues outside. I walked down to check that they had 95 octane "benzene" and we were waved in, past all the locals (sorry locals).
We made it to Samarqand for about 6, stopping once so that Kai could take a dip in a very grey/brown fast flowing river, which we had a job getting him out of.
Hopefully tomorrow we will make it to and through the Tajik border, stay the night and start the Pamir Highway on Monday.
Before we started this trip I was a bit concerned as Kai was always talking about two months, while my work had given me 6-7 weeks. Once we started however it was me who was suggesting we spend a bit more time in, for instance, Iran, and Kai was then getting nervous about being left behind by the rest of the ralliers. When we left Iran I was quite happy with our progress as we'd done about 6500 miles in three and a bit weeks and only had about 2000 left to go. However, one day into Turkmenistan, driving to Mary, and I realised how a bad road can turn your 800km days into 200km days and so many small countries means the border crossings start to eat up time and I began to get nervous. Since Mary the roads have been much better, hopefully they won't get too bad, else I might have to leave Kai to finish the rally on his own
I'm drunk and emotional as I write this.
For those who only have a few weeks left of their life, then I recommend the Mongol Rally. It's full of life experiences.
I'm getting a bit emotional, especially as we met the Italian team Highway to Kahn over beers in Samarqand [rhymes with TravelPussy]. Jamie and I took quite an intrepid route like many other ralliers, to the south through Iran. Getting through Iran and Turkmenistan especially is not easy let me tell you.
Furthermore we have the Pamir Highway to do, which some other teams aren't doing. So this adds a week to our itinerary. Especially since we have now discovered there is no direct crossing between Samarkand and Dushanbe.
There are many very hard days of planning, driving and finding accommodation ahead of us. Even if things go well, we predict we will be in Mongolia around the ~12th of September. More than a week after the last Finish line party.
I really hope we don't have a massive anti-climax once we reach Ulanbataar. We are really working very very hard on finishing and we hope we get some recognition from at least our friends and family.
For the first few days of our trip I think I was suffering from what I am calling car-ture shock. Or maybe Kai-ture shock But it seemed to lift yesterday and we had a really good day.
I really started to enjoy driving in the Ukraine, the roads could be a lot worse, and the drivers are fairly polite, and swerving around pot holes is always a fun challenge. The real problem is how quickly the roads can change, you can be driving along a section of decent dual carriage way and it will suddenly turn into a pot-holed track road, and then change back again after a few km.
Just as Kai and I were seriously discussing "wild camping", as Ed and Matt had called it, we saw a sign for a campsite and turned off. We turned out to be the only campers, but there were a few families and children relaxing by the bar and lake. I was starving, and the very friendly and accommodating staff opened the kitchen for us and made us some soupy broth and fried fish ribs. And then came the main course of sausage and fried potatoes. Jumping into the water was fantastic.
We got back on the road fairly early this morning to more beautiful weather and scenery. And then, out of the blue so to speak, we got stopped by the police. We quite quickly understood that we had been speeding at 80kph (50mph) in a 50kph (30mph) zone. We weren't quite sure what they wanted to do about it though, we tried to point out that someone had actually overtaken us as we'd been pulled over. Kai was driving and got called out of the car, and oddly went and sat in a police car. Negotiation started at 100 Euros. By the time Kai came back to the car it was down to 50 and Kai was suggesting 30. I went over with 30 Euros in our phrase book to take my turn. The inside door handle didn't work, which made me feel a bit trapped, but the young policeman told me to open it again from the outside. As he leafed through our phrase book I worried that the money would fall out prematurely, but amazingly it stayed put. We then resumed negotiations. We wrote "40" on his hand, I wrote "30" on his hand and he agreed. I handed over the money and kicked myself for not writing "20".
Not an hour later we were stopped again. I definitely wasn't speeding this time as I'd just turned out of a junction. Which turned out to be the problem, they actually had a video of me overtaking a truck as I left the junction. Now the truck had actually stopped, I thought, to allow me to overtake, which I did, there being nothing else on the road. I think the police were saying that I should have actually stopped at the junction, I assume there could be a stop sign that was hidden but the massive great fuck off lorry that I overtook. This time they asked for 400 UAH, and they accepted 200 after surprisingly finding a French Mongol Rally team who were just about to pull away. They were fined for crossing the dubious white line in the middle of the road, Which the French rallier said he did not do. Confusingly the Police man also said the speed limit is 90km/h, so I don't know how the hell they could find us an hour earlier doing 80km/h.
I have to say, the police have been pretty pleasant, not intimidating at all, though they are crooks. The price of freedom seems to be ~20EUR a pop here.
- Miles: 2k+
- Days camping in tent: 2
- Jumps in water: 11
- Mosquito bites: 21 (thankfully we brought DEET)
- Sunflowers passed: a lot
After Mary we though we could cross the border at Turkmenabat that day, though we decided to have a look at Merv. There was an old hill that was once a settlement in 100AD or something, though the area was quite nice. Just lacking some good information about it, since we were without Internet or a guide.
On the way to Turkmenabat Jamie and I hit a low point. Jamie got the car stuck on sand and the people helped us out of us then demanded money for their generosity. Not cool.
By the time we approached Turkmenabat at 5-6pm, it was far too late to cross the border. We then spent another hour or two trying to find a hotel. We eventually found the LP recommend one, but they said we must go to the new Jehun hotel. This is typical Turkmenistan weirdness. Foreigners are denied a stay in any hotel. Also it's quite hard to get A-95 fuel, unless you're a VIP or something.
At the hotel we found Team America who had been hanging around for hours they claim which we found surprising and a little depressing since we honestly tried to push that day. Nonetheless we enjoyed Lex & Jeff's company, whilst geeking out with a few beers.
The next day (today), we aimed for the border. Team America had to fill up, so we had a head start. The border experience was once again a kafka-esque experience that I'm trying to forget. Firstly it was near impossible to find the border since there were no signs. We had to pay a small "fine" on the Uzbek side since Jamie drove through the disinfectant pool too fast, which was not true. We were at the border for over four hours and strangely we didn't see Team America. I wonder where they are. We did bump into the Mongolian team again, which was nice. They escaped Turkmenistan by paying a 42USD fine for overstaying their visa, since they were waiting for their Uzbek visa. Nightmare.
Finally I'm here in Bukhara, home of the Great Game. We're in the old city which feels like a bit of an oasis. A few French tourists, another Mongol Rally car and sweet Internet. Roaming on my mobile also works to great relief. It wasn't working on the border.
[There was one positive to take from the Uzbek border crossing, it was the first border where I had to use a visa in my old passport. The guards just laughed at me. One down, three to go. Jamie]
[ps, Team America have just emailed to say that we missed a step and the border guards were saying that we should go back :-/]
Yesterday was a bit of an adventure. We left Odessa fairly early, hoping to get through Moldovia (there's no direct Ukraine - Romania border crossing) to the Romanian side of the Danube Delta and a hotel that had been recommended to us by a friend. I was a little dubious about the hotel as it looked expensive. We had a look at the roads on Google maps and plotted a scenic route, that looked fairly short by our recent standards. As we left Odessa we noticed a sign to Reni, one of the border towns, pointing in the opposite direction, but we decided to take the more scenic route along the coast.
The roads got steadily smaller and more pot-holed and slower, and we began to realise why you might want to take a more main road the long way around. At one point we took a wrong turn, but could have kept going, but we didn't want to have to drive past a, very colourful, funeral procession, so we turned back. At the crest of a hill, on a narrow, straight road lined with trees and mounds of earth, we could see what lay before us. Two mud tracks either side of a large concrete bridge. We decided to go for it.
I was driving and after a little while the car got a bit bogged down. We stopped and I suggested going back. Kai pointed out that we'd actually come a long way, and looking back I was amazed, driving it, it felt like no distance. We paced it out and decided to go on. Kai got behind the wheel and managed to drive the car up on to the brushy verge and got it to the bridge.
We had a look the other side of the massive slab of concrete that served as a bridge and decided that the worst of it was over. I took back control and drove. All went well until the track the car was straddling got larger and larger until the car fell in. The bottom of the car was now resting on the mud. This was when we started to realise how isolated we were, there really wasn't another person or building to be seen for miles. I started scavenging for useful items, and found some large rocks and a bit of old tractor tyre. Using the rocks as a base we jacked the car up as far as we could and slid the tyre under the wheel. With me lifting and Kai driving, we managed to get the car free again, and made it back onto beloved pot holed tarmac.
If you haven't seen them already, Kai posted a couple of videos last night in the previous post.
Even without that it would probably have been our slowest day yet doing just a couple of hundred kilometers in about eight hours. Reaching the border town Reni at about 7pm we were on the look out for somewhere to stop and spotted a sign for camping, swimming, a restaurant and a hotel. We spent the better part of two hours looking for that place. We did eventually find it. It turned out to be a poor small hotel with a yard, and a great big hole in the yard. Dispirited we left. Kai wouldn't hear of camping and we made it for the border.
The Ukranian - Moldovan border was quiet. We bought the "green card" insurance on advice and the Moldovans took their time searching our car, which made me very nervous, despite the fact I knew there wasn't anything in there that we shouldn't have. After getting into Moldova we drove the 100 or so yards to the Romanian border and spent a bit longer there waiting to get through, but didn't get searched. By now it was getting on for 10:30pm and we were knackered so went to hotel Galati on the Romanian side. As we pulled up we were surprised to see three other Mongol Rally cars already in the car park. It turned out that all of these teams had the same story, they needed to wait for a V5, or an official letter of permission to drive the car, before they could enter the Ukraine.
We took it easy this morning and after lunch made our slow way to the Danube Delta. Reaching our recommended hotel I again tried to persuade Kai that we should camp. He promised to camp the next night, but wanted to stay in the hotel. Unfortunately the hotel was full and I got my way. I don't want to tempt fate, but we found an absolutely perfect spot, and I am typing this, sitting on one of our £5 ASDA camping chairs, the sun setting behind me, the Danube Delta to my left and our car and tent to my right. The only thing we can hear is the occasional fish jumping out of the water, the odd frog ribberting and the odd wild dog barking.
P.S. Our night was only slightly marred by the cloud of mosquitoes that joined us after sunset, and we ate our second sitting of noodles locked in the car. The night went fine, although I have to say that the sound of dogs sniffing around the tent was a bit creepy.
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 https://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?
ie, Bribes. The best technique seems to be waiting for a) official boredom, b) more money making opportunities to turn up, eg, tourists c) somebody higher up in the chain to come along, eg, military vs police.
|Ukraine||€100||€30||Supposedly doing 80kph in a 50kph zone. Possibly true.|
|Ukraine||€40||€20||Not stopping at a stop sign. The trouble was there was a massive truck in the way of the sign, if there was a sign.|
|Iran||Multiool (€30)||T-shirt and tea||Official at the border kept asking for gifts. Wished we hadn't given him anything after below.|
|Iran||€20||€10||Burly man at the border who we didn't want to piss off too much.|
|Iran||$0||$0||Caught speeding, but let off with a warning|
|Turkmenistan||?||$10?||Caught speeding as the police put up temporary speed limit signs, in this case 30kph, which was honestly difficult to read.|
|Uzbekistan||$8||$8||This was actually official, I even got a receipt! But it was still ridiculous. I was fined for driving too quickly through the "disinfectant" at the border. There was no way I caused all the puddles that they were pointing at, tbh, I think the team that went before me might have done it, but we both got fined. We didn't stop at the stop sign, a recurring theme.|
|Uzbekistan||?||£1||Kai caught speeding. Let off after trying out speed gun and a misunderstanding about a "gift", Kai insisted on going back and giving him a souvenir pound coin. The policeman did not look impressed.|
|Tajikistan||$10||$10||Passport officials. Stupidly paid without thinking.|
|Tajikistan||$45||$25||Car insurance, or possibly customs. I think $25 was the proper sum, but we were asked for $45.|
|Tajikistan||?||?||Have a feeling that the last two guys that dealt with us wanted something?|
|Tajikistan||$10||$0||Police check at the border. I was going to the car to get some money but they got bored and we just left.|
|Tajikistan||Up to €100 down to $20||$10||Police check point just looking for a reason to take money from us. First they made something up about our visas. We were patient and explained again and again that our visas were ok. When they got bored of that they let Mud-Lab go and started on me and my invalid passport. They were just insisting on $20 when a military guy walked passed outside and they suddenly took our $10 and let us go. I kind of wished I'd snatched the $10, run outside and waved it in their face from the window. But I didn't.|
|Tajikistan||$25 x 2||$10 for both cars.||Customs leaving Tajikistan. This seemed to be a tried and trusted scam, telling us that we were missing the customs receipt from entering (see above). It may even be that customs delierately didn't give us a receipt when we entered. We were let off for $10 only when two more teams arrived and were subjected to the same treatment.|
|Kyrgyzstan||$0||$0||Thought I'd mention this as I was very pleased not to be asked at the border as the guards were looking very serious and very dubious about the visa in my old, invalid passport.|
|Kyrgyzstan||?||$10 + 100 Somme ($3?)||Kai caught speeding early in the morning, apparently still within the limits of a town.|
|Kyrgyzstan||?||All our old Uzbek money, about $20||Caught speeding again, same day.|
|Kyrgyzstan||?||$10 between two cars||Same day. Not stopping at a stop sign, *just* before the Kazakh border.|
|Kazakhstan||$10||$0||Accidentally left border into Kazakhstan and needed to get back in to Kai and the car. Was brazenly asked for $10 but didn't pay and met Kai outside.|
|Russia||100 Rubles I think, about $3||0||Immigration officer just asked as we were leaving, we acted confused and after a few minutes let us go.|
|Mongolia||$5||100 Rubles, about $3||For disinfecting the car. Other teams said they had to pay $1 and got a receipt.|
|Mongolia||$10||$10||The guy who searched our car (with a very cute dog in a very cute coat) just asked, and we just gave.|
|Total||About $310||About $180|
We arrived after sunset in Yazd and begun the search for a hotel/hostel after stopping at a juice shop next to the main mosque.
The three of us wandered around after a drink with the over-friendly juice bar owner. I noticed a blonde youth lying on the lawn before the mosque and I approached him and three other shrouded persons. Turned out to be four Germans returning from volunteering in India to my surprise.
We chatted like excited travellers do, since I have not seen a European in Iran since arriving. I casually commented that travelling through Pakistan into Iran via Quetta must be dangerous and indeed it was for these Germans!
Evidently a mad religious gun man killed a host of people at a bus stop near the border, forcing them to catch a plane instead. Crazy.
Anyway we commented on how friendly Iranians were and how badly our press at home dealt with the situation.
The Germans had been staying a few days and they recommended a cheap hostel, so that was good. The Germans left for Turkey and I spent some time looking at the Mosque.
A group of friendly Iraqis approached me to join them with a Hookah. I chatted with them in broken English and I was trying to say that wasn't Iran/Iraq on bad terms? They dismissed my comment as that was Saddam Hussien. I asked them why they were in Yazd, and they said because it's not as hot as Iraq.
I'm not sure if they were joking, because Yazd is bonkers hot. The topic for the young guys turned to football and after trying to big up the Spurs, I made my excuses and left.
I then chatted to the Hostel owner in German and then English, and he told me an interesting story about Yazd. This was prempted with my story that I was on the Mongol rally. He asked if I noticed the small corridors/streets of Yazd with the high walls. Yes, I said. He then said Genghis Khan sacked Yazd, though after some losses. Genghis layed siege to the city after losing many men to the traps that were these corridors that exist today. And he lost men because if you are not in the city of Yazd, you fall prey to its inhospitable conditions. Genghis won eventually and destroyed the mosque completely to show his anger. Must try confirm these stories.
At my sister's suggestion to alleviate boredom we played the yellow car game. I lost.
GOPR0169.ogv Size: 80M
As you may or may not know, Kai and I are planning to do the Mongol Rally this July. It's a jaunt in the name of charity, but as it's something that I want to do I feel bad asking friends and family to sponsor me do it. So we've come up with something a mite more fun.*
Here's the deal: for every donation that you make you can enter one of our two sweepstakes in which you must guess how far we will travel or how long it will take us. The clock and odometer stop when we either reach the finish line in Ulaanbaatar or fail completely. Our readings are final. Please be as specific as possible, eg, include minutes/metres. Duplicate entries will be disregarded. The prize will be 10% of the value of donations up to a maximum of £50 for each of the two sweepstakes. We'll also see if we can find some exciting artefacts (or tacky souvenirs) to bring back for the winners. All donations will go to charity and the winnings will come out of our own pockets (hence the £50 limit). Clear? Good.
To give you a better chance at estimating: we will be starting at Goodwood, West Sussex at approximately 4pm on Saturday 23 July. We will be travelling in a car that is no older than 10 years and has an engine of less than 1.3 litres, something like a Nissan Micra or VW Polo, possibly a Toyota Rav4 or one of those little Suzukis (if you have a spare one of these or similar hanging around, let us know). There's just one Czech point (haha) which we leave (I think) on 25 July and then the route is up to us. We plan to go south of the Caspian and Black seas, ie, via Turkey and Iran. We also plan to stop off in Odessa.
Using straight lines this is 6,273 miles. Using Google directions it's 6,723 miles to Korday, Kazakhstan where it stops giving directions. When making our visa application we estimated that it would take us 5 weeks. Last year roughly 2/3 of cars made it to the finish line. Feel free to do more research on the Rally:
How to enter:
There is a Just Giving page for each of the two sweepstakes. Donate your money and leave an appropriate guess in your comment. I'm afraid we will not be able to correct mistakes, but hey, you can try again.
If you want to guess at the duration of our journey go to:
If you want to guess at the final distance of our journey go to:
We have yet to decide when we will stop accepting entries.
If you want to donate but not take part there are also two pages for straight donations:
Donate on either of those pages and you can request slogans to be written on our car, guess when/where Kai and I will have our first argument or who will kill who first and how.
* Fun is not guaranteed.
Forgot to mention in my last post that both my ex-flatmates are doing the other Mongol Rally which is supposed to be more charity and consists of teams driving ambulances all on the same fairly direct route through Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan. They contacted me on Thursday asking about Turkey as they were stuck at the Ukraine border. They're now going north through Lithuania and Latvia on a bit of a detour.
I also forgot to mention that Kai's also got himself a special T-shirt too.
Today I managed to remove Josh's cleverly bolted on sump guard to change the oil and oil filter. Several people had suggested doing it and when I checked the Haynes Manual it said to change the oil and filter every 4,500 miles. Meaning that even now we should really be looking to change it en route too.