A quaint quintet of buddies blogging in a boat.
A Journey of Many Roads
Posted by Amy at 6th September 2012 at 02:36
After leaving Olgii, we set off on the road through Mongolia, heeding our mechanics advice, "no more rallying". (We had to assume that "rallying" meant driving above 30). After getting us out of a sticky situation on a mountain pass, Brad was elected driver and took things slow and steady. Kiavash assumed the role of navigator/pothole spotter/advisor and the rest of us did our best to help out.
In August, most of Mongolia smelled like wild thyme, sometimes mixed with clover. The Five Crew Canoe found Mongolia to be a vast and mountainous country filled with livestock ranging from yaks and camels to sheep and cows. Wild horses roamed fields and hillsides. More often than not, roads consisted of a line-up of interweaving beaten paths, twisting over fields, across the Gobi dessert and through foothills and mountains. If you don't like one, switch.
When we left Olgii on Monday, we had five days of driving to make it in time for the last finish line party (and our flights soon thereafter!). The first major city was Khovd, about 200 km away. At our slow pace, it took us about 10 hours to reach the city. Stocking up on supplies, we decided to make the most of the daylight hours to get closer to the next milestone, Altai, an impossible 400 km further. At dusk we found a nice spot far off the road. At the same time as us, a van had pulled over. While we were setting up camp, a lady approached our site and asked for a hammer. Unable to accommodate, we put our well honed hand gesture skills to use to question her further. They had a flat tire. Resident tire expert Dave was commissioned to go help out. The tire turned out to be irreparable but, after phoning for help, the lady returned with her sister and son. We fed them tea and cookies and entertained them our Mongolian phrase book and a ball for the little boy. They said goodnight and when we awoke in the morning, we were happy to see that, although the van remained, help had come and picked them up.
Happily, the roads to Altai were considerably better than those that preceded them. We reached Altai in the early evening, a few river crossings under our belts. En route after a rough patch of road, the team detected a leak in the radiator. Worried this might be it for our beloved Porter, we drove straight into a mechanic's shop where three other teams (Infinity and Bataar and their convoy) had congregated, awaiting some repairs of their own. At the mechanic's, the radiator stopped leaking. Matt, a fellow rallier who was also a mechanic, advised us to carry on. We decided to sleep on it. After a long search for a place to stay in town, we settled on a small place whose owner graciously (?) offered Dave a place in her room/bed. At first politely - then more forcefully - declining, Dave took one of the twin beds in Jordan and Kiavash's room.
In the morning, after a quick trip back to the mechanic's and another chat with Matt, we decided to take our chances and we set out to reach Bayan Khongor. The roads were rough and we got stuck in the sand and had to dig and push our way out. At last we reached a river crossing that Porter could not do solo. A huge tractor was happily parked and ready to take us across two rivers and after handing out mittfuls of lollipops to the local kids and moving our packs off of the van floor, we were ready to breach the large rivers we faced. It was a wild but direct ride and our Porter held tight, letting no water in through the thin frame.
We drove as long as we could that evening, stopping to camp at dusk. This time, just after dark a car drove off the road and toward us. Unsure who our guests might be, I walked out to great them. It turned out to be a family of five stopping by to say hi. After some snacks, admiring of their adorable baby, and a friendly chat, they were on their way and we were off to bed.
After a few hours, we reached Bayankhongor and stopped there for breakfast. We found a huge grocery store, unlike anything we had seen in Mongolia thus far, and replenished water, food and candy supplies. The road out of town was paved for about 10 kms... which was nice while it lasted. By now, Brad was pretty accustomed to the roads and landed us safely in ArvaiKheer. It was clear we were getting closer to our final destination, as we encountered patches of paved road, children waiting for Mongol Rally team treats, pavement, streetlights, and other features of a large city in ArvaiKheer.
The last day on the road, the team set out hopeful. Only 200 kilometres to Ulaan Baatar almost all of which was paved! Tarmac, beautiful tarmac...the catch? Full of deadly potholes. No time for relaxing. Braking and dodging, we navigated our way through. Halfway, we noticed the radiator leaking was back with a vengeance. Determined, we filled it up and pushed on, watching so as to not overheat. We began to see signs of the city, larger and more frequent clusters of gers, gas stations with 92 octane, a monastery and, at last, Ulaan Baatar!!!!
UB is a huge city after a week in the country and we found ourselves thick in traffic, van overheating, mere kilometres from the finish line. The cooling system was shot. Not wanting to destroy the vehicle we were donating to charity, we called the Adventurists for a tow. We were somewhat surprised when a small Suzuki Ignis came to our rescue. Happy to be so close to the end, we slung our tow rope on and did the last kilometre and a half of the rally in tow!
We arrived, smiles on our faces, greeted by a bowl of fermented camel milk and traditional Mongolian scarves at the Mongol Rally Finish Line on Friday, August 24, late afternoon. Five Crew Canoe, team least likely to make it, had reached our destination.
Posted by Jordan at 19th August 2012 at 15:00 in On the Road
After a promisingly early start from Olgii this morning, we ran into trouble about 40 km outside the town whenour radiator sprang a leak after running aground on some nasty tire ruts. We got a tow partway from a nice construction worker, then managed to cruise the remaining downhill distance back in to town in neutral. The mechanic assured us he could fix it, and proceeded to remove the radiator, rip out the damaged bits, replace the hoses, and epoxy the whole thing back into place. He also replaced the guard over our oil filter, which we lost somewhere along the way. The drive back to the hotel was promising - no overheating - but the real test will be tomorrow when we push on to Khovd. The mechanic's parting wisdom was "when you see a rock, get out and move it or find another way around. If you can't, camp".
Sure thing ...only 1700 km to go.
Made it to Oglii after a...
Posted by Jordan at 18th August 2012 at 15:20
Made it to Oglii after a cold, wet night on the border - the Porter nearly fell sideways off a mountain on a muddy, snowy road, but we managed to get over it with some spectactular driving on Brad's part. Treated ourselves to a hotel tonight for a shower + warming up.
Baku to Almaty
Posted by Jordan at 13th August 2012 at 09:34 in On the Road
Well, been awhile since an update - but then again, been awhile since we had reliable internet. In brief, here's what happened since we left Tbilisi with a now spot-free Kiavash:
1) Drove to Baku across some stunning mountains in Azerbaijan, camping at a restaurant en route - a taxi driver helped us with directions and then a pulled over, phoned his son who spoke English, and had him explain to us that the roads got better and where to turn. Super nice. Baku had a lovely old town, though we spent most of our time repeatedly visiting the port.
2) Ferry from Baku to Turkmenbashi - not nearly so sketchy as reported, but definitely hard to find. Got on board and the captain was giving out shots of something. See Dave, I said there'd be a welcome drink. Managed to score breakfast, too!
3) Entering Turkmenistan - 16 windows and about 8 hours later, we were in. Brad gets hero points for negociating the car importation while the rest of us watched Olympic showjumping.
4) Turkmenistan - odd place, lovely people. A traffic cop stopped us just to give us a watermelon. We ran over a pipe and punctured our gas tank with a three inch hole, only to get a free tow from the first trucker we flagged down to the nearest city. where a mechanic patched it up in two hours flat while feeding us melon and tea.
5) Uzbekistan - Samarkand and Bukhara were beautiful. Photos as soon as we can!
6) Kazakhstan border crossing - required a painful 100 km u-turn due to a closed border post at Tashkent. Bored border guards incessantly asked us for Mongol Rally tshirts. Ended up spending the night in Shymkent, not Almaty. On the plus side, we lost our spare tire on the highway and some nice truckers stopped, picked it up, and chased us down to return it. Thanks guys!!
7) Almaty - lattes, the Gap, and a hotel with cloud-soft beds. What's not to love?
Next up: Semey! Should take two days or so.
Waylaid in Tbilisi...by chicken pox?!
Posted by Jordan at 31st July 2012 at 09:28 in On the Road
It seems that one of our fearless Five Crew Canoe team members has been stricken by, of all things, chicken pox. Having failed to contract it during childhood like 90% of people in the world, a dotty Kiavash is now holed up in a nice hotel in Tbilisi watching Russian films till things clear up. Word from the doctor is that "he'll be fine", but this will definitely put some pressure on the team to fly though Central Asia.
Said Kiavash, "I knew I shouldn't have played with those chickens".
Just another day on the Mongol Rally.
Turkey, teshekkür ederim!
Posted by Jordan at 27th July 2012 at 19:44 in On the Road
For the last week, the crew of Five Crew Canoe has been enjoying the fine sights, sounds and tastes of Turkey. Above all, the one thing that stands out about the country is the endless generosity and general awesomeness of its people.
We rolled into Istanbul late on a Friday after a long drive from Sofia. The border crossing was mercifully uneventful, though buying the fist tank of gas in Turkey at 100% taxation packed a punch for the wallet. In Istanbul we were treated to three wonderful hosts: Faruk, who took in Brad, Amy and Dave, and Zeynep and Baki hosted Kiavash and I.
On top of enjoying the sights of the Ayya Sophia, Topkopi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and the Bosphorus, we took care of business - getting the car a full checkup from a mechanic, since we had never done that before we bought it (clean bill of health, oil change, and an ok on the slight tendancy for the engine to heat up in city traffic we'd noticed), snagging a second spare tire (which turned out to be challenging, since we have odd sized 12" tires, but the friend-of-a-friend mechanic found one), and getting our Turkmenistan visa (in 24 hours, with the bonus of it being 10 days instead of 5).
All these things went perfectly smoothly, which had nothing to do with us and everything to do with our hosts who alternately fed, watered, translated for, drove around, navigated, tour-guided and generally helped us in every possible fantastic way. In sum, Istanbul was a great break.
After Istanbul, we made a run for the Black Sea coast and the port town of Samsun. We arrived late at night with the name and phone number of a municipal campground we were hoping to find. Having no map of the city and no idea where it was, we pulled into the first gas station we saw to ask directions. The staff there promptly phoned the place, got directions, invited us for iftar, made us tea, and eventually one of them even hopped into his car to escort us down to the coast. We arrived at the municipal grounds but weren't able to find the grounds, but our new guide drove us to the park rangers station where a ranger came out, asked Kiavash to hop on the back of his motorbike, whereupon a crazy spin to a municipal park nearby ensued. The ranger indicated we were free to set up right by the sea, unlocked the public bathrooms for us to use, and told us we could stay till 7 am. That was pretty great given how late it was, so Amy, Dave and I stayed back to set up camp while Dave and Brad struck out to find food. The park was full of people breaking their fast in picnics or enjoying a post-iftar walk, and while we got some curious looks, no one bothered us.
While we were waiting for them to return, a security guard stopped by with the ranger - we invited them to take a seat in our camp chairs and chatted as best we could with our limited Turkish. We had a really great time, shared some nuts we had, found out how many kids they had, and even had a laugh at Dave for being single (what else is new, eh Dave?). The guard indicated that he would check on us all night and that the area was quite safe, and before returning to his rounds he brought us a big bottle of water, which was totally sweet and much needed.
Just as he left, a woman approached and introduced herself Aisha in Turkish - we invited her to grab a seat and we chatted away. She spoke no English and we speak no Turkish, but we again had a great time explaining what we were up to, who was in our group, and asking about her family. She has 3 kids and one grandkid, and before we knew it, the whole family came over - toting huge amounts of food! Brad and Kiavash returned with platefuls of kebabs, and thus began the best impromptu party I've ever been to. It turned out to be the wife of one of her sons birthday, so we sang happy birthday and gave her a Canada pin as a gift. Aisha sang and one of the kids put Turkish pop on their phone, and we all got dance lessons. She sent her kids home to bring back homemade dolmades and Russian salad, which was incredible - in return, we gave them two huge juicy peaches that Baki had given us from the harvest in Bursa. It was great fun and totally lucky. We turned in happy and full.
The next day, we were pushing on to Trabazon via the old coast highway, which has some of the best Black Sea coast beaches in the country. The mountains began on this road, making for some spectacular scenery. We stopped for a swim and beer on the beach, were Dave and Brad picked up backgammon. We nearly had the beach to ourselves because of Ramadan, which worked out just fine.
When we arrived a bit lots in Trabazon, a man crossed over to us in busy downtown traffic to help us with directions - turned out that he was the local information officer who spotted our van, and even though he was closing his office, wanted to make sure we were doing. This generally sums up the experience we've had in Turkey - super helpful people who go out of their way to welcome us. Every time we're lost, we're given tea and guided back on the right track. People honk and wave and yell "welcome!" when they see our van.
To cap off our Turkey time, since we have a bit of time to kill before our Azerbaijan visa starts on the 31st, we spent today a Sulema monestary outside Trabazon. This spectacular spot was carved out of the rock, on a cliff-face, by Greek Orthodox monks 600 years ago. The hour long hike uphill made for a great break from the van, that's for sure.
Tomorrow, we'll head to Hopa, the last outpost before Georgia, to spend the night before going to Tiblisi. Hopa, Lonely Planet informs me, is a typical border town "best approached with a bad raki hangover on a gray day - and if you don't it'll feel like that anyway." Updates to come, but if it's anything like the rest of Turkey, I'm ready to be surprised.
Countries crossed: 10
Coffees consumed: 128
Litres of alcohol consumed: 47.5
Cigarettes smoked: 65
Backseat driving infractions: 36
Strangers who have helped us along the way: 49
Next up: Tblisi
Goodwood to Budapest
Posted by Jordan at 18th July 2012 at 08:36 in On the Road
Having had our day to prep, we rolled into Goodwood only a touch late and lost, stalling three times as we tried to get into the muddy campground. We put up our tents and enjoyed a cold dinner of salad, cheese, and smoked fish. Amy and I gave the rest of the team their presents, 5 flasks with outdoor themes and their initials on them - these were promptly put to good use with Scotch Brad brought. The party wore well into the evening as the rain came down harder, with everyone ending up crowded in the bar tent. It was nice to meet other teams but by the end we were all quite wet and muddy.
In the morning we packed up and went to the Goodwood Speedway for the Festival of Slow. We were shown to a stall, which was thankfully covered, since the rain continued to come down in torrents. Brad finished the application of our snazzy wave decals, and we were feeling pretty ok about the whole thing - only to be selected by the organizers as the winner of the prize "Team Least Likely to Make It". Being good sports we went up and gave a rousing acceptance speech, followed by a failed attempt to win a tire-changing competition (note: pump jack must be able to reach the bottom of the van in order to change tires). Shortly after that, we were off to Calais, which we made in record time on a train.
A brief night in Calais was followed by a long drive to Germany, where we fell short our goal and stopped in Koblenz instead of Hiedelberg. Koblenz ended up being a beautiful stop at a fork in the Rhine river, dotted with churches and winding medival roads. From Koblenz we headed straight to the Czech republic for the Czechout party. A night of madness in a 13th century castle, we enjoyed shisha, beer, tea and many new friends - plus some intense renditions of Stan Rogers songs with other Canadian teams. Others had a more interesting time, not the least of whom was a guy we met on the way back to the campsite wearing a dress and going barefoot because he'd traded his shoes to the bartender for a beer. Good times were had by all.
The next day, among the least hungover of teams, we rocketed out of Czech through Slovakia, and into Hungary, landing in Budapest as the sun set. Enthusiasm over stunning views of architecture along the Danube and warm, non-rainy wheather was slightly overshadowed by our inability to find a hostel with room for us, but eventually we landed at Thumbs Up Hostel and found our way to a funky bar for dinner, where Dave was creamed by Brad in a foozeball tournament for the ages.
Countries crossed: 7
Coffees consumed: 51
Litres of alcohol consumed: 20
Cigarettes smoked: 17
Backseat driving infractions: 32
Bribes paid: $0
Next up: Belgrade
"So you're not good at this, are you?"
Posted by Kiavash at 18th July 2012 at 00:35
We can't get a roof rack for our car. It's already too tall for its tiny base and it would totally flip over at the first pot hole if we made it top heavy. But we simply can't stuff the car any more. So what would you do with your spare tire?
Gedi at Halfords in London suggested we strap it up to the bottom of the car with a ratchet. \
So I get under the car and after thirty minutes of struggling with ropes and a tire, I'm filthy but nowhere close to success. Gedi's back from his lunch break and he says “how's it going down there? You don't look like you're having fun.” I act all cool claiming that it's under control. “I don't think so mate. You're not really good at this, are you?"
He gets me to come out from under the car. He grabs a piece of cardboard to lie on. “I'm already brighter than you, no?”
He straps the tire up to the bottom of the car and shows me how to undo and redo the same contraption. It was super helpful.
I asked Gedi if he wanted to join us on the rally. He said he's not crazy about it and wished us a good luck. “You'll need it.”
We've been on the road for five days now, making it all the way from London to Budapest via Goodwood, Calais, Koblenz and Klenova with the spare safely strapped up to the bottom of the car. Thankfully we haven't needed to use it yet. But rough road are ahead.
Picking up our Porter
Posted by Jordan at 12th July 2012 at 11:49 in Vehicle
So after catching a flight to London and staying at Kiavash's lovely aunt's place, the day finally arrived to pick up our van from Mark. We took the train to Potter's Bar, a taxi to Mark's farm, and as we bumped down the dirt track leading to the farmhouse - what did we see but our Porter driving towards us! Mark gave a friendly toot and pulled over. He had wanted to take it for a quick wash before we came, but we were too keen and arrived early. We turned back to the farm, paid the taxi, and got out to inspect our beautiful car.
And wow, is it awesome. And tiny. We chatted and Mark showed us the ropes - then it came time to take off, as we had a long trip to Bristol ahead of us to get parts. As we drove out, we had to stop at a hill - and of course, stalled trying to get out. As we rolled backwards down the hill, Mark pulled up beside us to give us an impromptu lesson in the fine art of starting a manual on a hill. Parking break engaged and a firm rev later, we were off to Bristol.
The trip went very well, after getting quite lost for a bit, the GPS Kiavash's aunt loaned us came in quite handy. We hit the highway and pushed the car to its max 120 km/h. It shifted beautifully and hummed (well, whistled - no one can say it's a quiet car) down the road.
After a quick pub stop for lunch, we arrived at the garage in Bristol to load up on parts. The mechanic there gave a quick look to the car and pronounced his approval - though he was quite puzzled as to why we were doing this trip. The funniest moment came when he asked how many people do this - when we told him almost 800 will be participating this year, he burst out "so there are that many idiots out there!" with a good natured chuckle.
Parts acquired, we headed back to London - no easy feat in rush hour traffic, but we made it by 8 pm in time for a nice family dinner with Brad and Amy, as well as Kivash's cousin and partner.
Dave and Kiavash doing our first off-roading in the Porter at Mark's farm.
World's tiniest dream catcher for our rearview mirror.
Dave trying to get some quiet time to do a phone interview with CBC, rally-style.
Five Crew Canoe Prepares for the Mongol Rally
Posted by Kiavash at 9th July 2012 at 17:05 in Getting Started
Introducing Five Crew Canoe's song by the wonderful Eric Vieweg.