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.

Tajikistan

Tajikistan

We left the country of Uzbekistan and entered the beautiful country of Tajikistan! We were immediately greeted by a beautiful mountain pass leading into Dushanbe.

While in Dushanbe we had one main goal! PREP THE CAR FOR THE PAMIR HIGHWAY! After some research we found out about an English speaking mechanic very close to our hostel.

We talked with the mechanic and told him our goal with the pamir highway. We asked for a full inspection of the car and some new suspension in the rear.

Upon the inspection he found our axle seal was leaking, but besides that Bulma was actually looking quite good!

The last time I talked with him was at midnight when he showed us some new shocks and some bmw rear springs he was customizing to fit in our cars.

At 8am we woke up and went to see our car and they had just finished it! They installed new rear springs, shocks, axle seal and even completed an oil change and wheel alignment for us!

The rear of the car now has a great lifted stance!

Dushanbe is a beautiful city with lots of great architecture!

We made our way to the pamir highway and were greeted with some of the most amazing mountain views I had ever seen!

To the right is Afghanistan on the left Tajikistan.

More beautiful drives along the river border with Afghanistan. Plan was to swim illegal over the Border to Afghanistan but in the end the current was too strong.

Driving through all the small towns along the highway children would chase our car and wave always wanting photos and stickers!

We set up camp just before the real high altitude climbing started!

Early the next morning we started pushing higher and higher into the mountains.

I have never felt such isolation before in my life.

The views were astonishing

We finally reached around 4300 meters and thats when the altitude sickness started..

Quite possibly the highest mongol rally sticker in the world!

Not everyone makes it off the Pamirs safely.

i wish I could have enjoyed this view more, but at the time my head was pounding and I was feeling extremely sick.

Whilst stopping for fuel and lunch in a small town at 4000 meters Seth and Grayson found some new hats!

This town has no power during the day so the fuel pumps only work at night when the generators are turned on! So in the daytime they measure out the fuel in cans from the main tanks and then pour it into your tanks with a jerry can.

We met some locals who wanted some team shenlong stickers!

Our last night on the pamir we camped at 4300 meters… it was the worst night of the whole trip. We were fighting altitude sickness all night unable to sleep and to top it off it dropped below freezing!

The one thing that made up for it was the night sky… I had never seen anything like it in my life. The stars and the Milky Way looked so close and clear. It ave me goose bumps just looking at it.

At 530am we started pushing for the border. Nobody slept well and we all felt very ill.

On the way to the border we went over some very washed out gravel roads when a huge bang went off in the car. My leg instantly started burning it felt as if someone just slapped it with a wooden spoon!

We pulled over to find the airbag had deployed on the drivers seat…

We finally reached the Tajikistan/kyrgyzstan border. It was a lot smaller then what we expected. A tiny house and gate with a few guards sitting by a fire inside the house. We had to take our shoes off in order to give our paperwork to the guards.

We were surprised to find a huge no mans land between the two countries! Over 30km of nothing but terrible roads and beautiful mountains.

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.

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.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan

Since our Iran tour starts in Armenia we actually didn’t have to head into Azerbaijan but we had already purchased visas so we decided to make a day trip of it! We drove about 45 minutes to the Georgia/Azerbaijan border only to be treated by the most friendly border guards I have ever met! (Seriously I fist bumped the border guard)

The car took some time to clear customs so we were relaxing at the border gate when 2 older men pointed to some extra beer and snacks on the table they had ordered for us! 

After hanging out at the border gate for about an extra Hour with these guys drinking we decided it was time to start actually driving into the country. 

Whilst driving we had to go through a military passport control checkpoint, while the military was checking our information a very nice gentleman pulled up to make sure everything was okay and took us to a fantastic restaurant. After finishing eating he tried insisting on hosting us for more beers and vodka the next night, sadly we only had one day to spend in azerbaijan. 

After about 3 hours of driving we ended up at the city of ganja! Honestly the city had quite an odd vibe. The streets were huge and empty, we even found an almost abandoned theme park. Honestly one of the creepiest things of come across in the middle of a large city.

After hanging out with a few of the creepiest Disney characters I had ever laid my eyes on we continued through ganja.

After seeing some of the hottest temperatures as of yet we bumped into a huge empty extremely overdone square on the outside of the city. I’ve never seen something like this before. It felt very weird to be around. With barely anyone around.

After driving 3 hours back to the border we arrived to it being closed! We talked with the border guards for a few minutes and they informed us there was one about an hour away. Or 16 km and no bridge haha. but before we left the border, the guard we had met that morning insisted on buying us all coffee. So after the coffee we started the treck through some awful roads in the dark!

We finally made it back to Georgia and into tsbilis around 1am. When we got back we found out that one of the best clubs in the world was throwing a huge event… not much sleep was had that night. Bassiani here we come! Do not drink or storage alcohol in the Dorm! If you follow the rules it should not look like this:

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.

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.