It is not so easy to visit a country like Turkmenistan. You better not apply for a tourist visa unless you want to book an expensive guide for your whole visit. It’s much better (and easier) to get a transit visa. However, the problem is that this visa is issued for only 5 days. So you don’t have much time to explore the country, especially when you’re backpacking or cycling across Turkmenistan. The country is very different from anything else. The government is in control of everything and they make sure that you don’t do things they don’t want you to do. Random police checks can happen everywhere, and in Ashgabat, the military is on every street corner to watch every step you take. That’s why Turkmenistan is the seventh least visited country in the world, receiving only 7,000 visitors per year. And we were one of them!
As we are writing this, we’re already stuck for more than 12 hours on the Caspian Sea ferry to Turkmenbashi and it hasn’t even left the port yet. Getting from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan isn’t as easy as taking a ferry from Dover to Calais. It takes a lot of patience and time (which you probably don’t have).
So we crossed the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul and are now officially in Asia. After our short visit to Istanbul, we split up with the other Belgian team ‘Silly Coincidence’ because they needed to take another route to go into Iran. Our first planned stop was Amasra, a small port town at the Black Sea. After 7 hours of driving, we finally arrived there at sunset. But unfortunately, it was too crowded and too difficult to find a good camping spot. It was already dark when we drove further to find a place to sleep. This became an extra 3 hours drive until Cide, where we found a small hotel at 11pm. We just went for it because at this time, and with all the mountain roads, it became too difficult to camp. We had some late night köfte in town and went back to the hotel for a good night rest. However, we didn’t know that the local minaret would wake us up at 4am.
So here we are, standing on the Goodwood race track to make a lap around the circuit together with 250 other cars. This is the official start of the Mongol Rally, the largest event of stupidity of 2016. We are all revving the engines, everyone is honking and after one year of preparations, we can’t wait to test our little cars. Let’s see if Niki, our Lada, can survive this trip. We’re even not sure if we will survive this trip!
Right now, as I’m writing this, I am at work. I can’t concentrate and am constantly looking out of the window. Because I feel trapped. Is this the real meaning of our existence? Getting up, having breakfast, going to work, going back home, making dinner, watching TV, a little bit of scrolling on Facebook in between all of that, and eventually going to sleep. Living in a rat race, day after day, 5 days in a week. And then 2 days of spending almost all your money you’ve earned that week.
Since we’re participating in the Mongol Rally, we have read an overload of information about Central Asia. We didn’t know a lot about these countries and they weren’t really on our travel bucket list yet. But now we absolutely can’t wait to explore these countries and their culture.
Central Asia, also known as the “stans”, named after the countries that make up this region: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. But also Mongolia, Afghanistan and a part of China are within the Central Asian region. These are maybe among the less traveled, but perhaps most intriguing areas of Asia.
Because we really need to start to raise some money for our charity (PLAN) we needed something that we could sell to people. We could have done a lot of stuff like selling self-made T-shirts, candy or other stuff that people wouldn’t actually need. After some brainstorming, we have found the perfect thing that we could easily relate to the fact that we’re participating in the Mongol Rally.
One of the rules to participate in the rally is to raise money for charity. Because it’s only fair if you’re going out of your way to see all the world has to offer that you make an effort to give a little something back. Each team should raise £1000, with at least £500 raised for the Rallies official charity Cool Earth. The other charity is one of our own choice. Here for, we’ve chosen the awesome charity ‘Plan’, and especially ‘Plan Belgium’ because we are, obviously, from Belgium…
So what do these charities do?