I’M DOING THE MONGOL RALLY!!
(Update: I already did the Mongol Rally! You can learn more about the entire adventure on this page.)
I’m super excited and freaked out about this adventure. For those of you who don’t know what the Mongol Rally is; imagine driving 1/3 of the way around the world through the toughest terrain on earth on a car that is barely made to take your grandma from home to the supermarket.
The Mongol Rally is an unsupported and un-routed driving adventure from London, England to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Starting July 13th, 2013; our team, The Drama of Llama, will be crossing nearly 10,000 miles of unforgiving deserts, perilous mountain ranges, and non-existent roads, in a 2005 Hyundai Getz.
As you can imagine, this car is ill-suited for this type of mission. In the end, our car will be donated to a charity in Mongolia that will give good use to it.
But I’m not doing this crazy stunt alone! My international partners in crime Vitalli Lunkevich, a final year Business and Management student, and the misadventurous Stephen Schreck of A Backpacker’s Tale.
But, this rally is not just an adventure; it is a way to help those in need while having an adventure.
We, as one of the hundreds of teams driving in the Mongol Rally, will also raise money to benefit two charities: The official Mongol Rally charity, Cool Earth, and our chosen charity, Set Her Free.
Why have we chosen Set Her Free?
Set Her Free, is a non-profit organization that is working to restore the lives of young girls formerly enslaved by the sex trades—the harshest form of child labor in Uganda.
Set Her Free provides not only food and shelter, but also formal education, technical training, counseling, medical care, and much more – currently to 120 young women. The cost to benefit each girl for a year calculates to 2,272,000 UGX or $909 (inclusive of food and education).
In addition to the great work they do, I have some sort of personal connection with them. Remember when I reached Uganda by mistake and was rescued by a stranger? Yup, that was Robinah, the founder and woman behind Set Her Free. Robinah extended me a helping hand when I was in need and lost in a country I didn’t know, now I extend mine to help back.
Alright, so the big news is out!
This will be a great adventure, and the most interesting thing about the Mongol Rally is that anything can happen in that span of 10,000 miles!
Have ideas for a route from London to Ulaanbaatar? Give us your suggestions and we might incorporate them in our route!
Planning Our Mongol Rally Route
You would think that doing the Mongol Rally would be just as easy as hopping on a car and driving endlessly until you hit Mongolia. Well, that’s part of the general idea of what we’re doing, but it is a far cry from the reality of planning this adventure.
During this past month, I’ve spent countless hours researching and planning this adventure.
I know my team and I, The Drama of Llama, are far from having a fully planned trip (and in a way that’s part of the fun of the Mongol Rally), but at least we are making sure that we can get from point A, London; to point B, Ulaanbaatar… even if it is with our car held up together with duck tape and pushed by Bactrian camels.
Now that we are a full team, we had to sit down to discuss the preliminary route, or at least, the list of countries we plan to cross. Why? Visas!
Our team will be traveling with American and British passports, so we have to make sure we are allowed to enter the countries we wish to cross and which ones require visas and how much.
After some debating, discussion, and your votes through Facebook, we have chosen this route.
We will expect to do:
- Czech Republic
Quite a route, eh? What do you think of it?
For Stephen and I, that means we need to get visas from Russia and Kazakhstan. We will be using The Visa Machine that the Mongol Rally recommends since they know what they are doing and they’ll take care of the invitation letters and all the details. For Turkey and Georgia, we will get a visa on arrival at the border.
For me, there’s a boo-boo on getting these visas. I’m currently traveling and to get these visas, I need to send my passport to London for at least 4 weeks.
That means, I have to plan carefully and find a place to stay for a month (no travel) so I can let the Visa Machine do its magic.
For now, I’m thinking of going back to Milan and stay there during the month of May. I hope the Visa Machine can get my visas in time; otherwise, I’ll be pretty screwed since I have to fly to Puerto Rico and Brazil the first week of June and will have no other window of travel-less time before the rally.
Our Rally Car
Thanks to Vitalli, we have an awesome 2005 Hyundai Getz that we hope will live to the adventure. At the moment the car is insured in the EU, so we need to get insurance for every country we cross outside of the EU. As far as I know, we can get the insurance at the border. Someone can confirm this? (Update: Yes, we could!)
On a side note, my driver’s license expires in September. In theory, I should be good, as we should be done with the rally by then. But, I’m considering renewing it.
This means, more document planning since I have to renew by mail, but can’t do it at the same time my passport is away because I can’t go around without any form of identification. Ahhh, planning and timing!!!
We are two bloggers doing the Mongol Rally and we are more than happy to bring exposure to any company that can help us in this endeavor. We might have a good online presence, but this doesn’t mean sponsors will jump that easy to help us.
It is hard work finding sponsors and we are more than willing to work hard to deliver and bring results.
While we are on this subject, I want to give a huge thanks to Go With Oh, XCOM Global, and OneSimCard for extending their helping hand and sponsoring us with their products and services. You will hear more about them as we do the rally.
Facing Planning Roadblocks (and Some Drama)
I was quite happy and surprised at how smooth our Mongol Rally planning went during the first couple months. From late January till early April it was all smooth sailing.
Little did I know, that our smooth sailing in planning would come crashing against a wall at high speed!
And so, the drama started! Hey, if we are called The Drama of Llama, at least we need to live up to our name once! Actually, more than once…
In early April the team got its biggest blow. Our teammate, Vitalli, mentioned to us that he would have to drop out of the team due to a very promising job offer in the US.
For a few weeks, we (well, he) tried to find a loophole where he could take the job and still do the rally, but in the end, it was unsuccessful. We lost a precious teammate and our official clown. Sigh…
Did I say we lost a precious teammate? Yes, not only Vitalli was our in house clown (well, he still is from the sidelines), but he was also the owner of the car. Ooops, now the team has no car!
Vitalli needed to sell the car so he could pay for his working visa and moving expenses, but his price was above our budget. Totally understandable. Now the team has to look for a car.
As if fate had everything planned, when I was in Senegal a couple of weeks ago I shared with my hostel roommate, Alex Humphries, the current drama the team was facing.
Without knowing, I was somehow sparking his curiosity on the rally. After some discussion and deliberation, Alex joined the team! We are again a team of 3!
Searching for more travel logistics, we learned that the border between Georgia and Russia is closed (a border we intended to cross). That Blows!
For a few days we considered different options:
- Should we go to Azerbaijan and take the ferry to Turkmenistan? There’s no time to get the extra visas, plus the ferry is expensive.
- Should we instead cross from Azerbaijan to Russia? We couldn’t find reliable information on this possibility.
- Should we reroute completely and take the route through Ukraine? Possible, but we want to go to Turkey!
- Should we still try Georgia and test our luck?! Let’s do it!!
Apparently, according to the information we’ve found, there’s a possibility of crossing the border at one specific border crossing. It’s still not guaranteed. Should we not be able to cross, we would backtrack and take the ferry from Turkey to Russia. (Update, that Georgia to Russia bodger worked!)
So, that’s the plan till now.
A few days ago, we were two weeks away from the car registration deadline, and we were still nowhere near finding a new car under our budget.
Upon further discussion, we raised a bit our budget and discussed with Vitalli the option of buying his car. Win, Win! We have our old car again! Oh, by the way, her name is Lizzy! (Lizzy the Vacuum… Just don’t tell Vitalli I call her that way)
The car will soon be transferred to Alex’s name (since it’ll be easier for paperwork and insurance since he’s from the UK) and will be registered with the rally in the next few days.
I’m still not sure how I’ll drive manual after my embarrassing experience driving in Ouarzazate. I’m still hoping to learn a bit more with my friends when I stop in Puerto Rico just before the rally. Oh, the horrible things I’ll do to their cars!
Drama #5 (maybe the biggest and most stressful one!)
All this planning has been a rollercoaster, but the drama that topped the cherry was the visa process.
You see, since I was staying in Milan for a month, I thought I had plenty of time to mail my passport to The Visa Machine for them to process my Russian and Kazakhstan visas, and mail my passport back.
Pretty simple, right? Well, in theory, it is, but sometimes the universe doesn’t work that way.
To make sure there was plenty time to spare, I requested the express service for the Russian Visa, and the normal one for Kazakhstan, since they had no other options; in addition to mailing my passport with a next day service. According to The Visa Machine, the entire process would take two weeks. That sounded perfect to me.
I mailed my passport on the 6th of May, so in theory, it all should have been done by the 21st or so, leaving plenty of time before my departure to the USA on the 5th of June.
One week passed by, and I saw no progress in my Visa Machine account. Hmm… I assumed it must have been the Kazakhstan visa taking its time. By the end of the second week, I finally saw on my Visa Machine page that there was some progress being done with my Kazakhstan visa.
It now showed a little hourglass icon (like, waiting) instead of nothing. The Russian one was still showing nothing.
I got curious about it and called The Visa Machine.
“Hi, does this little hour glass on my account means that the Kazakhstan Visa has been processed?”
“No, it has JUST been submitted to the embassy.”, they said.
“WHAT?!!! What did you do with my passport for TWO WHOLE WEEKS?!”
This was their explanation….
Exactly at the time I mailed my passport, there was a Russian holiday, so no work at the Russian embassy. And, just after the holidays, Russia changed its rules for visa applications where you can now ONLY apply within two months of your entry into the country. My entry was set for the 25th of July, so that meant that the closest I could apply now was the 25th of May.
Well, ok, why didn’t they start the Kazakhstan visa before?! As it turns out, when you apply for a double-entry to Kazakhstan, you can only apply for it AFTER you’ve been approved a Russian visa (or from another bordering country) because they want proof that you will leave (uhh, sounds stupid to me since it is the same thing as just entering once… but anyway…).
Luckily, the Visa Machine did their work and managed to get my Kazakhstan visa to get processed before the Russian one. I just wished they had informed me before.
Now, everything had to go PERFECTLY, or else, I ran the chance to not get my passport back before my flight to the US (which obviously wouldn’t happen without a passport).
They didn’t go perfectly, of course.
On the 30th of May, both of my visas were ready and should have been mailed to me IMMEDIATELY. But no, my passport was picked too late from the embassy to have it mailed. One day less.
On Friday the 31st, it was finally mailed. My passport would have arrived on Monday the 3rd of June, and I would depart on Wednesday the 5th.
A note on Italian addresses: WHO THE HELL had the idea to NOT number apartments in Italy? Everything is mailed based on the tenant’s name. So, to make sure I would get my passport, I put a small paper with my name on my apartment’s buzzer and asked to have a “delivery note” on my package to get a call before delivery.
Apparently, the delivery guy didn’t read English and failed to find my name (seriously?), so the package wasn’t delivered that day.
I waited impatiently all day, refreshing my internet browser as I followed with my tracking number. At about 6 pm I got the bad news of the failure of delivery and that the package would stay on hold at their main hub with no other delivery attempts. WHAT?!!
I had my friend call, so the call would go smoothly (in Italian) and nothing would get lost in translation, and he was informed that I would have to pick it up the next day. What was the catch? Their hub was outside the city. Damn it!
So, the next day I took the metro, followed by the bus to the airport, and followed by a 1.5 hours walk… Not a bad walk, but totally unnecessary. And of course, I spent most of the time cursing the idiotic delivery guy. Finally I got there and FINALLY, I got my passport safe and sound in my hands!
Not cool to get your passport back a mere 19 hours before your international flight.
Phew… but, that only means one thing… Mongol Rally, here I come!
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