Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Crazy Drivers

One of the takeaways from this trip was that everyone east of Germany (or anywhere in Russia) drives like they're playing a video game. In Greece and Turkey, it's absolutely expected that you drive on the shoulder all the time, just in case someone might want to pass you. In Russia, a two lane road is actually a four lane road with the lane markings (clearly) in the wrong place. As for the rest, they seem to have the ability to see around corners.

I think this picture illustrates the general idea. There you are being all aggressive and passing some slowpoke, when much to your surprise... you are the slowpoke!


How many crazy people can you get in the back Kia?

5, apparently. On a night out with the British caravan (Teams Quid Grid and Marco Polo). From left to right, that's me (duh), Lloyd, a dude who wasn't in the caravan (sorry I suck with names), Pete, and the top of Richard's head. I'm guessing Andy took the picture. Not sure how he got shotgun. Bollocks!


More pics are up

Alex is on top of things as always, and has uploaded the latest pictures, including the Novosibirsk to Ulaan Baatar leg. Here are some choice morsels from that group:

1758km to Irkutsk... this was a sobering sign. Of course, the fact that there was a sign held the promise of reasonable roads...

Sadly, those reasonable roads soon disappeared and turned into multiple 70km stretches of this crud:


Anyway, after two days of driving we finally arrived in Irkutsk. A nice enough city, but they seem to have a problem with people in wheelchairs...


After Irkutsk, we hit lake Baikal, which apparently was a triumphant moment for me...

Fast forward to Ulan Bataar, where the Brits and I carried on the tradition of stupidity by climbing the welcome sign. Climbing While Theo? Nope, no injuries. I'm the dot on the left.


And finally, the Lada is delivered to the orphanage outside of UB. The old man waits anxiously for me to leave so he can take her for a spin.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Lada has a new home

Just got finished dropping the Lada off at the orphanage in the hills near UB. One of my new British friends (Lloyd) was nice enough to give me a lift the 30km back which made it much easier.

The orphanage was surprisingly nice looking -- nestled in a green valley, with lots of space around it. We pulled up to the administrative office, and immediately a cluster of old men were very interested in the Lada. One wanted the stereo, and another to take the car for a spin. Turns out that Ladas are very rare in Mongolia... I haven't seen one since we arrived.

After getting past the gauntlet and taking some farewell pictures of the Lada, I handed over the paperwork and keys and got the official "you've delivered the car" stamp... so now we're Lada-less. I'm actually a bit sad to see her go... we've been through so much together, and the car has been nearly flawless.

Victory!

Irkutsk to Ulaan Baatar or Ulan Bator or Ulan Batar or something

Passed by Lake Baikal and stopped for some pics... very beautiful. Unfortunately weren't able to camp on the shores. Camped overnight a couple hundred km from the Mongolian border, in another random field... somehow all our randomly chosen campsites have been quite nice, and this was no exception.

The Russia -> Mongolia crossing was reasonably easy... got to the boarder around 2pm, and out around 7. The line to get into the line to get out of Russia (yes, a line for a line) was very disorganized, but after chatting up one of the border guards (Andrew, who spoke english!) we managed to sort things out and get into the next line.

Once in the actual line we got a new set of border guards, who were very very puzzled by the transit tags on the Lada. But after 45 minutes and a bunch of calling around to see what they should do with/to me, they decided to let me through with a stern warning never to bring this car into russia again. Ok. :)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Location confirmed...

The Lada and I have actually reached UB! Got in at 1pm, after spending the night with the new brits in a field about 50km from UB. Staying in an amazingly nice hostel at $3 a night, and managed to book tickets to Seattle via Beijing and San Francisco for Monday morning. (7:25am, yikes) Turns out all the flights are booked up, partly because the Dalai Lama is in town. Might get to see him speak tomorrow!

All in all, UB is a great city so far... it's cheap, and everything we need is readily accessible. Except a SIM... working on that.

Lots of new pics of Novosibirsk -> UB to come once I get home.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Theo's in Ulan Battor

Rumor (a phone call from Cyrus) has it that Theo has arrived in Ulan Battor!

We've been in the news!

We ran into Simon Ostrovsky in Baku, a reporter for the French news service AFP, who helped us out quite a bit in Baku and also apparently found our little adventure stupid enough to merit a story: http://motoring.iafrica.com/newsbriefs/931568.htm

Thursday, August 24, 2006

More Pictures

I've added a lot more pictures to our Archive here: http://public.fotki.com/mongolrally/. Look in the RustBox.360 folder to get to most of them.

Made Irkutsk

I'm finally in Irkutsk. The roads from Novosibirsk to Irkutsk (the "M-53") were much worse than expected... some great stretches, but mixed in with some of the worst roads I've seen on this trip. And lots f railroad crossings (with trains crossing at each one). Pics to come at some point. Caravaning with the new brits (teams Quid Grid and Marco Polo) has been great. They're also good cover through police checkpoints... British plates distract the cops from my crazy Moscow transit tags.

Speaking of transit tags... 95% of the cars on the M-53 going west (against us) were brand new cars with transit tags. It's amazing that it's cheaper to destroy the cars over rutted muddy roads than to stick 'em on a train.

Oh, and big albino mosquitos everywhere. Somehow their albinoness makes them more threatening... I think you can see the stinger better. Anyway, DEET FTW. And despite the annoyances, Siberia is very beautiful.

Now we're off to the Mongolian border, and hopefully to UB tomorrow. We have about 700km to the border, and 350 more to UB. Go Lada go.

p.s. Pot grows wild on the side of the road in part of Siberia. Who would have guessed??? No, I didn't roll it an smoke it. :)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mongolia or Bust!

- August 18: Cyrus went bust when Kazakhstan wouldn't give him a second visa at the border, and then there were two.

- August 22: Alex went bust when I had to fly back to work from Novosibirsk (but I have now taken a hot shower in my very own bathroom, and that almost made the 17 hour flight on three separate airplanes worth it) and then there was one.

- Theo and the LADA are still going strong. I am now convinced that the Lada is capable of just going forever, deliver her to the poor Mongolians, Theo - they certainly aren't getting a better car our of this rally!

Made it to Barnaul, Russia and caught up with a couple of other teams to keep Theo company on the way to Mongolia (including Dan and Simon, who had managed to escape Camp Baku to Turkmenistan a few days before the rest of us left for Kazakhstan)



All terrain Lada

Or how we got just a little lost and went off-roading in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is a really big country. Kazakhstan is a really big country with some of the consistently worst stretches of road we've seen anywhere along the way so far. Kazakhstan is a really big country, with terrible roads, that I lost our map for somewhere in Uzbekistan (have I mentioned we didn't enjoy Uzbekistan?). So, all of this being the case, Theo and I were actually making pretty good progress through the country - driving with few stops for things like taking somebody to a hospital, and on the morning of the 20th we had arrived at Lake Balqash, which is a vast, beautiful body of water on the way up North from Almaty. We had hoped to actually camp out there during the night, but getting out of Almaty took longer than we might have hoped.



After this brief interlude (which was also the closest thing I got to a shower during the three days in Kazakhstan), we were faced with a choice: our map said that we needed to get Norht to the town of Aktogai, we could take the direct route there, but the locals had warned that the road was bad, or we could take a roughly 250 km detour. In the stupid spirit of the rally, we obviously went straight. Over the next three hours, we were driving along the singularily worst stretch of road I had seen so far on the trip.

It wasn't really that the were a lot of pot holes (of course there were), the real problem was that the road had turned itself into a giant washboard, that was threatening to completely shake the car loose. Eventually, I realized that the washboard was actually the worst in places that were more heavily trafficed, so I first started trying to pick parts of the road that had received less traffic. This shortly turned to simply trying to drive next to the road surface as opposed to on it whenever I could see the surface well enough. As if to underscore just how screwed we would be if the car had broken down or anything else had gone wrong, over the course of the three hour drive, I did not see a single other car on the "road" and I saw something resembling a settlement once.

Theo, however, slept comfortably (we had been on the road for approaching 36 hours straight at that point):

Eventually, we reached another settlement, roughly where I thought Aktogai should have been, and I thought our off-roading days were done. This was once again proven thoroughly incorrect - Aktogai was still 18km away, and getting there now involved following tracks through open fields and meadows. Conveniently enough, there were actually people to give us directions in some of the most obscure places in these fields.


And then, we hit pavement again, and there was much rejoicing!

The final slap in the face came when we realized that our map had been copmletely wrong and we didn't need to go to Aktogai at all, and the paved route, that we thought was a detour would have actually been shorter... oh well, by then I felt being lost for 4 hours on unpaved roads in the empty middle of Kazakhstan was well within the spirit of the rally! The rest of the drive to the Russian border was fairly unremarkable, except for plenty more stretches of terrible roads, of course. And the Lada, for the record, came through the gravel washboard none the worse for it - these cars were built for this!


Monday, August 21, 2006

The Adventures of the Lone Rallier

Alex flew out of Novosibirsk last night at 1am, so I am now the Lone Rallier. Going to try to meet up with some other northern route teams to caravan and maybe share driving. 1800km to Irkutsk, another thousand to UB. Hi ho, Silver, away!

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