Day 20 – Leaving the Lovely Baku

We awoke nice and early in the five-star car park in order to get to the ferry for nine o’clock for a ‘definite’ departure. We all set off with high hopes, but five minutes into the short journey Endeavour started making some weird noises. Concerned of causing more damage, we turned off the engine to them restart it….. only it wouldn’t start! The starter motor had completely packed up. There was nothing for it but a bump-start at the side of a Baku rush hour road. After a few sketchy minutes we were back on the way to the ferry, determined that we would make it.

Upon getting to the port we started our favourite Baku past-time, the waiting game! While we were waiting we managed to get the broken starter motor off the ambulance and sent Ian and Rich into town in order to try and get a replacement. To all of our surprise the port got its act together and we started getting our money and passports out. This resulted in Ian and Rich rushing to get back in time as the guards couldn’t understand where they were.

The loading of the ferry took hours, but we were happy once we were on board. We didn’t have to take the ambulances down the ramp this time, so our worries about an awkward bump start were unfounded. We were also provided with some excellent entertainment while waiting to load the ambulances onto the ferry. From the number of articulated lorries grounded and damaged while being loaded onto the ferry you’d think these people had never done this before! We almost started taking bets on which lorries would rip their undersides off.

The boat was actually of a much better quality than we anticipated. We quickly took over the lounge area with the Drift Kings, WarrenPoint2Mongolia and the MadVenture people. We all chipped in to get a much needed room with a shower for everyone. Once the ferry left port we all settled down to some drinks with our newly made friends and have a very enjoyable journey.

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Day 19 – Another Day in Baku

The dismal day yesterday did not look good for the team. We had been promised that there was a 70% chance that we would be able to sort out the visa problem today (in Azerbaijan, this is actually only a 10% chance). Waking from our first night of indoor sleeping, Neil and Greg set out for hopefully overcome the issues. Fortunately, we were not the only team with the problem as both Warren Point and the Drift Kings in the same boat. We met with a local toursm operator who was particularly skilled at helping himself to our cash, but to get the visas sorted today (for a small fee) was a pretty good situation.

Up at the embassy we met an entire bus load of people in the exact same situation. These guys were also heading towards Mongolia but were not stopping there, with the plan to continue the six month journey south to Sydney! On a trip organised and run by Madventure travel.

Four hours in the Turkmenistan embassy resulted in seven freshly visa’d passports, with the only thing left to do being the long wait for the ferry. Meanwhile, back at the apartment, kick out time had come and we said a sad farewell to air-conditioning and showers as we headed for the baking streets of Baku. Whilst waiting for the return of Neil and Greg, the team met two very friendly police officers from the Chinese Embassy who let us use their toilet and guided us to the local internet cafe.

Dinner consisted of some of the best local kebabs with the other Mongolia Charity Rally teams before heading off to their favourite place to sleep, a five star hotel… car park. Situated next to Baku’s flag, the second largest in the world weighing in at half a tonne!, gave the team the first sense of the city’s beauty.

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Day 18 – Waiting for the Ferry

Not wanting to miss the ferry, we got back at 7.30 to wait it out. As it turned out, we needn’t have bothered. The other teams weren’t all reassembled until 10, and the guards didn’t take our passports til about 12. The customs officer came out with his tape-measure, took down all the vehicle measurements, and then we worked out a price. For the 7 of us the total came to $1590. We gulped and handed it over.

We were waved through the first gate and told to get our stuff together, as we would not have access to the vehicles during the voyage. Cue 4 hours of waiting around in the sun again. Organisation and sticking to timetables are clearly not concepts they have over here. Finally they let us drive the vehicles on board, then made us all queue up (about 30 ralliers by this point) and checked all our passports. The letter of invitation we had been assured would get us into Turkmenistan in lieu of a visa was flatly refused, and the Embassy was closed, meaning 3 teams (us included) had to get their vehicles back off the ferry and reconsider our options. So close yet so far.

The options we were presented with were: get the next ferry to Kazakhstan instead (they say probably tomorrow, but we know how much that’s worth…); go to the Embassy in the morning, when it might be open, get visas, and then wait for the next ferry to Turkmenistan (Thursday or Friday (so probably Saturday or Sunday)). We were all sick of the heat by this point, and getting to Kazakhstan early would let us skip the 50 degree scorch of Turkmenistan, as well as giving us a bit of extra leeway time. We tried to get on the ferry, sure it would be fine as we had heard of people taking it before, but were suddenly told they wouldn’t accept passengers, only drivers. We were tearing our hair out by this point. It is impossible to get a straight answer here, despite the valiant efforts of our helper/translator, who I’ve heard is getting paid by the ferry port for this. I really hope so.

Eventually decided to get the visas in the morning and wait to see a) which ferry goes first, and b) whether the Kazakhstan ferry will let us on. Paid a very worthwhile $200 between us for an air-conditioned apartment with shower and washing machine (which turned out to be non-functioning; surprise, surprise), and sampled some of the local cuisine (very cheap and very tasty). Hopefully we’ll be out of here within a few days…

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Day 17 – Arriving in Baku

Baku was not designed with drivers in mind. We very quickly reverted to the Istanbul style of driving (point towards where you want to be and ignore signs) when we realised that the signs were physically impossible to follow owing to multiple road closures, and no one cared one jot whether you were on the road or in the dirt.

After ascertaining that our information about the old ferry port being closed was, in fact, true, we finally made it to the correct port. We weren’t there long before we were joined by several other teams, from both Mongolian rallies. Some of them had been waiting for 5 days already, which did not improve our optimism about a speedy departure. The guy in the hut told us it would leave “This evening, 80% sure”, so we hung around in the baking heat to find out.

We were eventually turned away and told to be back for 9am. Our translator/helper, who seemed to be a friend of a friend of one the rally teams, told us to camp in a nearby play-park, but this didn’t really appeal. After a fruitless search in the suburbs outside the city we decided to bed down under some trees, which turned out to be near a dead dog in a blood-soaked box. Welcome to Baku.

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Day 16 – Georgia – Azerbaijan

When we woke up in Georgia from our incredible camping spot, we drove the rest of the way through Georgia to Azerbaijan. Throughout Georgia, we were fearing the Azerbaijan border as it is illegal to drive right-hand drive vehicles in the country. The border crossing itself was the first complicated crossing but fortunately with a small bribe of Neil’s Sigg Bottle and a beach-ball we managed to pass through no problems.

The roads were immediately far superior to that of Georgia, much to the relief of the drivers and the vehicles, although after a while, we encountered road works on the motorway. Rather than closing a lane, the road works consisted of closing and digging up the motorway with only rough gravel tracks for the traffic. Through the heat of the sun we proceeded further east towards the capital of Baku. Azerbaijan is the first country we encountered with low risks of Malaria so we had a “safety” chat from Neil about the need for anti-mosquito spray application regimes.

We managed most of the distance to Baku, stopping around 60km outside as the sun began to set. We set up camp at the side of a hill near a small farm. The owner seemed very content allowing us to stay there and do as we please. That night we had the best view of the stars so far making the team yearn for less light pollution and excited for a really good look at the night sky.

 

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Day 15 – Georgia

After another refreshing beach shower we set off for the nearby Georgian border. We were there by 8.30am, but it was already heaving with coaches and lorries and we got very confused trying to leave Turkey. Entering Georgia was a totally different story: the guards were friendly, spoke English, were interested in our travels, and waved away our questions of insurance with the assurance that we wouldn’t need it. So no charges at all to enter, but what a country it turned out to be. Within half an hour we had picked up a wealth of cheap supplies, including 200 cigarettes for bribing unruly police for only 27 Lari (about 11 GBP), and a selection of delicious savoury snacks for lunch.


The roads were suddenly full of cows, which was slightly distracting, but not as much as the amazing views. The map claimed that we were taking the main road, but after 50 km of incredibly dusty gravel we looked back and realised we had climbed a mountain. The route down the other side was equally stunning, as well as equally bumpy, but then we were back on what passes for tarmac.


The view never really got boring, so when it started getting dark we didn’t mind pulling on to the nearest hillside and looking around for a bit. The breeze dropped the temperature and lifted our spirits further, and we all agreed that Georgia should sit at the top of list of favourite countries.

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Day 14 – Turkey

The early start was necessary to catch up the two days that we were behind. 5am seemed too early for some of the team (Matt Lokes) but enough people were feeling okay enough to take on the dawn driving shift. The suspicion that Adventure’s oil leak had not been fixed had been confirmed so a quick top up was required. Setting off at 6am, a full 3-4 hours earlier than usual, the team managed the 200km to Sinop before they would normally wake up. A quick pit stop for breakfast meant that the team could carry on towards Georgia on the (actually finished) highway.

The rest of the day consisted of quite uneventful driving, trudging along the coast of the Black Sea. Towards the end of the day everyone was keen to pull up for a refreshing plunge in the sea so we decided to set up camp just before the Georgian border. After some directions from a helpful local we found a pebble beach with some rudimentary showers which were a welcome relief.

As with nearly every evening so far, it was finished off with a hearty Italian meal of pasta and sauce.

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Day 13 – Turkey: The land of unfinished roads

After the disastrous day yesterday, the team began to grow cautiously optimistic as the garage starting work again at 8am having only 3 hours sleep. Greg, Rich and Neil went with Yunus in a hope to pick up the last spare part. On a friendship based on 3 words (gay, crazy and problem), smiles and laughter, the most roundabout trip resulted in a car wash, burn (an energy drink), picking up the main mechanic, several superfluous trips to random garages, a casual Turkish feud, 3 cars, 4 people squeezing into the rear seats, the new oil seal and a few glasses of tea. Two hours later, the team was reunited back at the garage and the final parts fitted to Adventure.

 

With a test drive at midday, the garage had successfully re-machine the head, replaced the valves and cam shafts, fixed the injectors and replaced the crankshaft oil seal within 24 hours – not something that would ever occur in the UK! The final payment was made, mainly for the quick turnaround (despite the overwhelming sense that we were being greatly overcharged) and the ambulances were once again on their way.

With much time to catch up from both the breakdowns, the team decided that sticking to the Turkish highways was the best route across the country. Little did we know that the Turkish highways were only ever half built, with varying levels of unfinished roads on the other side of the road and elaborate contraflows. The aim was to attempt to get a great distance in the afternoon heat, past Samsun, however as night fell we decided to find a camp site, have dinner and get on the road at the crack of dawn.

Finding a wild campsite was much easier in the remaining light than the usual pitch black, so we followed a dirt track to a idyllic opening. Discovering that further up the track was a local mine, we decided it was safe enough to set up tents and settle down for the evening, that was until a Turk with a shotgun turned up! He turned out to be the mines night guard and was kind enough to let us stay whilst indicating that they may be blasting in the morning. A starlit supper ended one of our more random days, with an overwhelming feeling that it had been good to get back on the road.

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Day 12 – Turkey

First off we need to say what happened yesterday evening. We set off for a casual 3 hour drive to the coast to camp at a campsite we found on the internet to wash our smelly clothes and have a good rest for a big day of driving the following day. We reached the coast and found out that the nice campsite no longer existed and in its place was an expensive hotel/club that wanted roughly £200 for 1 day camping. We instantly declined. After a search further along the coast we chanced upon a little beach side “campsite” with a spectacular view of the beach and sea.

Turns out that it was sort of “owned” or “maintained” by a group of locals, with some of them appearing to live permanently in large tents on the beach. for a measly price of 60 TL (~£20), we got to camp at the most gorgeous campsite yet with use of their toilets, fresh water and shower. It was quite windy which kept the temperature down, blew all the flies away and helped dry all our clothes. The locals were really interested in meeting englsh people and we had lots of fun chatting to them about the UK, Turkey, our trip and football. We cooked a lovely curry and had a great nights sleep.

Day 12′s plan was to have a long days drive down to the Turkish autobahn and blast along to the next campsite along the coast however, as the real time tracking shows, this did not happen. After a long winding early morning drive, we reached a town called Gezbe at around midday when, literally just on the slip road of the autobahn, Adventure decided it would break down. With very little warning, the engine cut-out and wouldn’t start again. The hope of a simple fix like a blown injector fuse swiftly faded as the team failed to diagnose the problem.

Fortunately, as we had broken down next to the toll booth, human goodness prevailed and the toll booth man hooked us up with a tow to the local garage. The garage, with very little knowledge of English, very quickly diagnosed the problem and had started taking Adventure’s front end and engine apart before you could say “German efficiency”. The family run garage had several hilarious characters, made better by the outrageous sign language between us all.

The diagnosis, not good. With the intention of replacing the cam belt, the garage disassembled the engine to find a whole host of problems. Firstly, it was evident that two of the injectors may have been leaking, not only this, but the head itself had damage and required much re-machining as well as replacement valves and cam-shafts. The only good news from this was that the cam belt was intact.

All in all, a long day for different reasons than intended, the team finally got some shut eye at around 2am in an ambulance that continued to be worked on. Despite the worst night that the team had experienced, the garage soldiered on (powered by vodka, red bull and cigarettes) until 5am with the last bit of bad news of the day: the crankshaft oil seal also required replacing.

 

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Day 11 Turkey – Istanbul

After waking up from a short nights sleep next to some road works, we decided to venture back into the outskirts of Istanbul in order to find some good camping spots for our trip across Turkey. Due to the shear amount of sweat each team member is producing, a shower is high up on the agenda. We pulled up in a suburb of Istanbul, looking at the city on Google does not do justice to how HUGE it really is, and started to venture out.

Our arch-nemesis the British weather, had finally caught us up after trying to escape it with some long driving days and as soon as we left the ambulances it started to pour down. It appears to be an unusual thing in Turkey as the shop keepers all came out to look. Our deepest apologies to Istanbul for bringing the English rain. However, the shopping centre we took refuge in turned out to fantastic, with everyone being very friendly with us. We managed to have brunch with water, bread and a vast selection of Turkish food for just 10 lera (£3) each. Thoroughly stuffed we went for a stroll about town and found a fitness park and up a hill another great view of Istanbul. The heat got the better of us and we retreated back to the shopping mall for air conditioning and internet.

We have now found some good camping spots for our trip across Turkey and if the people in the capital are this nice, we can’t wait to meet the local people further out. We don’t know the next time we will have good internet, so cannot say for sure when blog posts will be posted as we are now officially in ASIA!

 

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