It all started in Atyrau, parked in front of Neil’s hotel there was a strange car with a UK licence plate and plenty of stickers, some of them stating “Travelling is for sissies” and “Mongol rally”. I thought it was just the one car but a couple of days later we started seeing them everywhere. In Khiva, there were 2 more cars parked in front of a hotel.
Pretty soon the city was flooded with little groups of mostly British people (but there was many others too) where one member was always wearing a Mongol Rally t-shirt. Apparently it’s part of the deal, there always has to be one with the t-shirt. At dinner we met Team Booby and talked for some time with them but later they left us to join their brethren: other Mongol rally teams. Oh, and they were not British: one Dutch girl, one Belgian and one guy from the US.
There’s other people in the picture, the leftmost guy in the light blue tee is Iain, another one of the China team, the guy in the black t-shirt is Neil and to his right, Askar, a Kazakh guy who had just started his own journey hitchhiking around the world (or maybe not around the world, he had no plan actually).
By the time we got to Bukhara we had camped with a Mongol rally biker team we had met on the road, Kevin and Nick (Idiots Abroad) who had plenty of problems with their small bikes (Yamaha XT125) and could use being escorted by other bikers just in case.
But what is this Mongol Rally thing?
Every year, hundreds of adventurers set off from London and Prague in a sort or rally to Mongolia, only that it’s not a race, you only have to get there. The objective is to bring a car to Mongolia in reasonable good shape to be sold and the money donated to charity. It all sounds very altruistic and it probably is but above all, they look like they are having loads of fun. They also experience lots of problems with their cars because they are usually very small cars, unprepared for the kind of roads they are taking. Click here to check out their website.
… chances are you are doing something pretty cool, told me Dan from the Eiffel Tower Hostel when I started telling him about the number of amazing people I had met only by getting out to the streets of Batumi.
This quiet beach city only 14km away from Turkey seems to be a mandatory stop for world travelers. I’ve met Iranians going around the world on bicycles, a Belarusian journalist going around the world with a backpack and a laptop, a young Ukrainian couple just starting their hike around the world, a French woman going around the Black Sea on her boat and her Spanish boathiker (or is it hitchboater?). It must be its position by the sea and so close to the Turkish border.
So, I went out on the afternoon of my rest day with the intention of resting at the beach with my book but it was too hot and the beach is a cobblestone beach so I took refuge at the little park behind the beach, which has benches and palm trees. There I was in that blissful state that is somewhere between reading a good book and taking a nap when I spotted a little group of cyclists that were laying their clothes on the benches and I decided it would be good to talk to them. I like cyclists, they remind me of when I used to travel by bicycle and make me want to do it again. We started talking and a very nice conversation followed, they were Iranians on their long way to Canada, two of them at least. The third one spoke little English. If I have ever complained about any visa issue, forget about it. These guys are Iranians, that’s about as bad as a passport can get and they had just been refused their Schengen visa, bummer. They were also having money problems and selling bracelets to get some money to survive for the weekend until their bank would respond to their message and unblock some funds. They have a nice Unicef flag on one of the bicycles and they are riding the world to remind people that dreams do come true when you get up and work on them. Something I can really relate to, if you know what I mean. They call themselves Dream Makers. Here’s a picture of us where they were selling bracelets and I was eating döner kebap.
They were taught how to make the bracelets and the basics of street selling by Roman, a Belarusian journalist also traveling around the world but as a backpacker, hitchhiker and general purpose freeloader. A pretty cool guy too but I think I have no picture of him.
I spent the whole afternoon and evening with them, sharing hachapuri and talks with police about the legality of street selling. Actually that last bit was handled by a Georgian teenager who had taken to himself (after buying a bracelet of course) to help them with police. Towards midnight, Roman suggested I should go to the port and meet this cool French woman that lives on a boat, that I wouldn’t be bored if I talked to her. And so I met Maguelonne and she invited me to share some Georgian wine on her boat with her and Xavi, her Spanish freeloader. Maguelonne works a few months a year for humanitarian projects (mostly in Africa) and then goes back to wherever she left her boat the last time and lives for as long as she can on the boat. It’s her home. Xavi, on the other hand is traveling with an undefined route to the East, preferring Muslim countries above others and makes documentaries about his travels. They didn’t give me any website address to share.
Back at the hostel, other world travelers were also to be met. Enter Anastasiya and Maxim, two young (very young) Ukrainians hitchhiking around the world and supporting themselves with their online businesses. They had just started their trip when we met and arrived by ferry to Batumi from Ukraine. As if they knew already that Batumi is such a place. They left the Ukraine with only 130 dollars in their pockets but I’m sure their industriousness will serve them well and their online businesses will support them during their trip. The last night in Batumi they also decided (like me) to go spend the night at Dan’s host family’s summer farm in the mountains, here:
At the farm we shared some tasty home-made food: vegetables, cheese, cream, hachapuri, bread. All of it home-made and delicious. Nastya and Maxim are raw vegans in normal time but they could not refuse the delicious food that we were being served. And it would have been impolite to refuse it too. The family that received us is a Muslim family so they ate after sunset while we had eaten just before. They were all extremely nice, albeit the difficulties in communicating: my Russian plus their English put together are not even at the level of baby talk.
And here’s a couple of bonus pictures until I upload the album.
It’s funny how travelers sometimes end up in the same places for no reason. Yesterday on the road to Metz, I met the same German hitchhiker at two different gas stations more than a hundred km away. The second time I just had to talk to him, he was just hitchhiking his way back to Germany and needed to be there at the latest on Wednesday. It sounds to me like something from the Middle Ages to think that one could travel at that pace and with that (lack of) urgency. Then again, it’s just what I’m about to do, albeit a bit faster.
Yesterday was a pretty nice day, after all the things I had to do in the “morning”, I set off quite late but finally vaccinated against yellow fever, typhoid fever and difteria, tetanus, polio. Yes, I had left that for the last moment, that’s just me and my just in time planning. Since I was so late and didn’t want to reach Metz after dark, I decided to take the toll highway. Not the best “roadseeing” (road sightseeing, I’ve just made that word up) option but I really didn’t want to ride for 6 to 7 hours because I was already thinking of taking a nap. And that’s what I did.
I had my first roadside nap 100km before Metz. I had been dreaming of a roadside nap since my trip to ski in March when the elements (all of them) didn’t let me have a nap. It was just a technical stop, lay on the curb and close my eyes. It was sunny, naps in the sun are the best, you wake up completely recharged and ready to take on the rest of the road.
When I arrived to Metz, I was greeted by my good friends Boris and Tzveti who provided me with a couch and a nice dinner and of course some rakia. I was so tired that it completely knocked me out, although the wine may have contributed to the TKO.
Today was Metz visit day and working on the bike day. See, I have this Scottoiler that I had bought off the internet and that I still hadn’t installed. So, after noon I went out for a stroll and next to a city map I ran into this George guy, he’s a tattoo artist and he is traveling by bicycle, from Leeds in the UK to Portugal via Rome, from one tattoo parlor to the next one. Haha, yes, via Rome, that’s what he said. We talked for a while about the road and how he was managing on his 2-gear bike and then I took him to the street he was looking for, a little advantage I still have while I’m in France: 3G.
Now it’s the end of the day, the Scottoiler is installed and seems to be working alright, I’m finally going to bed. We’ll see tomorrow when I start riding if it works as good as it looks :). I was scared of doing the installation because I had to cut a pipe, an engine vacuum pipe in order to install it. It’s done now.
Going to bed
Going to b…
PS: I had to go to Castorama during the installation because as it turns out, I didn’t have any tool allowing me to remove the rear wheel. Good one…