Crossing the Rubikhan

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Caspian Purgatory (and into the ‘Stans)

Posted on 12 Aug 2014 in Uncategorized | 4 comments

**We’re currently in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, but we’re so spent from three days of tough driving that we’ll have to save our updates from the past few days for tomorrow (or the next time we have internet). For now, we’ll stick to the ferry adventure, but we promise to fill you in on Turkmenistan in no time!**

According to the captain’s log, we last checked in somewhere around the Georgia-Azerbaijan border. We had high hopes that we could fly through Azerbaijan in one day, take care of visa stuff the next day, and hop on a Turkmenistan-bound ferry the same evening. Well, that did not happen.

We made it across Azerbaijan just fine, caravaning with Boyz II Mon up and over the mountains and down to the coastal plain. Our little convoy made it to Baku just in time for a celebratory dinner along the shores of the Caspian.

Little did we know just how much time we would be spending along the shores of the Caspian.

The next day (Tuesday), we woke up early to head to the ridiculously hidden Turkmen embassy – it was nestled in a nondescript alley in an industrial part of the city, which we could only find thanks to GPS coordinates shared by another Rally team – and began the arduous visa-acquistion process required to enter Turkmenistan. Upon showing up at the embassy, our passport numbers were taken down and we were sent some three kilometers away to a bank where we could make some sort of payment.

We made it to the bank without problem, and then to a passport photo office, then back to the embassy, where, after we waited in a growing line of other rallyers for nearly an hour, our passports were ceremoniously adorned with the coveted Turkmenistan visa sticker. So far, so good.

Our spirits high, we headed down to the cargo port from where the “ferry” was rumored to depart, in hopes of securing passage that evening. We found the ticket office, but were told to come back at 10AM the next day.

Now this next part of the story is in log form, a medium we’ve chosen since time and duration are integral themes, as you will see:

10:00AM (Wednesday): We show up at the ferry terminal. There’s no sign of the woman we spoke with at the ticket office yesterday. Twelve other rally teams slowly join us, and together wait outside the gates. No one (including the young customs officials who saunter around the premises, smoking and cracking jokes amongst themselves), knows much of anything. It’s really hot outside. We seek refuge in the shade of a diesel pipeline.

2:00PM: A local fixer arrives, and assures us that, for the princely sum of $50USD per team, he will help us clear customs and acquire the necessary ferry tickets. As he is the only person at the dock who speaks a word of English, we reluctantly oblige, along with every other team.

3:00PM: All of the rally teams are ushered through the gate and onto a giant shipping dock. Our cars clear customs, and thus are no longer allowed to drive back into Azerbaijan.

5:00PM: The Rubikhans pay their first bribe of the trip when Cooper returns from a quick grocery run and is subsequently forbidden from bringing alcohol through customs. After a tense and lengthy negotiation process, Cooper successfully offers the guards one 12-ounce fruit smoothie in exchange for free passage for his beers.

6:00PM: Benjie joins representatives from a few teams to pick up KFC for us from what is surely the largest KFC in the world. We’re forever grateful.

1:00AM: I (Nick) realize we’re probably not boarding tonight, so I set up my sleeping bag by the car for a grim night’s sleep out on the dock.

2:00AM: Cooper spots a cargo freighter named the Professor Gül approaching the docks. This is the boat we’re to take to Turkmenistan. It’s already twelve hours late.

2:45AM: The immigration officers promptly wake everyone up and rush us through their office before sending our cars over to our vessel, the aptly named Professor Gül (pronounced ‘Ghoul’).

4:30AM: we’re finally allowed to board the Ghoul, and we park our cars on the very bottom deck of the ship. This becomes important later on. We promptly pass out in the ship’s canteen, since all of the cabins are apparently filled with snoring Azeri sailors.

7:30AM: We’re not-so-gently woken up by a very lound and angry woman, who shows us to our proper cabins through a masterful routine of pointing, yelling, and calling everyone “Francis.” It’s Thursday now. Peering out the windows, we’re dismayed to find that the ferry is still in port. So, we take to exploring the noble Ghoul.

Built in the 1980s, the Ghoul has been in service ever since, and it doesn’t seem like a single piece of equipment, furniture, or paint had been replaced since that time. It is a hulking, rusted relic of the golden age of Caspian Sea shipping (based on our extensive knowledge about the history of Caspian Sea shipping).

But nothing is off limits, and so we wander from the bow to the stern, up and down decks, and even into the emergency escape vessels. The 30-odd rallyers share the ship with the crew and several other passengers, eating our stored food, drinking our stored vodka and convivially passing the time – and there is certainly time to pass because…

5:15PM: The ferry finally leaves port, over 31 hours after we arrived at the terminal. A massive cheer erupts from the ralliers.

1:00PM (Friday): The ferry docks in Turkmenbashi, and we are immediately shooed down to our cars in the bowels of the ship by the same nameless lady who unceremoniously woke us up the previous morning.

Remember how I said our cars were at the very bottom? This is important because we must now wait for every single truck to offload before we can even think of getting off the ship. So we impatiently linger in the hot, stuffy, cargo hull – chugging water and trying to move as little as possible. Occassionally, we sneak up to the upper decks for some fresh air, but the crazy “Francis” lady inevitably spots us and corrals us back down into the hull.

4:30PM: The door opens and we’re finally able to drive off the boat – and right into the Turkmenistan border!

The Turkmen immigration process is the most absurd and horrible bureaucratic nightmare we’ve ever encountered. It deserves its own 16-step subsection. (I know you may be bored reading all of this, but consider it part of the experience. It’s almost like you’re here with us!):

1) Go one-by-one to a booth where your passports are returned (the ship had held onto them)

2) Go to a 2nd booth to pay the $12 fee to get your passport back, acquire receipt

3) Return to the first booth to hand in receipt, receive indecipherable random form

4) Take indecipherable form to an office, receive another indecipherable form

5) Take all forms to a 2nd office, get something stamped

6) Take forms to a 3rd office, get another stamp

7) Go around building to a 4th office where a man tells you he needs six drivers at a time in order to bestow yet another indecipherable form

8) After waiting for five more drivers, get forms and head to Ticket Office to trade in form for another indecipherable form

9) Take new form to 2nd booth (from before!), pay $158 for some reason or another, receive another receipt

10) Take all forms to 5th office to get signed, stamped, whatevered by someone who looks somewhat more official. Receive new indecipherable form

11) Take newest form to 6th office to get stamped

12) Take same form to 7th office to get stamped and signed

13) Return to 5th office to turn in form

14) Fill out customs declaration

15) Get car searched by military officer in green forest camo (because no one told him that Turkmenistan is entirely desert)

16) Turn in one of the dozen or so accumulated forms to man at gate, revel in your freedom

9:30PM: we leave the border and promptly find a hotel, restaurant, and a round of cold beers. It is Friday night after all…

More to come, as soon as we find the time (and internet) to upload another post!

Nick, Cooper, Benjie

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAzerbaijan, in a nutshell

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMain entrance to the Turkmenistan embassy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOld City, Baku

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABaku skyline. (Not pictured: the world’s second-tallest flagpole)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALounging on the dock, waiting (indefinitely) for the ferry

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMinutes before we loaded our cars onto the Professor Gül

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next morning: still in port

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInspecting the escape vessels

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt long last, we leave Baku behind!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Rubikhans pose on the Gül’s afterdeck

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApproaching Turkmenbashi

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Turkmenistan national fleet

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I’m Still Chewing

Posted on 03 Aug 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

Salam from Balaken, Azerbaijan! Apologies for the delay between blog posts but we’ve been camping a lot recently and WiFi has been increasingly hard to come by.

Our last post was from Istanbul, from where we departed on Wednesday. The previous day was pleasant: since all of the garages were still closed for Bayram, we took another rest day and some much-needed alone time (hours in the same car and tent can wear on even the closest of friendships). So we went off and found our own cafes to read, write, and drink endless cups of the ubiquitous Turkish black tea.

That night our friend Sera took us to an amazing tapas (are they still called “tapas” if they’re Turkish?) restaurant with a view out over the Bosphorous. A healthy amount of raki, the traditional anise-based Turkish liqueur, accompanied the excellent food. Despite the fact that it’s typically diluted with water, this stuff packs a punch. Sera warned us about the hangovers but true to form we ignored her and were consequently in less than top form the next day. I would venture to guess that it was me (Benjie) who got the worst of it, and I spent a few hours feeling vaguely nauseous during a fruitless trip in search of gas for our camping stove to a bizarrely modern shopping mall in suburban Istanbul.

The mood had improved dramatically by the time we pulled off the expressway a few hours later and happened upon another Rally team, the indomitable Americans known as Boyz II Mon, three guys about our age: Charlie, Harry, and Mark. We have been convoying with them since. First night was at a pseudo-campsite by the side of the highway that would have been perfect if not for the occasional freight train that trundled by about a hundred yards away. The next night we made it to the Black Sea and camped by the beach near the little city of Ordu, setting our tents up just in time to take a swim as the sun set. For dinner we had köfte, essentially small spiced hamburger patties, for the fourth meal in a row.

After enjoying a fifth consecutive köfte meal the next morning, we headed for the Georgia line (not the one from the band). The queue to get across the border stretched along the shores of the Black Sea, and we spent about three hours waiting in the late afternoon sun – ultimately a success, given the stories of seven-hour waits we had heard from other Ralliers. We met another team, Ulaan Rouge, a spirited English couple with a spirited bright red car, and decided to add another car to our convoy. The party capital of Georgia, Batumi, lay only 20 minutes past the border, so the eight of us spent the night there. A very strange place for a party capital, we passed various roadside cows before emerging into a city that could best be described as a blend of Las Vegas and Odessa. Huge casinos glittering with neon lights and skyscrapers with built-in Ferris wheels shared streets with run-down tenements. We passed up a strange hotel filled with green lights and various artificial fauna for a wonderful little guesthouse run by a woman named Alika who could not have been more accommodating, even helping to wash the clothes of eight filthy Ralliers.

The following morning we decided to give our car some much-needed love, so we headed to the outskirts of Batumi and found a garage that had four new tires and two steel wheels for us. We also found a friendly Georgian guy who happily translated for us, and helped us find some cheap jerry cans and beaded seat covers. The baker next door insisted on giving us free bread out of his massive cauldron of an oven.

An afternoon of driving led us to a setting sun and a dirt road somewhere in central Georgia where we decided to set up camp for the night. It seemed at first that no one was around, but eventually a stray sheep led us to a small house where we found a woman and her daughter. Communication was difficult, but with hand signals we were able to explain that we were looking for a place to camp. She led us to a perfect spot next to the nearby river, and one of the Ulaan Rougers and I went in search of food and beer while the others made camp.

Later that night the woman’s husband invited us to their house for coffee and watermelon, which we gladly accepted. It was somewhat surreal to be seated in the living room of a family with whom we can only communicate by typing sentences into Google translate, eating melon and watching Lindsay Lohan dubbed on the Georgian version of Disney Channel. I think it is safe to say that Georgia has been our favorite country so far: everyone we met was kind, interested in our adventure, and very helpful despite communication difficulties.

The only trouble with the Georgians is their driving style. Lanes here are wider than usual, and an unofficial, unmarked “third lane” exists between the two normal ones where people pass each other indiscriminately even through curves and hills where they are completely blind. To make matters worse, animals – mainly cows – are to be found lazily wandering around the roadsides unattended and inadvertently walking into traffic. Our convoy has been communicating via walkie-talkie, coordinating bathroom and fuel breaks as well as issuing frequent cow warnings.

This evening we made it to the Azerbaijan border, which, despite what we had heard about long waits and corruption, was relatively painless. We stopped in the first Azeri town we came to and decided to treat ourselves to a night in a hotel with hot showers and shampoo. Unfortunately the only food we could find at such a late hour was pretty much the same thing we have been eating for days now: meat and bread. That brings me to the title of this blog post, “I’m Still Chewing,” which is in fact nearly the case. Tough pork, beef, and lamb with tough, thick bread have sustained us through much of Turkey, Georgia, and now Azerbaijan.

Since our last blog post we have certainly begun to enter the more challenging half of the trip. Communication is difficult and cultural differences are more pronounced. The course of each day is increasingly difficult to predict. Surprises are becoming the norm—but so far, these surprises have been overwhelmingly pleasant. Most people we meet are friendly and interested in where we come from and where we are going, even if they think we’re a bit crazy and don’t understand a word we’re saying.

Our next stop is Azerbaijan’s cosmopolitan capital of Baku. There we will try to find the Turkmenistan embassy to get our visas, which will allow us to get on a ferry across the Caspian Sea. The embassy has no address, and the ferry has no schedule. So stay tuned!

Cheers,

Benjie, Cooper, and Nick

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADinner with Sera: the beginning of the end

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Raki makes you stronger,” they said. “It tastes good, too,” they said. Yeah, right.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur campsite on the Black Sea

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASunset long-exposure

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWaiting to cross into Georgia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe modest facade of our homely hostel in Batumi

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANew tire day at the shop!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Rubikhans and Timo, the friendly Georgian who drove Nick and Cooper to the market for supplies

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABenjie adorns our car, “Keshav,” with the countries on our route

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABadri, a friendly Georgian fisherman plying the waters near our central-Georgian campsite. Cooper spent some time chilling with him on the shore, even though they couldn’t really communicate

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARepresentatives of the Rubikhans, Boyz II Mon, and Ulaan Rouge, with our spontaneous Georgian host(s). (His daughter was too shy to join in the photo)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKeshav makes a high-speed pass (read: 40MPH)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHeading into Azerbaijan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ran into a Moldovan team on the far side of the border, and celebrated our successful passage into Azerbaijan with bread and beer

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Serbulgaristan(bul)

Posted on 29 Jul 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

Greetings from Istanbul!

We’re giving ourselves – and our car – some much needed rest in this sprawling, vibrant metropolis. We wish we could say that we’re writing to you from a quaint Turkish teahouse with a coffee in one hand and a hookah nargile in the other, but we’re really just in the lobby of our hostel. We don’t like mixing business and pleasure. (Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time for Turkish teahouse-ing and nargile-ing over the next couple days!)

To catch you up, we left Slavonski Brod Saturday morning to hit the highway and cruise through Serbia. Or so we thought. No more than half an hour into the drive we hit traffic, or more accurately, we hit a 10km-long parking lot – precisely the distance to the Serbian border. People were out of their cars, walking down the shoulder, and napping, because as far as the eye could see, not a single car was moving.

Oddly enough, most of the cars weren’t Croatian- or Serbian-registered Yugos, as one might expect to see here, but rather, luxury BMWs and Audis with German, along with Turkish decals and bumper stickers. We quickly found out that these cars were occupied by members of the massive Turkish diaspora in Germany, returning to their homeland to celebrate Bayram, the weeklong festival that marks the end of Ramadan. This meant that we’d be stuck in the rush for the next three countries.

Not wanting to waste precious fuel, the Rubikhans decided to put our own car in neutral, and simply push it when we could. And it worked like a charm. For the next four and a half hours – pretty much half a day – we pushed and waited, pushed and waited, pushed and waited, until we reached the border.

With daylight hours already waning, we abandoned our plans to make it to Bulgaria. Instead, we drove (through a couple more traffic jams) to the Serbian city of Niš (pronounced “Nish”, not “Nees”, which is helpful, since it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the pleasant French city on the Mediterranean). There, after a few dead ends (literal and figurative), we found a hotel willing to take us in. The receptionist (slash owner slash maid slash chief coffee-maker?) even offered us breakfast and a parking spot up on the sidewalk outside.

Until this point, our only interaction with Serbia, and its people, had been with its traffic-choked roads and utterly loony drivers. So, we were pleasantly surprised by the warm hospitality and helpfulness of the local people we encountered in Niš. Plus, the local beer wasn’t half bad! We are beginning to acknowledge the value of modest expections, and we look forward to exploring more of the off-the-beaten-path locales that lie ahead.

We hit the road early the next morning, with our driving goals for the day tempered by the previous day’s frustration. Fortunately, traffic wasn’t bad, and we coasted through Eastern Serbia and rejoined our Turkish friends at the mercifully painless Bulgarian border. It was here that Cooper noticed a small sign warning of construction at the major Bulgaria-Turkey border and recommending that cars detour north to the much smaller border in Lesovo.

Nightmares of border traffic were still fresh in our memory, so 300km later we veered north to the smaller crossing, where we were thankfully met by absolutely no traffic, two Rally teams to chat with, some bird poop for Nick;s shoulder, and a friendly Bulgarian exit guard who laughed us through once we told him our final destination. And it was only 5:00pm. We could make it to Istanbul after all.

So we drove through the twilight and made it to Istanbul with enough energy to meet some other Rallyers for a beer or two in our neighborhood. We looked forward to three nights, and two full days, of recuperation in the city.

Yesterday was our first day away from the car in over a week. We explored Istanbul by foot (for a change) stopping by the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque before the heat induced us to yield to the simpler pleasures of tea, beer, deep-fried mussels, lamb kidney, and goat intestines. (Seriously.) That night, we met up with our friend Sera from school who invited us to her home to unwind and catch up. It was exactly what we wanted.

We’re crossing our fingers that a garage will be open this afternoon (it’s still Bayram) so we can get someone a little smarter to examine our car before we begin the next legs of our journey. Also in store is a big night out tomorrow with Sera and friends. So let’s see what time we manage to hit the road tomorrow…

Thanks for following, everyone! All of your emails are thoroughly appreciated, and often treasured. So even if we can’t write back with anything resembling punctuality, we love hearing from you. Also, don’t forget that you can view our location (updated every ten minutes, as long as our car is moving), right here.

Hobey ho, let’s go!

//The Rubikhans

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASerbian heavy industry, illuminated by the setting sun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe morning catch in Serbia, featuring Darko, the late Mr. Dragonfly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese guys were driving this horse-drawn cart on the Bulgarian expressway. (Harvard class of 2025?)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABulgaria is the land of sunflowers. Fields of the bright yellow flowers stretch for miles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIs that a MiG-21 in your backyard, or are you just happy to see us? (Spotted somewhere in Bulgaria)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Rubikhans and Team South Afristan, whom we met at the Bulgaria-Turkey border. Cooper was delighted to encounter another Oregonian on the road!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 12km-long queue of lorries waiting to leave Turkey.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABenjie enjoys a sunset döner, a few kilometers into Turkey.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACooper photobombs the New Mosque in Istanbul.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfternoon prayer at the Blue Mosque.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATeam photo in front of the Hagia Sophia.

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Another Five-Country Day (Plus Croatia and Bosnia)

Posted on 26 Jul 2014 in Uncategorized | 3 comments

Our apologies for the lack of recent updates — apparently, wireless internet is scarcer than expected in Central/Eastern Europe. Sorry, mom(s)!

Anyway, we write to you from Slavonski Brod, Croatia, after four incredible yet entirely different days. Let’s begin with Monday: we arrived in Prague in the early evening, after enduring several hours of thunderstorms and stop-and-go Autobahn traffic. While we only had time for one night in the city, for Nick and Cooper (who studied here in 2012), these 16 hours were a whirlwind of nostalgia and rememberance. It was tough to say our goodbyes come Tuesday morning, but our tears were dried by prospect of the Mongol Rally “Czech Out Party” located at a castle in southern Bohemia. While the location proved to be more field then castle, we had a blast with the other Ralliers, eating, drinking, being merry, and sharing stories from the road. Additionally, our exhaust had been rattling against the chassis since the Battersea launch, so a helpful Aussie helped us patch up our as-yet unnamed steed.

While we enjoyed sleeping in our too-tall tent for the first time, we had planned to reach Zadar, Croatia, by Wednesday evening (to meet our good friend Isaac for dinner), and so we had to wake up at the crack of dawn Wednesday morning to hit the road. Fortunately, we were treated to eleven hours of some of the most diverse and spectacular landscapes we’ll ever encounter. Beginning in the hilltop towns and golden fields of the southern Czech Republic, we gradually progressed headed into the distinctively Bavarian borderlands of Germany, replete with old timber halls and (we imagine) lederhosen-clad beer maids. Shortly after, we traversed the eastern reaches of the Austrian Alps, before descending into Mediterranean Slovenia, and then cruising across Croatia just in time to catch a spectacular sunset over the Adriatic. And we made our dinner with Isaac (as well as his ever-present sister).

A thoroughly enjoyable night out in Zadar somehow reenergized us, and we awoke at a reasonable hour Thursday morning, excited to make the famous drive down the Dalmatian Coast to Dubrovnik. The drive took longer than expected, but was just as spectacular as the previous day’s: for nearly six hours we hugged the beaches and cliffs overlooking the crystal-clear Adriatic, while faster cars waited (not-so) patiently behind. Benjie videoed himself woo-ing out the window while Nick learned manual in a sort of trial-by-fire manner and Cooper took pictures of Benjie videoing himself and of Nick repeatedly stalling out next to a crowded beach.

We arrived in Dubrovnik in time for a seafood extravaganza dinner in the old city. While Game of Thrones fans may recognize Dubrovnik as the primary inspiration for King’s Landing, we recognized it as too crowded, and much preferred the quiet Adriatic beach by our campsite, where we bathed in the azure waters before falling asleep to the not-so-gentle sounds of Benjie’s sonorous snoring.

While the drive down to Dubrovnik was stunning, we realized somewhere along the way that we had kind of cornered ourselves, as the only ways out were either back the way we came or across the slow and potentially dangerous roads of Bosnia or Montenegro. After much deliberation, we decided on an indirect Bosnian route that took us through the picturesque town of Mostar before leading us up the center of the country, past the war-torn capital of Sarajevo, and finally spitting us out on Croatia’s northern fork.

This turned out to be the best decision we could have made, as Bosnia (and, lest we forget, Herzegovina) was unexpectedly gorgeous. Dramatic mountain landscapes, turquoise rivers, and cool winds accompanied us along the winding roads leading to Sarajevo – not to mention a picturesque Bruce Lee statue bridge and a delicious meat-and-bread lunch in Mostar. Aside from an unfortunate Sarajevo traffic jam (smoggy grey rain included), which ultimately precluded a visit into the center of the city, we steadily crawled our way up the country and made it safely back across the Croatian border. We may only be an hour past where we were two days ago, as the crow flies, but this was certainly a worthy detour. And if we were looking for the most direct way, we would’ve flown to Mongolia.

We arrived in Slavonski Brod utterly famished — although Nick, having already eaten one meat-and-bread meal today, rejected his teammates’ pleas for a quick and easy kebab dinner, instead opting for a vegetable-less fish meal at the riverside. Now, we’re looking forward to a good night’s rest before we set off for Serbia and Bulgaria tomorrow morn.

Lastly, we have some exciting news: our satellite tracking device is finally up and running, so you can now monitor our progress in real-time! Click here to view the tracking map on a new page.

Thanks for reading!

-The Rubikhans

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAhoj, Praha!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe beer journal: Czech Republic

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARainy Prague at night

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAZipping through Bohemia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFlight Chief Jenkins prepares the drone at the Czech Out party. (Note our palatial tent in the background.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUsing our Goal Zero solar panels to charge our phones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATossing a frisbee in a Czech field

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFire dancers at the Czech Out party

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur “repaired” exhaust

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of Austria’s countless mountain peaks…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFollowed by one of Austria’s countless mountain tunnels

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASafe and sound in Zadar, Croatia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALook who we found! (Hint: it’s Isaac)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA roadside vendor’s wares, somewhere along the Dalmatian Coast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADubrovnik, Croatia, from above

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACelebratory team beers in Dubrovnik

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATourists. Lots and lots of them

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACaught in a massive traffic jam in northern Bosnia

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Life in the Slow Lane

Posted on 21 Jul 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

Hello from Prague!

It’s been a whirlwind of driving so far and we’ve safely made it out of Western Europe into the warm embrace of Central Europe’s economic, cultural, and only center.

We awoke at the crack of dawn yesterday to join the ~250 other teams at the Mongol Rally starting line in London’s Battersea Park. After waiting a couple hours for our turn to process out of the park and begin our journey (read: get the h*ll on the road already) we finagled our car off the steep platform that served as the official launch and promptly slammed our sump guard into the ground. Five feet into the Rally and our car already has battle scars.

Needless to say, we powered on — and made great time to the English Channel ferry, where we reunited with dozens of other Rally teams. After a ferry ride chatting with the other teams, napping, and cautiously watching our car to make sure it didn’t fall into the channel, we made it to France.

Thirty minutes later we made it out of France and to Veurne, a picturesque Belgian town where my (Nick’s) great-grandmother saved and resurrected a bombed-out hotel just after WWI. And we found the plaque to prove it!

After receiving marriage advice from a local (and inebriated) couple, we hit the road again and drove straight through to Germany. We were disappointed to race through Belgium, passing up the chance to visit Bruges and Ghent, which were just off the highway. But for the first couple days our goal has been singular: get to Prague.

Making the mistake of not booking a room beforehand, we tried our luck hostel-searching in central Cologne. We ran into two other Ralliers at a gas station on the way in, and we caravanned on into town looking like a fun-sized version of an expedition party. Cologne was gorgeous, even at 11 at night, and apparently a bunch of other people thought so too because neither of the youth hostels we stopped into had space for us — although our new friends lucked out with a couple beds (they only had two left).

So we learned our lesson to book our hostels ahead of time and we tried our luck back out on the highway where we promptly found a traveler’s motel. We pulled up to the motel where a little sign directed us to go to reception, which was a quarter mile back down the road in a service station. Skeptical, we walked to the station where sure enough we found the reception and sure enough they had a room for us. It seemed like we were the only guests in the creepy, dimly lit building but we didn’t care. We had beds, we had beers, and we could promptly pass out.

Today has mercifully been less eventful. Crossing central Germany has taught us that while German cars are extremely fast, German trucks are still incredibly slow. And on a two-lane highway, there’s no middle ground (or middle lane) so we stuck to the right, sporadically finding the cajones to pass a lumbering lorry.

Several hundred kilometers and one near-fuel emergency later, we safely arrived in Prague.

Now excuse us while Cooper and I have a couple Pilsners and drag Benjie around our old stomping grounds. Na zdravi!

Nick, Cooper, and Benjie

PS these photos really don’t do our car justice – we’re still waiting for the perfect sunset. Also, our satellite tracker is finally up and running. Stay tuned for the interactive map showing our path and current location.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFriendly folk at the launch in Battersea

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABenjie shows off our rudimentary auxiliary sound system, courtesy of Goal Zero

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA7:00am team photo at Battersea…Cooper is still waking up

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFiending for Cool Moon ice cream on the ferry!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe central parking lot square of Veurne, Belgium

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANick discovers the plaque commemorating his great-grandparents

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlazing through Germany

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Last Day(s) in London

Posted on 19 Jul 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

Hello everyone!

We’ve spent the past few days running a few last-minute errands in London, purchasing some crucial rally equipment like car tools and garish Hawaiian shirts, and, in our spare time, checking off some London tourism highlights.

Today was an eventful day for us, as we went to pick up our car where we had left it in a car park in the London suburbs for the past few days, only to discover that the battery was completely dead. Fortunately, we found some nice chaps at a nearby auto repair shop who jumped it for us, and we’re hoping that if we run the car a bit every day from now on she’ll be okay. We do understand that there is a fine line between optimism and naïveté but knock on aluminum we won’t have to cross it.

After completing a jigsaw puzzle packing job we made it to Battersea Park where we were greeted by the most absurd collection of people and cars you will ever see. We chatted with tons of interesting characters who are all a bit nuts and very excited to get on the road. Tomorrow we will head out of London and make a beeline for the English Channel to hop on a ferry to France, and hopefully we’ll be somewhere near Cologne, Germany tomorrow night. Stay tuned for more updates from the road! And don’t forget that you you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @therubikhans. Below are some pictures from the past few days.

Deuces,
Benjie, Nick and Cooper

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABenjie devours his first full English breakfast, minus the black pudding – there are plenty more opportunities for gross culinary specialties ahead of us!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEnjoying our personal tour of the Royal Geographical Society

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlmost there?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABenjie ponders life, while riding the bus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bus drivers drive like maniacs here!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOld and new: St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReppin’ our Cool Moon apparel in front of the London Eye!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABoris Bikes: the best way to get around town

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother beer-sodden team photo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALoading up the car. Don’t worry – more photos are coming!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur modest steed, fully packed and loaded

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABenjie loves America! (And sunsets)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA glimpse of some of the cars at the Battersea Park pre-launch gathering

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPre-launch warehouse party

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn memoriam of our dear teammate emeritus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABenjie flaunts his one-way ticket to adventureland, provided by these loony Austrians

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…and another one of the team

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne last glimpse of Chelsea Bridge. See you next time!

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