Drive Me Crazy in Prague
What happens when you put two strangers who can’t drive stick behind the wheel of a manual car in Prague? They get stopped by the police. Pamela and Charlie find themselves breaking the law before the Mongol Rally even begins.
MONGOL RALLY STOP #1: Prague, Czech Republic
Kilometres to go: 12,000
When I signed on the do the Mongol Rally, many people thought I was insane. “You’re going to drive 10,000 kilometres, through Central Asia, in a small car, with a stranger?” they would ask, shocked expressions on their faces.
“Yeah, it’ll be awesome!,” I would reply. Oh, I was so excited—and completely unaware of what I was in for.
The online connection we had felt wasn’t there. True, we had just spent six months planning and preparing for the Mongol Rally, emailing hundreds of times and chatting on Skype, but this was the first time we had met in-person. And it wasn’t going well. Things felt forced. Maybe it’s because I was just getting over a cold and was tired; I’m not sure. We just seemed to move at different speeds—a clash between the fast-paced let’s go go go mentality and the leisurely pace of a slow traveller.
But that’s normal, right? After all, we met on Twitter. The chances that we’d become instant best friends were rare.
Six weeks. We have six weeks to get to know one another, to learn to work together and to drive one-third of the world. And while our travel personalities may pose some challenges, it’s that last hurdle that just might be the hardest.
Our car is a 2005 Dacia Logan. It’s manual—the cheapest option—and Charlie and I have each only had one lesson on how to drive a stick.
On our first day of driving in Prague, we decided to visit a Vietnamese market before leaving our Go with Oh apartment and driving to the European launch site for the Mongol Rally.
The car was parked on a hill, and I deferred to Charlie, offering to navigate instead. Chicken decision you say? Hell, yes it was! The idea of starting on a hill made me nervous, so I let Charlie drive.
“You’re going to drive 10,000 kilometres, through Central Asia, in a small car, with a stranger?”
With iPad in-hand and the Google Maps app open, I began to navigate us from our apartment in Prague 5 to the market in Prague 4. It looked fairly straight-forward, and I was feeling confident. That was, until we neared a section of the freeway that seemed to go in every direction imaginable—and I pointed us toward the wrong one.
I thought if we turned around, we could grab the correct exit from the opposite direction. I was wrong. We went the wrong way again. The car repeatedly screeched and stalled as we tried to drive through the streets of Prague. Pretty soon, we were lost somewhere near Prague Castle (not even close to our apartment), and driving down a narrow cobbled street.
And then we were stopped by police.
“You cannot go this way,” the policeman said.
I had navigated us down a one-way street—going the wrong way. The policeman told us to turn around and park the car.
“Can you help us?” Charlie asked. “We’re still learning to drive manual.”
So, we (Charlie) had to turn the car around, on a hill, and park it—uphill. Not the ideal situation for two amateur manual drivers. Cue lots of screeching and a little stalling, but eventually, the car was parked. Then the real fun started. Charlie had left her driver’s license at the apartment, and our car registration was there as well.
“That is a 10,000 koruna (C$490) fine,” he said.
“We don’t have 10,000 koruna!” we replied. We tried to sweet-talk him out of the ticket.
“5,000 Kc,” the policeman countered.
“We don’t have 5,000 koruna!”
His last offer was 500Kc (C$30), and we took it. The policeman asked again about Charlie’s license, and we ended up offering him my license, telling him that I was teaching Charlie how to drive manual.
“You’ll have to drive,” Charlie said.
Yikes. We were parked on a hill. I hadn’t driven a manual car in almost two weeks, and I had only started on a hill once. We switched seats, and I put my hands on the steering wheel—and had a complete breakdown. Yes, I had a full-on panic attack, complete with tears and shaking hands.
I took a big breath, released the parking break and screeched up the hill. My heart was in my stomach, but I had done it. I had gotten up the hill without rolling back down. I felt a wave of relief—and a desire to write my brother and tell him what an amazing driving instructor he was.
Driving through Prague was actually okay. I stalled the car a few times (once or twice at traffic lights), but I stayed calm. We made it back to the apartment in one piece, but stress levels were definitely high. It was a long morning, and a wake-up call as to what we can expect on the road.
Maybe they were right. Am I completely crazy to be doing the Mongol Rally?