Welcome to the Mongol Rally: the greatest motoring adventure on the planet.

The Mongol Rally thunders 10,000 miles across the mountains, desert and steppe of Europe and Asia each summer. There’s no backup, no support and no set route; just you, your fellow adventurists and a tiny car you bought from a scrapyard for £11.50.

If nothing goes wrong, everything has gone wrong.

Bollocks to tarmac, ABS and gadgets that help you find your navel. The Mongol Rally is about getting lost, using your long neglected wits, raising shedloads of cash for charity and scraping into the finish line with your vehicle in tatters and a wild grin smeared across your grubby face.

Neither your car, nor your life, will ever be the same again.

The rules of the Rally are gloriously simple…

  1. You can only take a farcically small vehicle
  2. You’re completely on your own
  3. You've got to raise a £1000 for charity

Day 10 – Dzuche to Sinop, Turkey

We woke up to a small paradise today- the campsite turned out to be wedged between 2 sheer wooded hills, with 2 rivers converging where the almost Swiss style farmhouse sat. Our host was already awake and tending to his animals – goats, chickens, geese and his 3 Turkish hounds, each with their own quirky howl. I was the first to rise from the group, and once up and about, the older gentlemen- possibly the older brother, greeting me, and offered me to go with him to the house for tea. While Alpha Squad’s spoken Turkish wasn’t ideal for the role of introductions, charades was more than adequate – the older gentlemen said he hunted the woods, both with a gun and a bow, asked about where we lived. He was incredibly understanding and really broke the ice between language barriers. Our host came around from the kitchen and asked how many there were of us – he was making breakfast for the whole team. I thanked him and counted 7 for breakfast. I excused myself and went to wake the rest of the team. Breakfast was a full spread of meat pancakes, spiced rolls, breads, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, various preserves and spreads, along with traditional Turkish tea, or cay (pronounced chai). After a quick dip in the river, we packed up and offered a tip to the host to thank him for his incredible hospitality – a recurring theme throughout this journey.

Saying our goodbyes once again to Back to Yak, they made for Góreme a day earlier than us, where we headed north to the Black sea coastline, and to catch up with our schedule through Turkey. Zonguldak – the first of a few towns along the black sea coast in this trip, was to be our stop for lunch.  It was a bustling town with a fairly large police presence for reasons unknown, most likely to do with the recent pro-government demonstrations, the main high street and square were shut to traffic. Parking was very limited – we decided upon a dump-and-run technique, which for foreign cars seemed to work well in avoiding a parking fine or being towed away. We found a street corner café with surprisingly fast WiFi, allowing for various news and blog updates, and calls home. We tipped accordingly for the owner’s hospitality and the great food.

A word on local Turkish traffic; be pushy. Highway driving consists of prompt manuvers and keeping your wits about you, but in the towns and smaller streets, if you leave a car sized gap ahead of you, a car-sized-car will be there to fill it within seconds. When getting out of junctions no one really cares for indication – you have to use the car and be boisterous with other road users. Zonguldak was a perfect example of this – move with the traffic flow, which is usually ignoring every painted line and road sign.

With a campsite also sourced from the internet connection, ready for Sinop, we continued on to Sinop, taking a faster route instead of the coastline to realign with the Turkey schedule. We tried to contact the campsite through the late afternoon and evening, unfortunately the was no answer. We approached Sinop at bight and with the campsite successfully found, we pulled in quietly and setup the tent, setting reminders to deal with payment the following day.

Day 9 – Istanbul to Dzuche, Turkey

After our experience at Taksim Square, we approached the following day with a need of refreshment, both in culture and in cleanliness. With a late breakfast satisfying appetites – procured from the hotel’s dining area, we cleared the room and requested the hotel front desk to hold our bags and documentation until we returned from the second day of touring Istanbul. This time we headed straight for the Turkish Baths made famous in publications and the Guardian newspaper – the Calaglogu Hamam. We were welcomed into the baths with open arms smiles and handshakes – something we had become accustomed to in Turkey – a friendly approach to customers will bring in the money. If half the tactics employed by these businessmen from their market stalls and shops were exported to the UK, there’d be something of a gold rush to businesses.

Losing all clothes with replacement of a robe, we were escorted to the hot room to sweat out and open the skin pores. This gave us an opportunity to see the baths on our own -the split marble panelling, the large massage and bathing platform central to the room and the acoustics the allowed for a seemingly endless echo. Then came the sound of water rushing through the bathing area and marble sinks being filled. We were escorted through and given the full works – massage, bone socket realignment in legs and arms, an exfoliating scrub down then soap up, finally a series of buckets of cold water to wash us down. We had never felt so clean – after thanks and heading out towards the Grand Bazaar, we felt far more acclimatised to the hot city air – our skin could breathe far easier without the layer of dead cells, dirt and oil.

Feeling cleaner that a bleached kitchen worktop, we headed for the Grand Bazaar for curiosities and a small shopping list for Ucci – a small display dagger, a trinket or novelty gift and a small shisha pipe. With hallways and stands in a seemingly endless maze, factories for goods physically underneath the hop that sold them, it was something completely different to any high street or shopping centre. Businesses worked closely with each other – if one shop owner couldn’t provide, you were ushered through the bazaar to a shop that could. So it was with the shisha pipe – the shopkeeper managed to take Ucci from an 8-10” tall configuration – something perfectly mobile for Micra transportation, to a 2-foot-tall custom setup costing much more. Oli bought himself a Spirit Eye – a blue glass pebble – meant to keep evil spirits away; an essential addition to Mickey the Micra for mechanical well-being.

Shopping completed, we returned to the hotel to pack up Mickey and make for Zonguldak. This was to be Ucci’s first driving for the rally – having failed to satisfy the rigorous requirements of UK car insurance (some quoting well and above £1000), he was now able to drive the open roads of Turkey. We say open; Istanbul’s rush hour was in full force. Thus began a 2 hour stretch of shuffling down to the Turkish city roads towards the highway and the Europe-Asia bridges. With our patience gone, and the traffic now dispersing, we pulled over to find food and have a break from the high pressure driving. By sheer chance – our great friends, Team Back to Yak, pulled in and were a welcome sight for sore eyes. They were heading for a campsite somewhere nearby and were awaiting the arrival of another team for a rendezvous. We had a second dinner at the next service, and then made for the campsite – a well rated countryside retreat, roughly 40km south of the town of Dzuche. We arrived to a still scene – an almost Swiss style farmhouse, outbuildings, and a dim nightlight illumining one of the upper floor windows. The owner appeared a few moments later, and was at first very reluctant to offer us the land to set up camp – the police had apparently been extremely hesitant to support camping or strangers travelling due to the recent coup attempt. With some ice breaking, getting to know him and his 3 dogs, we offered a small bottle of single malt whiskey to try and convince him all was fine, and we’d cause no trouble at all. He accepted on the condition we move further away from the house.

With a pleasant night wished to each other in broken languages, setup camp in moonlight and made the most of the fresh air, peaceful surroundings and relaxing sound of the nearby rushing water.

Day 8 – Istanbul, Turkey – exploration

 

Waking up on Day 8 after our through-night travelling found us in the bright and bustling city of Istanbul. The Antea Palace hotel welcomed us downstairs with a varied breakfast, and we made quick work of the choices available, preparing then to set out to the larger sites within the city – the Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque and the Grand Bazaar.

Walking a short distance up the hilly streets found us in the main square of the old city district – an open air museum of sorts for the historical wonders of Old-Constantinople. We had a brief look into the Sultan Ahmed mosque but found it to be shut for prayer time, so could not venture into the main prayer hall. We then walked further north, where the Hagia Sophia in some respects faces off with the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. This was well timed – the noon prayer had just begun, and soared through the old city, with the Mosque following the lead of the Hagia. The scale of these 2 buildings given their age was incredible. The Byzantine Empire that built them truly showed its prosperity.

With this scene in the background, we tried to get an interview completed with Omeed our resident cameraman. Setting up the shot and rattling off the first couple of questions went without a hitch, then along came the good cop – bad cop routine. At first the officers passed without incident, giving us a subtle acknowledgement and moving onward through the park. As we were filming the shifty eyes could be seen on the take as we watched the officers pass. A few moments later and the super-cop arrived. This cap was not only more laid back, but clearly in charge when it came to matters of dead cat microphone covers (a microphone wind protector) and 3-legged tripod stands. It seems in Turkey with the current pro-government drive, the law enforcement is rather edgy with anything that looks remotely like a TV camera crew and news broadcast team. We packed up without incident and moved up to the Topaki Palace Gardens to try our luck there. We approached the thick stone arches and were funnelled through the security check. Spotting the restaurant on the left, we decided upon a quick lunch, which turned out to be a long lunch with full waiter service. We attempted another camera shot in the Palace Gardens but again were stumped by the security guards and moved back to the Hagia Sophia.

Utilising a business card we had picked up from a tour guide- Omer – we agreed on a 30-40 minute tour of the massive former Mosque and Orthodox Church. It was beautiful, in its own warn and layered-history way. This and the former churches dated back long before anything remote resembling medieval or even kingdom-era Britain, with the first flying buttresses for example – 10th Century AD, preceding gothic churches by hundreds of years.

After a satisfying tour through history we said our goodbyes to Omer and headed back to the hotel, to drop kit off and return out for dinner and possibly a Turkish bath session at one of the oldest baths in Istanbul – built in the 1700’s. Unfortunately, the baths were closed, so we headed down the road to an open-air restaurant overlooking the main square. Returning to the hotel a second time, we finished the TV interview in the hotel room, and then made the slightly risk-taking decision of going to Taksim Square and watch the pro-government demonstration. By this time the crowd who had been there at midday had returned home, but there were still a hardened crowd of 2-3000 people – flares, flags, and a definitive song and video playlist of hardened pro-government broadcasts. Our minds were somewhat shocked into this atmosphere of ultra-patriotism – people utterly gripped in the emotional waves pumping through the screens, the presenter’s speeches and the video messages. We stood, somewhat neutral to the surrounding crowd, trying to appreciate what was happening; we Brits are extremely comfortable with things now going so well in government circles. An e-petition here, a small protest there, some disgruntled mumbling over a coffee or a beer. This was beyond anything we expected, and yet a very unified, positive atmosphere was found, with people happy that their photos and a video of them was being recorded by us – clearly foreign and taking these images elsewhere. Opinions on the actual background story aside, we all had an experience to remember – a demonstration on a large scale, connected to much larger protests across the country.

Drained from this sea of emotion, we took a taxi back to the hotel, somewhat dizzy from what we saw, and made a sort plan of what to do tomorrow.

Day 7 – Constanta, Romania to Istanbul, Turkey

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.

Day 6 – Bucharest to Constanta beach.

Late pickup achieved we slept through till roughly 10am and prepared to leave for Constanta via a reputable food-provider. With the recommendation of our hostel, we had to unpack the entre roof rack the night before – 4 jerry cans, 2 tyres, a dry bag of sleeping bags, tool box, liquids container, and other kit all went into the car and covered up by the retired tarpaulin; having ben retired from its active role as roof rack cover. This was quickly reversed, and extra room was made for Raj and his gear.

With thanks and a smile, we made our way out into the city centre and came across an underground car park – quickly finding this to be a mistake due to maximum roof height. We ended up Italian style on the roadside, and chose a nice looking brasserie across the road junction. This turned out to be a 5-star hotel serving a lunch buffet at a not-too-pricey €20 a pop. We tucked in right away, and 3 courses later we set off for the beach.

As is tradition, we got lost again but all was not in vain – we stumbled across a not so pretty lorry accident with all manner of action happening at the scene, people assisting where they could alongside the police. Time had slipped by – arriving at the beach at roughly 7PM local time, Oli made quick to repair the no very noisy heat shield that Mickey as trying to shed. We theorised this could be the case of the engine management light continually going off as well – as the heat shield banged around and knocked it repeatedly. 1 jubilee clip later and all was smooth sounding again. The tent was setup on the beach and we settled in for a chilled out evening of games, partying and relaxing on the sand.

This for us was very much an emotional leg achieved – we had made it to the Black Sea. Beyond lay Asia, and a whole other world of customs, languages and peoples. But we had made it this far, and with the exception of a rattling exhaust and a bit of a slow climb up hills, Mickey the Micra clocked his way over 2000 miles, and soldiered on, unnerved.

Day 5 – Belgrade Serbia to Bucharest, Romania

 

Belgrade at dawn is something quite extraordinary; out of parks and wooded areas of green with stunningly blue skies, stand distinctly vertical flat blocks courtesy of the Soviet Union, and not just 2 or 3… dozens, if not a hundred all identical. What has surprised us all about Serbia and Belgrade, regardless of its history through being a Soviet Eastern Block. Early 90’s struggles and rebellions, separatist movements and so on, the people regardless of language barriers were some of the nicest people we’ve ever met. Our hosts from the AirBnB flat arrived to see us and off and to make sure the house was in good order. In light of their help in providing a garage we left them a small box of chocolates in thanks. We left Belgrade with shopping bags of local produce for the long journey ahead – an 11hour stint to Bucharest, Romania. This was to maintain our target of making Constanta in good time to join the beach party.

Getting slightly lost on the border with Bulgaria, we found our way back on the highway via slight (read: 50km) detour to Nis, onto a picturesque road bordering mountains and valleys. Bulgaria’s border was the first one to ask up for passports and car documentation along with a brief bag search. The drugs dog was on his afternoon siesta when we arrived, so the space food in suspiciously looking white bags was passed by, with only a subtle eye brow raise from the border guard. Bulgaria’s brief entrance and exit provided us with a look into the countryside and outer edge villages and towns. Town and village wells seem were the new thing on the roadside, along with the regular flock of goats and turkeys.

The Romanian border approached through a bridge spanning a pretty vast river, with the toll paid and the border cleared (accidentally handing over all our vehicle document copies), we entered Romania via Calafat, and continued heading East to reach Bucharest. Our luck with accommodation was the one thing that pulled us down – 6 declines from AirBnB left us scrabbling to find a roof over our heads. Rhys decided upon a call to our university lecturer – Bogdan Ghita, a local to Bucharest, to see if he had any recommendations. Sure enough he gave us a call back and out of the phone speaker poured gold dust on recommended restaurants and hostels. We settled upon a central villa with 24 hour open doors and gave them a call. Oli’s sound introduction for foreign travel, “Hello, I’m sorry my *language* is poor, do you speak English?”  returned a welcome voice. Meanwhile, a team member of Back to Yak, Raj – a Mongol Rally veteran had pushed up a request or a pickup at Bucharest Airport. We took the challenge and Rhys headed over to make the collection once we had settled in for the night. Raj was very welcome company the moment we met him, so with our 4th temporary team member in place, we called it a night (morning).

Day 4 – Graz, Austria to Belgrade, Serbia

Waking up to Graz was a welcome relief from the long hard drive we endured over the edge of the Alps; we packed up and moved out quickly so as to avoid any time wasted in grabbing breakfast and an early set off for Zabreg, with a midday break in the driving. It was refreshing to sit down for a decent bit of Austrian-style continental breakfast, so much so we took a small takeaway bag for the road ahead – if you’ve paid for it, you may as well take advantage as best you can.

We headed off in good spirits into Slovenia and then Croatia – in 2 phrases – valleys, hills and passport control. The EU’s grasp on free travel and such begins to fade away in this part of the world, and enforcement of Vignettes and motorway tolls is pretty strong. We had our first request of a cigarette from border control today, prompting a need to hurriedly find the cigarette pack and lighter we had deliberately packed for this. In Rhys’ words, “we blagged it” this time, but the message was clear – we may need a little more than passports and innocent faces from this point forward.

Zagreb welcomed us with UK-centric pubs and a mixed use of Euros and Kuna. Ur first point of call was a post office to send out a selection of postcards to loved ones at home –giving us the coldest part of our journey so far – the air conditioning was almost Arctic, and a couple of locals were very much there simply for cooling down out of the summer sun.

We ventured across to a bakery, devoured a small pastry and sandwich selection and headed to a bar to collect water and a chilled beer. The barman was very welcoming and happy for our custom, and Rhys tipped him €4 – a significant jump up from the local currency, so asking for water and use of their locked bathrooms was no trouble at all. We left satisfied and relaxed, and moved on to Serbia.

Now there are flatter countries in the world – The Netherlands, Essex (its own little country, really) but this was very, very different. Once we had a chat and kept the border guard happy we were just visiting friends in Romania via Belgrade, we were met with endless flat land as far as the eye could see… for the best part of 100 miles. So much so that not only could the curvature of the earth be seen, but we were treated to a full and almost blood-red sunset, and a moon rise over the opposite horizon. Serbia beckoned – once into the city we managed to quickly find or way to our reserved AirBnB house – in a soviet block of flats in the “new Belgrade” section of the city, complete with a garage- very kindly offered by the owners. We settled in and took to the town suburbs in the search of a drink and some food, offered in first instance by Café Cezar and Giros. Both of which had staff who were incredibly kind and understanding that broken Serbian may indeed by a little hard to master for those just travelling through.

We headed back, satisfied with our deconstructed Giro, mystery-meat burger and fries, and settled in for the night after some calls home on Skype and internet updates to social media. Over the surprisingly quick internet. Next stop, Bucharest.

Day 3 – Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic to Graz, Austria

 

Waking up from our long run in with the law with only 4-5 hours’ sleep wasn’t the greatest start to the day, but with hot showers and the “2014 Czech Republic best hotel” award decorating the hotel reception, we couldn’t really complain. Breakfast was dismissed as we had slept in over our leave time – the Huel space food came to the rescue instead.

Loket beckoned – a beautiful pre-Medeival fort-town 10 minutes from Karlovy Vary, complete with sweeping bridge into the centre, religiously ordained fountain, and castle rocking all manner of towers and fortifications made famous by James Bond – Casino Royale. It was stunningly beautiful; a pastel colour pallet of main buildings, traditional cafés and hotels, and the sprawling forests. Sadly, with time not on our side, Loket ended up being a drive through and back with 5 minutes in the centre. Sorry Mr Bond, Loket will need a follow up trip another time.

Onwards to Vienna – Oli took the reins for the majority of the trip, smashing through the estimate time of arrival, in the face of half of the Czech Republic’s EU highways project – it seemed as if half the country’s main roads had been shut for major expansion works. We pushed hard across the Czech countryside – finding some beautiful lakes and scenery, filling up with water and petrol where needed, keeping a strict eye on the time – we had to make it for the Vienna zoo and the pandas. Driving through Austria gave us sights and scenes that were breath taking, and the highways spare no time in launching (see – crawling) up mountain sides to provide you views over valleys and the surrounding countryside. The clock was ticking however, and the Pandas wouldn’t be waiting.

We made it to Vienna’s zoo in the Schobrunn Palace gardens. Rhys was driving this last leg; true to form he tried driving straight into the park, to be met with barriers and concerned looks from the security guard. Finding parking was nightmarish – driving up to the Science and Technology museum only to walk back towards the palace. We got there half an hour late, trying to wave down a staff member to just let us in for 5 minutes to see the pandas. As luck would have it, a catering assistant agreed to let us through to walk round to see the pen. This had a knock on effect of being locked into the zoo – and in effect a free tour. Dinner was found in a dusty Italian restaurant on the palace corner, and we aimed to secure accommodation (late admittedly) for Graz.

This was where decisions and serious discussion was required for continuing on. Mickey is simply too slow against the route we had chosen, and the hill climbs we were facing were eating into ETAs severely. We decided therefore to skip Croatia entirely – opening the way for a smooth transition across to Bucharest in Romania, via Belgrade, Serbia. We kicked Vienna in the bucket and headed for Graz, setting up a hotel booking on route for a Hostel Hotel in central Graz. A welcome relief to the hours and hours of driving we had pushed through.

Mickey remained resilient throughout, albeit struggling up the hills from a lack of horses under the bonnet. The tyres, after 1200 miles had maintained their pressure, the coolant had barely even moved from just above the max line, and the oil was resting on max. Onwards to Belgrade tomorrow!

 

 

Day 2 – Antwerp, Belgium to Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

Setting out from Antwerp couldn’t have been easier by comparison to the rest of the day and how it unfolded. To kick things off, the campsite payment and check-out was made very easy by the site manager’s laid back attitude; we leached some free Wi-Fi to update the viewers at home, then set off for the Nurburgring, and Frankfurt – one of our requested stops by sponsors. The German border is neither here nor there – blink and you’ve missed it, we ventured through without issue, other than Mickey the Micra’s apparent dislike for German highways and how steep they climb… and how far. Took many a gear change to eventually arrive through the stunningly beautiful forested roads, to the F1 track grandstands and the coveted gift shop, where we acquired a track sticker for Mickey and a few other tokens for home.

Setting off for Frankfurt about 2 hours later produced more casualties – firstly the jerry can that had been filled with water in Antwerp had produced a green-like weird liquid that wasn’t particularly water-like. This was swiftly ditched and an action plan to have clean water on board was devised:
• Fill jerry can, drain.
• Fill again, add sterilising tablets, test, drain.
• Repeat again and test.

We need to get this right before we hit drier countries, to ensure a safe trip across the deserts. The second casualty was the lambda sensor warning – fitted in Mickey’s major service overhaul. After a wrong turn out of the Nürburgring, and a 180 to return gave rise to the dreaded engine management light. We suspected this was possibly the lambda, and so continued up the hills at an ever slow and tedious pace.
Frankfurt took a long time to drive to, again a combination of said hills and Mickey’s complete lack of motivation with the weight on the roof rack and 3 full sized people in the cabin. Luckily the city was not being carved up by road works, nor was it too difficult to get through – a 2-minute parking space spot produced results and gave us quick access to a main shopping high street, major train station and most importantly, the Deutsch Post office. Postcards written and sent off, we headed for a restaurant for dinner – Oli taking the more traditional option of boiled pork, sauerkraut and Frankfurter. Tummies full we set our sights on a very distant Loket and campsite.
Arriving in the Czech Republic at a delightful 3am, we found a complete lack of the campsite we had hoped for – it simply wasn’t there, or at least, as far as campsites go there wasn’t exactly anything official; signs, entrance gate…. other campers? Nothing. We decided on a quick tour of the local town area to see if a hotel happened to be accepting guests this early, 2 in particular were shut, or at the very least uninviting – the “Golf and Horses” hotel looked like something out of a horror movie, as did a few of the local residents we spotted when driving through.
What we didn’t know was the police had caught wind of this decorated Micra, and so upon trying to fill up with fuel to head to Loket – our James Bond film site destination, we were followed and given a quick chat to. The officer, with broken English recommended we follow him in to the town centre of Karlovy Vary, where we could find something a little more accommodating for the night. This meant however speaking to “his boss”, and so waiting in a layby at 3:30am we were introduced to the local station commander, who was quick to question where we were heading and how best to fix the problem we had. A discussion was had between the officers, and we were kindly escorted (as you do) to the Lafonte Spa Hotel.

While the police were happy that we were not wandering the streets, our next problem was that the receptionist spoke no English, apart from that golden line of “No English”. We managed in broken charades and note scribbling on paper to book 3 rooms for the night, at a bargain price of €40, with rooms that rival any large UK hotel chains. Mickey remained outside, with full kit out and equipment – a bit of a worry, but our rooms overlooked where he was parked. Heads down for what was left of the night; Vienna and Graz await the next leg.

Day 1 – Goodwood Circuit, England, to Antwerp, Belgium.

The morning didn’t exactly start or end – the ralliers partied through the night, but Alpha Squad slept through and made for a few hours of good sleep for the journey ahead. We noticed the campsite was dry when arriving, but Mickey, in his parking site looked like he’d already done half a rally – covered in dust top to bottom. Packing up, we readjusted the kit on the roof-rack and headed to the paddock for the rally to begin.
Meeting with Rhys’ family, we collected a few things we missed form packing in Southend – yellow safety vests for EU driving, a few mugs for tea and drinks, and the “bribe” pack – a box full of balloons, pens and various bits and pieces for making border crossing a little easier.

Goodwood had been turned into the Mongol Rally play pen – costumes and cars of the weird and whacky lined the paddock huts, costumes both for the cars and the teams were themed and incredibly creative. Our host – the founder of the Mongol Rally kicked things off with Mongolian wrestling, prize giving and the group photo for the year. With that, and a short show of the whacky cars this year had to offer, we headed back to the paddock to kick the rally off. The parade was something crazy and can only be experienced in person – a made noise of cheap and crazy rally teams trying their best not to roll their car on the hairpin bend.

Off to Dover; the road there was littered with rally cars – some already shedding unnecessary weight as dry bags and travel cases alike flung open in the high speed pursuit for fixed-time ferries and the channel tunnel. We made it to Dover without incident, sorting out all the EU necessaries for driving down the highways – lens reflectors, GB badge and so on. The ferry captain was more than happy to take his sweet time in crossing – adding we estimated an extra half hour on to what appeared to be a smooth sail across the channel. Rhys made friends with a kitchen assistant on board, a fellow Millwall FC fan – to the point of having his leg tattooed with the club’s lion crest. France didn’t feature – all of 20 minutes and a quick detour to our first French roundabout, we were into Belgium and on the road to Antwerp.

Driving with a beautiful sunset to welcome us into the fair city, we were met with chaos and confusion trying to navigate the inner city streets with a large scale road works project underway. We eventually found, after much random street navigation and educated-guesswork, a nice late-night restaurant, Jackie Twelve, and make conversation with the Dutch owner who was more than happy for the business and storytelling. We headed out to our campsite for the evening on the other side of the river, and as we suspected, found it to be well and truly shut for the night. By sheer luck a camper came to our aid and let us in, explaining what we needed to do for payment and check-in the following morning. The insects and wildlife were in full force. Mickey’s headlights were swarmed with midges and mosquitos within seconds, but allowed us to setup camp without slapping insects away every few seconds. With food in bellies, a hot shower and a comfy patch to rest on, we tucked in for the night. Next stop, Nurburgring.