Mongol Rally 2015 Part One

Alright. So. This is the post I have been afraid to write.  It is both too ridiculous to try and document the experience as well as I am not confident in my sobriety for a fair portion of it.  Thinking about even trying to do this trip just fills me with excitement and the strange urge to drink horse milk.  Anyway, I plan to drink as I write this so lets see how that goes.

Sigh, OK, where to begin…

The Mongol Rally is a “race” in which you get nothing for winning.  The goal of this race is to get from London to Mongolia(well through Mongolia and into southern Russia but I’ll explain that later maybe) in the worst possible car you can manage.  It is run by a organization called The Adventurist and they are sassy group who I have a whole lot of respect for.  Now onto the nitty gritty.

My travel companions for this trip were Jakub and Hana who I had worked with over summer and were several equally…smart people?  Seriously, they were great.  We had our ups and downs but all teams will likely have some tension on this trip.  Fortunately, most of our issues could be resolved with some vodka, arguing, and sleep.

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The vehicle we chose was a 1998 Skoda, so we were setting ourselves up well with that.

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Here it is, in all its glory

Now we did not start the race in London, we met up with everyone at the party in Prague.  We did this because 1, we are lazy and the car was already in Prague and 2, because the drive from London to Prague is the easy part, it only goes downhill from there.

The party itself was definitely a kerfuffle.  It was at an old train station and had all the requirements for a solid send off.

It should be noted we did end up losing the pirate hat that night, still kind of bums me out.  Jakob threw up though, so karma balances out.

Anyway, the next day we were off!  For about 30 kilometers then we got a flat tire and our starter went out.

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The mechanic laughed when we told him our goal.  We should have mailed him a postcard from Mongolia.  Spoilers…we make it to Mongolia.

After that minor hiccup we were back on the road.  We headed into Slovakia where we had dinner and a brief rest with Jakub’s parents.  Then we made our way through Hungary which was fairly uneventful other than letting Jakub get used to driving a manual.

Next stop was Romania but the border was closed so we slept in a parking lot.  The bathroom scarred Hana for life.

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Simply put this country is very beautiful.  It’s lush and green outside of Bucharest and has some great scenery.  We took the route over Transfăgărășan that we saw in Top Gear.

 

We did hit a minor problem when our spare gas can flew off our roof while driving.

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With a little luck we managed to make it to the meetup party in Vama Veche where we camped on the beach and had a very hard time motivating ourselves to leave.  We met another team named the Drop Bears who wore some pretty impressive suits and convinced someone to get a tattoo of their team name on them.

The next day we got up at the peak of noon and headed through Bulgaria.  We enjoyed stopping off to buy fruit from random people because we are very mature.

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Once through Bulgaria we got to the Turkish border, which I have to say is probably the creepiest border crossing I’ve ever seen.  Stray dogs, flickering lights, and I’m pretty sure I saw Pennywise the clown at one point.

We pretty much drove through the night to get to Istanbul and got into our hostel about 3am and crashed.  We eventually saw Istanbul and met up with a few more teams for about 2 days.

From Istanbul we went to Ankara for one night where we got so lost a random guy ended up getting in our car to guide us to the address.

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Our savior

We also had a brief photo shoot in some corn fields.

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And apparently we taped a watermelon to the roof, it went about as well as expected.

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We spent the next night in Trabzon where it took some effort to find beer but we managed and I willed myself onto the dancefloor.

We ended up sleeping next to an old monastery build into the mountain and visiting it in the morning.

Honestly, Turkey would have been a great stop if we didn’t then spend the next 4 hours in line at the border  to get into Georgia.  On the plus side I got my first experience with bribing an official!  He wanted to search the car thoroughly but he was doing the universal money finger rub signal and I passed him a few dollars worth of leftover Turkish flim flams and suddenly searching the car wasn’t so important.

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Who doesn’t love waiting in line!

Just over the border in Georgia we stopped in Batumi for some beach time and rest.  Waiting in lines can be exhausting.

After Batumi we decided the next most obvious stop would be the Stalin Museum!  It was a bit of a surreal place that tends to….lets say gloss over some of Stalin’s more murdery ventures.  That being said, young Stalin was a ladykiller.

We pressed on to Tbilisi and spent the night, drank a bit, had our first team argument and some delicious food.

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Lastly, Jakub clipped someone so we are down one headlight.

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So if you stuck around this story to this point then great, you got through the easy stuff.  After this point the trip ceases to become a casual roadtrip and the rails begin to come off.  From here on out it becomes very difficult to tell the story in a traditional linear fashion as my sanity slowly faded along with comfort zone.

The next country was Azerbaijan, which in addition to being pretty close to erupting into a civil war, was also well know for its corrupt cops.  We were warned from here on out the fuzz will basically only be there to try and get money from you.  Now when you are pulled over you have several options.  You can go the easy route of paying them and being on your way, you can refuse and be stubborn and annoy them, or you can break out in spontaneous song and dance while wearing a batman mask.  We did 2 of these 3 things.  If you want a hint on which one we did not do I will tell you that we didn’t have any money to bribe them with.

The first time we were pulled over I was sure I did nothing wrong but they put me in the back seat of their cop car and started righting out a ticket.  On a notepad they wrote out my fine and I jut shrugged and send no maybe a dozen times over a half hour until they eventually got frustrated and told me to go.  Let me say, that was liberating.

The 2nd time we got pulled over Hana was driving and this cop was just parked in the middle of the road(This was Hana’s first time driving too, in hindsight it was not a great place for her to start)  He just held up a money clip and pointed to it, I tried to grab it.  He let us go much faster and even shook our hands.  That was a little weird.

The 3rd time we were pulled over was in Kazakhstan, I’ll discuss that gem later.

After these lovely brushes with some corrupt cops we made it to the capital, Baku.  While most of Azerbaijan wasn’t much to behold clearly all the money got funneled to this city.  It was surprisingly nice and accommodating.  We got in really late and our hostel owner did not have beds but he did drop us in his half built hostel for much cheaper and we were the only people, so a win win.  Except there was only one toilet and there were a couple stomach issues…that caused some problems.

The goal in Baku was to get on the ferry to take us to Kazakhstan.  Turns out it isn’t a simple thing.  Basically you have to bribe the right people and hope there’s even a boat around, not the ideal set up.  There was a guy that a lot of teams used they called the “fixer” but he was really more of an extortionist who just knew the right people to bribe.  If you wanted to play on easy mode you could use this guy, we decided not to, if he could do it, so could we.  While figuring this out we met Conner and Harry, who we adopted to our crew through Russian Karaoke.  They stayed with us the rest of the rally.

 

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Trying karaoke in a Russian bar, almost got in a fight, diffused it with vodka

So, overall it took us one week in Baku to find and annoy the right people to the point in which they just wanted us gone.  After we left our hostel we moved into the port area where we parked outside the office of the relevant people so if they wanted us gone they had to get us a boat.  Now while we were in Baku we decided to take advantage of it with various activities…

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We were interviewed on TV…

 

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Had a casual dress up party…
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Bellydancing…
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Bumper cars…
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Drinking with Turkish truck drivers…
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Dancing with Turkish truck drivers…
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Hangovers from chilling with Turkish truck drivers…
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Port parties with other teams…

Besides the above pictures we also shot some pool, built some sweet forts, stole a chair to use for pooping in the wilderness later, and learned that Baku is a pretty weird place and we really needed to get out of there…

This is the end to part one of the Mongol Rally.  Part Two will be up soon with the rest of Baku, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Russia.

Continue Here Mongol Rally 2015 Part Deux

4 thoughts on “Mongol Rally 2015 Part One

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