Mongol Rally 2004 & 2005 Blogs & Photos

The Mongol Rally has begun (but is it all over already?)

The Mongol rally is in full swing!!  For those who have somehow missed out on this daft trip art (ex flatmate) and I are taking part in the inaugural Mongol rally, this involves driving to Mongolia from London in a car with an engine smaller than 1 litre, in theory about 10000 miles in about 3 weeks. We are doing it in a 12 year old Nissan micra with a whole 988cc to aid in overtaking Germans. We set off on Friday night following an amusing and hectic launch party full of people who had thought about coming but might do it next year instead, was amused by the guy who said he would of done it but didn’t find out about it until April.  We did not decide to go until the beginning of July, a week after first hearing about it due to a chance meeting in a pub with the bloke organising it.  You should always agree to do what drunk people tell you...

Highlight of the launch party was a completely incomprehensible speech by the Mongolian ambassador, who had very sportingly turned up, he seemed to be very excited though, and waved his arms a lot.  Then set off at about 10pm and managed to negotiate London without mishap, caught a ferry at 1.45am to Dunkirk and began in earnest.  Lets just say that the scenery in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany is not the most exciting and that the first step past without incident, I think the highlight of our journey was eating steak at a German service station.  The driving mostly involved one driving, one sleeping and occasionally being poked to read the map.  Having said that we had succeeded in leaving without a map of western Europe which proved interesting until we discovered one in the car service book while looking for tyre pressures (we didn’t find those till a couple of days later) managed to spend 3 hours running around Hanover looking for a charger for my shiny new camera, and failing dismally.  To make things worse the micra decided it would quite like to stay in Hanover and developed a dodgy clutch.  Being a magic car however we kept it going, and once it saw that there were more exciting places to visit the trouble mysteriously disappeared.  Its fine now. 

Got to the polish border, met up with a couple of other people, got moved on by the nice men with Kalashnikovs...  The fiat 126 eventually caught up, having had its windscreen wipers fail in a storm, they had cooked up a fantastic manual wiper system involving a piece of string attached to each wiper going through each window to the passenger, who finally had a useful job.  One of the other cars has a non-driving co-driver, which is a great help in a rally, he is the Bez of the operation but found his vocation as a sort of human dynamo.  Had excellent supper in a polish pub near the border before setting off for the north of Poland, and a newly circled rendez vous, at about midnight.  We eventually got to what seemed like a charming little town at about 7 am, pitched out tent next to a small secluded car park and grabbed the first vertical sleep we had had for a number of hours I am as yet unable to compute.  It was only a couple however, it was not until last night that I managed more that 2 solid hours sleep at once, the spaces between the words had become ever longer, and the driving stints ever shorter.  The others arrived at about 11 or so, although word came through that the reliant (all 3 wheels of it!) was still at the polish border.  We then went for an interesting lunch in a sort of rural Polish tourist trap with lots of wood, quaint things hanging from the ceiling and an accordion player.  Had great fun choosing from the menu by the drawing at the bottom of each page, mine looked like a moose, couldn’t tell you what it actually was but it mostly tasted of salt.  Next stop the polish lakes, had a good swim by the side of the road before heading for Lithuania.  We were about 20 minutes from the border when realised we couldn’t find the Discman.  Stopped the car, realised that both discmen had gone missing, had another look and found no sign of my shiny new digital camera, nor the dilapidated old one, nor several other things including a bag of mine with the 1st aid kits in it.  Not very helpful and, all in all, about 500 quid’s worth of stuff.  Thankfully nothing important had gone; money, passports and plane tickets were all still there, long with the iPod which was an immense relief as I don’t know quite how we would of put up with another 8000 miles of each others company and no music without killing each other. It was at this point we had our first real taste of bureaucracy, little did we know what we had in store for us...

Having eventually found the police station we had to wait about 30 minutes for a translator to turn up, and a bit more before we were allowed such a luxury as a policeman.  We were then taken upstairs where we had to explain everything in detail twice, and several bits rather more than this, try and work out what exactly it was we had had nicked and then wait for about 2 hours as the policeman filled out about 6 different reports, wrote out the whole story by hand in triplicate and gave us various other things to sign before finally being allowed to leave 3 and a half hours after we had arrived.

We then stormed through Lithuania and Latvia with little incident. Apart from a Latvian speeding ticket, we were flagged down by an irate policeman who started speaking a lit of lot or lat or whatever it may have been called, at great speed (ironically?) and trying to charge us somewhere between 150 and 300 lts. I still don’t know how much they are worth, before happily accepting a few dollars waved at his face. I think this was mostly because he wanted to get out of the rain and back in his car as quickly as possible.  

Eventually got to the Russian border at about 12 noon, first of all being encountered by a queue of more lorries than we had passed in either direction on the whole journey up until that point.  It did not bode well and things only got worse, the fiat panda (painted in rather fetching panda stripes) had been there an hour and a half and was only 100 yards ahead of us.  It took us 10 hours to get to the front of the queue.  We then got through immigration without serious mishap, apart from the now inevitable crossed wires and language barrier, and were greatly looking forward to bouncing on into Russia and seeing the delights of Moscow, not to mention a large drink and a bed for the night.  How wrong we were.  We had got to what appeared to be the last little man, there had been about 6, sitting next to a woman who closed her window every time we walked past.  We showed him our vehicle documents and passports, surely a formality-they had already been stamped, at which point his face fell and after about 10 minutes of wrangling and waving of paper we realised the Micra is registered in art's mother's name.  This apparently is very wrong.  After about 2 hours of standing around alternating with shouting at people and looking forlorn just in case they took pity on us, we were turned around and sent back over the border we had got to a mere 12 hours before. Amusement was rife.  Found the others in the queue (even the reliant!), and set off back to Riga.

We got to Riga about 8am, having again driven through the night, found the British embassy and set about trying to sort the whole thing out.  Apparently we need a power of attorney, which must be organised and sent from the UK, meaning we are stuck here until at least Thursday. Embassies of course are helpful places and close at 12.  Eventually found a hotel and realised that Riga is a lovely city and why not at least make use of the chance to unwind, get some sleep and chill out while we could.  That was yesterday, to put it in perspective today we tried to find out exactly what we needed.  We have been to the British embassy, the Russian embassy visa section, the Russian embassy consular section, the customs department of I don’t quite know who, the Riga customs department, who tried to send us back to the Russian embassy, the to the other customs place before saying he didn’t know what we should do.  He was by far the most helpful of all the people we spoke to.  Also went to a translation office, and got wonderfully lost in between going to most of these places.  Then we did some laundry and had lunch.  We still don’t know if we will ever leave Riga, Moscow is being bypassed, (the others have already left anyway) and Kazakhstan is the next rendez vous.  Who knows if the Micra will make it, but with its magic ability to fix itself we hope it is allowed the chance, otherwise a new car must be acquired and a lot of catching up to be done.

Next - Part 2 Potholes and smelly socks

The 2004 Escapades Part 1