Burning for the Mongol Rally
The Mongol Rally will chew you up, spit you out and expect you to keep going as if nothing happened, says Pamela MacNaughtan. Follow her as she braves the world’s most outrageous road trip—and takes Travel+Escape along for the ride!
It started with a tweet from Sherry Ott, asking if anyone was interested in doing the Mongol Rally. I thought about her tweet for about two minutes, then responded, “I’m in.” The next thing I knew, Sherry was connecting me with Charlie Grosso, a photographer from New York, who was looking for a teammate.
Spanning a third of the world, from London to Ulaanbaatar, the Mongol Rally is 10,000 miles of intense driving—across sand, over mountains, on gravel, through rivers and more. It’s pure adventure. The route is not set and support is non-existent. If the car breaks down, the team needs to figure out how to get it fixed. If there is a border crossing delay, the team needs to deal with it.
Messy. Exciting. Invigorating. The Mongol Rally will chew you up, spit you out and expect you to keep going as if nothing happened. It will test every person who tries it. Some will break, some will prevail. I am determined to prevail—even if that means I spend the night in a Kazakhstan jail, or have to bribe an official to cross the Caspian Sea, because I didn’t apply for my Turkmenistan transit visa ahead of time. No matter what the Mongol Rally throws at me, I’ll meet it head-on. Yes, I am that stubborn!
The Mongol Rally will chew you up, spit you out and expect you to keep going as if nothing happened.
For the past six months, Charlie and I have been working like madwomen, prepping and planning for the Mongol Rally. I had no idea that getting ready for this adventure would be so involved. After the two-week honeymoon period had worn off, I realized I was staring at a long list of things to accomplish in six months—things like buying a used car in Europe (while I’m still in Canada), figuring out a route, applying for tourist visas, buying gear and raising money for charity.
Each year, The Adventurists (dudes who created the Mongol Rally) select an official charity, and each team is required to raise at least £1,000 for the official charity, or £500 for the official charity and £500 for a charity of the team’s choosing. Since its inception in 2004, the Mongol Rally has raised £1,981,534.48 for charities.
This year, the official charity is the Lotus Children’s Centre Charitable Trust, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Founded in 1993 by Didi Kalika, the Lotus Children’s Centre is an orphanage for street kids and abandoned babies. It’s a place where kids can grow up, warm and safe. The Lotus Children’s Centre gives children a realistic view of the world around them—they are raised in gers (10 kids to a ger, with one House Mother per Ger), and taught the value of hard work, education and family. With 30 children (the centre holds up to 150 at a time) currently in secondary school, the Lotus Children’s Centre has created a transition program that helps the older children with life skills, career advice and preparing them for their lives after they leave the Lotus Children’s Centre.
Since its inception in 2004, the Mongol Rally has raised £1,981,534.48 for charities.
An orphanage. A guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar. Farmland. Aid for local families in exchange for work. The Lotus Children’s Centre is more than an orphanage—it’s a community, a family.
Although Charlie and I have the option of supporting two charities, we decided to give our full attention to the Lotus Children’s Centre, and are working with Intrepid Travel (one of our sponsors) to raise money; the Intrepid Foundation will match donations dollar for dollar, up to $10,000 AUD, for the centre.
Our adventure starts in Prague, Czech Republic. Charlie and I will be chilling in an apartment (courtesy of Go with Oh) for nine days, exploring the city, preparing our car and getting to know one another. On July 17, 2012, the real fun—and challenge—begins as we leave Prague and start driving toward Mongolia. Our route will take us through Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia and, finally, into Mongolia.
We have most of our visas, with the exceptions of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Azerbaijan isn’t a worry. We’ve found a travel agent in Tbilisi, Georgia, who we can FedEx our documents to, and she will arrange everything in advance so we can get our visas the day we get to Tbilisi. The challenge is Turkmenistan. I could go into a long and involved story about Turkmenistan, but I won’t, not right now, anyway. Let’s just say there is a chance we will either have to bribe an official to get on the ferry from Baku to Turkmenbashi, or we’ll have to try taking a ferry to Kazakhstan. Are your fingers crossed that we’ll get into Turkmenistan? Ours are too!!
There is a chance we will have to bribe an official to get on the ferry from Baku to Turkmenbashi.
I am seriously stoked for the Mongol Rally, and I hope you’re stoked to follow along. This is going to be one crazy adventure.
Charlie and I just barely learned how to drive a manual car, and now we’re trying to navigate through Prague, without hitting anyone! For six weeks we’ll be spending every waking and sleeping moment together. We’ll be sleeping in hostels, hotels, a tent and possibly the car. We’ll be bribing our way onto ferries, checking out famous (and not-so-famous) sights, meeting locals, avoiding eating horse penis in Kazakhstan (a delicacy there), singing (badly) to Pearl Jam as we drive, taking an obscene amount of photos, creating videos, interacting with readers on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, and writing. It’s going to be an insanely intense six weeks, and you will not want to miss a single second of this journey!