Getting the car back

f764dd0268eb20700220c1e4d3396cc5fc4896834c7b196dd29b0ca5427ef6a4The Rally might be over for more than two and a half months, and we might have returned to our lives, but there is still a piece missing. We sent the car back from Mongolia to Lithuania by train. It had arrived some days ago and now all that is left is for me to go and get it back!

I arrived at Kaunas (Lithuania) after an 8 hour trip and with some help I managed to reach the warehouse outside of the city with all the Mongol Rally cars. It was already dark and freezing cold when I got there. I was really happy that we will finally have our red devil back in Zurich! After waiting a long time for all the papers to be ready, the guy gave me the keys and showed me where the car is. But, somehow I knew that this day was not going to end so easily. I tried to turn on the engine… Nothing.

After a quick check I realized that our car battery was stolen. I looked around me, desperate, and thinking about my options. The guy from the warehouse started laughing, and told me that nearby there is a yard full of cars for scrapping. I went there trying to search for a functional battery. Opening the hood from a crashed car is whole different story. After some back and fourths around the scrap yard I found one working. Unfortunately it was too big for our car and I had to tighten up with metal wires upon the chassis. It was already 20:00 when I finished the fluids and engine check, but I wanted to drive as much as I could till Warsaw.10583758_10154809386090475_1023667072_n

After all, you know how much I like the night-shift driving. But the problems did not stop there. Some kilometers down the road, the gasoline indicator fell almost to zero. I found a secured area and stopped. Suddenly that feeling from Kazakhstan and Mongolia came back. BE ALERT!! The scenery was really dark, foggy and you could feel the cold to the bone. And a few passing-by cars with strange faces inside (you know what I mean) stopping from time to time just to check on you. I quickly started checking for a fuel leak and thank God I didn’t find one. Then I decided to abort the Warsaw plan and go back to Kaunas.

I found that place really l_MG_2307ovely. Life here seems to pass without stress. People despite the cold and poverty are warm and always willing to help you. After speaking with locals about Kaunas I learnt that it was constantly a war zone. Just Napoleon destroyed the city twice. Not to mention the Russians and Germans. There are a lot of museums and some of the greatest are the War museums. By walking inside the old town I realized that even though it’s Wednesday night and even though it’s really cold the people are having fun. All the bars were inside stone buildings. What I liked is that you can hardly trace stores of well known brand names. Just many local shops, so small you can hardly walk inside. At least that’s the impression I got by looking at them. That inspired me to walk around and get lost inside the alleys of the old city.

_MG_2364One thing you can’t miss is the fog. There is fog layer that covers everything and gives you a creepy yet cozy feeling. It reminds of my hometown during autumn…

Tomorrow I am driving to Warsaw. Probably I will be there by midnight and I won’t have the time to walk around the city. By Sunday I have to be back home. With our 4th team-mate. Our wonderful Nissan Micra.

 

With love,

Your co-pilot,
Yorgos

 

Uzbekistan – Kazakhstan

Two countries thjumpat go together in this journey – like yin and yang, like the two parts of a scale. In one we get sick, in the other we heal. In one we relax, in the other one we rush, and so on.

But let’s take things from the beginning.

In Uzbekistan we entered in the afternoon, the whole convoy together. Eight cars. In the first town we were stopped by the police for speeding. However they did not spend much time on us, because of the big circus following. The roads were significantly improved compared to those in Turkmenistan and the teams started running to catch the night. First was the Yaris, driven by the Danes and we stayed at the last places, with the roof rack still ripped. Our goal for the day of course was still far and the night fell long before we made it there. Now the scene changed. We passed the other teams one after the other as if still. The experience of night driving from Turkey seemed to be a big advantage. We were the first in the convoy now. A position which certainly had its risks, since we were also the first ones to be stopped by the police roadblock a little down the road. Our papers were requested, new stories, they kept us in their records.

The Spanish team following stopped to see what was going on. The same with them. Gradually the whole convoy was stopped behind us.

We left only to be stopped again 2km away. It was ten o’clock at night and the policemen were in the mood for games.

In the end, we were the only ones who reached the goal of the day, all the way to Khiva. All the other teams slept in the previous city. Khiva is a city with a big history, having served as a huge slave market in the region, but also a stop at the Silk Road. Now it is a small tourist paradise, since it is the best preserved village look-alike, with houses built of clay and straw and huge earthen walls. So far we had only seen something like that in the books of Unesco. We chose a hostel proposed by the guide and fell immediately asleep.

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The next day we had work to do. Washing clothes and getting the roof rack fixed. The hotelier had a friend with a garage where we could go, but he was only released from his duties after 12 o’clock, noon, to lead us there. We went out of town and drove to the next village. Streets of soil and water for each use flows in streams. The repairman was younger than us, and of course didn’t speak one word of English. All communication had to be done through the hotelier. Even when he left, we had to call him on the phone to make arrangements.

Finally, we gave up on the idea of welding the roof rack and proceeded to the drilling solution. Two holes in the frame, on the roof, screws and nuts and hopefully now the rack would not go anywhere.

Of course, the whole process lasted approximately three hours due to an electricity blackout, a break for lunch, shopping in the market for screws and so on.

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During these hours under the sun, at 40 degrees we obviously got thirsty. We were offered fresh water from the well, and although we understood that it was definitely not a good idea, we didn’t want to offend them. We kind of saw it coming…

khiva melon fest3By the time we finished, the rest of the teams had disappeared and the only ones still in town were the Spaniards who run out of battery and had adventures similar to ours. Together we ate and spent the afternoon in the city, in which a melon feast took place. Spyros met with some locals and ended up eating with them in the park, and dancing to 80s music with some overweight middle-age ladies in an open air disco. Cult in all its glory, but this is how you get to know the culture.

The next day we were supposed to travel with the Spaniards, but more delays took place on our side. Spyros and George were sick. The water from the well has started to ’work’.

At the exit of the city we came across a Romanian Rally team (who had a wine barrel tied on the roof). Not surprisingly at all, everyone had a hangover and they were also moving slow.

On the way we stopped for lunch in what seemed to be an ancient café, but couldn’t finish a single bite. We arrived to the beautiful Bukhara exhausted. Spyros fell asleep at 20.00; he couldn’t even hold his head up. Daniel and George found some other teams and spent the night drinking. The city was once again offered, since Uzbekistan has proved highly touristic (given the area), with magnificent temples and monuments, a lot of Western tourists and hence all the tourist suitable bars and restaurants.

uzbek musicThe next day we visited the Ark castle of the city, for which we had to pay twenty times more the price for locals. The castle proved a failure, and the museums in it only managed to make us appreciate the museums in Greece. We enjoyed the view, met with a group of unibrow girls with unshaved legs (typical example of Uzbek beauty) who, although did not speak any English, accompanied us for a walk in the bazaar. There we did a little shopping (scarves, gifts, etc.), and explored the musical culture of the country, looking for an ukulele for Eirini.

In the end, as always, we went to lunch and having eaten a lot of Greek salad wannabies, (due to the illness), we threatened the restaurant that if the salad didn’t have real feta cheese, we would not pay! Obviously there was not any feta cheese in the salad – and, obviously, we paid for it!

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We departed again and our troubled stomach made us stop at many gas station toilets, which normally we wouldn’t even consider going to. A hole in the ground filled with feces and two meters over it, two boards for you to put your feet on and ‘go’. If you have seen the opening scene of “Slumdog Millionaire” you might be able to get what was going through our minds.

With this and that, we finally reached Samarkand, another remarkable city with rich history and amazing bed and breakfast. We booked the room and went out to eat. All except George, who was dealing with convulsions and high fever, and stayed in the room. When we returned, we brought him some yogurt; that was the only thing he could eat, and hoped he could get some sleep.

The next morning he woke up a mess, so he went to the pharmacy and got some antibiotics and then, back to sleep. Spyros and Daniel went around town. They visited the magnificent Registan Medressa that has now turned into a mall, and the mausoleums of the city.

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George’s parents had started to worry very much and through some friends, they managed to inform the Minister of Health of Uzbekistan regarding his situation, who arranged a doctor waiting for us in Tashkent!

After exchanging dollars on the street and buying the necessary supplies, we departed for there. The capital, however, is fully booked, and we had to go around finding accommodation. When we finally found a place to stay it was too late for the doctor.

We struggled to exchange money in the middle of the night, and find something to eat and eventually we managed to do it with some employees at a supermarket.

The next morning George went to post some gifts for Greece and the prices were so outrageous that he ultimately sent only some clothes to make room in the car. We departed in order to enter Kazakhstan, but at the first borders, it was forbidden to cross a car, at the second boarders, it was forbidden for foreigners to pass, so we drove 80km back to be able to enter.

Our friends tracking us down back home, through the online tracking system, thought we gave up and were heading back to Greece!

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Finally we arrived at the boarders at 18.50. Only to find that they had a break from 19.00 to 20.00. Patience, paperwork and checking our stuff and especially medicines, made us enter Kazakhstan after 22.00. Night driving and we arrived at Saryagash. On the other side of the border, where we had previously been rejected! A day wasted.

In the meantime, George got worse. Apart from having high fever, he had begun to swell. We found a shabby hotel and stayed overnight. One on the floor, one on the couch and one on the bed.

The next morning we had a fight with the owners after being asked for more money and we almost hit them; we even included some policemen from the near by police station to settle things.

It was clear now that the whole thing has changed. In the hotels, they are no longer interested in our paperwork – all they want is money.

Giorgos nurse   Giorgos hsopOur next stop was at medical center of the village, because George’s condition was getting worse. They knew no English of course, so we had to call an Estonian friend back in Zurich, to explain her the problem in German, so that she could translate in Russian. We still do not know what they understood, but they granted George with some serum, and gave him a bag of drugs (and the phone number of the doctor’s daughter) and greeted us goodbye with a price five times higher than what we had originally agreed on before the examination. At least George seemed to be doing better so we continued, though he was not in a position to drive. The driving weight laid on the other two.

kazhak police dictiOn the way we gotkazhak police stopped by some police officers. The first time for allegedly overtaking a truck, the second for crossing the speed limit. We acted crazy and pretended to be stupid tourists. We got away with it, both times, and we even kept a police dictionary as a souvenir.

Corrupt cops was a reality in this country and knew we would come across with them every day.

At night we arrived in Taraz. The hotel was guarded by armed men, but we didn’t ask what was happening.  We went to a nearby restaurant, where there was traditional music playing and dancing. The music was something between folklore and bling-blings from the 80s, and impromptu dancing moves on the dance floor. A chaos. We ordered chicken skewers by going koo-koo, making our hands go up and down pretending to be wings. Eventually they brought us 16 instead of 6 and at the end we started sharing them with the whole restaurant. Pure paranoia.

car stepa4The next morning we had to go to the police station to register as required by the law, but ultimately the job could not be done and they send us to the next town. The scenery begins to change and instead of desert, now there is only steppe. Vast, arid steppe.

We drove up to the huge Lake Balkhash and spent the night in Balkhash town. When unloading the car, we realized two sleeping bags were missing. That morning it seemed that we didn’t tie things very well.

Our hotel had a wedding so we went out to eat. There we came across a greek couple traveling by motorbike. Looking back at the journey, they were the only Greeks we met! We drank with them and returned to our hotel. There, Daniel hung out with some armed men, who proved to be undercover policemen.

The next day we fixed a bent rim and went for the police record. We found the same policemen as the previous day, who helped us with the process. If only we knew, the friends we made the previous night would be life saviors in the morning!

We got our papers and directions to the capital Astana.

It was raining again after quite some time.

On the road that day, the police stopped us only to say goodbye.

We arrived to the city and did the classic tour in search of a hotel. At some point, a car approached us, telling us how they had a hotel with a sauna to show us. They drove ahead of us to show us the way without us having agreed. It was so hard to get rid of them, without pissing them off…

In the end, we found a hotel to the area they took us.

astana tent 7Astana tent

The next morning we did a little tourism, in the impressive artificial capital, which had nothing historical to offer, but it was selected 20 years ago as the place to construct the new capital. We wandered the huge tent, a trademark of the city, serving as a department store, and then, we left the city behind us. Just like the previous days we drove like mad to catch up and make up for the lost kilometers and relaxing days in Uzbekistan.

On the way we had to bribe some cops two cigars, to let us go. The usual tricks didn’t work this time.

stepa purpleWe drove to the steppe once again.

Arriving in Pavlodar, in the north of the country, we asked some truck drivers for directions and one of them took his vehicle to show us the way, and for a farewell gift he gave us 10 liters of gasoline at the gas station. Weird people, can always surprise you.

In the evening we reached Sherbakty and spent the night there. This was the last village before the Russian borders.

Tomorrow, a new day will rise…

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan was by far the strangest country of our trip.

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Coming out of the 20 year old dictatorship of Turkmenbashi and walking on an equally peculiar political system at the moment, it is considered by many as the “North Korea” of Central Asia.
It was already clear by the extremely complicated visa-issuing process (for just a 3-day transit), but it became apparent when we reached the country.
Cowboy-style soldiers doing the checks at the borders, extra charges even with the visas at hand and long waiting hours.

Other teams even have stories of being asked for their planned route in the country and being charged with gasoline taxes on the estimated kilometers to be done!

Anyway, the Nomad Caravan teamed up with another Swiss team, the “All inclusive tour” and made it into the country together.

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(Some beautiful videos of the “No man’s land” are about to come as well.)

And then the “White City” comes. The capital Ashgabat, the dream of Turkmenbashi, a shining pearl in the middle of the desert, a place where you get fined if your car is too dirty for this perfectly polished environment.

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On the basis of a former Soviet city, modern Turkmenistan built its awe-striking capital and took us by surprise.
Four-lane highways, white marble everywhere, fancy monuments, arches, bridges and decorative lights hide the truth that lies behind them, in a Las Vegas style way.
Police officers stand literally every 50m on the main streets blocking foreigners from taking pictures and the atmosphere is so odd that could definitely inspire Orson Welles for a novel on totalitarianism.
Being late, we started looking for a hotel just to find out that almost any of the few options in the city was already fully booked.
That led us to a final option of a 5-star hotel, where surprisingly other Rally teams had found shelter as well.

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After playing the charmer’s game with the receptionist we managed to a get a room for three for the price of 90$.
We rushed into the shower and got out for dinner, being advised that every single restaurant or bar in town closes at 23.00.
On the other side of the street we came across a restaurant with private rooms, loud music and Russian girls serving the food.
Back home, we don’t call these places restaurants, but it did the trick for that night.

We move back to the hotel for beers in the garden with the other teams and organization plans for tomorrow.
The most brave of us try the hotel disco as well. A most peculiar mixture of people being found in there, with highlight the discussion with a girl at the bar:
“What do you do?”
“I work here”
“So, what do you do?”
“Give me 200$ and I’ll show you!”

hgftyhThe next day, we enjoy the luxury of the hotel before hitting the road.
Continental breakfast and swimming in the pool, before heading to the Karakum desert.
The convoy is formed – first time for our team – and we leave the city with noise.
Eight cars moving together.

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We manage to be left behind pretty early, at the first gas station.
And even though we catch up, we will never enjoy the fun of the convoy…
We stop to buy water in a tiny village in the desert and there we find an inflatable red dragon as well.

Turkmenistan_5 We buy it as a mascot and while we head back to fix it on the car, we realize that something strange is happening there. The roof rack has slid all the way back, about 20 cm from its original place, ruining the roof of the car and stopping at the back door.
Running with 100km/h on these bumpy roads took its toll.
Luckily, we didn’t kill anybody on the road.
But there we are, stuck, four hours before reaching our destination, looking for the right tools to fix the roof rack.
A local from the house nearby comes out and after explaining the problem with mimics, he returns with the tools.
We spend an hour screwing and unscrewing and after having teamed up with a lot of villagers, pit stop is over.

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We leave again, driving like grannies and hoping that our roof rack doesn’t fly off again.
Just before sunset, we manage to reach the turn for the “Doors to Hell”.Locals advice to lead us, but we refuse, claiming that we move on by ourselves.
Five meters away and the car is stuck in the sand, digging deeper in every turn of the wheels.
A jeep comes to rescue us.
The first attempt fails with the rope being broken, but in the second one we make it.
Now, we allow the locals to show us the way, making it to the end of the road.
There we leave our tiny car for a massive 4×4 that will take us through the dunes to the “Doors to Hell”.Foto 1This mythical place; a huge hole the size of a basketball field with a fire that never burns out.

fgrt4grfFoto 3
Rumors have it that the Soviets opened the hole looking for oil, did not consider the deposits being sufficient for exploitation and then abandoned the place setting it on fire.
It has been burning ever since, for the past forty years.
We found the others, shared our stories, set our tents and headed up on a hill for the necessary photos.hf7n As the sun went down, the pit kept lighting the desert with the teams wandering around, playing music and making jokes. A festival-like spirit went on until the early hours.

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Only drawback the huge spiders and scorpions that lured around.

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7am we leave again; stopping at the next village and having stew for breakfast.

ghjyg8u7The roads turn out to be awful – the worst ones of the whole journey –with huge craters threatening our car all along and with us trying to drive us carefully as possible, due to poorly fixed roof rack.trypes
Giorgos, at the co-driver’s seat, falls asleep in exhaustion.
In his dreams we can listen to him mumbling: “straight…turn left”!!!

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A tiring day all the way to the northern borders with an off-road track considered to be the national road connecting two countries.

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At the borderline we find the other teams again and with so many hooligans together, the crossing the borders process turns out to be a big mess.

 

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Uzbekistan here we come…

 

 

 

 

 

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One week in Iran

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We reached the east borders of Turkey around 18:00. We got out with no problems and waited in line for the control in Iran. Τhe driver of the vehicle was being separated from the passengers. Military people do the checking and the distance between the two buildings is covered with wired corridors.

Τhis is the point where you realize just how bad you feel as a refugee or an immigrant.

We had our tourist visas and so they removed us from the queue and took us to another office. My guess is for time’s sake. We could see Daniel opening the car for the control.

After the passports control, there were the carnet de passage control, the traveling documents of the car, which if you don’t have, you can’t go anywhere.

People coming and going, taking our documents, looking at them, pretending to be officers. In the end, they were nothing more than tricksters, trying to do small favors for travelers or for currency exchange.

After losing about 30 minutes, and having small conflicts with the people there, after getting the fees for mandatory car wash, which never happened, and also buying car security, we make it out of the borders. The time was close to 21:00 and reality hit us hard:

We were in Iran. A dream came true.

People buzzing around us, cars swirling around their own dervishing rhythm. It was hard to adjust to that new driving style; driving code and logic were nowhere to be seen. So, we decided to spend the night at the first city we saw, Maku.

There was only one hotel and not a single room available. The next hotel with available rooms was 200 klm away, and our eyes were starting to close.

Talking with local people out of the hotel, led to the possibility of spending the night in a school, but a tourist bus driver gave us the solution.

There was a room in the hotel for praying, where Muslims go for their rituals. We arranged to spend the night there, after the end of the prayers, after midnight. Our first night, in a temple room.

Good start!

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An Austrian team arrived at the hotel, exhausted as well. We offered them to sleep with us. Five people all lined up, on a rug. Two more teams, who traveled with the Austrians, got stuck at the borders, due to carnet de passage problems.The next day was a national holiday. So, they would have to sleep two more days in No man’s land between the borders, waiting for their papers.

Luckily, we got offered not only breakfast, but a bathroom as well.

We planned to visit the Armenian Monastery of Saint Stephen at the borders of Azerbaijan, with the Austrians. It is one of the oldest in the world and also a Unesco monument.

On the road to the Monastery we came across the driving reality for good. Deadly bumps everywhere, no signaling anywhere. I mean, they were so big that the Austrian Yaris, hit them every time, regardless the driving style. Inverted trucks, detours through farmland, cars going the wrong way in the highway, u turns. It was a jungle! And we had to adjust to that jungle for the next six days.

Thankfully, driving in Greece proved to be a good ‘school’, but compared to that, Greek driving is like Kindergarden..!

The Monastery was fascinating, due to its location, but also because it’s a good opportunity to get a first taste of the people, given the fact that it attracts lots of Iranian tourists.

And we proved to be an attraction for them! With our ‘west-world’ looks and clothes, we become stars! Women looking at us, people asking to take our photos. Now we know. Tomorrow, no more short trousers.

Whilst leaving, the road took us to a magnificent red canyon, which is also a natural border between Iran and Azerbaijan, so we went through police control once again and patrols supervised, forbidding us to take pictures.

We moved on to Tabriz, where we went separate ways with the other team and we went to the hotel. We changed clothes and went out for a walk.

Our little camera, ideal for discreet shots in the city, had been broken and we were left with the DSLR camera and our smartphones.

When we asked for food, we met Atal, who was really hospitable and willing to help us, like most Iranians, and he took us to a local Tavern for local specialties, he chose the best dishes for us and also offered to pay!

He is the one who stayed with us until the next day, until we left; he took on the guide role because he thought it was his duty. And he was the first person we bumped onto and asked for help!

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The next day we wandered around the colorful bazaar of the city, looked at Persian carpets and jewelry and also more familiar treats to us, like halva and nuts. I did the mistake of trying an Internet café to send emails, and I came across censorship in all its glory.

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News agencies, facebook, twitter etc all blocked, connections through providers that allow control of information and so slow that it took me an hour to send 10 photos.

At least, I was given the chance to talk to local people, who while looking at the TV, which showed the bombing in Gaza, share their opinions for Israel and Iraq. They even asked me if all European people think of them as terrorists. I assured them that that is not the deal, and that Europe really appreciates the Persian civilization, and their hospitality as well. After that, I found my friends and took off.

We had been driving for hours, but weren’t even close to our destination. We got our lesson, from then on we had to add two hours to the estimation time of our GPS for these countries.

So, we ended up at 02:00 in Myantoab, a ghost city in the middle of the desert, asking locals to open their inns for a stay. They asked us for 60 euros (an outrageous price) for one night, and this is how we made a deal.

A grand building, like a palace with lost glory, unfolded in front of our eyes.

We rested there until the next morning, when quite impressed we saw this ghost city turn into a beehive.

We left and decided to make a three-hour detour to visit the Zoroastrian temple of Takht-e Soleymān. Given the fact that we didn’t have the time to visit the impressive cities of  Esfahan or Persepolis in the south, we thought that this was a good opportunity to mingle with the Persian civilization.

On the way there, we found out that the car lighter was not working. And this is our basic power source for our electrical appliances (cameras, mobile phones etc). We stopped at a workshop in a village in the desert, tried through body language to explain the problem and the friendly craftsman, not only fixed it within five minutes, but didn’t ask for money. Instead he asked for a photo with us as a souvenir.

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We got to the temple, so exhausted that we decided to eat something before going up the hill. Unfortunately, what looked like a refectory, had no food and we turned to our preserved food for the first time. Iranian visitors invited to their shadow place, and offered us bread and tea. So, we ate together and exchanged stories.

The temple was breathtaking, with a lake of sulfur water with light blue waters, like the ones in Blue Lagoon, Iceland.

And this was just the beginning of surprises for us, since after that we came across very high complex constructions, labyrinth shaped underground catacombs and the room of eternal flame from when the temple was used, where a gas pipe produced a flame and this is where the elements of fire, earth and water met.

What was weirder is that by walking to the other side of the temple, we passed a gate and behind that, there was a green valley! What a great surprise in this parched land!

We left the temple very impressed, we drove through infertile, dried, yet beautiful landscapes, we reached over 3,000 meters altitude and got an excellent view. Our average speed was 50 klm/hour, which of course didn’t stop Iranian drivers to overtake us like crazy in dangerous turns and steep cliffs.

We got to Qazvin at night, where an Iranian colleague had planned for us to stay at his house, but due to lack of Internet connection, we were not aware of that and stayed at a hotel.

The next day at the toll stations, they allowed us to cross without paying, because our Rally car was considered to be very important to them. One out of two cars would wave at us, either by turning on the car lights of by taking their hand out of the windows.

Iran is definitely a country good for your self-esteem, and lets you have a taste of the life of super stars. The truth was that we were in Iran for almost a week and didn’t see a single car with foreign driving plates. Imagine how weird our bright red car full of stickers must look to all those white old cars there…

We drove up the mountains until the village of Massuleh, a classic nomad, camp location. It was really impressive, but the village was far too touristic for our tastes. Especially after everything all locals had told us about it and the “jungle” around it. This jungle was just a forest, which had nothing spectacular about it, especially if you had already visited Schwarzwald and the Swiss Alpes. It might be something if you have spent a month (or even your whole life) in Iran, but for us, coming from Europe, it was nothing to die for.

On the way back we entered the city of Rasht by mistake, and got stuck at the traffic for about an hour and that led to us losing precious time. By the time we got to the city of Ramsar, it was already night time.

The next day we drove along the Caspian Sea. A really bad choice, since the road is not close to the sea (so we had no view) and it also crosses dozens of villages and small towns, in which we had to either slow down or get stuck in traffic (once more).

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The Caspian Sea proved to be quite disappointing. It is amongst agricultural countries and that means that it is one of the most polluted water resources of the planet and certainly not suitable for swimming.

My two teammates tried some sort of fish, and they said it was the worst thing they ever had to taste. So, food-wise: not good.

We continued driving for many hours and night driving was something both tiring and dangerous, with a lot of trucks and large wheeled vehicles acting crazy.

We reached Ash Khaneh, where secret police officers stopped us, checked everything and allowed us to go on. That was our only encounter with bad rumored security forces in the country.

The next day we drove to Quchan and then north to the boarders. Our stay in Iran came to an end after one week of magical landscapes and amazing people.

We all agreed that if there is a country we would like to visit again, that definitely would be Iran.

The next day, our Middle East adventure began.

A whole new page…

 

Visum4you

Thank you Visum4you for the perfect visa work!

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We crossed all the difficult borders: Turkey – Iran – Turkmenistan – Uzbekistan

We go into trouble, Visum4you keeps us out of trouble with solid, fast and organized visum processes!

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It’s been a week now…

It has been a week since the beginning of the Rally and each team has taken its own way, since after the start all crews are free to choose their route.

These first days tend to be a speed race, and also the first crash test for the cars. The teams try to cover as many ‘easy’ miles as possible in Europe, until they reach more ‘exotic’ places. There have been, of course, the teams that had so much fun in Romania’s beaches that they decided to stay there for a week before continuing the Rally!

We, thank God, are in the first group.

The first day, after the launching party, we left the Czech Klenova Castle and headed southeast to Budapest in search of goulash!

We stopped at Neusiedl am See, a great lake at the Austrian borders and a famous resort.

The next day, we made 700 klm crossing Hungary and entered Serbia.

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The tiny Nissan Micra responded with no problems. We stopped in Novisad for a visit at the epic castle and later in Belgrade which is full of Balkan life and beautiful people.

Driving goes on all night until the city of Nis, south of Serbia, where the Greek and Serbian way of fun happened to be the same!

The best moments of the day were when we stumbled upon a red Ferrari on the highway and decided to follow it.

Our little devil did not have fun whilst running between cars, and even though we did the best we could, we didn’t manage to get closer to the Ferrari.

We passed by it though – it had stopped for gas… 🙂

Our third day was featured with delays. We wanted to arrive in Thessaloniki early in the day for pending car pimping and interviews, but things turned out to be different.

100 klm with work in progress in the roads, and 40 minutes of waiting in the FYROM boarders. The final hit was our GPS, which decided on its own to show us the way to Kalamaria instead of Pulaia. The highway of FYROM is a gigantic rally track with a lot of turns, but at least we didn’t face any problems at the Greek borders, because the people there, as soon as they see Greek passports, they just tell you: “Enjoy yourselves!”

It’s already Friday afternoon and all of our scheduled interviews are cancelled, and Spiros’ & Giorgos’ families are waiting for us.

However, we first try to place the roof rack we had ordered before enjoying some family time.

A roof rack that proved to be a great deal of trouble, since our 3-door Micra with no opening back windows proves to have an opinion of its own.

It all turned out to be ok in the end, and there comes the time where we enjoyed eating and drinking in the magnificent Thessaloniki.

Then comes Saturday. The day of the ‘doing-everything’ has arrived. Still a lot to be done, and most of the city is empty because people had hit the beaches of Chalkidiki.

The wheels that Drive magazine and Continental had arranged for us, are being delivered to us at the last minute and we place them on our own.

Thankfully the car has proven to be reliable and now there are small things to be checked: we had to buy tools, first aid kits, a tent for the roof rack, we had to place the last stickers and finally start loading the car. (check this out)

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It’s already past midnight and we just head to bed, exhausted.

The next day we said goodbye to our families and the three of us started the journey of a lifetime.

We made a small stop in Kavala for some rest and in Komotini for a souvlaki and we headed to Egnatias highway so that we make it to Turkey.

Now there, we came across a great surprise. It’s the end of Ramazani and at the same time the beginning of the holidays for the Muslims, which means that all European Turks go back home. This is proved by all the German, French and Swiss license plates on the cars waiting at the borders.

We got stuck for five hours at the boarders, and when we finally got passed them, there are still some hours until Istanbul.

Lots of kilometers with bad lighting and weird driving, but Istanbul makes everything better with its peace and quiet morning.

We went straight to bed and for this we have to thank Hostel DownTown Istanbul and Kaan önen for opening his hostel for us at this hour.

Our plan for the next day was to visit the great Hagia Sophia which unfortunately was closed.

Change of plans, we drove through the chaotic city and we had breakfast at the Bosporus watching the ships with the Greek flags.

Then, we decided to drive to the Black Sea. On the way we met with a Danish team and the first stories start to be told. They got robbed in Bulgaria while visiting a monument on a cliff.

They saw people taking all their stuff from the roof rack and steal their car lights! We find out that other teams had given up in Bosnia, Ukraine and Poland and that there is a meeting taking place in a hostel in Istanbul for all the Mongol Ralliers that are there.

We even heard stories about teams that are still trying to cross the Russian borders and others deal with problems with some rotorcraft cameras.

One team got a 100 dollar fine for breaking the speed limit in Kazakhstan and another team dealt with trouble in Uzbekistan because the medicine drugs they carried were thought to be illegal.

Rumor has it that the lights of the car of one team bowed up whilst going up a mountain in Armenia and another team was stopped by the Serbian police because the crossed the white line of the road, but ended up taking photos with them.

We also heard about the first car accident in Gallipoli, Turkey where a truck hit a car. However the team members are ok and in search of a way to continue rallying!

With this and that the night came and we ended up in the small city of Kastamonu eating baklavas with some awesome Iraqi refugees who left Iraq to get away from their county’s destruction.

The next day we visited the tourist city of Sinop, we took a dive in the light blue waters of Gerze, we had fish in Samsun and we spent the night in Ordu.

The similarities of these places with Greece are everywhere. The Black Sea coasts, the city of Trabzon…

We woke up finding a note on our car by a Spanish team that recognized the car and left a hello note!

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There are 250 crews that take part in this crossing-half-of-the-planet and when stumbling upon another team is like meeting with family.

So, this little note made us feel better. We visited the Sümela Monastery which apart from being a major tourist attraction can also be the death of your car. The cars have to stop and start again at an uphill road with a very steep slope and that has as a result the whole place smelling of burnt clutch.

We left the car just before the point of massive breaking down and continued on foot.

It’s a magnificent landscape and of historical meaning as well, so we don’t feel that bad for being out of breath.

Our last stop was in Beyburt, where local Turks invited us for kebab and narghile smoking.

It was the last day of “serious” roads ahead us. The next day we ‘flew off’ to Iran.

We are in Iran now, exploring this amazing country and we can’t wait to make some great memories to share with you!

Thessaloniki preparations

It’s been a hard day today. We are all together now and we are trying to get everything done properly.

So many things today: some more stickers on the car, Hermes roof rack placed, Continental new tires taken, Giorgos’ father passed on his “auto-wisdom”, we checked that everything is ok with the car and now we are in the middle of ‘Tetris playing’ so that we can get everything into the car (and still leave space for three people…)

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Europe and we start the journey of crossing-half-of-Asia. Bring it on! 🙂

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The Nomad Caravan Poll

The Mongol Rally Czech Party!

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If there is something like “Alice in Wonderland” for motorization, that would definitely be the Mongol Rally!

On Tuesday, July 22 was the 2nd official launching in Czech Republic (the 1st one was in England on Saturday) and we were there!

About 100 of 250 teams of the Rally were there with us and it was more like a party than a ceremony! Everything you see at a music festival, colorful people, live shows, lots of craziness!

Anyone who thinks that motor shows are serious and boring, would probably have to do some rethinking. Cars with cow heads or palm trees or even reindeers (!) stuck on them, tweaked limos, ice cream trucks ready to cross the dessert!

Craziness was all over the place. Teams dressed up as anything you could possibly imagine, playing football, dancing, trying out their new golf clubs… We stopped at every car to read the stickers (because WE HAD TO!), to see car racks positioned in any way on the car roofs and to listen to the first Rally stories.

We met with teams who were stopped at the German borders, because their used car was chased by Interpol, teams who came from the U.S.A., Australia and Korea and a crazy guy who decided to drive his brand new Ferrari to the Steppes!

We shared ideas, met with people we’ ve been talking to for so long and of course we were a part of the celebrations that lasted until the morning. The night was full of Balkan music, freak shows, fire shows, DJ sets and lots (like lots) of beer!

That was the last time we were all together and now, each team has started its journey to Ulan Bator. Some have chosen the North route, some the dangerous borders of Ukraine and Russia and some others the small villages of Iran.

The Mongol Rally - Czech party!

Good luck to all of us, hope to see you all at Ulan Bator!