Exactly seven months ago, we finished the Mongol Rally. Our small and old Lada survived the knee-deep potholes of Turkmenistan, the ultimate test of the Pamir and the river crossings of Mongolia. It was our biggest and best adventure yet, and in just two months of spending time in that little red car, we’ve learned a lot!
LESSONS LEARNED DURING THE MONGOL RALLY
PEOPLE ARE AWESOME
We got in some situations where we had to rely on other people and during this journey, we noticed that people are really awesome. Every single person that we’ve met was so kind and went out of their way to help us get back on the road. Particularly in Central Asia, where the locals are not used to seeing Westerners. They did everything to make us feel at home, any time of the day.
CENTRAL ASIA IS A REAL GEM
We never thought that Central Asia is such a beautiful part of the world, with so many things to offer. From mountain ranges to endless stretches of long roads in the desert. But what makes Central Asia such a beautiful gem is truly the hospitality of its people.
… AND AN UNDISCOVERED PART OF THE WORLD
One of the best things about Central Asia is that a lot of the parts are still undiscovered. Being here feels like you’re really traveling off the beaten path. There are so many things that are ready to be discovered in this part of the world. But to be honest, we secretly hope that most of the tourists stay away. Otherwise, the possibility exists that these countries won’t stay the same in the near future.
CENTRAL ASIAN CUISINE IS DELICIOUS
Oh dear, We really want to go back to Central Asia just to eat those amazing dumplings filled with lamb, all sorts of delicious flatbread, and stews. The cuisine in this part of the world is so unique but still unknown to most of the people. They bake a lot of their stuff in clay tandoor ovens, it is amazing to watch them cook in it. Really, Central Asian cuisine is excellent!
CAR REPAIR SKILLS ARE ESSENTIAL
If you participate in the Mongol Rally, you’ll have to work on the car. From preparing it to withstand the rough roads along the way, to being stuck with a broken shock absorber on one of those same rough roads. You will need to get your hands dirty and get under that car at least once. We knew nothing about mechanics before the Mongol Rally but learned some real bush repairing skills that saved our ass (and budget).
YOU DON’T NEED LUXURY TO BE HAPPY
We saw a lot of poverty along the way. The nomads live in small yurts or gers (moveable houses) or in small houses with their whole family, often with no electricity, no warm water, and no WiFi – yeah, no WiFi!-. Kids were playing on the streets with a half inflated ball, sticks or little car toys made from used coca-cola cans. But still, these people always had a smile on their face. They don’t need the luxury to be happy. This is something that a lot of people, us included, need to think about from time to time.
SOME CARS ARE INDESTRUCTIBLE
Our small Lada drove a total of 25.000 km to Mongolia and back to Belgium. No one expected that we would make it to Mongolia with that car. We didn’t even have to do many repairs. New battery, new rear suspension, new exhaust pipe, … It could have been much worse. So if you have a good car, and maintain it properly, your car can be indestructible.
IT’S POSSIBLE TO DRIVE WITHOUT A SUSPENSION
Everything can happen during the Mongol Rally. We even encountered a team from which the gearbox was broken, and they were already driving hundreds of miles in 1st gear. After hitting a bump on the road in Turkmenistan, we suddenly were driving a lot slower, heard a screeching sound and were leaning all the way to the left. Our left rear suspension broke in half, and we were driving with the chassis right on our wheels. We drove like this for the next 5km to the next village where a local mechanic helped us out.
DON’T TAKE THE CASPIAN SEA FERRY
No really, don’t do it. Unless you have plenty of time and aren’t interested in doing Iran. We had to wait for one week, ONE WEEK, on that damned ferry! Because of this, our visa for Turkmenistan expired on the date that we arrived at its port. So we, and 50 other teams, had to extend our visa at the border, which made us being stuck there for another 12 hours in the burning sun. Next time, we’ll go through Iran instead!
NOT ALL BORDER GUARDS WANT TO BRIBE YOU
Before starting the Mongol Rally, one of our biggest fears were the bribes in Central Asia. And especially the border guards are notorious for asking ridiculous amounts of cash. Well, we must say, most of them are actually very kind and don’t want your money (or at least don’t ask for it). Just one time, at the border of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, a border officer asked if we had some leftover cash for him. Most of the times, they just ask for cigarettes. But if you stay friendly, smile and say you don’t have anything, they will just smile back. 🙂
IT WORKS TO PLAY THE DUMB TOURIST
We were stopped a couple of times, sometimes because we were in fault (overtaking a white line), but sometimes just because we clearly had a foreign number plate. The police tried to give us a fine multiple times for the stupidest things. But still, we managed to pay nothing, and we didn’t get in jail. How? Well, we just played “the dumb tourist”. Keep repeating that you don’t understand them, that you don’t have money, etc. really helps!
Travel Tip: Keep an extra wallet on you with just a couple of small notes, in case they ask for bribes.
YOU NEVER SURVIVE THE MONGOL RALLY WITHOUT A GOOD PLAYLIST
When you spent so much time being on the road, it’s essential to have a good and long playlist. It’s one of those important things to keep everyone in the group or car enthusiastic and happy. Our playlist consisted out of hundreds of songs, but still, the playlist was too short, and we heard almost every song more than 10x during shuffling.
A HOUSE CAN HAVE 3 DOORS AND A STEERING WHEEL
So you’re living in a house with one front door and multiple windows? Well, our house had two front doors, one back door, and a steering wheel. You could find us all day long, cramped in that little car, driving towards our next destination and sometimes even sleeping in it.
Travel Tip: Try to personalize your car as much as possible.
SCRAPPING YOUR CAR IS HARDER THAN YOU THINK
Why do you think we drove back to Belgium with our Lada? Well, because we really became attached to it. We could have scrapped it in Russia at the finish line, but we just couldn’t do it. We knew that this car was ready for much more adventures than the Mongol Rally. If you’re spending most of your time in it during two months, it’s hard to just scrap it into a piece of metal. Trust us!
ALWAYS KEEP CALM
Things will go wrong or won’t work out as you expected. Your car will breakdown, you will get stuck in deep sand on an off-road track somewhere in the desert, and you’ll get sick of your travel buddies one day. But this is all part of the Mongol Rally! And it wouldn’t be fun if everything went smooth without any problems, right? Just try to always keep calm in situations when you could lose your temper or good mood. It’s part of the rally, so part of the fun!
Related articles you might like:
- 8 Awesome Things In Central Asia That Need To Be On Your Bucket List
- Our Packing List For Long-Term Travel & How We Keep It Light
- Top 10 Travel Songs That Give Us The Ultimate Wanderlust Feeling