Our budget for the Mongol Rally was so tight that we even resulted to sleeping in our car on the outskirts of Istanbul to avoid the expensive hostel fees. The concept of Friend Theory would have been the dream on an occasion like this 🙌
The Mongol Rally is a 15,000km Road race that commences from London, England and ends in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The requirements express that teams must hop aboard a “steed” containing power that does not exceed 1.2cc. Our chosen vehicle for the race, was a 2004, Kia Rio, that was slightly more powerful than the requirements at a mighty 1.3cc. We christened here “KIApatra” as she was a sexy piece of metal, yet was slight rough around the edges.
Planning for the Mongol Rally took a good year I would say. We planned everything down: sponsors, car parts, visas, fuel, route etc. Everything was organised for our departure, except one thing…. Accomodation. With the best will in the world, how could we know where the hell we would be every single night. This meant that during our time on the rally we really had to think on our feet and contact every man and their dog for a floor or dog bed to sleep in. The 4 of us were all University Students that were undertaking a mad challenge during our summer holidays and reading weeks which meant that our budget was pretty tight. We realistically knew, that as soon as we left Europe we were going to have to improvise and “ live off the land” essentially. By this I mean, we would spend a lot of time camping by lakes, rivers or main roads.
There are many stories of the locations we pitched our portable chalet, but I wouldn’t want to bore you all to death. However, during our time in Europe, rules and regulations were slightly tighter than the likes of outer Uzbekistan or Tajikistan. Therefore, we could not just pitch our tent in some famers field 100yards from the M1… This is where we had to pull strings and use all of our contacts. One of our first stops was in Germany, were we crashed at a old school friends house which was a life of luxury, if only we knew what we had to come. As we travelled further East, we stayed at friends in Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia. However, we did struggle from time to time to find someone we knew that would allow us to stay at their house and we had to fork out for a hostel and a safe parking space for KIApatra. This was a nightmare, as our budget was so tight, we even resulted to sleeping in KIApatra on the outskirts of Istanbul to avoid the expensive hostel fees. The concept of Friend Theory would have been the dream on an occasion like this. Not only would we generally get a free roof our heads, but we would be met by a local who would show us around the city we drove to and we would be given the full experience in the short time we stayed.
As we motored future and future east, like the 3 kings following the brightest star on the way to Bethlehem, we met some weird and wonderful people. Many of these people had absolutely nothing to give, yet they wanted to give us everything. They would insist that the 4 of us would come into their homes to show us around and introduces us to their family. Outside of europe, we could guarantee we would get pulled over at least 3 times a day and a family would give us some food. They often would ask us to stay with them and they were just so happy to feed us their local delicacies.
I remember one time in particular, a family stopped us to give us their “cows fermented milk.” Whether or not the milk came from a cow, I definitely do not want to know as it was probably the worst taste I’ve ever had on the palet of my tongue. I still to this day squirm when I smell gone off milk in the fridge. Imagine this smell, then times it by 1000 and you are close to the delicacy we had to consume. Although it was disgusting, we were in their “house” drinking something that they had produced and had limited supply off, and they just wanted to share it with us. These occasions really brought the whole experience back to reality as 4 guys had hopped in a car in central London and bymeans of only road, we had managed to end up here! Should I have any way of knowing where these families currently live now, I would 100% recommend their facilities to anyone. However, when travelling, you need people that you know and locals that are willing to show you around. But do not be fooled into thinking that these are the only people you will meet. You will make friends and stay in places you had no intention on meeting. You will also generate a memory of outrageous stories that only people you have shared that experience with will understand.
One time in particular, we were in Kyrgyzstan on a high mountain pass and it was “ absolutely pissing it down” which is and english expression meaning serious heavy rain. We were descending down a snaky gravelly track with limited visibility and enviable death on either side should we stray from the loose gravel. It was at this point, I thought it would be a great idea to slam KIApatra into 3rd, floor it and pull a “handy” around death corner. We drifted perfectly around the corner (so I recall) and in the process I punctured 3 of our 4 tyres. Fortunately we carried a whole set of spare tires, so that was not an issue, the problem, was we couldn’t jack the car up on the uneven surface. We were pretty much stranded and the sun had set a long time ago. It was at this point we decided to call it a night in the car and get some sleep and let us cross the dilemma we found ourselves in, in the morning. However, some locals came to our rescue and refused to let us take shelter in their car. They helped fix KIApatra in the pouring rain and insisted to follow them to their house for a nights rest and food. It is occasions like this, when we were really down and out, that the full force of the local community you enter into, comes to help. This particular person, I still have their phone number and send the odd text message too, and should they ever be in London, drinks will be on me!
As the miles went by, we crossed into Georgia, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan with only the gobi desert in-between us and the finish line. The nomadic community within Mongolia was one I had never experienced before. People literally pack up all of their belongings every month or so, and go to source new pastures. Their lives evolve around survival and everything they do is simply to provide for their family. Living on a shoestring could not be defined any more clearly than the nomads in Mongolia. They have no form of technology whatsoever and when we turned up with our iPhones and Ipads, I felt somewhat embarrassed. However, these people clearly had nothing, they just wanted to show us all they did have. We would be constantly be invited in their Yurts and they wanted to introduces to their families and let us ride their horses.
Getting out of Europe was were the real Mongol Rally began for me. It was a necessity and we really had to pull some strings to do it on the cheap, but as soon as we reached Georgia, we knew we were by ourselves. However, we made so many friends and kind people among the way, that I would recommend to anybody in a heart beat. Been able to aggregate all of these individuals onto one platform is a fantastic idea as it allows others to have a similar experience to what the 4 of us had.
The Mongol Rally was a success for us, because we planned planned and planned a little more. We got a boatload of sponsors who gave us money in return for media publicity. These sponsors subsided our costs and enabled 4 students to have the experience we had. We also pulled a lot of strings. the four of us asked everyone we knew who they knew that could help us among the way. This tedious process could have been a lot simpler on a platform such as friend theory. Finally, it was a success, because we were all so open minded. We were ready for the unexpected and welcomed it with open arms. At the end of day, we were 4 friends who bought a shit car, filled it with fuel and powered 1/3rd around the worlds surface. It was an experience that I will never forget and will tell my grand kids!
For anyone who is interested in the Mongol Rally, my advice for you is to do it. Because why wouldn’t you? When else are you going to be able to do something like this? If you plan, it won’t cost you much and I strongly suggest you get some friends together and get on the road.
We reached Unlaanbaatar 40days after setting off from London. Our car was an absolute train wreak and was neo impossible to drive. However, we still managed to flog it some Mongolian punters and our trip didn’t end there. After a good shower or two, we got on a plane to Beijing, but that is a story for another day.
If you have any questions about the rally, please do not hesitate to get in touch and I will chew your ear off with story after story. The Mongol Rally was a one in a lifetime trip and highly recommend.
Also, get in touch if anyone reading this needs a free place to stay in London, our sofa had 5* reviews on tripadvisor and boasts en-suite facilities. It has just been listed on Friend Theory for my friends of friends 😉
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