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August 25, 2012

Mongolia, part 2

Checkpoint 2, Hoffe

This town is easy to remember because it sounds like Hoth, as in the battle of Hoth in starwars.

The drive there was intense. A huge convoy of cars driving through desert, dirt roads, mountain passes and marsh. Driving up through the mountain pass, I was leading and we passed a family that were training its eagle, so we got out and went over to watch. They werent too good, as the eagle was upside down more often than not…. no joke.

We drove on, crossed a river by driving through it and found more eagle trainers at the top of the mountain. I paid a guy $5 to hold it! Was AWESOME! Eagles are huge and even with a giant glove on you can feel how sharp their claws are.

We drove on and were faced with a proper rally challenges ahead. Rivers. These bad boys are not little streams…. these are river sized bodies of water you have to get your car across. Before each crossing it takes some thougrough investigation and usually Mirza (crazy Danish guy in our convoy) to use his 5 finger shoes to walk around in the rivier finding the best crossing. River crossings are intense and hugely entertaining! Rus and I both did 2 each.

A few more hours of driving and we were in Hoffe. Rus and I got pulled over by the police because our front number plate had fallen off. (Our car literally seems to be built like a tank, however it does seem to unscrew itself while we drive.) The police took Rus’s license and wondered around trying to work out how they could make some money from us. We got bored of their faffing to grabbed the license back and drove off. They didn’t follow.

With the sheer amount of Ralliers staying in the town, finding a hotel or campsite was tricky. The convoy had to split up. I found one hotel that had 2 rooms available but allowed people to sleep on the floor, so I booked a few teams into the hotel and we quickly washed in lovely cold water and headed off to the other hotel for food.

Our convoy is fantastic, you literally couldn’t ask for a bunch of better people. Every meal, pit stop, drive, round of beer with these guys is hugely enjoyable and heart warming, theres such a high level of comradship the convoy has very quickly become a family.

After the meal we were all a little tipsy and the party crew was ready to see what this town had to offer after midnight. We all pilled in our car with Rus drink driving and Dave sitting outside on the window. We drove around for a bit to find a couple of clubs closed and then we reversed into a pole.

We drove to the main square to see if locals hung out there. We didn’t find any party people there but we did meet a coin collector and police who told us to stop drinking… which we did. The party crew knows how to party hard! So we drove back to the hotels and slept.

The WW2 Nazi Motorbike

In the morning we headed over to the other hotel for breakfast and to find out where we could buy a motorbike. A few of us wanted to chip in some money and buy a motorbike we could take turns in riding. Tom and a few others headed off to the market to buy one and we finished up our breakfast. We joined them moments later to find them revving a WW2 Nazi motorbike complete with sidecar. Genius! I chipped in my $100 and we were good to go!

We reckon the next checkpoint is a 2 day drive, so we all fuelled up and hit the road. Most of the drive was to be desert with no petrol stations.

The motorbike was holding up well and looked tonnes of fun to drive. We stopped an hour down the road and swapped drivers and passenger on the bike. I got to ride shotgun while Harris drove the motorbike at high speeds skidding across the desert. What a laugh!

When my turn came to ride the motorbike, we pulled over and Harris stalled it. This is where the problems began. The convoy had driven on, under my instruction “we’re fine guys, just stalled it.. we’ll catch up”. Only 1 car stayed with us as they were next to drive the bike.

As the bike wouldn’t start we decided to try bump starting it, by running down the desert road with it whilst I tried to get it going. No joy!

We saw a car coming out way, so we flagged it down. Everyone in Mongolia seems to be a basic mechanic, so we put our hopes in the local to fix it. He diagnosed the problem and fixed it in 20 minutes by taking apart the engine and using some galvanised wire he had in his truck. Legend. I paid around $15 for his time and we were on our way again!

Driving it was epic. Over sand dunes, across desert road, weaving around… such good fun…. for about 20 minutes. Then the bike started loosing power. I was shifting down gears, trying to up the rev count…. nothing was working. The engine was over heating and leaking oil everywhere. The bike slowly ground to a halt. We had to be towed for about an hour until we found a roadside mechanic.

The mechanic spent about an hour looking at the bike trying to fix it. But nothing was working. We were loosing time and needed to catch up with the convoy so we tried selling them the bike for $200. A bargain considering we’d paid $350 for it! However they refused and said it wasnt even worth $200!

We heard word that a couple of convoy cars were coming to pick us up, so we drove down the road being towed to meet them. Rus and Marko had come to our rescue. However Rus had managed to hit enough pot holes or rocks to damage 3 of our rims, thus even with fitting out spare we were driving on a flat tyre for the next 200km. Throughout this trip we’ve learnt that he likes pot holes! We left the motorbike on the side of the road and continued our journey. Rest in peace your piece of shit WW2 nazi bike. No wonder they lost the war.

While we were getting the bike looked at, we lost a car in our convoy.
Our Aussie team had broken their front shocks and suspension and decided to call it quits. They drove very carefully back to the first checkpoint where they’d hand in the car and bus to Ulaanbataar. Sad times.

We met up with the others and kept on driving. Later on while going through the Gobi desert we hit a sandstorm. A proper desert sandstorm, it was so hard to see so we pushed on slowly. Ahead we saw some hazard lights and turns out Pip and James had driven into a sand ditch and needed to get towed out. Luckily within a few minutes a lorry came by and very quickly pulled them out. Walking around in the sandstorm was quite an experience!

We were 4 hours behind schedule but still managed to reach a small village by nightfall. We found a “hotel” with enough beds for only $7 a night. We stayed there, about 20 of us and the members of our convoy took over their dining room and I cooked a massive vat of epic pasta for our convoy. It was delicious. We stayed there drinking beer and toasted to our fallen comrades. An absolutely fantastic night, we sat around joking and bantering until the early hours again.

An early start again and we headed off.

Rus had managed to hammer one of our rims practically back into place so at least we had 4 working tyres for our journey… but no spare!

I napped in the car and woke about 30mins later to find we were lost in the middle of nowhere and our car had got another puncture. We were screwed. Luckily Marko, Harris, Tom and Dave were kind enough to take our tyres and drive 30minutes back into town to get them fixed and return an hour later with new tyres. We were good to go! What a convoy :)

Off we drove for another few hours going through more desert. I hopped in Tom and Daves’ car and sped off through the desert with them to reach the next town before the others so they could sort out their tyre situation while I got us into a hotel…. well that was the plan.

The roads in Mongolia aren’t really roads, they’re a series of desert tracks winding and weaving over each other, so it’s very easy to get lost. An hour later we found we were off course, but according to the map could join up with the road within 30mins.

However, Tom hit a major sand bank earlier and broke his front suspension, so we could only average 15mph.

We saw a Mongol Rally car pass us when we stopped doing about 20mph. It was the Indians! We’d seen these guys a few times before, driving so incredibly slowly they’d pass us when we stopped and we’d over take further down the road. They always maintained a 20mph speed, but each time we’d pass,we’d see them all (including driver) with beers in their hands, looking happy as… waving at us. Always cracked us up.

We carried on driving and over took the Indians, again with beers in hand, waving.

After about 20mins our road got smaller and smaller until it just ended. In the middle of the bloody desert. We knew the main road was 5km north of our position, so we aimed our car north and kept on driving off road. We soon hit a small pit stop area with a shop and a couple gurrs surrounding it. So we tried to buy juice and chocolate with our limited cash. Within minutes the entire convoy entered the shop! We had support!

From there the whole convoy kept up a slow 20mph so everyone could roll together.

We were aiming to hit the 3rd checkpoint by nightfall, however it was getting dark and our surroundings didn’t match the map. Tom’s car was now completely fucked. It wouldn’t even start, so the Danish team were towing them.

As the convoy was moving slowly, we volunteered to blitz ahead and sort out a hotel for when the convoy arrived in the town. About an hour down the road, I was still convinced we were completely off course. I got out the compass and used only a few mountains as landmarks, a map and our compass to work out our position. We then flagged down a local in a land cruiser to confirm our position. We were 40km south of where we should be and on a road that is 100km longer. That’s a good 4 hours off course.

We stopped and waited for the others. We saw a car in the distance heading our way, but taking FOREVER to reach us. When it got to us, we found out it was the Indians! These guys are hilarious, they had no idea we were off course either, so decided to hang with us for a bit.

By the time the others arrived we told them we were off course. “No we’e not.. look… we’re on google maps.. this is our location”. A bit more explaining and we were all in agreement. There was no way we’d hit the city by evening, we had abother 6-7 hours of driving.

We drove further down the road until we were stopped by a river. We met another rally team who were parked up watching The Office in the back of their car. They told us the river is not crossable unless towed by a tractor…. which costs $15 and isn’t running until morning.

So we camped for the night.

The following morning we all hit the river, before we got towed, we needed to make modifications to our car to stop water screwing it up. Nothing my newly learnt mechanical skills, a couple condoms, a plastic bag and some duct tape can’t solve! We were good to go. Getting towed was pretty intense, water was coming into the car from our broken door, coming up to window level….
insane!

We got to the other side reattached everything and we were golden….. We drove on for a bit and had another river crossing, it was pretty deep but this time we had no tractor. We worked out the best route through and we floored it. All cars except Marko and Harris made it. They ended up stuck in the middle of a running river, we had to very quickly get a passing local to tow them in their land cruiser.

When we stopped, we saw the scale of the damage… their car was screwed inside was flooded and their engine was filled with water. Tom, being a hobbiest mechanic came to their aid and sorted out their car. Our car was a little screwed too, water had got into the air filter and thus our engine. I took apart the air filter, dried it and did various tricks to sort out the car and get it in tip top shape again. Result!

A few minutes down the road I noticed we were loosing fuel at a unnerving rate. Apon investigation I found we had a pretty bad leak. We reckon we got the leak the evening before, but dirt had blocked most of it up….. then with the river crossing, washed it all away.

We had to be towed. Our car wasn’t going to be driveable. Marko and Harris were kind enough to tow us 100km to the town.

When we got to the town we hit the offical Mongol Rally mechanics. As it turns out these guys are a bunch of monkeys, so clue what’s going on and if they see even a butterfly their attention is lost and they wonder off.

I wasn’t going to sit around faffing, so we just pushed our car into their building and over a inspection pit. I jumped down with a rag, screw driver and exhaust sealent and gasket glue. I managed to pretty much repair the leak but in the mean time Rus had found a better mechanic round the corner. So we headed off there to get it properly looked at.

To cut a long story short, this mechanic was a nut case. He propped cars up with rocks he found lying around and then climbed under it…. after they’d collapsed twice already!

The petrol tank welding job

He then told us he’ll fix our petrol tank by welding…. in the UK you’d have to empty and air out your tank for days before you could weld it. This guy figured he’d leave some petrol in it….. hold a burning rag in an opening and burn the fumes as he welded it. I held the burning rag while he welded, only to have what can only be described as a jet engine explosion come out of the petrol tank and burn all the hairs off my hand. The trick was to keep the fumes alight. If they went out, one of the mechanics would scream and the welding guy would stop instantly. I wasn’t convinced this was safe. Being the smart guy that I am… I swapped with Rus. Rus held the burning rag and I held a piece of wood over the rubber tubes to stop them burning. The whole process was hilariously dangerous, every now and then there would be another jet engine burst of flames come out…. one time it even set the ground alight which we had to cover in dirt to put out!

A couple of hours later we drove our car out, straight to a restaurant where we met the others, who were kind enough to already have ordered us food and checked us into a hotel! Legends!

We stayed up in the hotel in a open area in the hallway partying it up with the convoy until we were sent to our rooms for being too noisy.

Toms’ car as it turns out it not fixable, so the next morning they had to organise a truck to tow them to the finish line where we’ll meet them and and tow them across, so we can all cross together.

Next stop, the finish line at Ulaanbaatar!

August 24, 2012

Mongolia, Part 1

The Mongolian border compound.

Because we’re importing cars into the country we had big fees we needed to pay. Luckily the company organising the Mongol Rally covers it… however it takes up to 36 hours to wire the money, so the border sets up essentially a refugee compound for the ralliers to stay in while they wait for the money. It’s essentially a concrete compound, that gets robbed my locals when everyones asleep. Anyone caught taking pictures was forced to delete them, so I’ve only got this one crappy picture… but you get the idea.

We stayed in the compound for a night as we arrived quite late and our paper work hadnt even been started. The evening was pretty wicked, there werent many other cars outside of our convoy, so we all sat around eating, drinking and freezing our nuts off for hours. Rus decided to stay up even later and do shots of vodka with the crazy kiwi guy, Tom and then decided to sleep OUTSIDE in nothing but a survival blanket and a sleeping bag…. no tent or anything. Hardcore.

The following morning Rus had what we suspect to be alchol poisoning and was in pretty bad shape for the whole day. So spent the day recovering in the car.

We were hoping to get out of the compound today, but more and more cars turned up. Some cars managed to get through within hours by just bribing the officals, one team payed $500 to leave in a couple of hours.

We were all growing impatient so a few of us went to investigate the paper work. We don’t think the guy operating the computer had used one before. A constant look of confusion followed by one finger typing at a incredibly slow pace. Painful to watch. Some people told him to move and filled out the information themselvs. Trying to understand Mongolian and fill out the computer was quicker than this idiot typing. While he was distracted others rearranged the pilce of passports so our convoy would get out first. We’re so badass.

Whle this was happening, Tom was dealing with his hangover by building a kite.

It became obvious we were going to be here another night. Earlier in the day we’d arranged with the local hustlers that if we were still around at 7pm, we wanted them to bring us a goat for $100. Which they did. Only a select few then got to go slaughter it and get it prepared so it could feed 20 people. So our small group headed off to this locals house to kill and gut it. Peter, a awesome aussie guy was our convoy had the honour of slaughtering it. Afterwards we went inside where we watched this guy skin, gut and chop up the goat. I must say it was very interesting seeing it all happen. Peter was handed the goat testicles and told not to let them go, as he’d be eating them later. Whoever kills the animal has to eat the testicles, as it’s good for your virility…… or so we were told. You have to remember all communication we have with locals is hand gestures and body language… so a lot can be lost is translation!

When the goat was prepared we then payed a local family to cook it for us and we’d pick it up at 10pm.

Back at the compound people had started the night off by cracking open a few beers, about the same time the border closed the compound gates. So getting the couldron of cooked goat back in may be a problem. An hour later, Tom, Dave and I headed out to check up on the goat and buy some beer. So we hopped the fence and headed to the shop where we met the local hustlers. We bought some beer and the hustlers stole some from the shop. We headed round the corner and had a beer and smoke with them in secret away from the shop. We joked around and were invited back to their house again for tea and to check on the goat. The tea was served with huge amounts of goats milk, but was lovely. In the house the owner showed us his AK47 varient and told us he shoots wolfs with it. After much haggling we agreed on $20 so we could each fire it! He eagerly went off to buy or steal some ammunition from a local. When he returned we marched on the out skirts of the village and took turns in shooting it. WOW! I’ve always wanted to fire an assault rifle and it was epic.

After the shooting we went to collect the vat of goat stew, which we carried back to the compound and had 6 people help lift it over the fence with zero spillages. Those who had chipped in for the goat all gathered round and tucked in. It was absolutely delicious and boiling hot, excactly what we needed in freezing cold tempreatures.

The following morning before lunch our convoy was let loose! We were free and quickly hit the road to make it to the first check point by night. There are 5 check points throughout Mongolia to the finish line, each just under a days drive. There you can leave your car, or get it fixed by a recommended mechanic.

Checkpoint 1, Ollgii

On the way into Ollgii, Harris decided to drive too fast down the dirt road and crash into a fellow convoy teams car. Smooth Harris. We did some make-shift on the stop repairs and everyone was good to go.

The landscape of Mongolia is pretty much like Lord of the Rings.

Arriving in Ollgii we found an Irish bar, so we were hoping from some wicked Irish stew. However, despite handing us a menu full of what is probably delicious food written in Mongolian we found only 2 things were available. This is to become the norm of Mongolia, restaurants only have a couple dishes you can actually order. We ordered by just doing a eating gesture and saying how many we wanted which is what we do when the menu isn’t in English… which it barely is.

After food we checked into a local Gurr tent camp where they had wifi and hot showers and huge Mongolian gurrs for sleep in. Was an experience!

The evening we headed out to a Turkisk restaurant and had a hue feast just minutes before closing. Afterwards and party crew, Tom, Dave, Rus and I headed out to find a bar or club that was open. The Irish bar was just round the corner so we headed there and we partied hard with a beer and being the only people in there.

We left and walked the streets trying to find somewhere open, everywhere was closed as it was gone midnight. Back to the Gurr camp for an early night then!

In the morning the convoy headed off for the second checkpoint.

August 24, 2012

Russia, part 2

The people who stayed at Almaty met up at a campsite before we entered Russia. This has now become our convoy and we’ve got some wicked people in it.

Leaving khasakstan we only had 2 police stops. The deal now with police stops is if one car gets pulled over, everyone stops. It becomes a massive cluster fuck for the police and they soon let us go. However, one of the stops a police man gave us a beer, let us wear his hat and take pictures…. then we left! The second police stop, they demanded to see everyones car registration and passports, but as everyone got out their car we had about 20 people all walking around asking the police man different things and following him everywhere he went. We then tried to fit all 20 into his very small office on the side of the road…. within minutes he was telling us all to leave! Simple :)

Entering Russia we had a long drive ahead. To reach mongolia we had to have an overnight stay in Russia. We spent a few hours driving to Barnaul city as we heard it had a fiat and skoda dealer there, which 2 teams of the convoy needed. Whilst they were getting their car fixed Rus and I headed off to the super market to stock up on epic camping food for Mongolia.

Later the entire convoy checked into a rather nice hotel. Hot water, wifi, double beds…. luxury!

Evening we headed off to a restaurant and all enjoyed some proper hot good tasting food. At this point in the rally, anything hot with flavour has become a godsend.

After the meal a few of us were up for hitting the town, it was just about midnight and again we heard this place shuts down after 12, except for strip clubs.

So a few of us headed off there to have a few beers. All I’ll say is, if English strip clubs are a 3 out of 10…. Russian ones are a 11!

The following day Team Convoy waited for a members car to be fixed before we all headed out. Never leave a man behind! We drove for several hours in formation right until sunset. The scenery was outstanding…. if you’ve played Oblivion, it was literally like driving round there. Awesome, water falls, lush green mountains, rivers, canyons… beautiful. We found our best campsite so far, right next to a river, surrounded by trees and a small green field. Several people washed in the river and evening used its fresh river water for cooking. We had a fire and the entire convoy enjoyed beer, meat and good banter until the early hours.

The next day we were only a few hours drive from the border, so we just made a beeline straight there.

August 12, 2012

Kasakhstan, part 2

Seeing as Rus and I stumbled in around 5am in the morning, we had very little sleep. We woke up around 9:30am still drunk, dehydrated and sleep deprived. We felt horrible.

However we had to force ourselves to drive. We met up with the others at around 11am and started our journey. Rus got the short straw and had the first driving shift and I tried my hardest to nap in the car so I was ready for my turn.

Further down the road we got pulled over by the police for not having our headlights on. Rus had to go speak to the police officer whilst still feeling the effects of the previous night. Luckily managed to compose himself and go unnoticed!

The drive was better this time, we hit the “red roads” which are complete tarmac and actual roads, so we managed to cruise 300k easy in the day, heading for the space port. We’re now about 1/4 of our way through Kazakhstan now.

We headed for the Aral sea to look at the famous ship graveyard.

Randomly when we stopped for petrol a guy came over to talk to us and ended up giving an entire bit of horse meat and 6 litre bottles of camels milk…. Camels milk is rough! Very sour and bizarre… I’m not a fan. The horse meat he gave us was huge. About ½ a metre of this thick thick horse meat sausage encased in horse intestine…. shoved in a plastic bag.

We got the town Aral by nightfall so drove through it and found a good camping spot. It took two attempts as the first one seemed to be some kind of unofficial graveyard. I nearly fell into what appeared to be a freshly dug, empty grave in the middle of no where, with a tonne of empty beer cans next to it. I can only assume these were the beers of the people digging it.

We drove on again and 10 minutes later we found a better spot. We setup camp and enjoyed the horse meat with spaghetti and a tomato puree sauce that we mixed together. It was absolutely lovely, THANK YOU RANDOM PETROL STATION MAN!

The next morning we head off around 11am and make our way to find the ship graveyard. Literally 2 hours of driving around without a sign post asking local after local where it was. No one knew, or had no idea what we were saying. Unfortunately we had to give up our search for the ship graveyard and just make our way to the space station which was only a couple hours drive away.

We arrive at the space station and wanted to find out when the next launch was. So we headed up to the border to talk to the guards assuming they’d know. The space station is Russian owned and theres a little town near by which is Russian owned too. The guards were great, we joked around and chatted with them for around 30 minutes whilst they told us there was a launch planned and told us how to go about getting into the space station to see it close up.

We followed there advice and headed for the Russian city, hoping we’d be able to get in with our current Visa’s. Harris went to investigate and turned out we needed permission from Moscow to enter which takes 2 days. By coincidence at the border Harris met a van full of Russian space center managers who are managing this particular launch. They offered to show us a hotel and drive us to the best place to see the launch.

We got to the hotel checked in, bought all the Russians beers and we drove out to the view point… which turned out to be right in front of the station gates where the guards were. The guards saw us coming up again and were laughing at the sight of our cars again.

We all got out and had a chat with them for about 30 minutes whilst drinking our beers. They told us what they did at the center and about the contents of the rocket etc We got them to sign our cars and they took our numbers to visit us in future. We asked if there were any jobs going at the space center but sadly there isnt :(

We drove back to the hotel and spent the night on their balcony sipping cold beers, smoking luxury greek cigarettes and star gazing.

The following day we got up, had breakfast and then had a long wait until the launch. The launch was at 1:30am in the evening, so we had to spend the entire day at the hotel. It’s a family run hotel and we were the only guests, so we spent it hanging out in the communal area, chatting with the family and their friends, drinking ice tea, sharing pictures, getting free food, singing kareoke, teaching fire/glow spinning and Harris drove their JCB around the road. Tourists aren’t very common in the places we’re going, so we very quickly become celebrities.

At midnight we headed off to the launch view point. The launch was at 1:30am so we had time to set up cameras, drink some beers and relax. The launch was AWESOME. We saw this huge fire ball fire up into the sky pretty fast. It then headed off diagonally and jettisoned its boosters and reach orbit. We then watched it for a few minutes as it got smaller and smaller until it was the size of any other star and watched it fly across the sky through space. We were about 30-40km away from the launch pad, so the sound was out of sync! It was only 10 seconds or so into the launch we could begin to hear the huge rumble of the rocket. The whole experience was amazing. SPACE ROCKET LAUNCH!

After this we hit the road. We wanted to reach Almaty and figured we’d just drive until we got there, however at about 4am we were tired and had another 4-5 hours of driving to go. We found a nice camp spot in a countryside area used as a dumping ground and setup camp. I’ve now taken to sleeping in the car as its more cmpfy then sleeping on the ground without an inflatable matress…. which I seemed to be the only one on this trip without one.

In the morning the Harris and Marko managed to drive their car into a bog, so I had to use our tow rope to pull them out.

A good few hours into our journey the following day and after a few police stops we bumped into another convoy of 3 cars so we teamed up with them. By the evening we’d reached Almaty and checked into a hotel… by this time there were about 9 cars and 20+ ralliers staying at this hotel.

We all met up in the lobby at 9:30pm to go eat together, one of the guys had found this American resturant about a 30minute walk from the Hotel and given our current diet of petrol station crisps and tinned sardines we figured a huge juicy burger was in order! The resturant even did freshly juiced juice! I had 2 different types of juice and a beer! Was awesome. Freshly juiced juice!

At the resturant one of the guys spoke to a russian local who recommended this club called Esperenza, so we handful of us headed there after. However we couldn’t get in because majority of the guys had flip flops on. We sat in the resturant opposite for a while, had a few cocktails and a shisha, afterwards only a few of us headed off to hit another club next door that would allow us in. Turned out to be a club / strip club, so we hung out in the strip club area for a bit with some beers and then headed home!

The next day I didn’t really do much, as we’d blown out a tyre the previous day I took the car to a garage to get it sorted which took most of the day but we did manage to get 2 new tyres put on. Hopefully enough for mongolia.

The evening was the most fun, we first headed off on a 40 minute walk to an Irish bar where us and 2 hookers seemed to be the only clientelle. The sex industry is huge in Almaty… Appanretly even the majority of girls who arent prostitutes charge guys for sex (just because they can), it’s insane.

I had the most amazing beef stir fry ever and the rest of the crew (about 24 of us) drank the bar dry! Despite me deciding I wasn’t drinking that night, the entire team drank so much the bar gave us 4 free pizzas as a thank you for spending so much money.

A few of the guys were keen on hitting the club we mentioned we visited last night, so after eating we flagged down a random guys car and paid him 400T to take us to the club. In khasakstan every car can be a taxi you just tell them a price and destination and if they’re willing they’ll take you.

At the club Rus and a new convoy kiwi guy called Tom headed off to explore, they came back telling us we were in completely the wrong room. They’d found this fire exit like door which lead down a corridor into the club next door which we were refused entry for because we had trainers on! Result!

Walking into this club was angelic. I could hear the harps and angels singing as I walked through the door. Roughly around 150 of totally hot khasakstan girls and around 20 of the biggest pussy guys circling around. We got ourselfs a table area upstairs and watched the club podiam dancers.

Word had got round what the cooler part of my occupation was, so I ended up giving some of our guys some quick pointers before we all hit the dance floor. With the complete lack of alpha traits in every khasakstan guys, we completely OWNED the entire club.

All I’ll say is… EPIC NIGHT!

How this country has gone from Gengis Khan to how insanely weak these guys are around women is mind blowing.

The following morning everyone was pretty hungover, except for me! We had to wait for our passports to be returned so the convoy headed off without us, but given the speed I drive we caught up soon after. The evening we found a wicked campsite just past a national reserve and chilled out with an epically huge fire. Not long now and we’re out of khasakstan!!

August 12, 2012

Kasahkstan, part 1

To set the tone…. KASAHKSTAN IS AWESOME!! People are beyond helpful and quality people. The roads are a joke… but driving them is so fun! Food is simple but very tasty!

We made it past the border at night fall, so the following drive was very interesting in near total darkness.

The roads in kasakhstan are horrible, in particular the one immediately following the border. Pot holes everywhere, huge gaps in tarmac, its insane. So we had a very bumpy slow drive for about an hour down this road until we met up with the other ralliers who put their hazards on so we could see them. They guided us off the road to the campsite they’d set up.

We had a fire, ate some food and sat around chit chatting whilst swatting away mozzies. They had decided to camp next to a swampy river… so plenty of bugs! I even had to brush off a tick from my leg… luckily I had my tick vaccinations!

The next morning we got an early start and headed to get petrol. Half of the convoy we were now in were anti social and left, so we were left with Harris & Marco and a car with 2 quality american guys. We convoyed up and drove off to our first destination.

The driving on our first day was hilarious. Again the roads are insane, pot holes, desert, off roading and no road etc Camels roam wild around the country and often you see them crossing the “road” or sitting by the side.

When we hit the desert the driving got insanely fun. We did some high speed stunt driving, skids, races and drove with extreme skill down a desert road with all our mirrors touching. We even drove at high speed with one of the american guys on our roof! Was SO MUCH FUN! This driving session was by far one of the highlights of this entire trip.

Rus did some desert driving too which he enjoyed, although perhaps a little too hardcore for a newbie as he did manage to crash through a sand dune and land the car in another one. After this incident we swapped driving!

After the awesome driving I continued to drive through the desert roads. Marco and Harris stopped every now and then to chase after camels.

This country is SO HOT its ridiculous. The amount of water we’re consuming is mad, every few minutes you need to take another sip to stay hydrated. The americans we met with had a cooler in their car so we had cold water, as opposed to hot water we were drinking! If I did the rally again 2 things I would 100% get would be…. a water cooler…. and a battery powered air conditioner. Have I said how HOT IT IS HERE!?

By night fall we’d covered ½ the distance we wanted as the roads were such a nightmare. So we pulled up and camped in the middle of nowhere for a night. Got a fire going, cooked some food, drank some beer and chilled out looking up at the awesome sky. Stars were epic, looking forward to seeing the sky when the moon is hidden.

The following day we got off to an early start and continued our drive to Aqtobe. The day didn’t start so great as we were pulled over by the police for not having headlights on. We joked with them for a bit and gave them a football as a gift and played frisbe with them. They then stole our frisbe, we got in a sulk and drove off. Fuckers.

Rus did some desert driving again and absolutely blitzed it over the pot holes at about 60mph. Scary! We then managed to start jack-knifing at high speeds about to career off the side of the road. I jumped for the steering wheel and tried to control the car to reduce the effects of the jack-knifing whilst shouting “BRAKE! BRAKE! BRAKE!” The car came to a stop just a metre off the road down a bank. Luckily where we came off there was a clear path down off road where we could rejoin the road again. Scary though, we were both a little shaken. Rus reduced his speed afterwards ;)

The americans seemed to be lagging behind a little bit, as we really wanted to crack on.

Later on in the day we had yet another crash! We were off roading down this “path” to avoid the pot holed main road… and it split into two roads with a huge mound of dirt in the center. We were on the wrong side and our side came to an end! So we had to do a U turn and drive or ages or find a nice way through the mound.

I pointed out a section that was smaller than the rest which we could of potentially got through. We turned around and headed for the section. Rus had a better idea! “I know! I’ll speed up and just drive THROUGH the mound at its HIGHEST POINT!!!” is what he must have been thinking!

When we got wedged in the mound and couldn’t get out, we tried digging and everything… nothing worked. Luckily we had a tow rope and Rus signalled down a truck driving past. The truck driver signalled he’d do it for money, so we hooked up the row rope and we were FREE! Cost us 800T which equates to only £5! Bargain.

We swapped driving again. About an hour later one of our tyres blew. No surprise given the amount of abuse we’d given them, so I had to stop to change the tyre again.

The Americans managed to catch up with us but told us not to wait for them, so we drove on and headed off. Not to see them again, which was a shame as they were top people.

The evening we made it to Aktobe. We freshened up and headed out for dinner. Dinner we met some travelling bikers and some other rallies staying at the same hotel. We chilled with them for a bit, then a couple of Russian and kasakhstan travel writers came and joined us and bought us rounds of shits of vodka. What a great bunch of people, very interesting to talk to, the kasakhstan journalist must have been a sports writer and he knew virtually every single football team and their recent scores!

Sadly we had to leave them as Rus and Marko had scored a date with three kasakhstan girls for later in the night at a club! Result.

Rus went off to another bar near by where we’d meet him. Marco, Harris and I said goodbye to the quality journalists we met and headed to the bar. We couldn’t find it, so I ran over to 3 very hot kasakhstan girls dressed for a night out and asked them where a bar was. After a few minutes they decided they’d take us clubbing. They told us we need to get 2 taxis. So I assumed a couple girls would go ahead and another would take us in a following taxi.

A taxi pulled up and I was literally pushed and bundled into this taxi wedged in the back in between the 3 girls. I very quickly phoned Marco and told them where we were going and they, along with Rus who joined managed to find the club later. For a second I thought I might have been kidnapped… but they turned out to be lovely.

When we all got into the club, we ordered some drinks and started some epic dancing. In khasakstan however, clubbing is very different. You cannot approach random girls in a club and touching is a massive taboo. You simply cannot touch girls when dancing etc until you’re officially dating. Sex is a complete only if you’re married situation.

When I was dancing with the girls, because I was breaking virtually every cultural boundary in the club I was getting a lot of harsh looks and being purposely bumped into by several guys in the club.

After a good couple hours of awesome illegal dancing, we decided to leave. I told the girls we were heading back to the hotel, but they insisted they come with us, so we decided to have a quick drink at a restaurant open late before hand.

Outside the club we hung out with the bouncers for a bit and everyone in the club kept telling me “you lots of girl, you crazy” and singing “sexy and I know it” to me, along with lots of hand shakes. I think my behaviour was obviously new to them.

I even played rock-paper-scissors with one of the girls brother for who she would go home with. I lost!

We headed off to the restaurant in a taxi, Rus, Marco and Harris headed home. The girls bought with them one of their brothers and another male chaperone who sat silent the entire evening starring me out. Bring it on bitch…. I know Krav.

The girls ordered a round of drinks and food for everyone, so we drank and feasted until about 3am, then Rus joined us. At 5am most of the group had left except for Rus’s girl, my girl and that random silent dude. So we walked back to the hotel. Rus walked on one side followed by creepy silent guy and I walked on the other side of the road with my one.

She told me how different it is in khasakstan when it comes to dating etc and that she’d only kissed one boy in her entire life…. and she was 19!

The idea was she’d come to the hotel to “have english culture”. We got to the hotel and there were some guys outside, she saw them and decided to head home. If other people are watching, it’s a major issue for the girls… which was apparent through the entire night and walk back, as she was constantly on the look out and broke contact whenever someone was near by. Such a strict and different culture it’s insane.

Still they said they had the best night of their lifes, we have their emails and will keep in touch. They were lovely :)

August 12, 2012

Dealing with Russian Police

Everyone in Russia is insanely helpful and they are generally an awesome bunch of people…. except the Russian police. To them you are there way of getting a quick buck. You’re literally a walking ATM machine and they’ll inconvenience you in any way possible to get your money. So corrupt and very unpleasant people.

Their tactics:

  • Intimidation
  • Holding driving license hostage until you pay
  • Holding you/driver hostage until you pay
  • Playing the waiting game. They have all day to get money from you, they will make you wait hours until you pay.

Our tactics:

  • Play the stupid tourist.
  • Saying “I don’t understand. English? English?” several times.
  • Bring out a unhelpful Russian phrasebook after 10 minutes, to give the illusion you’re desperately trying to be helpful / understand.
  • Having a wallet full of forgien currency but no dollars or russian money
  • Keeping a very very small amount of Russian money in our wallet…. rest was hidden around the car.

Our routine

We had a whole routine to deal with police. Fortunately none of the police we encountered spoke english, so we used the language barrier to our advantage as much we could.

I’d get our car and go over and speak to them, I’d play the dumb tourist routine for about 10-15 minutes, constantly saying I didn’t understand and talking / hand gesturing about our holiday. Then a wing-man would come over and bring a russian phrase book and we’d flick through that for 10 minutes until the police realised it wasn’t helpful. Then when they asked for money I’d be sure to open my wallet infront of him, showing him nothing but small notes in foreign currency of all the countries I’d visited and offering him some forgien money and make up some bullshit about it being worth way more dollars than it was. When they see we’re trying to be really helpful we’re more believable when he claim to have no money. Once the police see no money, they’ll let you go.

My advice:

  • If you have rubels or dollars on you, hide them under the car mat or in the car ash tray.
  • Have lots of small foreign currency in your wallet
  • Keep 300 rubels in a backup wallet incase they still won’t let you go
  • Play dumb. We got off a lot of bribes by pretending we had no idea what we’d done / what was happening.
  • Have a few scanned, laminated copies of your driving your license to give to police. They won’t know its fake and if they turn their backs or go for lunch you can drive off and not worry about having no license.

Remember if you’re travelling through Russia, make sure you add on several hours on your journey to take into account police stops.

August 12, 2012

Russia

When we were at the border getting “checked in” to Russia, we knew we were entering an area marked red “DO NOT GO” by the UK. We told the Russian border guards where we were going and they said, “drive straight to hotel. You stay in hotel. Very dangerous”. We drove straight to a hostel with the other guys and met a whole bunch of other rallies. On the way when we stopped by the side of the road to meet other people, a car pulled up and a guy got out and told us he’d drive and show us the way to a hotel…… aren’t Russians supposed to be harsh?! Our first taste of Russian hospitality.

The guys in the hostel took 30-40 minutes faffing around trying to get booked in, so us and our convoy car headed off to another hotel. We got there and as we were unloading our bags to get checked in we could hear machine gun fire on the other side of the river. We got in around 1am but managed to get some beers and dinner from the hotel restaurant. With Wifi!!!

In the morning we got an early start and headed off to try reach the khasakstan border by night fall.

This is where the fun began. Very shortly down the road we got flagged down by a Russian police man. We’ve heard stories about this and know they’re after bribes and if you’re a tourist, you’re a walking ATM machine.

My plan was play dumb stupid tourist. So I got out and spoke to him, he gave me some bullshit about crossing the line in the road and took my license. The whole time I kept my “duuuurrrr” look and said “I don’t understand… English? English?”. He said I wasn’t getting my license back if I gave him money. I told him, “No. I need it for Khasakstan” and stared at him a little. I had no Russian money on me, and I’d hidden my $100 emergency note. So I opened my wallet and offered him a whole bunch of very small forgien currency. He sighed, gave me my license back and told me to go.

Further down the road, we got pulled over again. Similar routine.

An hour later we got pulled over again….. similar routine. Such bullshit. Welcome to Russia.

We stopped for petrol and met the most lovely Russian girls working at the station. They were very lovely and very flirty. Whilst we were there a car with two Russian guys dressed like chavs pulled up next to us, asking us where we were from. We told them about the Rally and they laughed, said we were crazy, shook our hand and drove off. Even the chavs are lovely.

An hour down the road we get stopped again. Same bullshit about the road lines. However this time they had the other convoy car (Harris and Marco) on camera crossing the line. They refused to pay any fine, so we had to wait for about an hour until the Russian police gave up. We were waiting further up the road for them.

As we noticed they were being pulled over, we slowed down further up the road, but had this van filled with Russian guys follow us very very closely. Even pulled right up beside us as we pulled over. I kept the engine running as I didn’t know what to expect. Andy gets out and walks over… the driver gets out and comes over shouting “wait wait! I practice my english!”

So we chatted with this Russian guy for about 30minutes while we waited for the other guys. Very friendly chap who just wanted to chit chat english. He wished us all the best and went on his way.

Turns out the only douchebags in Russia are the police, every local we’ve met has been wonderful.

When Harris and Marco were let go, the police officer told us the area we were in was still extremely dangerous, and made machine fun noises.

Lunch we stopped at the side of the road next to a fruit salesman, had a wicked goulash at this old womens roadside restaurant and bought some fruit from this guy who chatted with us for ages. He was from Ukraine and came here “on business”… which we can only assume meant he travelled from Ukraine so he could make money selling fruit at the side of the road. Bizarre.

Later on… another police stop. This time andy was videoed crossing a road line.

This police stop was different as they made Andy sit in the police car, took his license and wouldn’t let any of us leave. We tried the stupid tourist routine, tried the phrase book and even tried waiting them out to avoid paying the bribe. They wanted 500 Euro. I told Rus to go back to the car and take our all Russian money except for 300 rubels (£6) from his wallet and hide the rest under the seat. Along with our driving licenses etc incase they got taken too.

I then negotiated with the police shit heads and played the dumb tourist and offered them my selection of small foreign currency, or the 300 rubels.

Eventually they let Andy go in exchange for the 300 rubels. Our first bribe paid.

We left, angry we’d had tor pay a bribe. Further on down the road, about 20 minutes (it was night time at this point) we were pulled again, for alleged speeding. Bullshit.

Andy got out and this time wasn’t playing dumb tourist, he was pissed. He shouted at the police man “WE’VE JUST BEEN PULLED OVER 10 MINUTES AGO. NO DOLLAR” and the police man very quickly told us to leave.

5 times in one day. If you drive through Russia, make sure you add several hours to your journey to take into account interactions with the police.

We didn;’t make it to the border that night, but we did make it to this Russian city where everyone suddenly turned asian. A quick sleep in a crappy hotel and next morning we were off again.

Today we were definitely going to make it to the border. First we headed to Astrakhan, the Russian city closet the border. We needed to stock up on supplies for camping as we knew Kazakhstan would be limited on hotels. Harris and Marco had to quickly head to a mechanic to get their radiator looked at, whilst we headed to get supplies.

We found a shopping mall, parked up outside and wondered around. We managed to find a juice stall! FRESH JUICE! None of this concentrated bullshit I’ve been forced to drink since we left budapest. I got an entire cup of freshly juiced kiwi. £10 it set me back, but screw it. It was worth every single penny, freshing, delicious and a feeling of being back home.

We walked over to the super market and to get supplies, we got a tonne of tinned foods, water etc and just as we were about to pay an air raid siren went off. Followed by some loud authorative Russian speaking. The customers and staff looked shock, as I looked to them to see their reactions. The air raid siren and announcement had finished and suddenly everyone started briskly moving towards the exit. We very quickly joined them too after paying for our supplies!

Back in the car just as we’re about to leave. Andy tells us he’s going to go home and not coming to khasakstan.

That came as quite a surprise, considering this entire trip was Andy’s idea!

We dropped Andy off at the hotel and drove off, just Rus and I to the khasakstan border where we met Harris and Marco.

August 12, 2012

Georgia

After a 3hour wait at the border to get into Georgia, we were free from Turkey.

As we drove into Georgia the scenery is pretty ghetto. Cows are everywhere just walking around down the road.

Batumi

We drove straight to Batumi which is a major city. It seems pretty developed on the boulevard, but as soon as you leave the beach area it turns into a major ghetto. This city is Georgias up and coming
beach resort. Even Donald Trump has invested in the area and is building a huge building block there.

We tried to get booked into a 5 star hotel which only cost £35 a night per person! However they were full… so we had to settle for a 3 star but we did manage to get our own suite for the night and was offered “dancing and women” by the owner.

We spent most of our time in Batsum sitting at the top of a cafe on the beach enjoying the view and eating their local food. Food was delicious.

In the evening we met up with an Italian couple who were doing the rally. We did some bar hopping with them and ended up drinking beer until 1am with them in the cafe. Turns out their car was totally screwed, but they’d manage to order a part they needed from a near by town and had a mechanic waiting at midnight for it to arrive so it could be fitted. At 1am they were off to the mechanic and wanted to drive through the night.

Tiblisi

In the morning we headed off to Tiblisi, which is the capital… a huge city. We found a wicked hostel online which was given the thumbs up by other rallies, so we headed there. Once we checked in we met the guys we met on the ferry in the same hostel.

At around 11pm the owner of the hostel very kindly drove us to the center of town where we could eat and drink. We feasted at a local restaurant and then went bar hopping.

We found this posh cocktail bar where each cocktail cost £10… In Georgia! So we sat around getting drunk and smoking strawberry shisha.

We spoke to the barmaid and she told us its a £25 fine if you’re caught kissing in public… but that she’s never paid a fine!

The next day we had to make it to Russia, so we headed off early and hit the road. We had to drive up through the Georgian mountains to reach the border with some of the most intense roads ever.

It was almost total off roading with the amount of pot holes around…. not to mention the huge drop off the side of the mountain on one side of the road and the cows to avoid. I loved it, especially driving in a convoy with the other car.

When we reached the Russian border there was again another huge wait. 4 hours. The Russians have a interesting way of queueing, it’s essentially drive to the front and push in. If you can’t push in, threaten, shout and bump other cars.

I wasn’t having any of it! There was some huge 4×4 next to me trying to push in….. and he kept moving closer and closer expecting me to move aside. Little did he know we didn’t give two shits about the condition of our car, so I playing a game of chicken with him and steered my car in his path. When he realised I was totally up for scraping the side of his car… he backed off.

July 29, 2012

Reasons Turkey is Better Than Prison

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July 29, 2012

4 Things Prison and Turkey Have in Common

  1. No visible signs of women
  2. Night time entertainment consists of drinking tea and smoking
  3. You have to steal keys to leave certain accommodation
  4. There’s a lengthy wait if you want to leave