The Second Week:
Monday, July 25th: We're in Turkey! Specifically....Istanbul! And while there are symptoms of the recent attempted coup the city is business as usual. We have met up with AydIn of Turkish Moon who will be showing us some of the finer things in Turkey. The team descended upon his home and family rather road weary and smelly, but their hospitality did much to improve our sad state.
There's a women's non-profit here called Mor Cati (pronounced "morechateh") that literally means, "Purple Shelter." We get to interview Hale about their mission to offer protection and education to abused women in Turkey. This project is inspiring and essential. We are all most impressed by their emphasis on educating women to choose what's best for them in the long run. That's empowerment!
After, we get a quick tour of the city and a lovely dinner on the water guest starring one of Brianna's friends, Sina, who is Iranian living in Istanbul. Her perspectives are fascinating and you better believe that's a whole post just waiting to be written when we get home! PS: Istanbul dates back to 8,000 BC. What even.
Tuesday, July 26th: And we're off to Cappadocia! There are gorgeous stops along our way; truly we are in love with the beauty of Turkey and it's ancient culture. There's a lot of driving, an incident where Alice and Tabitha eat instant coffee and immediately regret their life choices, and a delightful moment with a tiny puppy named Poffy. We find what might be THE COOLEST hostel ever in Cappadocia, Happydocia! Ha!! It's excellent and I highly recommend it! Dinner in this ancient city is inside of a building carved into the rock and we fall into bed exhausted, but excited to watch the hot air balloons in the morning....
Wednesday, July 27th: Life achievement unlocked! We witnessed the dawn launch of the hot air balloons and their fantastical ascent through the canyons! It was absolutely magical. Megan made this video for you guys...
This whole day is actually pretty incredible. We head to the Black Sea to stay with AydIn's family on their farm. Our arrival there is, par for Team #WeLive, late. Their warm welcome made it completely worth it! Dinner and drinks with his brother, sister, and nephews showed us a glimpse into the warmth and hospitality of Turkey the way nothing else could have. We learned a traditional Turkish dance and, you guessed it, stayed up very late just enjoying these wonderful people. BUT GUESS WHAT, no alarm clocks in the morning! So we stumble to bed and sleep peacefully in the hills along the Black Sea.
Thursday, July 28th: Sleep! Sweet sleep! Tabitha is the last to get up to the embarrassing tune of 11:45 am. Today's goal is a mountain home tucked up in the high pastures of the mountains. It's a nice vacation from the heat that is sucking the life out of most of the team. There is so much beauty around us as we drive up and up and up and up watching the scene around us changing with every curve to higher altitude. When we arrive at the mountain house we are literally in a cloud. The fog surrounds us, but we can see other peaks dotted with homes so close to us, but divided by hundreds of feet of canyon. The music of cow bells ring like chimes all around us as they graze the lush grasses and there are no trees to interrupt the sound. Our walk that evening is like being on a different planet as we push through the fog to see glimpses of peaks all around us. Megan captured some epic moments that I cannot wait to share more of later. Turkey is many things and we're only seeing a fraction of it, but what we're seeing is capturing our hearts and imaginations.
We meet AydIn's neighbor who brings us milk that was inside a cow two hours earlier and it's incredibly delicious. That same neighbors loves Megan and slaps her cheek a little more exuberantly than we are used to in our culture. We ask her questions about being a Turkish woman and her comment is that it's just hard work to take care of the house, the animals, the husband, and the children. Some themes are common across cultures.
Friday, July 29th: breakfast! We're eating really well here, folks. Why? Because the food here is real. Not processed, modified, fortified, colored, and preserved. Just nutritious and we're loving it! It's Friday; a local market has taking place here every Friday for literally hundreds and hundreds of years. Literally. And it's charming. It's also eye opening. Grocery stores are sterile and misleading about where our food comes from. The cows we see might be for milk, but they also might be for dinner. The spices, breads, vegetables, nuts, cheeses, and delicacies that we see are unwrapped so you can see, touch, feel, smell and choose. No one is sick.
A young women and her mother stop Tabitha near a butcher shop with ribs hanging in the window, "Are you from Denmark?" They have lived there and their english is very good. Tabitha gets to talk to this young woman and discovers that she's 24, married, and living in Istanbul with her husband and the adorable baby girl sleeping in the pram at the moment. The young woman and her mother are happy to find out that Tabitha is married although they emphatically encourage her to have babies sooner than later because she's getting old. It's the first time the stark contrast of cultural expectations happens in real time.
We get to dance with a group of women and meet an 11 year old girl who is learning English. Her pronunciation is very good; she likes English class she says.
OUR FIRST CAR TROUBLE! This day is extremely eventful! After the market we make the descent back to the coast which is hard on our brakes. Fordnando the Fiesta is having issues so we find the "Brake Master" of Trabzon and hope it's an easy fix. It's just the hydraulic line and we're on the road in no time. But can we talk about how they serve lemonade to their patrons at this automotive shop? Yeah, step it up, USA.
We were going to a spa town in the hills, but found out everything was booked so AydIn called some friends while we're driving. Tabitha and Bri are following in Babs (the Yaris) and have no idea what's happening because our radios don't work - of course. So to them it just appears that we're driving farther and farther into the scary depths of uncharted territory until finally we stop behind what appears to be some sort of warehouse or storage building? I'm not saying they thought we were all about to be sold on the black market. BUT WHAT IS THIS? It's the friend of AydIn's boat house! We're all swept out of our cars and happily stationed at a table and provided food and beer! This night is unexpected, perfect, and a little bit magic. They take us out on the boat on the Black Sea and it's unreal. For the first time it feels like we've all arrived in the same place at the same time in the same emotional space. The five of us are sitting on this boat holding beers, smelling the sea, feeling the cool breeze, laughing, and marveling at what is provided to us. This is the Mongol Rally. This is Team #WeLive. This man also just happens to own a very nice hotel where he puts us up for the night with no charge. IS THIS REAL LIFE?! We're beyond thankful.
Saturday, July 30th: After our magical night we hit the road heading to Georgia. Our route includes more mountain passes, spectacular views, incredible diversity of scenery, a free lunch at a gas station restaurant, and coffee at a mountain house surrounded by a lightening storm. Never a dull moment. Also, Paula makes friends with some lovely cows. We finally get to the Georgian border; we've been told that at other crossings it was an excrutiating wait of hours and hours with disgruntled car searches. We find no line and appropriately happy border patrol who quickly search our cars with no real passion and send us on our way.
Entering Georgia there are several things happening in our cars. Brianna is VERY HAPPY because this is one of her favorite countries. Some of us are legitimately unprepared for the very third world feel of the immediate border towns, and AydIn crushed his finger in the driver's seat while trying to adjust. Then there's finding a place to sleep for the night where we almost end up at a Grandma's house on her floor, but in the end we split between two hotels and have a fabulous meal of beer and khinkali (the best dumplings you have ever had). The town is dark, the street dogs have adopted us and follow us every where, and we have no idea what we're looking at, but there seems to be an impressive castle looming over us. Also, there's chacha. Think moonshine made from grapes. It's no joke guys. Wheeeee!
Sunday July 31st: Paula, Megan, and Alice don't feel great in the belly. Tabitha is crying AGAIN this time because she loves the street dog and her phone died before she could get video of him. We have not had coffee, and we're not totally sure of our route for the day. Things get slightly better when we stop for coffee and find a market where we get fresh fruit and bread.
Off to Tblisi! GUYS, TBLISI IS THE BEST. We're in love with this city! So much so that we say SCREW IT we're staying here tonight!! We were "supposed" to get part way into Armenia in order to ensure our arrival at the Iranian border for our entrance on the 2nd. This is the Mongol Rally! We do what we want! So we stay in Tblisi and agree to just drive our brains out the next day! Alice has blogger friends who are currently in the city and they offer to put us up for the night. How spoiled are we?! Paula heads off to the mineral bath house, Brianna and Alice go explore the city, and Megan and Tabitha write this blog and prep images! It's our last day with AydIn...we've loved your company and your insight into your lovely country! You are an honorary member of the team!
It is EXTREMELY important that we get to the Iranian border by the evening of August 1st. As American and British citizens we are not allowed to enter the country without a babysitter. If we don't meet up with our guide and convoy at our set time and location we don't get in. And if we don't get in that means we have to go through Azerbaijan and we don't have the money for those Visas. So yeah, we have a long day of driving on Monday the first. BUT IT'S TOTALLY WORTH IT, TBLISI!!
Summary: We're less emotionally dilapidated this week than last, we love Turkey, and we're starting to understand how to do this rally as a large team. We caught our breath a little bit, but the break-neck pace to get to Iran is killing us. We truly had no idea how hard it would be to push these bitty cars across this much space. When we get home I am writing the Brief Guide to the Mongol Rally. (Tabitha)
Also, we have a major disclaimer for all of you: turns out it's impossible for us to post as much as we had originally thought, even WITH Skyroam. That means that many of the perks you all bought will be handled and posted in your honor upon our return. WE FEEL TERRIBLE about this, but it's reality in the chaos of the rally! Long days, no service, loads of driving, and short nights have translated to less opportunity to execute our tasks. Thank you so much for your understanding! We really will follow through when we get back.
Side note that is a contributing factor: technology has failed us. Almost every piece of equipment that Megan needs has fallen apart or just stopped working. Yeah. Mongol Rally.
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