10/10 would recommend to others
MURRICAN PROTIP: Fly out of hubs like Newark International, rather than nearby airports like Detroit Metro Airport, if you want to save money. The trip to sub hubs can itself be a wonderful little trip.
Also, if you're willing to hustle a bit when you land, try to find lodgings outside of the Greater London area. Arundel's a lovely place for a few day's rest, and I'd recommend it and the YHA hostel just north of it to others.
If you decide to bring only a cheap camera with you, be willing to accept that the pictures that come out of it may be crap in a variety of ways.
I wish we had public footpaths like that here.
And as for the Mongol Rally itself: Basically, it's an event wherein folks drive small-engined cars from Goodwood Circuit in southern England (or Klatovy, Czech Republic) to Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Or somewhere in-between, if the car breaks down.
The main draw of doing such a trip with an event like the Mongol Rally rather than just on your own is that there's some really great parties along the way, money is raised for charity and you're more likely to come across other people doing the same trip.
We drove a Renault Clio. Would not recommend that to others.
The Goodwood party was not as fun as had been anticipated; the weather was exceedingly awful.
From Goodwood Circuit and Chichester, we drove all the way to Brussels in a day, taking the Chunnel to cross over to France. On July 14th.
I was surprised to find the Nord department so empty. Most stores were closed early, and I saw practically nobody on the streets. On July 4th here, many stores would be open late and there'd be drunkards on the streets.
Brussels itself wasn't quite what I expected. The traffic there is terrible, for one. The driving style seemed very erratic, and it was doubly bothersome for to drive through that traffic in the Renault, since it had been built for British markets and thus had the driver positioned on the wrong side.
I found Brussels to be way too touristy for my liking, but my traveling companions were absolutely enthralled with it.
We drove all the way from Brussels to Klatovy in a single day, and I hadn't bought more batteries for my camera in Belgium (fuck those prices) and so could not take pictures of the autobahn as we puttered through Germany.
Speaking of which, why are the most aggressive drivers on the autobahn always the least likely to use their indicators when changing lanes? That caused a bit of anxiety for us on several occassions.
I think we left Brussels around 10:00 or so in the morning; we arrived at Klatovy around midnight that same day. The Klatovy party was at a castle just outside of town, and had a spotlight trained upwards throughout the night. That thing was a goddamned godsend for us, otherwise we would've not found the place that night.
Ended up camping at the site of the party. I decided to represent the Greatest County On Earth by putting Old Glory up in front of my tent.
Also, see that Smart Car in the second photo? That belonged to an American who was planning to drive to Mongolia without a companion. He also was planning to drive there with a Hungarian passport (his mother was Hungarian and his father Dominican, apparently). From what I heard later, he caused trouble at every border he crossed, since he had a Hungarian passport, a Dominican surname, and a car with New York State plates. He got into a fistfight with a guard at the Russian border. I don't know what happened to him after then.
Although we were camping out at what looked like a former military base, the party proper was at a nearby castle, only a five-or-ten-minute walk away from the camp. Damn good fun overall, especially earlier on before everybody got too drunk. I met a couple veteran Ralliers who had done the trek before, and really enjoyed some of the bands.
If memory serves, some gypsies had set up shop inside one of the castle's dungeons and were selling tea, coffee and hookahs there. That was the best place. The tea was quite nice, too.
Our first stop after Klatovy was Ebensee, Austria, which I had requested my companions tolerate us visiting. Grandpa George kicked some Nazi ass there back in '45 and I wanted to see what the place was like now.
Also, that first picture is the only photo of Germany I took during the entire trip. From Klatovy to Ebensee we briefly drove back through Bavaria, since that was actually a fairly direct route there.
So I had never heard of the Salzkammergut and had wanted to visit Ebensee solely because I knew my Grandpa had been there.
Damn, that place is nice.
Salzburg was when the troubles with the Renault started. Turns out the car had a defective throttle position sensor or some such, and sporadically misfired and thought the car had no oxygen in it. It would then force the car into a sort of limping 'safety mode' that was like driving in first gear all the time, and we'd have to pull over and restart the car to get the sensor reset. This was a problem, because the sensor would sometimes misfire on the autobahn, and then suddenly our car would go from 70 mph to 20 mph and we'd be fucked.
It was only at Salzburg that I found out the team captain wanted to tackle the Stelvio Pass; with the car starting to die on us, we were now heading west, up through Tyrol and in the opposite direction from Mongolia.
The car broke down pretty badly just outside of Innsbruck, and we ended up staying the night at a hostel on the east side of town.
The Renault dealership in Innsbruck was of no help to us. They said that the part in question could only be ordered from a warehouse in Hungary, and that it would take a week to be shipped to Innsbruck. Moreover, they said, the fault was probably insignificant and we could continue on without any major issues.
We drove on towards the Stelvio Pass, thinking to ourselves that we had just been overreacting to the sensor problem.
Still, we tackled the Reschenpass without any problems. We'd be fine on the Stelvio Pass, right?
It turns out we weren't even on the Stelvio Pass; we had driven into Switzerland without realizing it, and had been blindly following signs that just pointed in the general direction of the Stelvio Pass. While it's true that the Umbrail Pass, which is what we were actually on, does ultimately connect to the Stelvio Pass, they are not one and the same.
Halfway up, the sensor misfired, the car overheated and the engine died entirely on us. We then coasted back downhill and stopped at the village at the base of the pass. Turned out we were in the itty-bitty part of Switzerland where everybody speaks Romansh.
The local mechanics were unable to fix the car for us, and told us the nearest guys who could possibly help were in Bozen/Bolzano. We thanked them for their efforts, left the car at the mechanics' shop, and ended up at the most lovely campsite in Switzerland. Free showers, free wifi and a free sauna! I would love to visit Mustair again sometime.
After a night of sweet rest in Mustair-- the sky was perfectly clear that night, and I could see more stars in the sky there than I had ever seen anywhere else-- we checked on the car and found out that the night's rest had done it some good as well, as it could start up again. Carefully, we drove to Bozen, where the mechanics figured out they could just replace the broken sensor with the sensor from another Renault Clio that was having unrelated problems.
I never realized how German Sudtirol still is before I went there.
From Bozen we drove on to Nova Gorica, just on the Slovenian side of the Italian-Slovene border. Foolish us, we had decided to take the toll highway from Bozen to the border, and ended up paying 27 Euros for it. Fuck that.
We ended up arriving in Nova Gorica around midnight, and stayed at a campsite on the edge of town. The campsite's owner was drinking with some campers at the time, and turned out to be a very amicable fellow. Even let us use his home's wifi network the next day.
I have practically no photos of Croatia or Serbia, even though Belgrade was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. Had no batteries for my camera again.
Ended up staying at a place in Belgrade called "BB's House", at the recommendation of a Serbian underwear salesman we met at the Croatian-Serbian border. Turned out to be a very nice place-- wifi worked, and the tap water was even drinkable! Along with Mustair, Belgrade's another European town I saw on the trip that I'd love to visit again.
After Serbia was Bulgaria. We ended up staying overnight at the first hotel north of Sofia we came across, as it was late and the road was awful there. The hotel owner couldn't speak English, but could speak Russian (he'd studied in Leningrad, back in the day) and so we were able to negotiate three beds for ourselves for $30 and €5, since that's all the cash we had on us at the time. It was the first place we'd been at where I saw a combination toilet/showerroom with no curtain or anything separating the two.
Then came Turkey. One of the first bits of excitement in Turkey happened right at the border-- the team captain, a Scotsman from Glasgow, couldn't stand the 40C head and passed out while we were waiting to be processed at the Turkish side of the border. Then the border crossing's computer system crashed, and we had to wait for two hours for the system to be fixed and rebooted. Eventually we got through, and then we sped along to our first Turkish stop: Istanbul.
I should take this moment to describe my companions a bit; I went on this trip with two people I had met on Facebook and didn't know personally beforehand. The captain was, as mentioned above, a Scotsman, Glaswegian and Glasgow Rangers fan. His wife was from St. Petersburg and was a fervent Orthodox believer, hence the icons in our car. She was actually convinced that our car had broken down in Switzerland because Captain Glasgow and myself had made too many jokes about Germans along the way ("We need to get off at the next exit, so veer hard to the right-- as is the Germany way").
We spent two nights in Istanbul, at a little hostel near Taksim Square. We were in a six-bed room, and the three other beds were taken by three Londoners who had decided to drive to Istanbul in a dinky little 30-year-old Mini Cooper. Good guys, very friendly, took it well when I beat them at poker.
The city was expensive and touristy, and the traffic abysmal. There's a series of toll booths on the highways around Istanbul-- we didn't know how to pay for them, so we roared through the auto-pay lanes and ignored the sirens when they went off. The police didn't seem to care.
From Istanbul we drove on to Samsun in a day, taking a route that took us through the dry, somewhat-barren interior. At one point we stopped at a little roadside gas station, and as we were filling up a fellow who seemed to be the station's owner came up and offered us some tea. We couldn't speak Turkish and he didn't speak English, Russian or French, so we weren't able to communicate that well. Nevertheless, we did have a good laugh when one of us mentioned Istanbul and he responded with a pity "Istanbul... pfah!"
In Samsun, we ended up camping at an RV park along the shore. Another Rally team showed up there about an hour after we did, and we had a grand ol' time.
Just realized that I forgot to mention that we met up with several other Rally teams in Istanbul, and exchanged stories, phone numbers and lots of beer. Good times.
In eastern Turkey we had some problems with the locals. We had originally planned to just go from Samsun to Trabzon for the next leg of our trip, but when we arrived in Trabzon we met another Rally team that was planning to go on to Hopa, saying that they'd heard of a party going on there.
It turned out there was no party there and that when the captain and his wife went into a nearby hotel, the wife asking about any vacancies, the locals called her a whore and chased the couple out. Distraught, the wife demanded we leave the country altogether, and so we drove to the Georgian border and ended up at a hotel in Batumi, around 3:00 a.m.
The Black Sea coast at Batumi was not impressive.
From Batumi, we planned to drive all the way to Tbilisi in one day, but things did not work out as we had hoped.
Georgians are terrible drivers. Turks drive very fast and aggressively, always passing one another on roadways and never following the speed limit. Russians seem to follow the speed limit more often, but they are more willing to take risks like turning left in front of a large wave of traffic, or just barely blasting through a light before it changes to red. Georgians combine the driving styles of both nationalities to create a truly horrific traffic system.
That's why the Georgian started to overtake us, finally noticed there was oncoming traffic, and then sideswiped us as he merged back into our lane.
We left the car at the nearest gas station and took a taxi to the nearest town, which turned out to be Gori. Stayed overnight there, went back to the car in the morning, and then figured the car could probably still make it to Tbilisi.
Tbilisi was okay; we found a garage that could fix most of the damage from the accident, as well as replace two wheel bearings that were starting to fail, for about $100 all told.
We stayed at another hostel, this one being watched over by the owner's mother when we arrived. It was a small place, and it turned out it was just the owner's house with a couple extra beds thrown in. The owner and his wife actually slept in the bed next to mine that first night, which was just a little awkward.
We spent two days in Tbilisi; I went about separately from the captain and his wife, and just took in the scenery. They're really making an effort at plastering over the more decrepit parts of the city right now, but some stubborn old bits refuse to go away. I liked that town.
We also got together with some other Mongol Rally teams again. Spent some time at a bar called "KGB- We're Still Watching You". Ended up being too big of a group for one table, so I was put at the second table with a bunch of people who didn't want to talk. That was okay with me, though, since a stray alley cat decided I was the best person on earth and fell asleep next to me on the booth seat.
That night, in the middle of Georgia with some local beer, a happy little cat next to me and a bunch of fellow Ralliers, was one of my favorite moments of the entire trip.
The drive north from Tbilisi to the Russian border at Vladikavkaz was certainly interesting. Although at first the road was in good shape, the closer we got to the border, the more rotten and decayed it became. At one point we were going only 10mph because the road had become nothing but potholes, mud and little chunks of old concrete.
Crossing into Russia itself was relatively painless. The guard laughed when I stumbled over the name of the town we were planning on staying overnight in Russia, and that was about the worst of it.
Будённовск was an okay little town in southern Russia. We stayed at a hotel that had been built in Khrushchev's day; chunks of plaster were clearly missing from some of the walls.
There was a surprisingly bit market behind the hotel we stayed at. I ended up buying a little food and a entrenching tool there, since I figured we were heading towards more desolate regions with little in the way of toilet facilities.
Turns out I could also withdraw dollars from the ATMs there.
surprisingly big, I mean.
After Budennovsk came the most horrifying part of the trip for me: the drive to Astrakhan, through Kalmykia. I'm from Michigan, and I've gone through the Appalachian mountains more times (2) than I have the Great Plains (0). I don't know how to handle big, empty, flat places. I just couldn't stand it out there. There was nothing. Nothing! It felt like purgatory.
Actually, something did happen out there: the throttle position sensor started to fail again.
Also, what the fuck is up with squat toilets? They're horrible things and I never want to see one again, especially one like this.
As we approached Astrakhan, the sensor failed and the car died several times on us. By this point I was on edge from Kalmykia, I was fried, the car was breaking down on us more and more and the repairs and lodgings were costing far more than I had anticipated.
I did the pussy thing and bailed out in Astrakhan.
I brought all of my stuff- yes, all two bags of it- and went to Astrakhan station and bought me a ticket to Moscow, second-class. Actually ended up having to yell at the ticket counter place, as I hadn't realized I'd need to present my passport to buy a train ticket and had left it back at the hotel. I went full Ugly American, yelling in butchered Russian until the lady at the counter accepted an expired driver's license as valid idea and gave me my ticket.
It was a 28-hour train ride from Astrakhan to Moscow. The first picture here is a picture of all the food I had for the entirely of the trip.
Halfway to Moscow I got a call from the captain-- he'd gotten the car to work again! It would've taken me more than a day to turn around and catch him Astrakhan, though, and that would've cost me even more money I was running out of, so I just congratulated him and then felt bad about myself.
Now don't get me wrong-- Moscow was wonderful! It just wasn't the trip I wanted. I spent a couple of days there, recovering from the roadtrip, and then took an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to JFK, and then JFK back to Detroit.
As we landed at JFK Int'l Airport, all the Russians clapped.
As for the captain and his wife? They ultimately did make it to the finish line in Ulan Bator-- it took them another two or three weeks, but they did it. I know they had to spend a few days stuck in a northern Khazak city, because one of their shock absorbers had broken and eventually they were forced to get some locals to redo part of the car so that it'd accept a shock absorber from an entirely different make and model.
I dearly want to do the trip again, and this time actually make it to Mongolia.
that was impressive
>traveling with a Scot football fan and his orthodox wife in a renault
fucking pic related
PROTIP: Glaswegians are fucking incomprehensible over phones. At one point it sounded like he was saying "trails" when actually talking about "towels".
How did you meet the people you went with? How much did you end up spending? Did you do any driving, or were you just along for the ride?
>How did you meet the people you went with?
There was a page on Facebook for people looking for teams/teammates. The team captain was looking for a third teammate, and I was looking for a team. We talked a few times via Skype, but the first time we actually met each other in person was the day before the Rally began.
>How much did you end up spending?
Couple thousand all told, I think? Airfare for Newark to Heathrow via Virgin Airlines was about $475, I spent maybe $200 on various immunizations, lodgings cost anywhere between $10 and $30 a night depending. The big variable is how much time you want to spend in Europe proper-- I probably spent about half my money in that first week in Europe, because more things cost more money in Germany, Austria, and so forth. I hadn't expected to pay for toilet access, for example, and that took a small bit of my budget away.
>Did you do any driving, or were you just along for the ride?
I only drove in Serbia and Turkey, since the captain and his wife had paid only for their own auto insurance in the EU and Russia, and weren't keen on letting an uninsured person drive. In Serbia I was allowed to drive since none of us had any insurance there anyways, and we all bought car insurance at the Turkish border.
Been looking at this for a long time.
I have some questions
What was your budget? 2k USD for 2 months of driving sounds impossible.
Looks like you tagged along with other people, does this mean you didnt pay anything for the car?
Is there any way to avoid paying sign up fee?
Could I just drive and follow without having to pay all the charity bullshit?
Is it safe to camp in tents by the road?
>What was your budget? 2k USD for 2 months of driving sounds impossible.
More like 3K USD for 4 weeks, probably. I didn't do a firm accounting of all my expenses-- I tried not to think about it that much-- but I know that in the end I wasn't in debt to anyone, which was the only concern I had.
>Looks like you tagged along with other people, does this mean you didnt pay anything for the car?
That's correct. To be honest, though, I think we had talked early on about ways to split the cost of the car (which itself was £2000 all told), but the captain never brought it up after we met and I never saw a need to press the issue. He could afford to shoulder the additional costs-- a mistake he made in Istanbul that led to him paying £200 for a lobster dinner proved nothing more than a laughing matter for him.
>Is there any way to avoid paying sign up fee?
It's a sign up fee per team, not per person, so if you join up with someone already registered, that's a possibility.
>Could I just drive and follow without having to pay all the charity bullshit?
Yes. You'll have to figure out what to do with the car in Mongolia, though.
>Is it safe to camp in tents by the road?
Depends on the country. We didn't do much roadside camping, but I talked with some other teams that did. The basic thrust of it all was that laws got more relaxed the further east you went, to the point where in Kazakhstan nobody gave a shit at all.
Safety itself didn't seem to be a concern for anybody who participated in the Rally; they were more bothered by what legalities were in the way.
noice, thanks for sharing
Thanks for your answers.
Whats the site you used to find a partner? I have been considering doing this for two years now but none of my friends are interested in that sort of thing. I hadnt considering trying to tag along some strangers.
Will definately do this after getting my Bachelor :3
It was a Facebook page. I think it was
but I'm not sure. I do remember that it wasn't the main Mongol Rally page, and that I had been directed to the correct one by one of the Rally organizers.
>I hadnt considering trying to tag along some strangers.
Do be careful. It worked out well for most of us who went along, but I do recall that one Brazilian fellow had his passport stolen by a Ukrainian teammate, once they were in Ukraine together.
It wasn't like I got along totally alright with my teammates, either. For the most part it was all okay, but the Glaswegian and the Petersburgher argued every single day during the Rally and that started to really wear on my nerves after a week or two. I brought it up with them, and they lightly dismissed the issue as just something Scotsmen and Russians do, and continued to argue daily.
WHY DIDN'T YOU POST FROM MONGOLIA?!