Articles tagged with: Mongol Saga
Mongolia is far away. It still felt close for a few days, after I got back. But it’s been just over a month since I washed the last bits of Mongolia out of my pores with a long, hot shower in a hotel near the airport in Beijing (our connection was delayed). The absolutely official end to my journey came with a bite into my double cheeseburger from In N’ Out on the 60th night since leaving American soil.
When our car broke down on the outskirts of Vilnius and the Nissan mechanic fixed our car for free, we knew we were going to like this city. I’m proud to say my great-grandfather was from Vilnius, and that I’m a quarter Lithuanian.
On day three of the rally, we hit Munich on foot. After craning our necks upward at the turn of six o’clock just to watch the famous Glockenspiel tick silently away (the figurines danced at five), we walked the pathways through the vast grass of Englischer Garten. Meandering until we hit the Eisbach, a frigid man-made tributary of the Isar River, we eagerly laid eyes on the standing wave that has beckoned German surfers since the 70s. Basically, a fluke of engineering has seeded in Munich a unique landlocked surf scene.
But still, here I am and here are some notable numbers to give some cold, hard scale to my and Team Great Job’s adventures over the last two months.
We arrived at the Mongolian border after driving all night, passing through frigid Russian mountains just before dawn. At around six in the morning, just as the first light was making a jagged outline of hills visible around us, we found a circle of Mongol Rally cars parked in a circle like Conestoga wagons, protecting a handful of tents.
Greetings Comrades from Moscow,
I’ve taken thousands of photos thus far on our journey, but I can only edit a handful every several days, so here’s just a few to get the ball rolling.
We finally escaped Latvian purgatory by making minor repairs to the Team Great Job! car and getting it reinspected, thus obtaining a crucial holographic sticker that some guard looked at for about two seconds at the Russian border. The delay since our first failed border-crossing attempt had been two weeks.
After taking all night to cross the border and then driving all day without a good night’s sleep, we arrived in Moscow with our little yellow Nissan Micra. Think of the most hectic freeway junctions in Los Angeles, stick them in the middle of one of the world’s largest city centers and then subtract eight hours of sleep before trying to imagine me at the wheel on Sunday afternoon, trying to find our hostel. Russians don’t feel obligated to obey lane markers, which is too bad because in the heart of Moscow there can be eight lanes in one direction at a time.
Our hostel is called Godzillas and is run by a man who appears to be American, and who runs around micromanaging his green-shirted staff as they replace screws that are the wrong color and clean up the laminated board of registration FAQ by the reception desk. Moscow is an expensive city, the most expensive in the world actually, and so even though the hostel isn’t the cheapest we’ve seen, it is quite popular.
We walked to the Kremlin and took in the sites, enjoying the light at dusk as we danced around in front of the Basil taking group photos like any other tourist. In fact we were set on being tourists just one last time, because for the next two weeks we will be rushing to reach our goal in Ulaanbaatar.
Greetings Comrades from Moscow, I’ve taken thousands of photos thus far on our journey, but I can only edit a handful every several days, so here’s just a few to…
Will hasn’t had time to e-mail any photos or write a post, but he did manage to get quite a few shots up on the good ol’ flickr. Even though they are from earlier in the trek and not the Eastern European photos I eagerly await, they will do for now. Check them out here.
Will hasn’t had time to e-mail any photos or write a post, but he did manage to get quite a few shots up on the good ol’ flickr. Even though…
The hardest part of travelling across Europe before and during the Mongol Rally has been the clinging feeling of uncertainty – we don’t know whether our journey will be cut short in a matter of days or stretch for another month. We all still crave the latter, to roll into Ulaan Bataar in late August is still a magnificent dream to us. But as the days have turned into weeks and after a month of seeing the insides of many of Europe’s ancient cathedrals as well as its DMV-equivalents, and watching the rolling countryside through the window of our cramped yellow car, it is harder and harder to say we haven’t accomplished enough. I’m not sure we don’t already have enough stories to tell and that, given some of the difficulties we’ve experienced, we must push ourselves even further to reach some sort of catharsis, to feel like we’ve gone far enough.
Latest update from Will came in on Saturday, who knows where he is by now. Team Great Job!’s Twitter is now randomly updated (international texts don’t cost so much, eh?), so make sure to follow that if you are as desperate for new updates as I am. – Jackie
The Polish mechanic’s hoisting a slab of metal underneath our car to protect it from rocks and debris once we get on the dirt roads in Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
Two days ago, we were in Lodz, Poland and on every side of us were miles of dismal Polish highway, two lanes and seemingly the entire stretch under some sort of construction. The city offered respite from the unyielding semi-trucks on the narrow roads, and we were scouring Lodz (pronounced Woodge) in search of a mechanic willing to weld a generic slab of metal underneath our car – a measure greatly endorsed by previous and current Mongol Rally participants to combat the roads in Kazakhstan. Driving aimlessly around Lodz, our first stop was at a Mercedes service station. The youngest of the three men in the small office with a poster of a naked woman on the wall spoke English, and though he couldn’t help us (being a Mercedes operator and all), he was enthusiastic about the project and the Mongol Rally. He prostrated himself on the ground, tapped the bottom of the car and suggested we just tack some thick rubber mud flaps to protect against rocks. He also pointed out that the gear box was leaking oil and gave us half a carton of gear box oil for free.
Our second stop was at a parts store run by a man who spoke absolutely no English. But thanks to a note written in both English and Polish by our generous host, Bolek, a giant of a man, 28 years old with a deep Eastern European accent, we were able to communicate our need to the clerk and after a couple phone calls he pointed us to an auto shop down the road a few kilometers. Down the road at another shop with a naked woman on the wall, the portly mechanic read our translated note, frowning at it for what seemed an interminable amount of time, before gesturing for us to pull our car into his garage. He swooped underneath our car, came back out of his work pit, and shook his head – he could not help us. But he pointed us less then a kilometer down the road to yet another mechanic.
At the next establishment, we found a man in the very back of the garage, and on seeing us he quickly buttoned up a shirt and teetered to us on splotchy red legs. He squinted at our note and told us “thirty minutes.” He made some calls, and some time later he handed the phone to Ryan, and a voice in English said they were going to give it a try with some employees on their way to the shop. Two men showed up, but only one brought a recognizable set of teeth. The other had a warm albeit hollow smile despite being in his twenties or early thirties. With them and us both shuffling around in the pit beneath our car, they held up a piece of metal to the bottom of our car and we knew then that the mission had reached a tipping point.
They worked for about an hour before their boss, the first man we spoke to at the garage, drew a diagram of what they were screwing to the bottom of our car, and wrote a price: 250 zloty, equivalent to maybe 80 bucks. It was a heap by our standards, but we didn’t have enough zloties on us so he wrote down 50 Euro – a bit better deal for us. We nodded and the men continued working. A while later the boss came back out and said, “problem.” He shrugged off any suggestion of severity and pointed out that he miscalculated the Euro conversion and let us know it would be 100 Euros if we so chose to pay in that currency. We offered American dollars, and he agreed to $80 bucks – still a price we were glad to pay.
After four hours of sitting on a bench, getting water at the cooler, watching blankly at the men working on the car, and reading our travel guides to pass the time, the boss came out and said “Five minutes.” I get the impression that the only English this man knows is measurements of time. In a few minutes, he handed the phone to Ryan again, and the same voice in stunted English told him that there was a problem with a fan of some sort – Ryan wasn’t sure to which he was referring – but that it would be another twenty dollars.
The concocted story was so direct it was almost cute to us since we would have gladly paid $100 from the start for what amounted to three men working for four hours on a custom sump guard to protect the front undercarriage of our Nissan Micra. The final step was to spray paint the whole thing black, and after waving goodbye to the mechanics now stained with the grime from our car we were back on the road north across more of Eastern Europe.
Latest update from Will came in on Saturday, who knows where he is by now. Team Great Job!’s Twitter is now randomly updated (international texts don’t cost so much, eh?),…
Yesterday I smelled like rancid sour dirt, incubating underneath a hot laptop and a rolled up sleeping bag in a 1.0 liter Nissan Micra with a broken ventilation system, windows rolled up to lower drag, a surf board on top, and a loose cigarette-lighter powering my laptop as I edited as many photos as I could on the long drive from Dunquerque, France to Munich, Germany.