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Ulaanbataar!

After 9,337 miles, 13 countries,​ 7 time zones, 2 deserts, 2 broken shock absorbers, 2 burst tyres, 2 broken tents, 11 Police stops, 10 river crossings,​ 1 tank of sunflower oil, 2 Moldavian sanctionin​gs, $150 of bribes and countless memories we have made it to Ulaanbaata​r using a map that makes no sense in our two beautiful trucks.

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Currently driving worst road any of us have ever driven on. We broke the same shock absorber as last time on Friday, got it fixed in Khovd on Saturday morning for £2.50.

The Mongolian road map is a joke, we are having too navigate using the GPS and gris coordinates from the back of the Lonely Planet Guide.

We’re camping again tonight and hoping to reach Altay by tomorrow evening in time for Nadam Festival celebrations.

No signs of any diesel crisis, even the villages we’ve passed through have had it at petrol stations.

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Arrived in Mongolia, it took us 27 hours to cross the border. They let us pitch our tents overnight and the guards were very nice.

In Olgii now, the first major town, which shows no sign of a diesel crisis. All the stations have had diesel, it’s just quite expensive around 90p a litre. We filled up 40 litres today with no problems. The border guards had no idea there were any diesel issues and we’ve been told that there is diesel available in UB.

Beautiful scenery all around.

Love to all at home.

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Back in Russia!

So we are back in Russia now after the most incredible 2 weeks in Kazakhstan! The hospitality and friendship we received the entire way was overwhelming at points!

Our favourite example of Kazakh friendship was in Kyzlorda where we got horribly lost in what is quite a large city. A man came over to us and asked where we were going, he concluded he couldn’t tell us where to go so hopped on his push-bike and cycled half way across the city to show us the way out. He didn’t want any money or anything like that, he just wanted to help us out!

We were pulled over by the Kazakh police 6 times, 5 times were routine document checks and once was a slight speedometer interpretation error by Mr Thomas. No trouble at all though, they were all very friendly. What is great about Kazakh police is that before they talk to you they salute you and shake your hand, very welcoming and far less intimidating than other nations police!

We crossed into Russia yesterday which only took an hour, we hit the border at the golden 11am hour when theyre always quiet. A Russian border guard spoke great English and was amazed at what we were doing, this helped us wizz through no doubt!

So we will be going through the beautiful Altai Republic for the next few days which we are all very excited after having seen photos, after which it is Mongolia! There is a shortage of Diesel in Mongolia but not to worry, we have a jerry can capacity of 120 litres and 100 litres of vegetable oil if we need it. All we need is one or two stations to have diesel and we will easily make the distance.

This will be the last blog for a while, Mongolia is so remote we don’t even expect phone signal let alone wifi! Keep looking at the sat trackers, they will work and we will say hello again when we hit UB!

Chris and the Gang!

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This is just a quick message to update you on the team’s progress. We know there has been some confusion amongst everyone as to why we have stopped in Semey, Northern Kazakhstan and as to what our future travel plans as a result of the diesel shortages in Mongolia.

We arrived in Semey last night and are currently staying in a hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet. We were made aware of the diesel shortages in Mongolia yesterday and decided to stay in Semey today to research this as much as possible, instead of driving on to the Russian border as originally planned.

We will be continuing our journey into Russia tomorrow morning after having stayed another night in Semey, and we are planning to cross into Mongolia on the 4th July, as originally planned. We have spent the whole day ringing various embassies, contacts etc to find out about the situation in as much detail as possible, and have discussed our options at length.

From the information we have gathered from embassies and contacts, it seems the diesel shortage will not significantly affect our trip and is set to improve as we continue further into Mongolia. There is a national holiday in Mongolia on the 7th July which the government has guaranteed to provide diesel by. We did look into the possibility of extending our Russian visas so as to drive north into Eastern Siberia, Russia and come down into Mongolia via their nothern border, which would mean entering Mongolia only for a few days at the end of July. However, after speaking to both the British and Russian embassies in Moscow, London and Kazakhstan, it is not possible for us to extend our visas and we have decided our best option is to continue on into Mongolia.

We are currently in contact with another team doing the Mongolia Charity Rally who are a few days ahead of us. They are currently in Mongolia and have been able to find diesel which is a good sign – we will continue to be in contact with them for any advice they can give us. We are filling all our jerry cans with diesel and also stocking up on vegetable oil should we need to use that as fuel. We will always have a full jerry can of diesel as backup should we need it, and will always calculate our diesel amount at every village/town. We will never set off away from civilisation if we are not sure we can make it to the next town.

Hope this helps to clear up the confusion.
We are all well and happy – and continue to be amazed by the incredible hopsitality bestowed upon us by the Kazakhstanis.

With much love to all,
The whole team.

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Volgograd…

12/06/2011

We took a well earned rest day in Volgograd. After a lie in and breakfast at our hotel – the first time any of us had seen Vodka at breakfast!

We left the trucks at our hotel and walked into the city. Sightseeing was cut short by a three hour lunch, where we overcame our complete lack of Russian by playing Russian menu roulette! We each selected a meal at random from the menu. It turned out we had ordered liver salad, sushi, schnitzel, a sweep and sour dish, a traditional soup and a chicken pasta – all of which turned out to be lovely.

We decide to stay in the sane hotel a second night because of the advantages of secure parking abd free wifi!!

13/06/2011

This morning we visited the incredible Mamev Mound, with an 83m statue of Mother Russia, in tribute to the 1.5 million people who died in the Battle of Stalingrad, a key turning point of World War Two. The memorial was incredible and the scale of the statue, and loss of life it represents was very moving.

We drove from Volgograd to Astrakhan in the afternoon, having an interesting encounter with the Russian police en route. We were pulled over by a picky policeman who almost confiscated Georgie’s geology notes in a desperate attenpt to fleece us for cash. In the end our patience and tolerance of the numerous Mosquitos meant that we got away without a fine, but having wasted 45 minutes. This encounter reminded us of a story from an English biker we had met the day before, he had been told to pay a fine if €1000 by Russian police, but after much delay and proving relevant papers he had got away with paying only €10. It is clear that the police here are out to make money, the only English words the officer that stopped us knew were “big problem” and “money”.

Hoping to explore the city tomorrow before heading to Kazakhstan on the 15th.

Love to all at home.

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Welcome to Russia…

We left Belgium on the road to Germany, via Luxembourg (where diesel was cheap and chocolate spread for sale in 5 litre tubs!). After a long days driving we arrived in the German town of Hidelberg, at a beautiful riverside campsite. Since it was a Sunday all the shops were closed so we cooked up dinner from our supplies and had a relaxed evening around the fire.

The next day, (Monday 6th) we drove on to a campsite just outside Vienna. It was a fairly uneventful day of autobahn driving, swapping drivers regularly to get everybody properly accustomed to driving on the wrong side of the rOad. That night we stayed at a busy campsite 30km to the west of Vienna. We met an interesting English couple who had built their own 30ft mobile home and driven it to places as exotic as Timbuktu! We also had to explain to some perplexed campers why anybody would want to drove to Mongolia!

Tuesday 7th, we drove on to Romania via a series of complicated u-turns in Vienna and a 45 minute wrestle with Budapest’s one way system, although Calum, who was navigating at the time maintains that this was a sightseeing tour! The morning was summed up by Calum’s radio transmission from the ambulance; “we are definately on the right road, just going the wrong way!!”

In the afternoon we crossed into Romania and were pulled over by the police within a mile of the border, after lots of pointing and the showing of documents, we were let off for our offence (apparently it’s illegal not to have your headlights on in Romania). We were all shocked by how under developed Romania was, horse and carts were a common sight, and the area around our campsite felt like we had gone back in time. Needless to say our trucks attracted alot of interested stares! Just when we were all starting to wonder what on earth a campsite in this area would be like, we came across our haven for the night. A peaceful well kept campsite run by a Romanian man called Cornell and his Dutch wife. They welcomed us with romanian tea, cherries fresh from their trees and stories of Romania and what we could expect in the next few days. They were an amazing couple who ran an orphanage and numerous other projects across Romania, their campsite was run to help fund the orphanage.

We set off early, heeding Cornell’s warnings of difficult roads and crazy lorry drivers! We found Top Gear’s best road in the world, the Transfăgărăşan Highway, described by the TV show as being like every great corner from every great racetrack in the world. Unfortunately the mountain pass was closed halfway up (though some more intrepid drivers in 4x4s ignored the barriers). We resisted temptation to carry on and turned back, however what we did see of the road was the nothing short of spectacular. That night we camped under Dracular’s castle, at A campsite called Vampire Camping, and woke up to a massive thunderstorm at around 5am.

A long day saw us cross into Moldova. This was our first real border crossing- and our first experience of corrupt officials. Calum and Will were called into a back office and had to pay $100 in fines for various “indiscretions”! As it turned out we spent lOnger at the Moldovan border than we did in Moldova, as our route across the country took under two hours. In that time we had one particularly tricky wrong turn which resulted in the first engagement of the 4×4!

We crossed into Ukraine from Moldova at a quite intimidating military border post where Adrian paid an import tax of just just €1. The guards were very interested in our trucks and the map showing our route.

Two long driving in Ukraine saw us give up on finding a place to camp and having a hilarious conversation a Ukrainian hotel made who understood not a word of English, fortunately our actions and phrase book got us through, a decent dinner and secure parking for the trucks.

Yesterday, Saturday, we crossed into Russia, a two and a half hour, bribe free but stressful experience. We were given forms in Russian to fill out, and struggled through as much as we could until a guard with a huge gun took pity on us and pointed to which boxes we should tick. We were then able to help out two English bikers who arrived behind us on a tour around the Black Sea. Adrian and Chris then took the forms to an office where a grumpy guard shouted at them for getting the forms wrong, 4 or 5 attempts later we made it through the border… Welcome to Russia!!

We were pulled over by the police twice on the way to volgograd (formally Stalingrad). The first police check involved a full document check by a policemen who was quite intimidating until his phone rang with the theme tune from the Harry Potter movies!! At The second stop we were waved on by the policeman when he realised we spoke no Russian!

We nearly ran out of petrol on the way into Volgograd as no petrol stations took card and the 1000roubles that Will’s Dad had given him turned out to be Czech Croner and no use for buying fuel. Fortunately we found a station willing to take our card, and filled two tanks for under £45!!

After a good nights sleep in a Volgograd hotel we plan to take in the sights of Volgograd and rake a slower pace from now on. We enter Kazakhstan on the 15th and hope to have Internet again within a day or two after that.

Everyone sends love and best wishes to all at home and we thank you for your continuing support.

Th

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Belgium…

After an early start we crossed the channel this morning, and have made it to Belgium. Taking it easy and getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road.

Stopped at a McDonalds for some traditional Belgian food before we hit the road to Germany, via Luxembourg tonight.

All fine and in good spirits.

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On the road…

We set of just after 5am this morning. Heading across Scotland towards Glasgow before the motorway down to Kent for our first night.

To see live updates of our position visit: http://live.adventuretracking.com/staag2011

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6 days…

This time next week the team will have crossed the Channel and be on day two of the journey.

With under a week until departure plans are well underway, both vehicles have been fully serviced by local mechanics and much kit has been purchased.

Yesterday we spent the morning putting logos, and sponsors decals on the vehicles.

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