Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Well this is the end of the road for us unfortunately, after 12 countries, 6 weeks, 2 continents and 3 breakdowns we have had to throw in the towel and give up on our adventure. It is an immensely sad and yet at the same time quite a relieving feeling to be done with it. Jeff and I especially got quiet emotional on that day that we cleaned out the car, gave her one last (and first) wash and said our goodbyes. Blue Suze was stripped of her banners, her roof racks were removed and her boot emptied of the endless amount of camping crap that we had brought along. Sitting there in our B&B’s driveway she looked empty, a mere shell of the car that had been the fourth and most dear member of our team. And yet at the same time, she looked reborn, brand new, happy and almost smiling, finally have settled down to a quiet life in the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

But before I get us to this point in our journey, one confession to make. We’re back home in London now. We could’ve written this blog whilst waiting in Bishkek but most days were spent doing import/export/selling paperwork and the evening were spent celebrating/commiserating/just plain partying. Bishkek is a really interesting town and we had a really good time there. So, when reading this, pretend that your reading this a few days ago and then everything will be current and fresh.

So we left Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, after staying at perhaps the nicest hotel of the entire trip. A late breakfast, a quick dip in the indoor pool (with mirrored roof) and last minute shower, we entered the unbearable Uzbek heat. Uzbekistan is a hot country, an incredibly hot country, so hot that our poor car was overheating at the slightest drop in air rushing over if radiator. This lead us to a curious situation. We found that there was an optimal speed at which to travel. The faster we went, the harder the engine had to work, yet at about 80-90 kph the flow of hot air into the cooling system would negate the heat produced by the car. No problem… except when we had to slow down when entering towns; stop to ask for directions or fill up on petrol or supplies. Of course we also had to do some emergency braking and stop for the ever present traffic cops on the highway. Sometime shortly after Tashkent, Jeff was trying to keep our speed up/heat down as well as gain momentum for the mountain pass up ahead when a Uzbek police man, waving the ubiquitous orange baton, flagged us down. “Quick, enter happy-confusion mode!”. Happy-confusion mode is where we push the boundaries of our stupidity while at the same bombard the official with our friendly smiles and, if possible, vigorous handshakes. And it worked yet again. After getting the officer to explain for the sixth time what the speed limit was, showing him a multitude of international documents he’s never seen before and commenting on how Uzbekistan is the best country we’ve visited and Iran was the worst (there was a football game between these two that week) he let us go with a smile and a wave.

After that, momentum lost, we tackled our first serious mountain pass. Climbing to 2 kilometers, Blue Suze did amazingly well coming very close to doing the pass in one go when right at the top, in what was to be a very familiar scenery, she over heated and we had to lift the bonnet, wait to cool down, add more water, do a little pray and drive on. We did manage to do this at a militarily sensitive location, moments before entering the only tunnel through the mountains which meant that we were once again surrounded by army men with large guns. They were for the most part friendly but started getting a little agitated the longer we waited, eventually waving us through the tunnel and out of their hair. We found a decent hotel in a town called Pap a few hours later and called it a night.

“Why all the hotels guys, thought this was supposed to be an adventure not a pleasure cruise?” I hear you ask. Unfortunately in Uzbekistan, all foreigners are supposed to register with a hotel each night that they spend there. Each hotel registers you, then gives you this meaningless piece of paper which you have to show to officials at any point in your journey. This all means that camping or sleeping rough is not possible.

Next morning was all about getting into Kyrgyzstan. A moderately cool day, low 30s, meant a pleasant drive through the vast cotton fields of Uzbekistan towards the border (see Aral Sea for details on the incredible environment disaster Uzbek cotton field have caused). The border post we enter was very obscure (we seemed to choice the less travelled routes over conventional ones) and the guards extremely bored which meant are car and contents got a very thorough inspection. Everything from the manly (camping equipment, car tools), to the not so manly (face cream, indigestion tablets and fluffy car toys) was examined and discussed by the two military men before letting us through and out of Uzbekistan. Goodbye Uzbekistan, thank you for the cheap vodka, the ancient cities and the friendly people, police and military. We do however unthank you for stealing our GoPro camera, doing an incredibly dodgy repair job on Blue Suze and giving us headaches whenever we had to use your count out your stupid currency (see previous post).

And so to Kyrgyzstan… and what an amazingly country it is. I do believe that I may never see a country so dramatically beautiful and rugged as Kyrgyzstan again. Fortunately though, while the country side is rugged, the Chinese have been in Kyrgyzstan since independence rebuilding their roads. And damn, what a great job they’ve done. Even through we were heading directly to what can only be described as a Mordor like mountain range, we were driving on pothole free, rock free, smooth and wide single lane highways. “Xie xie” China! Looking at our map we had two mountain passes (2.8 and 3.5 km high) to negotiate before hitting the capital Bishkek. Would Blue Suze make it? Would our strategy of 80-90 kph even be possible? Hmmmmmm…. it appears no. But she put up one hell of a fight and to her credit never suffered the humiliating experience of being towed into town. The first mountain pass required only one road side stop to cool the engine and replace the lost water. The second required many stops and one push start at the very top of the pass when she cut out possibly due to thin air. Each stop though wasn’t wasted as we would continue watching Monty Python’s Life of Brian with the final scene quiet rightly lifting the ol’ spirits.

That last stretch, sitting more than 3 kilometers high in Central Asian “nowheresvile” proved to be her undoing. With an over heating car that was cutting out, Jeff has to rev the engine, while simultaneously squeezing Blue Suze between trucks through a tunnel that looked like it had only recently been blasted through the mountain. It was without a doubt the scariest moment in the entire trip. Once through the tunnel though, the views from the other side were even more spectacular than anything we’d seen before. Absolutely incredible! No words can do the scenery justice, so I won’t even try… well, except to say, imagine mountain peaks surrounding you on all sides, snow covered caps, with purple, red and black rock falling down the impossibly steep sides. Now look down and you see wild Kyrgyz horses below you munching the sweet green alpine grass. Oh look, a few yurt tents dotted on the mountain sides, that must be where the local herdsmen/nomads live. And whats that? It looks like a giant silver snake before you – nope, it’s the only way down, a long, impossibly windy road that doubles back on itself many many times over attempting to get the traveler down to the valley floor. Oh and there are some blue mountain streams somewhere in that image too and Blue Suze panting and wheezing her last breathes nearby. There, I tried but probably failed, so go and check out Kyrgyzstan yourselves. You won’t be disappointed I promise.

So, we limped into Bishkek, the Russified capital city of Kyrgyzstan, hungry, tired and defeated. Most of the accommodation in Bishkek was fill as it was the end of Ramadan (big party) and possibly as the Kazakstan president was in town (we saw his motorcade whizz past us later in the week) for regional talks with other leaders. We found though a v. nice and homely B&B called The Radisson (the family’s only child’s name is Radic and he’s their son… hence) and spent the first night sleeping outside in their garden. The next few days were spent holed up in a two bedroom room, one person sleeping on the floor while we tried to sort out the car – arranging to import the car and attempting to find a buyer.

There are of course worse places to end up than the city of Bishkek. A hot but dry city made up of large Soviet style apartment blocks and modern western style malls. The roads are busy and unkept but clean with tree lined sides or shaded park avenues in-between the main streets, where the older crowd play ping-pong and chess while the youth skate and bmx in and around the large concrete plazas and monuments built during the Soviet days. All of this with an imposing mountain range as the backdrop to the south of the city. The people are an interesting bunch too. A mix of Russian and Kyrgyz ethnic people, living together as a result of Communist re-settlement policies, who were generally warm and friendly and best of all, rarely ever tried to extract “tourist” prices out of us. The place has a safe and pleasant vibe but there always seemed to be just a hint of a seedier underbelly lurking beneath – which we duly sort out of course. Jeff, Adam and I drowned our sorrows at one kitch night club, complete with extremely fat Kyrgyz mobster ordering girls to/from his table and bouncers trying to extract money from us (not successful); discovered a poker club, where Jeff cleaned up and walked out with $340 while I watched over our shoulders; and frequented the several British pubs and American style bars, where we drank the local Baltika Russia beer and had 50ml black vodka shots. Yes Bishkek was good to us, but we were very glad to leave it after spending 8 days there.

So that is that. The journey is over, the adventure through, the trip done. Mongola still remains unexplored, Kazakstan un-jagshemashed and our Russia visas unstamped. But, Blue Suze lives happily now with the Radisson B&B owners, we all got deep tans, learnt a few foreign words and got to say that we drove a quarter the way around the world, through deserts, over mountains, around lakes, into dry river beds and back out again via some of the most exotic, unpronounceable and interesting countries that we had never heard of before. So yeah, I think it evens itself out.

I kid of course. It was the road trip of a life time, with a damn fine crew in Adam and Jeff. I couldn’t have wanted it any other way, with any other people, in any other manner. It truly was awesome.

Thanks for reading. Goodbye.

Iran, Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, who would have thought you’d provide the best and most interesting experiences (so far) in our trip? It’s been one hell of a ride but so far I’m ranking Uzbekistan as the “most adventurist” country on our trip. But let’s have a quick recap before going anywhere.

Firstly Iran. We’re sorry that we didn’t get t see more of you. The people seemed extremely friendly (even if the drivers were the craziest) and the country vast, beautiful and changing. We drove down rugged escarpments into lush humid valleys, swam in the Caspian sea and then headed into the bone dry interior. Iran is a huge country and the contrasts in scenery, and it’s people were quick something to behold. Unfortunately because of our car troubles in Turkey, we decided to plough through Iran as fast as possible to make up lost time. Some highlights include attempting to find Alexander the Great’s wall, stopping for directions and getting nothing but 2 melons in return and getting stopped going through a de-militarized zone but some serious looking army dudes, staying in the “only hotel in the village” which was surprisingly clean and nice. Low lights include the worst (near vomit inducing) shashlik we had near the border as well as the crazy night time Iranian drivers.

Then it was to Turkmenistan. What a weird country. It’s completely part with loads of dollars before entering ($314) and then are given a prescribed route through the country that should be completed within 5 days time. You are then constantly stopped and this route (a line drawing on a map) is checked to make sure you’re going where you said you would. The city of Ashgabat is truly something to check out though. It’s an incredible exercise in money, marble and madness. It looks like something Donald Trump would make in the dessert if he had the wealth of a small oil producing country and had a penchant for gold statues of himself and horses. The other highlight of Turkmenistan, and the reason we went through was to check out the Darvaza gas crater. A man made anomolly “accidently” by Russian miners in the 1970s. It’s a large crater a few kilometers off the only road through the dessert, which had been light and remains on fire to this day. Driving along the main road, you suddenly get hounded by “guides” wanting to show you the crater which is accessible by 4×4 only. After parking the car (and blessing it’s safety) we piled into a truck and were taken over dunes until a faint glow appeared in the distance. The closer we  got in the pitch darkness of the dessert, the stronger the glow, until suddenly a massive hole in the ground appeared, fully alight. We’d seen youtube videos of this crater, but to see it in real life was very different. It really does look like the entrance to hell. The flames are huge, the heat almost overwhelming and winds hot and swirly.

We took loads of photos and videos, I made a sacrifice of some underwear to the inferno and we later camped a kilometer away (the fumes are poisonous) and slept happy to have seen of of the highlights of the trip. Some highlights of this country include the crazy bad main/only highway through the dessert with invisible pot holes a few metres wide, changing our first wheel (Adam found one of those potholes in a bad way), the heat (it’s by far the hottest country on the trip) and the useless attempts at the cops trying to bride us. Come on, we’re some Africa, at least threaten to take us to jail or something (they got nothing btw). Last highlight was me, being the owner of the car, I had to go with a border guard to go over the paperwork. Instead we drank vodka, looked at my passport pictures (and laughed) and shared mouth tobacco (not nice). He also asked for $50 bride, but I gave him a London fridge magnet instead.

So now we’re in Uzbekistan. Lonely Planet warns of the corrupt cops and bureaucracy but nothing could be further from the truth. The border was quick and cheap (yay after Turkmenistan) and we’ve had no trouble with police at all. The roads are shit though but the drivers polite and friendly. In Uzbekistan we’ve also seen the best and most ancient cities Central Asia has too offer. Khiva was beautifully preserved and you very easily get visions of Arab slave trades, camel trains led by fierce looking men and the wall-to-wall covered bazaars. Bukhara, also an ancient silk road city, has the feel of a lived in city though. It has small maze like streets, each wall containing small doors through which you can see people working on copper pots inside or women weaving/cleaning carpets.

We had read in Lonley Planet that there was a disused Russian water tower which you could climb and get fantastic panoramas from. We found it, hopped over the barbed wire entrance (after parting with some cash to bride the police man guarding the place) and climbed a very ornate and beautiful tower. The views from the pigeon poo’ed platform were amazing and we spent a good 20 minutes soaking it up, blowing our vuvuzela and taking pictures. We felt quiet good about this little bit of naughtiness too, as clearly this isn’t one of the official tourist attractions to this city. Later that night we had a very good meal  on a rooftop restaurant watching the sunset over the miranets of Bukhara. What could top this fantastic day you might ask? A night in a cheap Uzbek disco drinking bottle after bottle of vodka! Which we did, and regretted it the next day. Jeff and I were hungover like never before. 3 bottles of cheap Uzbek vodka meant our drive out the nest day was not pleasant. Oh well you get what you deserve.

Now we come to last tale of this adventure. Blue Suze, our trusted stead broke down yet again. And it was the same trouble as before, the head gasket. Shit before this trip I never knew what that thing was, not I’m aware of what it is, where it lives in the engine and the many ways it can get broken. Needless to say when we saw the heat rise in the car, our hearts sank. We pulled over in a small provincial town on route to Samaquand, and as our luck would have it drove straight to a decent mechanic. The lovely people there put us up for the night (then sent us to a cheap but cheerful hotel), and fixed our car in a record 2 days. Take that Turkey with your 8 days to repair Blue Suze! Since then, which was yesterday we drove to Samaqand (another historical and well preserved city) and then on to the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent. We arrived at a hotel at 2:30am after driving on the weirdest back routes through Uzbekistan countryside and passed out in our rooms.

It’s now 10:30 and we have to be out by 12. I’m sure I missed a few more crazy anecdotes and stories in the hastily written blog post which I will be kicking myself when I remember. Also I apologise for spelling mistakes, poor grammar etc  etc… After this post, it’s back to the black market to exchange some dollars (thanks Shevvy for sending us that life line) for Uzbekistan Somes*, then it’s off to the Kyrgyzstan border. Three more countries left, god I hope we and Blue Suze makes it.

Cheers,
Al, Adam and Jeff.

* The Uzbek Some is the most useless currency in the world. The largest note is the 1000cym, which is worth a little less than 50c. When you exchange a a hundred dollars or more, you walk away with a mob style amount a bank notes. We kept our Somes in our wooden backgammon briefcase. Every time we opened it up, it looked like we were about to buy a large shipment of cocaine or weapons. It’s a lot of fun having those kinds of wads of cash lying a round but does get tedious trying to pay for things.

P.s. I knew I would forget something and this one warrants a quick PS. The route from Kiva to Bukhara was the worst road we’ve driven yet. Although it’s THE major road between the two main cities, the road itself has deteriorated to nothing more than a dirt and stone track fill with holes and bumps that send the car violently up and down at the smallest sped. We made slow progress through this section, 20km/h for 3 hours when suddenly a new, unused road appeared on the right hand side. Seeing a few cars whizzing along it, it now being 12 at midnight, I made the decision to cross over. Unfortunately I wasn’t thinking about the fact that we had no spare tires left (after Turkmenistan) and ramped up the sharpened cement road and burst our last tire. SHIT! We’re in a dessert, stranded on the road, no tires, little food and very tired. Anyway we thought at least we’d get a peaceful nights sleep under the dessert stars… wrong! We got stuck in a freak rain storm. The winds blew hard, the rain fell strong and woke up to our tent soaked and literally about to blow away. Adam and I held the tent down, while Jeff braved the lightening and ran through the mud to the car. Eventually the wind died down and we retreated to the car for a fitful nights sleep. The next morning we collected our camping stuff blown across the dessert, I went to get the tire fixed and we left for Bukhara. What a crazy, fun, horrible, mad night we had. Exactly what the adventure was supposed to be about.

Holiday is over, time for a rally

Sorry for the (long) break in our blog posts, we had a slight hiccup in our progress recently, but we are back on track now, if in a little bit more of a hurry.

Two weeks ago on Saturday the 21st of July at around 6pm, we said a sad farewell to beautiful Greece and entered the no-mans land between it and Turkey. Despite it being evening, the sun was beating down on us hard as we sat sweating in the car. Adam and I sat meekly smiling and nodding at the many well armed guards around us, while Al ran from counter to counter through all the red tape necessary to get us moving again. About an hour later we were waved through the last boom gate and under the shadow of a massive, crimson Turkish flag, billowing high in the wind.

I was surprised at how quickly the countryside transformed from what we knew as Greece to the beautifully coloured farmlands of Turkey. Lush fields of green and yellow zigzagged across the landscape, seperated by enormous fields of proud sunflowers, staring longingly at the setting sun. Unfortunately the quality of the roads and the drivers changed drastically too, leaving Adam to dodge and weave us to safety. With his trusty navigator Al, he did a fine job of getting us to Istanbul – the biggest and most interesting city yet.

We arrived there around 11:30pm, although it took us a further two hours to actually get into the city. Instanbul is surrounded by massive freeways; criss-crossing and looping around in every direction. Using three different maps, including a GPS, we tried our hardest to get into the city center, where we knew the hostels to be, but kept finding ourselves on another highway heading out of the city again. Eventually we got within 3 kms from it, found a dark alley to stash the car away in and struck out on foot on the busy, narrow, cobblestone streets. Finally we found a hostel that had had a last minute cancelation of the suite room, which we gladly took, and, after a quick walk-about to explore the bustling, drunken streets, we retired to our airconditioned room.

The next day, we filled with sight seeing – we walked across the Bosphorous River, which they say seperates Europe from Asia, and headed for the Hagia Sophia – an architectural wonder, it was the largest covered building for more than 1000 years. Next, the Blue Mosque where Al and I were donned with blue skirsts (to cover our infidel knees and legs) and afterwards had a refreshing splash at the foot washing station outside. The city has an ancient wonder about it and we thoroughly enjoyed meandering around, soaking up the culture and brilliance of it all. On the walk back to our hostel, Al and I gave in to the temptation and stripped down to our boxers for a quick dip in the Bosphorous. It was cold and the current threatened to drag you off into the Maramar Sea if you strayed too far from the shore. A long walk, the worst icecream I have ever tasted, some quick shots of an air rifle and then home.

Our room looked out over the Galata Tower – one of the first lighthouses ever built (490 BC). – so there were many tourists gawking up at us as we sat on our window ledge drinking some beers before heading out for dinner. Later we tried to experience some of Istanbul’s night life, but being Ramazan and a Sunday, we didn’t find much and just wandered around until our feet couldn’t take it any more.

We left Istanbul and our soft beds the next day and headed off into the unknown. Picking a path through the center of Turkey, we drove as much as possible over the next 3 days, pitching our tents where we could. We briefly explored some ancient Hittite ruins near the city of Boğazkale (Hittites being the 1st civilization to be classified as an empire) and decided on a last stop on Wednesday night at Van lake – at the far eastern edge of Turkey, about an hour from the Iranian border.

We took a slightly more scenic detour to get to Van – driving between some mountainous landscapes, through quaint villages, filled with stunned locals. This was the first taste of what was to come for us and our little car, Blue Suz. She handled well under the steady hand of rally champion Adam Smith, but a very unlucky stone pierced our radiator during the last kilometer of bad roads. We quickly found the obvious leak and patched it up using Al’s liquid metal and were happily on our way again. Fifteen kilometers later we realised we are not mechanics when Blue Suz overheated again. Our new plan was to drive slowly to Van Lake, topping up with water every 15 kilometers. Along the way we rescued a large tortoise from the middle of a busy freeway. Surely karma was on our side now? We found a lovely looking campsite right next to the lake (and the freeway) and set up camp in good spirits. The next day we tried a more comprehensive repair job, and were completely perplexed when it didn’t work. We finally admitted defeat and took the car to a professional who took the radiator out, ground away our repair job and welded it properly, only to find it didnt make any difference. Eventually we were told it was the head gasket that had gone due to the overheating and that it would take 4 days to fix. So much for karma.

We tried to make the most of our stay in Van, which stretched out to 8 days. Unfortunately the lake, which looked beautiful, was also the dumping ground for a nearby quarry, causing the water to be very soapy and not very nice to swim in. The city was a 15 minute bus ride away, so we went in every second day to use the internet at a dark dingy bar, stock up on food and explore some more ancient ruins and the scene of a 1912 Armenian genocide. Al treated himself to a Turkish bath, while Adam and I shopped for new chargers to replace the ones taken out in a massive lightning storm. Each night we were woken (well I wasn’t) by the Imam shouting prayers on a loudspeaker next door. There was so much distortion on the loud speaker that Al described it as the worst sound he had ever heard, or could ever imagine hearing again.

Needless to say when we got the car back we were more than happy to pack up our tents and get on the road – now a week behind schedule. Yesterday we packed up early and left Van determined to make good ground. We were soon at the Iranian border, where we did all the boring paperwork between waiting around and being searched for any illegal alcohol! The Iranian border was surprisingly friendly compared to Turkey’s. The guards enjoyed chatting with us and giving us advice. The captain even had me authograph his hand while he wore my sunglasses. His english speaking co-worker apologised, saying “I’m sorry, my boss is very strange”.

Once in Iran we pushed hard to put some mileage down. We drove until 3am when we pulled over and slept in the car under the shade of an abandoned fruit stand. Al, being the nature loving, crazy person he is, decided he would get a better night’s sleep outside, on the ground, lulled to sleep by the howls of the coyotes :)

An eary rise this morning and then another 8 hour journey to the Caspian sea, where we found a pretty fancy hotel (by Iranian standards at least). Sweaty and tired, we decided after the hard week we have had, to splash out on the Royal Suite, which is very reasonably priced when you have euros to spend. Now we are well fed, squeaky clean and ready for more hard travelling tomorrow. But first a good sleep on a real bed. Goodnight…

Stage two complete. Farewell europe, we will miss you

One week of travelling and 1 continent completed… well almost. We’re still a few miles outside of the Greek/Turkish border but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. There is still loads of  journey still to recall.

Firstly, the Czechout party at the castle of Klenova. Touted as being possibly the craziest night of the rally, it was unfortunately a bit of a muted affair. Don’t  get us wrong, how can a rock concert, dance party inside a run down Czech castle cum art gallery be anything less than amazing? It was a very surreal experience and the organisers did a great job, even providing a delicious and very meaty dinner for all the campers. The main problem was that it was still unseasonally cold and this kept evenone a bit subdued.

Regardless, Jeff and Al got quite drunk and were typically last to leave the castle :) Other highlights include; a blast off between the vuvuzela and a trumpet, a fight with a viking, meeting the finest Aussie boggens who used the vuvu as a drinking funnel and an awesome fire display against a beautifully lit castle.

We woke up the next day, Jeff and Al nursing a monster hangover which meant that Adam had to once again take the wheel.

We headed south from Czech to Austria with a brief interlude into Germany before stopping off at the southern border town of Villich and bagged ourselves our first hotel room and hot showers. Jeff continued his search for the perfect schnitzel, but was mildly disappointed at the Austrian’s attempt. Ah, that first shower after 4 days of travelling was amazing as was the breakfast buffet the next morning. Liberally interpreting the term “buffet” we made off with enough fruit and rolls for lunch and headed towards Italy.

The scenery through Austria is something out of a children`s book. Beautifully kept houses with flowers in bloom on the window sills greeted us in every small village we went through. And as you head further south the mountains grow to dominate the sky. Thoughts of Heidi and Sounds of Music ocme to mind. The tunnels needed to pass these mountains are truly epic, some as long as 12 kilometres, and the roads were in perfect condition.

Northern Italy begins much the same way, long tunnels, high bridges with the Alps in the background. The industrious north, most of the available land used for agriculture, slowly gives way to a more arid and open south. The corn fields become haphazard olive groves, and the pleasant temperature becomes a stifling heat.

After a long day of driving, about 12 hours, we came to rest in a small Italian town called Giovianni and made camp in a very dry and hard camping ground. It turned out to be a great experience – stopping off at this hardly touristy place. Our entrance into the local pizzeria led the proprietor to fuss over us, constantly turning his eyes towards our table in case we needed anything. The pizzas were large and cheap, the beers cold and the sleep, with the sounds of the ocean, deep and rejuvenating.

The next day, the 19th if my memory serves me, we drove down to Brinidisi to catch the ferry to Greece. With our tickets bought we went in search of the beach and our first proper dip in the Mediterranean. After an afternoon in the cool blue sea, the glorious sun beating down on us, our bodies finally started waking up from the long slumber of successive years living in England.

We boarded the ferry at 6pm and left port at 7pm for Igoumenitsa, Greece. We had our own cabin with showers (that’s two showers  now on this trip) , drank Italian wine and had a minifeast inside our room, preferring that to the Italian/Greek wedding singer style party going on inside the ship’s disco area.

At 3am we disembarked in Greece, now the 8th country on our journey, and drove through the early morning towards the province of Chalkidiki. Otherwise known as that place that looks like a cow’s udder on the map. Our destination, the Blue Dream resort, was choosen at random but shit (excuse me) was it a great choice. What we found was a beautiful campsite, large yet friendly and spacious, nestling against a massive, white, beach-lined cove. Playboy yachts in the distance, the quintessentially 80s windsurfers and deckchairs provided a stunning backdrop.

It was 11 in the morning when we made camp, still not quite believing what we were seeing. We spent another glorious day swimming, sunning and drinking in the beach under umbrellas. Later that evening a proper Greek band played authentic Greek music until the wee hours, the crowd joining in and doing traditional dances in the middle of the restaurant. Almost 24 hours of being awake, we finally went to bed. Who knew the rally could be this tough :P

Now… well now we’re heading eastwards towards Turkey. The scenery in Greece is absolutely stunning. Our favourite country yet. High mountains to our left and azure blue sea to our right. The countryside is rugged yet strangely calming, the people super friendly and warm. They also speak english quite well and we’ve have no difficulties communicating or finding someone to help us.

Shortly we’ll be in Turkey, another country and another continent.
Now the real rally begins. Onwards!

Stage one complete – Czech!

The journey so far…

After leaving the Goodwood racetrack we made our way to Dover. Arriving far too early for the ferry we attempted to find the finest food a quaint little Dover pub could offer us. In reality we had a couple of pints at a dirty oldmans pub and some greasy fish&chips on the high street. The ferry left at 10:30 and, full of French and British families, resembled a giant floating (and rocking) mall rather than a valid mode of transportation. The seas were quite choppy and Al and Adam felt a bit seasick. Here`s hoping the ferry to Greece to easier.

On arrival in France, Al and Jeff were a little too drunk to drive which meant Smels had to take the wheel again. He drove admirably from Calias, through Dunkirk finally giving into tiredness just past Brugge. 3:30am, some 22 hours since we woke up at home, we were asleep in a truck stop in Belguim.

The next day consisted of driving through heavy rain in Germany. The countryside there is an amazing blend of old and new, with the wind turbines rotating

amongst beautiful old country farm houses. And the autobahns…. amazing. German drivers are the fastest and yet the most courteous drivers we`ve ever met. We finally had a very late lunch in a small town called Wurzburg. Adam and Al had the local pizza and Jeff continued in his search for the best schnitzel. How was it? ” not bad, top 10, but not the best I`ve had”  says Jeff.

Sufficiently refueled and happy, we left the main roads of Germany and followed a back route into Czech Republic – no tolls for us – climbing up narrow mountain roads, through deep forests and into the lovely and rustic southern Czech. Around 11pm we finally found the campsite of the Czech-out European Fetival of the Slow located beneath the ruined castle of Klenova. What a wonderful feeling to get out of the car, pitch tent and have some chow and beer, but also the awesome feeling of finishing the first (and easiest) stage on our trip to Mongolia.

Today we`ve been hanging out in the festival, welcoming new arrivals and having a well deserved chill and relax. Tonight there is the legendary Czechout party inside the castle, followed by an early morning retreat to the tents, then it`s cleanup, packup and move out. We`re heading south to Italy for some sunny beaches…

Al out

Dover

Hey all, we are currently sitting in a dodgy old mans pub in Dover waiting for the ferry. Thanks to kirsty,Russ, chevy and edyta for seeing us off today.

Lots of love too you all,
Al

We’re Off

Hey chaps, we’re off. It’s a bit rainy but Blue Suze is handling quiet well.

You can follow us on this blog, or via our twitter handle @3zulus1vuvu.

Thanks for all the kind words, blessings and well wishes.

Farewell/Fundraising Party

On an incredibly raining Sunday afternoon, the team hosted a small fund raising/farewell party. It appeared that the Lord had given us a challenge of turning our swamp garden into something that people wouldn’t mind hanging around in as well as providing cover in the never ending British summer rains. To raise a little petrol money for the trip we also decided to shake down our friends by “supplying” them with reasonably priced beers, ciders, hot dogs and fine salads.

In the end the big guy upstairs was pleased as he provided some moments of brilliant sunshine and kept the rain away long enough to feed everyone. In the end, we raised £120 from the party and when you factor in the costs involved (a meer £105) we made quiet the tidy profit.

Thanks to all those that attended and blessed “Blue Suze”.