Saturday, July 29, 2006
Day 12: Good cop, Good cop or DWT (Driving While Theo)
The non English speaking cop then starts writing Theo (He's a cop magnet) a ticket.
The non English cop who was a trainee even though he was about twice the age of the other cop was clearly being trained on Theo. So he starts writing out the ticket yelling questions at us which the other cop would alternately answer or translate.
What is your name!? Theodore Ludovicus Michel took about 10 minutes by itself which consisted of a discussion of what each name was, how each should be pronounced, and finally how it should be written in Cyrillic.
What is your personal number!? Do you mean passport? No! Personal number! Um we don't have personal numbers... Massive look of confusion then the old cop grabs the passport and proceeds to write down the first random number he finds as Theo's "Personal Number."
You live in the US Virgin Islands!? What is your address there? I live in Washington. Washington? Yes. Then we relay the address in about the most disorganized conversation we've had on the trip so far. I Think the final address listed is 22nd 16926, Seattle. Another bad translation. They were really confused by the Bellevue / Seattle thing since we had just told them we lived in Seattle so we explained to them that Bellevue was a subsection of Seattle. That Seattle was BIG.
But bear in mind these cops were nice and the whole exchange was entertaining as hell. By this point I've got a massive ear to ear grin on and am turned around looking at the traffic because I really don't want the police to see my big ass grin. I looked at Theo and he's doing everything he can to stifle his grin as well.
Finally the old cop hands us the ticket and the young cop tells us we'll have to pay a 5 IRE (~3.25$) fine at the border. Me and Theo are just speechless. 5?? 5?? Theo has been doing his best to be pious the whole time and explains how sorry he is that he sped in their 40' 60km zone.
About four hours later we pull into the border and hand the border guard the ticket. He laughed and threw it back at us. Speeding? Yeah. How fast? 69km in a 60. Haha. Maybe he'll have to pay a fine someday if he decides to come back to Bulgaria. No more than $15 or so.
So Theo's a wanted man in Bulgaria.
Boarder guard asks "Why do you have such an old Lada?" Well we are driving it to Mongolia. What? It's part of a Rally for Charity. How much did you pay for that? $400. $400? You could get that car here for $50. Hell I'll sell you my Lada for $400 and it's a newer model. He then laughed and waved us through.
GREECE here we come!
Back with the car
Friday, July 28, 2006
Spending the night London
London is surprisingly dead at night, or at least the airport is - there was nobody there, and the highways were deserted. Gatwick is bustling at 4AM though - apparently the Brits like to go to bed early at night and get on airplanes early in the morning.
Amusing observation while hanging out here: there's a place in the airport lounge that doubles as a coffee shop and a bar. At 4AM, the coffee shop is closed, but there's a line of people getting drinks at the bar! I guess we all have different priorities for preferred early morning drinks...
By my count it has now been 36.5 hours since I have slept in an actual bed - still going strong...
Catching up with the Lada
I am, however, learning about the rather limited ways of getting out of Mongolia. There is an airport in Ulan Battor, and there is a Mongolian Airline, but getting a flight is a challenge. I like the option of a 30 hour train ride to Beijing!
Thursday, July 27, 2006
How to ship a car across the Pacific ocean
So, let's say you've got a twenty year-old Soviet-made LADA, which is so awesome that you've decided to drive it from Moscow to London to Mongolia. And further, if and when you get to Mongolia, you (especially if the you in question goes by the name of Theo) feel attached enough to the LADA that you just want to take it home with you, what do you do?
I thought this was a good enough idea, that I've tried doing some research, and the short answer is you can't. The long answer is it's difficult. Searching the web for Pacific ocean freight companies got me a bunch of companies that, theoretically ship cargo across the Pacific, but I couldn't find one that was actually willing to ship a car for me. So, the next step was to go to a local Lexus dealership and see if they can help - I figured they have to know something about shipping cars here. Turns out they do, and they directed me to a shipping company, which happens to be exclusively staffed by Russians, and claims to just deal with shipping fish across the Pacific... But, if you ask for Alex, well, Alex knows all about shipping cars too (even though that's not what the company does), this is where I start suspecting that Lexus actually deals with the Russian mafia to ship their cars here... Alex, however, was quite helpful and explained that yes, you can in fact, put a car onto a container ship in Vladivostok and ship to North America somewhere, but there's a couple of problems:
#1. The full container costs $5000. The car won't take up a full container, but nobody will really want to share a container with some random Soviet car, so it's expensive.
#2. Once you get here, the US customs won't let you take the car out of the port, even if you promise not to drive it. The US customs office confirmed for me that it has to be street legal in the US (which includes some unexpected things like having an odometer in miles) in order to be allowed out of the port. Or you could take it to a company that'll modify it for you, or will even let you modify yourself (maybe), but you have to post a bond, and the modifications have to be done in a prescribed amount of time (~60-90 days). And the modifications aren't cheap: a Nissan Skyline apparently runs about $40K.
But there's a catch in all of this, our friendly neigbors to the North in Canada are a little more lenient - the Canadian customs office claims that they'll let you bring in and register a non-compliant Soviet car in Canada as long as it's more than 15 years old. So, if you were to take a Mongol Rally car back to the States, you'd have to:
1. Make it to Mongolia
2. Keep going East from Mongolia to Vladivostok
3. Load the car onto a container ship in Vladivostok and ship it to Vancouver (pay exhorbitant fees)
4. Meet it in Vancouver and figure out a way to get a Canadian registration for it (I imagine this involves finding a Canadian to do it for you)
5. Drive the car from Canada to the US and hope the American border patrol will be confused enough by the whole thing that they'll actually let you through with the Canadian registration, even though you won't be able to register the car in the US.
6. Park the car at Theo's house and either do all the modifications needed to make it street-legal in the US, or wait til 2009 when it's 25 years old, and at that point the US will also let you register anything.
Sounds far easier than getting it to Mongolia in the first place!
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Bulgaria meets expectations!
It's odd how much the world can change in 20 km.
More later once we reach Greece which we hope will be tonight.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
(catchup) Day 3: Moscow to St.Petersburg... worms dueling on my dill
We left Moscow heading east, with hope in our hearts and very little in our stomachs. After a few failed attempts to find food, we came across an odd little place on the side of the road next to a gas station. It was a restaurant, but consisted of a bunch of small (8x8 foot) log cabins arranged in a U shape, with one larger building at the top of the U. It turned out to be a shishkebab barbeque type of place. Our resident Russian speaker did some chatting with the giant truck-driver-looking proprietor, and determined that the only meat they had to offer us was pork neck. Since the neck is our favorite part of the pig, we ordered up some of that and went to our own private 8x8 log cabin to wait for our meal. The first course, (leading up to the kebabs) was a soup. I had some kind of pig soup, probably involving parts less reputable than the neck. But on top of the soup was a little cluster of fresh, uncooked dill...
I knew the dill was fresh, because there were two tiny green worms writhing together at the highest point of the dill cluster, fighting to get away from the porky depths of the soup. Needless to say, the dill was quickly removed from the soup. The rest of my soup was pretty good... pork fat FTW.
However, Alex had a little less luck. After eating about half the bowl, he came across a fly in his soup. The fly was a bit overcooked, so he decided not to eat it. Here's a pic though, showing what he missed out on. It's at the top right of the spoon... Unfortunately we didn't get a picture of the dueling worms.
That's it for now... more to come later.
Monday, July 24, 2006
In Budapest now (With real internet access!)
It's 3:30 AM and I'm tired as hell so this will be short. Here are some pictures from the launch back on Saturday from there it was a mad dash to Prague to make the Prague party which was pretty cool but we were a bit tired. Tomorrow we'll upload all our pictures so the Fotki site will have plenty of stuff to look at including (GASP) more photo's of rural Europe. Which we've decides pretty much looks and smells just like rural US only with lots of strange words. Like Ausfart.
Here's our beautiful Lada at the Rally start in Hyde park.
Here's some pictures of the rest of the crowd.
It's a little hard to make out but the team on the far right edge of the first picture is the "Monkey Team" and they are way crazier than we are. Their going the Iran / Afghanistan route but hey at least they have a giant Curious George Monkey.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
En route to the Nurnberg ring!
Well blogging from the phone again but once we get a proper connection more will come.
Oh and folks do really hull ass on the autobon.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
The rally has begun!
Thursday, July 20, 2006
In London now.
Here's our proper British greeting. I.E. It was raining...
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Pictures are up!
For those at miscrosoft, an internal site:
\\aslepak-mail\pictures\travel\Mongol Rally '06
We'll hopefully be able to keep updating the fotki site throughout the trip, the internal site is probably staying as it is now until we get back.
Back to the states (temporarily).
Get up at 5AM (Helsinki time) - 3 flights (17 hours), two bus rides (2.5 hours), and three passport control stations (n hours) later, arrive in Seattle at 10:30PM Seattle time (8:30AM Helsinki time, I think). Just looking forward to doing it all again in two weeks... Mmmm, frequent flyer miles...
Monday, July 17, 2006
Day 2: Driving in Moscow is fun!
5PM - Grigoriy is off to a party of some sorts with his wife, so we are off on our own in Moscow. We're starving and it's pouring rain outside, naturally, we decide to take our chances driving through Moscow to try and find dinner. On the way to a car, we run into a couple, who are hanging out outside the aprtment building where we're staying, drinking vodka to pass the time while it's raining (this is less weird in Russia than you would think); they identify us as Americans, are brifely fascinated (before we even go into why we are there) and insist that we have a drink with them. 'No thanks' is not an acceptable options, so we all have some Russian vodka, off to a good start.
Now driving in the pouring rain in Moscow, it takes us about 10 minutes to get lost. This almost directly leads us to being pulled over by a Russian cop (btw, Russia employs more cops than you could even begin to imagine, they are everywhere...). Theo, who is now driving, gets explained to him (via my translation) that his American driver's license is not valid in Russia, apparently it's not even valid outside the state of Washington in the U.S. (who knew?), because the U.S. has not signed some convention. Additionally, the fact that our transit plates are sitting in our glove compartment, instead of on the windows, is also a violation. In summary, he declares that he can confiscate Theo's license and we wouldn't be able to get it back until Saturday afternoon (we need to leave Moscow at 7AM on Saturday), at this point he takes all the car documents and dissappears in his squad car, which just happens to be an un-marked (read: personal) Lexus RX300. After 20 miuntes of sitting in the car wondering whether or not he's coming back, and a brief phone call to my cousin, I head over to them to see if we can "negotiate" a compromise. The scene upon arrival: there are two cops in the car, one in the passenger seat, the other in the back, somebody's girlfriend is behind the wheel - they seem like they've been awaiting for me as I'm immediately invited into the back seat. There, I get another lecture about all the many laws we've broken and thousands of rubles in fines that we can be made to pay, but strangely enough, they seem quite open to negotiating a compromise. Seeing how I have precious little experience in bribing cops, I offered $100 to settle our differences. Apparently, I should've started lower, as the answer to that was "In that case I won't have any questions." And so, our first encounter with the Russian militsia is resolved. Lessons learned: attach your transit tags so as to not attract any extra attention. If you have attracted attention, start the bribing at $20!
Dinner afterwards was downright anti-climactic!
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Day 1: Moscow gathering
Well we all met up in Moscow KYTY3OBCKAЯ (Kutuzovskaya) station just outside of downtown since it was near Grigoriy's work. Grigoriy is Alex's cousin and helped us tremendously with the procurement of our car and all of the registration requirements around it. So after we met up we went over to Grigoriy work and had lunch in the caf.
Then we checked out the new ride!
Man she's fast. We've gotten her up to 120 Km already! Note the (s) it's a LADA 1200s!! Which is kinda funny considering it's a communist era car made in Russia for Russia and the letter (s) doesn't exist in Cyrillic.
We then met up with Zhanna's (Family friend of Alex's) husband Grigoriy (Different from Alex's cousin) who lent us up in their apartment in the city for the night. They made us a "Light snack" before dinner which consisted of some excellent bread and cheese with tea. By the time we made it to dinner with Alex's cousin we were pretty much all full.
Dinner was good, we ate Quesadillas at an American restaurant named Uncle Sam's. Dinner was with Grigoriy (Cousin), his wife Olga and their daughter Yana who had just spent six months as a foreign exchange student in St. Cloud Florida. She's planning on attending college in the US and we all recommended California over St. Cloud. Theo crashed hard by this point so we dropped him at the house and then went somewhere that overlooked Moscow and had a bunch of crazy people showing off in thier cars and motorcycles. I tried to get pictures but they didn't take. I'll post a video once I figure out how.
Moscow is an AMAZING city and I highly recommend anyone go. Attached are some random photo's.
These were taken from Red Square.
These photo's are of GUM department store in Red Square.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
The car exists!
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Beijing --> Moscow should be easier than this.
No tickets. My flights in 12 hours and I don't have plane tickets. Crap.
This is my fault. I waited until a week before my trip to buy my tickets. (Strike 1) Now normally this in and of itself wouldn't be that big of a deal but things went downhill from there. Anyway I booked through Amex Travel and listed the delivery address as my hotel in Beijing then proceeded to think nothing of it. Two days later I get an email from my Admin in the US mentioning that she's received my new tickets and wondering what she should do with them. (Strike 2) So I got Rob to grab the tickets and head to the local DHL since Amex travel said they were the fastest to ship the tickets to me in Beijing. Rob spends ~$50 but gets the tickets off right away. ETA Monday or Tuesday at the latest.
My flights on Wednesday. I'm a bit worried but DHL said Tuesday at the latest so I figure I'm good. Monday comes and goes without the arrival of my tickets so I hit the tracking site and it tells me they are in Ohio!!! WTF? But one quick call to DHL calms my nerves since the web site is just behind. In fact they inform me that the package is on a truck for delivery and if it doesn't get delivered tonight it'll certainly make the early morning delivery. So I quit worrying and got a good (6 Hours!) nights sleep.
Now back to where we started. I come back to my hotel from work and I'm still sans tickets. (Strike 3)
Apparently the first person at DHL had lied to me because when I called again the new person told me it had left on the 2PM flight yesterday. Which actually translated to the 5AM flight this morning after time zone shifts. So at 7PM when I was freaking out the plane should be landing yet for some reason my package wasn't going to arrive until midnight and then it would have to be sorted. So at 2:30 in the morning we found out (Thank you Sheraton Concierges) that the letter had been put in the customs lockdown for the night. No tickets for me. The earliest it would open was 6:00 AM and since my flight was at 7:30 AM. So if this all worked out perfectly and I was at the Customs warehouse at 6:00 AM I could theoretically pick up my tickets and I would have 1.5 hours to make it to the airport. Clear customs, Check in on my flight, Clear immigration, and then Clear security. Keeping in mind that China is a communist country and things are rarely efficient.
So at 5:15 AM Summer (The night concierge) woke me up and arranged a taxi and directions so that I could try and make my flight.
By this point it was raining really hard so the Taxi's driver is doing Mach 1 through knee high puddles and occasionally turning around and grinning a toothless grin at me to try and catch me freaking out. He seemed mildly disappointed that I was never cringing. Don't get me wrong I'm not saying that I'm particularly brave or any crap like that it really boils down to two things. First I've now been riding in Chinese cabs for 5 months strait and there's not much I haven't seen and Second I constantly rode in my friend Craig's S2000 while he was quitting chewing tobacco. Nothing quite like driving all over the place with someone who likes driving fast and is always pissed off / on edge in a tiny sports car. That made me a fatalist right there. I have to admit now that there were many times in Craig's car where I nearly begged him to start chewing again. Becky would have killed me so I kept my mouth shut.
So we arrive at the customs facility at 6:03 and I walk up and start doing the universal hand gestures for "I need this DHL Package right now or I won't make my flight." I'm still not sure exactly how I communicated this. The only thing I had written down was DHL & the tracking code but eventually the security guard got it and wondered off (Leaving me alone in the bonded customs warehouse) looking for someone who spoke English to deal with me. Finally a guy in a DHL outfit comes out and hands me my tickets. It worked! It's 6:12 and it takes me a few minutes to sign the paperwork to get the package from him directly instead of waiting for it to get to the DHL office. I opened it just outside the building where my taxi was still waiting. He knows my flights at 7:30 so he's tapping his watch and waving at me to run when he see's me open the package and produce my flight tickets. I wish I could have gotten a picture of his face it was priceless. He had no idea what I was getting from the facility but it's obvious he didn't think it was the tickets for my flight.
We then tear out of there and race (I'm not sure who we were racing) off towards the airport which is only a few miles away. I'm talking with Ben (The Aussie) on the phone and he's encouraging me to tell the driver to go faster. As a random side note, taxi drivers in Asia are frankly insane. I consider myself a good driver but I don't have the reflexes or will to do what they do every 20 seconds. On the list of things I will NEVER do is ask a taxi driver in Asia to hurry. There's really nothing on earth that would prompt me to invite certain death. So I sit back and deal with the leisurely 50 MPH speed we are traveling at through the middle of small busy residential roads. I arrive at the airport at 6:35.
55 minutes until my flight. First stop Customs. Oh thank god for the privileges of being a westerner. The customs officials just wave me past the line. They don't even look at my form and they don't X-ray anything like they do for all the Chinese folks. Just pass on by. Thank god 1 down 3 to go. It takes me a minute to find the Domodedovo Airlines counter and about 10 minutes to get through the line. 45 minutes to go. Now I'm not as worried. Most airlines require that you check in 40 minutes before you flight so heck. I've got 5 minutes to spare. I'm greeted by an extremely attractive Russian woman who checks my bags and tells me that I'll make the flight but that I had better hurry. 2 down 2 to go.
Off to immigration where I pick the shortest line. You know the phrase "Fool me once shame on you, Fool me twice shame on me." I really should have learned by now but for some reason the shortest line is ALWAYS the slowest line. It just never works out and like a lemming I get in it every time. So I'm in the shortest line with about 15 people in front of me. Things are looking good when a friend comes and joins the Chinese lady in front of me. Whatever. That's relatively common. So 5 minutes later the one Chinese lady has morphed into a tour group of 20. Grrr. So by this point the line in front of me has effectively doubled in size. Oh well such is life. I get through the line and then repeat the same process for the security checkpoint. I come out the other side with 2 minutes until they close boarding for my flight so I run down the terminal and am one of the last 3 folks onto my flight. Grab my seat, cup of tea, life is good.
We then proceed to sit at the gate for an hour because one of the passengers gets a bloody nose that won't stop. So I didn't have to stress the last 12 hours after all. Flight took off about 45 minutes late but I'm now in the Air on my way to Moscow. I can't communicate how excited I am to be going to Moscow. Pictures will be forthcoming.
P.S. Moscow is amazing. Everyone should plan a vacation here. More on that later.
Getting to Moscow
Monday, July 10, 2006
Route to Mongolia
Start in Moscow where we pick up our "Fine" automobile and from there we are heading off to St. Petersburg where we intend to catch a ferry to Tallinn Estonia where we will immediately hop another ferry to Helsinki Finland. We are going via Tallinn just in case Finland doesn't let us in because of emissions requirements. If that happens we'll re-route through Poland but we think we'll be fine and get into Helsinki with no issues.
From Helsinki we will take another ferry to Stockholm Sweden and then drive to Esbjerg Denmark which is on the west coast of Denmark just north of Germany. We'll then catch the ferry from there to Harwich England which is just a stone’s throw north of London. Once in London we'll meet up with all the other Rally folks and Theo and I will finalize our next segment. Out only real requirement is that we all meet up in Prague again for the next checkpoint but how we get there is up to us.
The current plan for the next segment is as follows. Ferry to Netherlands then drive across Germany and cross into the Czech Republic.
After that meeting point our next one is in Istanbul Turkey and again how we get there is up to us however we'll be picking up Alex again in Athens as well as visiting some friends I haven't seen in a while so it's a required stop. Currently the route we are planning heads south to Vienna Austria and then crosses through Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria on our way to Greece. Once in Greece we'll drive down the east coast until we get to Athens where we'll meet up with Alex and visit Lefty. When we head out we'll catch the ferry across to Turkey and drive up it's west coast until we get to Instanbul.
From Istanbul we'll leave on our third segment which could best be called the "Route to Samarqand" via a ferry (We like ferry's) to Odessa. (Ukraine) We'll probably spend a day or two in Odessa as it's a beach town and supposed to be a lot of fun before we head off to Kazakhstan via Russia (Again) where we'll follow the old silk route to Uzbekistan. We'll then meet up with the rest of the rally crew for the third checkpoint in Samarqand. Then it's off to Checkpoint 4 which is on the western edge of Mongolia.
We'll get to checkpoint 4 by traversing the mountains of Kyrgyzstan (in our Lada) and heading back through Northeastern Kazakhstan and Southern Russia all of which are supposed to be incredibly scenic. Once we are at Checkpoint 4 we'll start the long trek across Mongolia (in our Lada) which has at best crappy dirt roads in our search for Ulaanbaatar. Assuming we make it to Ulaanbaatar we'll relax with the rest of the crew and fight for flights out to Beijing.
In the end we will have crossed over 25 borders and visited upwards of 18 countries. Should be a busy trip.
Off to Mongolia
Rally starts in London July 22nd, we arrive in Moscow to pick up our LADA (a fine Russian automobile) on Thursday.
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