Week Eight in Status Updates: The Final Stretch to Ulaanbaatar – We made it!

September 12th – Gobi Aimag, Mongolia

Heading out of Altai for another tough 400km stretch of offroading…they say we’ve made it through the worst section, but that doesn’t mean the “roads” are good. Not at all. Especially if you’re driving our car.

September 13th – Bayankhongor, Mongolia

We’ve made it 2/3rds of the way across Mongolia! Stalled out in the middle of two rivers, became furniture movers, chased down wild horses, turned down five would-be girlfriends in a ger village, drank way too much milk tea, car burst into flames (not ours, somehow) and stopped some tire thieves. 600km left to UB…slow and steady and crossing our fingers that the Fiat doesn’t ‘splode.

September 14th – Bayankhongor, Mongolia

SNOW DAY! (Photo)

Snow! Woke up to see Bayankhongor transformed into a winter wonderland. We’re spending another day here as we wait for our buddy’s Ghostbusters van to get patched up. People kept asking us why we brought skis with us on the rally (they were part of the roofrack)…well now, you know why.

September 15th – Bayankhongor, Mongolia

Still snowed in in Bayankhongor. There’s 6″ on the ground and it’s still coming down. We attempted to make the drive to Ulaanbaatar this morning and got 18km before we were forced to turn back due to slippery roads. Now we’re searching the town for tire chains. We’ve got 200km more offroading ahead of us before we reach asphalt roads.

‎”If you’ve been in Bayankhongor long enough to know how to spell it, you’ve been there too long.” ~ Srdjan Kovacevic (fellow Mongol rallier, giving us advice via email)

After running around the snow-filled blackmarket of Bayankhongor, getting into a snowball fight with locals, and running through slush a foot deep, we didn’t find any snow chains. But the weather’s warmed up a bit and the snow’s melting. Time to give it another shot.

ASPHALT!! Made it through the last offroading section of the rally, one of the worst sections we’ve driven thanks to 10cm deep snow followed by 10cm deep mud. From here on out, it’s paved roads. We’re expecting to putter into Ulaanbaatar tomorrow if our barely alive Fiat has anything left in her.

September 16th – Arvaikheer, Mongolia

WE ARE NOW IN ARVAIKHEER. Final stretch. 400km left to UB. Chris gets the first 200km, Pete gets the 2nd 200km. Here we go.

WE MADE IT TO ULAANBAATAR!! 12,000 miles. 56 days. 18 countries. 16 mechanic shops. 3000km on 3 pistons. And 250 rubber duckies. We finished the Mongol Rally! (Photo)

We ran out of gas right before the city, didn’t have any money for the toll booth, and white smoke was pouring out from under the hood as we drove across the finish line. We did it!

September 17th – Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Said goodbye to our Fiat Seicento today…a bittersweet farewell after she took us so far. Terrible, terrible car, don’t get me wrong, but I’ll still miss that tiny, puttering piece of junk. We donated it to a charity that helps children in Mongolia, so it will go to help a good cause (assuming they can actually find a buyer!)

That is Jeff with us there! (Cardboard Cutout Jeff.) (Photo)

I think for a while, the car hated us. It didn’t want to move, start, or carry us anywhere. It cried gas, oil, and coolant, always causing a big mess. But in the end, after we stopped threatening to burn the car and push it off a cliff, we somehow drove the car across through the Altai Mnts, across the off-roading of Mongolia and into Ulaanbaatar. Today, it was the prized vehicle, as all the other Mongol Rally cars were missing bumpers, windows, side panels, etc… That car will find a good home, and then die. Whoever buys it is a moron.

September 18th – Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Decompressing in Ulaanbaatar, after 8 weeks on the road. Switching from Mongol Rallying to real life overnight is quite the change!

We took 13,000 photos on the Mongol Rally and a full 24hrs of video. Not too shabby.

Gave away all 250 of our rubber duckies to children and friends we met along the way – thanks again to all our donors! We will be updating our website soon with photos and a map of where all our duckies ended up. Stay tuned. 🙂

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Week Seven in Status Updates: Siberia to MONGOLIA

September 5th – Siberia, Russia

Autumn comes early here in Siberia. Camping among the birches and spruces, enjoying the brisk air and fall colors. Our car has been running on 3 cylinders now for over 300km. We’re going to try to push it 600km more over the Altai Mountains and into the Mongolian plateau…and if it’s still running, we’ll try to make it the last 1800km to Ulaanbaatar. If our little Fiat makes it all the way, it’ll be a Mongol Rally miracle.

HEY! WHERE DID JEFF GO??????????????????? Oh No!

September 6th – Biysk, Russia

Holed up in Biysk, Russia for an extra day to give our 3-piston car a fighting chance in Mongolia. Replaced a broken spring, fixed our engine mounts and re-attached our sagging sump guard. Also bought a whole lot of ramen. Now we’re finally ready. MONGOLIA, HO!

Made the mistake of replacing our broken spring in a parking lot next to a Russian bar. Got swarmed by “helpful” drunks who proceeded to “fix” our car by banging on stuff and shouting. Eventually we shooed them away and went to sleep, only to have them come back a few hours later and knock on our windows. After another liter of vodka, they had even more car ideas for us…

September 7th – Mongolian Border

It’s been nine hours at the border, and we’re still waiting. Got to the Russian side at 7am. Four hours later, they let us through. After 15km of No Man’s Land between Russia and Mongolia, we arrived at the Mongolian side just as they went on their 2 hour lunch break. Sitting here twiddling our thumbs and enjoying the last bit of bureaucracy before we reach the Mongolian steppe!

MADE IT!! (Photo)

September 8th – Olgii, Mongolia

WE ARE IN MONGOLIA!!! Made it across the border and into Olgii. Our car limped over the Altai mountains and the roughest roads are ahead. We’re told that only 3 Fiat Puntos (and no Seicentos) have made it to Ulaanbaatar – and none of them tried to do it with only 3/4 of their cylinders firing. Here we go! Never give up.

September 9th – Olgii to Khovd

Chuga, chuga, chuga, chuga, chuga…

They have really nice bridges in Mongolia… (Photo)

September 10th – Khovd, Mongolia

We passed a graveyard of 5 dead Fiats at the Khovd drop-off point, but somehow ours didn’t join them. Made it through the roughest section of Mongolia and now we’re on the home stretch. We think we can, we think we can.

Car stalled out TWICE in the middle of rivers…whoops. Luckily some drunk teenagers were on hand to push us out. In exchange, we gave them a lift to the next town (and got serenaded by a few Mongolian drinking songs).

September 11th – Altai, Mongolia

The car’s spitting oil, leaking gas and spraying coolant…but we’re still chugging along through Mongolia! We’ve made it 2000km on 3 cylinders and have 1000 left to go. The mechanic here in Altai is amazed we’re still moving and says our car might spontaneously catch on fire at any time. We say bring it on. We’re either making it to Ulaanbaatar or going down in flames.

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Week Six in Status Updates: Kazakhstan and Russia

August 27th – Kazakhstan

Ran into our first other rally team in over a week – “Team Sweden” – a guy from Stockholm named Gustaf in a Ghostbusters ambulance. Convoy!

Crossed the border into Kazakhstan just after midnight (border crossing involved half an hour of standing on a chair in front of a window ten feet off the ground). Now long-hauling it across Kazakhstan…trying to make it to the finish line in under a week.

August 28th – Qaragandy to Pavlodar, Kazakhstan

4AM. Hit a pothole and lost TWO wheels on the same bump (now down to zero spares), then discovered that our car is leaking coolant and the engine’s running way too hot. Here we go again.

Down for the count in Palvodor, Kazakhstan after 42 non-stop hours on the road. Got towed the last 250km by the Ghostbusters van, after losing three wheels and developing a major coolant leak in the engine. Possible culprits: bad water pump, leaky head gasket, or both. Back to the mechanic tomorrow. Looking like we won’t be making it to Ulaanbaatar on schedule unless a miracle happens…

Crashed a wedding in Kazakhstan. We accidentally parked right next to the processional, so the bride and groom walked by our dirty, broken-down rubber ducky mobile on the way to the altar!

August 29th – Pavlodar, Kazakhstan

Got some much-needed sleep and showers after 2 days driving and break downs in Kazakhstan. Trying to fix our battered little Fiat here…if not, we’re getting towed to Mother Russia to try again there.

Random Kazakh guy with broken english is driving around town looking for a new head gasket and water pump for our Fiat…apparently, Monday is the weekend in Kazakhstan and he’s the only one working today. Now we wait.

Staying in Kazakhstan for our car to be fixed means we’ll be around for their independence day tomorrow! We’re told it is “Big party. Big, big party.”

August 30th – Pavlodar, Kazakhstan

Celebrating twenty years since the fall of Communism in Kazakhstan! Hoping to get our Rally car in the independence day parade.

Sadly, Jeff will be heading home to the Rochester from Russia on Thursday because he has to be back for the first day of school. We’re sure gonna miss him and wish him safe travels! Pete and Chris will continue on to Mongolia – and probably arrive about two weeks behind our original schedule due to all of the car problems. Right now, our engine is getting some open heart surgery in Kazakhstan. Crossing our fingers we can revive her yet again.

Our last group photo together before Jeff headed off on his 3 day odyssey to get back to the USA. Our Fiat is also FOR SALE…looking for offers.

August 31st – Russia

Prognosis is not good: cracked cylinder head on the Fiat. Impossible to fix in Kazakhstan, so we’re getting towed to Russia. Not sure if we’ll fix it there, because it’s a really expensive part and we’d need to wait a week for it to be imported from Europe. The plan now is to somehow make it into Mongolia and then drive as far as we can go with just three cylinders and coolant leaking into our engine.

We’re off to Russia, getting towed by the Ghostbusters van again. But before we leave Kazakhstan, let’s pause for a moment for the National Anthem

September 1st – Barnaul, Russia

Got towed to the Russian border, drove across, and then self-amputated a cylinder…figured we would give the Fiat a try with just 3 pistons firing. It worked! Car sounds like a lawnmower, but we managed to drive it over 100km with a missing cylinder. Best news in a while.

September 2nd – Barnaul, Russia

In Siberia, trying to get our car slightly more drivable before we head in to Mongolia. We added inner tubes to our tires and got all of our dented wheels pounded back into shape. Our engine is still running on 3 pistons, but at least the car can roll forward!

Found Barnaul’s skydiving drop zone and met the pilot, who reaked of vodka. This weekend, we’re flying up in his old Soviet rustbucket and jumping out. What could possibly go wrong?

Jeff’s Update: Made it to the States! After a 15 hour Kazak bus trip to Russia where I sat in the 2nd bus driver’s seat, a 14 hour hang out in an airport, 1 5 hour flight, almost missing my next flight in Moscow, a 15 hour flight to NYC, and a 6 hour car ride…. I am back and very, very jet lagged…haven’t slept in 72 hours…or is it like 2 hours with time zones?

September 3rd – Kemerovo Oblast, Russia

Left the car on the side of the highway in Barnaul and took a detour to Kemerovo Oblast, Russia to go skydiving. After we jump, we’re heading back to Barnaul. If we’re lucky, the car gets stolen. If we’re unlucky, we drive the wreck to Mongolia. 🙂

Well, we officially missed the last Mongol Rally finish line party because we’re still 2400km away from the Ulaanbaatar. Dang! At least Siberian skydiving will be some condolence. Back on the road East tomorrow.

September 4th – Kemerovo Oblast, Russia

Four thousand meter Siberian freefall: check. Plus, we chucked our buddy Tim Reese’s rubber ducky into the clouds above Siberia. Bye-bye, Wildcard!

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Week Five in Status Updates: Pamir Highway to Kyrgyzstan

August 19th – Dushanbe and Pamir Highway Day One

Heading up the Pamir Highway through Tajikistan for the next 4 or 5 days. Second highest road in the world. Last update for a while, so catch y’all on the other side!

SOS Children’s Villages wrote a nice little article about us. We’re proud to be raising money for such a noble cause.

August 20th – Khorog (Pamir Highway)

Craziest road we’ve ever driven, hugging sheer cliffs on the edge of the Hindu Kush River and the Afghanistan border. Falling rocks. River crossings. Breakdowns. Landmines. When we rolled into Khorog, we were told that it is “almost impossible” to drive our car in on that road. Whoops.

Pamir Highway Day 1: Broke a wheel, punctured our oil pan, bent our sump guard and got stuck in a lot of sand. Pamir Highway Day 2: Fixed everything from day 1… luckily we found some good mechanics in Khorog. Continuing tomorrow, and they say we’re through the worst of it. Crossing our fingers.

August 21st – Khorog to Murghab (Pamir Highway)

Broke down somewhere between Khorog and Murghab, and the car refuses to start. Blinking “FPS On” and some truckers helped us figure out that no fuel is getting to the engine. Paid a Land Cruiser filled with 7 men to tow us to the nearest town…a yurt village with no electricity or running water…

A Tajik witch doctor worked his magic, jerry-rigging some wires to go from our battery straight to our fuel pump and we’re able to get the Fiat started. He also somehow fixed our Speedometer, which hasn’t been working since England. Amazing.

Car is leaking oil like a sieve. We’re pouring it in as fast as it pours out. Not good. Not good at all.

August 22nd – Murghab to Kyrgyzstan

Broke down just outside of Murghab last night with oil pouring from our engine. Got towed to a surreal guesthouse manor in a fortress in the center of town. Our car won’t start and we don’t know why…

Okay, our starter’s dead and we’re leaking oil like crazy. We somehow managed to get the car going after an hour, so our plan is to drive all the way from Murghab to Kyrgyzstan without turning off the engine, and bum “masla” off of anyone we can find. This will be interesting.

No Man’s Land between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the road was COMPLETELY WASHED AWAY with a 10′ drop into rapids. Had to drive through the river, and of course, our Fiat and stalled out right in the middle. Got towed out by a pickup truck full of Kyrgyz soldiers who were out shooting woodchucks.

Fifteen liters of oil down the hatch, and we’re still running on empty. We’ve bummed all manner of questionable oil from other drivers, creeps selling it out of soda bottles, people living in yurts and rowdy drunks.

August 23rd – Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Limped into Kygyzstan last night. Our Fiat got pummeled on the Pamir Highway. Starter died (only way to get the car going is to push it down a hill), sprung a huge oil leak (took 15 liters of oil to keep her running yesterday), broke 2 wheels, fuel pump died (fixed by a witch doctor in a Tajik mountain village with no electricity or running water), and we took more bumps than we thought possible. Now getting everything fixed…we hope…

We have gotten towed 7 times in the past 4 days.

Our car is now getting fixed by a bunch of 12 year-olds in Osh. We were a bit skeptical, until we watched them rebuild a truck engine earlier today. Hopefully on the road tomorrow.

Pamir Highway body count: two wheels destroyed, starter ruined, oil pan broken (twice) and went through 15 liters of oil in 6 hours. We also met some of the most genuine people on the face of the earth. Thanks to the Tajik auto witch doctor, the yak herdsman, the many truckdrivers, Aziz our Kyrg translater, Shanoza our Tajik translater, those who bartered oil with us, those who towed us (for money and those for free), and all the yurt dwellers.

August 24th – Osh, Kyrgyzstan

After two days at a whole string of mechanics (whose average age was 13), our rubber ducky mobile is back up and running! We also treated ourselves a much needed car wash to remove about 6″ of dust. Now driving through the night to Bishkek to try to get back on schedule. Onward!

All night drive through Kyrgyzstan and our scariest police encounter yet. Corrupt cops set up a bogus speedtrap, and when a trucker resisted, six cops jumped him and beat him bloody. Not wanting to meet the same fate, we paid a $10 bribe and got the hell out of there.

August 25th – Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Google “Fiat Seicento sucks” and tell us what is the first search result… In Bishkek getting the car repaired again… I guess we shouldn’t have hired 12 year-olds to fix our car after all.

August 26th – Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Another day in Bishkek as we wait for our oil and gas leaks to hopefully be fixed for good. Last night we stayed with a friend of our mechanic, who took us out to a Kyrgyz dance hall with a wedding singer style cover band who closed the night with an, ahem, interesting rendition of Strangers in the Night (dedicated to us).

Our car is finally fixed!! En route to Kazakhstan and then long-hauling it to Russia to make up for lost time. Energy drinks locked and loaded.

Thanks to Jenya, our host in Bishkek and Yura, our mechanic, for their great hospitality — and for actually fixing our car. The oil leak that nobody could repair was in the gasket between the engine and the transmission, in about the hardest spot to get to in the entire car.

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Week Four in Status Updates: Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

WHY ONLY STATUS UPDATES?: It turns out we don’t have nearly as much time or Internet access as we had hoped we’d have on the Rally, so our blog has ended up pretty neglected. However, we have been able to post quick updates through Facebook and Twitter relatively often. We’ve decided to put up weekly archives of all our status updates here…and when we do have time, we’ll write up a bunch of proper blog posts about everything we’ve seen and done and post them retroactively. Keep checking back!

August 14th – Uzbekistan

Made it to Uzbekistan! Back online after the insane ferry across the Caspian Sea and 4 days in strange, strange Turkmenistan. Do we have stories to share! But first: some Z’s.

We got ourselves a convoy. Driving across Uzbekistan with a bunch of other ralliers we’ve been with since the Turkmen Ferry.

August 15th – Khiva, Uzbekistan

Following the Silk Road to Bukhara today. Gonna find one of these alleged silk worms one way or another.

Middle of the Desert, Uzbekistan. Temperature today: 47 Celsius (117 Fahrenheit).

The road from Khiva to Bukhara is the worst yet. It’s undergoing massive construction, which means we’re driving on the terrible, rutty, bouldery service road next to the highway for ten hours of bumps and bottom-outs.

There’s a fuel shortage in Uzbekistan (some say only 3 gas stations open in the entire country), so we had to buy gas on the black market from some guys with jugs on the side on the road. Big mistake. Dirty, low-octane garbage fuel made our car overheat in the middle of the desert and left us stranded for the night. Finally made it to Bukhara this morning after getting some good gas. Tomorrow: continuing on the Silk Road east as far as we can get.

August 16th – Bukhara, Uzbekistan

In Bukhara after a night stranded in the desert due to some nasty gas. Wasn’t all bad…we had a great time camping with our Canadian friends, Danica and Jess.

POLICE RAID! Just after we settled into our guesthouse, police swarmed in and shut it down for being an under the table establishment. Got detained and escorted out by the police as the owner threw a fit.

Aug 17th – Samarqand, Uzbekistan

Stopped for lunch (and to give away a few rubber duckies) in the beautiful city of Samarqand on our way toward the Tajikistan border. Dushanbe tomorrow.

The main border crossing is closed, so we have to go on a huge detour up north to enter Tajikistan. We’ve heard we can expect “absolutely shit” roads.

A dozen Uzbek Police cornered us at a roadside checkpoint at 2AM and tried to bribe us. We played dumb for a good half an hour until they got bored. No bribes, and back on our way!

August 18th – Northern Tajikistan

Spent the night sleeping in our car in No Man’s Land in between the Uzbek and Tajik border because they locked us inside the gates.

Crossed the border to Tajikistan, stopped to ask for directions, and ended up getting invited to eat breakfast with a guy and his 12 grandkids. The youngest boy was named “Genghis Khan.”

August 19th – Dushanbe, Tajikistan

In Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Took a full day to get here… over a mountain on a crazy dirt road and through a 5km dark tunnel with potholes. Now prepping for the Pamir.

Way, way up in the epic mountains of Tajikistan, and nowhere to go but higher. Pamir Highway tomorrow.

Alright. Good rest day. It’s 11:50pm in Dushanbe. Time for bed. Our Mongol Rally trek continues with our route taking us along the Pamirs and the Pamir Highway, the 2nd Highest highway in the world. Not sure when we will have internet again, so this will be our last update for now. See you on the other side!

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Week Three in Status Updates: Azerbaijan, the Caspian and Turkmenistan

A visit to the GATEWAY TO HELL in the Turkmenistan desert. The Darvaza gas crater has been spewing flames for 40 years after a drilling accident set it alight.

August 7th – Baku, Azerbaijan

Made it through the border crossing…no bribes and it only took 5 hours! Now on to Baku.

First day in Azerbaijan…already stopped twice by corrupt police and one stole cash right out of out pocket…yeesh!

Scoured the coast for hours and finally found the unsignposted ferry port…but even the head honcho here doesn’t know when the next boat leaves.

Stopped by a pile of scrap lumber and some helpful construction workers with gold teeth helped us fix our our roof rack. Hoping now it will stop caving in every time we hit a bump.

August 8th – Baku, Azerbaijan

Braving the ferry port again…if we get lucky, we’ll be crossing the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan for the next 17 hours to 3 days (who knows how long…), then we’ll be in the “North Korea of Central Asia” for 3-4 days where there is almost no Internet. So if you don’t hear from us, that’s why!

A day of bribes to crooked officials and all-out confusion, but we’re finally on the ferry to Turkmenistan with a bunch of other ralliers! Thanks to “Saint Lucas,” our Russian-speaking friend from Poland, for negotiating everything for us.

August 9th – Caspian Sea to Turkmenbasy, Turkmenistan

Watched the Caspian Sea sunset over some wine on the top deck…Pete passes out and wakes up to find that his backpack with our only set of keys has been STOLEN! That’s it. This rally is over.

CODE RED! Searching every cabin and nook for Pete’s all-important bag. Which one of these crooks has it???

WE’RE SAVED! The dirty captain / lead pirate here yanked Pete’s bag. Bribed him with a bottle of Cognac and got it back. Rally back on.

Caspian Sea Ferry: Filth unimaginable. Toilets overflowing. We’ve pulled into port, but they won’t let us disembark and are holding our passports hostage.

Going through the insane Turkmen border crossing scavenger hunt. Dozens of stamps, slips of paper and fees at dozens of random windows. They just keep coming. It’s like they’re playing some kind of prank.

August 10th – Turkmenbasy, Turkmenistan

It’s a standoff. The Azeri pirates have an illegal trainload of cigarettes that is blocking our car into the ferry. Looks like we’re sleeping on a concrete slab in the ferry port tonight.

Twenty hours since we landed, still no car.

Twenty-three hours after arriving in port, we’ve got our car and we are on our way to Ashgabat! A quick stop in town, and thirty locals have gathered to help us put some new coolant into our tank.

August 11th – Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Ashgabat: Ostentatious city made of gold and marble in the middle of the desert. It’s got more fountains than Vegas and a strict 11pm curfew. Bah! We found ourselves wandering around at 2am and got some guy to break into his closed bazaar stand and sell us some dinner (after 45 minutes of negotiations over the price of a melon).

Our crazy cab driver floored it to 130 with no hands on the wheel because he’s too busy dancing and snapping along to his Turkmen techno CD.

It’s an international affair; out exploring with fellow Rally teams from Canada, Scotland, South Africa, France, England and the USA.

Got invited by two Turkmen zillionaires to their private bar by the president’s crazy glowing fortress. Russian vodka: effective.

August 12th – Darvaza, Turkmenistan

Darvaza, Turkmenistan: Camping with a family in a yurt who live by the “gateway to hell” – a giant burning gas crater in the middle of the hottest desert on the planet. Weirdest place we’ve ever been. So we dynamited it, of course.

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Week Two in Status Updates: Turkey and Georgia

July 31st – Cappadocia to Kars, Turkey

We’re in Cappadocia, surrounded by amazing caves and rock formations, camping under an endless starry sky.

Up bright and early to catch the Cappadocia sunrise, and see the sky fill up with hot air balloons.

We’ve been leaving our ducky business cards at random eateries and shops all over the world…post a comment here if you found one!

Kars, Turkey after 12 hours of driving up, up, up into Eastern Turkey’s mountains. Tomorrow we cross into Georgia and will visit Pete’s former exchange student, Irakli!

August 1st – Georgia

On our way to Georgia! We’ll update as soon as we can find some decent Internet.

Crossed the border to Georgia without too much hassle…got more laughs than trouble from guards thanks to all our duckies.

Sitting by a hammock shop in Georgia, watching the world swing by.

August 2nd – Tbilisi, Georgia

Today we visit the SOS Children’s Village in Tbilisi, Georgia to see some of the work our charity does to help kids around the world.

What an amazing visit to the SOS Village in Tbilisi! Spent the afternoon playing games and talking with the children, and each kid there now has their own rubber ducky.

The Tbilisi SOS Village currently hosts 36 underprivileged children from Georgia, in four families. We’re proud to be raising money to support this charity and these kids!

An afternoon in Tbilisi’s sprawling car parts/junkyard district and we finally have spare tires and jerry cans.

First laundry in nearly two weeks (hurray!), doing it in an old Soviet-era bucket washer that bears a striking resemblance to R2D2.

Now we know why Tbilisi is known as ‘the city of lights.’ Every monument and building illuminated in a magnificent night time lightshow.

August 3rd – Caucus Mountains, Georgia

Heading deep into the Caucuses today. Checking out some ancient castles and monasteries, and visiting Georgia’s natural springs and beautiful countryside.

Georgian lemonade is green, tastes like mint and is not made from lemons.

The Adventurists say our invites to Turkmenistan have been granted! We tell the border guards some secret password, grease some palms and we’re in.

August 4th – Kutaisi, Georgia

In Georgia, where the wine flows like water and there’s a thousand year old monastery on every hilltop.

Today we visit Kutaisi, Georgia’s second city and Ika’s hometown.

Georgian monks beat us in the beard contest hands down.

Dozens of toasts as we drink wine from goat horns, ceramic pots, clay soup bowls, metal doodads and more. When in Georgia, you are Georgian. #tamada

August 5th – Kutaisi, Georgia

Cave spelunking, dinosaur fossils, waterfalls and castles on our next-to-last last day in Georgia. Azerbaijan tomorrow.

Went for a “leisurely stroll” up a flooded road in a flash downpour, narrowly missing a few landslides, to find a 100 meter waterfall. Soaked, but worth it.

August 6th – Sighnaghi, Georgia

One final stop in the “City of Love” before we make our way into Azerbaijan. Ten wedding parades already.

We can’t thank the Qarqashadze family enough for their amazing hospitality and generosity during our stay in Georgia. Our visit here was truly unforgettable.

Looks like a four hour wait to get through the Azerbaijan border. Jeff’s got some visa issues, so crossing our fingers they let us through.

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Week One in Status Updates: London to Istanbul

Turns out we don’t have nearly as much time or Internet access as we had hoped we’d have on the Rally, so our blog has ended up a bit neglected. However, we have been able to post quick updates through Facebook and Twitter relatively often. We’ve decided to put up weekly archives of all our status updates here…and when we do have time, we’ll write up a bunch of proper blog posts about everything we’ve seen and done and post them retroactively!

July 18th – East Sussex, England

Our car made it to England! Now to teach it how to drive on the left side of the road…

July 19th – Battle, England

So, the speedometer on the Fiat broke…and the starter has been having problems…we haven’t even left yet and the fun has already started!

July 20th – Battle, England

Took our car to the mechanic to get the Speedometer/Odometer fixed. Long story short, the Speedometer/Odometer are not fixed.

July 21st – Battle, England

Chris arrives in rainy England in the next few minutes, and Jeff arrives tomorrow. Rubber Duckies, assemble!

Email we got from our resident Kyrgyzstan expert, Emma Buckthal: “FYI, the standard expected bribe in Kyrg is 50 soms (about $1.50). Any more than that and they’re ripping you off.” You learn something new every day.

July 22nd – Goodwood, England

Jeff’s flight to London got delayed, and he’s stuck in Philadelphia ’til tomorrow. We can only assume he’s currently sitting in front of the Liberty Bell eating cheesesteak.

Camping outside of the Goodwood racetrack, the site of tomorrow’s “Festival of Slow.” But we’re still down a team member!

July 23rd – Goodwood, England to the English Channel

We’ve got Jeff! Our Mongol Rally team is complete! Well…except for Jeff’s luggage/half our gear which was LOST in transit…

At the starting line of the Mongol Rally with out decorated Rubber Ducky mobile. This is going to be epic.

WE’RE OFF! THE MONGOL RALLY HAS BEGUN!!! We’ll check in with you all soon, but we have luggage to find and a ferry to catch!

Raced to Heathrow Airport and pulled some strings to get Jeff’s bag, and then made our ferry with about 2 minutes to spare. Now we’re floating to France. One heck of a day one on the Rally!

July 24th – Dunkerque, France to Prague, Czech Republic

Camped out by the highway and woke up to find we camped on the site of of a zombie apocalypse. Broken glass, howling winds and creepy abandoned buildings. Time to get out of here!

July 25th – Prague, Czech Republic

We long-hauled it all the way to Prague…camped again, and are spending the day exploring this amazing city. Internet is rough in places, wish we could update more. Czech Out tonight.

En route to the Czech Out party at Klenova Castle!

Celebrating Pete and Jeff’s birthday today in the Czech Republic…we both turned 26 at midnight in Klenova Castle!

July 26th – Klenova Castle to Romania

Rough morning after two of our three rubber duckies turned 26 in a thousand year old Bohemian Castle. Maybe it was that absinthe that finally did us in. But what a blast!

Rally Day 4. We’ve officially Czeched Out, and now we’re off to the Sedlec Ossuary…a cathedral built out of 40,000 human bones (WTF).

Blazed through the rest of the Czech Republic and a little slice of Slovakia…now hungry in Hungary. Time to get some dinner.

July 27th – Romania

Crossed the border into Romania, and turned time back by a few centuries. Cobble-stone roads, farmers walking their cows in the street and horse-drawn carriages.

The Mongol Rally is officially a “business trip.” We stopped by the Ecolution hemp factory in Kluj, Romania on our way through and picked up some samples for Pete’s family’s atlatl business. An odd detour, but that’s what this trip’s about!

Lovely day driving the winding roads of rural Romania/Transylvania. We’re now camping on the beach on the edge of the Black Sea.

5:30AM. Watching the sun rise on the Black Sea in Romania after driving all night.

July 28th – Vama Veche, Romania

We miscalculated our schedule and arrived @ the Black Sea a day early. Damn! Now we have to hang out on this amazing Romanian beach all day.

Haven’t met a vampire in Romania despite driving through Transylvania…but that doesn’t mean Romanians sleep at night. At a beach party in Vama Veche that will go until the sun rises tomorrow!

Romanians love “Tubthumping” (played 3x since we got here) and “You Shook Me All Night Long” (played 5x).

Tomorrow, we bid farewell to Romania and head through Bulgaria to Istanbul (not Constantinople). But first: an all-night beach party in Vama Veche, on the Black Sea coast.

July 29th – Bulgaria and Istanbul

Stopped for lunch in Burgas, Bulgaria, ordering things we have no idea how to pronounce. Officially in Cyrillic territory.

Istanbul. Not Constantinople.

July 30th – Istanbul

Made it to Turkey and spent last night hopelessly lost in Istanbul until some helpful locals led us to our hostel. Now spending a half day here and hitting the road East.

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Relaxing on the Black Sea beach in Vama Veche, Romania

Due to some misinformation, we arrived at the Black Sea of Romania a full day before the Rally. Damn. That means we had to hang out on a beautiful sandy beach all day, lounge in the sun, drink some beers and relax. What a shame!

There are few better places to spend a day than at this beautiful nude beach on the Black Sea. We spent the day swimming, sunbathing, greeting the other teams as they arrived, and enjoying the scenery (in more ways than one). The second team to come in arrived at about 2pm, so if the rally were a race, we would have been ahead by a full ten hours.

We especially enjoyed hanging out with our new Romanian friends (a shout out to Bogdan, Cristiana, Juana, Ramona and all the others we spent the day with)!

By the end of the night, there were several dozen teams in Vama Veche, and we went to a beachfront concert featuring various Romanian bands, sang some karaoke, danced, drank some delicious Romanian drinks and watched the amazing sunrise over the Black Sea. (See the timelapse video we made of the sunrise tomorrow):

Vama Veche Ducky Sunrise from Pete Berg on Vimeo.

Not bad at all.

Next, we’re off to Bulgaria and Turkey. Check in with you later!

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Racing to Romania

Day 4 of the Mongol Rally was one of the ones where we were just trying to get from Point A to Point B on time. Unfortunately for us, Point A was the Czech Out Party outside of Prague, and Point B was the Black Sea coast of Romania, in the hippy beach town of Vama Veche. A pack of five Romanians driving an ambulance, the Paramongols, had set up a big gathering for the ralliers, and we were determined to make it “on time.”

We got off to a veeeery late start after the Czech Out Party (we were hurting), we muscled our way through what ultimately became a 36-hour drive. We drove through the remainder of the Czech Republic, a half hour chunk of Slovakia, the entirety of Hungary (which, save for a jaunt through downtown Budapest by night, we experienced entirely by way of a dark motorway).

By 2AM, we were on the country roads of Hungary, headed toward the Romanian border checkpoint. Jeff, who has never learned to drive stick before and thus has been relegated to the back or passenger seat for the entire trip so far, finally took the wheel. We stalled-and-stuttered our way to the border, Jeff swearing as he grinded the gears.

We lurched into the Romanian guard booth at 4AM, our car stalling out right in front of the waiting border guards. Luckily, the guards welcomed us by laughing at Jeff’s misfortune, rather than questioning us for having an inexperienced driver at the wheel (“first time driver” Jeff yelled out to them as the engine cut out, and they laughed, because they’d been there too).

The border checkpoint was a piece of cake, and Pete took the wheel for the early shift. Driving through Romania at 5AM was quite the trip. As we crossed from Hungary, the towns and people seemed to jump back several hundred centuries, as we bounced along the cobblestone streets of Romanian farming villages. The women wore the headscarfs that you think of when someone says “eastern European” and the men were also dressed like they would fit perfectly in turn-of-the-century black and white photos. At dawn, everyone was awake, and doing something — mostly tending to chickens, sitting on their front porch, or taking their cow for a morning walk. (Apparently that’s a thing in Romania, to take the cow for a walk. We saw one woman doing it in high heels.)

The roads through Northern Romania are sparingly paved, rutty, bumpy farm roads full of horse-drawn carriages, cows and herds of goats. They twist and turn through the rolling hills, sometimes hairpin-curve windy and go up and down over every hill possible. The morning drive through Romania was one of the highlights of the trip so far, and the first time we got a taste of a truly different way of life.

After our stop in Kluj Romania (addressed in the next post), we assessed our schedule and realized that we were way behind. We wouldn’t arrive at Vama Veche until the middle of the night when the party was, at best, winding down. “You know, they really should have scheduled this party a day later,” we found ourselves saying several times, as we fought off sleep. Still, this was one of the last chances we’d get where we could hang out with lots of other teams, so we powered through the remaining twelve hours of driving from Kluj to the Black Sea Coast, Pete and Chris rotating driving duty as the other one slept.

By 3AM, we could see glints of water to the East. After 36 hours of driving, we were finally at Vama Veche! We rolled up to the beach front, the site of the Mongol Rally party, aimlessly searching for other Mongol Rally cars. The party on the beach was still going strong, with around 100 people standing in a lighted area on the beach dancing to “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC (how appropriate).

That’s when we were approached by a guy on a motorcycle who introduced himself as Bogdan.

“Are you looing for the Paramongols?” he asked.

“Yes! We just drove all night to get here. Did we miss the party?”

“No, not at all. You are the first team to arrive.”

We were a full day early (WHOOPS!) Apparently, the event had been rescheduled a day later when the Paramongols realized how crazy it was to expect anyone to make it halfway across Europe just two days after the Czech Out Party. We never got the memo. If the Rally were a race, we would be in first place.

After a beer with Bogdan, we pitched our tent on the Black Sea, with hints of the first sunlight rising over the water.

Klenova Castle, Romania to Vama Veche, Romania in one straight shot. Talk about a long day.

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