It started with a tweet from Sherry Ott, asking if anyone was interested in doing the Mongol Rally. Pamela MacNaughtan (a.k.a. @spunkygirllogue) thought about that tweet for about 2 minutes, then responded, “I’m in”, the next thing she knew Sherry was connecting her with Charlie Grosso, a photographer from New York, who was looking for a teammate…
“Spanning 1/3 of the world, from London to Ulaan Bataar, the Mongol Rally is 10,000 miles of intense driving, through sand, over mountains, on gravel, through rivers large and small. It’s pure adventure. The route is not set, and support is non-existent. If the car breaks down, then the team needs to figure out how to get it fixed. If there is a border crossing delay, then the team needs to figure out how to deal with it.
Messy. Exciting. Invigorating. The Mongol Rally will chew you up, spit you out, and expect you to keep on going as if nothing happened. It will test every person. Some will break, and 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. Yes, I am that stubborn!
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, not until the two-week honeymoon period had worn off, and 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 4+ tourist visas, buying gear, and raising money for charity.
Each year The Adventurists (dudes who created The Mongol Rally) selects 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 charity.
This year the official charity is the Lotus Children’s Centre, in Ulaan Bataar, 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 each child a realistic view of the world around them, raising the children in Gers (10 kids to a Ger, with 1 House Mother per Ger), teaching them 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 which helps the older children with life skills, career advice, and preparing them for their lives after they leave the Lotus Children’s Centre.
An orphanage. A guesthouse in Ulaan Bataar. 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 Lotus Children’s Centre, and work 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.
I cannot believe the Mongol Rally starts soon. Where have the last six months gone?
Our adventure starts in Prague, Czech Republic. Charlie and I will be chilling in an apartment (courtesy of Go with Oh) for 9 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 the Czech Republic and start driving towards Mongolia. Our route will take us through Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russian, and finally into Mongolia.
We have most of our visas, with the exception 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 entry to Turkmenistan. I could go into a long and involved story about Turkmenistan, but I won’t, not right now. Let’s just say that there is a chance we will either 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 body parts crossed that we’ll get into Turkmenistan? Ours are too!!
I am seriously stoked for the Mongol Rally, and I hope you’re stoked to follow SM Stowaway. This is going to be one crazy adventure. Charlie and I just barely learned how to drive a manual car, and soon we’ll be trying to navigate through Prague, without hitting anyone! For 6 weeks we’ll be spending every waking, and sleeping moment together. We’ll be sleeping in hostels, hotels, in a tent, and possibly in the car. We’ll be bribing our way on to 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 6 weeks, and you will not want to miss a single second of this journey!”