The next morning we woke to a great day (it wasn’t sunny of course, in the UK if it’s not raining it’s a great day) and were approached by Cameron and Sean, a couple of guys from another team whose Ambulance broke down, to see if they could tag along. Sure! We managed to get some equipment from them as well. Tires and wheel ramps, bits and pieces. Good thing as we didn’t have any spares. And our team is up to 4!! Welcome guys. We share everything! Even the curry.
The Festival of the Slow is the traditional start of the Mongol Rally, a huge event staged at the classic car circuit of Goodwood. This is a real racing circuit and a fitting start to the rally. All the teams, all the vehicles, all the people all in one place for possibly the only time of the rally. Teams would be taking different routes and times for the challenge and we may never see any of these cars and people again.
Over 400 vehicles and easily 3000 people all set up and ready to go on the journey of a lifetime. And we met most on them too! After deciding that 200kilos of food was way too much we decided to just give away over half of it, and became instantly famous. People came from all teams looking for a handout and we got rid of over 120 kilos in about 20 minutes. With the promise of if we see you on the side of the road we will come and help! Thanks to Shana foods for the meet and greet intro! Good to meet up with John and the team too! Aussie guys from where I live! 3 decent sized guys in a Fiat Punto! Hilarious!
There are lots of Aussies doing this trip; even a couple of guys in Smart cars are going to Mongolia and back! The tires are like babies teething ring. Fun to drive though as I was able to take one for a test drive. Excellent fun for them! I love our ambulance though. Its dry, big enough for us to sleep in, and won’t be used as a football by the trucks on the route. Can’t say the same for the, ahem, “Smart” cars. The rally rules are simple: a small car with an engine no bigger than 1200cc or an emergency vehicle. I climbed into a fire truck which was decked out with bunks and looked a bit like a nightclub on the inside. There was also a glasshouse on wheels, a big furry purple car, an American yellow school bus, a host of motorbikes and even a reliant robin. 3 wheels and prone to tipping over. Love it. While comparing Ford Transit Ambulances with a gentleman beside us and of course giving him some rice, we mentioned our lack of spares. He said they had 4 and if needed we could have one! He even showed is that they had one underneath his ambulance. Remember when I said we didn’t have any spares?
I looked under the ambulance.
In the 3 months that we owned it no one had thought to do this.
And there was our spare! I actually hugged the gentleman from the other ambulance!
Thanks to Craig, Karin and Jimmi for bringing down our camping gear and we were ready to go. As a simple act of genius we were able, as a group, to line up on the speedway starting grid and then GO! Do a lap of the circuit before heading out of the grounds and onto our trip! Josh’s line through the apex was flawless! Then off through Hastings (remember 1066?) and off to Dover. Its beaconed cliffs guided us to the ferry. A massive castle stands overlooking the sea and down to the gigantic ferries that will take us from England, onto the European continent and away into the night. Like cruise liners for cars, they took all manner of vehicle, easily accommodating the ambulance, various cars and other vans, and also massive pantech trucks full of gear. The parking bay looking like a parking garage, but this was inside of the ship! And there were more than one level of parking! Inside a ship! The mythological toilets were like finding Atlantis. But the ride was smooth and short.
From here we said goodbye to the UK’s crimson skies and crimson cliffs and travelled in to the night bound for France.
This is Josh’s first time in Europe and his first time driving in Europe, so he took the reins and led us from the Ferry into France. We marveled at Calais by night. Some of it for the history and the pretty lights, but more for the fact that this was actually happening! We had left the UK and were actually doing this. The Mongol Rally was real and we, now four, crazy bastards were off on the most amazing journey.
Our first real stop was in Dunkirk for fuel (91 Euro), but by about 2am we were all pretty tired and needed some sleep. The ambulance had gotten us this far: past the Belgian border and out of France (after conversations like does anybody actually like the French?) and a little detour around Dunkirk, but we just needed a break and about 20 km outside of the beautiful Bruges we found a truckstop, and another team, and camped by the side of the road. Some large foam mattresses became our beds for the night and we slept and dreamt of adventures in faraway places. Well actually… I was so tired I just slept!
Great morning in Belgium. We traveled, again on the wrong side of the road, to Brugge and met up with some other teams and had a chat about routes etc. Some great guys and a walk around the beautiful, feudal town of Bruges. I have actually been here before and showed the boys the sites. The central square and the thousands of people just eating, taking pictures, talking and walking around and just enjoying the summer day. We said goodbye to the other guys and traveled on to Luxembourg.
I have always wanted to go to Luxembourg: no reason that can be defined but more just for the fairytail city and life. The suburbs were so ordinary that we commented on its boring repetitive planning, and wondered at the lack of spectacle. Then we found the center and just gawked at the massive bridges that brings you to its beautiful and architectural home. The city is so beautiful. Old and new just blending so easily. Ill be back here in a few months and will spend some more time and effort on this incredible place. We were on a bit of a mission and needed to get going to make it to Nuremberg tonight.
The Germans really know how to make roads. Huge, straight and safe. No mountain or valley will stop them. They stretch mighty bridges between distant peaks as if holding them in place, high over deep valley and through heavily wooded forests. Clouds cover these bridges wondering at their height and audacity. Thousands of feet to the velvet floors and rivers cruising below. The forests so thick with bough and trunk that sunlight finds it difficult to penetrate their secrets. And little old me and my friends just careening through it in a 20 yo Ambulance. Life is so random sometimes. The motorways give way to so many racing wannabees! Cars of all types absolutely screaming through the days and nights. If they go any faster they’ll travel back in time. Maybe this is the way the roads should be. Let everyone drive as fast as they want to weed out the few who can’t. This is what they are used to and their skills are probably better because of it. We did manage to get the ambo up to 100 miles an hour. We met up with some ralliers in a little yellow car and decided to travel together, but after 2 wrong turns we lost them and just kept on going into the encroaching night.
But in all we then somehow took a wrong turn and eventually decided that between the rain and our lack of navigation skills brought on by our lack of sleep, we had better call it a night. We got all four of us comfortably in the Ambulance because of the rain. I placed one of the mattresses across the front seats! I didn’t sleep well, but more because of the rain than anything. I don’t dream often, but dreamt of something huge falling from the sky and knocking down trees in the distance as we watched on from a distance.
Stretching, yawning, cracking, and groaning we rose into the gorgeous German (even their weather is efficient) morning. Josh thought we were somewhere near some sort of industrial area with a reactor nearby, the night before. But we woke to fresh fields and forest and one of the best days since I had arrived in Europe. We were all hungry and took over driving for the 3 hours to Nuremburg. And then we found a supermarket! Oh the feast of food: fresh bread, fruits and juices, kilbasa, pickles, cheeses. So very good. I used some of the little German I knew to find some things and again was surprised at how accommodating and efficient they were. Unlike the French, the Germans will slip into English if know or find someone that can help.
From all of this I found that it is such a beautiful city, surprisingly open and easy to enjoy. We spent some time cruising the center and enjoying the cobblestoned streets, huge cathedrals and old buildings. Ironically, the apple store provided us with a quick internet fix and we then headed off on the trail of a legendary Czech castle where a mythical party may be held that night!
6 countries in 3 days! UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and now into Czech Republic. What a trip so far. We hit our thousandth mile today and just inside the border purchased our toll ticket for the Czech roads (the woman behind the counter not speaking English, so I told her she was lovely, if not a bit sturdy for my liking). 14 euro gets you the privilege of roaming the Czech motorways. The massive roadside stations are a maze of trucks and cars, people and food, small dogs falling from trucks on their heads and sometimes a serious lack of amenities. Most of them then become what they lack as people just find other ways of reliving themselves. Truck drivers seem not even to remotely care where they go (maybe that’s why some have small, furry dogs?). So many trees so little time.
Before I get to the party let me tell you a little about “Gday”: such an Aussie cliché huh? You know with that one simple word so many people just smile and can’t help enough. It’s an icebreaker and greeting, a call to beer, a door opener, a badge of honour. I get so far with a big goofy smile and a “G’day”.
Driving into the Czech out party was like Goodwood all over again. Unfortunately the Ambulance had been giving us a little trouble and stalled at the top of the hill in the camp grounds and just wouldn’t start. A push got us to our camping area and we just plain forgot about our mechanical problems for the night.Perched high up on the hill overlooking a massive valley, gorgeous 250 degree views of the stunning Czech countryside, we watched the sun slip below the horizon as our fellow ralliers caught up with us. Laughing, backslapping, handshakes, hugs and stories abound. Guys and girls we barely knew greeting us like the long lost and offering beers and smiles. This is what it’s all about: likeminded people with no agenda but to share. Then we headed up to Klenova Castle. Now Goodwood was good, but this, this was a sight. Walking through the darkened fields you find a dirt road winding up to the massive stone doors of the castle. It’s not huge, buts it’s not exactly small ether. Set over several levels with large courtyards open to Bands and food halls. But it’s a castle! How cool is that!? Unbelievably atmospheric, basically a party and rave in a classic castle. Coloured lighting splashed the old stone walls and statues, dance music from the rave cave, a rock band plays and cranks it up, food and beer flow, laughter and fun all round. Very large local security guards, as stoney as the grounds they gaurd, occasionally crack up at partiers.
What happens in Czech stays in Czech, so you may need to just ask me and I may remember the stories for the night. The last thing I remember was passing out!! Hehe!
Ooh my head. 3 hour sleep and a night like that do not really go together. But I woke to the smell of bacon, and Sean and Cam saved our lives with bacon sandwiches. The simple things, really. Other partiers came over with vitamins and we actually felt great for the little sleep we had had. Then the stories and laughter flowed again as we went through what had happened the night before. Guys and girls waking up with strangers. Grinning like fools and names not being exchanged, grinning like fools and walking away. No not me as I’m married, but you know who you are. Travel plans exchanged and numbers and emails swapped for the future catch ups. A kind of sadness as this is the last real group get together and we really do head our own ways from here on in. We will meet others on the road but not en masse like this. Not until the end and probably not even then. We shook hands and waved our goodbyes. Sirens and horns beeping. The ambulance started up! And we were off!
But it had to happen didn’t it? 20 year old ambulance and 5 days into the trip. We pulled into a petrol station to fuel up (2000 caronor) and our trusty steed just gave it up.
I had had concerns about the alternator charging for the trip. Battery light flashing and voltmeter just not seeming to be keeping a charge. We have 2 new batteries and the garage assured us we would be fine. But it was not to be. Lucky the phone worked and even luckier is that Josh got European emergency cover for the vehicle. A frantic phone call later and we were assured that someone would come to help. Frustrated at myself for not knowing even basic Czech (where’s Bily when you need her?) it was a stretch to even get the garage address and pass it onto the insurance company. But with patience the information go through to them and they were on the way. Again the spirit of the rally prevailed and another team came to help with jumper cables, but that didn’t work. Thanks heaps guys. Then another team gave us a push and we actually got it going again! Woohoo! We were off again! For about 11 km… She just died on us. Absolutely no power.
And no phone service! But another team, another Ambulance picked me up and took me the few km to the next town and I called our insurance again and they were able to send someone out. We were all tired but in good spirits and a picnic on the side of the road of rice and curries filled us up and we joked about the rest of the trip. Even though Sean and Cam’s team mates had caught us up they stayed with us for their journey and will be leaving us in Turkey. The Czech tow truck driver was serious and helpful (and spoke German too. Not helpful) and hoisted our trusty steed to the top of his vehicle and we climbed in and drove to Plzen. At the garage the insurance company organized everything, even a free hotel. We were told our chauffeur had arrived and gathered our things, saying goodbye to our ambo and getting into the small car. Our driver didn’t speak as he sped for miles and miles, we all looking at each other wondering where the hell he was taking us, until he finally brought us to what looked like a garage workshop. He couldn’t have taken us to a more remote place. No reception just a burly and cranky mechanic letting us in. No food that we can find and no idea! Briliant. It’s all part of the journey. I had jokingly suggested that we were being taken to a hotel owned by the Garage. Oh no sorry the car will be another day, you will have to stay again, 100 euros a night! And here we were in a hotel, near Nyrany, built into a garage. But it wasn’t to be. The insurance covered our room and we had a shower for the first time in 5 days. I didn’t really think I was that dirty and joked to the boys that we possibly didn’t know as we were used to each other by now. But the shower was magnificent as it washed most of what I thought was my tan away into the drain and I was scrubbed pink for the first time in a week.
Tired and clean we simply crashed out and went to sleep hopeful that we would be on our way the following day. A change to our plan and we will head past a few of our planned stops and go through to make up some time. The massive hotel window letting in the stars as I closed my eyes.