|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.