You may already know that Pocketmail has crapped out after acquiring enough dust and sand in the transmission speaker, so posts have been delayed and we have unwillingly left you in deficit of rally info. My task today is to update you of our progress from Aralsk to Bishkek. Let me first tell you of my experiences in Aralsk.
We found a hotel in which to stay not too long after making our way into town. While the others took care of the administrative details, I watched after the cars. It was then that a small swarm of local children came up to the driver-side door of the Seat and started poking their heads into the car, examining everything they could see and asking for names of things. Once they took a look at everything in the dash, the moved on to the back of the car, spotting our food & water, camping supplies, and loads of dirty clothing. The food held their interest most of all, with one of the girls making a biting motion, perhaps indicating that she wanted something to eat. In sync with what we've been doing most of the way, I pretended not to understand. After some time one of the children saw the legs of the tripod I've been using and asked what it was. Having earlier wrapped up the camera to protect it from the dust storms caused by driving, I removed the shirt and their attention was quickly focused.
I started by making hand gestures indicating that I wanted to take their photos; they seemed to understand and started smiling and nodding. I passed the camera to them at one point, all the time holding on to the neck strap, and they started shooting pictures of each other and a few of me with them. I topped off the roll and rewound the film. My first thought was of how to get some of those pictures back to the children without addresses, names, or even a good idea of how to mail items to Kazakhstan. I decided my best bet would be to mail the pictures to the hotel in which we stayed and night and hope the owner gets the idea. They were wonderful children, even taking turns using the videocamera and laughing as they saw their own image appear on the extendable LCD monitor.
My experience that night was also one I could not have expected to find. After dinner, a few of us went to walk around the town while others returned to work on the cars. We found a monument similar in type to that of the Vietnam War memorial in D.C., in the sense that a wall of names was erected in honor of those who died in WWII. While milling about the steps of the memorial, a teenage girl approached Patrick and they started chatting. A group of friends was with her and the rest of us made our way up to where they were all standing. After a few minutes of basic communication, this girl, Malhabe, asked if we would like to accompany her and her friends to the local disco. James of "See You in a Bar" and I were instantly sold on the idea and we managed to get the rest of our group to go. We picked up a few beers on the way and as we approached the outdoor building that contained the dancing entertainment, we realized something only too obvious: that we were all very much older than the rest of the people there. And when I say people, I should really say teenagers. We managed to attract plenty of attention and even went about the night with a two-man police lookout, both of whom later got piss drunk and made sure that Patrick didn't get jacked while he was using a back alley as a restroom. Aside from dancing in a teenage disco in the middle of Kazakhstan, another strange part of the night was when girls would come up to us and ask us to dance, presumably exclusively. Unlike club dancing which may involve bumping and grinding, this was more of a face-off, with the occasional awkward hand touch that simply made me laugh. At the end of it all, we found out that Malhabe was only 15, leaving us bewildered and amazed about what had just happened. Not to be done too early, we hit another dance spot before the night was over, and in a moment more befitting, I danced with a girl my age who was 6' 4". Talk about humility.
So our night in Aralsk ended, we slept well in a cheap hotel, and we made our way out of the town by 10 a.m. The roads from Aral to Shymkent were much improved over the previous kinds of tarmac we had seen, so we made time like we hadn't made in quite a few days. Another road side camp found the convoy down to three cars, as the "Dukes of Harlow" decided to push on in the night to make some better time (we later learned that tiredness and misaligned headlights kept Charlie from getting more than 50 miles; we caught up with them the next day at a road side stretch of shops where we ate some much needed hot food and the Dukes recieved a bodge-job setup for the General's blown suspension spring). Before the Dukes set off, though, Patrick and Seth made a jaunt into Turkistan to find some beers. When pulled over by the local authorities, both of them determined that at least one Kazakh police dislikes Bush due to his excessive (hand signal of firing a gun) use of war and limited (hand signal of hands flapping talking mouth) use of diplomacy. The gents also figured out that Angelina Jolie is the best ambassador of all, clearly indicated from the police officer by the worldwide sign for vagina (index fingers and thumbs joined with the hands then brought together). It is good to know that despite any language barrier, hand signals of all sorts can get the point across.
Due to a visa foul-up that kept them out of Kyrgyzstan for a few days, James and Andy of "See You in a Bar" split up with us on the way to Bishkek through Shymkent and spent the night at the latter city. We pushed on to Bishkek, accidentally taking a northern route. Despite the small error, the scenery of our trip improved dramatically. Mountains on a scale I haven't seen in a while became evident as the haze between them and us thinned. Snow covered their peaks, a fitting taunt to the heavy heat we entered as we came south. Eventually, we came through the same border through which we will now leave in a few days for our second entery to Kazakhstan. I can proudly say that the Kyrgyzstan border crossing was the most efficient and graceful event we've had in the past week. In fact, no records of our cars entering the country were ever taken, so if we need to ditch one in the next day or two, this would be the place to do it. Unfortunately, the line headed back into Kazakhstan at the same border was quite long, most likely due to the bureacratic hoop-jumping that the Kazakh Republic makes people do.
Interactions with the locals of Bishkek then quickly arose. On our way into the main part of the city, Patrick was being hassled by a cab driver who wished to pass, though with no room to move, Patrick simply couldn't do anything. At the first opportunity, the cab driver passed on the right, yelling and gesturing, again using hand signals that can be clearly understood the world over. Shortly thereafter, we passed through a restricted zone in front of the president's residence and were pulled over by a police officer with an orange wand of authority. In a well-played move, Patrick and Dominic were able to totally bedazzle the officer with a lack of comprehension and language, avoiding the confiscation of driving licenses and escaping the clearly (yet tactfully misunderstood) request for a bribe. We parked and while Patrick and Seth wandered the city with a few locals, Dominic ran into the Dukes while I guarded the cars. An hour later, after Patrick and Seth returned from their mostly misdirected guided tour (and after finding Patrick a date for Wednesday), we accompanied the Dukes to the Hyatt hotel, which contained the Xanadu Casino, a spot which one of their sponsors, Casino Life Magazine, asked them to cover on the trip. Through the generosity of the owner of the establishment, Ms. Jacobs, we were treated to a free meal with drinks and three rooms (though because the standard rooms were sold out, our only options were to sleep in king size beds...it was a really tough night, I promise). Laundry was done, long showers were taken, and we have started the day well with lunch that actually filled our stomachs. We plan to push into the mountains tonight for some camping that should provide us with some wonderful views of the mountains and the surrounding area.
Tomorrow, our plan is to meet up with James and Andy, spend another day in Bishkek, then head back into Kazakhstan for the push to Barnaul. Depending on how driving goes, and how that affects our timing, James and Andy may try to join us through the western border of Mongolia. The Dukes have also been evaluating their time commitments, though they have yet to make a final decision as to when to leave. I'm hoping the convoy can stick together as long as possible. I'm also hoping that we have the time to take the western border, because a drive through southern Russia would be too easy, leaving us only 200 km of tarmac on which to pass through Mongolia on our way to Ulaanbataar. We've got a stretch of time left and we're figuring it out. Hopefully things go well so that we don't end up getting into the difficult decision that may exist between those with lots of time and those without it. It sounds like the time crunched among us are going to push for more time off, but who can tell what the bosses back home will say. Then again, this is the Mongol Rally and there aren't many chances to make it to central Asia in crap cars.
Note: once we're out of Bishkek, we're planning on being out of touch until Barnaul, so don't fear. We'll update there and let you know what kinds of things we're thinking. For now,
Just got a call from Patrick on the cell that I just acquired today (honestly, ignoring exchange rates is the best way to pretend that you're not spending that much money...because that's exactly what I'm doing). He is at the Kiev Airport and is being picked up right now by Dom and Seth. Hopefully, the woman that I talked to at the DVLA in the UK understood what I was asking and sent us some official-looking documents that will help us cross the border. If those don't come, we have two options: wait for the documents to be sent to our UK address then have them posted here and then drive to the Russian border, or go for the border and hope we can get through as easily as we did at the second Ukrainian one. I'd rather hope than wait.
We have been having a damn good time with the fellows we met from the UK: James and Neil of "The Last and the Ludicrous" and Andy and James of ... um ... LingsCars.com (their major sponsor, though their official team name has slipped my mind). If there's one thing we've all learned, it's that Kiev is mediocre, Ukraine is a dump, the girls are pretty nonetheless, and we would never mind if we never came back. Right now BCMC is hoping that we get something to help us cross the border, otherwise we have to play catchup to the other two teams. We have all agreed, as well, that crossing Kazakhstan in a convoy of four cars is the best idea, protecting us from serious breakdown issues and bandits. Yes, there is a good chance that a one to two car convoy might get harassed; three to four much less so.
Currently in limbo, but a limbo that allows me to find internet access and eat decent food. I still haven't had this famous dish that seems to elude me no matter what. I'll figure it out later. Right now, I'd rather get on the road, hit Russia in a convoy and has some fun at the borders. That's what it's all about anyway. More to come no doubt.
It seems the world is imperfect. I wish someone would have told me about it before I started getting into the thick of things.
As you can see below, our last PocketMail update failed misreably somehow. Perhaps it was the fact that I was trying to practice my czech, but it was more likely something in the connection that just got mangled by the interweb fairies, and not the nice ones, but the ones that despise humans...apparently. So here's a copy of the entry, blockquoted for your easily separated reading pleasure:
It was only moments ago that we pulled into Dover with a much anticipated view of the Channel. I'm currently sitting in the car as Seth tries to direct Jen & Dom to our hastly found parking space; the plan is to grab a bite before we jump on the ferry.
Earlier today the anticipation of the rally was very palpable. Amidst clearing out the hotel room, paying the £3000 in deposits, and getting setup by a relatively disorganized volunteer squad (please know that I am judging by my personal standards, which are quite high and sometimes unobtainable), we got out of the damn dirty auto trap known as Central London. I'm hoping the next many hours are quick and hardly congested, though they shouldn't be, seeing as we plan to drive straight through to Prague.
I think everyone has become located again. Time for dinner.
So we made it to Prague on Sunday night after driving straight through France, Belgium, Lux., and Germany. Our course started with horrible traffic and construction in London, where I felt my blood pressure rise with each caught stoplight and too-soon braking incident. It took us a few hours to make it to Dover, but we made our ferry and relaxed for the trip across the channel. We found a good number of ralliers on the boat and asked some advice on our route to Prague, hence the countries crossed above.
Driving through Europe in the middle of the night is pretty uneventful. Petrol stations scattered across the motorways are even more so, though I did get a chance to practice my German somewhere west of Mannheim. All I did was ask for the WC, but it was an accomplishment I was proud of, esp. after driving through more countries than I've ever seen in my life. Our journey also brought us together with half a dozen other teams at the Czech Republic border. We ran into most of them again in the underground garage in Prague (where a number of teams spent the night whether to save money or for lack of hostel reservations) or at Cafe Dinitz, the official location of the rally party.
The atmosphere is energetic, though somewhat tired. People are excited to be crossing the world, to be exploring the variety of places to be seen; it's just that driving straight through to Prague took a toll on most teams, with fits of sleep coming between driving shifts. And with gas station snacks and sandwiches (in our case) filling the tanks, it's not hard to imagine that we're all a little worse off for the nutrition. But the adrenaline, that wonderful biological gift, has pushed us past our desires to stop off and sleep and has saved us for the first day. Whether that will be the case for long is hard to tell, but at least we are past the obligatory drive=through and can now rest and camp as necessary or needed. Then again, there are so many things that could come up between then and now, we shouldn't get too complacent.
We'll keep trekking, so keep reading.
Originally posted on September 18th, 2006
Eight days have passed since I arrived on Koh Tao, an island located southeast of Chumphon in the Gulf of Thailand. I first thought I would only spend four to five days on the island, next bought tickets that were going to keep me here for nine, then pushed everything back a week so that I could obtain my Open Water and Advanced Open Water Diving Certification (capitals are mine). Of course, other factors that contributed to my extended stay include more time with the fantastic fellow ralliers of Team Aspiritus, Pix and Miles, the amazing group of friends I’ve met on the island since the day of my arrival, a chance encounter with a college friend, and the opportunity to swim with the sharks 30m below the surface.
So it’s with a bittersweet mentality that I write this post. I could not have imagined the time spent here so far - whether passing out in AC Bar’s bathroom and having my money courteously removed from my pockets or spending time in conversation with a fellow human who previously knew not of my existence and vice versa, and getting along with them in a fashion that only world travels could allow. I realize that my view of Koh Tao is heavily tilted toward a romantic ideal that I simply can’t maintain or contain. I can’t stay here forever and I can’t keep others. I also can’t take it home with me. What I can do is make the most of my time, make the most of the friendships forged, and move on knowing that something special did take place. I may not have the photos to prove it, but I’ve got something better anyway.
It’s strange that I sit here and pay for time to pass when I could easily move away from the computer and spend the rest of my time in a manner much more fitting for the end of a trip around the world. What is that manner? If you know, please tell me, because I’m so tied up that it pains me some just to think about it. I’ve seen the potential for a life of varied experiences and I know that home holds the standards and potential as well. Is it the finite nature of life that makes each event so meaningful? Is it knowing that we never know when or where or how our lives will unfold that makes the good so good and the bad able to be dealt with? Is it having so many questions and nearly no real answers? Or am I deluding myself and trying to hold on to something when letting it go would make it more rewarding?
I can’t say.
I leave Koh Tao this Friday and eventually make it back to Chicago on Wednesday. It has been very good to be here; it will be good to get home. This whole thing has got me wondering, though - what else is out there? If you feel like finding out, give this new world traveler a note. And I want you to know that it was one of my greatest pleasures to meet you here and now.
Well this is a random surprise, isn't it? I can't say good or bad, I leave that up to the reader.
It's been quite a while since a visit to this website has occurred; funny how time and distance can make some of the most incredible moments of your life seem so distant. It's a shame I've waited this long, that things have not worked out between all parties as hoped. I accept my role in that and can only hope and wonder that time might make insignificant those differences that seemed insurmountable. I wonder what caused it and I wonder what, if anything, might resolve it.
So why the e-visit? Upon returning to the states and heading back to work, I realized that I was not happy with my situation. Work had devolved - perhaps I just had a different perspective on life - and I found myself wanting to move on, to keep moving, to keep the adventure going. So I thought about some things and eventually wrote those ideas on paper.
Months later, I'm moving to Japan. In late April I received word from the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET Program) that I'd been accepted as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for 2007-08. I'm moving to Higashi Village in Okinawa prefecture, population 1,863. I leave July 28 and I don't know if I'm ever coming back. I'll be minutes from the beach, surrounded by jungle, pineapple trees, and coffee farms, and I speak hardly enough Japanese to make life easy. Good news is I'll be teaching elementary and junior high students; for some reason, that is good news.
I'm slightly terrified. I don't worry about the food, the culture or the language. The teaching troubles me most. Will I be any good? Will the kids learn anything? Do I have anything worth teaching to share? Why should the Japanese trust me as a teacher of English, an ambassador of culture? Why am I asking rhetorical questions of an unknown audience?
Whatever the answers, I know that I'm still as proud today as I was a year ago to have been a part of the BCMC. I'm proud to have driven with Dominic, Jen, Patrick and Seth, and James, Neil, James, Andy, Barry and Charlie across parts of the world most will never see. I'm sorry for the problems and the miscommunication that built and never got resolved. Seth, if you read this, I can't thank you enough; I can't think like you either, but in the end I think that was a strength of BC, not a weakness.
One last thing: Gents, I'm working on scanning the best of the pics I got and will be burning them to some sort of D. If your addresses have changed, fill me in. If not, expect something shortly.
Live life, drink beer, and all that other good stuff. Until again,