Monday, August 24, 2009

August 19

August 19, home at last.

Monday morning Dr Luvandash, the director of the EMSC and one of their friends picked us up at the hotel at 5:30 to take us to the airport for our 7:30 flight. We thanked them said goodbye and headed into the airport only to find out that the flight was several hours behind schedule. After confirming with Aeroflot that we were indeed booked on the flight we got in line and waited for check in. Once we were allowed to check in we found out that our bags were over weight by 9 kilos and we would have to pay $27.00 in excess baggage charges. When we went into the office to pay we found out it was $27.00 per kilo but when they calculated it out they charged us 4 X $27 for a total of $108 USD. We asked them to give us our bags back so we could lighten the load but they said it was too late and the bags had already been loaded so we had to pay up. About an hour later a woman from the customs office asked us to come with her and she took us downstairs to the customs area. Apparently an x-ray of our luggage had revealed something that they didn’t like. Calen had been filling up coke bottles with the soil of every country that we passed through as a souvenir to add to his collection of all of the other countries that he has visited. Unfortunately the Mongolian customs officials wouldn’t let him leave with his collection and they made him remove every bottle that they could find. Once this was finished we went back upstairs and had a bowl of noodles. As we were eating it occurred to me that our bags were now considerably lighter and we would no longer be overweight. I pointed this out to the customs lady and she got hold of the Aeroflot representative. Amazingly they agreed and refunded the $108 excess baggage charge. By noon we were in the air and headed for Moscow. When we arrived we were faced with a huge line-up at the Transit desk as they tried to fit everyone from our flight who had missed their connection due to the delay onto the next flight to London. Fortunately we were already booked on the later flight so we were issued boarding cards and proceed on to London.

We arrived in London around 10:00 pm but with the changes in time zones it was more like 4 in the morning for us. After searching for a short while around the Kings Cross area were able to locate a hotel with a vacancy, check in and hit the hay. We awoke around 5:30 Tuesday morning and wandered down Euston Street where we had an excellent English breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon and baked beans. Afterwards we jumped back on the tube and headed downtown for some sightseeing. We started at the Tower of London with really isn’t a tower at all but a walled fortress with lots of old restored buildings including the one that houses the Crown jewels. We spent a couple of hours exploring the sight which was the beginning of London about 2000 years ago. From there we crossed the Tower Bridge, the most iconic of London’s bridges over the Thames and then walked westward on the south side of the river. First we stopped at the HMS Belfast a decommissioned WWII era Warship and toured it for an hour and a half then went on past London Bridge to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre before stopping for fish and chips at a pub along side of the river. After lunch we visited the Tate Modern Gallery and took in the art exhibits before continuing on to the London Eye. Next we crossed back over the Thames to Westminster past Big Ben and the Parliament buildings to Westminster Abbey. By then the Abbey was closed for the day but we did manage to find a side door into the courtyard and were able to explore the inner courtyard and gardens which housed the crypts of many notable people going back hundreds of years. By now it was after 6:00 pm and we had been walking for 12 hours. My feet were killing me so I suggested we take a double decker bus to Buckingham Palace. Riding through the city were able to see incredible and historic buildings everywhere we looked. London is a really beautiful city with a huge variety of impressive sights. After walking around in front of Buckingham Palace with lots of other tourists we jumped on another bus past Kensington Palace, the Marble Arch in Hyde Park and Piccadilly Circus and ended up at Trafalgar Square one of the hubs of the city. By now it was after 9:00 so we had supper in a local pub and headed back to our hotel having just concluded a 15 hour walking tour of the city.

Wednesday morning after breakfast at the hotel we jumped on the tube and headed for Covent Garden where we intended to tour the market but it was too early and the vendors had yet to show up. We started walking once again and passed 10 Downing Street and Churchill’s bunker and war room before heading across Green Park and back to Buckingham Palace. It is amazing how so many historic buildings are found in such a relatively small and accessible area. Around 9:30 we went back to the hotel to check out and head to the airport in time for our flight home. We thought the tube ride from Kings Cross to Heathrow would take about half an hour but it ended up taking us about 45 minutes and it is a long walk from the station to the check in counter so we made it to check in with only 1 minute to spare. Check in closes 60 minutes before flight departure and we were checked in 61 minutes before our flight. Wouldn’t you know it, the flight was overbooked. At first we were pretty disappointed but then we found out that under European regulations Air Canada was bound to offer us compensation because we checked in before the deadline and they didn’t have a seat for us. The compensation was an Air Canada credit of $1400 and not only that but when we checked in on the next flight we were upgraded to 1st class for our flight across the Atlantic. Calen and I couldn’t believe it when we were shown to our seats. 1st class is laid out in individual pods with reclining seats that resembled a lazy boy recliner that converts into a bed when you want to sleep. The service was also 1st class with a choice of wines and appetizers and meals served on china with actual silverware. I tell you 1st class is the way to go, especially on a long flight across the ocean. The flight was routed through Ottawa where we breezed through Canadian customs, our easiest border crossing on our whole trip. When we arrived in Toronto we were greeted at the terminal by Rosie, Mike and Maureen. A couple of hours later when we arrived home we were greeted by many of our friends who had been so supportive of us over the past year. We partied on into the night recounting our adventure until we just couldn’t keep our eyes open. We had covered 12 time zones over the last few days and jet lag was taking its toll.

It is now Friday morning as I write this last entry into our blog. We will have lots of time in the future to reflect on all that we have seen and experienced. This truly was a trip of a lifetime and without the help of family and friends it would never have been possible. I would especially like to thank Rosie for the incredible amount of work that she put in over the past 12 months making sure that all of the thousands of details were attended to. Without her hard work and considerable expertise and skills this trip would never have been possible. I would also like to thank everyone who contributed time and money to help us reach our goals. The love and encouragement that everyone provided was beyond anything that I could ever have imagined so thank you to each and every one of you who helped make this incredible journey a reality.
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

August 15

August 15 Ulaanbaatar

Friday morning we woke up and checked email on my blackberry. There was a note from Rosie saying that Paul had arrived the previous day and was staying at the Chinggas Khan Hotel, the nicest and most expensive hotel in Ulaanbaatar. We jumped in the car and headed over to his hotel. It was great to see him, the first familiar face we saw in the past month. Later in the day we had a meeting at the hotel with the educational TV station producer and a couple of other people from the station. They asked us to come down to the station and to do an interview about our Mongol Rally adventure. The station was having a staff retreat at a ger camp south of the city the very next day and they asked us to join them. On Saturday morning the communications director and a camera girl accompanied us and gave us directions to the ger camp. We stopped along the way at a giant statue of Chinggas Khan. This statue is about 12 stories high, the largest horse statue in the world. You can ascend the inside of it on an elevator and walk around on the horse’s back. The view of the surrounding country side was spectacular. We did an interview there and then carried on to the ger camp. There we were treated to lunch and Paul did a demonstration of the MediCruiser equipment. The station’s producer is very interested in creating some programming about MediCruiser to help get it launched in Mongolia. He could clearly see the potential for delivering modern health care in Mongolia. They also produced more footage of the vehicle and then we headed off back towards UB. On the way back we stopped to have a ride on a camel as well as a hainhe which is a cross between a yak and a cow and looks like something out of star wars.

When we got back to UB we went to the finish line party for the Mongol rally and what a party it was. The adventurists had hired a number of bands and entertainers and even had fireworks. We got to meet up with lots of people that we had met along the way and lots of others that had just arrived. There was a great deal of camaraderie as we exchanged stories of our adventures over the past month.

The teams that had entered Mongolia from the far western side had it a lot tougher than teams like us who had travelled through Sibera and entered Mongolia from the north and the condition of their cars proved it. We wanted to make sure that the MeidiCruiser arrived in good condition so we took the route with the better roads. From western Mongolia to UB the roads are more like tracks through the countryside with lots of potholes and rocks and rivers to ford. One team I heard about hit a rock and knocked the plug out of their oil pan. Luckily another team following them noticed a trail of oil and managed to alert them before they lost all of their oil and ruined their engine. The guys followed the oil trail back down the dirt road and by a stroke of luck stepped on the plug. They dusted it off put it back in, filled up with fresh oil and continued on their way. Ross and Ian who we had met up with a couple of times told us how there are only 3 big towns along the way and they were towed in to 2 of them. In one instance they put a couple of holes in their transmission and lost most of the transmission fluid. When they were towed into town they found out that because the transmission is aluminum no one could weld it. They guy at the garage ended up smashing bits and pieces off of an old transmission he had laying around and then proceeded to glue in the broken pieces, repairing it like a jigsaw puzzel. Another team told of breaking their rear axel and using a couple of pieces of wood and a lot of wire to make a splint strong enough to get them to the next town so it could be welded. It sounds like we missed lots of fun.
The party went on late into the evening. I managed to get back to the hotel by 2:00 and Calen followed several hours later.

This morning we walked to the “Black Market” one of Asia’s largest markets which attracts about 60,000 people per day. This was a fantastic market teaming with people where you could buy anything you could imagine. It is also a hotbed of pickpockets and indeed we were targeted. A couple of guys jostled me in between stalls and I immediately felt my pocket for my camera and sure enough it was gone. I told Calen and Paul that the camera was gone and we turned right around and confronted the thieves. Once they were cornered they turned over the camera and we were on our way. So not only was I pick pocketed but we were able to get the camera back as well.

When we got back to the hotel we met with Dr Luvandash from Emergency Medical Services who took us for lunch and then to the Gobi Cashmere factory store to buy a couple of cashmere sweaters and then to the national theatre for a concert of traditional Mongolian folk music and dance. We are now packing and preparing for our early morning flight back to England. We depart Mongolia at 7:30 to Moscow and then on to Heathrow in the evening.
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

August 12

August 12, Ulaanbaatar, final destination

We made it. We just arrived at a hotel in Ulaanbaatar. 16 countries and over 10,000 miles of road are now behind us. After driving into the night on Wednesday we pitched the tent alongside a dirt road just off of the highway. When we woke up in the morning a convoy of military vehicles was rumbling by and as we crawled out of the tent we saw that we were right next to the gates and barbed wire of a military installation. There was a large sign in Cyrillic that looked like a warning sign so we packed up in a hurry and went looking for the border. It turned out we were only about a kilometre from the border so we were in the lineup within minutes. Once we joined the line of cars that had been waiting there all night I fired up the camp stove and started cooking up some roisti and boiled water for coffee, Just like everywhere else we go we started attracting curious onlookers so I started offering roisti and coffee to anyone that came close. After an hour and a half we had served breakfast to about a dozen people and it was time to go through the Russian exit process. This process which included a vehicle search and plenty of stamps in the passport and on various other documents that border guards are so fond of took just about 2 hours and off we went to the Mongolian side.

Soon after we started the entry procedure on the Mongolian side we were told that the Adventurists had not paid the necessary duty to allow our vehicle to enter and besides there are problems with the description of the vehicle so we would not be allowed to enter Mongolia. It turned out that the vehicle make and model number, the licence number, and the chassis number were all correct but the vehicle was listed as being red when it was very obviously blue. A red car is not a blue car so this might not be the same car that was on the list. Hour after hour dragged on until it looked like this would be the end of the road for us. We decided that we would have to unload everything that we needed to take with us, leave the car at the border and let the Adventurists figure it out.

I gave one of the customs ladies the name and phone number of our contact at Emergency Medical Services of Mongolia, the organization that we want to donate the vehicle to and she called him to explain our situation. They agreed to send a car to pick us up and drive us to Ulaanbaatar. While we were waiting I struck up a conversation with one of the border guys who spoke English. He said he would like to visit Canada and I told him he would be welcome to come and stay at our house in London. He and his friend are avid fishermen and like camping and they asked if we had a tent that we could give them. Calen gave them the tent, camp stove and dishes. I figured we wouldn’t be needing them anymore considering we were about to abandon the car. A couple more hours went by and I asked Otgo, our new border control friend if I could use his cell phone to call London, England and see if I could get some help from the Adventurists. When I called them I was given a local number for the people helping out in Mongolia. I explained the situation to them and they said they would make some calls and try to get the situation resolved. Shortly after this Dr Luvandash showed up from Emergency Medical Services and agreed to take us to a local hotel for the night. It was 7:30 when we left, we had been at the border for 12 hours and we were exhausted. After a 20 minute drive we were at a hotel, had a delicious Mongolian dinned of mutton and rice and headed up to our room.

In the morning I took a walk around the town and climbed a small mountain peak to get a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside. Mongolia is a beautiful country of rolling green hills and valleys with small settlements scattered about and lots and lots of horses, cows, sheep and goats.

Dr Luvandash picked us up around 9:30 the next morning and we went back to the border to try to get customs clearance once again. By now the customs duties had been paid and we began the clearance process. With Dr Luvandash translating on our behalf the whole process went much smoother and we cleared customs in about 4 hours. By 2:00 we were on our way. The first order of business was to stop at a tire repair place to have the right front rim straightened. Somewhere in Russia we must have hit a monster pothole on that side hard enough to bend the rim. We got this taken care of and continued on towards UB. Along the way we detoured off of the main road to visit a bow and arrow maker in a small town 6 km off of the main road. This secondary road was another example of what happens to roads that are never looked after or repaired. The whole 6 km was a series of potholes and washouts some the size of the car. It was very slow going and the car started to overheat to the point of steam escaping from under the hood. I had a look and discovered that the fan is not working so at slow speed the heat builds up with no fan to cool the radiator.

We did make it to the shop of the bow maker and we were very glad that we did. The shop looks like it has been in use for hundreds of years and the bow making technology is probably even older. They build the bows out of the tendons from a horse. The process must use the fibrous tendons combined with glue to make what almost appears to be a fibreglass material. The bows are then covered in birch bark to give them a nice look and feel and then are ready for use. He strung one of the bows and let us get the feel of them. Very impressive but also very expensive. He wanted $300 for the bow with 3 arrows and if we had the money I would have liked to purchase one. The craftsmanship and history that goes with these bows would be well worth the money. After all this was the weapon that allowed Genghis Kahn and the Mongols to conquer most of the known world 800 years ago. We did however purchase one of their arrows as a memento.

Our overheating troubles continued as we headed back towards the main road and we had to stop 5 or 6 times to allow the engine to cool off. Once we got back to the main road though the highway speed seemed to be enough to keep the engine cool as we headed to Ulaanbaatar. We arrived around 10:30 found a hotel and settled in for the night.

And we have finallly been able to add some more pictures:


We arrived in Rubtosvk after dark and tried to find a hotel. No luck. I didn't want to keep driving around and looking so I asked a taxi driver (by sign language) if he could show us the way and we would follow him. He agreed to do it for 100 roubles or about $3.00. After following him through town he pulled over in front of a hotel but just then another car pulled over with us and a guy said come with me and I will take you to your friends. I had no idea which friends he had in mind and this sounded vaguely like a acam I had heard about but he had his child with him in the car and he looked honest enough so we decided that we would follow him and see what happened. Before we left as I was about to pay the taxi driver the 100 roubles this guy takes my money and goes over to talk to the driver. Apparently the taxi driver was charging too much so the guy talked him down to 50 roubles and gave me the change. So far so good. We followed the guy to the central square and sure enough we ran into an English team that we had met a few other times along the way. Ross and Ian were parked in the square and when we relayed our story about this guy brining us together they said they had never even seen him before. Apparently the guy just saw another rally car so thought that we must be frriends and got us back together. This worked out really well for Ross and Ian as they had no idea they were sitting in front of a hotel and they didn't have any roubles to be able to get a hotel even if they could find one. I lent them enough roubles for a room and we went in to have a look. They ended up with this massive suite with a foyer a large dining room, bedroom and bath. We took a small room accross the hall.

Being Friday night in Russia the square was pretty full of people drinking, singing, hooting and/or hollering an interesting place to say the least. When then went out to get our bags, a rather large Russian guy was looking at the cars with a few of his friends and looked up at us and said hello. It turns out this imposing man was named Mike and he was doing his Masters in philosophy, worked as a radio DJ and spoke fluent English. It was around 10:00 at night and we were famished so Mike insisted on taking us to a restaurant which was wonderful. The place had a traditional Russian décor, meaning that everything was big and built to withstand the Russian people. He ordered us food and drinks, saving us from the cyrillic alphabet menu and as the food came so did another guy from across the room. If Mike was big, this guy was huge! He sat down and started drinking and talking in Russian and Mike was able to translate that he was offering us drugs, booze, girls, he was a professional race car driver and, after the Russian left, that he was very, very dangerous He was a Russian mafia guy, xenophobic, and said that he was much better than us. It turns out that Rubtosvk is surrounded by four different prisons and as a result attracted the likes of the Russian mafia race car driver. But all was good and we returned to the hotel for a great sleep.

The next morning we awoke to a blistering hot day and a long drive to Irkutsk. So we drove all day, then we set up the bed in the car and drove all night, then we went to a café to have a few eggs, then drove all day, then made up the bed and drove all night and meeting a couple of English bobby’s who’s third team member had been trapped in between Russia and Kazakhstan for 6 days because of a visa glitch, not in his passport but in the computer. After 2000 km and 40 hours of solid driving, we made it to Irkutsk, and an hour later to Lake Baikal. Surprisingly, the drive wasn’t too bad, except for some roads in truly terrible condition that brought us to a crawl, and the scenery, which was nice at first but resembled northern Ontario, without the Canadian Shield and for 2000 km.

Lake Biakal is very nice though. kind of chilly and stony but a nice spot none-the-less. We then had most of the day to relax and walk around the beach town, see some of the lake and eat some delicious fish. We then returned to our quaint guest house nestled into a valley to get a good night sleep.

Today we double back to Irkutsk so that we can follow the road around the lake and get close to the Mongolia border so that we can cross it in the morning. It’s reputed to take 6-8 hours, just on the Mongolian side.

Tomorrow, Mongolia! …maybe.
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Thursday, August 6, 2009

August 7

Not too much happened yesterday. A lot of driving. We made it around 500 miles all through Kazakhstan. I haven't been to the Prairies yet but I think that the landscape is very similar. Where you can watch your dog run away all day long. The only difference is that these Kazakh roads are absolutely atrocious. We met a German couple who had been travelling since March, driving from Germany, and were shocked to hear we were doing the same thing in a few weeks. We also ran into another team and convoyed with them until it got dark and we pulled over while they deceided to push on through the dark. We pulled over to the side of the road and up a hill until the vehicle was out of site of the road where we pitched the tent and admired the vastness of the country.

We woke up at 5:30 this morning to make it to Semey, passing through a town along the way, looking for breakfast, we only saw a huge military base, hammers and sickles on the sides of buildings but not a restaurant to be found.

Finally we got to Semey, just a few hundred kilometers east of one of the main nuclear testing ranges for the soviets. In 40 years they detonated an estimated 450 nuclear bombs and there is still radiation in unmarked and unsupervised areas. But we are skirting that to go for the safety and security of Russia, just a few hundred kilometers north. Hopefully within a few hours we'll be through the border and out of the vastness of Kazakhstan, into the vastness of Siberia. For now we're sitting in an internet cafe beside a daycare centre as shown by two very helpful law students from Semey. This is the first internet we've had in a week but the pictures are screwing up a bit, so sorry, will have to wait a little while for those.

August 5

We woke up at around 6:30 and headed out of Biskek, towards the border which we reached by 8:00. For Kyrgystan they just had one guy in a little office who looked at our passports, smiled, and opened the gate. Then through the no-mans land towards the Kazakhstan side where we were told to park the car down the hill, walk up get the stamps in the passports, walk back down, show those guys the stamps, walk back up to that same office, ask for another stamp, get denied, walk back down and tell them, get shown to another building where everyone is being processed out of Kazakhstan, get to the front of the line, get turned around to a little office, get told that it’s 8:15 and they don’t do the customs check until 9:00, go back to another office, try to sit down, get told to move along, move along, try and sit down on a window sill, have the cleaning lady tell us to stand up, twiddle our thumbs for 45 minutes and go back to the office to have them puzzled over the Carnet de Passage for the car, saying they don’t really need it anyways, but decide to stamp it after half an hour, get sent back down and tell the guys that we did it, they barely check the forms and tell us to move along, and then we got into Kazakhstan. Easy peasy lemon squeezy…
We weren’t 50 km into the country when dad got pulled over for passing on a solid line. The cop took our papers, looked at them, tried to tell dad what he was doing wrong (in Russian) get fed up that we couldn’t communicate and finally told us to move along. 50 km later, a police checkpoint. Again they stopped us, we were doing 25 in a 20 zone or something like that, and they insisted on giving us a ticket. Then they saw that a form in our passports wasn’t filled out right and oh-man did they like that. They separated dad and I, brought him to an office and me to a tiny little room with a burly Kazakh border guard who was nice enough but had all the signs of a shake down. They finally brought the two of us together, gave us a phone with a translator on the other end who tried to tell us what was wrong and we tried to tell her that we didn’t even fill out the form in the first place so they should be fining the border guard. Then they take us out of the room, walk around say ticket ticket ticket, bring us back to the room, back out, back in, ticket ticket ticket. And we tell them to write it down, and they say ticket and we say that we don’t understand. They have us sit, someone else comes up and asks if everything OK? We say no, Straffe niet OK (ticket not ok) they laugh and move on and finally they realize that we must be border-line retarded because we don’t understand anything and wave us on our way, past some big guys with some big guns and onto the road for Almaty. Less than an hour in Kazakhstan and we’ve been stopped twice, not a good sign.

August 4

We awoke to a group of cattle herders trying to drive their cows through our campsite. So off we went from our campsite by the river by 6:30. Around 8:00 we were able to drop by a little town for some breakfast, plov again. Don’t get me wrong, the rice and meat is a nice way to start the morning, it’s just that the oil is a little taxing. Trying to get the meal was another challenge. We started out trying to get eggs, playing the same little game of charades that generally accompanies most meals. However, this time, halfway through ordering a woman at a table behind us came to our aide with a little book for drawing, a little English and a lot of Russian. It turns out that the woman, Tonya, was travelling through Kyrgyzstan and had missed her bus. She was in her late forty’s and had a pet dog and needed a lift to Biskek, so we figured, sure why not have a hitchhiker tag along. After a lot of re-arranging of the gear, we weren’t able to lift the backseat up but could at least make a level area for her to sit.
So the three of us headed off into the Tian Shen mountain range. This is a beautifully picturesque range that started with dry, scrubby desert-like mountains and levelled at a plateau that could have been in the steppes of Mongolia, complete with yurts and mare’s milk (which we were only too happy to try- verdict: ehh…it was nice to try it). Then it was a few more hundred metres up until we reached the peak, lush and green, and cloudy with spots of snow and a mountain spring rushing down beside the road. Absolutely beautiful!
Then the mountain range ended and we began to see the signs of Biskek. It turns out that Tonya lived here for a few years and was able to direct us to a nice little hotel where we can sleep indoors for the first time since Turkmenistan. Then it was off to see the sights of Biskek- one of which is a statue of Lenin that used to be at the centre of the largest square in town but has since been moved to a slightly smaller square behind a museum. The town’s alright. Sure it’s a post-soviet state, complete with drab buildings and poor construction but being the capital means that it has some very nice large marble buildings that are the equivalent to the White House and houses of parliament. We had a chance to take a mini-bus as well, which was a unique experience in itself.
Tonight we rest in our hotel, tomorrow the Kazakh border. So far we haven’t had any real trouble with borders, the Uzbek/Kyrg border was super lax coming in, and we’ve heard good things about the Kazakh border so we’re optimistic.

August 3

Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan

We were awoken around midnight by the caretaker and at first I thought he was angry. He told us to come up on the porch and then he showed us the inside of the mosque and asked if we wanted to sleep inside or out on the carpets on the porch. Again, great hospitality towards travellers. We chose the porch and spent the night on the carpets with our foamys on top. In the morning we headed to Samarkand, another great city on the Silk Road. We found a beautiful mausoleum that we walked around and then a complex of palaces and other buildings where we sat in a park and ate half a watermelon each for breakfast. We then searched around for an internet connection eventually ending up at an internet café where Calen was able to upload the latest blogs and pictures. From Samarkand we headed to Toshkent and then Andijon where we spent the night camped out near a farmer’s field. This was in the Fergana valley a lush and fertile area which helped Uzbekistan establish its culture. In the morning we continued on toward the Kyrgyzstan border stopping at a market for some fruit and eating along side of the road. In the afternoon we stopped in a small town that was having a festival with lots of rides for the kids, women dancing together and a great assortment of food. We enjoyed a lunch of plov a traditional Uzbek dish of meat and peppers and rice all mixed together and then finished up with somsa a pastry wrapped confection of meat and onions. The food here is fantastic. The people also continue to amaze us with their generosity and hospitality.

We arrived at the border around noon and within 1 hour we were on our way. The Kyrgyzstan border was the easiest yet and all of the border guards and military guys were all very friendly. Soon enough after changing some money into the local currency we found the road towards Jalalabad. It took us about 3 hours to get to Jalalabad and we were really looking forward to the hot springs and massages that our guide booked talked about. Unfortunately the guide book isn’t any good at providing the local names and locations of these attractions. We tried to ask people and demonstrate with sign language that we were looking for a bath and massage and eventually we ended up at the local pool, not at all what we had in mind. Luckily a young girl at the pool spoke enough English to be able to decipher what we were looking for and gave us the name and general direction to where we wanted to go. We did find the place after some searching but we were too late for the massage, it was already closed. We were however shown to the tubs. This place used to be an old Soviet era sanatorium and as we walked through it we were reminded of every movie depiction of an insane asylum. The walls were all covered in blue tiles, the floor was concrete and here were these enormous claw foot tubs lined up one after another with blue tile walls dividing them. An old lady turned on the taps and showed us where to get undressed and then we were each offered a tub of hot mineral water. After not bathing for the last few days in this hot humid weather this was just what we needed. Forget the horror movie depictions of the place, we were in heaven. We over stayed our welcome thinking that we had 10 more minutes when in fact it was supposed to be 10 minutes total so we washed up got dressed and headed back top the car. We are now camped out beside a river alongside the road. The car has the cover on it so it doesn’t stand out and Calen and I are ready to hit the hay.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

August 1

August 1st, Swiss Day
Last night in Turkmenabat we stayed in one of the worst hotels I’ve ever seen and that is saying a lot. They wanted $30 for the room which although it was a large 2 room suite, it was in terrible condition with a bathroom you would rather avoid. I managed to talk them down to $20 and took the room. Being covered in sand from the evening’s adventure, I was really looking forward to a shower but in this bathroom was a large steel tub with a small hose attached to the faucet and the water just trickeled out. Fortunately there was some warm water so by climbing into the tub and hosing myself down I was able to wash off most of the sand. In the morning we made a hasty exit and headed off for the border. It took us about one and half hours to clear the Turkmenistan side and get clearance to leave the country and about the same amount of time to get through the entrance requirements for Uzbekistan. We were shuffled through several offices but surprisingly we didn’t have to visit any banks so it didn’t cost anything to get into the country. Right after clearing customs and driving away we were approached by several money changers at the side of the road. We exchanged $20 for 30,000 soms, the local currency. As they were 500 som notes we received quite a large wad of bills. Forget trying to use a wallet in Uzbekistan, I carry my money in a sack.

We drove on through the morning stopping for meat and eggs and chi at a roadside restaurant and arrived in Boukurah in the afternoon. Bookurah is an ancient city which was an important stop on the silk road. The city is an outdoor museum. Everywhere you look are ancient walls, fortresses, mosques and madrasses. We spent time visiting some of the sites and stopped at a bazaar to purchase a fur hat for me and a police captain’s hat for Calen. Later we jumped in the car and headed for Samarkand an other historical location on the silk road. This place is amazing for its history and architecture but most of all for its people. We pulled the car over onto a curb to raise the front right wheel enough for me to repair some minor damage underneath and a crowd of 6 or 8 young guys gathered immediately to see if they could help. They were eager to talk to us and give us directions to some of the best sights in the area. It was the same last night when we were stuck, the first car we flagged down came to our assistance and he flagged down another person eager to help and so on until were out of the sand. At gas stations the attendants pull out their camera phones and want to take pictures of us with them. The people we have met at every stop have been incredibly friendly and hospitable. What a great way to travel. Tonight we found what looks like the construction site of a new mosque, We pulled in off the highway and cooked up some rice for supper and we are just waiting for the caretaker to come by so we can ask if we can sleep on the porch. Tomorrow we head for Samarkand.
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July 31

July 31

Today we left the ostentatious Asgabat and headed a few hours toward Merv. However, before we got there we had a chance to stop for Samsas: little pieces of pita folded over and stuffed with beef, onions and mystery materials. Delicious and filling, especially for $1.25.
Merv is an ancient city thought to have been the inspiration for the tales of ‘The thousand and one nights’ a metropolis that rivalled Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo as a great centre of Islam in its day. That was until, yet again, the Mongols destroyed it. The story apparently runs that Mr. Khan, in his bid for power only wanted grain taxes and a pick of the city’s most beautiful women. The mayor of the town not only refused but killed the tax collectors sent by Jenghiz. Three years later, Jenghiz Khan’s most brutal son Tolui returned at the head of an army and accepted the peaceful surrender of the inhabitants, which in turn made it a lot easier for him to slaughter all 300 000 citizens and burn the city to the ground.
Now the city lays in ruins but they are nice ruins. One of which is the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, who died of a broken heart after returning to Merv post-Khan. The mausoleum is a cube building with a dome on top, very modest, but so impressive to the sultan that he had the architect executed to ensure that he never built another building to rival the tomb.
After Merv we continued through the desert which almost resembles the area surrounding Port Franks beach, minus any trees; just sand and rocks and scruffy little thorny plants and, of course, more camels.
From Merv we headed towards Turkmenabat, the second biggest city in Turkmenistan, and only a stones throw away from the Uzbek border. As the sun was setting the gas light came on, then it started blinking. We had already been searching for a gas station but to no avail. Now it seemed we would need to dip into our reserve containers which hold about half a tank. But before we had to think about finding a spot to pull over, the road we were on ended and we had to follow another driver make the transition across a small dip and onto the road running parallel. So the guy in the truck went across, then we followed his path - halfway. Huh. Bad spot to cross, can’t reverse, can’t proceed, probably a bad spot to have crossed because of the loose sand underneath that had swallowed our tires and caused us to get stuck in the desert in the face of the approaching dark. After a few minutes another motorist passed and we managed to flag him down, he was nice enough to come over and try to get us out but being stuck in a dip meant the front end was submerged right to the fibreglass body and the only option was to get towed back up the hill and onto the road that had ended. So he jumped in his little soviet jeep and gunned the engine for all it was worth but to no avail. Then we got another car loaded with 5 more Turkmen to help us push. Still no good. Then we found a transport truck, who began to drag us out until our nice thick yellow brand spanking new heavy duty tow rope snapped. Then he left, but at least our front end was dug out enough to get the re-tied rope secured to a passing dump truck who snapped the rope but waited for us to re-re-tie it and finally, after spinning the tires, nearly burying the car, trying to dig it out, putting down branches for traction and me getting completely showered in sand after choosing an unwise spot to push from, we were free, back on the road! And still without gas. So we ended up using a 10 litre container to buy us a few more miles found a gas station about half an hour later who filled up the tank and pointed us toward Turkmanabat where we eventually found a rather odd hotel tucked in behind a very swank (by the standards here) hotel.
So that makes the getting stuck count: 1 and the coming so close that you’re worried you’re going to run out of gas but don’t actually do but use a gas can just in case because we have yet to run out of gas and won’t really until we get home: 1.

Sleep tonight, border tomorrow maybe Uzbekistan too.
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July 30

July 30, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
When we arrived at the customs building it was rainy and cool. A cloud had settled over the mountain so we pulled in under a shelter and cooked up some breakfast while we waited for customs to open. Soon after, 3 other teams all from Spain arrived. This was the first time we had run into any other teams since the Iranian border. It took us only 45 minutes to clear the Iranian side of the border and we were permitted to enter the Turkmenistan side.

Clearing the border on this side was a bit more of a task. We ended up shuffling our paperwork through a total of 6 offices and 2 banks over the next 2 hours. It cost us $231 USD in total for visas, insurance and other unknown charges. To give you and example, I went into one office with three guys at their desks. I gave my papers to the first guy; he told me to sit down, looked at the paperwork and told me to take it to the second guy. The second guy wrote down my information in a big book, issued me yet another form, stamped everything and pointed me to the next office. The third guy was playing video games on his computer, the only one in the room. We were quite happy and a little relieved to clear customs and immigration and enter Turkmenistan.

20 Kilometres later we entered the capital, Ashgabat. What an unusual sight this was. The capital is a monument to the first president since the fall of communism, Turmenbashi, or leader of the Turks. There are huge marble buildings, fountains, monoliths and golden statues all over the city and all bearing the resemblance of Turkmenbashi. The scope of it is almost too much to take in. We drove north through the city to the Tulkuchka Bazaar a huge sprawling mass of steel shipping containers turned into market stalls. I’m sure you could buy anything in the world in this market from electronics to Persian carpets to spices to camels. It was fascinating to walk around and see the variety of goods for sale. The people were so much different that the people of Iran. Much more of an Asian influence in the faces and dress of the people and obvious Russian influences as well. It was quite an experience to just wander around and take it all in.

Afterwards we checked in to the Ashgabat hotel and made our way to our room. I was really looking forward to a shower after a night spent on the roof of the car and hours walking in the 50 degree heat. I went into the bathroom and lifted the lid on the toilet and it came off in my hand, it wasn’t attached in any way. I tried to hang a towel on the towel rack and it crashed to the floor. I turned on the tap at the sink and water streamed from the drain onto the floor. And when I turned on the shower a trickle of water came out so slow it would take all day just to fill the tub. I just had to laugh, what we are used to is nothing like our present reality.

After a nap Calen and I went out and explored the city and parks. Calen was driving when he was signalled by a police officer at the side of the road to pull over. Of course we don’t speak Turkic or Russian so we don’t know why he pulled us over but after he looked at our documents it became pretty clear. He pulled out a note pad and wrote $15 on it. We still pleaded ignorance and I guess we outlasted him because after a while he told us to move along. We decided that we had made a mistake in the first place just by pulling over so the next time one of those officers at the side of the road tried to flag us down we smiled and waved as if he were waving hello. Later we had a great supper at a Chinese restaurant. This morning we head east for Mary about 400 kilometres from here. From what our guide book tells us we expect to run into police checks every 50 – 100 kilometres so it should be an interesting day.
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July 29

July 29 Bajrigan, Iran
Yesterday morning while Calen took advantage of internet access at our hotel in Sabzehvar I took the car to a local garage for an oil change. I took a little time to get across what I needed but once they understood Ali, the garage owner was very helpful. Not only did they change the oil but they also replaced a burnt out bulb and a few other minor things. Once I got back to our room and Calen finished the uploads and we got to speak to Rosie at home through Skype. It was so great to hear her voice and catch up. We were amazed that we could talk to each other over the internet from a hotel room half way around the world.

Afterwards we headed east over the Koppe Dag Mountains. This was an incredibly scenic drive over an ancient mountain range of rocky peaks and deep valleys with strange and beautiful views in all directions. The road was narrow and twisty but traffic was light and we took our time and enjoyed the scenery. We arrived at the Iranian side of the border at 4:05 only to find that the border closed at 4:00. We were told that we had to wait until morning but when we tried to leave the border area to find a place to camp we were told that we had to stay within the gates. We set in the parking lot, cooked some dinner, played a game of chess and as it got dark turned on our flashlights to read. A little while later we were visited by a couple of young guys in army uniforms wondering what we were doing camped out in the border area. They looked at our passports and rummaged around in the car for a while then demanded that we go with them. They jumped in the car and took us on a circuitous route throughout the border area stopping to talk to some other army guys and we eventually ended up at the front gate. The guard at the gate wouldn’t let them take us through so they jumped out and we went to park nearer to the gate. Calen slept in the car while I slept on the roof. It is now 7:00 am and the border opens at 8:00 so we are going to head up to the customs building and try to be first in line.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

July 28

July 28 Sabzevar, Iran
Yesterday we visited the Alisadr Cave, a huge water cave near Hamedan. It was only supposed to be 60 km but we got lost of course so it took us much longer to actually find it. We were glad we took the time to see this spectacular sight. When you enter the cave you go down a wide staircase into a well light cavern and hallways and you wind around eventually coming to a dock. The water in the cave is from 1 to 15 metres deep and most of the cave has water. At the dock they load you into small plastic boats that hold 3 or 4 people each and 3 of these boats are towed by a guy on a peddle boat. They offered Calen the seat next to the driver but he wasn’t feeling very well so I took it. The tour goes all through the cave from large cavernous rooms to passageways so narrow you can touch the walls on either side. After a while you come to a dock and you get off to walk up about a hundred steps into another huge cavern and then down the other side and back into a different boat back to the starting point. The whole tour lasted about an hour and a half. Again whenever we were in line people wanted to meet us and talk to us and otherwise treat us like celebrities. When we got back to the parking lot some young girls came over to our vehicle and asked if they could get a picture with the “boy”.

From Alisadr we headed off toward Esfahan again taking a road that we thought would save us lots of time and ending up doing a 200 km circle back to the road we were trying to avoid. Navigating these roads is kind of difficult because there aren’t any highway numbers on our map and the signs are only sometimes in English. We made it as far as Delijan before it was too dark and I was too tired to go any farther. As we began looking for a hotel we saw lots of people camped out around the central park so we thought maybe we could camp out too. When we went to investigate we met an Iranian who spoke very good English and he told us we would be absolutely safe camped out with everyone else. Right in front of where we parked our car we put down our mats and sleeping bags on the sidewalk just like everyone around us. Some people had tents set up but most just threw a carpet on the sidewalk and slept on that. We wondered why no one set up on the grass and were told that the gardener would kick you off. Beside where we set up was a family from southern Iran and they invited us over for tea. We spent a couple of hours on their carpet talking through our new found translator and even pulling out the laptop and showing them the pictures of our trip. Again the hospitality of Iranians is quite remarkable. We eventually returned to our mats and went to sleep there on the sidewalk. Even on a foam mat it wasn’t the most comfortable place to sleep but it certainly was a unique experience.

In the morning Calen was feeling worse so he took some medications and I made up the bed in the car for him. He slept while I drove to Esfahan about 2 hours down the road. Estafan is a historic city with several 500 year old brick bridges spanning the river. We walked the bridges and visited an art gallery and then it was off north towards Turkmenistan. The route we chose took us through the central desert and man did it ever live up to its name. Our temperature gauge read 60 C this afternoon the hottest temperature either of us has ever seen. The desert was completely flat from horizon to horizon in every direction and there wasn’t a living thing to be seen anywhere. We did however see a sign warning us to watch for camels crossing the road. Sure enough when we got closer to the northern edge of the desert we saw someone on a motorcycle herding about 25 or 30 camels. We stopped to take some pictures as he drove his camels past us. The landscape at the edge of the dessert was quite spectacular as is so much of Iran, High craggy hills and mountains all carved up by erosion. Calen says it looks like a relief map in 3D. Everywhere we go we see small, mud walled villages with anywhere from a few to a few dozen houses. It’s like walking into the pages of a National Geographic magazine. I wish we could spend a lot more time in Iran but it’s time to head for Turkmenistan. Tonight we are in a hotel room with internet so in the morning Calen will try to upload these last few blogs and get us up to date.
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July 27

July27 Hamedan, Iran

Over breakfast at our hotel in Maku we met Amir an Iranian guy living in London, England. He had driven his Land Rover from England but because he didn’t have a Carnet they wouldn’t let his car through the border. He had already spent 3 days in Maku trying to get it through customs and expected to spend another week or so. It turned out that he is from Shiraz, the same city as Arash. He didn’t know Arash but he knew the Pourkia name, a very old and respected name from the region. Amir was very helpful in explaining the difference between gas purchases with a subsidy card and without and told us we would only have to pay 40 touman or about 40 cents per litre for gas in Iran. He also recommended a couple of places for us to see and when we went out to the car he talked to some guys from a mountaineering club about where we were going. The guys were very helpful drawing out the route on the map that Arash gave us. Calen has a sheet of tasks for a photo contest that one of the other teams is running and one of the tasks is a photo of as many people in your vehicle as possible. We enlisted the help of the mountaineering club and stuffed the vehicle with about 10 guys in their bright orange shirts. We started on down the road and stopped at a bank to exchange some money. Got 1,980,000 rials for $200USD. It’s a great big banded wad. Calen brought his torn sandel to a guy on the street that was doing shoe repair and while he waited struck up a conversation with someone else in line. The guy he was talking to ended up insisting that he pay for Calen’s repair.

Several hours later we stopped for gas in Tabriz but when we finished filling up the pump said 400,000 rials. I gave the attendant the 20 bank notes and he counted it a couple of times and then handed back 12 of them. We were both a little confused but quite happy for the refund. It turns out that there is a state set gas price of 400 rials/L, or about 40 cents Canadian and the gas attendant was thankfully very honest. Driving out of Tabriz we got lost of course. There are some signs in English but most are in the Arabic script so if you miss one sign you are out of luck. You also have to spend a lot of time watching the other drivers. The lines on the road are merely a suggestion with often 3 lanes crammed into 2 and don’t even think of following a car length behind the guy in front of you. Iranians hate to waste space on the road and will fill that space in a second from any direction. Once we were thoroughly lost we stopped to ask for directions to Zanjan and luckily enough the people we asked were Zanjanians. A man and his wife and son. They tried to explain and then the guy said just follow me and he left his wife and son behind and jumped in his car to show us the way. Not only that but his wife gave us their ice cream bars out of the car before her husband left. It took him about 10 minutes to get us on the highway and all the while Calen and I were saying “Iran is awesome”. We love this place, the friendliness and hospitality is incredible. Every time we stop the car people want to come up to us and talk to us. I sure wish we new how to speak Farsi.

Today we are off to the caves at Kabudar Ahang and then we head for Isfahan.
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July 26

Sunday July 26 Makoo, Iran.
Leaving Istanbul wasn’t as complicated as arriving. We had 1 sign to look for, Ankara, so in no time at all we were on the highway. Excitement rose as we approached the bridge over the Bosporus, the link between the Black Sea and the Aegean. It was a beautiful sight from the massive bridge over the wide straight crowded with ocean freighters. As we crossed to the other side there was a sign that said “Welcome to Asia”. Calen wasn’t quick enough with the camera but I chose the wrong line at the toll station so I had to pull over in 15 lanes of traffic to run back for the ticket. While I did this Calen ran back up the bridge to get the picture but unfortunately an armed guard wouldn’t let him past. He probably thought Calen wanted to go back over the bridge on foot which apparently isn’t allowed.

We carried on through Turkey for the whole day and right into the evening stopping once to climb a mountain and talking about whether we should drive all night or try to find some place to pull over and pitch the tent. Just before dark we found a place to make supper as the side of the road but by the time we were done it was dark so our decision was made. We would drive on through the night, cover some distance and save on hotel costs. It is over 1100 Km from Istanbul to Iran.

I took the late shift as Calen slept in the back but after a few hours I was too tired to drive so I pulled over at a gas station and closed my eyes for an hour. Once I got back to driving I lasted until about 3:00 and then pulled over again and climbed in the back with Calen. It was a tight fit but we managed to sleep until daybreak.

In the morning we got back on the road but only a couple of hours later we came across a really interesting sight at the side of the road in a small village. There was a re-creation of an African mud house/village beside a park. Across the road at the top of a steep hill were the remains of an old walled fort. We stopped for breakfast and then drove through the village looking for a way up to the fort. I don’t think they get many visitors to the small villages in Turkey because we sure got some strange looks. The whole place was made up of ancient cobble streets, broken and potholed and crumbling just like most of the houses that we passed. There were hides drying on some of the walls, wool spread out, chickens running around and kids everywhere. As soon as we arrived at the entrance to the fort kids started arriving from all directions. By the time we parked we had 6 youngsters clamouring for our attention. They took us by the hand or arm or sleeve and walked us through the ruins overlooking the city all the while teaching us the Turkish words for everything around us. The sight was interesting and the view of the surrounding countryside was quite spectacular but the best part was interacting with the friendly and excited kids. We were there entertainment for the day and they were ours.

Once past the village we drove all day until we reached the Iranian border. We arrived around 4:30 and cleared the Turkish exit procedure fairly quickly and not too expensively then traded some American dollars for some Iranian rials with a guy who was very persistent but didn’t offer a very good rate. He told us there was a bank holiday in Iran and we wouldn’t be able to change any money at the border. I figured if we need some local currency to clear the Iranian border and didn’t have any then the $10 I lost in the exchange would be well worth it. As it was, the border gate stayed closed for the next couple of hours. There was no explanation of course and cars and busses started backing up on the Turkish side but the gate stayed closed for at least another hour. Once it opened and we were allowed to cross. Our passports were taken and we were told to park. We followed the immigration officer into the building as he started the clearance process. This went surprisingly fast as we went from office to office to have our documents scrutinized and stamped. The only thing missing was car insurance but a very nice guy offered to help us out with that. He jumped in the car with us and showed us how to get through the last gate to clear the entrance procedure and now we were in Maku, Iran having spent only 3 hours to get accross. Calen waited with the car as I followed this guy down the street and up the stairs to a second floor office. There were 3 other people in the office when we arrived and he proceeded to tell them that I needed insurance for my car. One of the guys took my documents and started filling out a form on the computer and soon enough printed out a document for me. I tried to check it over to make sure all of the numbers were correct but of course I can’t read a word of Persian script so I pretty much had to take his word. When he passed over the insurance papers I was thinking OK here it comes here comes the amount, how much will he ask for and how will I deal with it. I had limited rials and I didn’t want to bring out a big wad of American money but he said it was only $46.00 so my apprehension vanished. I was prepared to pay somewhere over $100 but obviously they were not there to take advantage, only to provide a service. I left quite relieved and now we could continue on into Iran. We drove about half an hour looking for anything that resembled a hotel and Calen finally found one. We checked in, had supper and hit the hay. The end to a long and somewhat stressful day. Today we drive on into Iran.
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July 23

July 23 Grand Hotel Gulsoy, Istanbul

We woke up at our campsite on Wednesday morning just outside of Budapest and made our way through rush hour traffic into the old city. Stopped at a market to buy some fruit for breakfast and then took a walk. Lots of great old buildings in the centre of town, we could see them from the bridge as we crossed the river but we never did make it into the old part of town. We spent a couple of hours before the ever present thought of “let’s get back on the road” took over and we headed for Serbia. After a couple of hours I set up the bed in the back and Calen took over. We crossed into Serbia and past Belgrade almost right across the whole country before we stopped for a roadside supper. This was the first time we used the small propane stove that we bought in Engelburg.

Not long after supper we crossed the Bulgarian border. So far none of the borders have been any trouble at all. In fact Calen has to ask them to put a stamp in his passport because they don’t normally do that any more. Early on in Bulgaria just before dark we drove through a gorge with high rock walls, a river at the bottom and a village scattered along the slope. Very picturesque. Just after dark we met 4 Germans driving 2 rally cars and they suggested that we travel in convoy because we planned to drive through the night and Bulgaria isn’t known as one of the safer countries in Europe. So drove through the night we did. One would drive while the other slept and we traded off every 2 or 3 hours.

We arrived in Turkey just after day break. Clearing customs was a little more thorough with passport checks and the purchase of a visa but we all made it through in a reasonable amount of time. The Germans and a couple of guys from Italy that started travelling with us through the night were all set to find a campsite and get some rest but because of our bed we were both reasonably well rested so we continued on about 3 hours into Istanbul.

Calen was asleep as we joined the rush hour commute and what a rush hour it was. The highway, similar to the 401, was clogged with high speed traffic but rules of the road were merely a suggestion and at one point believe it or not I passed a family in a horse drawn cart with cars streaming around it. I laughed out loud when I saw that but Calen was sleeping so I couldn’t point it out to him. Here I was trying to keep from getting squeezed out of my lane at high speed in rush hour trying to read the little city map in our road atlas. I missed one turn off and then another and another before I finally oriented myself enough to take an exit headed for the downtown. Away from the highway was even more chaotic with buses, motorcycles, hand carts and pedestrians to concern myself with as I tried to keep going in the right direction. At one intersection just as I was trying to do a manuver Calen’s foot slid off the bed and pushed the gear shift into neutral. I didn’t see what happened at first, I just knew that I lost forward momentum. At first I thought the car had stalled but when I went for the gear shift I felt his foot. I pushed his foot out of the way put the car into drive with cars honking like crazy behind me and continued on my way. One good thing about finding your way in Istanbul is that once you get to the water you can pretty easily follow it along in the direction that you want to go and this is how I found my way to the old part of the city.

As soon as we got close we knew we were in the right area because of the mosques with their minarets, castles and cruse ships. In fact the harbour was full of ships, you could easily see a dozen in any direction coming and going through the Bosporus. I figured we would just head up the hill into the city and we would find lots of hotels to choose from but as soon as we turned off of the main street we were into the twisty, crowded narrow cobble stone streets that leave you completely disoriented after you make even two turns. There were people walking everywhere in front of us, trucks stopping to unload their goods and always some car behind us honking to get us to move. What fun! The first hotel we saw we pulled over and asked the hotel security guy on the street if the hotel offered parking as there wass no way I wanted to leave the car on the street over night. Once we were sure that they had secure parking the next question was how much. $100 USD, more than I would like to pay in Turkey but after an hour of searching I didn’t care so we checked in to a very nice place right across the street from the Blue Mosque with a view of ancient buildings and a glimpse of the harbour. Time for a shower, some food and some serious exploring.
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

July 22

We awoke from our lovely night at Fortuna camping and were out by 7am, into Budapest just as the city was waking up. We stopped at a local outdoor market that we stumbled across and picked up some fruits "but no unpeeled fruits or raw vegatables..."
Then we toured around Budapest for a little while until we realized the time and now we're on the outskirts about to go to Serbia, and then Bulgaria, before stopping in Turkey, just outside Istanbul, for the night.

I have no idea what time it is now, let alone the time zone but all the power to you if you figure it out.

A sooped up Skoda on the streets of Budapest.
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July 21

Today we left the comfort of Switzerland to drive to Hungary. After talking with Kurt, we decided to change our route to stay on the main highways and make up some time. So we left Switzerland into Leichtenstein and didn't even know it until we crossed the Leich/Austrian border, then Dad slept through the little bit of Germany that the road passed through, again didn't know we were there until we left, then we drove through the length of Austria, skirting Wien (Vienna) but catching a glimpse of a castle, and blew through the Austrian/Hungarian border, in hindsight, I'm pretty sure they were trying to wave us in but we just kept trucking untill we nearly got to Budapest. In Torogbalack or something like that, we set up camp and caught a few hours of sleep.
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Monday, July 20, 2009

July 20th

We spent today relaxing at the little mountain side villla. A very very nice home with even nicer hosts. There's a view of the valley and cows across the gate, tres Suisse. Having a 'day off' allowed us to check all of our gear and rearrange the car. Now we have a place to sleep, a mini stove and about as close as we are to come to a home for the next month. We also got the spare key which is a bit of a relief. Still no owner's manual though... Tomorrow we go into Germany just a bit before Austria and Serbia.

July 19

The ferry from Dover landed in Dunkirque in the dark and we drove for a few hours after that through the dark and the rain along the french motorway. To those who have had a chance to drive in France, I commend you. For those who haven't had the privilage, the speed limit is 130km/h! At least the french drivers in France are a little more sane than those in Quebec. We got near Vimy and decided to find a place to sleep but could not for the life of us find a hotel. After driving around Lens for almost an hour we found a hotel just as they were locking the doors! The next morning (19th) we took off to the Vimy war memorial, which was very moving and incredibly beautiful.

By 11:00 we were on the motorway, this time during the day and without the rain. New personal best, 180km/h. :D Driving all day takes a lot more out of me than I had thought and so we switched off that evening. I managed to catch about 15 minutes of sleep and woke up just in time to learn that we were lost. Now this wasn't too too lost, just a detour to the wrong border crossing, costing us an extra hour of driving to loop back up through Switzerland. But it was a nice drive at least, a welcome change to the Motorways. The border guards at the Swiss/France border were wonderful. It's a really lax border, where they just wave people through. We stopped and got out and finally convinced them to give us a Suisse stamp in our passport that was "Just for tourists" We arrived at Brigget & Guido's by around 11:30 pm to a "Welcome Home" sign and a meal of Brautworst, roisti, and a warm bed.
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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Launch Day

July 18th
Up at the crack of dawn! Well, Ken was, Calen slept for another few hours before we had some bacon sandwiches and started the long process of affixing decals to the car, overwhelmed at the the countless names of all the generous sponsors and donors. Truly their spirits and goodwill are with us. Next we proceed to the famous Goodwood Motor speedway where we’re harassed by unsavoury border officials, scoffed at by a couple teams for having power windows, and shown t0 our own paddock just like the rest of the 320+ teams from 20+ countries.
I’ve got to admit, the Adventurists sure do know how to through an event, there was a stage and music and food and cheer. We milled around for a few hours, admiring other teams for the cahonés it would take to drive their vehicle half way around the world. We watched some traditional Mongolian wrestling, heard some hints, and learned that there was a team that had raised ₤45,000+ for an MS charity in Britain.
Then we did a lap around the track at a painfully slow 20 miles an hour (the day before, on the highway, we were topping 80-100 miles per hour) then left for good. However, our old battery just can’t do the trick, so we’ve swapped it for a new one, getting half off the price with another rallyiest’s Mechanic’s Card and are currently headed to the ferry at Dover, trying to find a McDonalds to get some WiFi and upload all of this.

July 17th b

July 17th
After the train ride to Liverpool, we caught the ubiquitous black cabs of England and found the people who had our car. It’s…She’s beautiful! Everything was magical, except for the dead battery which required a jump from the local forklift. So with a lovely car, charged and raring to go, we decided to call her Rosie.
From Liverpool, we drove a measly four hours to the campsite in the South of England, where it then took another hour to try and find the campsite. The other rallyests are tonnes of fun and the general age is about 25-30. On one side of us is a team from Switzerland, the other has some British university students and across the makeshift road is a team from Vancouver. So now it’s a late night and an early morning before we get to the racetrack for the morning festivities.
PS. Ken has almost died countless times already, simply because he is such a good driver. Having to drive on the left has confused both of us but I have yet to come inches from getting hit by a car while crossing the road, not once but twice. We have both drifted into the right lane, luckily devoid of oncoming traffic once each and the strain shows on Ken, I’m just better at hiding it.

Friday July 17

Friday July 17 – 10:25 GMT
Sitting on a Virgin Train speeding through the English countryside. We left Toronto on Wednesday around 8:30 pm on an overnight flight to London arriving around 8:30 am local time. Breezed through customs and boarded the tube for Kings Cross station. Found our hotel only 2 blocks from the station but we couldn’t check in until 2:00 pm so we had 3 hours to kill. We jumped back on the tube over to Piccadilly Circus where we hoped on one of those double decker tour busses, the kind that doesn’t have a roof over the top deck. There wasn’t a driver on the top but there was a tour guide with a vast knowledge of London history and lots of corny jokes. With only 1 day in London this was an excellent way to see the main city sights and this tour certainly covered the main areas. We saw Trafalgar Square and the Nelson monument, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Parliament and Big Ben, London Bridge and the Tower of London and so many incredible places in between. I say we but I am the only one who saw all of these sights. Calen and Valentin slept for most of the tour, Valentin’s head slumped on his chest and Calen’s head on my shoulder. 36 hours without sleep had definitely caught up to them. While on the tour I received an email from Neil our customs broker in Liverpool asking if any arrangements had been made to pick up our MediCruiser from the docks. I sent an email on to Jim our shipper in Washington for clarification and made a call to Kev at Prometheus our consignee. This is a process that I had been working on since before the vehicle arrived on Tuesday. Although Jim had made arrangements for the through shipment to London, time was getting short and there were questions about who and how would the vehicle be unloaded from the container. Neil settled the matter by taking the issue into his own hands and having the container delivered to his warehouse in Liverpool where they would unload it and we could pick it up. They recognized the charitable nature of our endeavour and gave us a cut rate on everything. We headed back to our hotel after our 2 hour tour, checked in and hit the hay for a good sleep. We got up around 7:00 pm and caught the tube to Covent Garden where we strolled around and had supper. Once the rain stated pouring down on us we headed back to our room for the night. This morning we caught the train for Liverpool and if all goes according to plan we will be picking up our MediCruiser and heading for Goodwood this afternoon.

More Pictures, comment if you can see them.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Almost there!

So we have 1 day to go!
On the evening of Wednesday, July 15th, we fly to England.
Then we just have to sweet talk customs officials, grab the Medicruiser and get it to Goodwood for Saturday the 18th.
So that's all the hard stuff taken care of, I guess the only thing left is the easy business of getting to Mongolia.

We also have our SPOT locator, that GPS without a screen so that everyone knows where we are but us. You can follow our progress live here (and yes, right now we're sitting at home)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Pre-Rally Buzz

We are literally two weeks from hopping the pond from London to London. To catch up anybody new, here's our story: Ken and Calen, a father and son, from London Ontario are going to be flying the flag of medicine in the 2009 Mongol Rally. On July 15th, we depart to England, then proceed to drive to MONGOLIA! Between us and them are 16 countries, tonnes of visas, and one Medicruiser, which is to be left behind for the health care professionals of Mongolia.
Team Cangolia is traveling half way around the world to bring much needed medical service to Mongolia's nomadic people. Low life expectancy and infant mortality in the rural areas reflect the lack of access to medical care. With your help, children and families will receive excellent medical care in their home and villages. The full story is available at

Right now our passports are en route home after a few months in England collecting visas. Otherwise, we only have sponsorship left. We are 90% of the way!! That deserves a big hoorah to all who have donated to the cause already. Thank you all so much. We now have less than $25,000 to go. No one said it was cheap to deliver 21st century medicine to the other end of the world. You can donate to support Medicruiser Mongolia at

And happy Canada Day!