When we packed our tiny Volkswagen Lupo 1.0 with camping supplies, maps, old t-shirts and The Cave back at home in Germany, we couldn’t imagine what was ahead of us. In the end we drove 15,873 kilometers through 14 countries including Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia. We camped on a former military base, on the beach of the Black Sea, between the borders of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, at rivers and quite often in the middle of nowhere.
Our first checkpoint was the “Festival of Slow” in Czech Republic, where the almost 300 teams met again after the offical start in London. We camped on a former military base, had dinner on the old castle and headed to Budapest one day later. Navigation in Budapest seems easy, but one way streets made it really hard to reach the destination. But we enjoyed the odyssey through the city, as the prettiest girls we would see on the whole rally gathered in Budapest to salute us on the way.
Passing Slovakia to Romania, we took the Transalpina, one of the most spectacular roads of the Carpathian Mountains, to camp on the beach at the Black Sea. We arrived late at night, set up our tent within minutes and woke up next morning, as some girls are chatting next to our tent. Our anger was quickly reliefed when we recognized, that they were all naked. A wonderful start in the day where we headed to Turkey, crossing Bulgaria on some really empty and strange streets.
Turkey is huge. We drove endlessly on most of the time good streets for more than three days until we reach the Iranian border. We spent three days in Iran and it was a very interesting experience: The reactions we received had the full range from extremly friendly and funny (one girl couldn’t stop laughing when she saw our car) to giving us the feeling that we weren’t really welcomed in the country. The general impression was positive. Interesting fact: Although the price for gas was by far the cheapest in Iran (6 US dollar to fill up the car), it was quite hard to find a working gas station and most of the time we had to wait in a queue to get gas.
The border to Turkmenistan was on of the most interesting ones: We received more than 30 stamps and signatures from a lot of different border control officers, which took more than four hours. When leaving Iran for Turkmenistan, we had another problem: We were running out of cash and this was the worst spot where this could have happend. But in the end and a exciting adventure into the finacial world of Iran and Turkmenistan we finally had some cash again.
For Uzbekistan the embassy in Germany only permitted us a transit visa for three days. But the streets there were so terrible, that it took us four days to reach the border. The border control officer didn’t realize the expired on Philipp’s departure, but later on Sebastian’s. And then the drama started: Sebastian had to follow a border control soldier with a loaded Kalaschnikow from one office to the other at the border, but no officer seemed to know how to deal with the situation. At the end they came back to the departure officer, who finally put the departure stamp into Sebastian’s passport. Off to Tajikistan!
Mountains cover over 90% of this Central Asian republic of Tajikistan and most of the time the road was simply a dirty road, that went up and down the mountains. Huge Chinese trucks were going in the other direction and sometimes it got a little tight on the narrow track. When we left Tajikistan late that day, the border of Kyrgyzstan was already closed so we had to camp in between borders. On the next morning we were woken up by gun fire. Some border control soldiers did some test shots next to our tent.
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are beautiful countries and we really enjoyed driving through them, although the streets were very bumpy or didn’t exist. This changed when we reached Kazakhstan, were the friendliest maniac drivers seem to live. After stopping in Almaty we headed north and had to set up our tent in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t see any hill, tree, car, human or lake: we were literally in the middle of nowhere.
Russia was as anticipated: Drunk people on the streets at night, good roads, beautiful scenery and nice wild camping sides along the wild river. After serveral days we finally reached the Mongolian border. But it should take another 24 hours until we were allowed to enter Mongolia. The official reason: Two busses entered the country a day before and kept the border control officers very busy.
We had experienced so many things until this point, but Mongolia was just different level. Starting with streets: they didn’t exist. Only dirty tracks let to the next town and all of them to our finish line in Ulan Bator. Our average speed dropped by more than 50% and we got stuck in mud at least once a day. Although we were far away from any sort of civilisation, somebody always came along and helped us out of the mess, we drove ourselves into.
Although we were very lucky and only had minor issues with our car, a lost in translation situation opened an opportunity for us to get a short lift on an old Mongolian truck. In the end we stayed 3.5 days on the truck, slept in our car on the truck, got drunk with the truckers, ate the Mongolian national dish Khorkhog many many times in yurts, crossed rivers and extremly muddy areas and were also glad to leave the truck again to continue our wild drive through through spectacular terrain, deserts and over mountains in Mongolia.
After 15,873 kilometers and about 4.5 weeks we finally made it to the Mongol Rally finish line in Ulan Bator, where our car got auctioned and the money raised was donated to charity. The main charity organisation this year was was Lotus Children’s Centre, a Mongolian non-profit, non-government organisation working with vulnerable children and families to provide the basic human rights of shelter, food and education. We visited them on our last day in Mongolia and we were happy after all.