Hole in the Clouds
Aug 22, 2009
Time to catch up with the Mongol Rally folks. After about six weeks on the road now, many of the 200 or so teams have recently reached Ulaan Bataar, where they signed the rally book, did their laundry, and partied. There is no prize for arriving first. Rallyers donate their vehicles to Mongolian NGO's and eventually make their way home somehow.
A team called Rolling Cones, from Richmond, Virginia, spent three days wandering in the Gobi Desert in their pink ice cream truck. They say the rocks in the Gobi are so iron-rich that compasses don't work there. Mongol Rally rules discourage GPS navigation, but the Rolling Cones had secretly stashed a little GPS unit deep in their luggage for just such a contingency--not that they anticipated exactly such a contingency, but contingencies happen. They noticed that a roadwork crew was speaking Mandarin Chinese instead of Mongolian, and it had been three days since they'd last known where they were, so . . . turned out they were in the extreme southeast corner of Mongolia, a few kilometers from the Chinese border, in a spot on the map that was completely empty of roads. But there was a coal mine nearby, which is why the Chinese were building a new road, and at the mine there were two geologists from Virginia Tech. So it goes.
All the blog posts are full of promises to post their Mongolia photos soon. I trust them, of course, so I'll make the same promise. In the meantime, here's a nice one from back in Kazakhstan, near the shriveled shore of the Aral Sea. Photo by Team Mongoliza, who list their hometown as "southeast Asia."
(Image credit: Team Mongoliza)
Aug 2, 2009
Our Mongol Rally teams--"just call us Mongoleers"--have been making good progress on the drive from England to Mongolia, except for the guy who got threatened with arrest at the Ukrainian border and decided to retreat to Prague.
(Image credit: Team Yippo)
Those who took the northern route through Russia are now deep into Siberia, approaching Irkutsk or partying there. Except for those who had car trouble or who had to detour around Belarus, which closed its border this year to Mongoleers, without notice, they've been making good time.
The teams taking a more direct route, through Kazakhstan, report pleasant people--not even a little like Borat--but extreme heat and frequent police stops. The police want USD, it seems--U.S. dollars. We're told that 20 USD is the going rate per car per stop, but fast talkers can sometimes make 20 USD cover a whole convoy of Mongoleers.
Those attempting a more southerly route, through Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekhistan, and other countries unknown to Americans report astonishing sights, including a marble city ("slippery when wet"). They like the people and the food but say the roads are narrow and winding and confusing and slow.
The southern route through Iran proved open this year, contrary to predictions, and Mongoleers there report excellent highways and no problems.
Where are our folks? Well the boys from Detroit are pretty much worthless--as of a couple days ago, they were still in Germany. They had a lot of friends to visit along the route.
Captain Subprime and his Spanish buddies? They're spending the night at the Uzbekh border, waiting for the guards to show up in the morning and let them into the country.
And Yippo, our Dutch couple? They have crossed Iran without incident and are now in Turkmenistan, eating lunch.