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.
Posted by Picasa

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.
Posted by Picasa

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.
Posted by Picasa

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.

Posted by Picasa

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.
Posted by Picasa

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.
Posted by Picasa

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.
Posted by Picasa

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 cahon├ęs 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 www.teamcangolia.com

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 http://www.teamcangolia.com/JoinTeamCangolia.html

And happy Canada Day!