It Was Supposed To Be So Easy02 Aug 2010, by Uncategorized in
We are in Istanbul, at the doorstep of Asia, and we are temporarily stuck… do not leave Europe, do not pass go, do not collect $200. No, we are not in jail (to follow the rest of the Monopoly analogy), but the supposedly “easy” European part of this trip has become a much larger challenge than any of us expected. In 7 days we’ve driven just over 2200 miles, had 2 punctured tires, 1 sick team member, and 1 passport stolen… yes, passport, with visas, gone!
July 18 – 23rd: After months of prep from abroad, Tom and I finally arrived in London to start working on the cars. As it turns out, prepping remotely was almost easier. There certainly were some things we could only do by being there, but they took much longer than we anticipated… and then we had roadblocks like being sold the wrong brake pads – wasting a day trying to figure out why they wouldn’t fit and then getting the right ones to replace them. We had a free place to stay in Reading, thanks to Tom’s co-worker Colin, but with traffic around London, and only being able to source some supplies and resources in different areas between Reading, Wokingham, and North London, we did a lot of driving in traffic just to get around. We easily spent 16 hours a day driving around and working on the cars for the better part of the week, which left us exhausted by the time the girls arrived. We arrived at Goodwood campground late on the evening of the 23rd and set up camp amongst several hundred other ralliers.
July 24th: The exciting launch of the Mongol Rally! Finally, everything we had prepped for had led up to this. We parked at Goodwood and kept working on the cars… hooking up inverters, adding the final logos, meeting other teams and participating in the goings-on. There was Mongolian wrestling, old British men racing antique bicycles, food and cars. There are 55 ambulances and several fire trucks in the rally this year and they all lined up to leave first. Our friends Maryann and Matt and their son Issac (dressed up in a home made Baatar Hero tshirt and waving a Mongolian flag!) came to see us off and lent us their SatNav to help expedite our passage through Europe. This morning was the first day I started to feel ill… I chalked it up to nerves, but I think the exhaustion was catching up to me. Before we knew it we were off on our way to Mongolia, “racing” around the Goodwood track and heading towards Dover. A truly impressive ferry terminal shepherded us onto a massive boat and within a few hours we were in Calais, France, however briefly, on our way to Bruges, Belgium.
July 25th: Woke up feeling pretty ill again, delaying our departure from Bruges until after noon. Kim & Amy got a little lost in the one way streets of Bruges trying to get the cars back to the hotel from where they were parked, but with those few delays out of the way we finally departed Belgium in the afternoon and made our way to Koln, Germany, where we were graciously hosted by Tom’s cousin, another Thomas, who fed us and put us up for the night. Thank you Thomas!
July 26th: A massive downpour in Germany and road construction slowed us on our way to Prague. Appropriately enough, Rainy Monday was playing on our mp3 player. We ended up driving straight to Klatovy to meet Bill & Aaron from F5, and a former co-worker of Kim’s, Hannah, all of whom joined us at Klenova Castle for the Czechout party… an event which rightly deserves its own post.
July 27th: Dropping Hannah back off in Prague, we met up with Bill & Aaron for lunch and made our way onward to Budapest, Hungary. More traffic delays and construction in Budapest put is into town much later than anticipated, where cousins I had never met were awaiting our arrival. 2nd cousin on my mom’s side, Janos, his wife Eva, and daughters Anna and Julia “Roxy”, had food and tea all prepared for us when we made it to their house at about 10pm. We felt horrible being so late, but they very graciously received us and chatted us up for a few hours… despite having to work the following day! As we left for the night to go back to our hostel, we discovered we had punctured a tire on the way to their house (we believe due to the construction going on in Budapest) and one of our brand new 6 ply van tires was completely flat. We quickly replaced it with a spare and sheepishly made our exit.
July 28th: Despite having burdened them the night before, Anna offered to show us around Budapest, which gave us some time to have the cars looked at as one was developing an exhaust leak. We also tried to find a place to repair our punctured tire without luck. Anna, Roxy and Janos took us to lunch at one of Janos’ favorite places, and we went to his office where he conducts research on the effects of static magnetic fields on biology (mice for now). They helped us find some nicer accommodations than the hostel we were in, and booked a reservation for Kim & I for dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Ruben. Today was our 9th wedding anniversary and with their help we had a really nice evening together. Thank you so much to Janos, Eva, Anna and Roxy, you showed us so much hospitality and it was great to meet some new family members!
July 29th: After so many delays we needed to make good time on our way to Istanbul. We left Budapest early and drove all day through Serbia. We stopped for lunch at a well equipped garage where we were able to get our tire repaired, our exhaust leak welded, and our skid plates firmly attached to the front of both cars. The owner tried to fleece us but we negotiated a reasonable rate before racing our way on to Bulgaria. Before leaving Serbia we were passed by a high speed police chase. Our newly fitted skid plates were transferring vibration from the exhaust system to the rest of the cars, and now they sound like race car engines. Driving on into the night we made it past Sofia, Bulgaria but had to stop and get some sleep. We found our 2nd punctured tire at the Bulgarian border. Not flat yet (the bolt appears to be holding the air), we replaced it and have yet to repair it.
July 30th: Google maps mislead us to believe we were 2 hours from the border with 4 hours of bad Turkish roads to follow… when it was exactly the opposite. We struggled for hours on horrible Bulgarian roads but met up with fellow rally team The Griswolds and passed through the crazy Turkish border system as the sun was going down. We stopped to replace headlight bulbs (1 out on each car by now) and eat, dreading the horrible roads which were supposed to follow. We were pleasantly surprised by a new freeway system all the way from the border to Istanbul! We arrived at another dodgy hostel around midnight and collapsed, exhausted into our bunks.
July 31st: Intending to see the sites today, I spent most of the morning in bed, nauseated, while Jean and Amy found us some better accommodations. I tried to force down some lunch and a cipro, but couldn’t keep it down and had to sleep in our nicer new hotel while the rest of the team went down to the Grand Bazaar. By dinner time I was felling much better, well enough to meet the rest of the team, The Griswolds, and Justin from Just A Steppe Away at a nearby restaurant called Sahika. Dinner was great, but when we got up to pay and then leave we found Kim’s bag, with her passport, drivers license and wallet, was gone! We looked all over for it, hoping that the thief was only interested in the cash inside and would dash the bag in a corner or garbage bin nearby, but we found nothing in the maze of alleys. The restaurant was embarrassed and staff very helpful giving us directions to the police station. Unfortunately the Police were not very helpful. Kim and I were parked on the 4th floor amongst a few offices of plain clothes officers who were busy on their radios busting drug king pins I’m sure… nobody would help us for over an hour. Finally, the one officer who spoke English sat down and took our story… taking weak notes on a scrap piece of paper (not an official report). He told us we would have to return with a translator… even though he spoke English he said it was illegal for him to translate our report. We returned to the restaurant, but the girl who had offered to translate for us earlier was busy working at another bar and could only help us the following day. Our hotel sent a translator with us back to the police station, but they gave us the run around again, saying it would be several hours before they could help us. Frustrated, we returned to the hotel to cancel the credit cards and start working on replacing Kim’s passport.
August 1st: While looking for a place to print out the copies of Kim’s passport and visas that we had made before leaving, we happened upon the Turkish Bar Association, where we were lucky enough to find a lawyer willing to help us. Ozer Kavlak was extremely nice and came with us to the police station to get the report filed. Within 20 minutes we had the report that we could not get over hours the night before. As today was Sunday and all the consulates were closed we were not able to do much else, so we went back to our hotel to rest before meeting Just A Steppe Away, Zero to Zero, and another rally team for dinner.
August 2nd: Progress today! Kim went to the consulate and should have her emergency passport replaced by tomorrow. Now we just need to figure out how to replace her visas. We have copies of the visas and invitation letters, but so far the consulates we have called do not speak English, and I don’t speak Russian well enough to communicate with them over the phone. We are going down to the Russian consulate to see if we can get some more information. If we can not get all of Kim’s visas replaced quickly enough, we may have to just get her Russian visa, and detour our route via ferry over the Black Sea to the Crimea and continue on only through Russia on our way to Mongolia. We have called our congress and senate representatives to see if anybody can help us. If anybody has any contacts to help us expedite these visas we could really use any help available.
We are off now to try to get back on track. We will probably be in Istanbul for a few days and should be providing some more updates… we are at least looking on the bright side, if this had happened further on in the trip we’d be even more stuck. At least Istanbul is well connected (internet) and has all the consulates we need to sort this out. We thought at this point that we would be through the easy part of the rally and enjoying a relaxing stay in Istanbul before pushing on into the hard part of the rally… but the rally has truly been a challenge for us from the start. We are keeping in mind the kind words of our advocate, Ozer, “Never give up!”