I knew the Mongol Rally would be an adventure. I knew it would be exciting and I knew there would be highs and lows. I knew that being contained in a small car over horrendous roads even with two good friends would result in discomfort and the occasional argument and I knew it might prove stressful when things didn’t go our way!

I was wrong!

Despite the breakdowns, the border delays, the tight timescales and the discomfort I wouldn’t change the experiences of the past 4 weeks. For me, the people we met have made this trip: the locals who smile, laugh, wave enthusiastically or offer food, drink, advice or directions; the mechanics, the garage owners, their English speaking friends summoned by phone to assist. We’ve picked up social media followers from all over, fellow diners from restaurants, drivers in traffic and supermarket shoppers. We’ve been hosted and toasted and I just hope that in future I will be as welcoming to foreigners back home.

I can’t recall a cross word between the three of us, only the banter and laughter that has accompanied the shared experiences and made us a team. The Mongol Mongrels may not all of stood together on that Ulan-Ude podium but it was important to us that we arrived in Mongolia together, the rally’s spiritual home. This is, after all the Mongol Rally.

Of the fellow ralliers met along the way I’ve got nothing but respect; a really decent bunch of people representing about three dozen countries all with the same goal. Convoys form, friendships are made and best of all we help one another.

The Mongol Rally is no holiday, I need a holiday to recover from it(!) but the past 4 weeks have been epic and don’t invite me for dinner if you don’t want to hear about it!

My view of the countries we visited is hugely positive and as a Russian woman said to me: ‘There are no bad nations, only bad people’.

The Panda has gone to The Fiat Bamboo Field in the sky.

Our brave little Panda fought a courageous fight but just like Apollo Creed, it was the Russians that delivered the killer blow.

Well almost. She made it five miles into the Russian boarder but that’s as far as she got. Mongolia did the softening up though. It was just a bit too much Ghengus Kaahn’t…

The Last Two Mongrels undertook the final stretch from Ulaanbataar (Mongolia) to Ulan Ude (Russia) on road conditions that could only be compared to trench war fare.

Craters everywhere. Axle deep mud. A crushing darkness. Limited vision. Explosive Toxic Gas (Hew, we need to have talk…).

It took over 7 hours to do 130km. That’s slow, even for an Italian car. The sump guard had a crisis of personality and decidedly it wanted to be a snow plow, driving mud into the engine bay. She slowly ground to a halt.

A local did offer a tow job for $15 and a jerry can of fuel, but there was to be no happy ending. They made it to a mechanic who did his best, but even the mechanical magic of a Mongolian Dumbledore could not save her.

The Panda took a deep breath, steeled her gaze and turned her nose north and pushed onward into the darkness. It was one step too far as eventually the radiator failed which in turn ended up blowing a gasket.

She stumbled, lumbered a few more steps and then clawed her way forward into the cold of night. But as she took one last laboured breath, the glow flickered in her headlight but finally extinguished.

Mud soaked. Cold. Lifeless she lay. But not alone.

The Last of the Mongrels have gently lifted her onto the back of a truck and will escort her to the finish line.

We are honoured to have been carried up on her wings along the majestic and legendary Silk road and into the enchanting lands of legends.

Across sun scorched deserts and over ice capped mountains; Through cold rivers and past magnificent beasts and ever eastward into the rising sun.

She will be remembered most for introducing us to the generousity of spirit and warmth of heart of all those people we have met.

So a priest has been called and the two blokes with shovels have stepped forward…

But a little bit of the The Panda will always be with me…I stole the Fiat badge off the boot before I Ieft…sorry lads!!

Fiat Panda….We salute you.

Drinking Whiskey until 3am with old mate Tugso then woken again by Grant headed to the airport at 5.30am! So now we are two and we’ve up to 16 hours ahead of us to the finish line in Ulen-Ude.

I have a shortage of clothes: This morning when the sniff test proved inconclusive I decided on those that had been ‘rested’ a couple of days! Despite this with the Aussie gone the fragrance in the car is still markedly improved! UB, you’ve been a blast and the ache in my kidneys is testament to that.

Oh Grant Jacobs, you dodged a bullet! 11 hours from Ulaanbatoor and we’d covered just 284kms! The roads must have been built by Genghis Khan and not maintained since. Heavy rain had turned the way to mud and it felt as if we were driving a dodgem car through the maze of tracks, sliding, grounding and bumping until our sump guard broke free and radiator dropped down, digging into the ground like an anchor, snowploughing through the earth until we beached, imobile!

Like an F1 pit crew we leapt into action, changed the wheels for the chunky treads, dug beneath and buried carpets for added traction. The result: Absolutely no difference at all although we were eaten alive by swarms of mosquitoes. Deflated but not beaten we needed to flag-down a truck so when I saw a truck driver stop for a pee I pounced! (I hope he washed his hands!)
After 2 x broken tow ropes we finally got free via a 4×4 who towed us to a town for $15 and some fuel, the Panda sliding behind more like a sleigh, metal on stone grinding for 35kms.

They say things look better after a good nights sleep and in the cold light of day but we had little sleep and things looked worse!

The radiator is hanging out of the bottom of the car, the base of which has been ground along the road creating numerous holes.

We got a tow to a mechanic but when we nearly ran into the back of the car towing us we realised that without the engine running both steering and brakes were so poor you’d have thought Grant Jacobs was driving!

We waited at the garage 2 hours for their top mechanic to arrive and assess the situation. When he did arrive he glanced under the car, crossed his arms and said something that roughly translates to: ‘Your cars screwed mate’.

Long negotiations resulted in us riding in the back of a cattle transporter truck to the Russian border for $97. The truck stank of cow dung and for a moment we were nostalgic for our departed team mate. (He’s not here so fair game!)

The car was lowered from the inspection ramp onto the truck but how to get it off? No problem the guy says: ‘Small mountain at end!’ 5 minutes after setting off we got a tug from local law enforcement who initially objected to us being in the Panda on the back of the truck! We were allowed to stay put but had to recline the seats fully and cover our heads with our coats!

And so it was we spent the next 2 hours shrouded in Gortex, eating processed cheese and listening to our 80’s greatest hits compilation to the aroma of cow dung and rhythmic thuds of every pot hole and arbitrary speed bump.

At the border the Panda (Lazarus) actually spluttered back to life and we drove cautiously over. 4.5 hours of bureaucracy ensued until finally ejected the other side we powered forward on a perfect road until…..we didn’t! A few kilometres in and everything blew and OBH stopped dead! I’m not sure what exactly but the radiator hung trashed out of the engine bay, water pooled on the road, white smoke rose from the bonnet and oil was being ejected. Even we, the eternal optimists could see that Ulan-Ude was looking unlikely!

After flagging down every passing motorist I left Tony with the car and hitched a ride to town with an off-duty policeman who whilst convinced our car was adorned with Marijuana Leaves was happy to help and introduced me to a Russian version of Tintin who had a rather unroadworthy tow truck.

At 2am we made Ulan-Ude or at least that’s what he told us. The windscreen was so smashed I couldn’t see and had to jump out to confirm. Glad to be here not least as we were concerned that driver fatigue could result in disaster, Tintin stopping to do roadside press ups to keep awake!

And so it we find ourselves in a Russian hotel eating breakfast to a cover version of Careless Whisper, the finish line podium just a 250m push away! Can we pull off one more Panda resurrection and drive on to that podium….?

On the way to Ust’-something, we hit a mine field that had been incorrectly marked as a road on our map.

We pulled up behind a Land Rover kitted out like Bear Grills Car Club had a fire sale. Tony had enough of the lack of progress and passed the 4×4 on some less than pristine road way. My crying defeaned by the sound of the sump hitting the road.

The look on the face of the khaki shirted, Ray Ban wearing driver being passed at speed by a Fiat Panda must have been priceless . Too bad we couldn’t see because of cloud of dust, stones and humiliation we had just kicked up.

The dirt track we were on had been the most deplorable excuse for a road. Neil Armstrong had better road conditions than we did.

We were beaten. Bashed. Assaulted. Kazakhstan roads danced over us like Ali over Frazier.

We held up our hand and tapped out. We needed a night in a hotel but instead ended up in Brothers Grimm nightmare. Somewhere in the deep dark woods of Kazakhstan, we found what we thought was a hotel. If it was made of gingerbread, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

This place was run by the worlds most evil Hobbit. She was shorter standing up than sitting down and started by shouting at us in Kazakh or Russian or maybe just evil witch tongue.

Drag Queen Yoda led us up the stairs, past the trail of discarded bread crumbs.

My room was so bad even the bed bugs moved out. I did get a complimentary meal in the fridge after “housekeeping” failed to clean out the mould crusted tomato, half eaten bread roll and cheese slices in a lovely shade of green.

I would have assumed this was a crime scene but no one would be desperate enough to die in this room. Well, apart from the double murder/suicide of hope and despair!

I swore, on the way out, I saw a set of twins in blue dresses at the end of the corridor…

The next day we started with almost 160m of flat tarmac before we hit roads with holes so deep we needed our head lights to get out.

The Kazakh roads have officially been reported to the World Wildlife Fund for putting our Panda back on the Endangered Species List.

The Kazakh Panda Pounding was relentless and finally resulted in a bent suspension and a detour into the nearest settlement.

As always, a local wizard was hiding in a garage and weaved his magic by grafting a Lada suspension on to the Fiat. With a mix of Google Translate, and good use of Tony’s two years of Community Mime School, we were back on the road. Thank you Kazakh Gandalf!!

Our FrankenPanda is now an international testament to engineering. An Italian body, an
Iranian clutch, Turkish tyres, Kazakh suspension, Uzbekistan roofrack, Polish carburetor and two Brits and an Aussie on the inside.

If this was an ancestry DNA trace, you would say “Mummy got around…”

This was also the town where Dostoevsky was born. A famous Russian author…but crap at fixing cars apparently.

Onwards into the blue of the night…except for that red oil warning light that just came on.

Nothing a bit of black gaffer tape won’t cover. Problem solved….and turn up that music…


As the Eagles song goes…

‘You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’

The Rally Runs hit us hard and we were too scared to move more than 8 feet from the safety of our luxurious hotel toilet. This was a game of boxer shorts roulette! Never bet on brown!

We eventually made it out of the hotel, after “borrowing” several toilet rolls from the house keeping trolley.

Shymkent, our first stop, was a surprisingly modern city. Progress is making its steady march in this growing city, with smooth wide streets, modern cafes, neon signs and duck faced selfie teens everywhere.

We even got a fillet steak and beer at 2am. (note:- a school boy error- refer to first paragraph)

Borat has a lot to answer for. The Kazakh are a friendly, well educated and yet quiet people who obviously work hard and take pride in themselves, many of whom speak great English.

We, on the other hand, were three brash smelly westerners driving a very loud small car with a dead animal and nude leg stuck to the roof. Starting to wonder who is the tourist attraction.

Next day, we headed 700k’s to Almaty along a great driving road..

Kazakhstan is an amazingly beautiful and fertile land, making for a cooling contrast to the dust and heat of the last few countries.

A Caravaggio landscape of rolling hills of straw gold grass and scrub contrasting against the towering brown folds of snow capped mountains set againt azure blue skies, tainted with the whites and greys of billowing clouds.

It’s amazing the details you can take-in having a wee by the side of the road.

Once in Almaty, we checked into separate rooms. Although we had to spend more, the benefit of a cold uninterrupted toilet seat far out weighed the cost.

We got changed and went out for a beer and steak dinner (we are slow learners). FYI, Medium rare steak in Kazakhstan is just short of smacking the cow’s ass as it walks past the grill. Pretty sure mine put itself on to my plate.

After dinner we decided on a quick walk by a post Communism War Wemorial (that looked suspiciously like Captain America) when we heard the doof doof call of a local club.

We walked into a night club that was meant to be modern and upcoming. It was, in 1996. The tunes were all 90’s classics as was the fashion. The night was warm but was still colder than the beer.

Full of warm beer and raw beef, we headed back to the hotel, each of us grabbing an extra toilet roll from reception and the solace of our cold toilets.

At breakfast, the reality of what was ahead of us hit us like a bus. And then it backed over us for a second go before tooting its horn and flipping us the bird!

We only had three countries of the original 20+ to get through but they are the biggest, involving over 5,000kms of the worse roads yet.

These will make Uzbekistan roads feel like a shiatysu massage and cold glass of coconut water.

This trip has been like going to a smorgasbaord buffet meal, gorging ourselves senseless on the free bread and smaller starters but forgetting that the main meal was still to come.

Except the mains were a whole cow, a whole sheep and 152 chickens! With a free side of “You bloody idiots!!”

Oh well, time to slip on the baggy pregnant pants, tuck in the serviette, bite off more than we can chew and chew like hell!!

Next is the 1,100k drive to Ust-somerhing, where the guide book says….”some roads look liked they have been bombed out”.. starting to wonder where that nearest airport is.



If you are reading this I am dead or I have crossed over in to Valhalla.

Saturday night was one if the most insane, intense, improptu and unbelievable things I have ever experienced.

Generations of Rallyer children will hear of this and doubt it really happened… even I’m not sure it did.

Named the Gateway to Hell, Darvaza Crater is a massive gas crater burning uncontrollably in the middle of the Turkmenistan desert.

It’s 4 hours into the Karakum Desert (the hottest desert in Asia – my sweaty thighs concur). The road there is so bad, locals charge you to get you un-bogged and wait like sharks hunting baby seals!

The site is a giant hole in the Earth erupting with flames licking its sides, exploding gas balls and intense enough heat to melt a Kardashian at 200m.

This spectacle was mind blowing to say the least and one of the greatest events I have had the pleasure of enjoying…..until….

Hew (Mongol Mongrels) had somehow cohersed/bribed the local band from the previous nights pub to play a one-off gig at the Crater. They even brought their own generator – no gas powered instruments apparently!

And what a Gig it was. With an exclusive audience of 23 drunk travellers and the back drop a raging fire pit against the pitch black dessert night…GASTONBURY 2019 was born!!

With a full five piece band punching out some great English (And Russian) hits and fuelled on a volatile mix of fatigue, the flaming Hell Pit back drop, €3 BOTTLES of vodka and pure adrenaline, the mentally challenged Rallyers…. WENT OFF LIKES FROGS IN A SOCK!!

Dancing out of control to 4.30am, we watching “disgarded” empty gas canisters explode out of the inferno to the sounds of beating drums, wailing guitar riffs and 80’s keyboard – we really did finish with a bang!

We woke to a stunning sunrise and a warm desert breeze across a pristine untouched landscape. The sounds of rustling wild grass, birds on the wing and the retching of guts in nine different languages!

This life altering event was then balanced out with the worst roads we have experienced EVER.

Roads so rough, violent and dangerous they have a to have Parole Officer sign off one day a week!

We seemed to hit every pot hole and sump smashing crevass. We were swearing and laughing with every grinding crunch… We averaged around 46 curses a kilometre!

The road eventually lost the plot and killed our roof rack! This testament to fine Italian engineering and design, now sits on 4 spare tyres held down with several ratchet straps and blind hope. The roof is now caving in and inside head clearance is now reduced with every bounce as the ratchet straps go through the windows!

Uzbekistan awaits…let’s see what they have to offer coz Turkmenistan you mentally hot and sun stroked crazy fecker, you beat us like we owed you money but I will love you for ever!!

Turkey wasn’t that bad so why was everyone punching five shades of balclava out of each other to leave.

The people in queue (I use term VERY looslely) were pushing like there was a sale on bums and they had two for one vouchers.

After barely surviving Turkish passport control (the stitchers come out in six weeks), the 50m walk to Iran Passport Control was like walking from the pits of hell into a day spa.

Air conditioned. Polite, orderly, friendly and amazingly helpful staff. Charmed already and I’ve only moved 150 feet.

Our fixer (Barry the Briber) got us all sorted and on the road in a quick four hours. Apart from Tony… who almost moved in when they stuffed up his Visa. More leg room for us!

We changed some money and with an exchange rate of €1 to 132,000 Rials, we walked in as Rallyers and walked out as multi millionaires. We filled our car for €3.20 …from empty! And hit the road.

Our guide said he would see us in Tabriz. So much for big brother watching our every move. He obviously had better things to do…or knew how bat shit mental Iranian drivers are!!

Google Maps said it was three hours. Google maps left out it was three hours of the scariest white knuckled, yelp enducing, tourettes causing, pants smearing dodge ’em driving I have ever experienced.

Hidden speed humps reach up to rip out your axle, your spleen and your Soul. Pot holes behave like land mines, trying to remove one whole wheel at a time.

Iranian drivers are the worst, enjoying a perverse game of driving Russian Roulette. They overtake. On BLIND corners. THREE abreast. And…. THEY DONT PULL IN…even when TRUCKS come the other way!! And smile doing it!!

I’ve bought a box of man nappies for tomorrows drive to Tehran because a little wee came out today. More than once.

Traffic is officially the biggest killer in Iran. Nahhhhh….? Really?!

All this is worth it because the scenery is National Geogrpahic beautiful. Green fields of crops and yellow seas of bright sun flowers reach out to stunning red and gold mountain ranges that look more like Mars than Earth. Sorry. Got all David Attenborough/Dulux Paint there but bloody hell it’s pretty.

The people here are some of the most inviting and hospitable hosts I have ever met. Helpful to the point you want to punch them.

So friendly that you find your self saying things like ” sure, stay at my place next time and bring all the family….even Uncle Mustafa”.

And so generous that I once had to say “no, thank you, he is very helpful but my wife already has a husband of her own, you keep yours”

We are off to the Tabriz Grand Bazaar tonight to some enjoy Iranian delights and share a couple of Hukas..that sounded so different in my head….

Like A Japanese tourist bus doing Golden Week we smashed through Europe yesterday.

…. driving by, shooting quick pics out the car window like LA gang bangers….

Five countries in one day. Germany.Austria.Slovenia.Croatia.Serbia. Get here.

I can now order a burger and a beer in nine different languages and pay in six different currencies!

So todays Mission Jim, if you choose to accept it, is to get through Serbia and Bulgaria to the Asian side of Turkey.

You Have 18 hours….

Dun dun dada Dun dun dada Dun dun dada Dun dun dada Dun dun dada Dun dun dada

doo de doo doo de doo doo de doo doo do

And Mongol Mongrels are off!!

Today is the day. Ten years in the dreaming. One year in the planning. Six months in the grovelling and a lifetime of memories to be made.

Or the most short lived, over anticipated, anticlimactic moment since that time with Sharon Manisky at the back of the school disco!

The Poms are driving from London and will get the underwater snorkel train (aka Brexit Express) to France while the token Aussie will catch a flight from Dublin with the plan to rendezvous in Luxembourg to:-

A) enjoy a light supper before turning in for an early night.

B) meet up, give man hugs all round, chuck our bags through the door, grab a quick Lynx Shower-in-a-can and roll into Luxembourg like it’s first night of camp and we just got paid!

C) be so knackered, we will have one beer, call it a night by 11.00 and fall asleep like the middle aged old farts we are.

No matter what, this is it.
Oh This time I know it’s the real thing
I can’t explain what I’m feeling
I’m lost for words….

Sorry…Got all Danni Minogue there….

So eastward and onwards it is!!

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Like our Mongolia visas!…a bit bloody hard to do a London to Mongolia Rally if you can’t actually get INTO Mongolia!! 

Who wants to do “The London to Somewhere-close-by-but-not-quite-Mongolia-Rally” . We finally got the visa and our passports back so can drive a bit further now…theoretically speaking.

As for the driving bit, we reviewed our tool kit and discovered we didn’t have one!  

Considering none of us are in anyway mechanically minded, (we had trouble spelling AA) ….we went ahead anyway and sent Tony to the local tool supplying type establishment shop thingy.

 Armed with a shopping list that included gloves, duct tape, chicken wire, plyers, jumper leads, lubricant spray and a very large tarpaulin,  it was no surprise store security followed Tony for most of his shop.

Shopping trolley full of said items, the lady at the checkout nervously eyed up our Tony like he just bought a Serial Killer Starter Kit.

Tony explained that it was actually for three middle aged blokes to drive from London to Mongolia in a Fiat Panda and this was our emergency tool kit.

I think she was more comfortable with the serial killer concept. The balaclava probably didn’t help matters either…

So the car is sorted, the visas all locked in and departure date set.

But, there is one more hurdle to ponder….how many days CAN you get out of one pair of underpants…if you really really tried.