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Mongolian Rally – Kyrgyzstan Pamir Highway Emergency


We woke up to the sound of kids washing our ambulance, thanks boys, and headed into the border. 8 Stops or so later and we were through into our next country. One of the soldiers asked the usual question “Do you have any guns?” and make guns with his fingers he made pew pew noises with his mouth. “No, of course not!” I said. “You should…” and turned away without any explanation. 47 degrees again and hot, hot, hot.

Dushanbe – Tajikistan

A quick stop for lunch and we headed into Dushanbe and onto the Kyrgyzstan embassy. My visa was wrong and we wouldn’t be able to travel along all of the Pamir without it.

The police pulled us over in Dushanbe as we turned left illegally. It’s so funny because I knew what I did wrong. None of us really knew what the other was saying and they all got together to work out what to do with me. They had my license and marvelled at the NSW colours and had a bit of a chat. The ‘protocol’ as they kept saying is to keep my license and fine me. But just act dumb…not too hard! And they finally realized that they didn’t have the faintest idea what to do with me and ended up letting me go!

At the Embassy

Hand-shakes and smiles all round and away we went to the embassy. Unfortunately the consul wasn’t there and I had to wait for a couple of hours for her. After a quick conversation and an apology for my appearance (dirty, sweaty and disgusting) oh, and of course some cash – ($50 for 3 day wait or $100 for now – bitch) $100 and we were on our way.

Oh and the Police got me again, seriously to just satisfy his curiosity. He came up to the window and in broken English said “no problem”… I ventured “you’re just busting my balls aren’t you?” he smiled and nodded, no idea what I said. A can of red Fanta for him and we were once again on our way.

Tajikistan
Valley in Tajikistan

Pamir Highway – Tajikistan

Now this road is amazing. It’s supposed to be a highway but really is a dirt track with trucks on it. Through amazing mountain views, winding, twisting, turning back and forth through dirt and tarmac. A constant awareness of the road and anything that will end our rally. Rocks and potholes and roads barely wide enough for the trucks and cars that careened past us.

Voruhk – Tajikistan

The mountains and valleys separated by a rushing, crashing, roaring grey river, carving its way through the mountains and valleys. We picked up some hitchhikers and took them through to Voruhk. They bought us some lunch and thanked us. When you’re out here a little kindness goes a long way and we just thought that maybe we might be in the same situation one day. Through layered mountains, past crystal blue streams we drove on and on. At one turn noticing a rally ending oil slick in the dust, some poor traveler had hit a rock and flushed its oil onto the road.

A few turns later and another rallier – Halleys Comix were on the side of the road at a mechanics and we stopped to find out if there was anything we could do. Swapped some stories, got our spare tire fixed and off again. At one check point a large happy policeman wanted to drive our car and jumped in to have a go. We also met a Mongolian riding around the world on his motorbike. Which of course the policeman also had a go on. And finally to Boruhk where we dropped our passengers and slept in the town.

On the border of Afghanistan

The next morning we went down by the river for a bit of fun. Apparently the river is the border for Afghanistan and due to the changing course of the river, at one point we were technically inside the border of Afghanistan! How cool is that. We waved back at some of the Afghan people, had a laugh and drove onto the start of the Pamir Highway. A last check point and we asked for directions, the police pointed us one way and being police we believed them. Who doesn’t trust the police? We shouldn’t have!

Lost on the wrong road

The road we were sent down is 100km long, a goat track, a 4wd only goat track. The Ambo isn’t 4wd. I checked. It started out well enough, just some dirt, beautiful plains and mountains surrounding us, some small towns and curious locals waving and a great lunch in the middle of nowhere.

River Crossing

Then came our first river crossing – not to difficult but the heavy ambulance got stuck, and the hard work had strained our clutch a little too far. We weren’t going anywhere. Then our savior appeared in a Land Rover discovery! With little help at all they got us out of the river, we thanked them and with a warning of more to come in our ears we headed on down the road…track…path? A few false starts and over a few hills we came across our biggest hurdle yet – a dry, stoney river bed. Large melon sized rocks everywhere, about 100 meters of hell for a 4wd. Did I mention the Ambo wasn’t 4wd? I checked.

So we built a road: we gathered hundreds of smaller stones and filled in the gaps between the larger stones until we had a semblance of a bridge through the creek. It was awesome. The ambo got through with some bumps and scrapes, but she got through! Big cheers and high fives. And on we went. We were almost there! You could see the highway!

Cruising through the hills we could see the distant Pamir highway, a long way down in the valley but accessible. With our clutch overheating and the car seriously being a little worn out we headed for the road. Only to be stopped by massive washouts in the track, a little detour and a dodgy bridge and we made it to solid ground. I jumped out and let out a huge cheer, Josh and I laughing and high fiving!

Back on the right road

Much to the amusement of some locals also crossing the bridge. 4wd only, my ass. This is the first time in the trip I honestly thought we wouldn’t make it. Some photos and pantomimed explanation later we hit the road and headed for the Hot Pools at Jindalie. The amazingly nice lady at the hot springs organized some food for us and exhausted we crashed in the ambo outside of the hotel.

The next morning was a nice breakfast and a wash, again losing most of my tan in the process but clean again. The hot pools are supposed to be healthy and give energy, but a bunch of naked men peeing in a pool is not either of those from where I come from and a hot shower was enough. We actually felt good. The Ambulance had sustained a little damage through our ordeal on the previous day, but nothing too serious, except the rear bumper had been pushed up by some of the hits we took and we weren’t able to open the doors at the back.

Onwards and Upwards

And headed high into the foothills of the Himalayas (sort of). The Ambo climbing through 4200 meters and then onto 4600 at one pass. The strain from the previous day and the thin atmosphere causing a few power problems on the way, but she kept on going.

The road here was actually great though we found a few rough patches on the way up to the highest desert in the world. A massive steppe above 4200 meters, and higher in places, surrounded by mountains of all shapes and colour, like the broken, jagged crown on the top of the world. Past some of the most beautiful, still mountain lakes I have ever seen, with the unfortunate names of Salty and Stinky these ocean sized mirrors capturing the views in crystal clear, perfect reflections.

We caught up with those Swiss guys who helped us in Turkey and cooked up a big lunch with them and their US hitchhiker (Travelling the world), by a lake created by a meteor strike. We left the guys a little later to make camp before dark and headed on past some Mexican ralliers, broken down in the middle of the road, but ok, and onto the border.

Kyrgyzstan Border Crossing

The Pamir had been a brilliant, exhilarating, exhausting but amazing experience. The thin atmosphere and demanding roads were just incredible. The customs guy at the border was either very helpful or scamming us.

Apparently we were missing a receipt and $20 got us through the border without it, only to be stopped again by soldiers who invited us in. Some food and vodka later we realised that this wasn’t any sort of part of the border crossing but just some fun by curious guards and a Colonel, we thanked them and headed through the border.

From here there is about 20 km of no-man’s land to the Kyrgyzstan, but the road was an extraordinary pass during the day and just simply crazy to drive down at night. We were both tired and passed by some rocks on the road before Josh slammed on the brakes! The road was washed away in front of us. The roaring river had eaten away our road. We looked at each other, at the black night, at the road that wasn’t there, shrugged and went to bed. Deal with it in the morning.

Another River Crossing

The raging river turned out to be wide creek as we stretched and woke up, eyes wide at the snow covered mountains that surround us. See what you miss when you drive at night! A massive flat plain, with a crawling, wide, split river spilling through it surrounded by snowcapped mountains in all directions made golden by the new morning.

A quick look and the stones on the road appeared to be a warning and detour to a low dirt track through the river and onto the other side. The ride was a little rough but we headed on. But a grumbling growling noise from beneath the car slowed and stopped us from travelling further. We had power, we had gears, no overheating, but this huge noise coming from underneath.

I crawled under to have a look and noticed that the last crossing had taken its toll and they large steel bar that stretched under the car, holding the gearbox up and protecting it had been bent severely and moved back until it vibrated against the muffler. The Mexicans had told us that Osh had some great mechanics and we noisily drove to the border where sleepy guards let us through without any fuss at all.

Osh – Kyrgyzstan

Osh is a large sprawling town which is famous for its amazing markets. But we needed help and stopped at the first garage we came to where a very friendly local, Almaz, translated my hand signals and took us to a mechanics for a little damage repair. 4 children were working on various car engines and parts, the oldest about 16 and the youngest maybe 10. These guys were the mechanics!

Osh – Kyrgyzstan

Getting the Ambulance fixed

After a quick trip over the pit we agreed on the damage and the boys pulled it all apart and fixed the problem. I took a 15 pound sledge to the rear bumper and we had opening doors again. The kids spent about an hour on the damaged beam and the accelerator cable and charged us $4.

Unbelievable and after some petrol and a big thanks to Almaz (I am Muslim and you’re happiness is thanks enough) we were off into those famous markets for some food and a wander. We travelled some more along the roads before pulling up for some dinner.

About a dozen people turned up and welcomed us, with Mohamed inviting us to his house for some supper. He and his family looked after us, feeding us watermelon, tea and bread with the best jam ever. Ever! No English but a warmth which crosses any borders we talked and laughed. Mostly by sign language. They offered but we couldn’t stay and we drove another hour into the night. We were once again stopped by police at a checkpoint “Hello!” “Par Russki?” “Nyet Russki…” “Goodbye”…

At some time in the night was woken by a man crying so hard it was breaking my heart, being consoled by friends by this out of the way place in the middle of nowhere. I went to see if I could help, but before I could get to him some others turned up and they all left us in the dark.

Coming across a Car Accident on the way to Bishkek

Now the next bit is pretty difficult and I won’t go into too much detail. We travelled through some amazing countryside here, beautiful turquoise lakes, dammed between mountains, with some amazing roads to suit.

We did come across a crashed truck a few minutes after it happened, Josh helped him out and away we went after realising he was fine and had called someone.

The Accident

About 12:30 I noticed about 50 people milling by the road and slowed to see what was happening, only to be called over and pulled up. A man had lost control of his car and had been thrown from the wreck. They thought we were a real ambulance. I tried to explain but couldn’t get to them.

Calling for Josh I ran down to help. They were just staring at this bleeding, screaming man in the dirt. We did what we could, using all our blankets and towels as bandages. There was. So. Much. Blood. He had a massive head wound, severe lacerations to his arms and upper body, a possible fractured arm and internal injuries, spitting blood and crying at us.

I kept repeating to myself that I didn’t know what I was doing, and did what I could while Josh got all I asked of him. At least we did something. They carried him to the ambulance and explained a town was 10km down the road.

His girlfriend turned up and pleaded for us to help him. I am not a paramedic. Josh drove well and the longest hour of my life was almost over. I don’t really remember much but trying to keep pressure on his head wound and his girlfriend’s eyes pleading for me to help him and save him, his passenger (who had his seatbelt on, was in and out of consciousness, another girl praying.

The Aftermath

I kept him awake. We finally found a checkpoint and an armed guard and I screamed for him to help before he took us to a doctor. The man was then taken away by a real ambulance. I didn’t know whether to cry or throw up. It took me 3 hours to clean the ambulance of blood, and myself. We threw almost everything away. I shook Josh’s hand and thanked him. I will probably never know if the man survived.

We once again found the soldier who helped and he offered us tea and bread, he could see we were both in shock and kept us there for an hour or so before exchanging numbers and saying goodbye. We drove in silence for a while before helping an American team with some petrol. They heard our story and saw our faces. We travelled with them to Bishkek, down a 30 mile descent on the other side of a long tunnel. We met some other teams and hunted down a place to sleep, I wanted a beer but was too tired and crashed. I didn’t dream that night.

Mongolian Rally – Kyrgyzstan to Russia


“If” is a funny word… If we hadn’t have stopped for lunch, If we had stopped for a swim, If we hadn’t have seen the truck crash. What if we didn’t stop for dinner the night before.

If, if, if. All things turned out well though and after our drama we met up with a couple of great teams of guys and basically spent the rest of our trip with them. Conversations about rules and laws in our “Mongvoy” cracked us up…but rule one is we never talk about the mongvoy…um….apparently rule 2 is too.

We woke up the next morning and spent half the day just doing…well nothing really. A Kiwi/ Aussie team in a tiny, little Fiat were having problems so we just all sat around, getting to know each other. Imagine this: A beautiful, big, unknown city to explore and we sat in a car park, being chased by the sun and playing cards. It was a great morning, but the decision was made and we had to dump the boys and head towards the Kazakhstan border.

Kazhakstan

Now up to now we have had absolutely no problems with the police or military. Actually quite the opposite: they have been extremely curious and absolutely hospitable to us at all times. We had had so many warnings about them and had made it so far thinking that people had given us the wrong information.

Kazakhstan Border

Until now: about a kilometer from the border is a stop sign. Just one. Sitting on a straight piece of road. No crossing. Nothing there. Just a stop sign. I was driving and thought it was a warning for the border.

Until the whistle blew and we were called over to a large, uniformed, mustached gentleman sitting by the side of the road in a rather large important looking police building. “Why you not stop?” were his first words. This was going to be interesting.

He had also pulled over one of the other drivers from the convoy. He then explained to us that we should have stopped and the fine was $100 USD. Each. Or he would take our licenses. I got the idea that this wasn’t how things got done and started to explain that we hadn’t seen the stop sign as it was covered by a bus.

The Bribe

“In Australia you stop at sign?” Ooh he was a clever one. So we took a different tactics. “This money is for charity, for children, and you want to take it?” He asked us to “speak normal”. But dropped the price to $50 for both.

I knew we had him then and we hit him hard. I asked to borrow his pen, carefully writing down his badge number and then asked him for his name. “You just want a bribe, you bastard…” Surprised he wrote it down.

I then explained I would pay him the $40, that the fee had come down to, but would be in touch with the embassy explaining what had happened and asked for a receipt. While the other people in the office laughed our mustached friend said “Go!” and we grabbed our gear and money and drove onto the border, also laughing.

This was the first major city border crossing we had come to and it was huge. So many people and cars pushing, shoving, jostling for position, pleading, weeping, trying to get through to the other side. We actually played leap frog with the cars, using them to let each other into the traffic and to make sure nobody pushed in.

After the fast and efficient Kyrgyzstan border officials let us through we were on a bridge across a river of no-mans land with hundreds of people all pushing towards the Kazakhstan gates. At one point men with balaclavas and guns pushed the people to the side, scary, threatening and surreal, while the cars squeezed through the throng.

Almaty – Kazakhstan

We even had to hold our mirrors back to get through. The people seemed to be used to it, though they still tried. The rest was fairly easy and we were off into the Kazakhstan desert on the way to Almaty where we found an old Soviet style hotel in our price range and dropped off our gear. Massive halls filled these floors, while small rooms and smaller showers made up the spaces. Steak was on our minds and we found a good steakhouse and had the best meal of the trip to that point, with a couple of beers of course, served to us by a very beautiful girl! What a day.

Almaty – Kazakhstan

Big Bear Energy drinks…apparently they had samples?

Sleeping with the ghosts of communism we hit our beds, the Kiwi/ Aussie team caught up with us during the night.

Searching for a Maccas

Now a big thing on this part of the trip was that the boys had heard rumours that there was a Micky D’s in Almaty…we were all very excited. What we found was a McBurger joint across the road from our hotel. Not McDonald’s but McBurgers. Oh I laughed.

Funnily enough it was really a good meal and we all enjoyed the little break. From here we drove a long a dusty drive in Kazakhstan and let me tell you there really isn’t much there. The only remarkable thing was that the Fiat team were stopped by the police, but fast thinking, they used the same trick we had the day before and took down there details, the police let them go! We found a great camp and watched satellites and shooting stars look down at us.

Argos – Kazakhstan

There just isn’t much in Kazakhstan. The people are extremely friendly and helpful, but there is just endless roads of nothing to see. We ended up in a town called Argos. A depressing ruined city of grays and browns. The only bright note here were the people, who came out to see the weird and wonderful cars and people from so far away.

A few men came over asking us for drugs and money, I just pointed at his friends golden teeth and motioned for him to rip them out. “Plenty of money there…” They all cracked up!

Shopping

We stocked up on food while talking to a local young girl. Her English was great and she spoke to us of her people and town. Argos is situated about 150 km from where the Russians used to explode nuclear weapons. Ryan quipped in a Russian accent “T’is lucky you came in the summer… the winter…it’s a little depressing…”

The city looked as though it had been part of some sort of experiment and we all agreed to head on another hour ‘til we found a good camp. Another night of satellites and stars and we slept not knowing whether the grounds may be safe or not.

The next morning a farmer saw us and came over to greet us with his friendly dogs. He had lost both of his legs in a motorcycle accident, but still found his way onto a horse and looked after his flock. Very friendly and warming though it caused me to wonder if there was a complete person in Kazakhstan. Most people seemed to be without something: Feet, legs, fingers and hands, teeth and other body parts seemed to go missing.

Semey – Kazakhstan

The next morning we drove through to Semey, a surprisingly modern and lively city with modern conveniences and truly nice people. We stopped at a café and ate way too much before finding a hotel around the corner.

A nice young man came over to us, explaining he was studying in London, and would help us if we needed a guide for the day. After a much needed shower we hit the Semey streets looking for a night out before being shown a place that looked something like a wedding chapel.

Big Night Out

We had a great night of dancing and drinking cheap vodka before the boys got into a little trouble with the manager. Apparently one of them was dancing with the boss’s girlfriend and he wasn’t happy. I told them all to leave.

My thinking is that ten drunken guys is a bit aggressive and could be read wrong by anyone, causing more problems. But one guy trying to pay is what they want. The boys all grudgingly left and I fixed up the bill, knowing full well I was in a bit of a hairy spot. But my stupid big smile and wad of cash got me outside. The boys had all been hiding in trees and behind cars waiting for me! I explained my theory and we went home and crashed for the night. But not for me…the combination of too much and too much cheap vodka had caused my stomach to turn to water… you can imagine the rest.

Funnily enough I had just been saying the day before that I hadn’t been sick on the trip. It was a long night and I wasn’t the only one…

The next morning we gingerly packed up and headed for the Russian border. There were a few little stops by the side of the road as we needed to clear our, let’s say, heads, on several occasions.

Russian Border

The Russian border was fairly straight forward except that when the lady asked Josh and I for our passports, Josh doubled over clutching his stomach and pleaded “toilet”, causing both of the serious faced border police to crack up and point.

The young lady continued to laugh and couldn’t at all keep a straight face through the entire 15 minute process. This wasn’t helped by her partner dropping comments, and she almost had it together when Josh turned back up, a look of serenity on his face, and she cracked up again, stamping us through and letting us go. We were in Russia!!

Borders are a funny thing. They are there for a reason and I get that. But we had been through some good and bad borders. And the only reason I say bad is because of the time it had taken. There had been no real hassles, even the Turkemen lady and her obsessive need for crisp new US bills, wasn’t that tough. Just time consuming. And we only had one more to go!!

Barnaul – Russia

The first town in Russia was not a good advertisement for the country, a bleak, grey, broken industrial town, looking like something from the end of the world. But this all opened up into some beautiful fields and plains and great scenery. Massive combine harvesters weaving through fields in herds of up to 12, criss-crossing as they worked to complete their work to get home, and continuing into the night.

We were having problems with the fiat again and ended up towing it into Barnaul, getting there after dark. A crazy drive for Craig in the much smaller car as he studied the back of the ambulance for signs of the road to come from about 10 feet. We arrived in Barnaul around 9pm, tired and hungry, got some petrol and found our way into the city, looking for a hotel.

Finding a Subway

What we found was subway! And foot-longs all round. And it tasted like…Subway! So nice to have the familiar after such a long drive! The extremely helpful, English speaking attendant helped us amazingly and could show pretty much every other Subway staff member I have ever met how to treat people.

We savored our midnight meal and made our way out to find a hotel. But this was proving extremely difficult as most of the hotels seemed full. After consulting a local Madame, yes, you know what I mean, and getting directions in Russian, we headed for a hotel.

Unfortunately the policeman we consulted, who loved my phone, couldn’t help us and we ended up just driving out of town a bit, crossing a bridge (with Ford signs on it) and setting up camp in a field. As we pulled in the ambulance engine died and the Fiat didn’t do so well either. But tired we slept to the sounds of the rumbling trucks.

Getting the cars fixed

The next morning was a fight with the ambulance and Fiat to get them started. One of the new team mates, Connor, is an absolute legend and by the end of the trip had fixed every car at least three times. We managed to get the Ambo limping towards town and looked for the Ford dealership, finding it with the help of some very helpful locals and the police.

Now I have had some problems with Ford Australia, and the major Ford dealership in Newcastle, but let me tell you the Russians have them beat. Completely. We found the dealership and I walked in, grubby as usual, and asked a simple question to the curious eyes. “I don’t suppose anyone speaks English?” Laughter rolled past me, and the ice was broken.

Within a few minutes I had met the mechanic and he was under the hood. Another few minutes and I had a hot tea, and was using the internet, another few minutes and a random blonde girl who spoke English was called in on her day off to help,

And the Dealer manager was chatting away happily to me about the trip and where I was from. The customer service was extraordinary and they fixed the car and gave me spares within 3 hours. Of course, with Josh asleep in the back! All for $120 AUD. In Newcastle they would have kept my car a week and charged an arm and a leg! Thanks to Ford Russia for looking after us!

Biysk – Russia

Back on the road we drove to the town of Biysk, this thriving metropolis was probably the most boring town in the whole of Russia. We just wanted a bar and a meal and could only find a supermarket which sold beer on tap. Just bring your own bottle. 50 cents a liter. Love it. But we wandered around and couldn’t find anything to do.

The hotel the guys found was hosting a wedding and we chatted a while with the wedding photographer, Sergei. Of course. Very nice guy and offered to send me the photos of the ambulance he had taken. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had already taken hundreds. Bring it on.

The next day we drove through some of the most amazing countryside we had seen, and surprisingly, Siberia was incredible to view in the summer. Beautiful pined mountains, drifting down to frothy, fast, rivers, excellent holiday spots and Port Macquarie like landscapes. We were all stunned at how little we knew of Siberia, thinking it would be a desolate, frozen landscape and finding a place any of us could stay for summer holidays!

We came across Russian canoeists, another car accident (no ambulance needed this time), perfect camping spots, and finally the Mongolian border. Unfortunately the border is closed on weekends and some teams had been there since Friday night. We met up with about 15 or so teams and swapped stories and cooked up a big feed. It was so cold that the food was cooling as we ate it and we decided to climb into the Ambo for a beer and chat. The temperature dropped to -6 that night and believe me we felt it!

Bukhara Turkmenistan and onto Uzbekistan


For sheer WTF value Turkmenistan is off the charts! The border should have been a warning for us. 5 hours through here for what was essentially a big show with no real substance. I changed some money into the local currency and the mono-browed angry, clenched woman behind the desk wouldn’t accept any of my US dollars if they were even slightly torn or worn.

This should have set sirens going off for all of us. We caught up with some other teams and the border guards lumped us all together demanding $65 each to get in and over $100 for the car. Most of the actual guards were friendly enough but the woman at the bank apparently also took all payments and we had to go through all of our combined cash to find enough money to pay for it all in nice, new, crisp, clean, ironed, fresh off the press, American notes. With cries of “Mister Mister” and a tap on the wrist for time she went through each note, discarding those she didn’t like. “Why are you being such a bitch?” I asked conversationally just to see how much English she knew. But no reaction and no stepping down from the creased broken money. After what seemed ages we finally pieced together the fee and were allowed into the country. Next time IM in Turkmenistan Im going to give her back the cash she gives me saying “No Good.”

We are the first people ever to be allowed into Turkmenistan without a guide, ever, and we were only allowed to do this by giving a map of where we were going and promising to stick with the plan. The $1000 fine helped us keep to the plan. With a sigh we drove towards Ashgabat past a massive valley and recent truck crash, a car carrier spraying cars across a rocky field and into Ashgabat. You have to see this place to believe it. Huge marble structures, amazing parklands, gold and silver, perfect roads, lights and colour, and street ninjas. Yep, street ninjas. Small, agile, covered people, with slits to see from their multi-coloured outfits are constantly on guard to clean anything that gets dirty. They are so fast and so good that they can clean up before you make it dirty. The roads are so clean constantly polished that it sounds like a 70’s tv show car chase just pulling away at the lights and parking the car. Police are also every 500 meters to watch for mess, yell at you not to take photos, and fine you if your car is dirty. About 4 years ago the President there decided to design a massive showcase city, and wasn’t terribly worried about the cost. The streets get closed down when he wants to go for a drive. I mean, he is the president. Even the market exchange office wouldn’t take anything but perfect money, but we managed to get some dinner and also found some other teams in an expensive English style Pub.

Here we met Erash (like a Turkmen Hugh Heffner, he knew everybody and they knew him) and he helped us with accommodation and after 2 hours a locksmith finally got us into our accommodation and we drank good cheap vodka and talked before sleeping in this crazy, fairytale, lego city.

Erash was a great guide. He helped me changed my wads of Iranian money, took us to breakfast, petrol and sent us on our way north and into the desert. We couldn’t get any ice in Ashgabat but about 200 km north in the middle of nowhere was a small kid with a fridge and we bought ice from him. Go figure. We also stopped at an “oasis” town on the way. No palm trees just camels and grayed, sun-bleached wood, a sea of plastic bottles and a bunch of cute kids posing for photos. The town would be a good set for a Mad Max movie. With Camels. We were heading for the fire crater. Apparently in the 60’s, Russian gas exploration had found a small deposit of gas in the deserts out here. Thinking it would burn out in a few weeks and not worth their while, they set fire to it. 40 years later it’s still burning. We found the turn off for the crater, a sandy, steep road into the desert foothills and Josh managed to get the ambulance up and he and Erron disappeared into the desert. The rest of us got a lift, 10 people in a hilux 4wd, with our gear, was very close. There may have been inappropriate touching. Unfortunate but couldn’t be helped.

But then we saw the crater: 80 meters across and 40 deep, roughly circular and burning like the gates to hell. Its hard not to throw in references to the devil when you see this thing. The heat can be felt from about 20 meters away, and you can crisp your eyebrows looking into the pit. Its hard to believe its real. This massive, burning, glorious, scarily beautiful mistake. Everyone stared and listened to its angry rumble, hypnotized by its dancing beauty. Staring into the pit flames leap from the ground and just burn. The orange glow giving everything an eerily horror movie feel.

We sat down to a great dinner and vodka, chatting to Lukasz and a Russian submariner, explaining our journey and laughing and listening to some great stories and dodging the odd desert spider and slept under a sky filled with tiny reflections of the crater not 200 meters away.

The next morning we said our goodbyes and headed north through the changing scenery: from desert to greener lands, with interesting houses and historical mosques. A great lunch with the school bus team and we hit the Uzbekistan border. 5 hours. Friendly but thorough, all our gear removed from the car and checked, but we have nothing to hide and we finally got through. On our way to Qiva we met a few other teams and they were struggling to find their way: so we mongvoyed to Qiva. The roads were unbelievably bad and without our help they wouldn’t have managed to find entry into this beautiful walled city. The other teams went and stayed at some locals house and we found them under house arrest the next morning. The law says you must stay at a registered hotel. Hope they got out!

We wandered around this beautiful sandstone and mud city admiring its warm beauty before heading further east. Our trusty compass guiding us along the worst roads in the history of roads. I don’t think they could have been worse if we drove through the desert itself. At one stage, while passing through a town, we noticed about 20 cars all over the road, driving erratically, passing each other and giving money from car to car while at speed. We found ourselves in the middle of it all and laughingly gave and received money from the passing motorists. Oncoming traffic pulled to the side to let the crazy wedding party through, waving and cheering. A little further on we found an awesome Indiana Jones bridge across a raging river. We had to stop and a bus load of locals stopped and laughed at the crazy westerners playing on the old bridge. “Hold on Lady, we going for a ride!” Couldn’t get the theme song out of my head all day. We found a great spot in the desert and cooked up a storm before sleeping.

The next morning found us with tire problems and we needed to get it fixed. We kept filling it with air and it kept going down. On the way to Bukhara it was easily 40 degrees plus, and we stopped and picked up some hitchhikers in the desert. At one stage we had 6 people in the back! At one tire filling stop we pulled out a couple of Frisbees and showed them how to use it. For 25 minutes we played like children on the side of the road. If you bring out toys, people will play. We couldn’t speak to each other but we all enjoyed playing in the desert.

Bukhara is a beautiful mix of the new and the old. This trip has shown us that everything can be fixed and shouldn’t be thrown away. We live in such a disposable society, but here everything can be reused and nothing says this more so than an umbrella mechanic. Down the steps into a dark cellar, he works on broken umbrellas of all types and price and puts them back together. I have never before seen an umbrella mechanic. After some hamburgers and ice-cream we headed into the old city and walked amongst the original Silk Road markets. Surrounded by trinkets, carpets, gold and history we gazed at ancient mosques and modern local art. We met some more teams and swapped stories before heading for Samarkand. We found a great hostel and went and had a final dinner and beer with Errin, Luke and Warwick. The gold teeth lady admonishing us, with a glint in her eye, for our filthy feet and clothes, but laughing out loud through gold teeth when I told her how beautiful she was. She tried to marry us off to her daughters before chasing us out with a promise to return for lunch the next day. Goodbye to the boys and we actually slept in a bed that night!

Samarkand is the beautiful ancient hub of the Silk Road, vibrant and rich with foods and people from all over. We went to the massive twin mosques at the parks centre and watched the rehearsal for what must have been the independence day parade. 100’s of kids and soldiers all marching, singing and dancing. What a show. After a great breaky and good chat with some of the other teams at the hostel we hit the road and headed for the border. Unfortunately the easy and close eastern border was closed and we had to reroute ourselves over 200km to the south and back up. A long dusty drive through curious checkpoint after checkpoint. No problems just wanted to chat! Our first scary moment came when an unmarked car pulled up next to us at night, police flashing there red torch telling us to pull over. Stories of bribes and corrupt police running through my head I smiled and greeted them telling them where we were heading. One of the officers jumped in and my unease grew but they soon set us at ease explaining they knew a short cut to the border and took us straight to the border!. We had dinner and vodka with them and explained our story to the colonel and his men, and some taxi drivers, before sleeping there for the night (again looked after by soldiers!).

Mongolian Rally Iran


Next came the Iranian Border: and it was very easy. A Turkish gentleman who just likes to help and practices his language skills by getting travellers through the border made the ordeal through the Iranian border a breeze.

A cursory check of the vehicle by bored officials and then into the Persian side where I was greeted with “What are you wearing!” by one of the guards. Apparently my boardies just wouldn’t do. A quick change and a friendly smile all round and the soldiers were all happy and off we went into Iran. Again High Fives as we passed the broken teeth of watch towers disappearing over distant mountains covering an imaginary line.

OMG…the Iranians have towns and cars…who would have thought?

My first impression of Iran was of dust and dirt, brown and hot. The first town was alive with people, shopping and gawking at our unusual presence. Now Iran does not take our credit cards, which would have been great to know before I filled up. After a crazy and funny bout of sign language we paid in US$ and shaking hands were on our way. Ramadan is the Muslim festival where the locals don’t eat til the sun goes down. We were starving, but had to wait til after 9pm and had the best kebabs with rice. Now remember all those stories about travellers being hassled incessantly about local customs and laws? It’s just not true. The Persian people are extremely understanding about foreigners and will just let you know if you have done something wrong. No arrests. No stoning. The large, angry looking, gentleman at the next table quietly said something to me as I tiredly ate my meal with my left hand. A bit of a no no as this is the hand they use to clean themselves with. I simply apologised and thanked him; he smiled and waved as he left. No cops or anything. We slept in the cool of the mountains that night.

I love the cash exchange in Iran: after visiting several banks we finally found one that would help, thanks to a gentleman in one bank we were able to get in to meet the big guy in another bank. $150 US got us 1.5 Million of the local money. Nice. There was mention of getting naked and throwing it around, maybe rolling around in it a bit. Never happened. That’s my story. The scenery was changing as well: massive mountains like sleeping beast, breaking into valleys with cool lush green splashes. A long low mountain chased beside us, covered in a thick veil of moving cloud along the peaks. We followed a road that quickly turned into a track that quickly turned into a mountain goat trail and followed it up past blackened hills, scarred by running creeks, into the mist. Up and up we went towards the cloud and finally drove past gaping valleys beside the road and into the cloud itself! The temperature dropped and so did the visibility, dodging sheep, goats and cows we drove through the thickening white. Some nice people flagged us down near the top for photos and a gift of watermelon. Apparently a nose job is a status symbol and the young lady had some bandages on her nose, some people even fake the nose job. But I think you would be able to tell.

Like a magician removing the magic cloth, the clouds parted and we were in the beautiful mist-forests of NW Iran. Amazingly lush and green, misty rain, cool and refreshing. We sat and had a good lunch by the side of the road as we waved at the locals driving by. We followed the suicidal road through to Mesuleh, a very well known stepped town, high in the mountains. This place is built into the side of the hills and many of the houses have common walls, roves and floors. One man’s roof is another man’s patio. With all features of a town, it even had a small waterfall running through it. Apparently the government in Iran started to make knitted dolls in a bid to combat the increasing yearning by children for Barbie dolls. The knitted dolls come in all colours with different outfits. They didn’t catch on for some reason.

As we drove from the mountains the temperature noticeably increased and we decided to finally sleep by the side of the road. Big Mistake as the trucks drove past and beeped all night! We woke up early and headed through the mechanics town of Saveh, where everyone seemed to be fixing cars. All manner of auto mechanic littered the streets and we managed to get some oil from a friendly local. On through a 50 degree day we travelled the highway and managed to get some nice fresh cold water. Then 2 minutes later the engine threw a spark plug and we hobbled back to a service station where the guys there helped by calling a tow truck for us. The guy that came through couldn’t find the right size spark plug and basically rebuilt the old one. And for basically nothing. We thanked him and were again on our way. But, Boom! Again it went and I hiked the 5 km back to the service station where again our friend was called and towed us back to Saveh.

So our helpful tow truck driver got us onto a quest to find some parts for the Ambulance, but this seemed a massive chore to find anything remotely American in Iran. He mentioned that in Tehran we may find the part, but this was 200 km away and a long tow. The Spark plugs he had just wouldn’t fit, but then a look came over his face and he ducked off for a minute. When he got back he was beaming and took me across to a metal machinist workshop where they proceed to machine the base of the old spark plug to fit the smaller one, and with a little arc welding it was done. A work of art! And it did indeed work a treat. For about $4. Unbelievable. He gave us his number and instructions for what to get in Tehran. We couldn’t thank them enough and off we went to Tehran.

Tehran is hectic. A massive sprawling, moving, living, breathing creature of a million moving parts. Driving there is kind of like road Russian roulette. One-way streets filled with lumbering, coughing, stuttering trucks and buses, pestered by swarms of small bikes darting about, flitting in and out of the traffic of various cars, Peugeot and Renault and local cars including the extremely versatile blue ute, a ballet, a dance of synchronised chaos. Hundreds of moving items including pedestrian moving as one if you look close enough, looking for the smallest opening to dart in and make a few inches. Then the stores: you can literally buy anything in Tehran. And it’s very much up to date with western technology. In our cities we have suburbs, but it seems that in Tehran you have areas built around specific items. The shoe district, the electronics district, the food district, the car part district. And all new! We found ourselves a shifty car park and good hotel with wifi and slept to the rhythm of the traffic.

The next morning I was on a mission to fix the Ambo: I met up with a lovely Malaysian lady who was a little scared to walk through the city by herself. A strict Muslim area she told me that her daughter had been hassled by some local youths the night before. But some older man had come to their rescue and chased the youths off. I needed to get some money to pay for repairs and took all of my cash with me as Wendy and I walked the 30 minutes to the exchange back. Past endless rows off stores of all kinds I noticed that she was very much the centre of attention amongst the men in the city as they looked her up and down without subtlety. Every guy. Every single one.

At the bank I changed my money for 52 million of the local! So much money considering our hotel only cost 400000. But I had no idea how much repairs would cost. I found the Bosch spark plug store but they didn’t have my part. The young guy there took me into mechanics heaven to find the one guy in Iran who sold ford parts. 4 stories of twisting turning stores, hot and greasy, with parts galore. I believe you could start from scratch in this place and build a car. Mr Rezi spent all afternoon helping me install the spar plugs, gave us a spare set and some other parts, helped me give the car a minor service and all for $20. He is such an amazing person and we found this to be the case of all Iranians. Careful, caring and giving. Even the hotel manager extended our checkout more than 4 or 5 times to after 530 pm so we could get the car fixed.

From here we decided to head north west towards the Turkmenistan border as the 50 degree days int he south may not have been good for the Ambo. Tehran gave way to beautiful soaring peaks and mountains and a cool, misty valley drive past the tallest peak in the Middle East.

On waking we travelled through cloudy flat plains on a circuitous route through the north west and actually had some rain. A torrent fell from the sky in the desert farmlands and we passed surprised locals who just drove up in car loads to the rivers and simply stared at the swollen, flooding waters splashing through what we assume were simple creeks. A wrong turn or two later and we found a small dusty town at the end of a road where dozens of kids and adults came out to greet us. I honestly believe that the idea of using an ambulance is a bit of a joke by the organisers of the rally. Most of the travel books and information tell you to be discreet as western travellers in the lands. But people love us and cant get enough of us. Gifts of food were overwhelming and the people in Persia are some of the best people I have met. Most of the religious taboos I have been told about were not as strictly enforced as we were told, and most of the time we had nothing at all said to us. And an ambulance in the middle east is like tattooing a smiley face across your ass. Nobody knows why its there, those who see it will talk about it and tell their friends for ages, its a novelty and a good icebreaker. Shaking hands, smiling, broken English, “hello I love you”.

Past millions of tracks from a million hoofs over a million years that lace the dusty mountainside in browns and greys we met up with some Aussie boys and camped for the night.

The long drive to the Turkemen border came with supplies and petrol and we left Iran as we entered it: through dusty browns and yellows, though it wasn’t quite as hot.

Mongolian Rally Turkey to Iraq


Hey there again!

I just wanted to mention a couple of things and maybe explain a few things a little better for you:

I’m not a lonely planet kind of guide. So you may find my blog a little short of detail sometimes. But I have to tell you that I’m trying to give you a snippet of my journey.

I think I’ll sit down a little later, when the Mongol Rally is over, and fill in some detail on all the countries I have visited. But I have to admit I’m a bit like a kid trying to tell Grandma a story – and then this dog came down the road! And then and he was wearing a hat! And there was this clown! LOL. So bear with me and I’ll give you a small glimpse of some of these amazing countries and then fill in the blanks a little later. Ill also add some pictures later as my words cannot come close to describing the grandeur of these amazing countries. From waterfalls to watermelons, beers to bears, mountains to mosques this is so much fun, but in the limited time I have online I just can’t get it all down! Lucky I have my trusty laptop to take notes.

And on to Turkey!

Just before the Turkish border we found mile after mile of truly shit roads. Insane drivers (as I have mentioned) and really nothing much else to mention. The border into Turkey has armed guards, struggling to stay awake and really is a very simple affair. A couple of hours and a Frisbee is all you need to get by and we amused the locals for a little while as we played. Then it was time to go. The last guard was friendly enough and bored “Long day and no toilets! Welcome to Turkey”.

And onto some of the best roads I have ever seen in my life! Open, wide and perfect. No elephant sized potholes, apparently one of the Rally smartcars may be stuck in a pothole in Germany, but this is just a rumour. We did meet a couple of teams on the way into Turkey and enjoyed the drive up to Istanbul. It appears that Outlet Malls, Water Oasis, Petrol stations and mosques are very much in demand in this country. Apparently the law states you can never be more than 500 meters from any one of these. The water oasis are a godsend and appear as if by mirage at very frequent intervals along the roads throughout Turkey, and almost all petrol stations have free cold water for travellers. Now we had been warned about the water, but drank it without issue from one end of Turkey to the other. Some of them are even guarded, and we have even been stopped by a family or two and guided to them to have some water and a chat. One man showed us how to say goodbye in Turkey, touching his cheeks to ours on both sides. The hospitality of the Turkish people is amazing and they are truly happy to show travellers their home towns and offer us food and water!

Istanbul is a massive city and joins with many others before and after the actual city. This makes up some 60 miles of city! Its big and brash, full of colour, lights, sounds and smells. We travelled to the old section and stayed in a small hotel. Cobblestone narrow streets, shops of all types, beautiful lamps, rugs and clothes. And then a walk around the Blue Mosque, a massive, well lit structure commanding attention in the parkway, tall spires, domed ceilings. The area was alive with people, even at such a late hour, talking, laughing, taking photos, holding hands. The colourful water fountain drawing people to it amongst the water-melon sellers, markets and kids selling bits and pieces. They even had LED flying toys soaring into the air and drifting back to the ground. A common scam is that a couple of guys will befriend you, start telling you about the city and then offer to show you around, then a couple of girls turn up… As soon as this started with me I walked away, and got some water-melon of course. The other guys had some shisha and I went to bed exhausted.

The next day was another walk through the town: bartering with the sellers is fun, you pay about a quarter of what they asked and you know they are still making a massive profit. I bought an Aladdin hat and spinning toy for about $3 all up. The guy were pestered by one charming seller and he eventually conceded to what seemed a great deal. I bet he still came on top! The inside of the Blue Mosque is truly something else. A huge mosaiced ceiling, columns and candlelights. Fairly inspiring to think about when it was actually built. The people must have thought it the most wonderous thing they had ever seen and there truly had to be a god.

But we eventually had to leave and headed from the city onto the motorway. No -one mentioned we needed a pass to go onto the freeway! We went across this massive bridge and came to a sudden stop at the toll gate, blocking traffic for about 20 minutes while we looked to find this pass. Some Swedish ralliers turned up and saved our ass! Letting us use their pass. Thanks guys! 15 minutes later we came to another toll gate and had to get the pass. From here we headed for Safram Bolu, past the biggest roadhouse we had ever seen and into the night. An amazing large shopping centre attached to a petrol station, with over 100 stores! A while later we needed petrol and met Mohammid Ali, offering us food and a drink with him. The people in Turkey have been so welcoming and friendly, marvelling at our journey and our countries, excited by the random meeting of our people in such faraway lands.

Before Safram Bolu was the town of Karabuk, a massive refinery of some sort greeted us on arrival, a huge alien set piece for some forgotten sci-fi movie. Pipes and wires, a million sparkling lights, unknown building holding their secrets. The whole town was lit up: the buildings, streets and even the grass in the parks had green lights. And peppered with dozens of tall green minarets wailing into the night. Even our destination of Safran Bolu was lit up. Ramadan was in full swing and the city shone with a golden crown as yellow lights revealed a circular cliff face around the old city. We camped by a cemetery, amongst other travellers as the golden city slept.

Camel tow?

We had a good look around town and found the ancient Aquaduct with the help of a very friendly local who took us to the turn off, and met another local who let us have a look without paying! Reaching out over a huge ravine, the aquaduct kinked its way across the creek 70 meters below. After a little shopping we made our way to Cappadocia, the incredible spired houses built on the inside of huge sand castles, windows littering the tall mounds, termite like in the darkness and lit up. We stayed the night at the top of the hill looking down and took many shots of the strangest city I have ever seen. A scooter stopped while we sat and a familiar accent asked me the way to Goreme, the Aussie and his girlfriend not sure of the way. We really are everywhere. The next morning we headed to the small markets and met a crazy seller who told us ‘everything free… ramadan… ramadan…. no money”. Classic. Having a bit of a look around, one random camel giving me a bit of a start, and then into some of the carved out homes in the rocks. Up 6 floors into one extremely comfortable room and then we decided to head off for the day. Onto Goreme and the strangely beautiful landscape of sandstone and cliffs, built into them mosques and other buildings. Here we met a bike riding EMT, the bike being his ambulance. Very friendly and curious about our trip and he happily posed for us before we left.

The Turkish roads are pretty much perfect as we headed for Iraq, getting so close to the Syrian border you could see the blackened and burned no-mans land, darkened by fire as if etching the border into the ground. It wasn’t until after this we learned of the recent massacre there. The town of Silopi was our last stop before the Iraq border so we got the best damn pide ever, some fruit and water and headed on. The kids in this town pestered us constantly, asking for food, money and everything they could. The man in the pide shop got pretty pissed at them, and although I couldn’t understand what he was saying it went something like this “Go away, leave these people alone, if you don’t go away Ill throw this fucking glass at you…” and so on…I don’t understand Turkish but i know this is what he said because that’s exactly what he did next. He didn’t actually hit any of them but then chased them down the street. Legend.

Just before the border we were accosted by some more kids who, after giving them some food, wouldn’t leave us alone. So we went on and for $20 was helped through the Turkish side of the border. The scariest thing about the border was the bridge through no-mans land, huge, metal and scary, surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire, and you know what? This was one of the easiest borders to get through: helpful locals inside the immigration area showed us what to do and where to go, another checkpoint and the car was briefly searched, surrounded by locals asking where we were from. “Australia! I have a sister in Melbourne…” And after some hand shaking with the local militia we were through.

This is where we get a little interesting. But I want you to do me a favour. Forget everything you have seen on the news and read in the paper about this country. Just for a second. There is a weird prejudgement you all make when Iraq is mentioned. Where did you get all your information about this country? Its not that easy to hold back on what you think you know? Just give me a chance:

So. Many. Trucks. On coming through the border we were astounded at the number of trucks waiting to cross and also waiting at the petrol stations. It was dusty, hot and hazy. Surreal because of where we were. A high five between me and Josh as we had made it into one of the scariest countries in the world. We were tired and pulled into a petrol station and stopped around back. Straight away we were approached by a short man in huge pants and by his tone we could tell he wanted to know what we were doing. The Mongol Rally pantomime played out and so did his huge smile! We were welcome to stay! The next thing you know there were nearly twenty guys all around us, and after a brief phone call, one who spoke English very well, he did live in the UK of course! These guys all owned the company whose petrol stations, car wash, and hairdressers were huge. We were treated like kings and offered anything we wanted. Their best days would take 1000 trucks as their prices were so much cheaper then Turkey so the trucks lined up and waited for hours. This is about $1000000 a day! We talked football, our countries and our trip til midnight and were considered their guests for the night, thanks to Hussein and the boys. And we had been in this scary country for maybe 30 minutes. 48 degrees today.

In the morning we were given a simple breakfast and some water and ice for our new esky. We said goodbye to our new Iraq corporate sponsors and laughing drove off into Kurdistan, people waving and smiling at our ambulance, extremely happy to meet people from so far away. Even the border guards at the first checkpoint took me into their office to meet everyone and even got me on the phone to someone who asked me a few questions about the trip. Greetings, smiles and handshakes all round I was allowed on my way. What an extraordinary country.

Day 2 was a trip to Amedeh, a cliff-top town a few hours away. The Iraq countryside is dry and dusty, browns and greys, splashed with sometimes green valleys. The dirt track to Amedeh twists and turns through the stone mountain landscape, up and down through valleys, and very lonely. People stopping us to say hi, helping us, and offering food and water. How are these people the bad guys? From here we drove through a lush valley, by a turquoise river that was just too inviting. We stopped by our little paradise and just leapt and played in the water. Cold and refreshing and then a quick lunch. The landscape looked like the giant skeleton of some ancient dragon slumbering, drying in the dusty sun, with peak and plates, jagged in the air. Through these awesome mountain passes we watched the moon rise over a distant observatory and past the waterfall where the top gear boy had some tea.

50 degrees and a swim? I think so!

Now this is one of the best bits of the trip so far: we were stopped at a check point by some Kurdish soldiers, Brown, black and grey uniforms and guns loosely around them, maybe 20km from the border. They took photos and invited us in. More than a dozen armed men, including two generals, gave us tea and offered us their protection for the night. They wore no insignia and only one spoke some English, but after a meal of nectarines and tea we were all having a great time joking about football and other events. Except for the uniforms and guns carelessly laying around, this was just bunch of guys getting to know each other and talking shit. Unbelievable experience having an armed guard walking around your ambulance all night. Slept like a baby.

We said goodbye to our new found friends, offering my card to the general with thanks and an offer for him to come to Australia. His face lit up! We both knew it wouldn’t happen but that’s really not the point is it?

Then we headed for the Iranian Border…

Mongolian Rally from Goodwood to Czech Republic


The next morning we woke to a great day (it wasn’t sunny of course, in the UK if it’s not raining it’s a great day) and were approached by Cameron and Sean, a couple of guys from another team whose Ambulance broke down, to see if they could tag along. Sure! We managed to get some equipment from them as well. Tires and wheel ramps, bits and pieces. Good thing as we didn’t have any spares. And our team is up to 4!! Welcome guys. We share everything! Even the curry.

The Festival of the Slow is the traditional start of the Mongol Rally, a huge event staged at the classic car circuit of Goodwood. This is a real racing circuit and a fitting start to the rally. All the teams, all the vehicles, all the people all in one place for possibly the only time of the rally. Teams would be taking different routes and times for the challenge and we may never see any of these cars and people again.

Over 400 vehicles and easily 3000 people all set up and ready to go on the journey of a lifetime. And we met most on them too! After deciding that 200kilos of food was way too much we decided to just give away over half of it, and became instantly famous. People came from all teams looking for a handout and we got rid of over 120 kilos in about 20 minutes. With the promise of if we see you on the side of the road we will come and help! Thanks to Shana foods for the meet and greet intro! Good to meet up with John and the team too! Aussie guys from where I live! 3 decent sized guys in a Fiat Punto! Hilarious!

There are lots of Aussies doing this trip; even a couple of guys in Smart cars are going to Mongolia and back! The tires are like babies teething ring. Fun to drive though as I was able to take one for a test drive. Excellent fun for them! I love our ambulance though. Its dry, big enough for us to sleep in, and won’t be used as a football by the trucks on the route. Can’t say the same for the, ahem, “Smart” cars. The rally rules are simple: a small car with an engine no bigger than 1200cc or an emergency vehicle. I climbed into a fire truck which was decked out with bunks and looked a bit like a nightclub on the inside. There was also a glasshouse on wheels, a big furry purple car, an American yellow school bus, a host of motorbikes and even a reliant robin. 3 wheels and prone to tipping over. Love it. While comparing Ford Transit Ambulances with a gentleman beside us and of course giving him some rice, we mentioned our lack of spares. He said they had 4 and if needed we could have one! He even showed is that they had one underneath his ambulance. Remember when I said we didn’t have any spares?

I looked under the ambulance.

In the 3 months that we owned it no one had thought to do this.

And there was our spare! I actually hugged the gentleman from the other ambulance!

Thanks to Craig, Karin and Jimmi for bringing down our camping gear and we were ready to go. As a simple act of genius we were able, as a group, to line up on the speedway starting grid and then GO! Do a lap of the circuit before heading out of the grounds and onto our trip! Josh’s line through the apex was flawless! Then off through Hastings (remember 1066?) and off to Dover. Its beaconed cliffs guided us to the ferry. A massive castle stands overlooking the sea and down to the gigantic ferries that will take us from England, onto the European continent and away into the night. Like cruise liners for cars, they took all manner of vehicle, easily accommodating the ambulance, various cars and other vans, and also massive pantech trucks full of gear. The parking bay looking like a parking garage, but this was inside of the ship! And there were more than one level of parking! Inside a ship! The mythological toilets were like finding Atlantis. But the ride was smooth and short.

From here we said goodbye to the UK’s crimson skies and crimson cliffs and travelled in to the night bound for France.

This is Josh’s first time in Europe and his first time driving in Europe, so he took the reins and led us from the Ferry into France. We marveled at Calais by night. Some of it for the history and the pretty lights, but more for the fact that this was actually happening! We had left the UK and were actually doing this. The Mongol Rally was real and we, now four, crazy bastards were off on the most amazing journey.

Our first real stop was in Dunkirk for fuel (91 Euro), but by about 2am we were all pretty tired and needed some sleep. The ambulance had gotten us this far: past the Belgian border and out of France (after conversations like does anybody actually like the French?) and a little detour around Dunkirk, but we just needed a break and about 20 km outside of the beautiful Bruges we found a truckstop, and another team, and camped by the side of the road. Some large foam mattresses became our beds for the night and we slept and dreamt of adventures in faraway places. Well actually… I was so tired I just slept!

Great morning in Belgium. We traveled, again on the wrong side of the road, to Brugge and met up with some other teams and had a chat about routes etc. Some great guys and a walk around the beautiful, feudal town of Bruges. I have actually been here before and showed the boys the sites. The central square and the thousands of people just eating, taking pictures, talking and walking around and just enjoying the summer day. We said goodbye to the other guys and traveled on to Luxembourg.

I have always wanted to go to Luxembourg: no reason that can be defined but more just for the fairytail city and life. The suburbs were so ordinary that we commented on its boring repetitive planning, and wondered at the lack of spectacle. Then we found the center and just gawked at the massive bridges that brings you to its beautiful and architectural home. The city is so beautiful. Old and new just blending so easily. Ill be back here in a few months and will spend some more time and effort on this incredible place. We were on a bit of a mission and needed to get going to make it to Nuremberg tonight.

The Germans really know how to make roads. Huge, straight and safe. No mountain or valley will stop them. They stretch mighty bridges between distant peaks as if holding them in place, high over deep valley and through heavily wooded forests. Clouds cover these bridges wondering at their height and audacity. Thousands of feet to the velvet floors and rivers cruising below. The forests so thick with bough and trunk that sunlight finds it difficult to penetrate their secrets. And little old me and my friends just careening through it in a 20 yo Ambulance. Life is so random sometimes. The motorways give way to so many racing wannabees! Cars of all types absolutely screaming through the days and nights. If they go any faster they’ll travel back in time. Maybe this is the way the roads should be. Let everyone drive as fast as they want to weed out the few who can’t. This is what they are used to and their skills are probably better because of it. We did manage to get the ambo up to 100 miles an hour. We met up with some ralliers in a little yellow car and decided to travel together, but after 2 wrong turns we lost them and just kept on going into the encroaching night.

But in all we then somehow took a wrong turn and eventually decided that between the rain and our lack of navigation skills brought on by our lack of sleep, we had better call it a night. We got all four of us comfortably in the Ambulance because of the rain. We placed one of the mattresses across the front seats! I didn’t sleep well, but more because of the rain than anything. I don’t dream often, but dreamt of something huge falling from the sky and knocking down trees in the distance as we watched on from a distance.

Stretching, yawning, cracking, and groaning we rose into the gorgeous German (even their weather is efficient) morning. Josh thought we were somewhere near some sort of industrial area with a reactor nearby, the night before. But we woke to fresh fields and forest and one of the best days since I had arrived in Europe. We were all hungry and took over driving for the 3 hours to Nuremburg. And then we found a supermarket! Oh the feast of food: fresh bread, fruits and juices, kilbasa, pickles, cheeses. So very good. I used some of the little German I knew to find some things and again was surprised at how accommodating and efficient they were. Unlike the French, the Germans will slip into English if know or find someone that can help.

From all of this I found that it is such a beautiful city, surprisingly open and easy to enjoy. We spent some time cruising the center and enjoying the cobblestoned streets, huge cathedrals and old buildings. Ironically, the apple store provided us with a quick internet fix and we then headed off on the trail of a legendary Czech castle where a mythical party may be held that night!

6 countries in 3 days! UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and now into Czech Republic. What a trip so far. We hit our thousandth mile today and just inside the border purchased our toll ticket for the Czech roads (the woman behind the counter not speaking English, so I told her she was lovely, if not a bit sturdy for my liking). 14 euro gets you the privilege of roaming the Czech motorways. The massive roadside stations are a maze of trucks and cars, people and food, small dogs falling from trucks on their heads and sometimes a serious lack of amenities. Most of them then become what they lack as people just find other ways of reliving themselves. Truck drivers seem not even to remotely care where they go (maybe that’s why some have small, furry dogs?). So many trees so little time.

Before I get to the party let me tell you a little about “Gday”: such an Aussie cliché huh? You know with that one simple word so many people just smile and can’t help enough. It’s an icebreaker and greeting, a call to beer, a door opener, a badge of honour. I get so far with a big goofy smile and a “G’day”.

Driving into the Czech out party was like Goodwood all over again. Unfortunately the Ambulance had been giving us a little trouble and stalled at the top of the hill in the camp grounds and just wouldn’t start. A push got us to our camping area and we just plain forgot about our mechanical problems for the night.Perched high up on the hill overlooking a massive valley, gorgeous 250 degree views of the stunning Czech countryside, we watched the sun slip below the horizon as our fellow ralliers caught up with us. Laughing, backslapping, handshakes, hugs and stories abound. Guys and girls we barely knew greeting us like the long lost and offering beers and smiles. This is what it’s all about: likeminded people with no agenda but to share. Then we headed up to Klenova Castle.

Now Goodwood was good, but this, this was a sight. Walking through the darkened fields you find a dirt road winding up to the massive stone doors of the castle. It’s not huge, buts it’s not exactly small ether. Set over several levels with large courtyards open to Bands and food halls. But it’s a castle! How cool is that!? Unbelievably atmospheric, basically a party and rave in a classic castle. Coloured lighting splashed the old stone walls and statues, dance music from the rave cave, a rock band plays and cranks it up, food and beer flow, laughter and fun all round. Very large local security guards, as stoney as the grounds they gaurd, occasionally crack up at partiers.

What happens in Czech stays in Czech, so you may need to just ask me and I may remember the stories for the night. The last thing I remember was passing out!! Hehe!

Ooh my head. 3 hour sleep and a night like that do not really go together. But I woke to the smell of bacon, and Sean and Cam saved our lives with bacon sandwiches. The simple things, really. Other partiers came over with vitamins and we actually felt great for the little sleep we had had. Then the stories and laughter flowed again as we went through what had happened the night before. Guys and girls waking up with strangers. Grinning like fools and names not being exchanged, grinning like fools and walking away. No not me as I’m married, but you know who you are. Travel plans exchanged and numbers and emails swapped for the future catch ups. A kind of sadness as this is the last real group get together and we really do head our own ways from here on in. We will meet others on the road but not en masse like this. Not until the end and probably not even then. We shook hands and waved our goodbyes. Sirens and horns beeping. The ambulance started up! And we were off!

But it had to happen didn’t it? 20 year old ambulance and 5 days into the trip. We pulled into a petrol station to fuel up (2000 caronor) and our trusty steed just gave it up.

I had had concerns about the alternator charging for the trip. Battery light flashing and voltmeter just not seeming to be keeping a charge. We have 2 new batteries and the garage assured us we would be fine. But it was not to be. Lucky the phone worked and even luckier is that Josh got European emergency cover for the vehicle. A frantic phone call later and we were assured that someone would come to help. Frustrated at myself for not knowing even basic Czech (where’s Bily when you need her?) it was a stretch to even get the garage address and pass it onto the insurance company. But with patience the information go through to them and they were on the way. Again the spirit of the rally prevailed and another team came to help with jumper cables, but that didn’t work. Thanks heaps guys. Then another team gave us a push and we actually got it going again! Woohoo! We were off again! For about 11 km… She just died on us. Absolutely no power.

And no phone service! But another team, another Ambulance picked me up and took me the few km to the next town and I called our insurance again and they were able to send someone out. We were all tired but in good spirits and a picnic on the side of the road of rice and curries filled us up and we joked about the rest of the trip. Even though Sean and Cam’s team mates had caught us up they stayed with us for their journey and will be leaving us in Turkey. The Czech tow truck driver was serious and helpful (and spoke German too. Not helpful) and hoisted our trusty steed to the top of his vehicle and we climbed in and drove to Plzen. At the garage the insurance company organized everything, even a free hotel. We were told our chauffeur had arrived and gathered our things, saying goodbye to our ambo and getting into the small car.

Our driver didn’t speak as he sped for miles and miles, we all looking at each other wondering where the hell he was taking us, until he finally brought us to what looked like a garage workshop. He couldn’t have taken us to a more remote place. No reception just a burly and cranky mechanic letting us in. No food that we can find and no idea! Briliant. It’s all part of the journey. I had jokingly suggested that we were being taken to a hotel owned by the Garage. Oh no sorry the car will be another day, you will have to stay again, 100 euros a night! And here we were in a hotel, near Nyrany, built into a garage. But it wasn’t to be. The insurance covered our room and we had a shower for the first time in 5 days. I didn’t really think I was that dirty and joked to the boys that we possibly didn’t know as we were used to each other by now. But the shower was magnificent as it washed most of what I thought was my tan away into the drain and I was scrubbed pink for the first time in a week.

Tired and clean we simply crashed out and went to sleep hopeful that we would be on our way the following day. A change to our plan and we will head past a few of our planned stops and go through to make up some time. The massive hotel window letting in the stars as I closed my eyes.