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Author: Grayson

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan

In Almaty, Kazakhstan we rented a Flat via booking.com after 2 unsuccessful bookings via airbnb (booking and payment was confirmed, then no reaction from the host and in the end the flats were already filled by other people, always discussions and calls with the airbnb support because the hosts didn’t want to cancel because they lose money – which was def. not our problem :D)

We stayed 3 nights in Almaty – tired of driving and rallying. Went a bit out for some drinks and the rest of the time we just hung out and had awesome food :).

So the cops Looooooove Seth. Seems to be whatever country we cruise through they pick up on his racing steez and pull him over to get his autograph. Whats remarkable is we’ve burned out of every stop, including this one, without paying a single unit of local, or US currency. This genuine officer, after a friendly exchange, insisted we take his number and call him at any point if we had anymore troubles.

Driver gets the hot seat in the cop car, passenger seat with cop behind and to the left. Feeling duly chagrined as co-pilot, and righteous with newfound knowledge of the actual speed limits for the road, I joined at the cop car. We were up to the ‘penalty process’ in the affair. Things were jovial. Big waves and laughs as another of the rally crew walks up. Its the best when cops and border guards insist on giving you their cigarets when they see what brand your offering. They take one to be polite but are actually judging your prowess as a smoker. Gunned at 109 with proof on the screen in the backseat, official limit 110 on rural highways. Shenlong- 2 Others- Nil.

The Legendary German Hessen Pub. Somewhere one the side of the road, Kyrgyzstan. A request for a German menu at this establishment was met with confusion. The irony was lost on the staff. Otherwise the similarities were impressive and as far as brew goes, they did the best they could.

The steaks were cooked to reflect our level of Kyrgyz fluency.

Brewhouse behind the bar, clean, very impressed. Two taps pouring. Super German everything, Markus was impressed.

See that giant pothole bottom left? We missed that one because we hit one before it. Smoke on horizon was a uncontrolled brush fire, only attendees the passing cars.

Speculation on reason for 2.5ms of cement base for all the service poles- less fire repair in remote areas, case closed?

And so it begins. This section looks pretty tame actually. We still managed a flat though.

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Everyone’s tally went up that day. One driver, from zero to two; another to six plus. Haha. All fixes accomplished in good spirits, we are on a flat based rotation, get one and swap drivers. Some drive a lot longer than others.

This is an obvious indication of extremely dangerous wear and tear. Happened to two tires the same day. We have new tires now, and repaired ball joint!

Lack of spoken Russian and dodgy google translating lead us to believe that we would have to replace the ball joint. This mechanic spoke not a lick of English except for one word, when we found out he fixed it. “Magic” Had us roaring with laughter and relief. Biggest problem is to get 13” tires, very unusual size for these countries.

The Missus, up on the rack, its her TLC time.  She absolutely deserves it.

A continually stoked rallier and another super stoked mechanic. These guys really appreciate the dumbness of what we’re doing and are fully supportive.

Considering they are the ones that deal with brunt of our miscalculated turns and unsuccessful everything elses.

Our most confusing border to date for sure. Also only border crossing to involve a auto collision so far. Also featured stop and start three lane car jockeying and full sprint running to border control points on multiple occasions, total family affairs. Total time spent crossing, 3.5 confusing hours.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan

Our second blackmarket money change in Uzbek went even better than the first in Turkmenistan. It was delivered! Checking into the hotel we made a SIM card enquiry, turns out the cell phone guy had a cash connection too. Below are the wads required for a dinner for 8 of shashlik and maybe some vodka, definitely  the biggest meat skewers you can find this side of Brazil. 

With the currency so unwieldy it was decided to combine personal with team cash for the stay in Uzbek, mainly so we all didn’t need to carry backpacks to buy a bottle of water from the store. Serious stacks.

Its always Olivers time to shine in the garage, getting right down and dirty in the pit him and the mechanic were having a laugh about the state of our skid plate. Banging it out, switching some tires around and repairing the ABS lines cost all of six usd. Mechanics are nice because wherever you go they all love the same things, money and cars. After payment while Burma had a clean inside and out Seth and Oliver shared photos and swapped stories of the builds they have going back home.

Serious whacks were necessary 

Shenlong stickers cruise far and wide.

Much to most of the teams chagrin Bulma’s exterior was washed as well. So much for rally patina.

She is a looker though.

Like all good relationships, proper maintenance is a must. Aaaaand the occasional roadside repair. Oliver was very keen trying to beat the current record of 3 flats at once, but only managed to get two tires with the gigantic pothole that „couldn’t be avoided“

Without a functioning fuel gauge and laughable octane rating, even the zealously kept statistical data could not predict our next necessary fueling stop. Turns out it was pretty far from a actual pump. Two separate cars of locals stopped and asked us if we needed a hand. Best kind of people!

The Aral Sea is a sad reminder of the fragile balance in nature too easily tipped by man. Once one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, she dried to this after Soviet agriculture was put first. With all her tributaries diverted, it took less than 25 years for 68000km2 to disappear, along with the booming fishing and shipping industries that sustained the local population.

Rose: “You’re crazy!”

Jack: “That’s what everybody says, but with all due respect Miss, I’m not the one hanging off the back of a ship here.”

„All aboard!“

Slowly but surely all the boats are disappearing from this nautical themed desert. While driving to the shore a dump truck passed us going the other direction with part of a top deck and cabin of a large ship. Its a lark for tourism and makes for an unusual picture, but the reality is the ends have to meet means somewhere and its no longer a buoyant time out here. Sold for scrape or parted out to suit a new utility; its noticeable in the poorly quoted titanic reenactment that the steel plate has been cut from the hull, exposing lots of ribs.

Those that were party to this evening photographic enterprise were rewarded with this shot and dozens of mosquito bites after an ill advised attempt to drive down to the earlier pictured boats. Haha.

Ignore multiple signs with exclamation marks and pictures of tanks to visit this excellent counter terrorism training facility? Only because Markus insisted. Sorry Mom, we were only there 5 minutes.

Lots of that desert stuff, thats for sure.

Rugged desert. Rugged profile.

Rugged desert. Nap time.

Burma has a moment with Big Ben.

Crazy Aussies, epic ride.

Top deck, top fun times!

I’m surprised Markus included this shot because his foot is not in it. Thats on his list of photography pet peeves. The next photo I took of him included both his feet but I turned the camera 90 degrees for a portrait shot. I thought it was nice and I don’t know why it didn’t make the cut. Still pretty pretty though, excluded extremities aside.

Post safety briefing. Of note was don’t stand up under telephone wires and don’t turn on the barbecue when moving as it takes forever to cook anything. Absolutely do have an excellent time and be sure to enjoy the celebrity level reception shown by everyone along the way. London Double Decker -> Uzbekistan Highways, hell of a good time.

More nap times, glorious nap times.

Note the flag beside that gigantic engine. Its Aussie. Yes they are driving to Australia, planned arrival December 1st.

Beauty. Whole new perspective on Bulma.

Who was driving Bulma you have surely asked? Our fearless teammate Oliver. Normally a terrible backseat driver, he stepped up to the plate and killed it behind the wheel. Pictured is Rose, normally a member of Team Columbus, she elected to take advantage of Bulma’s delightful AC that day and escape the ruckus of a Shenlong plus hitchhikers invasion of Big Ben.

Pictured: A Seth in his natural state of being.

Georgia

Georgia

You know those things that work way better the second time around? Well this border was one of those. Having read the horror stories of 9hr+ wait time at the border turkey-georgia online and then seeing first hand the line up and correspondingly longer faces of the rallies further back, we decided to make the 2-3 hour drive to the mountain crossing. Although more treacherous we initially favored the windy roads to boiling stop and start of the lineup. That quickly changed as darkness set and the pavement at altitude proved treacherous, to say nothing of the highly questionable behavior of the local truck drivers on the skinny roads. Stopping for fuel we pulled the plug on the mountainous pass and decided over a lovely dinner at a restaurant with a wraparound outdoor patio fishtank to flow back at our leisure to the border and wait it out after dark. Turns out the border only took 90 minutes to cross at that time and we were on our merry way. Markus and me went our for Partying after arrived around 1am in the hostel. I went home at 4 and Markus around 9am.

The views of the city in Georgia were spectacular, unfortunately only one of our troop managed to take them in, as most of the team was recovering. Thanks Seth. That being said, down in the streets was pretty phenomenal as well. This whole region of the world is steeped in massive amounts of history that is still strongly flavors their culture and food. Mhmmm. After walking around the streets close to the riverside the first morning returning to the hostel was even more of a treat. The establishment Fabrika could be a post unto itself. Two partners years ago bought a derelict soviet textiles factory and the results of their efforts are impressive. It is now a active art installation that features half a dozen restaurants, massive lounge packed every night with both locals and foreigners enjoying the atmosphere that could only be the polar opposite of its industrial soviet origins. Street art covered every square meter of wall space, bright and vibrant in contrast to the drab concrete poured for the original factory. Other pluses were its own club, international food, VW van photo both, classic cars parked about and very impressive couches, some over 5 meters long. The cheap draft also a plus. All in all the three days spent there was a lovely necessity, so nice to stretch our legs and give Bulma her well deserved rest.