Deciding to do the Mongol Rally is easy. Doing the Mongol Rally is easy too. What comes in between is the hard part.
We had been discussing since June 2014 that we wanted to drive 15,000 km in a crappy car to Mongolia. We fostered a healthy dose of skepticism about whether or not we would follow through in the end. It was really in October 2014 that we realized this was happening when my partner and team mate to-be signed us up without consulting me and let me know that we were going. There was no going back, except if we wanted to lose the 550 GBP registration fee for the rally.
Our preparation started in February 2015 for a trip that wouldn’t start before July 19 that year. The truth is that no matter how early you start preparing, there will always be last minute things that happen to screw up your best laid plans. For example, the Kazakh embassy in Bonn, where you live, will suddenly and without announcement close for the summer, so you’ll have to make plans to apply for your visa in Frankfurt. Or that the Kazakh embassy will never pick up their phones or will promise to send you back your passport by post, but won’t. Or you’ll apply for your Mongolian visa well in advance, but receive it stamped for the wrong dates. So you’ll have to apply again. And when you do, the Mongolian embassy officials will be on holiday for the Naadaam Festival and unable to process your paperwork.
We were still somewhat green behind the ears back in February and therefore full of hope and optimism. We figured if we planned early enough, everything would work out on time, including the ten visas I needed to cross Europe and Central Asia into Mongolia. How naïve I was!
We were planning to travel to London on a Friday, prior to the start of the rally on Sunday, July 19. We expected to be at the starting line of the rally with all the other teams, and have amazing photos of us driving off into the horizon, ready to conquer the world. None of that happened. On the Friday we were supposed to leave I was still stuck in Bonn when the Kazakh embassy informed me they still had my passport and no, they were not going to be sending it back by post like they agreed to, and could I please come by in person on Monday to pick it up?
Given that I didn’t have my passport, there was no way I would be able to cross the English Channel. So instead of the adrenaline rush that I was expecting to feel, Friday night was spent wallowing in self-pity and eventually agreeing with our friend and co-driver Mikaela, who would join us part of the way, to meet in Frankfurt on the Sunday night – the same day everyone else would be leaving Goodwood Motor Circuit, where the rally kicks off. So we spent the weekend putting finishing touches on the car, and on Sunday afternoon after a big lunch at our favorite pizza place set off for Frankfurt. We met Mika there, who had graciously accepted our change in plans to not head West and instead go East, and camped out for the night at what would be one of the most comfortable camping grounds for days to come.
Frankfurt was not initially on our itinerary. But we were forced to go and pick up my passport. The idea was to go there on Monday morning, find that my visa and passport were ready, and then speed off to Berlin to get my Mongolian visa stamped. After that we’d try to catch up with the other teams in Prague, which was to be the next pit stop for everyone. It was a very ambitious plan, but as we would learn soon throughout the rally, embracing the uncertainty and rushing headlong into the unknown is a significant part of doing the Mongol Rally.
This post is the first of a series covering my trip across Central Asia in four weeks.