Saturday, July 28, 2012

Three Nights and Three Days in Tbilisi

After visiting the Stalin museum, we drove southwards to Tbilisi, capital and biggest city of Georgia. A colleague of me and Rico from the Google Zürich office, Ihar Mahaniok, a positively over-social engineer originally from Belarus, had been excited to hear about our travel plans and asked me whether I actually knew any people in Central Asia. I had answered that one reason for doing this journey was that I didn’t actually know anyone east of Istanbul and west of Beijing. Upon hearing this, Ihar had then promptly offered to lend us some of his friends along our route, and sent an introduction mail to them explaining who we were and why we were coming to visit them. So when we finally arrived in Tbilisi in the early evening, there was a welcoming committee there to meet us.

Head of the welcoming committee was Nino Nanitashvili, who had learned to know Ihar through being co-organizer of the Google Developers’ GroupGDG Tbilisi. The first hearty laugh of the evening came as soon as we met, and promptly were forced to realize that Nino was a girl. The combined facts that Nino is a guys’ name in Europe and that a crushing majority of all Google Developers’ Groups members are guys had lead us to never even consider the possibility that the person we were about to meet could be a girl. (We soon came to learn that Nino actually is one of the most popular girls’ names in Georgia.) With that confusion cleared up, she then introduced us to the friends she had brought along: Elene, Mirian and Zura.

The first thing we needed our new friends to help us with was to find a suitable place to stay for an unknown number of nights, and it turned out that Elene had a friend who worked at the Soul House Hostel so she called them up and asked if they had room for us. Then we packed all of us into the ambulance (which, by a stroke of bureaucratic confusion, has been legally registered to take 5+1 passengers; and as tightly packed as the passengers in the patient-care compartment were, actual road-safety was covered as well) and we went out on a Brownian motion drive through a city that is in the midst of great economic transformation with heavy traffic, roadworks, detours, construction sites, and general chaos everywhere. Elene started out as the co-driver, but was soon replaced by Zura, who lasted a wee bit longer before he in turn got replaced by Mirian, who with the combined help of a smartphone map and Elene and Zura shouting from the back finally managed to direct us to the correct location. During this fray, I accidentally broke more traffic rules than I would prefer to remember and in cold blood I took a highly illegal left turn that earned the respect of Zura: “Man, than maneuver was really bad-ass!”

(Three days later, when I had learned to find my way through central Tbilisi, I could come to the conclusion that for someone intimately familiar with all the roadworks and detours, that entire drive would only have needed to be around four blocks.)

The hostel was a most charming place: An old and worn but beautifully decorated two-story house crammed in between larger houses in a small alley, surrounded by wine and laundry. The house itself had a melodramatic history; it is owned by a family who’s eldest son was a talented painter, who’s paintings adorns most rooms, but who had a tragic soul and ended his own life. After this tragedy, the family could no longer bear to live in the house and moved out, now instead renting the house to Vita, who today runs the hostel there with the off-and-on help of Nanuka, Macaco and Kate (plus Elene’s friend, who happened to be not actually there during our stay).

Being thus well put up for the night, and for the nights to come, the welcoming committee took us out for dinner, to eat our way through Georgian cuisine and culture. The quality of produce in this country is simply amazing and even the simplest tomato-&-onion salads are a treat, and the full breadth of the cuisine offers a wealth of kebabs, pies, dumplings, breads, cheeses and other delicacies from its long tradition. Upon hearing that I had a guilty pleasure for semi-sweet red wine, Zura swiftly ordered a bottle of excellent Khvanchkara (the kind of wine from western Georgia that was Stalin’s personal favourite). Thus it was long past midnight before we realized that it was getting late and that we were getting tired, and all of us had to get up early the next morning.

Then we spent the days getting visas for entering Azerbaijan, visiting the Swedish Ambassador, sightseeing (the old town, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, etc.), doing laundry, communicating with the people back home, eating more good food, and so on.

Being co-organizer of the Google Developers’ Group, Nino obviously couldn’t resist the opportunity of having two engineers from the largest Google engineering office outside of the US visiting, so on Wednesday night she got me and Rico to give a lecture at the Caucasus University to the local developers’ group on the topic of what we do at Google, together with a Q&A session. This turned out to be a highly appreciated event, as can be seen in the group photo taken afterwards:

In the audience, among the assorted hackers and computer geeks, was also Mr. Irakli Kashibadze, Head of the Communications, IT and Innovations Department of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, who invited us and a selection of the attendees to dinner afterwards. More great Georgian food, locally-brewed beer, and once again a long and joyful night.

Rico and I have already started sketching on a plan to return to Tbilisi after winter, to meet everybody again and run a workshop with the GDG.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Ambassador

The story about The Ambassador begun already in January, when I was visiting the Swedish Embassy in Berne to apply for a new passport. At the passport desk there, I was received by Third Secretary Lena Calvo who, after noticing that the passport I already had would remain valid for another full year, inquired about why I felt the need to apply for a new passport already. The answer, that I needed a new passport with more blank pages to have enough space for all the visas I was going to apply for, sparked her curiosity and we came to talk about the Ambulance To Mongolia project. Upon hearing that we would be driving through Georgia, she happily exclaimed “Oh! How wonderful! Do you know Diana Janse?”, to which the only possible response was that I didn’t know anyone at all in Georgia, which was quickly resolved by a “But then you must learn to know her!”.

Diana Janse turned out to be the Swedish ambassador to Georgia, working at the Swedish Embassy in Tbilisi, and also being a bit famous in Sweden for having written the book En del av mitt hjärta lämnar jag kvar about her experiences working as the representative of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Afghanistan, which when published two years ago received rave reviews in major Swedish newspapers (DN, SvD).

So I sent an e-mail to the ambassador, introduced myself, summarized how I had been referred to her by the third secretary, and told about our plans for Ambulance To Mongolia, asking if she would have time to receive us when we came to Tbilisi. (I also ordered the book from an on-line bookshop in Sweden.) The reply to my e-mail turned out to be wonderfully friendly (and the book turned out to be a both enlightening and entertaining read). So yesterday we drove the ambulance to the embassy quarters of Tbilisi to meet the ambassador:

Ambassador Diana Janse

Sadly for her, but exceptionally good for our photo-op, the ambassador had just broken her leg two weeks ago but was despite this in very good spirits and agreed to pose with casted leg in our ambulance. How lovely! She received us for a full hour at the embassy and explained a wealth of interesting things about Georgia and the world to us, gave good advice for the rest of our journey, and took great interest in our ambulance and journey across Central Asia. Thank you!

Thomas, the politician in our team, was deeply impressed when she explained how the current Georgian government had managed to reform the police force into the second most trusted institution, after the orthodox church, in current Georgian society and the new initiative to build justice halls, centralized offices of bureaucracy where citizens should be able to apply for all sorts of documents and permits (from getting drivers’ licenses to registering businesses) all in one single and easily accessible place.

Team Ambulance To Mongolia with The Ambassador

Monday, July 23, 2012

Joseph Stalin

As sad as this connection might be for the Georgian people, there is no coming around the fact that the man who once was known as Koba to his friends, who became known and feared as Joseph Stalin to the world, was born and raised as Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili in the town of Gori. This quiet and beautiful town is situated right along the major road that leads from the Georgian Black Sea coast to the capital of Tbilisi, so today we made a stop on our way to see the human origins of this man who became a monster.

An old propaganda statue of Stalin.

Looking out over the rolling hills surrounding the town and savouring its quiet rural charm, it’s hard to imagine anything evil ever coming from here. But then, of course, the time of his youth was a very different and more violent time.

The town itself is ancient, and has over the centuries played important roles in Georgian history, so from Georgia itself the town attracts tourists who would rather like to forget the reason for the town also attracting foreigners today. During the Soviet era, a museum was built around the birthplace of Stalin — in the classical communist propaganda tradition, that cannot feel any limits or embarrassments when celebrating the proclaimed glory of their great leaders. Despite several waves of de-Stalinization and anti-communist reforms, the museum still stands and is still open to the public; today, however, there are three large banners in Georgian, Russian and English declaring that:

This museum is a typical example of Soviet propaganda and falsification of history. Throughout various stages of Soviet history, the expositions were modified or refocused, but the objective of this museum stayed unchanged — to legitimize the bloodiest regime in history.

Thomas, Fredrik and Audun studying a propaganda painting.

Just after parking the ambulance, I hear a voice behind me shouting out Svensker på reise? (Norwegian: “Swedes on journey?”): A couple from Norway, Audun from Arendal and Justyna, his girlfriend, originally from Kędzierzyn-Koźle in Poland, had just also arrived in Gori in a Lada Niva they had rented in Armenia to drive along the Caucasus. Great rejoicing in meeting fellow travellers and speaking Norwegian in this remote and exotic place. Together, we all entered the Stalin museum where an English speaking guide gave us the grand tour of this surreal and truly disturbing place.

Wine covered backyard in central Gori.

Walking out of the museum and seeing the sun-drenched old stone houses, shadowed by vines, along the dusty summer streets, lined with plane and larch trees, was one of these moments that just doesn’t make any sense. Now I’m typing this while sitting at a massive wooden table in the cool dining room of a rustic local restaurant, waiting for grilled meats, livers and potatoes. In the afternoon, I’ll take over the driver’s seat to navigate through the Tbilisi city traffic …

Georgia — Love at First Sight

This morning we woke up in Samsun (where we had arrived last night, checked into the nice Otel Divan a block away from the beautiful mosque in the city center, eaten some delightful kebabs and rounded off the evening with Turkish coffee and conversation with Otkan, engineering student at the local university with some knowledge of English, who’s relatives ran the eatery).

After the typical Turkish hotel breakfast (gotta love it; hard to fail with olives, cheese and tea) we set a straight course eastwards. We had heard evil rumors about the road quality in eastern Turkey, but the road from Samsun up to the Georgian border at Sarpi turned out to be in absolutely excellent condition and on top of that, maybe thanks to the auspicious combination of both Sunday and Ramadan, there was remarkably little traffic. So we made good way, squeezed in a lunch stop with the Turkish grilled meats we enjoy so much, and arrived at the border crossing already in the afternoon. At the border, we caught up with the unidentified British team in a Nissan Micra who (beautifully coincidentally) ended up being the car right in front of us in the line waiting to be allowed to cross the border. Our paperwork did, however, take longer than theirs so they drove off into Georgia before we got a chance to find out who they were. (To the unidentified British team: If you read this, please send us a message.)

At the border crossing, the Turkish emigration officers were both friendly and funny, asking curious questions about our ambulance and the Mongol Rally. Their counterparts on the other side of the border, the Georgian immigration officers, were equally friendly and funny (making jokes about other teams in the rally not standing a chance) and at the same time showed an impressive thoroughness and professionalism in how they handled our paperwork. All in all, it took quite some time before all vehicle documents were read and verified, all team members photographed, all passports stamped, etc., etc., but none of the horror stories we’d previously heard about this border crossing turned out to be applicable to us.

With a smile and a wave we were thus allowed to drive into Georgia. For many years now, I have longed to visit this country; it’s name bringing images of lush mountain slopes, dotted with rich vineyards and ancient monasteries, to my mind; and there was no disappointment. Already directly at the border, the mountain slopes throwing themselves into the Black Sea provided a scenery that I can best describe as trying to imagine Lago di Como but enlarged ten times.

Shortly thereafter, on our way northwards along the coast, we drove through the city of Batumi, an almost surreal display of the new-found wealth of modern Georgia. Here old Soviet era cars, side-by-side with ridiculously expensive brand new imported cars, drove past not only innumerable herds of cows roaming the streets but also absolutely incredible recently finished and construction sites of modern architecture. The contrasts were beyond belief. To bring back my old images of Georgia, we did however not have to do more than exiting the city on the road northwards to see the first vines growing on the mountain slopes and the first monastery perched at a mountain top. Driving further north, we also passed by the ruins of Petra (but unfortunately, one major limitation of travelling like this is that it’s impossible to stay and visit every interesting place along the way).

Tonight’s rest we’re spending in Kutaisi, at the Old Town hotel where we checked into a penthouse suite that’s probably likely to make all other Mongol Rally participants resent us forever. To get something to eat and drink after a long day of travelling and before going to sleep, we went down around the corner of the hotel, where we met Sergio; cook, historian, political commentator, rock music connoisseur, father and all-around great guy; born and raised in Georgia by a Georgian father and a Bulgarian mother, with a history all over the western half the former Soviet Union but also working as a cook in Georgian restaurants in London. He cooked us some excellent food of his own recipes, and gave us the crash course on Georgian language, Georgian history, the importance of rock music, and the Russian expression Идиотский велосипед, apparently immensely useful in describing Georgian politics.

In the photo: Sergio and Rico. Not in the photo: Liberal amounts of Georgian beer.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue driving eastwards, visiting the birthplace of იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი on the way and then finally reaching Tbilisi.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Today, we woke up in Asia

Approved and ready to go.

I’m now writing this sitting in the patient-care compartment of our ambulance, speeding eastwards along the Turkish state road D100, with Thomas as the driver and Rico as the co-driver, making this not only the first blog post since we left Zürich but also the first blog post actually written in the ambulance and on the road.

We got started six days ago, last Sunday morning, driving northwards from Switzerland up through Germany. (We have a SPOT connect in the car, so you can track our movements in “near real-time” on our SPOT Shared Page.) The first and second night’s rest was then at Klenová Castle in Bohemia, where The Adventurists organized the official European mainland start of the Mongol Rally; the Festival of Slow and Czechout Party.

Arriving in the Bohemian country-side, late at night in heavy rain with loads of road-work detours, was a truly wonderful feeling. After months and months of preparation, we were finally on the road and on the way to Mongolia. Just when we arrived at the camp site below the castle, the rain almost stopped and we lit up our first set of victory cigars to celebrate that we had achieved more than most people who ever talk about driving the Mongol Rally: We had actually made it to the start.

Proud to have made it to the starting line.

We were among the earlier to arrive in Bohemia and now had ample time to walk around and learn to know the other participants. We are 10 ambulances in total driving the rally this year and we parked next to an enormous white/green Renault ambulance from Valencia, driven by team Injection Family. They actually are a real family, two brothers with mother and father enrolled in the rally, and their story was that the brothers Andrés and Sergio had been talking about driving the Mongol Rally for a long time but that the parents had been disapproving of these plans, so in the end they said something along the lines of “if you won’t let us drive there alone, then you’ll be coming with us” and such they went. Mother Amparo was incredibly hospitable and immediately pushed big cups of sweet strong Spanish liquor in our hands, while proudly showing off their pantry fully stocked with good Spanish sausages and ham. The Valencia boys will be eating mother’s home cooking all the way to Ulan Bator.

There were too many teams with stories worth telling to list them all here, so instead I’ll just mention the American-built Dutch ambulance of team Mr. Ongol, the friendly Belgians of team The Inglorious Drivers, the friendly New Yorkers of team Khan-Tiki Tours, the devil-may-care British paraplegics of team Wheelie Wanderers, and the incredibly awesome American-built Norwegian 1962 Oldtimer Fire Truck of team The Mongolympians.

Tuesday morning we got up while most of the camp was still sleeping, put some cards with good bye and good luck notes on the vehicles of some of our new-found friends, and headed south. Our first goal then being to get away from the close-to-home countries and into Turkey as swiftly as possible.

After staying the night first in Budapest and then in Niš, we arrived in Istanbul at Thursday night and set out to find the Sumo Cat Hostel, a nice hostel owned by a friend of a friend of mine in the ancient Galata neighbourhood of The City. Finding the way from the motorway to the city center was surprisingly easy for being in such a big city (and remarkably easier than doing the corresponding thing in Paris), but navigating the steep and narrow ancient one-way streets of Galata (especially in a 6 m long and 2½ tonnes heavy ambulance) turned out to be an exercise that would make driving through the Quartier latin in comparison seem like a suitable warm-up exercise for a first-time driver. But after just about one hour of concentrated effort, we were able to park the ambulance in the correct parking spot next to the correct hostel, without any greater casualty than a heavy concrete flower pot now being striped in Volvo ambulance yellow (and the ambulance therefore now being correspondingly less yellow) after I moved it around while trying to turn a narrow corner without harming either of the two taxi cabs also clogging the intersection at the same time.

The flower pot of doom.

It was now late at night, and we set out to find some food (a task which is always greatly rewarded in Istanbul). We got unexpected help from a Kurdish man who spoke passable Dutch, after having unsuccessfully tried to emigrate to the Netherlands, and conversed with him and his friends while eating some absolutely excellent kebabs at a small table in a small side-street. We had previously been warned that the motorway bridges across the Bosphorus would be exceptionally clogged with traffic nowadays, because of the disruptions caused by the construction works of the Marmaray tunnel nearing completion, and our new-found friends could confirm this being true and recommended that we heeded the advice to drive across the bridge at night, to not unnecessarily waste time on being stuck for hours in traffic jams.

So we made Friday a half-day rest, going shopping, getting haircuts and shaves, going to hamam, and rounding off with another nice dinner. Then at night, we drove across the Bosphorus on the impressive Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, upon which traffic at this time still was heavy but never came to a standstill. After so getting out of the Istanbul metropolitan area, we then spent the night at a road-side hotel in Sakarya from where we then started driving this morning.

Today, we’ve encountered two other Mongol Rally cars on the road, first overtaking team ! 3, 2, 1 Hasselhoff ! and then getting overtaken by an unidentified British team in a Nissan Micra (driving at a speed which no Nissan Micra could even dream of achieving the way it left the factory). Tonight’s goal is to reach Samsun.

We are now driving eastwards through Asia, and our journey has begun for real.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Absolut Radio

Starting today, German radio station Absolut Radio publishes the running story of our adventures on the way to Mongolia, in German, on their web site and in their broadcasts:

Tell all your German friends!

Volvo Superpowers

We’ve now just picked up our ambulance again from the Volvo garage, and the boys there had truly worked their magic! And, as a personal gift, they’ve even fixed the AC! When we’re luxuriating in cool air in the middle of a Central Asian desert, we’ll be sending grateful thoughts to the boys in blue in Effretikon.

On the more serious side, they’ve done a full vehicle service, refilled fluids and replaced consumables, tested lights and brakes, and fitted it with enormous Volvo stickers front and back. The ambulance truly has got superpowers now.

Tomorrow, Thomas will come down from Norway and on Sunday morning we’ll start driving. Stay tuned. And do like Volvo, donate.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Before leaving on a 2 month journey towards Mongolia, it’s good to have a list of things that need to be done before you turn your back on your home and head towards the unknown. Here’s an excerpt from mine:
  • Visas, Passport, and Letters of Invitation
    Yesterday a courier delivered a huge envelope containing my passport, which contains visas for Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia, and China. And today I got a PDF with the letter of invitation for Turkmenistan in my inbox. The visa for Azerbaijan we will have to get on the way in Tbilisi (Georgia).
  • The Car
    With Volvo as our sponsor, our ambulance will have superpowers and bring us to Mongolia without trouble. We have 7 spare tyres, tools, two repair manuals, and large amounts of duct tape. We also have various required and optional but recommended paperwork such as the Carnet de Passages, the International Motor Insurance Card, registration certificates, and even parking permits.
  • Camping Equipment
    It’s quite unlikely that we’ll find hotels everywhere, therefore we also bring a tent, mattresses, sleeping bags, a petrol cooker, a water filter to make drinking water, chairs and a table. Not to forget Fredrik’s awesome 12 V DC coffee machine.
  • Vaccinations and Pharmaceuticals
    It seems our route goes through areas infested with all kinds of scary diseases, including malaria, dengue fever, polio, tick-borne encephalitis, and typhoid. Last week, I went to the Travel Clinic at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at Zürich University, and got vaccinations for “everything”. They had to append yet another page to my vaccination certificate. There are no vaccinations for malaria and dengue fever, though. For the former, we have medication to treat it, for the latter we can only hope that the insect repellent is strong enough. We also have a big box containing everything ranging from cough syrup to antibiotics.
  • Insurance
    I double checked that my Rega membership is still valid. For a mere 30 CHF per year, this awesome organization will come and fly you out of any remote place in the world should you become sick or injured. We also have a SPOT connect, which has an S.O.S button that will send our cries for help over satellite should we get into trouble.
  • Mail, Bills, Plants, and Pets
    I have no pets, and my plants already died during my last trip. This reduces the problem to finding somebody to take care of my mail, scan the bills, and email them to me so I can pay them via internet banking (thanks, Dave!). Getting my mail re-routed for two months turned out to be simple, but also ridiculously expensive. It set me back almost the equivalent of 100 USD.
  • Camera
    I got my camera and lenses serviced at Nikon (and, boy, did they have a lot to fix), and I also got myself a MacBook Air to have decent image processing capabilities en route. I rehearsed uploading pictures over crappy internet connections during the last weeks. With little success, but I’m getting better at it every time. You can look forward to lots of great pictures!
  • Copies
    I made several photocopies of all important documents (passport, visas, letters of invitation, insurance, etc.). 
    We’re still working on getting Russian translations for the most important documents. I also uploaded scans of all these documents to various places so I could print them should I loose both the original and the photocopy.
  • Announce your Leave
    It’s surprising how many people still haven’t noticed what I’m up to. I frequently hear sentences like “You’re leaving for how long? To Mongolia? You mean, all the way?”. There were quite a few ad-hoc goodbye parties (“come on everyone, last chance to drink beer with Rico”). One of the most joyful moments was enabling the e-mail autoreply at work, stating that I’m out-of-office for two months.
There’s obviously a lot more than this, but nothing that couldn’t be sorted out on the way.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Yesterday’s Bureaucratic Emergency

International Motor Insurance Card

Several weeks ago, I ordered an international motor insurance card (absolutely essential for driving through such countries as for example the Russian Federation) from Volvia Insurance, who has the ambulance insured.

Two days ago, I realized that it had been too long without these documents ever appearing. Yesterday, I spent some hours on the phone and found out that something was truly wrong.

Volvia did indeed attempt sending the insurance card already several weeks ago, but for unexplainable reasons it got stuck in their own internal bureaucracy which got utterly confused by the fact that the address I had entered while filling out the form to request the insurance card (which happens to be my legal permanent residence address, properly registered with the Swedish civil registry, etc., etc.) wasn’t the same address that they had recorded in their systems since I lived in Stockholm 5½ years ago.

This made the internal bureaucracy implode, and resulted in them deciding that I must have moved recently (ironic, since I myself have never before lived so long at the one and same address as the past 3½ years I’ve lived where I live now), re-registering me at my brother’s address, which is in Sweden (as opposed to my address, which is in Switzerland).

Thanks to this, we suddenly got much cheaper insurance, even including a homeowner discount on the grounds of my brother being a homeowner. (Being an honest man, I pointed out that I didn’t deserve this discount, but got the answer that it wasn’t decided by where I actually live but to where they send the documents …)

They also think that they eventually sent the requested insurance card to my brother’s address as well, so I called my brother to ask whether he had gotten an unexpected letter from my insurance company.

He had just opened such a letter fifteen minutes earlier! Joy! To speed things up, he immediately put the letter in his scanner and e-mailed me a copy. End of joy. This was no international motor insurance card, but just a normal letter of insurance (which I don’t need, and already have anyway).

Making yet another call to the insurance company, I eventually came to talk with a woman who came up with the marvellous idea of creating a new insurance card, again, and then mailing it directly to my actual address in Switzerland.

Despite the fact that such a letter won’t necessarily arrive in time, this was probably the best idea I’ve heard all day!

Today an envelope arrived in my mailbox, with my brother’s handwriting on it. Guess what it contained? The international motor insurance card! It had been delivered to him sometime last week, and having no idea what it was he had just forwarded it to me. So when we spoke yesterday, he had no idea that this envelope was still travelling through Europe but actually contained the documents I was now waiting for the insurance company to send to him and that the letter he had received on that same day just was paper noise.

All well that ends well. One problem less to solve before departure.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Main Sponsor: Volvo Switzerland

Main Sponsor of Ambulance To MongoliaVolvo Switzerland

It took many months to finally manage to get in touch with the right people to talk to, but today we had a long and fruitful meeting with Volvo Switzerland. The representative from their PR team, Alain Juon, was wonderfully friendly, and I believe that the deal was sealed when we told The Story about how my acquaintance the ambulance driver advised us that a Volvo 965 ambulance in his opinion was the most likely vehicle to both get us all the way to Mongolia and then also remain useful there for years to come. I can hardly think of a better way to reinforce the image of Volvo cars as being utterly reliable and nearly indestructible.

Volvo’s first action as our now official Main Sponsor was to book a time slot tomorrow afternoon in their own garage to give our ambulance a full service work-over, preparing it in every possible way for the 20,000 km journey ahead. (If you ever owned any car yourself, you’re probably used to your garage booking you a time slot sometime next month, if you’re lucky when you call them. Apparently it’s quite different when the call comes from headquarters.) We know that the ambulance is in good shape already, so this overhaul will probably give it superpowers enough to defeat such obstacles on the way as the ferry across the Caspian Sea, the altitudes of the Pamir Mountains and the vastness of Siberia.

Our Volvo 965 ambulance, the HMS Dreadnought