Mongolian Rally 2010
Patrick Costello (01-09) Jack Fenwick (05-09) and Peter Singh (01-09)
In the summer of 2010 we took part in the Mongol Rally, a 10,000 mile charity rally adventure from London to Mongolia through deserts, mountains, dodgy garages, across rivers, under broken bridges and into parts of the world which I fear most people could not pronounce, let alone place on a map. The general idea of the rally is for people to drive for hours in the wrong direction and get lost with hundreds of miles of desert either side trying to fix their car with tape and a spanner. Participants are only allowed to use woefully unsuitable cars and almost the only rule is to have a car with an engine no bigger than 1.2l. On eBay we stumbled on the Hyundai Accent, a car which Mr Clarkson reviewed under the title, ''Bad car: Hyundai Accent 1.3 GSI'. Other reviews said of it, "it's not likely to be the object of a car enthusiast's dreams... it isn't especially sought after". Despite this faint praise, our enthusiasm was not diminished for our car and nothing could tell us that it was not the rally bred race car that the stickers and spoiler told us it was.
It wasn't just small 1.2L cars that took part as there are 2,000 people in around 400 different vehicles ranging from vintage fire trucks, vans and ambulances. Notable mentions should go to two Green Goddess' fire engines built in the 40's, every type of ambulance under the sun but most of all to the team who took a 1984 Rolls Royce Silver Spur, bought new by Sir Jimmy Savile, a car which was at the start, leaking more power steering fluid than it was burning petrol, no mean feat for a 3.5 tonne, 6 litre car! The rally started at Goodwood race track in Surrey, and from here hundreds of cars went in convoy to Dover to start the proper adventure in Europe. Our team, 'Road To Nowhere', headed out the gates of Goodwood and followed a team called 'Let's Get Baatared' as we didn't know our way to Dover; we eventually drove with them and a few others all the way to the finish line 5 weeks later. After two days the only organised event on route, the Czechout party took place, where the rally took over a Czech castle and we picked up more cars for our convoy.
Our route went through sixteen countries; heading down to Turkey from Calais, we drove on the autobahn, through the Transfagarian Highway in Romania, made famous by Top Gear and through the spectacular Black sea coast of Romania and Bulgaria, where we had a spectacular night's camp by the sea. From Turkey we went through Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia and finishing up in Mongolia, at the capital Ulaanbaatar. Despite peoples' preconceptions about Iran it was arguably one of the nicest places we visited: everyone wanted to talk to us, offered us tea at petrol stations, showed us where to stay, invited us in for meals and a free place to sleep, and some even swerved across multiple lanes simply to welcome us to Iran whilst driving down the motorway. I doubt this would happen on the M8. The best thing however about central Asia for three cash strapped travellers was the price of petrol where it got to as low as 10p a litre and where truckers in Iran get special cards letting them get 1p a litre! Driving in Iran I can only describe as go-karting. Almost everyone has the same car, nobody really cares about it, and cars are flung across the road. Onwards from Iran was Turkmenistan, the strangest place we visited, which can best be described as a mix between Las Vegas and Pyongyang. There were military police guarding golden statues of the leader, army marching on the pavements, every building was white marble with huge golden doors. There were big TVs showing propaganda and an 11pm curfew for all citizens. Amongst this we found an amazing 5 star hotel for only $38 dollars each which, after 5 days of driving in 40C+ heat, in a car without air conditioning, felt incredible - we spent hours in the pool. Although Turkmenistan only has two major roads some teams still managed to go the wrong way and arrived at the border to Afghanistan, from which they were promptly moved along back to the border with Uzbekistan which they were aiming for. In Uzbekistan we stayed with a Merchistonian (Jaffar Djabbarov, 05-10) who took great care of us, and it shows just how far the Merchiston community stretches. A relaxing time though Uzbekistan on account of our local guide led us to the next country, Kazakhstan. Once in Kazakhstan the roads really deteriorated and took their toll on the cars, with a car in our convoy suffering a broken rear suspension spring; luckily it contained two engineering graduates who soon found a bit of scaffolding which repaired it good as new. Later on they sheared their brake lines, almost cracked their fuel tank and broke their rear transaxle but through a series of bodges they kept with the convoy, with the structural integrity of the car being upheld by a screwdriver the most legendary of these. Once into Mongolia the roads disappeared and there were no signs. We followed dirt tracks and made it town to town very slowly, rarely getting over 30mph for 400 miles. It was here, where the real rallying started as we drove up the side of mountains, through rivers, large and small and across desert plains. We had 6 flat tyres on the Mongolian tracks and were one of the many teams to get a cracked sump. About 400km from the finish line we thought it was over, after driving over a rock, all the oil had leaked out and there was no way of driving on. After four hours we got a tow back to the nearest city and repaired it with some welding. In one day we had three flat tyres and four punctures after being sold dodgy tyres. We managed to limp back 20km on three inflated tires to a town which was more of a collection of tents and picked up another, but just as we headed out, around 20km later it went again so we camped up. The next morning, to make things worse, the battery died over-night as lights were left on and we couldn't push start it as we were in a desert with a flat tyre. This was the worst low of the rally. It also was our day of most luck as one of the first cars to come over the horizon was a Hyundai Accent with a spare wheel! Frantic waving saw the car pull over, with some rudimentary bartering we traded for his spare wheel, were jump started and from this point until the finish in Ulaanbaatar, we did not have another puncture. The rally was a great opportunity to do something completely different and was a great way to spend the summer; it wasn't easy and took a lot of time and money but is something we will never forget.