The Mongol Rally: What We Learned

We’ve had some time to think since getting back from Ulaanbaatar. We’re always being asked about our best experiences, and more importantly, what we learned out there. So here are some thoughts, in no particular order, for those who feel inspired to embark on their next adventure:

  • This was no vacation. The Rally was a constant series of highs and lows, our days filled with excitement, stress, fear, hope, and sometimes even boredom. There were sometimes streaks of days in a row getting only 2-4 hours sleep. We were moving, constantly, and freaking the F out if we were not moving. If this is your idea of vacation, cheers, and we’d love to hang out with you.
  • The places with the most notorious reputations often showed the best hospitality. Our arms grew tired of waving back to nearly everyone we passed in Turkmenistan, a repressive authoritarian country known to be second in rigidity to North Korea (although President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov recently declared “a new era of supreme happiness”). And we were honored to be treated as guests of honor at a party we stumbled into in the small town of Rŭshan, Tajikistan, mere feet away from Afghanistan. To anyone who helped or hosted us along the way, thank you. We’ve learned a lot from you.
  • Trust often. Anytime you travel, you are putting yourself in a situation that requires blind faith in the people around you. Maintain your wits and pay attention to your instincts, but sometimes there is no other option but to completely rely on strangers. No matter what you’ve heard, the majority of people in this world are good people.
  • Filming can take time, complicate logistics, and feel like an undue burden. But it can also really enhance the traveling experience. Filming can take you further into places that you never would’ve otherwise gone – for example, when grabbing quick grub at a tiny Mongolian road stop, why not step back into the kitchen with the camera to get a view of how the chef cooks it? See a family building a yurt on the side of the road? Stop to get some awesome footage, having one of the best times of your life in the process. You wouldn’t get that view, or that conversation, if you didn’t have the camera. Plus, many of the people along the way will be genuinely excited to be on or near the camera. Show them what you’ve filmed! It’s a guaranteed party starter.
  • Horse milk is not like cow milk.
  • Goat cheese can mean many, many things in Central Asia, but never what you hope it means.
  • Snickers are everywhere.
  • Don’t listen to the hucksters at camping stores in London. You don’t need the super special, super expensive all-fuel-type stove. A butane stove will do just fine.
  • In fact, don’t go to London. That place is freakin’ expensive.
  • Central Asia is not for vegetarians, nor is it for foodies.
  • Despite what you hear in the news, people across the world generally like Americans (and wear hilarious New York City t-shirts), even if they don’t like our government.
  • Accept gifts with your right hand, palm facing up. Your left hand is your poo hand. 😐
  • Gas is not always gas. Sometimes it is Gaz, a propane-based fuel that will not work in your car.
  • There are many ways to get fuel into your car. Get creative!
  • Watch out for surprise seltzer!
  • When one person points in the direction you’re going and then makes an X with his hands, he might be wrong, keep going. When three different people point in the direction you’re going in and then make an X with their hands, turn the fuck around.
  • Kazakhstan is way less Borat than you’d think. Romania is way more Borat than you’d think.
  • People everywhere know how to fix your car.
  • In Central Asia, melons are currency. Always carry spare melons.
  • If you play dumb and say “No money!” to cops for long enough to waste their time, they’ll get frustrated and let you go. There were days we got stopped by cops 4-5 times, and still never paid a dollar (or melon).
  • Make sure to leave your wallet and any original important documents in the car when speaking with cops that pull you over. They will grab anything they can from you.
  • Sometimes police will decide to take you down to the station for no reason whatsoever. Try and have fun. If they put you in jail that sucks. They didn’t put us in jail.
  • Pooping in the wide open outdoors far trumps pooping in a designated bathroom hole.
  • Don’t skip the Pamir Mountains. No matter what terrifying things you hear about it, it’s mostly just beautiful.
  • Sirens are not always a sign of the police. Often sirens are a sign of a wedding parade. You don’t need to pull over for them.
  • One of the most wonderful things you miss most about America (without even realizing it) is the abundance of choice and convenience. For example, when at the American Consulate in Tajikistan, you can dry your hands with both paper towel and a blow dryer. That’s the definition of freedom. ‘Murica.
  • You can get pretty much get anything you want in this world by repeatedly saying please in a submissive voice. Even if they don’t speak English, they will get the point.
  • Get your documentation in order beforehand, seriously.
  • You can sleep in/on just about anything really. This includes the floor of the restaurant where you just had dinner.
  • As long as your hands are dry, they are probably clean enough to eat with. We think.
  • ABW = Always have baby wipes.
  • It’s more fun in a manual shift car.
  • If you’re not sure if you car can drive through it, your car can’t drive through it. But you might as well try, right?
  • If you see something cool off in the distance, away from the road, don’t be afraid to do some off-roading. Just beware of the ground that looks frozen but is actually squishy-muddy-eat-your-car-tires-and-never-let-you-go ground.
  • Zip ties are a necessity. What for? When you need them, you’ll know.
  • Sleeping in your car is no picnic. Spend the extra 10 minutes setting up your tent when you can, it’s worth the hassle.
  • Make sure you have several back up plans for listening to music in your car. You might think saving thousands of songs on your iPhone will be enough… And then your phone will get run over by a truck.
  • Every country has a uniquely funny type of hat. Collect them all!
  • All you need is plov.
  • We still have no idea what the fuck is the meaning of Stonehenge.

It’s been real, too real. The Rally to the End of the World kicks off in Spring 2015 – sign up for our mailing list to receive future updates! See you on the road. Goulet!

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