How We Conquered Europe – Our First Story From the Mongol Rally
Remember we’ve sent a team of five crazy individuals (four of whom are more or less from Adform) on a journey across one-third of the earth through deserts and seas, from Vilnius to Ulan Bator via London. So here’s what it has been like so far.
The journey started in Vilnius on Tuesday afternoon with everyone from the Adform office in Lithuania coming out to cheer the team and wish them good luck. And good luck is what they really need, given that their car is 22 years old and there are five of them in it.
Getting to London
The first stint, which the team called a test drive, was a long push of 2000 kilometres from Vilnius to Amsterdam. It went surprisingly well. After 24 hours of continuous driving, the car was going well and confidence was increasing by the minute. After a short day in Amsterdam, our journey to the starting point in London continued with a ferry to Harwich and on to Battersea Park. That’s where most of the cars starting the rally met and started their journey.
From the start to Belgium and Geneva
The start was successful – Team Go Bananas officially left Battersea and after a short drive through central London headed towards the Channel. The start of the European part of the rally looked like the easiest part and we quickly ended up near Ghent, Belgium. That’s where we planned to get our Turkmenistan visas. However, we faced some bad luck as it was a Belgian national holiday the next day and a quick decision to change the route slightly and head towards Geneva was taken. They say everything diplomatic can be done in Switzerland and that turned out to be true. It took two hours to get the Turkmenistan transit visas issued, which is an incredibly short amount of time according to the reviews from other embassies.
Now that we had the visas, the team decided to push south-east towards the Balkans. We quickly covered ground through north-eastern France, northern Italy and Slovenia towards the Balkans. Our first short leisurely stopover was at a beautiful national park near Plitvice in Croatia. This is a magnificent natural wonderland with hundreds of waterfalls, tiny lakes full of fish and a great number of tourists, who were wandering through the park.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, and VW Golfs
Our next stop was the small town Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The roads leading to the town were quite poor, and driving at night did not make it any easier. The settlement is well known for its Old Bridge, connecting the two sides of the river. Usually, during daytime, some brave divers do jump from it into the river below, but the team wasn’t lucky enough to witness this. The city, although still scarred by the war, is a beautiful and cosy place. Also, it seems that the Bosnians have bought all the Mark I VW Golfs that are still on this planet – driving through the country feels slightly weird – it’s like a little time machine with all those cars from the 70s and 80s buzzing around.
Albania, and their love for Mercedes
Driving on, we pushed through Montenegro in a breeze, with only a couple of stopovers for a quick meal and to admire the incredible nature. The next stopover was in Albania, where the people have an even clearer obsession like the Bosnians for the VW Golf, but here for Mercedes. There’s no number big enough to count all the Mercedes in Albania, probably eight out of ten would be fair. Albania also has an incredible number of policemen on the road, as well as speed limit signs (they probably go well together), but remember, the team is doing the rally in a 22-year-old 1200 cc Subaru. Going too fast is not an issue and we avoided any fines.
Little sleep in Turkey
After finishing the Balkan leg of the journey, Team Go Bananas crossed into Greece and after a quick dip in the Aegean Sea pushed to Turkey, the last country technically still in Europe. All it took to get into Turkey was a four-hour wait at the border in scorching heat, easy. Then, a short drive and we were in Istanbul, where a lot of teams were spending the night, so we were not short of company. It was the end of Ramadan; hence, the whole city was celebrating throughout the night, which meant very little sleep for us. On the other hand, it was a good thing – Turkey is big and we needed to cover a lot of distance in the coming days, so leaving central Istanbul early in the morning and crossing the bridge into Asia and moving far East sounded like a good plan.
Entering Asia, first problems
Only a couple of kilometres after the bridge, Asia greeted us with a surprise. We started hearing a suspicious grinding noise from the rear of the car and we pulled over at the first petrol station. A quick inspection revealed the car had a broken rear trailing arm, which was a serious problem that needed immediate attention. That wasn’t easy though. Remember – the Turkish people had celebrated all night the night before, which of course meant that nobody was working that morning. It took a good search to find a garage, but we found one. After a couple of cups of chai and multiple phone calls – a welder was found and the suspension was fixed, so the team were able to move on through Turkey along the Black Sea coast to reach the Georgian border.
This is where the European leg ends, and it also marks the end of our first story. In the next one: The Caucasus: Georgia, Azerbaijan and a mysterious cargo ferry to Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan. Stay tuned.