Well this will be my final post, as the adventure is now history.. if you are reading for the first time, scroll down to start at the beginning.. this will also likely be the shortest post, because I have been home for about a week now and there is so much to do, and so many people to catch up with, but I want to close out this blog for anyone who is still reading!
The taxi driver on the ride back from JFK airport complained about a stretch of road that didn’t have lines painted on it. I didn’t even bother to tell him what Brenton and I just drove thru.
Nobody stopped and searched me at the Rhode Island border, I was wearing my Spongebob underwear and everything..
But after all is said and done, I am proud to be an American, but I have absolutely no regrets about taking the time off and doing this adventure. Thanks to my family at home and my office staff for holding up the empire.. Brenton really pulled this whole thing off single handedly, I give him lots of credit. I told him that. I think most parents aim to make their children independent, but when they really are independent it’s bittersweet. Of course we had our moments too of nearly strangling each other over who hit the biggest pothole.. but not many parents can say they survived an adventure like this with their child, and the more I look back on it the more precious the experience becomes. Thank you again, Brenton.
As you can imagine the experiences we had and people we met in such a short period of time can never be duplicated. That brings to mind one funny incident that I think I failed to report, and I cannot even find the picture, but literally in the middle of some desert we stopped to let the overheated engine cool down, and over the hill here comes this guy and his dog on foot, leading a camel across the desert. The dog eventually came up to me, as many do because I probably smelled like a dog, and the guy calls off the dog in perfect English. Who would guess that he was from California, across the bay from Brenton’s undergraduate college, and for 2 months he’s been walking across the desert with his dog and camel.. Well the conversation didn’t last too long, probably because anyone walking across the desert with a dog and a camel for two months is not seeking out other people. but you just never know who you will run into at any time. And unfortunately many of the people I met, I will not likely see in person again, but it still feels good to know that if I were to make contact even 5 or 10 years down the bumpy road, I would be welcomed.. and vice versa.
Ok so that was my last story. If anyone reading this blog has contact with my old (very old..) English teachers, tell them to grade me. I thought my High school teacher (Mr. Rod) tried to fail me just to have a reason to kick me off his soccer team. But when the same thing happened in college I had to blame myself. So I never wrote an essay this long, but it’s been a pleasure, and thank you for reading!
Steven’s Blog August 3thru August 14
NOTE: The earlier blog posts disappeared for a while, something went wrong and when they fixed it many pictures were missing, and some text was duplicated. I will try to repost some of the lost pictures another time, but I will pick up here for the date starting August 3rd:
It’s been a few weeks now and I’m starting to lose track of all the places we’ve been, but I do remember as we left Kazakhstan someone wanted to buy our car, haha, I think he must have been half blind and no sense of smell. We continued thru and re-entered Russia, anxious to get thru Russia and to the next border with Mongolia, so we drove without procrastination, which is hard for me. Thru this leg of Russia the terrain turned mountainous, very scenic, Google maps led us astray and I don’t think we were lost but we got on a bad dirt road for some time, the bikes were falling off so we had to fix the bike rack. but we eventually caught up with the Bolivian team. Since the Mongolian border was still a few hours away we spent the night camping:
A nice cool evening. Brenton and one crazy Bolivian even swam in the river.. the river was cold enough to chill the wine and beer but that’s as close as I got to swimming. The next morning we got up early, I thought I smelled Starbucks, but it was Brenton making his coffee up on the hill.
We had a few moments to relax but the Red Army was on our heels, we and the Bolivian team made the mad dash for the Russia-Mongolia border. We heard they close at noon Saturday’s, but we were fine, just long waits. As we sat for 4 hours to exit Russia some young Siberian travelers invited the young ones in our caravan for coffee, I waited with the car so here is a boring border picture:
The Russians gave us a hard time leaving. One Bolivians almost wasn’t allowed out of Russia.. he is a nice guy but I’m not sure that is why they wanted to keep him. While one guard searched the car with Brenton, the other held me aside for questioning.. he said his mother was in the optical business.. I told him he had nice eyes.. he laughed and pointed for me to go.. first time I made a Russian laugh!
We waited just as long on the Mongolian side of the border to enter Mongolia.. they were just as inefficient but at least they were nicer.we confused them because our papers said two people in the car but they saw the pacifier I still had on the dashboard:
They started looking for a baby! Haha, she looked at our Mongol Rally sticker on the car, shook her head and we all laughed, she waved us on! Finally in Mongolia, the road turned to dirt..
We started seeing randomly placed white round structures, almost like a sturdy tent, that people live in. This is a nomadic population, and they move around with their farm animals to random areas. The tents are called yurts (I think).
The weather seems to have short bursts of rain on and off with little predictability. I caught this rainbow as we passed thru a village.. do you see the pot of gold? I think they could use it..
We are still in northern Mongolia which is mountainous, but we heard the roads were washed out so we will dip down to the Gobi desert. I love desert. First we spent the night with our Bolivian friends in this lakeside scenic spot:
The sun set as we cooked dinner. Brenton and I hiked up a small mountain the next morning, I was breathing heavy keeping up with him, either I was getting out of shape or it was the altitude! Nothing to do with my age. We started driving again, got our first flat tire!
Did you ever have the desire to stop at a Mongolian rest area? There is no McDonalds here but the drive thru option is still available:
Can you tell which door was men and which was for women? Probably a mute point, as I notice most people just walk around the back, or even just stand in the open..
In the desert we ran into the Swiss team, I was upset that all their chocolate had melted, It. Was obvious the Swiss were here for a while, the asphalt roads were like Swiss cheese with so many potholes. Now our caravan had three
Eventuallythe cheesy asphalt turned to bumpy dirt roads with so many side paths you never knew which direction you were going. If you were lucky enough to find a sign, what would you do here:
260 Kilometers of that and I was sweating but not carsick. Dust was everywhere. We had another flat tire. Then we stopped on a rock for lunch. I couldn’t figure out why, but my lunch tasted sandy:
The Swiss team even brought golf clubs. It was the perfect place to golf, there is no shame for getting your ball in the sand pit.. Brenton had a nice drive:
As we trekked thru the desert like nomads each vehicle had their issues. Our bike rack finally was destroyed from the bouncing. We stuffed the bikes in the car, and even tho it restricted the driver’s head movement you don’t have to keep your eye on the road because there is no road:
This is our view for 260kilometers.. I have video but can’t download it.
but we got to a paved road and the city of Bayankhongor, and the next day we will reach Ulanbaatar, the unofficial finish line, as it is the last big city in Mongolia. Brenton and I had our third flat tire in the desert, so by now we were good at replacing the tires. I teased him for bringing so many spares but we needed them! Maybe my mechanic Cindy at A-Quick Tires, in Wakefield, RI will let me work there on lunch hours.
As soon as we left Bayankhongor, the Bolivian car started to overheat, and I would normally say it was a damper on the start of the day but the auto repair shop was lots of fun! There were some kids there who lived in a yurt tent behind the repair shop and within a few minutes they started playing soccer with a wet; heavy ball. I told them I played for an Irish team back in USA, before long we were choosing sides using hand signals:. As usual I scored goals against my team but we still won
There was no cooler after the game, ice is a rarity around here.. I took a break to check on the car, everyone was standing around watching the mechanic:
Then the kid with the Miami Heat shirt came out with an under inflated basketball, and was using hand signals to choose teams,. It was the first time in my life I was picked first! the basket was a Home Depot bucket stuck behind 2 guy wires:
I’m going to post a few pictures here because the kids were so sweet, If they asked for money I would have been hurt but they never did. They were kids:
I dropped my shirt and the girl pictured above on the right folded it up before returning it to me. My own kids would have stepped on it and left it there, haha!
A smart kid, she pointed to my iPhone and I let her start playing with the photo gallery. With the other kids looking ove her shoulder she learned about my family, friends, and lifestyle in the USA. I hope she gets there some day. The kids favorites were pictures of my son Noah mooning the camera somewhere in Ireland, also Brenton rock climbing in New York State, and Melba piping in the back yard,,
Brenton showed fatherly tendencies and gave the kids piggyback rides..
He also took them for a ride in our car. But soon it was time to say goodbye:
The Swiss team had a Polaroid camera, (better than the one my aunt Fanny gave me for my bar mitzvah in 1970), and he used all his film giving pictures to the kids so they could keep them. A guaranteed lifetime memory for them to hang in their yurt..
I think I am Facebook friends with one of them but I cannot be sure. But in any case we had to drive on.. so about 10 hours later we arrived in Ulanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. A much bigger city and more westernized than we expected:
Brenton and I posed in the above picture in Genghis Kahn square.. A few years before I was born the ruler of the Mongolian Empire did mean things like rape and murder but had control over enormous territories. There are still countless memorials to him seen on roadsides, parks, mountaintops, almost everywhere! It’s nice to be popular, you can get away with a lot!
We enjoyed the city for a nite, entertained by the Swiss and Bolivian teams until the wee hours of the morning! Then they headed to the finish line over the Russian border, while we went camping in the National Forest. A beautiful park, we hiked a mountain.i only made it this far:
Brenton went higher:
Believe me, he is up there.
We were in bed by 9:00 that night, the lady from the campsite next to us helped us sleep with some Vodka.. It started raining really long and hard that night, the tarp we squeezed under was not keeping us dry, so at 2:50am we hurried into the car and figured we would start driving.. and we made it to the Russian-Mongolian border on our way to the Siberian town of UlanUde, Russia, where the official finish line is..
The Mongolian border guard was waiting for us as we left Mongolia, she knew all the cars in the Mongol Rally, and they want to make sure all the cars that entered the country are the same ones that leave, and with the same amount of passengers, otherwise $5,000.00 “tax”. We cannot even gift the car was away..
After leaving Mongolia and not knowing if I would ever return we had to enter Russia for the third and final time. Those pesky Russians give a hard time going in, and going out. We made it, this was our last border before the official finish line, which is is Ulan Ude, Russia. A part of Siberia.
The finish line in Ulan Ude closed at 6:00, we drove fast but got there at 6:06. So we waited to formally cross the finish line the next day. Our car was so tired, we had to pull it across with what was left of the bicycles:
Some locals also liked the finish line and wanted to exchange vows there:
What do two Rhode Islanders do when in Siberia? We went back to the finish line had an informal celebration with other teams. There was a party at a local pub and two people ended up like this:
I think this was the night we returned at sunrise.. There is not a lot of tourist things to do in Ulan Ude but I was still having fun. I know that as an American I was being spied on. It had nothing to do with a giant 50 foot sculpture of “Lenin’s Head” in the main square:
So since we had to be here for a few days wrapping things up with the car, we quietly escaped to the country, a huge lake, Lake Baikal, holds 23 percent of fresh water in the world. We camped, Brenton made a nice meal, it was I think the best campsite so far:
Before camping we had unloaded all equipment and belongings from the car, to prepare it for the train ride to ship it back. Customs does not allow any belongings in it. So on he way back from camping wouldn’t you know we had our 4th flat tire, and no tools to change it.. we did still have one under inflated spare. Oh well.. we flagged down some guy with his family in his back seat, he had all the tools, jacks, tire iron, air compressor, and we finished the journey back to Ulan Ude!
I ran into some colorfully dressed people in the square.
They asked me to hold their handbags while they celebrated their corporate holiday dance, which looked like the Israeli Hora dance going around in a circle and coming to the center.. I thought I was at a Bat-Mitzvah and I was looking for the food. They must have ate somewhere else. Maybe the corporation president was Jewish.
We later did some bowling with some other rallies, I was didn’t do well, I swear I saw potholes in the bowling lanes. A little pizza, beer, then we had to keep our appointment with the rail head the next day, to get our car on the train tracks. It was sad, all stripped down and empty.
But the train would come in October, bring it to Estonia, where it will be recycled into Pepsi cans.. we left it at the train station and took a bus back to the hostel. It was like breaking apart from an old girlfriend.. just walk away and don’t look back!
We’ll just relax at the hostel during the rest of the day and catch up on miscellaneous things like our flight back. More bowling tonight. Probably a few warm beers, and on the plane to Moscow, then Milan, then New York City.
The only souvenir I bought was some crazy Mongolian hat. I wanted a t-shirt with Russian alphabet words and I still couldn’t find anything. New York City was the most popular T-shirt, like I want to buy that in Siberia. I will go home and order a T-shirt on line.. design it myself!
..that’s all for now, I will keep you posted on the return home..
Steven’s Blog entry for July 13 thru 19.. it’s long because this is the first time I wrote, you don’t have to read it all..I’m not sure if I wrote it for me or for you.. scroll down..
Time is flying by quicker than a jet plane, since I found a ride to Rhode Island International airport from North Kingstown, RI and hopped on a plane to London, England on July 13..
My son Brenton picked me up in the London airport with the second smallest car I ever rode in.. with all the modifications he personally added, such as wooden roof rack, spot light, under-carriage shield and lots of spare parts.. he was very busy and put lots of time in, during the few weeks before the rally, to make this trip happen. All I did to the car was to scratch my initials into the rooftop. How did a procrastinating sloth like myself raise such a practical, quick thinking young man. I’ll credit his mother (Hinda).
So anyways.. I looked under the hood and the engine looked like it belonged on a motorcycle.. but I stepped inside and the trip began.. Our first night in Brussels, stayed in a hostel that was hotter than a Brussel sprout boiling in water. I replenished body fluid the next day with plenty of Belgian lager.. we had a tasty Belgian waffle and a grand tour of the city from Brenton’s f,riend Giulia.. before we left though we discovered that a friendly welcoming committee tried to cut our bikes loose from the vehicle, fortunately they failed.. Smart Belgians though, they chose the bikes over the car!
So after Brussels we were off to the Netherlands. We went to a small town in the countryside to visit another friend of Brenton’s who built a solar home along side his in a recent competition. The Netherlands friend Jesse Fredrick’s, and his family, in fact even the neighborhood, was quite receptive to us. The countryside is quite beautiful in the Netherlands, lots of level land and bike paths, and the people are just as beautiful. We were only here a short while and had all good intentions to bike through the countryside, but chose to blend with the citizens of Lopik at a neighborhood barbecue:
It got late quick, the food was great, the Fredricks gave us a real bed. I snored immediately until 5:00 am when I woke with a hazy fog in my vision as if I was still in London.. but Jesse got up to give us baked goods and breakfast, totally overboard of him, he also gave us some stickers that had a self portrait of him that we stuck on our car.. and other cars later.. as we headed off to the Czech Republic.. with Jesse glued to the stick shift (image below):
We had to cut through Germany in a mad rush to get to the Mongol Rally launch party and registration, near Prague, by 6:00pm. Google said it was supposed to be an eight hour drive but it took us eleven hours. That’s because our car rarely gets over 100 km/hr (65 mph), and with no speed limit some cars passed us at easily twice our speed. We were so afraid to change lanes that we didn’t even stop for Wiener schnitzel in one of the cute villages that dot the rolling countryside. I was happy when we passed 2 vehicles (I think they were both broken down), and I saw enough BMW’s to last a lifetime!
We made it to Prague for Mongol Rally registration about 20 minutes before registration closed.. plenty of time to spare in my book. We were about the 350th team to arrive out of 400, so the party was starting to rage:
Yes, we have rattled our way into Mongolia!!! 8 hours of stubborn determination and sharing laughs with fellow ralliers (who slowly trickled in over the morning) and we were gracefully allowed to cross the border. It feels pretty unreal, and I have no idea how I am going to go back to driving in the USA after this wonderful "make your own road" mentality....
We rolled into Altai today after two days of absorbing the expansive beauty of Mongolia. Adding the "Swiss Express", our convoy grows to three, and tomorrow we were graciously invited to follow a 4x4 expert driver through the tricky to navigate northern gobi desert tomorrow. Wish us luck!
July 26 thru August 2, Steven’s entry.. probably somewhat lengthy but read what you want..
We are leaving the Russian city Samara, lots of driving because Russia is immensely huge. I know you have all seen Russia on a map, but maps are wrong. Russia is bigger than it appears on a map. I know why Napoleon failed here, He too mis-judged the size. Some cities seem modern, other cities in Russia seem outdated and dirty.. Lots of apparently hard working people that need a vacation, so when they see two Americans touring their country they talk loud at you and don’t sound friendly.. I will try to learn their alphabet, and Brenton picked up a few words so that helps. We like to say thank-you in Russian because the phonetic pronunciation sounds like we are saying “spicy-butt”... haha at least we can laugh as we race to the border.
I said earlier the car was running a bit off normal, Brenton and I were both somewhat concerned, who wants to get stuck in Russia? Winters are hard here.. Someone stopped while we were pulled over checking on the noise and we thought they were going to help us but he just wanted a selfie with the Americans and then got back in his car! I texted my friend Dave and he agreed it was bad gas. I’m not sure Brenton believed me until we finished the bad gas and refilled, then the car ran great again. It didn’t help that I ran over a cinder block (low speed) and it wedged in the wheel well. Brenton looked at me like “why did I bring him again?” but we got going again..
On our way to the Russia-Kazakhstan border we spent a night in the woods behind a picnic area, it may also have been a high school party place or “parking” area for dates, because there were a lot of kids showing up. so we drank some wine and sat close together cooking in the parking area, trying to blend in. I didn’t take a picture of the sleeping quarters because there was lots of trash on the ground, which seems commonplace at resting areas and public parks.
Regarding the excessive trash, I don’t want to say bad things about *ussia since another driving team was stopped at the border and one of their members was refused entry. The team thinks customs checked their Facebook page and did not see nice comments about Russia.. Call the White House.. the Russians are not just spying on Trump..
We finally reached the Kazakhstan border.. Before this trip I never knew the country existed, but they gained independence from USSR back in 1919. We are crossing the border, I snapped a picture because they told us no pictures:
We drove a few hours to the Kazakhstan city of Kostanay. A funny thing happened. We always go to an ATM to get cash in the new countries currency, which We did. Brenton walked around the corner to the ATM and Came back some motorcycle gang member who was very protective.. before long we were following this guy to his friends house and we would stay there. I wasn’t sure if I should consider us lucky or stupid, but in any case when we arrived there was a party starting, and I felt lucky..
Almost Immediately this guy we called “Chief” starts pulling me into a building and trying to rip my shirt off.. Yelling the words Russian Bani(?sp)” I soon discovered I was getting a Russian Sauna. I had to lie down in the sauna so as not to offend him. He sticks this branch into hot water and slaps you on the back and your legs and bottom of feet, you roll over then he does the front. He let me keep my pants on.. I thought this was the part where they tie me up and take my passport.. they made me cool off in the river but it felt nice even tho I hate to get wet..
Brenton went next, and then it was a sit down meal with vodka, beer, meat, veggies, and lots of fun trying to communicate with broken English and hand signals. There were several toasts, they could have been saying “screw those Americans from New York and rob them blind”, but we didn’t care at that point. I thought I took pictures but something happened to them. As the night went on the guests disappeared, one was sent in a taxi because he couldn’t stand, Brenton and I slept in their back yard . The next day we hung around to drink more beer..
We swam in the river, they fed us barbecue, and we went to dinner with them and other bikers at a Uzbekistan restaurant! We took our bicycles because the souped up minivan they had was so full. Brenton popped a tire on the ride to the restaurant, not far from a tire repair store. There are tire repair garages every kilometer around here, but the guy wouldn’t fix the bike tire because we didn’t have a wrench to remove the tire from the bike, and the repairman didn’t want to give us his wrench! Well as luck would have it our guide who we were following to the restaurant flagged down a car, and the driver had a socket wrench.. we were back in business, the tire was fixed, the motorcycle group had dinner ordered for us, we ate, went back to their bike hangout garage:
And we drank beer while they rode. Their motorbikes had larger engines than our car. The garage had a really cool old Russian limousine being refurbished. I could imagine Stalin sporting around in it. After this little board meeting we got a ride back to the guest house and we camped out in the back yard again. We were the only ones at the house this second night as it must be a vacation house and everyone went home to work the next day. The other neighbor came by and gave us watermelon. People in Kazakhstan are the friendliest (is that a word?) we have met. Very giving with no expectations to receive. We bought a bottle of Vodka earlier as a gift, even tho our adoptive parents didn’t need it, and Brenton wrote a nice bilingual message. We left the gift at their doorstep:
Then it was off to Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan. On the way we stopped in the “Switzerland of Kazakhstan”, stayed the night and hiked up part of this:
On the hike we ran into a group. They found out the were Americans and they wanted a picture with us. I am proud to say I am American, and so far most people smile and seem happy to see that we come to their country to visit.Seems to be a running pattern here that the photo session ensues.. but we obliged:
We continued on toward the Kazakhstan border and stopped in the Capital city of Astana. It was surprisingly beautiful with very interesting architecture and unique building designs:
The other American team is also in Astana, named Andrew and Tim, they had hotel points from work travel at home, and invited us to stay at their hotel suite.. a magnificent hotel, almost the nicest I ever stayed in, we had dinner and drinks, and stumbled back to the room. I saw a boat, it reminded me of my own yacht in Rhode Island:
We went to a mall to find postcards. We couldn’t find any but there was a roller coaster inside the mall..
The city of Astana was so clean and nice, very business oriented, but in my opinion they should distribute some of the wealth to the department of transportation, and improve the roads outside the city.. I told someone that but they ignored me. Maybe they didn’t understand English..
As we continued to Mongolia we had to go around China, and re-enter Russia (Speaking globally of course). Close to the border we met up with a team from Bolivia that was taking the same course as us. It was fun to romance new partners, we spent the night together then crossed from Kazakhstan to Russia together. They almost didn’t let one Bolivian in because he wrote “transit” instead of “tourism” on his immigration paper, but once he mentioned he grows coco with Escobar in Bolivia, they eventually let him in.
The Russian border guard saw the Camel cigarettes on the dash, and traded Brenton for one Russian cigarette.. does he really think we are going to smoke it and compare? NYET!
We are probably about two thirds of the way now, maybe 7000ish miles, excited to get to Mongolia and then hopefully through it as well. Brenton and I haven’t killed each other yet in these close quarters, but I am sure there were times he would like to.. Oh excuse me there is a cow crossing here..
Back to the blob. So anyway It is a long time to be away from home but I don’t regret it. Not yet.. The car is starting to smell funny inside, i don’t think the smell is coming from us.. I’m worried we won’t be able to sell it at the end. but it’s running good so far.
Thanks to my valuable gem Hinda for continuing to take care of things so well at home. Thanks Hinda!!
I’ll try to write again later..
Our last night in Kazakhstan and we're in Pavlodar. We've met up with the Bolivian team for some beer and a mutual non-understanding of the Russian language and Cyrillic alphabet.
Da Svidania! Back into Russia, Mongolia here we come.
After multiple weeks of mystery meat, campfire cooking, and colorful meals, it is no surprise that we got some seriously bad gas... literally! The car was running on watered down gas and after a new tank the engine sounded like a dream and we were back up to max cruising speed (60mph)...
We have motored through the dense, dank Ural Mountains and found ourselves deep into Kazakhstan after a couple wild nights with our friends from Kostanay. The hospitality and kindness they displayed is unparalleled by anything I have ever experienced.
Steven’s blog July 19 thru 25th
So we arrived around 6:00 at theRomanian campsite in Vama Veche, on the Black Sea (I previously said by mistake we were going to the Caspian Sea..), it was literally right on the border of Rumania and Bulgaria. Many teams had beat us there, but remember it’s not a race, and the first one there is actually the biggest loser.. I was already somewhat primed for the party as I had a couple oversized lagers on the way.. Brenton drove of course.. we registered, set up camp, said hello to some people we met 3 days ago, and realized we needed food, so the hamburger stand at the beachfront was perfect. I thought I got away from beggars when I left our dog Melba in the States, but look here:
I couldn’t feed that dog. It was like cheating on Melba.. So we went to the beach fire, bonfire and all, crazy kids walking across the fire on sticks and all that stuff. A few skinny dippers as the night wore on, at least this time the view wasn’t all old men like the Budapest baths.. I said I wasn’t going to take pictures if the party was good, so someone else took the picture with my camera while I was sleeping:
...and look who I found, you kinda know him:
The guy who found my wallet and passport a few days ago! He tapped me on the shoulder to say hello, he must have seen my picture.. a very nice man. I couldn’t let him go without buying him a beer, taking a picture, and if he ever lost his I told him he can take mine back..
The next morning we slept late, and decided to stay in Romania at the campsite for another night We took a bike ride into the countryside. Tens of thousands of acres of sunflower farms, as you can see:
That evening after cooking our own meal in the parking lot, I got some ice and we actually had a cold beer, which is very rare around here. Then a romantic walk along the beach, kicked back on some beach chairs facing the Black Sea, and headed back to the campsite when it was time. I tried to kiss him goodnight but he pushed me away.. maybe another time..
So time to leave Romania and back on the road again in our oversized lawnmower in route to Odessa, in the Ukraine. I read a book (one of five in my entire adolescence) called the Odessa Files, about the nazi era, so I was a little worried about our destination but I’m on an adventure.. we had to enter the country Moldova on the way to Ukraine and that was a mess.. our auto insurance doesn’t work past Romania.. and must buy insurance to go thru Moldova.. so we park the car on the Romanian side, walk across the border to Moldova, after an hour of watching the insurance incorrectly input our information, Brenton kindly pushed her out of the way and took over the keyboard! “She was slower than you Dad” he said.. When Brenton finished she thanked him at the end. It cost equivalent $3.00, we walked back to Romania and now we could take the car into Moldova, still in route to Ukraine.
Once we entered Moldova we only had to travel one mile to Ukraine border:
At Ukraine’s border we had to do the same insurance deal again for the new country.. Some very nice citizens at the Ukraine border helped us out. We left cigarettes on the dashboard this time for the border police but didn’t know how to initiate a bribe when he was searching the car. Living near Providence I should have been good at that by now, maybe we should have put them in a black bag.. he picked up the cigs but put them back. We wee soon let in, almost dark, but we drove toward Odessa..
The roads were horrible, potholes, cobblestone, cement plates, obstacles, dogs, we didn’t reach Odessa but stopped on the way at a little roadside bar.. very friendly crowd, we are the first Americans that ever stopped there.. we had dinner, a beer, and left them a pack of cigarettes:
It was late dark and late so we camped out on the edge of what we thought was a side road.. we woke up in the morning and it was kind of a major road, but nobody bothered us, we packed up and continued to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. In Kiev we found a nice hostel to stay at.. but when they saw I was 61 years old they said I was too old! I complained about being profiled and they said “welcome to Kiev”..
Kiev is not that far from Chernobyl, the site of the nuclear disaster, which is what makes the people so radiant (I couldn’t resist that comment but actually is was quite a more tragic event than I recall, as Brenton and I went thru the Chernobyl museum in Kiev)
I didn’t get many pictures but we stayed in Kiev 2 nights, the city had some very nice as well as some very depressed areas. We did not discriminate.. took the bikes and went everywhere. Brenton found a climbing gym, I went shopping, we later met up with the only other team of Americans to enter the Mongol Rally this year.. nice young men.. but there are like 250 million people in the USA, and only 6 individuals entered this event.. I started to wonder if I had a few lose screws, and if I passed it on to my child. I guess I will answer that later!
So July 24th we drove to the Russian border crossing, as our visa did not allow us to enter before that date. We took the northern route thru Ukraine because there were not one but two wars in the South.. The Russians were trying to occupy some territory, and a civil war broke out as well. well we saw a few tanks but no problems.
After 3-4 hours at the Russian border, lots of people wearing English print on tee shirts but not one English speaking citizen. Good thing Brenton has a phone app that converts English to Russian .. my phone app only converts Microsoft Word to PDF.
Also, as we left Ukraine the border guard asked if we had any “souvenirs” from America.. I said “what kind of souvenirs do you usually get?” Because I was thinking maybe this guy wants something from Coney Island or Newport.. Brenton said no Dad, he wants either cash, or the cigarettes that we still had on the dashboard, Brenton was right.. he even accepted 2 packs of Marlboro!
Welcome to Russia:
After getting thru the Russian border hungry and tired we went a couple hours more to a spot that looked good for camping. Stopped at a sandwich place to eat, and the language barrier didn’t stop us, we pointed to pictures. The sandwiches were heavy on the ketchup, and also on the mayonnaise.. a bell went off in my head, that combination is what Americans call Russian dressing! Now I know why..
As we searched for a place to camp we went thru some residential neighborhood a few times slowly.. before we knew it there were red and blue lights flashing and we were getting pulled over. We’re still not sure why. It’s not like Rhode Island where you probably went to school with the cops brother, they looked stern, checked our documents, yelled a couple things back and forth then waved us on!
We found a cornfield to camp in.. this is what it looked like in the morning. Brenton was still sleeping..
We drove all day in route to Samara. Some World Cup games were played here but now it’s a lot of empty hotels.. we stayed in a hostel..
The engine was behaving a bit funny, getting hot and making a pinging sound on acceleration.. I think w got some bad gas.. we are still moving forward..
I’ll keep you posted!
WOW we are Russian through Russia that is for sure! Unfortunately, the sparkling blue lakes and dense forests shown on the Maps.Me interface have been polluted industrial complexes and spiky brush. We don't have the time to make it into the depths of the North or to Moscow and St. Petersburg to see the more pristine views, so for now we keep moving East until something catches our eye.
After spending a collective 5 hours leaving the Ukraine (not without a mandatory gift of some "souvenirs" aka American cigarettes) and entering Russia, we enjoyed mostly good roads to our first campsite. However, finding that campsite was not easy, it took getting pulled over by the police and asking their recommendation first.
Plenty of private area to recover from the desperate Russian fast food we ate after our border endeavor right.....
Not much has happened in the realm of exciting visuals since then, but the rally is definitely starting to take its tolls. Mid-argument, stressed about the fact that google has brought us to yet another non-existent campsite, we smashed into a pile of cinderblocks and had to jack the car up to dislodge them from body. THANKFULLY no damage we know of yet.
Although we did roll into Samara, Russia today (one of the host cities for the 2018 World Cup!), our mighty micra seems to be making a bit of a gurgle sound when we accelerate and drive over 50 mph (with a slight tendency to start overheating...). This happened directly after getting gas, so we are hoping their filters were bad and when we clear the tank with some new, better gas we will be alright!
Fingers crossed, onto Kazakhstan in the next couple days.
We finally plucked ourselves from the relaxing beaches (electronic music pumping 24 hours a day) to venture into the Ukraine. Not without driving 2 km of Moldova! This little stunt required 2 extra hours, and a mixture of Spanish and common sense to get the very kind woman to set us up with auto insurance. 2 km later we did it all over again to enter the Ukraine.... not without MASSIVE help from broken English speaking people who were interested in this crazy Nissan Micra from the UK all the way in the Ukraine.
*The beaches and bike rides of Romania! My favorite country so far (mostly because I can almost understand the language)
*Setting up insurance while they held our passports hostage... #collateral
As the roads switched from newly paved, to paved with potholes, to 15km/hr dirt road, we pulled over hungry and tired to barter with some younger (mid 20s) people to get food and beer with only euros. They were super friendly and said we are the FIRST AMERICANS they had met.... wow we must really be getting out there.
*Our friends! They also warned us of dealing with police and where to sleep.
After a nice night sleep in some wild farmland off the main highway, we head toward Kiev excited for hopefully better roads and a new city!
Huge shout out to THE SOURCE H20 for hooking us up with water filtration and sponsorship! Couldn’t do it without you.
*Our campsite for the night