Browsed by
Author: Markus

Finish line

Finish line

After 20.142km in 53 days and 10 hours we reached the finish line with smoking tires. In Russia its not allowed to sell alcohol on the first Saturday of each month, but luckily we found a hotel where we could stock up at the bar in the lobby.

A few Asians did another photo shooting with our car.

Then we partied hard the whole night :).

Bar Celentano… Of course nobody knows Adriano except the Italians and me.

Definitely my hero of the rally. Max from France  finished the rally on his Vespa successfully. Since Turkmenistan we’ve been running , better drove, each other over and over again.

Mongolia – Day 7 – Ulaan Bataar

Mongolia – Day 7 – Ulaan Bataar

The next morning we found our car nicely parked. No plan what is going on in the people heads here. Meaningless?

We could free our car after one hour, had to stand in the driveway and block the way otherwise they would have parked us even further. The Italians were worse off, they were parked behind 6-7 cars all behind each other.

Around noon we reached the big market and went for a stroll.

Max had parked his Vespa not far from our car, we didn’t stop in front of his Vespa either. In total 30% of the rally teams received a sticker from us without being asked.

Then we visited Congji and his colleague from our selected charity TFCF Mongolia. We got a small guided tour through the new office and even a little present :). 

Through our collective donation of about 4600$ to the TFCF Mongolia Dream Home Ger project we were able to give families in need a new home. The first ones have already moved in.

We did a short oil check in front of the town hall and then we drove off towards Ulan-Ude (Russia) to the finish line.

At midnight we reached the border, were through at two o’clock in the morning. The actual plan was to find a place to sleep somewhere, directly behind the border, unfortunately without success. So we decided to drive through the last three small hours to Ulan-Ude. 

Mongolia – Day 6 – To Ulaan Bataar

Mongolia – Day 6 – To Ulaan Bataar

We left early in the morning, as usual – at summer temperatures.

The road to Ulaan Bataar wasn’t as good as we had hoped. However of course we had the next record within 30 minutes (probably in exactly the same place as last night….).

Around afternoon we passed some yurts, where you could ride on camels. Seth and Grayson were  immediately overwlemed with excitement.

First we had tea and some snacks at the “Ger” (yurt).

Then it was off to the camels and off into the dunes.

Ulaan Bataar, the capital of Mongolia, is home to almost 1.5 million people, half of the country’s population.

Before we looked for a hostel, we drove around the city to visit Genghis Khan. The 40 meter high monument was erected 10 years ago and consists of 250 tons of stainless steel. As always we parked bumper to bumper.

Our car looks so tiny from above.

On the way back to the city we had of course….. a flat tire. Badum’tss…

In Ulaan Bataar nothing goes, the traffic is the horror. 24/7 traffic jam. By far the worst city of the whole rally.

In the hostel where the other teams stayed there was no place left for us, we were recommended a hostel around the corner, Sara’s Hostel. Boah, that was bad. We arrived, they told us there was still room and we waited for the check-in, an hour later we paid and got the keys, without any info which floor, room or bed number or whatever. Of course Sara doesn’t speak a word of English. Somehow there was one free bed in each of the different rooms. In the end  we had already paid. A nice but fiery Korean man tried to help us, by loudly speaking to Sara, and in Korean of course. At some point I didn’t like it any more and only wanted a bed, somewhere else but not in this juice shop. In the end we got three beds in one room and it took only 2.5 hours until midnight.

Mongolia – Day 5

Mongolia – Day 5

In the morning we started looking for someone who could weld aluminium to seal our oil pan properly. The search was unsuccessful, we were told here in the small town of Bayankhongor we won’t find one, and would have more luck in in the capital Ulaan Bataar.

The two teams from yesterday left us around noon and wished us much success. So we went to work ourselves and used the sidewalk as a ramp to get under the car easier. 

Our oil pan didn’t look very trustworthy with all the cracks, despite being still in one piece…

In a “DIY store” around the corner we found a two-component adhesive and got to work.

When the oil pan was all covered with the epoxy, a Land Cruiser parked next to us, a man got out and looked at what we were doing. He didn’t speak English well, so he made a phone call and passed the phone on to Seth. He knew someone who could weld aluminum. A few seconds later Seth was already sitting in the Land Cruiser with the oil pan and disappeared into the horizon.

After two hours Seth appeared again, with our mended oil pan. :). The guy in the Land Cruiser had actually managed to find someone.

In the end it turned out that Mr. Land Cruiser was the owner of the hotel. We even got some drinks for free :).

After a small lunch we made our way to Ulaan Bataar in the late afternoon.

In the twilight we stopped at a horse monument. Unfortunately we don’t know what kind of horses they were. The atmosphere was pretty cool, just like the temperature.

Originally we had planned to drive through the night to Ulaan Bazaar… But after a few kilometers the road got quite holey and the next flat tire came shortly after. We decided to turn around and drive back to the last town to stay overnight.

Mongolia – Day 4 – 100% Mongol Rally

Mongolia – Day 4 – 100% Mongol Rally

In Mongolia, the shelves in the shops are often filled with the German premium brand: Good & Cheap.

Today there was 390km of driving on the agenda. From another team we had learned that the track was not great, and 250km of gravel road was waiting for us. Since we expected a long day, we started early, and by 6:30am we were on the road.

There was a main road, which was bumpy, washboard gravel, and tens of other smaller roads that led parallel through the plains. The roads weren’t that bad, we had as always a fast driving style.

After the first 100km off-road we made a photo stop on a hill with a great view…

… when we noticed – uh-oh, that looks like a leak… but the oil pan was repaired only two days ago.

The old patches were still good, but the oil pan had cracked two more times due to the bad terrain and the next town was 160km away.

We mended the oil pan from the outside as well as we could with some glue left over from the last patch. While the glue was drying we played a bit in the field with “Team Mayo to Mongolia” and “Team Smashed Avocado”.

So many ways – all with the same goal. So on we go in zigzag, this time driving slowly and paying attention!

A few minutes later….

Ok, of course we couldn’t go on with such a big loss of oil. Team Smashed Avocado, our heroes from Australia, agreed to tow us with their Opel Meriva (1.2L) – to the next town – 155km away – through the open terrain. Of course there was top support from our favourite Irish from Team Mayo to Mongolia, who drove ahead again and again, explored the track for towing capability and towed us the last kilometres when the Meriva from Team Smashed Avocado started to get tired. (Note: The team name Mayo has nothing to do with French fries or ketchup, the area in Ireland where they come from is called that). 

On the right side you can see the highway, which is currently under construction but of course not accessible, and on the left side all the country lanes.

Of course we were always looking for gaps to get onto the highway in order to be able to drive at least a few kilometres comfortably. Unfortunately, this was prevented again and again by huge heaps of earth, which blocked the way. Most of the time this meant turning around and driving back.

The most difficult part was towing downhill. Since we couldn’t let our engine run, the brakes didn’t really work and only the handbrake was available. It was clear that with a towing speed of 20-60kmh a braking distance of 2-3m tow rope is not sufficient, especially without not really working brakes. Therefore our car is now a little bit dented in front. For a bigger descent we separated the connection and rolled several kilometres silently into the valley.

Due to the uneven pulling through the terrain, our tow rope wear was not exactly low. We used up all four available tow ropes, which were torn and knotted together again and again: 35 times.

A flat tire must not be missing on such a day of course.

At some point, of course, the car battery was still empty and we were dragged into the dark, cold night without lights or heating.

Towed away under one of the most beautiful night skies I have seen so far. Unfortunately my tripod is broken and I had no time to take a decent photo. I only had 2-3 minutes (if the tow rope broke) and 25 seconds exposure time… that’s not much. But at least you get a small impression :).

Finally, after hours of towing through the darkness, we could finally see the lights of the city. But the impression can be deceiving, from the time of the photo to reaching the city we took about 1.5-2 hours. Without decent roads, turn around several times and find the gaps in the terrain. With a Land Cruiser cross-country this is certainly not a problem but our racing machine is rather designed for flat roads.

We reached our accommodation around 22:30 o’clock. After 16 hours in the car, about half of it on the tow rope. 1000 thanks again to Team Smashed Avocado and Team Mayo To Mongolia, without you we would not have made it! We still have 4 days and 1263Km to the finish line, hopefully we get our car quickly made fit to drive again.

Mongolia Day 2-3

Mongolia Day 2-3

Not much happened yesterday and today, we drove a lot and enjoyed the landscape. So far the roads in Mongolia are clearly better than expected (if roads are available).

We found a top team with whom we cruise through Mongolia, Team Mayo To Mongolia from Ireland.

Many roads are being built or renewed and are actual not passable/closed. We always have to take one of the various dirt roads next door.

Of course, we always try to get onto the road whenever the ground clearance allows it. But most of the time the road is closed after several 100 meters and we have to turn around and drive back to get off the dam.

Wild camels, everywhere.

The menus are only available in mongolian, if we have luck, sometimes also in russian. After all, 75% of the desired order arrive, if the interpreter is good enough ;-).

Mongolia – Day 1 – Drivers’ Attention!

Mongolia – Day 1 – Drivers’ Attention!

We made it, after 18.000km of driving, we finally crossed the border to Mongolia!

The scenery is incredible. These vast expanses of land remind me a little of New Zealand. The roads are either super good or super bad.

After less than an hour in Mongolia, Seth could only think of one thing: “Only flying is more beautiful than this” and hit a massive bump at 100kmh and nearly took off.

“No no no no – for sure, there were no warning signs”, no problem Seth, I went and counted, there were three signs in a row…

Well, anyway, we’re off the ground, almost out of control. Of course we stopped immediately to check if everything is in order with the car. No, unfortunately not, the oil pan was cracked, and was leaking badly. With the massive force of such an impact, even the skid plate couldn’t save us.

Not even two minutes later A man named Nurshuah and his wife appeared; they had heard the impact and live in the neighbouring village.

We dragged the car to his house and got tea and cookies before we started the analysis and repair. Findings: the oil pan had taken quite a hit – three cracks. Seth of course has a mega bad conscience and said again and again that he lost his driving licence for Mongolia… The “repair” took almost the whole day and our car turned into a children’s playground in the meantime.

The little rascals took our stickers, of course :D.

Everyone helped, even the dog.

The wind was icy, luckily the sun was a bit warm.

Our car now has at least 10 autographs of Abdulla and his siblings.

One of three fractures:

You could tell poor Seth had a really guilty conscience. We have to be careful to not hit the oil pan any more, and need to slow down a bit through Mongolia’s bad roads.

So far the repair has held, and no oil has leaked, let’s hope that this remains the case :).

Russia

Russia

After crossing the border from Kazakhstan to Russia, I felt almost like home. The landscape looks almost the same as the outskirts of Düsseldorf and the streets in Russia are better than in Germany so far. Really a dream. Countries able to drive again comfortably. We just cut into Russia to drive into Mongolia, just over 1000km. The first night we spent in a hostel, next door a bar where we were talked to by several nice locals, in Russian of course that we do not understand a word is of course not important.

The next morning we connected again with our lost convoy from Uzbekistan, after being 5-7 days in advance.

Whether we drive through Russia or through southern Germany, the landscape looks very similar.

Attack on a small shop just before the border hunting for food. We drove until 3:30 am, because we wanted or had to cross the border into Mongolia the next morning, because the border is closed the following day (Sunday).

We stayed in the only hostel/hotel, 800m from the border and slept 4h or less. Some slept in the car before the border, with below 0 degrees outside temperature this must not be for me.

In the background you can see the snow not so far away, I was still in shorts and flip-flops, because my long jeans were stored somewhere on the roof. I mean, it’s summer, but I didn’t take into account that the temperatures in summer fluctuate around 0-10 degrees depending on location, altitude and whims of Mongolian gods, of course.

Mongolia we’re coming!

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan

A wonderful view as we entered Kyrgyzstan.

We stayed in a cheap hotel in the city of Osh. The next morning a man came to our room and told us that both tires of our car are flat. All right, thanks for the info, no problem. (We have changed tires many times). Later, while we were working on the car, he started to help without being asked. While Seth and I jacked up the car on the right, the guy started jacking up the car on the other side. Something had to happen, and the jack of the guy gave way. The car slipped completely off the jacks, and lay on the rear axle at the side of the road. After this, it was a lot of effort to get the tire back on. The guy had absolutely no plan and upset us more and more. Afterwards he wanted money from us because we had supposedly asked him to help and we should buy him a new jack which he damaged himself. The ******** damaged our car and instead of a 5 minute tire change we had almost 2h of stress. He called the police and took pictures of our car but at some point we didn’t feel like it anymore and left.

Since there are only rarely signs with speed limits here we were in a village going 58kmh instead of the allowed 40km. Seth was pulled over, and the officers tried to collect from us in “good cop, bad cop” style. Oh, it’s gonna cost you, no, no exceptions, I’m writing you a ticket now. The other policeman: Oh no, you’d better pay 100 US dollars or you’ll get a ticket. Seth stayed cool and acted absolutely stupid, sorry we don’t have US dollars, I come from Canada, not from the USA. We don’t have US dollars :D. Well, at the end they wanted to keep his driver’s license, of course he only gave them his international license, wouldn’t have been a big deal if they kept it. He pretended to be so stupid that the officers didn’t feel like it anymore and let us go.

Google Maps suggested the blue route, I thought why not take the shorter way (orange) and make a detour to the second largest salt lake in the world. It wasn’t a good decision. We had about 300km of gravel road over a mountain pass. To reach our hotel in time, before check-in time we really put the pedal to the metal and Seth drove 80-100kmh Ken Block-like over the mountains. The video is what happened after.

No gas stations nearby, fortunately the fuel cans were full.

At some point Maps.me guided us along some dirt roads, the “paths” got worse and worse and in the end we simply drove across the fields by moonlight in the middle of the night.

Finally, almost at the end, only 300m until we are back on the “main road” but no, unfortunately there was a stream that could not be crossed by our car and a destroyed bridge. We were super tired, the fuel tank was almost empty again, and we had to go 15km through the fields back to the previous “road”. YEAH.

Around half past 2 in the night we got another flat tire and the mounting for the front right shock absorber came off the car (welds ripped). No village anywhere near. We just decided to stop and sleep in the car for 3-4 hours and then move on in the morning.

The next morning we started at 6am and drove – at a phenomenal 30kmh – 180km to the next bigger village to find a suitable workshop.

We were sent back and forth, looking for a workshop to do the welding. We expected to stay here for several days but in the end we found a workshop – “guys no problem 60$ and we fix everything”. An hour later, it was all fixed.

A couple hours later, visited the salt lake briefly and went on towards the border to Kazakhstan.

The next morning there were some problems, due to missing signs, markings or ushers at the border we drove past the queue for about one kilometer – completely unintentionally of course… Then we couldn’t merge and the locals got pretty excited and didn’t let us join the line. I just couldn’t go back and then things got quite stressful….. We got blocked by big SUVs over and over again. In the end we finally made it into the line since we were 3 rally cars traveling in convoy, and were able to force our way in. Nevertheless there were discussions and almost fights with the local people. In Iran they would have put us on a golden stretcher across the border but here….. you can already see the difference in hospitality between some cultures/countries.

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan has only about 8000 tourists per year, the visa procedure is not quite the easiest. We had a transit visa for five days. On arrival our car was given a GPS tracker and we a map, we should not leave the planned route. 

Directly behind the border we reached the capital Ashgabat. The ambassador of Turkmenistan in London advised us not to take photos, as it is forbidden to photograph public/government buildings. Of course it was not obvious to us what the government is and is not, so I kept my camera clicking, mostly out of the car.

Ashgabat is like a perfectly laid out city from Anno or Simcity. Everything is white, from marble, buildings to cars only in white or silver. Bright sidewalks, traffic lights made of stainless steel, every tree and every shrub perfectly laid out and cut. Only 5 million people live in the entire country, which is about the size of Spain. The capital seems busy – but in a strange way. The buildings are mostly empty. There is a university, but no students. The very few people there seem like actors on the Truman Show. Soon the suspicion comes up that the whole town is just a big fake. It’s more illusion than reality.

After a dry week of heat in Iran, we spent the first night in a 5 star hotel with pool. One week in Iran had left us very thirsty. The pool was officially closed from 21 o’clock but our private pool party still went to 3 o’clock in the morning.

 

After two nights in Ashgabat we made our way to the crater of Derweze (or also: “The gate to hell”). During drilling in 1971, geologists happened to find an underground cave filled with natural gas. The ground under the drilling platform collapsed, creating a large hole with a diameter of about 70 meters. To avoid the release of the toxic gas, it was decided to burn it. Contrary to the original hope of geologists, the fire did not go out after a few days, but continues to be active 46 years later. The crater is about 5 km from the main road. The first top off-road occasion for our car.

Of course we got stuck in the sand several times, 4-5 times. Our car doesn’t have the perfect ground clearance for this kind of terrain 😉 . There were several local scammers on motocross bikes that were quite annoying. The trucks that passed the track for work would have pulled us out for free or 1-2€ but the motocross bikers kept telling the truckers to charge 20$, really to puke. Of course, we refused with thanks and then always blocked the track.

At some point by chance one or another rally car came by and helped us out of the jam free of charge.

After hours in the sandbox we could see the glow of the crater.

We camped right at the edge of the crater. Fortunately, the wind did not change at night, on the other side of the crater it was a bit warmer, almost sauna temperatures.

On the way back we gave our gas tank had its bell rung, so far everything is fine, but the fuel gauge now stays at 3/4. But have already done a test, rolled out on the last drop at a gas station and made 404km with a “full” tank.

And on the roads we’ve already easily had 6-7 times the rims rocked by potholes. A suitable hammer for bending to size is worth its weight in gold. So far Markus is the record holder with three rims at the same time.

Iran

Iran

Yeah, our longest wait on the border yet. The processing of the customs forms for the car took approx. 6 hours. From now on there were 5 teams in convoy: convoy Thumbs up . However one should not show the “thumbs up” here to older people as it is an insult here. The kids don’t seem to mind though.

On the second day we lost two cars from our convoy of 5, without mobile phone and internet, if the tour guide falls asleep and doesn’t stop them from speeding away, something like this happens quickly. After +30min waiting time at the roadside, the missing two teams arrived. Team Fat Penguin had a breakdown, and a local stopped immediately and solved the problem with the fuel line within 10min.

Voluntary hike in Tabriz, half took the cable car and the other half of the group hiked up. With the temperatures here one might think twice about the walk, luckily it was windy.

Our tour guide Rashed in a good mood, 30min later in deep sleep.

It’s just incredible here. I have never met such guest(friendly) people. Everyone welcomes us mega cordially and is constantly saying hello. Where are u from? Welcome to Iran! I can’t believe it. On the Tollroads we passed free of charge, and we were stopped on the highway to take pictures, invited to eat etc.

Repair of the ABS problem and bending of the skid plate for the equivalent of 7€.

Uphill and which car wimp out first? The 4×4 Fiat Panda :D.

The children are enthusiastic about the dragon car.

The food is delicious and inexpensive, but unfortunately there is not so much choice. Almost everywhere only Kebap (meat skewer / lamb, chicken or beef). A plate of kebap costs 1-1,50€ and a steak, if one is on offer, 4€. Everything, of course, with rice, rice, rice or bread, every meal. For breakfast we always serve thin flatbread with curd cheese and honey. 

Rob and Robin drove in front of us, suddenly the exhaust was smoking quite suspiciously so we stopped immediately. What’s the matter? Rob had measured the oil level quickly in the morning, thought there was no more oil in the engine and tipped 3L (which corresponds to a complete oil change, so to speak, was a “little” too much). 

We were stopped and checked again and again by the police, at the beginning the policemen are a bit grim but afterwards super friendly.

The first camels in the wild, more or less.

The official exchange rate of Euro to Iranian Rial is about 1:50.000, but on the black market you get 100.000 Rial per Euro. Turkmenistan is even starker. Official price 1 EUR = 4.2 Manat / On the black market 1€ = 17.2 Manat. Due to the extremely favourable exchange rates, one litre of petrol costs 10 cents in Iran and 8.7 cents in Turkmenistan.  Fill the tank up for 3,50-4,00€. Money exchange at the border to Turkmenistan but still in Iran. Nice colored bills, almost like Monopoly’s.

Border crossing to Turkmenistan, of course the road had to be repaired while we waited at the gate.

Republic of Artsakh

Republic of Artsakh

The last night we spent in Jermuk and the next morning we visited the local waterfall. Afterwards we made our way to the Republic of Artsakh. The Republic is a stabilized de facto regime in Nagorno-Karabakh that is not recognized by the international community. The United Nations and the Council of Europe regard the area, which is predominantly inhabited by Armenians, as part of Azerbaijan.

Further information here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_Artsakh

At the border we picked up Pablo (USA). Pablo has been on the road from Vietnam to Scotland for 5 months and travels only with free accommodation and free transport, so only by hitchhiker. We were his 535th ride.

After arrival in our guesthouse we chose the next river to cool ourselves off from the hot temperatures. We let Pablo sleep in our car and went sightseeing the next morning together, visited a museum and a carpet factory. I could not resist an unbeatable special offer and bought this great carpet (of course with certificate).

A German gas pump that seems to have got lost. Somewhere in Armenia.

In the afternoon we visited the cave village of Khndzoresk – Maps.me always leads us on absolutely top-suitable roads. Instead of to the visitor parking lot we were navigated back around the mountain down to the caves. When it became to sketchy we made a stop and ran the last meters. Free entry to the cave attraction.

On the way back, the car had to fight pretty hard to get back up the steep mountain path. So everybody excited the car and made a running jump and push so it still managed to escape the valley.

Grayson new couch.

Towards dusk we had only 50km of dirt road in front of us, if you can call it that. The installation of underride protection and light strip have definitely paid off. The ABS warning light came on at 20km, we stopped and checked to make sure we continued with brakes. At a top speed of 20-30 km/h, of course, it takes a little time.

Armenia – Part 1

Armenia – Part 1

Just across the border and Armenia is really cool from the beginning. Today we have many pictures to post and less text but the pictures speak for themselves :).

Unfortunately the road is closed due to construction work, in the end we were able to continue after a few minutes.

First stop: Haghartsin Monastery:

Second stop: Sevanawank Monastery

Capital Yerevan: Yerevan Cascade / 560 steps 😉

Garni Temple:

After several hours up the mountain at +40 degrees outside temperature, we had to let the engine cool down several times (110 degrees).

Norawank Monastery:

Here we met Team Wheels4all (two Spanish and one Argentinean, a very nice team)

At the end of the day there was a small adventure tour through an area fire. Partly we had a view of 0m. Got through without incident in the end.

Istanbul

Istanbul

Overnight at a camping site by the sea in Bulgaria with Team Tyrannosaurus Wreck and Team Fat Penguin. Our roof tarpaulin had already dismantled itself, the rain in Bulgaria was really heavy, even the rain protection from my backpack did not help. All clothes completely soaked, also the sleeping bags. Of course, that was very pleasing. With the distance we travel, sunshine in the morning means absolutely nothing. The night was accordingly a bit cool without sleeping bag but feasible. Team Tyrannosaurus Wreck had already sprung a suspension spring, we decided to be so nice and provided one of our backup suspension springs and had it professionally installed by our chief technician Oliver. Mainly with the creative use of cable ties.

Blind Passenger:

So, from Turkey it is now over with the mobile EU Internet. Our offline Navi-App Maps.me is not as reliable as one may be used to. Very often exits are closed and the proposed turn is forbidden. Missed an exit in the gigantic Istanbul and needed about 45min to get back on the highway, after prompting to cross several pedestrian bridges. Upon arrival at the hostel we ended the evening with a couple of beers from the roof terrace of our hostel (overlooking the Bosporus) and a mega delicious dinner in a restaurant around the corner. The next day we explored the area, passed the big mosques and visited the big bazaar. In the evening Grayson and I visited a historical Hamam from 1481 and had us scrubbed really nice. Adriano Celentano was supposedly already there and other celebrities ;-). I think that was the first day we didn’t drive.

 

Living at the limit:

We have just arrived at a campsite in the town of Samsun. We had 23 o’clock and the gate was unfortunately locked, luckily the security from the harbour around the corner had the phone number of the campsite security and he let us in. Was a long day today, quickly write the blog entry and then off into the tent. Tomorrow we will continue to Georgia.

Ukraine to Romania

Ukraine to Romania

From the Ukraine we drove quite fast on to Moldavia (Land of Sunflowers). In the somewhat large city of Bălți we had a delicious dinner. Unfortunately there is no hostel in Bălți, but we found a cheap hotel, 7€ per person, a toilet down the hall, tiny rooms and no showers. It was definitely enough though. On the way to the hotel Robin and Rob were about 200m ahead and were pulled over, allegedly because of a red-running traffic light. The officer attempted to charge 50€ (exaggerated). After a long time they asked for an official ticket, but the officials probably didn’t want to do paperwork and in the end they didn’t have to pay.

Between Moldova and Ukraine there is an independent territory which is not internationally recognized: Transnistria. The secessionist part of the country is beyond the control of the Moldovan government. That sounded interesting, so we decided to go to Transnistria. The entry was quite unproblematic – we got a transit visa for 10h. There is actually only one larger city, the capital Tiraspol. Here we made a short stop for lunch, a little sightseeing and to exchange some banknotes that have no value anywhere else in the world.

At the re-entry into the Ukraine there was a complication, because we only had an entry stamp from Moldova but no exit stamp. Makes sense somewhere since there are no Moldavian border posts at the border of Moldova/Transnistria, since Transnistria is not recognized. After some back and forth and the support of a nice French EU official we were able to re-enter the Ukraine without any problems. And got the necessary exit stamps from a Moldavian border guard who happened to be there.

In the late afternoon we reached Odessa, a large city on the Black Sea. After hours in the city traffic we also found a nice little hostel. After unloading and stowing away all our stuff we went out for a few beers and a delicious dinner (2×0,5L beer + food for the equivalent of 3,27€). It was really good after all the driving from early to late the last few days.

Bulma successfully completed the first off-road test this afternoon without any problems. A dirt road next to the fields was more pleasant to drive than the actual concrete road, as it was are often unspeakably bad and had more holes than a Swiss cheese. The self-made skid plate has already paid off several times.

Unfortunately there is no border crossing between Ukraine and Romania so we have to enter Moldavia again for less than one KM and leave for Romania after 5min. That unfortunately meant every border crossing added an easy 1-2 hours for paperwork and customs control.

Slovakia – Ukraine

Slovakia – Ukraine

After the start we spontaneously joined Robin & Rob to head east, instead of heading southwest as we had planned. After some detours we arrived late in the evening at a camping site in the Tatra Mountains (Slovakia).

After a delicious breakfast that only cost 3€, we moved further east and stopped at a lake and later at a castle, which we had seen from the motorway. We hiked all the way to the top. A little movement, when you otherwise sit in the car for almost the whole day, is great.

At noon we spontaneously decided to drive to Ukraine without any preparations; after all, that’s the point of the rally :D. Hours later at the border our car made a good impression, and when one of the border guards had to radio our license plate, he laughed. We got through mostly without problems, but had not received a stamp from customs and had to drive back to another post. It was all a bit disorganized and just not clear to us. Robin & Rob did not have all the papers with them; specifically they did not have all of the insurance documents that the border guards wanted. After much back and forth, the guard asked them for money. Both simply played dumb and at some point the queue of cars was so long behind them that they were allowed to go. Done, all across the border, after over 2 hours. That was about 8:00 p.m. Welcome to Ukraine.

After several hours of driving we stopped somewhere in nowhere around midnight in a motel, three double rooms for 12€ each. So 6€ per person, can’t say anything bad about that. Because we couldn’t read the menu, we ordered something random for breakfast. Was quite tasty ;-). Lunch is served for breakfast in Ukraine.

We’re now heading for Moldova. The roads are often so full of potholes that you have to be very careful. Everyone drives swerving around both sides of the road to avoid the holes.

Start – Lets go!

Start – Lets go!

The start area was awesome, constructed in Mad Max style. Shoutout to the organizers for the great work!

mongolian wrestling

(Photo with the Turkmen ambassador and her husband – she gave a speech about what to consider when you are in Turkmenistan, what you can and can’t do.)

After a long night and the official launch ceremony this morning, we are now on our way east. Budapest was our first idea for today, but it changed, now we’re heading towards the Tatra Mountains.

Prag

Prag

On the way to Prague we ran into our first rain shower. At the time, our things on the roof were not covered with a tarp or anything. Fortunately it was just a little shower and everything stayed dry. In Prague we were greeted extremely nicely by our couchsurfer host Dennis (who was originally from Canada). After a delicious dinner and some tasty local beers we went to to the pub opposite Dennis’ house. The next morning we noticed that our packed car was not locked over the night, but luckily everything was still there… After a very tasty breakfast Dennis led us to Vitus Cathedral and gave us a small tour. Around noon we picked up Robin (Team Fat Penguin) and took him to the start party. His rally partner Rob was still stuck in Austria.

Dover -> Frankfurt / T-2 days

Dover -> Frankfurt / T-2 days

After a short night we got up last morning at 7:15 a.m. to move on quickly. After all, we wanted to catch the convoy on the ferry. On the way to breakfast we met another team that had stayed around the corner, and after a breakfast together in their hotel we started towards the ferry.

This time the border control took much longer and we missed our ferry by 5min and thus also the convoy, sadly. Happily, we didn’t have to pay a surcharge for the next ferry, which was about 45 minutes later.  After arriving in France, we needed to find a gas station near Calais. Unfortunately google didn’t prove to be very helpful this time. The first filling station was only for trucks and the second was a specialty store of Total which was listed as a filling station. We weren’t the only ones there though, another team was already in front, as they had also missed the convoy. Fortunately, thanks to the help of a nice older gentleman, we were able to find a actual gas station around the corner. From here we set off together and formed our own convoy.  While on the ferry I used Couchsurfing and managed to find a host in Frankfurt to take in all four of us. Tobi from Frankfurt.

Since we had to pass Aachen anyway and I could not yet say goodbye to my sister Anna, we met at short notice in a rest area near the A44 near Aachen. Anna was waiting for us with a big stack of pizzas. Throughout the day, our convoy had grown to 4 cars. Thanks to Anna we didn’t lose much time and were able to continue…

So far everyone is very enthusiastic about our car, we are often honked at and photographed. Around 23:30 we arrived at Tobi’s, the beer was already cold. Luggage was unloaded and then we were taken to the party cellar. A planned beer turned into a party that lasted until 5 o’clock in the morning. Sleep is overrated. The rally has not even officially started yet. In any case Tobi is by far the coolest host I have met so far. There aren’t many people who would host four crazy guys at the same time, let alone have enough room. After packing up, we got breakfast at Aldi and are now on the way to Prague. Tomorrow’s the launch party. Of course we missed the convoy this morning, due to the prolonged stay up last night :D. Let’s see if we can catch up with them with our racing machine.

T-4 days

T-4 days

The Car is ready. Left to England at 5pm from Düsseldorf and catch the unofficial convoy to Prague tomorrow morning. According to Google Maps, we should have been at the ferry an hour before the ferry check-in time, but as it turns out there was a few wrong turns along the way. 22:45 was the latest check-in for the ferry. And we managed to crawl into the terminal at 23:00. Luckily the ferry was 30minutes late.now we are spending the night in a “cheap” hotel 20min from Dover and we take the ferry back with the other teams tomorrow at 10:15. It says we are going to England on the car, so thats what we are going to do! We are now sitting on the pier waiting for the ferry, in the cold weather  Luckily I packed some warm clothes. So far, the car is running tops. We found out the car (bulma) can reach 110 kmh uphill and 130 kmh downhill with a full load. Quite impressive yet also a tad scary!

Intro Video

Intro Video

Finally we’ve made it. Blog entries for the last days will follow. Proudly present our Intro video and the making of:

Intro Video:

Making Of:

We just left my place – heading up to England – trying to catch up the convoy from England to Prague – Official Startline.

Update Update Update

Update Update Update

I’m so busy with the preparations for the rally that I barely have time to blog ;-).  Got the first stamp in the passport (Uzbekistan) and the passport has now been at the Iranian Embassy for the past week. I am happy every time the passport comes back in one piece.

About two weeks ago I received a package from the event organisers with the official rally stickers for the car. After some consideration I decided to adapt our team logo to the official rally logo for technical design reasons. After countless hours at the computer I can proudly present our new team logo.

While it wasn’t really necessary, it is really fun to be particularly creative and to think about what the car should look like. When I have a creative phase like the current one, I sometimes end up with funny graphics :D.

For the design that will decorate the bonnet there were also dozens of designs. Over time something always comes along and it always gets a bit better… After a total of 40+h in the last three weeks, this is the final design which will be shown on Bulma’s bonnet soon.

Next item, how do you want the sponsor stickers? No matter how I moved the logos back and forth. It never looked satisfactory.

Maybe just print it out and stick it on, is perhaps a little better to be able to imagine that. But in the end it looked just as stupid as it did on the computer :D.

Finally I got the idea to just take pictures of Bulma in the different side views so that it looks more realistic in the image editing program. Much better than the blueprint. Well, after another tens of hours at the image processing program the final design is fixed. Of course it is not yet published and is only slightly teased in the following photos. In short, Bulma is painted. After I had compiled a list of the colours I needed for the design, I first had to look into paints and varnishes. For example, there is a colour standard called RAL and if the code is the same, no matter from which manufacturer I buy a can, the colour is 100% the same. So I made a list of possible RAL colours that could fit, 14 pieces should fit. In a DIY store a can costs 10-15€ depending on the colour… On eBay classifieds I found an ad from a guy from Dortmund who bought up remaining stock and sold cans for 2€ each Of course, it was all unsorted, so I grabbed my cousin Johannes and we went to the market in Dortmund last Saturday, at half past six in the morning.

After more than an hour of searching we were quite successful and had gotten almost all colors. And all this for only 28€!

In the afternoon the first test took place, the rims are now a bit colorful 😉

Not bad for my first experience with spray paint, but looks a little better on the photo than in real. But I didn’t expect the can to be empty after 3 rims… dark rims, several layers of paint etc. So one day later in the afternoon I drove to Dortmund again. This time I even got all 4 cans I still needed as a present from the guy, really cool!

One day later, stencil made of crepe tape, paper and newspaper. At the end the rims should look like the Dragonballs 😉 Stars stars stars.

Since yesterday I am with our extremely cool and especially helpful sponsor B&L Carservick GmbH in Hilden. Here I have space to work on the car and if I have any questions or if I needed any tools they could provide me with extremely competent help. If one of you ever need a car repair I can highly recommend B&L Carservice in Hilden, the guys there really rock. First, the side trim came off. All in all this is much more work than I had imagined, but it is also really fun!

Warning, Spoilers!

After two hours, my MacBook Air 11″ said goodbye. Used on eBay just two weeks ago for 450€, top condition – 1A everything ok but after 2h on theprojector the graphics unit has left, suddenly no picture, neither internal nor external. It’s really great. My first broken Mac after 12 years. I’m really annoyed, of course it’s no longer guaranteed – The 11″ is also not available at Apple either and it would have been a good value for money for travel. Repair in my trusted Apple Store should cost 540€ and even if I would buy a spare part on the Internet and do the repair myself, the part still costs at least 300€++. Well, just silly. Luckily I have more than one Mac at home so I can continue working without problems.

I learned a lot today, was never so the car wrench until now, but actually that is not soooooo difficult ;-). Depends on what needs to be done.

Bulma

Bulma

After weeks of car-searching we finally managed to find the perfect. I was calling salesmen and dealers almost every day, arranging appointments to visit, test drive and getting a mechanical inspection, usually the condition was too bad after all, so on to the next car… THEN WE FOUND BULMA!

Bulma is a beautiful 2003 Opel Agila, I was really lucky, checked out mobile.de search in the morning, the car was just posted on the site and I was the first caller/interested person! I checked out the car that same day, the price was great – it was a very good deal and the condition seemed to be ok. So after a short consultation with the others I bought it. It was time for it because we absolutely needed vehicle documents (customs forms etc.)  for the first visas (Iran/Russia). For Iran we are in a group of four teams and we were the only ones without a car. We are very happy, now we have already checked off a big point on our ToDo list.

The first donations have come in, mostly from the family but it works :). We are also on the hunt for more sponsors!, now with a car we can go on a real sponsor hunt. The story with the old car is also over, What an impact a letter form a lawyer can make!… the previous owner picked up the car yesterday and refunded the purchase price. One thing less to worry about. Thumbs up. And we got our beautiful stickers and business cards :)!

Our Sponsor No. 1!

Our Sponsor No. 1!

We are proud to announce our first official sponsor!

Mr. Grundmann, management director of the “carstengrundmann consulting gmbh”, official apple consultant and former snowboard superstar, is actual the no.  1 address in Düsseldorf for the IT on-site service of your medium-sized company. Was a pleasure to meet Mr. Grundmann in his office to receive the possibly biggest cheque i ever got. Mr. Grundmann: “It is an honor to support young people with spirit – we wish you a successful journey and enjoy your adventure!” As thank-you he received of course the official sponsor no 1 certificate.

What has happened so far.

What has happened so far.

The first time i heard about the Mongol Rally was from my Italian travel buddy Marco in Australia two years ago . Since then the rally has taken a top spot on my bucket list.

Finding a team for such a crazy rally was in the end more difficult than expected. I know a lot of people who wanted to come… but getting commitment for a team proved extremely difficult.

At the end of December I came into contact with a guy from Philadelphia via a Facebook group – He had  registered already officially for the rally and was looking for more team members. At the end of December we met at the 1st Meet & Route beers in London. Had fun and it looked like a perfect fit, so I joined his team.

I spent the following weeks looking for a car, I wanted a Suzuki Wagon R, a well tested Mongol Rally car. At the beginning of March I found a suitable car and immediately contacted my team mate who I hadn’t heard from in a long time. Well short answer was: Sorry Markus, there have been a few things, and I can not do the rally this year and have moved my registration to next year. Great, thank you, I wanted to buy the car tomorrow.

Well, I bought the car anyway, thought I’ll find another team that is looking for someone and doesn’t have a car yet. Yes, there were teams looking for this, but then the idea of time limit, budget and car didn’t fit…

Mid of March I gave up and registered myself. I definitely wanted to do the rally this year, whether I find someone or not. Through a ad in the relevant Facebook groups for the Mongol Rally I got some inquiries. But mostly the people had no realistic idea such as a budget of 1500€ or less, time frame of 3 weeks. (Finish line opens after 4 weeks, closes after 8 weeks. It’s 15,000km….not a short distance to travel especially through around 18 countries.

In the end I got some nice applications with realistic ideas. After several chats and video calls we managed to set up the following team:

Seth – professional diver from Canada – currently lives in Jamaica.
Grayson – mate of Seth – also a professional diver from Canada – lives near Vancouver.
Oliver – studies automotive business in Canada – lives in Ontario.

Time was running out, we had to apply for the first visa by april 1st!: Turkmenistan.

Two weeks ago I went with the car I bought to two garages for an inspection. Looks like I got ripped off. The condition of the car was awful with rust going through the frame. The car got the TÜV (roadworthy certificate) 3 months ago, but should not have passed with the actual condition. Something can’t be right… Currently the seller has a letter from my lawyer, the contract of sale is contested. Let’s see what comes around.

The car search goes on, we are now 4 people and need a little bit more space.

Blog is online but still working on the contents. Business cards and stickers are already designed. Finding sponsors and collecting donations can start soon.

WE CANT WAIT!