Author Archives: Cameron P

I Ran

G’day all!

It’s Cameron here again, writing this from the comfort of my hotel room here on Tuesday night in Tehran. The Iranian border crossing was, er, interesting – but best to ask us about it in person when we get back home. Short version: Adon finally managed to achieve a story of motoring hilarity that trumps driving into a daycare centre, and Cameron got ripped off by roadside money changers.

After we left Istanbul on Saturday, we high-tailed it towards the city of Samsun on the coast of the Black Sea. At a petrol station along the way, we ended up explaining to the people there that we were Australians on a long drive. This got a response along the lines of “Australia? Ahhh, Gallipoli!” We all looked very embarassed and apologetic about this, but the Turkish dude said “no no, it’s fine, we win!”

Eventually we got to Samsun, found a parking spot by the rocky “beach” and were ready to go for a swim. Just before we found somewhere secluded to change, a couple of employees of the nearby restaurant were curious about the odd foreigners who’d parked in their carpark and came out to chat. Soon there were maybe half a dozen people from the restaurant talking to us – us speaking English, them speaking Turkish (which we didn’t understand) and fractured English – and bringing us tea, water and delicious pide.

After they left, a few locals also wanted to chat with us and invited us to swim with them. They spoke almost no English, we spoke no Turkish, but we all laughed and splashed around and threw an AFL ball together. Adon taught the Turks the words “wanking” and “wanker”, which they found most amusing.

But after the fun times were had, it was time to press on once again. Destination: Iranian border. We drove and drove and stopped for dinner of delicious pide in a small town around the Black Sea coast and drove and drove some more. Eventually we arrived at the Iranian border on Monday afternoon. After some wrangling, we made it through, drove a few hundred kilometres to the nearest city – Tibriz – and went looking for a hotel. Iranian cities seem to be incredibly low density and a little bit tricky to find the “centre” of if it’s 2am and you don’t read Farsi. Eventually we stopped at a service station and asked/gestured at a couple of guys filling up their motorcycle. They gestured for us to follow them and we did. The bikers were wearing no leathers or helmets, riding at insane speeds along city streets, and had their lights switched off. But sure enough, they took us to a hotel a few minutes drive away. Relying on the kindness of random strangers seems to work pretty well here.

Exhausted, we collapsed into our hotel beds and slept until about 1pm. Today (Tuesday) has been pretty much all driving to reach Tehran. Driving in Iran has been interesting. The main highway to Tehran has toll booths along it, where we were charged random amounts from zero (“From Australia? No problem, go on through!”), 5000 reals (about 50 cents) through to 15000 reals (about $1.50). There are also service stations along the highway. Some of them feel a lot like Australian roadhouses. But one which we stopped at just had a fuel tanker parked by the side of the road and a guy filling up people’s tanks and taking cash off them. Next to the tanker was a shack selling refreshments, where we purchased 18x 1.5L bottles of water, 3x delicious pineapple juice and cans of Coke for about $6 Aussie dollars.

Driving through Iranian cities has also been interesting. The road rules in practice appear to be: 1. Drive approximately on the right, where possible. 2. The road is just a large expanse of tarmac which you can drive on. Markings (e.g. lanes and often traffic lights) are completely irrelevant. The only rule is to make forwards progress as rapidly as possible, while avoiding being cut off by other people attempting to achieve the same.

We encountered a minor traffic jam in the way into Tehran as we drove past Azadi Stadium, where we assume there was a football (soccer) game on. As we were stopped, the cars on either side of us attempted to engage us in conversation, while we wildly gestured and yelled things like “Salaam! Australian!” back at them.

The hotel we’re staying at right now we found by accident after following a taxi doing a left turn … the wrong way down a one-way street. Um, whoops. But it’s worked out well in the end, we have internet and a place to sleep.

Tomorrow: looking around Tehran, then onwards to Turkmenistan! Which is about 900km away, so we probably won’t get there until Thursday.

But first, time to get off the internet and sleep.

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Timelapse update

Adon has been uploading more videos to the timelapse playlist on Youtube.

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We Might Be Giants

Howdy readers! It’s Cameron here, bringing you delayed live updates of life on the road to Mongolia.

It’s Saturday 30th as I write this and we’ve made it alive to our first designated rest day of our journey, in Istanbul (not Constantinople). So we’re now in the first country outside of the European Union, first country where we had to get a visa (of the “fifteen Euros, buy at the border” variety), first country where we had to buy car insurance at the border and yet actually feels more developed than the last couple of countries we’ve been through.

To recap, our last update left you on Wednesday as we were autobahn-storming along the M1 in Hungary towards Budapest, foot to the floor at our maximum speed of about 115 km/h. We stopped for lunch in Budapest and I (Cameron) faced the first time where vegetarianism appeared to not be an option. That’s going to be a bit of a theme from now on. Budapest was pretty run down and we got our first parking ticket of the rally, deciding that it’s probably going to be too hard for them to actually track down and fine international tourists – another sentiment that we expect to be a bit of recurring theme.

Hungary was a bit of a drive-through country for us. After our lunch stop (because we were hungry in Hungary), we set off again on the highway to Oradea on the Romanian border. This was mostly a one lane-each-way affair with a speed limit of 110 km/h but trucks dawdling along at 70. Hungarians solved this source of irritation by overtaking at literally any possible occasion, including blind summits and corners, and long straights where there was clearly visible oncoming traffic. We’ve taken been referring to dangerous overtaking maneuvers as “Hungarian overtakes” from then on.

As soon as we crossed the border into Romania, we immediately felt a change in “feel”. Nobody was in a hurry here. We left the main highway (truck route) for a smaller road which passed through a mountain range, dotted with small towns where pedestrians wandered the streets with abandon and cars were completely okay with just giving way to them whenever necessary. The on-road population seemed to be about 90% cars, 10% horses. As we drove through the villages in the late evening as the sun was setting, locals were sitting on their porches just watching the world pass them by.

Unfortuantely, all of this meant that our progress was a bit less swift than originally hoped, so after a stop for dinner at what seemed to be a Romanian roadhouse – petrol station plus restaurant plus hotel – we ended up driving twisty mountain roads until we reached the largish town of Deva at 1am and collapsed into the nearest hotel bed.

Twisty mountain roads were the general flavour of Romania. Leaving Deva we presesed on towards the city Sibiu, near where the Transfagarasan Highway begins. For those who haven’t heard of it, the Transfagarasan is a 90km long mountain pass that climbs two kilometres up into the air and then down again. Originally built for strategic Communist reasons, it’s now known for its fantastic views. Words completely fail to describe how awesome this drive was, though we’ll have pictures up soon which will no doubt also fail to capture the full awesomeness.

The Transfagarasan took a few hours to complete in our overloaded Skoda, almost entirely in second gear. Afterwards, we took the main roads and freeways into Bucharest, then immediately out again to Bulgaria. In this time we were pulled over a few times by friendly police officers who sensed we were lost and offered us directions. At long last we reached the Bulgarian border, which apparently required crossing a toll bridge. The bridge trolls required six Euros. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any Euros because none of the last few countries we’d been to used them. We’d also used up the last of our Romanian lei. There were no credit card facilities and the nearest ATM was several kilometres away and we couldn’t drive to it because we were half-way across the national border. Eventually we found some left over Euro small change and gave it to the bridge troll who seemed surprised we didn’t just drive off without playing.

While we were parked there and Patrick and Adon were trying to locate money-obtaining facilities, I (Cameron) attempted to sleep in the back seat. Unfortunately the parking spot we’d found blocked trucks trying to leave the toll gate. One of the border officials came out and gabbled something to me in Romanian. Giving her a blank look and pointing to myself saying “English!”, she gestured a truck hitting me and said “Camion! Booooof!” After moving the car, and returning to my back seat pillow, the official said something like “Schleppe! Si grande, eh?” So I attempted to sleep.

Bulgaria, too, was a bit of a drive-through country. It was the first country we’ve been through that used the Cyrillic alphabet; luckily, Patrick had been boning up on it before we got there and could attempt to pronounce / transliterate a few of the place names.

We stopped for lunch in a country town somewhere and attempted to order food from the bartender who didn’t speak English. Adon ended up with something yellow and greasy containing probably chicken, I ended up with roast beef completely covered in cheese, gravy and broccoli and Patrick ended up with a T-bone steak with gravy and mushrooms. I also ordered a vodka; for about 75 Australia cents I got 50 mL of something very drinkable and highly alcoholic. Just what I was after when it was my turn to drive next! After some more gesturing and attempting to speak Bulgarian we managed to get some water, too.

After that, it was more driving along some mostly fairly rubbish roads to the Turkish border. The Bulgarian passport control dude found it difficult to believe that Patrick was actually the same person as the one in the passport photo, thanks to the blonde hair and mohawk. The Turkish passport control officer complimented me on my bow tie. Unfortunately, he wasn’t so keen on our car’s insurance situation – I thrust our UK motor insurance certificate (which covers all of the EU, i.e. not Turkey), and he decided it was inadequate. Fortunately for 74 American dollars we could purchase a piece of paper written in Turkish which supposedly covered us.

With the formalities completed, we were out of the European Union and straight onto the Turkish motorway blasting our way towards Istanbul, the city that straddles two continents and thus our last stop in Europe. After a short distance along the motorway, it became clear that the direct route to Istanbul was a toll road. Unfortunately, the toll required some kind of radio transponder to pay for it. Not that we had any Turkish lira cash on us to pay for any kind of toll yet, anyway. We drove straight through the gates, completely ignoring the alarms going off at the toll booths, and continued to Istanbul.

Istanbul has been a pretty amazing city. In a car, it’s absolute chaos with no semblance of order or road rules, and yet somehow we managed to find our way to Sultanahmet where we found a hotel to stay the night. Today, as a pedestrian, it’s been fantastic wandering around the city, bartering with vendors at the Grand Bazaar, looking at the Blue Mosque (which we couldn’t enter because we were wearing shorts), eating Turkish food and Turkish coffee, and generally playing tourist. On our way out, other cars stopped beside us at traffic lights kept trying to talk to us or giving us vague encouraging gestures, although a few noticed Iran on our list of countries and gave us disapproving looks.

This instalment of our story ends much like the last one, on the motorway once again – this time heading out of Istanbul and towards the Iranian border as fast as we possibly can.

Until next time,

Cameron

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On the road soon

Car, with roof packed (and Adon's awesome self-haircut)

G’day folks! We’re almost ready to hit the road. We’ve put our swags and spare wheels on the roof now and have much more room than we expected. There’s still a fair bit left on our list of things to do and buy before setting off but the really important stuff is now done.

It’s quite likely that we won’t have much of a chance to update the blog while we’re driving, but we have a satphone which should let us update Twitter from anywhere in world. Our Twitter feed is replicated on the right-hand side of this page, or you can go to http://twitter.com/perthtoyurt

We also have a web page with a map built from our satellite trackerhttp://largestprime.net/perthtoyurt. The satellite tracker is not amazingly reliable but we’re going to try to update it at least once per day.

 

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Preparations, or, how to run around like a headless chicken

Hi everybody! It’s been a while.

Time has flown – Patrick and Adon will arrive in England this Saturday afternoon, and then we spend a day in Ireland, and then the remainder of the week making sure that all the last-minute things don’t get forgotten. Then on Saturday 23rd July, we do a slow lap around Goodwood Racetrack as part of the Festival of Slow, and begin the actual driving part of our journey to Mongolia.

Since our last update, we’ve been madly running around trying to get everything organised for the rally:

  • Patrick and Adon have had to get concurrent Australian passports because our Iranian visas have taken much longer than expected. We were informed today that the Iranian visas have been approved, so we’re now fully visa-d up for the road ahead.
  • The car has been serviced and we’ve stocked up on most of the essential tools and spare parts. We’ve had roof racks fitted to carry all of our stuff. The mechanic who serviced the car is going to give it a thorough look-over for free on Friday and is getting us two spare wheels (with tyres) on for cheap “from a mate” – giving us a total of three spares.
  • Patrick and Adon purchased swags for themselves and for Cameron – since apparently a swag is not a common camping implement in England.
  • We’ve got ourselves a Carnet de Passage, the legal document required to temporarily import a car into a country and then take it out again. Iran requires one of these. Thanks Iran. Thiran.
  • We’ve procured a wad of US dollars, since from Iran onwards our credit and debit cards are unlikely to be much use. Thanks Iran. Thiran.
  • Cameron bought a bunch of maps, guidebooks and phrasebooks, and ordered a whole lot more from The Internet. Thank you, The Internet.
  • Patrick and Adon are going to borrow some satphones for emergency use from their work.
  • We’ve all committed to mildly outrageous adjustments to our personal appearance which you’ll have to wait ’til you see our photos to find out about.
  • For most of next week, we’re booked into a B&B on the Isle of Wight. When Patrick booked this, he was unaware that the Isle of Wight was actually an island separate from mainland Britain. We may or may not end up changing this booking to somewhere more convenient for rally prep!
So, everything seems to be about as under control as it can possibly be for an adventure as mad as this one. Bring on Saturday 23rd!

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The Story So Far

Welcome!  This is the first post on our blog, but by no means the beginning of the train of events which – we hope – will eventually result in us cruising into Ulaanbaatar this August as triumphant heros.

  • Early 2010: Cameron reads about the Mongol Rally on the internet and thinks it’s so crazy he has to do it.  His housemate Patrick is almost as crazy, and wants to join in.
  • September 2010: Mongol Rally team registrations open and we look around us for more crazy people.  There are many.  It looks like two cars full, in fact, so we register two teams.
  • October 2010: Cameron is in the UK for business, and purchases our trusty steed – a 2003 Skoda Fabia with a mighty 1.2 litre, 64 bhp engine.  After being driven around the wilds of Kent for a few days, it’s now staying with a friend in Cambridge.
  • February 2011: We decide on our route and an ambitious “if nothing goes wrong we can totally do this” driving schedule. Time to book our flights! This was the real test of commitment and saw two people drop out. Our final team will be three people – Cameron, Patrick and Adon – and a single car.

Since then we’ve had to worry about getting visas in our passports and immunisations for the many strange and exciting diseases you can catch when you go to places that aren’t Australia.

Cameron was offered another secondment to work in England from Easter until at least the start of the Mongol Rally.  Of course, this will also be very convenient for getting any preparation done to the car well in advance of us leaving.

The real adventure begins in just over three months’ time.  Patrick and Adon arrive in England on 16th July.  The rally sets off on 23rd July, beginning with a lap around Goodwood Race Track. After that, we make our way to Mongolia. But that can’t be too hard, right?

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