So, its been a week but Team Ironsides is still in Kazakhstan. I am honestly not sure there are words to describe the events that have unfolded just in the last few days, much less since I last blogged. Given I dont have four hours to spare I will attempt to keep this brief. After our convoy turned into five cars in Volgograd, Russia we managed to make it to the Kazakh border, only to find out that the ferry to the actual border was closed (seeing as how it was about 2 a.m). We camped out right next to the ferry and were awakened by the border guards yelling at us to get up and catch the first ferry at about 5:45. About three hours later we all made it through the border and headed towards the city of Atirau. 24 hours later we left with a convoy now of four cars, plus a random rallier named Ali who was hitching a ride until Astana. This four team convoy has basically become our staple group consisting still of the two Kiwis, Chris and Ross (Team Wingit Racers), and then two amazing guys from Wales, Tim and Fudge (Team Endo) and finally three guys from Manchester UK, Muzzy, Himi and Dibs (Team Dzogchen). The next two days were essentially spent driving and camping on the side of the road. The second of the two days involved us realizing that the suspension on the left hand side of Diana had rusted through into our trunk. It was then that we also hit the worst roads that I have ever seen in my life. Im sorry, did I say roads? I meant a series of ditches. Which is exactly what they were. We spent about 5 - 6 hours driving maybe 20 miles an hour over these "roads." The first hour was fun, driving on dusty, dirty rough roads with our buffs over our faces, the kiwis and the welsh guys hanging out the sides of their Suzuki Jeeps, filming and generally having a great time while I attemtped to navigate my low-riding Fiat with no suspension over non-existent roads, with Tommy hanging out the side window trying to help direct me. A few hours later in the dark it was less fun. We rolled into our destination town at about 4 a.m exhausted and every single one of us convered in a thin layer of dust. We honestly looked like we had each just crawled out of our own graves. After a slight incident with some intoxicated and ornery Kazakh men at a gas station we drove about 100 km before sleeping in our cars on the side of the road. We pushed on the rest of that day so as not to lose too much time and then camped again on the side of the road. The next day we had driven for only a few hours when it became clear that Diana was not doing well. Those non-roads (series of ditches, Im telling you) had really done a number on her. We found a mechanic in the nearest town and all waited around there in the sun for several hours. My favorite moment was definitely when I was sitting on the ground around our cars with ten other guys and these two women come out of the mechanic shop, take me by the hand, lead me inside and point towards a faucet and hand me a bar of soap. I guess they felt sorry for me! Anyway, the mechanic finally arrived and basically said that our car was 'caput' unless we completely replaced the engine. So, we decided to check in to a hotel and find another mechanic for a second opinion. The next morning Tommy and I took Diana back to another place and got more or less the same response. As a group we decided we would drive Diana as far as she would go and then when she died we would pile in with the two Suzuki Jeeps belonging to Teams Endo and Wingit Racers. About 2 miles out of this town, on our glorious way to Astana, Team Endo's SJ started sparking from her exhaust pipe. Long story short, we decided to send one car ahead to Astana as Himi and Alex both needed to deal with Russian Visa complications, while the rest of us stayed behind and tried to fix our cars.
Hello again all!I dont have much time as I am using the computer at the reception desk in a hotel I am not staying in, but Team Ironsides has made it to Kazakhstan!! We crossed the border this morning, our convoy having grown to 5 cars. There are many many stories involving Russian police pull overs, statues, and me leading about 14 guys from Russia into Kazakhstan in my little Fiat. We are not giving up any time soon and are hoping to make it all the way to Mongolia, but more on that as we know. We move onwards tomorrow, all 15 of us - thats 14 guys and me. Wish us luck, we'll keep you posted as we can, but internet is going to get more and more sparse as we head out into this crazy country. If need be we should be reachable on our cell phone, the number for which I posted below. Thanks for all your support!
So after arriving in Romania we spent the night in a hotel with the Kiwis and then headed off promptly the next day. The drive through Romania was actually really beautiful. We drove through mountainous areas, small villages and a National Park; Transylvania was lovely as well. It was really nice to be off highways, although we dont think Diana appreciated it much. Seeing as how we cant drive very fast we arrived in our destination city of Bracau a bit late and had to run around to find a place to stay for the night. The next day was a L-O-N-G one. First it took us over an hour to get out of Bracau as they had closed the bridge we needed to get to the highway. The drive from there was hilly and the roads rough. We entered Moldova without any problems but all of a sudden we came across what I thought was just a police check point but turned out to be the border of a region/country within Moldova we didnt know existed called Transnestra (I think...). They searched through all of our things leaving Moldova and tried to get us to pay some made-up tax, which we refused and luckily they didnt insist. In Transnestra however they wouldnt let us through until we forked over $40 for a "road and emmigration tax." We refused for about an hour and then finally decided paying $40 would be better than driving the 300 km aound this region to get into Ukraine. After finally getting through that hastle we drove onwards towards the Ukrainian border, laughing about the made-up rogue country we had just entered. Thinking that the worst Transnestra had to offer was over, we were proved very wrong when they pulled us aside yet again when trying to exit this ambiguous region. They ushered us into an interrogation room of sorts and had us empty our pockets of cash on the table. We of course knew not to carry a lot of cash on us as these border guys would definitely dream up a way to get it from us. I was sure this guy in the interrogation room was going to make us give him all the cash we had and to be honest I was starting to get really worried (interrogation rooms will do that to you). After much arguing on our part and then finally dealing with someone who was reasonably nice and spoke decent English, we got away with only paying $5 more dollars for the alleged road tax stamp they hadnt given us at the first border. With a sigh of relief we drove the ten feet to the Ukrainian border only to be pulled over once again. This time we were in trouble because we didnt have a Green Card (and Im still not sure exactly what that is...) so once again we had to pay for that and wait about an hour. We were then held for about two more hours because the name of the Registered Keeper on our V05 car forms was Alex's brother Scott, and not Alex himself. This apparently was "big problem." Full Article Here
I dont even know where to start in recounting the events of the past few days...Lets see. From Prague we travelled East to visit the Church of Bones and then from there we headed into Slovakia. We had barely crossed the border into Slovakia on a major highway at about 10:30 at night when our car battery died. We immediately pulled over and called the NZ guys in the car ahead of us. They talked us through some basic things to inspect in the engine and then convinced us that we would have to jump start our car to get it to the nearest gas station. Yeah, for those of you who have seen 'Little Miss Sunshine', you know that scene where the whole family has to get out and push the van while the father puts it into second gear, and then one by one they all have to jump back into the car as it is moving? Yeah, we did that, on the Slovakian highway, at 10:30, with me behind the wheel and the boys running. It worked tho and we caught up with the NZ boys (or the Kiwis as I have started to call them) at a gas station five minutes down the road. They spent about an hour with us looking over the car, only to conclude that it was probably our alternator and that we would have to camp out at this gas station and then get towed in the morning. After a wonderful night in a tent behind a gas station (in Slovakia), a tow truck came and picked Diana up. The driver, who spoke no English, communicated that only two of us could accompany him to the mechanics. We then decided that Tommy would stay behind and Alex and I would go with him. At this point our cell phone had run out of credit. The tow-truck guy then proceeded to drive us about 50 km into the middle of no-where. We pulled up next to what looked like someone's home and NOT a car-repair establishment. I was stressed. Full Post Here
Hello everyone from the amazing city of Prague!! It has been a GREAT few days. The departure from Hyde Park was quite the show with the array of cars and characters. We ended up convoying with 2 other cars heading to Dover where we saw the beautiful cliffs of, before driving our boat onto the ferry. We arrived in France about 2 hours later and immediately headed towards Belgium. Our convoy had grown to four cars, the other three teams consisting of guys from the UK: one Scot, one Irsishman and four English. A great group of guys. We exited France pretty quickly into Belgium. All four vehicles had walkie-talkies going which was helpful for direction comparing, but also useful for walkie talkie kareoke at like 2 a.m. At 4a.m we stopped in a truck parking area and slept in our car for about 3 hours, woke up at 7:30 and headed onwards towards Germany. That ended up being a big day as we wanted to make it to Prague that night for the big Rally party being held there. We got a bit lost in Germany (the highway signs dont display cardinal directions...) and then were held up briefly at the Czech border (a Welsh team we ran into there were strip searched...). We didnt role into Prague until about 1:30 a.m, exhausted. Up until that point I had been doing about 95% of the driving so needless to say I was ecstatic to have arrived finally (Jon - you proud of me or what??!!). Most of the ralliers were parked in this one car park so after getting together in a local pub until about 4 a.m, we put sleeping bags down on the floors next to the cars and attempted to sleep. Yes, in a car parking garage. On the floor. full entry here
Ironsides is sure to see this set-up at some point. Beware as in the wee hours of the day the bales are known to fall making an obstacle course for would be ralliers. We encountered this issue just outside of Almaty last year. Here is an excerpt from that entry (minus any mention of bales):
"Two emergency stomach flu stops later and we were thoroughly lost in Almaty in search of the Fiat dealership. Andy and James drove off and returned an hour or so later unsuccessful. We left Almaty, slowly, very slowly. Rush hour traffic in the Stans is painful at best. Luckily we have a car that doesn’t idle, luckily Patrick had to deal with it. The mountains around Almaty are spectacular, absolutely massive. Just like Bishkek, there was still a touch of snow atop the peaks. I would love to snowboard here.
We played the gas gauge game shortly outside of Almaty, with three of four cars on E for a half hour or more. Finally a dodgy gas station was located and those without raging stomach issues negiotated a decent exchange rate. With light fading quickly, we deftly located a fantastic camp site in the middle of the Steppe."
Its the big day ladies and gentlemen and we think we are ready to go! I am in the lobby of Tommy and Alex's hotel, waiting to bring our bags out to the car. We will then drive over to Hyde Park where we will join the 200 other teams. I have a few friends who plan on being there to wave us off. From Hyde Park we drive to Dover where we take the Ferry to France. I have been nominated again to do the driving in this initial leg as neither of the boys want to drive stick on the left-hand side. Understandable.We do have a cell phone with us and it is free for us to receive calls. The number is: (423) 663 166645. We may be able to send text messages in to the Rally Organizers who will then post them online, but we will keep you informed on that front.Right. Team Ironsides forges ahead. Thanks to all of you for your continuing support - we wouldnt be here without it!(A special thank you to Alex's brother Scott Switzer who has been great to us here in London and has made a generous contribution to our Team. Another thank you again to the Fletcher family for their help as well!)
So, as of 3:00 this afternoon Team ironsides acquired a beautiful, grey Fiat Uno! Tommy and I met Nazeem, the car's former owner, at Victoria Station. Nazeem and his family are moving back to South Africa so they were eager to get the car sold and we were happy to take it off their hands! Tommy and I were in love with her at first sight - she is everything we dreamed of! After a quick intro to the car and some picture taking, Nazeem handed over the keys. I was extremely nervous as I had been talked into being the first to drive her. We had spent most of the morning desperately trying to find parking that wasnt ridiculously expensive but were then saved by some close family friends who said we could park at their house (thank you Fletcher Family!). This then meant that I had to drive a Fiat Uno through London with Tommy patiently navigating. I have never been more tense while driving a car: not only had it been a year since I last drove, but it was the first time I was driving a manual on the right hand side while being in the left hand lane -- in the heart of London! It actually went really well; it was a relatively smooth ride and we didnt get lost once during the whole half hour. We are so ready for Mongolia. Thus far the only thing obviously wrong with our new car is the speedometer. It doesnt work. Shouldnt be an issue though as I dont see us ever driving very fast anyway... On a random side note; we just had the pleasure of watching R Kelly's moving film entitled 'Trapped in a Closet.' If you havent seen it, you must. Really. But seriously, I drove a Fiat through London today.
Our good friends and bad colonies' family, Team Ironsides, are currently in eager anticipation of the 2007 Mongol Rally. They are in London taking care of the final preps for what very well will be the greatest adventure of their young lives. I know the feeling well, being a mere year removed from their current position. Next Saturday they will kick off the adventure in earnst and have promised to keep all of us armchair ralliers informed of their escapades.
I will do my best to give some commentary to fill in the dead air, which happens for most of the journey. It should be a fun month for all us following our heroes across Europe and Asia.
If you haven't already visit their fundraising page, here, and make a charitable donation to ensure that they make their goal. Speaking of which, I better do the same. More to come...