The Fifth Week
Monday, August 15th: We're not stoked on this part of Kazakhstan (sorry Borat) and in light of the possibility of NO MONGOLIA we decide to detour to Kyrgyzstan! There are lakes in the north that we've heard are incredible so we head that way to see what's up and buy ourselves some time while the Mongolia thing gets worked out by the Adventurists. We're pleasantly shocked that they're actually DOING something.
FIRST POLICE BRIBE! Both cars get flagged to pull over. Bri is driving Babs and Tabitha is driving Fordnando. We are asked for passports (we only give photocopies, thanks) and "machina passport" (machina is the Russian word for "car").
The site where we did NOT pay a bribe. HA! Photo: Blackstone Photography
They took the copies of our passports to their police car and gestured for us to go to the passenger window. Two cops were in the front, and a plain clothes dude in the back. Which was my first clue that something was off.
The dude in the back communicated through gestures that we were speeding and we had to pay them $100. Never pay a ticket on the spot. Make them write an actual ticket. We kept shrugging and saying we didn't understand. At one point I pantomimed writing a ticket but the plain clothes guy said, "100 Benjamin Franklin!" Bri shrugged and shook her head confusedly while I looked at her laughing and said, "Benjamin Franklin??"
Eventually they got tired of trying to tell these stupid American girls what they wanted, and assumed that we were too dumb so they sent us on our way. As we turned and walked away we could hear them mocking us in high pitched voices! Joke's on you, douchebags, we knew exactly what you wanted and there's no way we're paying your bribe.
Other than that it's kind of a boring day. We basically just drive and survive the roads. We get supplies from a town and wild camp basically IN a gravel pit. You can't make sense of some of our decisions on this point. Brianna and Alice make us delicious dinner, we share a few really weak beers, and the night sky is simply gorgeous. Our energy has slowed down and we enjoy an early night.
Look at our Stingray from Tentsile! Favorite. Photo: Blackstone Photography
Tuesday, August 16th: We throw up our rock horns and say, "LATER KAZAKHSTAN" and cross into Kyrgyzstan which is better from the get-go! Alice had a pretend water-gun fight and got a Welcome Melon from the border guards. Obviously this country is awesome.
Roadside noodle break. One of 2,753. Photo: Blackstone Photography
We head into Bishkek for the night. We've been communicating with Team Keystone and 101 Damn-Nations but it sounds like they're going to just stop for dinner and we won't get to see them. So we leave our things at the hostel and head out to find the Indian food restaurant we heard about!
Alice, Bri, and Tabitha hang out there for several hours and LO AND BEHOLD look who shows up to hang out with us!! KEYSTONE AND DAMN-NATIONS!! YAY!! We're super excited about this! It's wonderfully revitalizing to see other teams and get a fresh set of people! Both teams decide they need a break and decide to stay the night and are down to party with us!
We're the ONLY people in the restaurant (thank everything) and it turned into a full fledged dance party on their strobe-light dance floor! The proprietor was very excited that we were there because it was India's Independence Day and he wanted to celebrate, too! The beers sometimes tasted like maybe there was also liquor in them, but nothing was confirmed.
We had a pretty great time...
Sugar and Spice Indian Restaurant will never be the same.
Wednesday, August 17th, 2016: Interhostel, the hostel we're staying at, is WONDERFUL. Ajara is our new friend; she works at the front desk and she's amazing. There's laundry available to us (which we desperately need to do) and we've heard that there's a REAL coffee shop just around the corner. Sierra Coffee: it's everything we hoped it would be! If you're ever in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan you must go. It's excellent. Overall, we just like Bishkek. It's such an interesting city. Despite the atrociously bad air quality, (you can FEEL the air in your lungs) we would all go back.
The cafe that changed our lives. Photo: Blackstone Photography
The sad part: we have to say good-bye to Keystone and Damn-Nations. They're heading off and we're staying the night to take care of things like laundry and hang-overs. We love you guys!!
Good-bye dear friends. (Yeah, for like a minutes, but we didn't know that at this point.)
The second sad part: there isn't room for us at Interhostel. BUT Ajara tells us we can all sleep in the common room for half the price and we're allowed to just take it over. YAY! Sounds like a decent plan right? Right, except then there's this reallllyyyyy awkward German/Australian guy who WON'T LEAVE. Like, we're obviously going to sleep here and are getting ready for bed and we won't budge. Finally, Megan puts on her teacher voice and straight kicked him out. Geez.
Thursday, August 18th: you may not believe this but we actually get on the road early to go back to Kazakhstan. WHY?! WHY would we go back there and skip the lakes!? Because we got some great news:
Mongolia is a go!! And at this point we just wanna get there! That means heading up to Russia and taking the roads there up and around China to the Mongolian border. Taking cars/Americans through China is extremely expensive.
WATERMELON CATASTROPHE! The best smelling road tragedy ever. Photo: Blackstone Photography
This time we get a MUCH better side of Kazakhstan and are actually really happy to be there. The skies and countryside are lovely. We drive A LOT. We listen to "Serial." We talk about catching up with Keystone and Damn-Nations, but we're too far behind. We admire the fluffy clouds. We chill.
Wild camping that night is pretty awesome despite the insane winds. And obviously we had a light bar rave inspired by Paula's favorite rally theme, "Hype" by Dizzee Rascal. Here's a video for you:
Friday, August 19th: Uh-oh! Alice has a lady infection! She's in INCREDIBLE pain, but we have to push through to a town to find a pharmacy, which we eventually do. Thankfully it's 2016 and Google translate provides us with the words we need and we're able to get Alice what she needs and push on to Astana. WHy are we pushing so hard for Astana? Because we're going to meet up with Keystone and Damn-Nations to convoy up through Russia into Mongolia!! Yay!
Here is a rough night. Paula, Alice, and Megan are staying at the super ritzy hotel where most of the teams are staying. Trying to be helpful, Paula and Alice book a hostel for Bri and Tabitha, but without talking to them about it. All is well and good until Bri and Tabitha get to the hostel and spend 30 minutes trying to check in because no one speaks English and the person who BOOKS the hostel is supposed to be there with them. ALSO, there's a 11 pm curfew or they get locked out. Um, it's already 9:30 pm and they haven't had dinner. They try to get over to where other people are eating, but the traffic to get around the block literally takes 30 minutes. It's now just after 10. They go to a restaurant that's actually really cool on the corner, but pace of dining is much slower in these countries and the chances of getting locked out before actually getting dinner are very high. Finally, they risk not having a place to stay and say SCREW IT to the hostel, and have a delicious meal!
They head over to the hotel where the other teams are staying because Megan has reported that BOWLING is happening. YES, BOWLING. In Kazakhstan! What!! And it's legit American bowling. And everyone is TERRIBLE at it.
Please note the scores. It's late in the game. Yeah. Photo: Blackstone Photography
There's also: TRAMPOLINES!! This is one of the MOST FUN NIGHTS ever! Check out what Megan made:
Saturday, August 20th: Today is the day that our convoy began! We're a giant team now! 4 American cars and 1 British. Good luck, Damn-Nations! Because we've learned long ago that the "loud and brassy" American stereotype is extremely true and very applicable to us. God save Alice.
Joe laying down the law that never actually happened. Photo: Tabitha
There are several things worth making note of on this day:
- Bri fixes Tabitha's pants that got ripped while bowling
- Tabitha makes a Mad Max worthy Lego motorcycle while riding with Frank of Keystone
- Megan causes a stampede of sheep during one stop
- Paula pulls off a dramatic skid-fall in a parking lot due to zero tread and loose gravel
- It's really cold
- Northern Kazakhstan is lovely, specifically the skies are breath-taking
- We decide to do a 12 hour drive straight through to the border and settle in for a long haul to Russia.
Sunday, August 21st:
4:00 am: convoy reaches the Russian border. Convoy is exhausted and can't fill out the paperwork correctly. It takes some people 6 tries. But all goes smoothly, if not quickly. We don't FINISH crossing until 5:30 am. Whoever decided this was a good idea was on drugs. Or at least feeling very well rested back at 4:00 PM.
Not sunset. DAWN, in Russia! Photo: Blackstone Photography
After crossing we put a safe distance between us and the border, find a spot to camp, and sleep from 6 am - 10 am. Turns out we're in a rest area-esque place that doubles as a garbage dump. Awesome. We realize: WE'RE IN RUSSIA!! It's very exciting!
Fields of Sunflowers to welcome us to Russia! Photo: Blackstone Photography
The countryside is so beautiful! They don't tell you how gorgeous Russia is between the Cold War and the evil of the USSR! We've noticed that Babs' suspension is riding pretty low and could use a boost as we head to Novosibirsk. Which we're pretty sure means "New Siberia." Because yes, we're in Siberia.
We arrive in Novosibirsk in the wee hours of the morning. Which turns out to be even wee-er than we though because the month before they joined an adjoining time zone and we lost an hour. Well crap. But, too bad, we've got to get these cars looked at in the morning! What's another short night at this point?
Summary: the Mongol Rally is all about endurance and lack of sleep for us. Which we hate and yet refuse to come up with solutions for so it goes on.
We've learned that we LOVE the Russian countryside, their obsession with monuments is apparent, and traveling with a convoy means everything takes 5 times longer, but we wouldn't trade it because we love being with other teams! It's so much fun!
On to Mongolia! We're so close we can almost taste it!
WE'RE IN RUSSIA!!! Photo: Tabitha
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