1 week into the Mongol Rally and our first day of action really took hold. With Raj reunited with Back to Yak, we envisaged a slightly quieter day ahead on the road to Istanbul – we couldn’t be more wrong.
Recovery this morning was with the rise of the sun over Constanta beach – I slept in the tent somewhat bravely, and was awoken to the smell of oven-baked human; the tent was absorbing the heat rapidly. Surveying the coastline this morning was a different experience to the evening. The sand was dark, yet sparkled in the sea, small fish were swimming through the shallows, and the water was incredibly clear and warm. After some rehydration and finding where the team had got to, which turned out to be the Micra’s front and back seat, we started to pack up to head out to Istanbul.
Rosa – the rally lead, asked if we could take on a cameraman to record our side of the rally this year. With our experience taking on Raj for a day, we decided this shouldn’t be too difficult at all, reconfiguring the car for a 4th person takes surprisingly little effort. Slightly underestimating how much luggage Omeed had (2 full size cases, 1 clothes, 1 cameras), we hauled one onto the already maxed out roof rack, tidied up, and set off to Istanbul, through Bulgaria.
The breakfast/lunch combination for today came from the delightful Lidl store. The team and Omeed set out to buy half the store, while I car-sat and looked after technical goodies and let a cool flow of air go through the car. 10 minutes later came 3 shopping bags filled with goodies – more baggage for the already bursting Micra. Free WiFi was discovered with my laptop’s pretty strong WLAN antennas – picking up an unsecured router in a local’s flat 50 metres away. We strategically placed the car under their window ledge and leached from free internet to book hotels, and looked into route options.
The next stage of the journey continued unabated, following the coast of the Black Sea until Rhys faced off with a burgundy Ford Mondeo. The driver simply pulled out with warning or checking the road. Tyres locked up, steering went from Driving Miss Daisy to Colin McRae in a split second; Mondeo was hastily avoided, with its driver bumping into the curb on the roadside and throwing it around trying to correct their mistake. With the dodgem tactics out of the way, we cleared through the Bulgarian border and made uphill, North of the Strandzha Forest and mountain range.
Mickey was not happy with this mountain pass -the tarmac resembled something of a patchwork quilt, and sure enough the roof started creaking away. The addition of Omeed’s bag resulting in the rack sinking into the roof panel and creating a pretty nasty squeak. A pull into the roadside and a readjustment helped matters, but required further study. Meeting one of the American teams, we had a quick update on their route choice, then followed them down the mountain pass and out onto the lower plains.
We then climbed Strandzha and pulled up just 5km shy of the Turkish border to take some long exposure shots of the night sky, with Mickey in the foreground. We witnessed shooting stars, satellites and the full galactic arm. We met up with the Italian teams who went ahead of us, and wished them well for the border crossing.
The Turkish border involved a rather chaotic but set process of paperwork, done between 3 offices:
- Passport check at the first window
- Visa purchasing at another office
- Visa recheck at first office
- Buy green card insurance at the 3rd office
- Register at original office to make sure car detailing was correct
- Have passport stamped by the older, seemingly wiser border guard and sent on our way.
The drive into Istanbul welcomed us with clear smooth roads and stray dogs. Yes, the dodgems tactics had to be taken once again; this time I was behind the wheel – in the commercial district of Istanbul, 2 dogs crossed the road ahead of us, with a Micra-sized gap between the 2. It certainly woke up the sleeping team in the back, and gave us a surprise jump into reality – we’re not in Kansas anymore. Sure enough this was realised in the drive into the older quarter of Istanbul where the pro-government demonstrations continued. We moved slowly through the crowds waving flags, cheering, beeping horns and national anthems being sung out in unison. We smiled and waved, knowing the hotel was just a few kilometres away.
We pulled up and checking in at the Best Western – Antea Palace Hotel, and were welcomed by Borat the receptionist, and the Italian teams following in shortly afterwards. Bags and gear were stowed into the car again, and we called it a night after a long hot shower. We had made to our first leg finish line – Istanbul.