Head over to our facebook page for more info on the rally! We updated the facebook page much more regularly as it was a lot easier for us to do on the move but we've now also finished blog entries here for the whole rally.
Monday 11 August - Uzbekistan
After getting up, we had the hotel breakfast in a huge new dining room by ourselves with only the waiter/ attendant just watching from a corner, not weird! We then played some more bank ping pong, third time lucky we found the right one, which accepted our cards. After that, we quickly stopped by Samarkand's main attraction, its registan, a series of three impressive huge mosaic tiled mosques/Islamic places of study in the centre of town. Samarkand was one of the most "normal" feeling cities we'd seen for a while, it mixed history with modern well and felt busy and liveable.
Big driving day though, and we made tracks for the Kyrgyzstan border. The far eastern provinces of Uzbekistan have a history of fundamentalism and other issues, and we were stopped at one of the borders checking paperwork for over an hour. The police we'd seen everywhere started to look insignificant when there were serious soldiers with modern gear and loaded rifles around. Have we mentioned we dodged another speeding fine yesterday too? The police just completely gave up after failing to communicate with us as he spoke zero English...
This was the start of one of the most mountainous regions of the trip and despite the hot day, we saw glimpses of snow on some of the peaks. Instantly scenery central, but a very high police and military presence too.
Ran into The League of Extraordinary Mongoleers (three English guys in a stylish Daihatsu Terios) at a dinner stop, we all had a chat to some locals, and then decided to convoy to the border, which was still a solid night drive. We snuck into town (Uchqoʻrgʻon) around 12:30, and set up camp in what we think is either a pharmacy or convenience store parking lot (we read the surrounding area is landmined, so no bush camping!). Camping isn't really legal here, either hoping the crowd of ten or so locals who are watching us set up don't spread the word!
Sunday 10th August - Uzbekistan Border Crossing, Bishkek and Samarkand
It was a much needed 5hrs sleep, and we made our way the last 20 or so km to the border, paying a dodgy looking guy a toll for a bridge that was little more than buckled steel plates bolted across floating barges, but it was the only way!
We were unlucky to be stuck behind a large group of Taiwanese tourists, so the Turkmenistan side was easy enough, but still took 2 hrs, and by the time we cleared the Uzbek side (another few hours) we'd gone 18 hours without a proper meal!
Uzbekistan was a bit of a return to sanity after surreal Turkmenistan, and silk road city Bukhara was the first stop. We had a little time for sightseeing for once and checked out 500 year old mosques, Islamic universities, and ran into the pair of Spanish teams we'd last seen entering Iran. Also discovered their largest banknote is worth about 40 cents. So...money here comes in bricks of notes!
That wasn't the end of it though, a 250km drive to Samarkand that took 4hrs due to spectacularly unpredictable roads got us to dinner there around 9pm. Seriously...roads that go from perfect bitumen to car-sized craters without warning made for some fun driving.
In great news, our V5 registration showed up in London, and we'll get it mailed to us in Kazakhstan somewhere hopefully. Only two more borders without it!
We'll try for some speed tourism here tomorrow before a huge driving day to the Kyrgyz border tomorrow.
Saturday 9th August - Crossing Turkmenistan
Predictably late start, made later by hangovers and the need to find the bank again due to excessive expenditure the night before! Starting a 9 hour driving day at 2pm, 45 degrees in the shade was never going to be easy! The highway to Turkmenabat turned out to be the worst road yet, with some new sections frequently disappearing into dirt, gravel, or seriously potholed bitumen...there were several airborne moments and unexpected detours, and by 8pm we were only half way, in Mary. We finally made it to Turkmenabat at 1am, finding a hotel just after seeing the aftermath of an accident - a car hit a bike at an intersection minutes before we drove past - there was a small crowd but no police yet, the rider was moving at least. Bit of a reminder to keep an eye out.
Friday 8th August - Turkmenistan Border Crossing and Ashgabat
We broke camp early, and got to the Turkmenistan border early, half an hour before opening. In the line, we met Perman, a Turkmen who had been studying in Turkey, and who was good enough to offer his help.
The crossing itself was easy enough, but it still took almost 5 hours, including a lunch break for the staff there. We scraped through on most of the the various fees, taxes, bribes, etc required, about 320 USD worth, but still needed to borrow some cash from Perman as we'd run out. Several passport checks later and we were free in Turkmenistan!
It had been a cold morning (3 layers even!), but that was all about to change, as it was 45 degrees by midday and getting hotter. Our first impression of Ashgabat was surreal - all buildings in the new city must be made from white marble, which was impressive, and wasteful at once. Every building was spectacularly over the top with gold trim and immaculate gardens...no healthcare though, but we were also told not to talk about that, or politics,or religion, or government...and we read that they bug any places westerners go, so...we might get ourselves arrested for being "amusing" aussies ;)
Steve described the place as an oppressive dictatorship Disneyland, located on the surface of the sun...
After a painful few hours trying to get money out, we eventually withdrew money, visiting three banks and a mosque (midday prayers for Perman) in the process.
We luckily found co-aussies, the Rally Roos, and proceeded to test the effects of alcohol on dehydrated bodies that hadn't eaten all day due to border crossings and banks. We're two days behind our worst case scenario, but as possibly our last proper night out, we accepted enjoying Ashgabat as our challenge, or as Craig put it:
"The challenge is how to unf**k ourselves tomorrow".
By 2am Steve had won a dance floor prize (not for dancing), and had then met some Belgians and degraded to the point of speaking only bad German to everyone. Meanwhile, Brooke and Craig kept up the pace (but we lost the Rally Roos at one point)...bed happened sometime around 5am.
Wednesday 6th August - Northeastern Iran
The best part about stealing a few hours sleep in the car? No packing up time! A little tired, we were on the road around 8 along yet another scenic switchback mountain road. Again pulled over by police, again it seemed it was just out of curiosity.
We made good time for the day and reached our planned stop in Minudasht by 5pm. As we were all running out of clean clothes, some hotel bathroom washing and attempted drying had to be done. Meanwhile, Steve and Craig met "badass" local businessman (and friend of the hotel manager) Mohren, who insisted on giving us a legendary late night tour to nearby Gonbad Kabus, checking out a 1000 year old tower, and a few other sights. We would have loved to take him up on his offer of mountain climbing too, but unfortunately couldn't spare the time!
Tuesday 5th August - Tabriz
Last day with Sam! We woke up at the restaurant, and made our way to Chalus, and immediately found somewhere to swim. As usual, ran into a crowd of friendly locals, so we shared some tea on the beach, discussed what we could in broken English, and let them play with the gopro for a while. The only unfriendly local was one on a jetski who wanted us to swim closer to shore to get out of his way!
Anyway, besides the usual questions about what we think of Iran, one of the guys, Azim, was lamenting the fact that Iranian girls must cover up, while Australian girls are sexy...we're not all that different!
After Chalus, we drove the spectacular road to Tehran, through a huge mountain range...it was slow going, but one of the most stunning drives we'd seen, and not what we had expected in Iran.
Dinner and shisha at a riverside restaurant, and then it was time to brave Tehran traffic on the way to the airport - it didn't disappoint! Crazier than Turkey and the rest of Iran combined, it was good fun getting a quick taste of the big city.
We dropped Sam off, had another police inspection (quite frequent in Iran, at least once a day, but as usual ended in handshakes and smiles), then proceeded to get slightly lost on our way back through to the far side of Tehran (our maps weren't detailed enough to show individual roads). Eventually succeeded, then pressed on looking for a hotel. By 3:30am however we'd given up hope and decided to admit failure and pull over on the side of the highway on the way to Babol to sleep in the car.
Monday 4th August - Caspian Sea
Managed an early start for once, and started the drive towards the Caspian Sea before breakfast. We were pulled over by the police for speeding (133 in a 120 zone), but by cracking up laughing when they told us the speed, I think we convinced them our car couldn't go that fast, or we were just really charming, but either way they let us go with a warning and a handshake! Also managed be allowed through a highway toll both without paying, just for being Aussies.
A call to the DVLA confirmed our V5 registration had been returned, so we requested another one, fingers crossed it shows up this time!
We made it to the Caspian Sea near Bandar-e-Anzali and jumped in the water at the first opportunity. It had been one of the goals of the trip, and it was well deserved after ten hours on the road.
After swimming, we planned to make it to Ramsar, but stopped for dinner & shisha at an outdoor restaurant near Astaneh-ye-Ashrafiyeh on the way. It was getting late, and we decided we liked the place so much that we asked if we could stay the night! The people working there were once again some of the nicest people you could ever meet, and sleeping in one of the little open air huts wasn't a problem. One of the guys working there burst out laughing repeatedly ... "kangaroo so funny!"
Sunday 3rd August - Iran Border Crossing
We made it to the Iranian border at 8am Iran time (which meant very little sleep due to the time difference!), with about 8 other teams. It took about 30 mins to clear the Turkish side, before the real waiting game began! About 5 hours later, after running out of water and eating our last noodles as the days only meal, we were finally handed our Carnet de Passage for the car and let loose in Iran! As we'd been forced to abandon our planned guide and convoy, we decided to do our own thing, but meet the others at Kandovan (more cave dwellings like Cappadocia) for the evening. The countryside is remarkably barren, but stunning at the same time.
If we thought driving in Turkey was interesting, Iran took things up a notch, but the fact that every third car beeped, flashed lights, or yelled "Hello" to us made the hectic overtaking bearable! This is also the first country we've had no GPS, though we've agreed map reading is more fun anyway, even if we get lost more often!
Even more so than Turkey, the locals are unbelievably friendly and helpful, and everyone wants to say hi, ask questions, and practice their English. We've been warned about the religious leaders (by saying "danger" while miming a beard and turban), but haven't run into any yet!
We had dinner with the other teams in Kandovan before setting up camp beside the nearby river. Still hard to believe we're in Iran!
Saturday 2nd August - Lake Van
We climbed a ski lift tower, swam in the world's largest volcano crater lake, and taught some Turks how to jump off rocks, all in a morning's work. This is our last full day in Turkey, and we've learned a few things that Turkey does right: all bars should be on rooftops, all lakes should be in volcanoes, and all food should be kebabs with char grilled meat! To top it off, they're all just genuinely nice people, we'll miss this country!
On the way north around spectacular Lake Van, we were teased by a cable ski park that unfortunately had no wakeboards, then nearly ran out our fuel on our way to Dogubayazit, lucky Sam backed himself to coast downhill with the engine off for nearly 20km, because we made it with the engine just starting to cough! To top off the day, Brooke fell in a deep concrete ditch while pressure washing the car at a service station...no serious injuries though!
Iran border crossing tomorrow, wish us luck!
Friday 1st August - Urfa
Today, Steve got a haircut while fielding questions from locals (and learned that Harry Kewell played for a Turkish club), and more importantly, Craig got in a fight with the car and spectacularly cracked the windscreen while closing the roof box...so instead of tourism, we spent the day visiting every glazier in Urfa and Diyabakir to no avail. We did however meet plenty of locals in the process, and have established that Turks and Kurds are the friendliest, most helpful people we've met yet! We also learned how invaluable Google Translate is - we would have been entirely lost without it!
We decided to just continue on with the windscreen and hope for the best, as it looks like it's not available east of here...
As we had no time left to go via Batman, we stopped at the sign for some amateur gymnastics anyway, before finalaly pulling into Tatvan around 1:30am. Time for a short sleep before pushing on to the Turkey/Iran border town tomorrow night.
PHOTOS TO COME!
Thursday 31th July
Brooke and Sam caught an unfortunate stomach bug, and Craig and Steve dragged themselves out of bed at 4am to take to the skies over Cappadocia in a hot air balloon - stunning experience, however Steve was a little jealous of a lone runner making his way through the valley while the balloons took off (he brought running shoes which have remained packed away)! We also decided to adjust our route through Turkey, adding in a few hours driving to visit the town of Batman because...it's called Batman! The route also takes us close to the Syrian border, for a little extra excitement.
The drive was one of the toughest yet - Craig and Brooke sick and Craig and Steve barely functioning after 2hrs sleep, while still punching out 7 hours in excruciating heat through the barren eastern Turkish landscape, but we eventually made it to Urfa. It was our first taste of a town that was clearly Arabic/Middle Eastern, the difference was striking compared to western Turkey. We’re also finding less and less people who can speak English, and with our Turkish limited to one word (teşekkür ederim - thanks), more and more charades has been required, all part of the challenge!
Wednesday 30th July
Another day with minimal driving, but we switched the mighty micra for bikes...Standard late start (as we do) after packing up camping, on to brunch, and then finding ourselves a cave to stay in for the night (because that's what people do in Cappadocia). Sam had been like a fat kid with cake all morning at the prospect of renting dirt bikes for the afternoon, so we found the last four in town, haggled a little on prices, and set off in the desert heat for what turned out to be one of the best days so far - Steve's first time on a bike (and first crash), Sam in his element, and 6 hours of stunning trails around Love Valley, Uchisar, Rose Valley, and the conveniently adjacent off road terrain park. It was an afternoon of too much fun thrashing 125cc bikes around ancient ruins and farm trails wherever we liked at our own pace :) Ended the day with dinner with a view at a local restaurant (Ocak Restaurant if you're interested), great food, and a chat and private audience with the cook who nearly offered us more raki (not that Craig and Steve were keen!). Back at our otherwise plush cave, we counted no less than four annoying issues with our shower, and reviewed gopro footage over drinks.
Tuesday 29 July
Onwards through Ankara to Cappadocia, one of the places we originally had to miss, and we were all pretty excited to see it. We made a quick stop off at a massive salt lake Tuz Golu first, before arriving just in time to see the sun set over some of the cave dwellings, found a campsite (it was easier than finding a suitable cave hotel in peak season late at night), and planned our stay here over dinner. Hiring trail bikes and ballooning were high on the list...