Day 31 - Part 2 - Ashgabat to Gates of Hell

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017

Day 31 - August 15, 2017 - Part 2

The Gates of Hell, Turkmenistan

Countries: 24 KMs/Miles: 12525/7828

Breakdowns: 11 Time @ Borders: 40h 53m

The sun is setting across the desert sky and the Kooks pull off the main drag to face many a Rallier’s arch nemesis.  The Darvaza Gas Crater, a.k.a. the Gates of Hell.

All Mongol Rally blogs and Facebook posts had warned the Kooks of this short stint of treacherous roads and soft sand that lead to the crater. The consensus being that is was gonna be a bitch and had broken many past Ralliers cars and dreams.

As the Kooks pulled up to the final stretch, the vultures circled. A dozen locals on Russian motorcycles and a beat down tow truck descended upon the Kooks in anticipation of their likely demise. Like a plague of mosquitos, the Kooks swiped the pests aside and continued on determined and undeterred from the local’s pessimism. The consensus being “F*ck these A-holes. We got this.”.

Millie lines up first with John at the helm. Andy, Josh and Geej run ahead to play scout and offer their advice as any sound Rally Car nav man would. “Two sharp bends after the hill” “Soft sand for 2kms” “Lower the tire pressure to 15psi” “Don’t let off the accelerator whatever you do”. With John equipped with as much info as he could take, it was time to gun it.  Fail. Try again. Fail. Andy runs ahead to do a bit more scouting when all of a sudden, the Duke’s calling card blares through the horns and Millie appears over the hill in a dust-ball of glory! The adrenalin kicks in and Andy sprints behind for a couple kilometres until he finally catches up to John who is victoriously sucking back a heater and lining up his camera for the perfect shot of the incredible spectacle the stars were putting on above their heads.

10 minutes pass. 30 minutes pass. 1 hour passes. No YACKS. Where were the others? AS any good teammates would, Millie decides to carry on to the crater and set up camp for the boys and get started on the beers. YACKS would want it that way.

With the hard yards behind them, John and Andy revert to their Kook tendencies and get a bit cocky. Andy pies into the nav seat to save from waling and they charge on without scouting conditions. The sand starts to grow soft and in no time, they’re well and truly stuck. Andy gets out to scout conditions and decide whether to attempt to go forward or backward. A camel spider is spotted in his iPhone light and Andy turns around and immediately heads back to John to say that retreat is the best option so they set abut digging. To no avail. Then the locusts swarmed and the boys conceded victory and agree to $30 to get them out and back down the crater to see their friends.

But wait. What’s that on the horizon? A car’s headlights are rapidly approaching and the boys quickly recognise the problem in this scenario and sprint towards the headlights waving them off before they hit soft sand and shared Millie’s fate.

Meanwhile, YACKS was doing it a bit tougher with their smaller engine. Try after try and they couldn’t quite peak the crest. The locusts swarmed and offered them a tow for a mere $150 which was met with resentment and an infuriated Mikey who was more determined to do it solo. This was the boost he needed and next try would be the one. Surely. Nope. Same spot. Thankfully out of the blue, a friendly Polish couple in a beefy Toyota came to the rescue. They had been told by Andy and John about their struggling friends down the hill, and had come to inform them Millie was at the crater drinking beers (John and Andy may have been premature in their assessment when conveying the message). They offered a tow which YACKS was all too happy to accept to keep money away from the pesky locals and YACKS was off until they saw some dark figures running towards them and waving their hands. The teams were united. 

The locals are told YACKS will now be going forward and they quickly get released from the sands grasp and are back on the road to the crater. Although both teams required a little help and $30 was lost to the vultures, spirits were high and they chalked it up as a win.

The crater’s glow was just over the horizon and as the Kooks approached and the flaming hole revealed itself, they knew they had reached their prize. This would be the second time Turkmenistan left the Kooks awe-struck. With the cars parked on the rim of the ever-blazing pit, the Kooks had a chance to survey the massive gas crater that lay in front of them when some fellow Ralliers, Taz and his Irish compatriot, pull up in their astoundingly intact Yaris.

Everybody was on a high so the beers and vodka went down quickly, photos were taken and the two teams carried on with Consuela’s Turkmen brother keeping them all giggling late into the late. Geej would need to be led to the tents as his weariness overcame him and he mistook the crater for a ski lodge fireplace to curl up and sleep next to.

The Kooks had danced with the devil and won this round. Confident as ever. Nothing from here on would stop them. Boy how they would be proven wrong. End Transmission.

 

Day 31 - Part 1 - Ashgabat to Gates of Hell

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017

Day 31 - August 15, 2017 - Part 1

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan to the Gates of Hell

Countries: 24 KMs/Miles: 12525/7828

Breakdowns: 11 Time @ Borders: 40h 53m

The scorching sun creeps up over the hill early to wake the Kooks to a puddle of sweat in an unknown place. Josh serves up a quick breakfast of milk & cereal and the Kooks hit the road to Ashgabat to fix the ever-growing nuisance of Millie’s whining wheel bearing.

Tamir greets the team bright and early at the Skoda dealership and escorts Mikey to the bank while John cracks on with the mechanical task at hand after receiving his expensive shiny new wheel bearing. Mike’s eyes are opened a bit to the strange innerworkings of the newly constructed Ashgabat as he peppers Tamir with questions en route to the bank. Visa has only been introduced to the city in preparation of the Asian Games and getting cash is more of an ordeal than the Kooks would like. Meanwhile at the dealership, John’s handy work is earning immortalising him with the onlooking Skoda mechanics as he replaces the wheel bearing outside their high-tech garage with nothing more than his trusty red tool kit and the ringing of his hammer belting any part within striking distance. His only request is to use their hydraulic press to get the wheel bearing in. Not even Thor could accomplish what was required with a mere hammer and some advanced machinery was needed.

Works completed and Millie nursed back to health, the Kooks head to the Grand Turk for a meal. If they couldn’t lavish themselves with a nice bed there, they could at least reward themselves with a nice meal…and WiFi. The beers were cold, the food was hearty and everything went down a treat. Then the bill arrived. $150. The Kooks had thrown money to wind again and realized their imported beers were costing them London prices. A lesson learned but probably soon forgotten in typical Kook fashion.

With the meal and beer slowing the Kooks progress to a lull, Mike, Josh and John decided to sit poolside for a while and work on their bronze while sipping local beers (half the price) while Geej and Andy walked off the feed through the quiet streets of Ashgabat. Walking magnified the oddity of Ashgabat. Surrounded by fountains and landscapes fit for Kings, Geej and Andy found themselves alone. Not a soul roamed outside apart from the odd military personnel telling them not to take pictures and where they were not allowed. Weird. This is what a dictatorship looks like.

Finally, the Kooks were ready to begin their characteristic late start and set their sights for the Darvaza Gas Crater. The drive was smooth but they were scant of water and food so they decided to stop in a small village before their destination to restock. After a successful shop and a few high fives, horn toors with the local kids and their tiny bike gang the Kooks set off. In true Messiah form, John is able to giveth…and taketh. Our saviour to begin the day has rapidly become our destroyer as he decides to take Millie on a test drive up a Sand Dune. Fail. Millie is stuck and as the Kooknms unravel their tow rope, they realise it is barely fit to tow a Red Rider wagon. Ballocks. The Kooks are stuck.

Aimlessly trying to tow Millie out with YACKS and a rope that is too short to do any good, the local Samaritans start approaching and offering assistance. YACKS failed. A Nissan Pajero failed. The children with their bikes and shovels in tow failed. And then. The 6-wheeld sand titan arrived. The driver smiled at the Kooks incompetence and hooked up the tow rope effortlessly. Although it was the Kooks only means of escape, the machine before their tiny vessel worried them and visions of the front end behind yanked off the car floated through their minds. A jerky pull that left the Kooks breathless somehow left Millie intact and got her out unscathed.

An hour lost, the Kooks carried on knowing that a daylight attempt to Darvaza now lay out of reach and what was anticipated to be a trying endeavour just became a lot more difficult. End Transmission.

Day 30 - Part 2 - Iran to Turkmenistan

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017

Day 30 - August 14, 2017 - Part 2

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Countries: 24 KMs/Miles: 12227/7598

Breakdowns: 10 Time @ Borders: 40h 53m

The Kooks have finally entered the much sought after ‘Stans’.

Spoiler Alert:  These ‘Stans’ will knock the Kooks down, kick em in the guts, and spit in their face for good measure. The narrative is going to darken. The Rally is about to get real

Back to the day at hand though. The Kooks were welcomed into the Stans by arguably their most beautiful drive to date down a windy mountain road. Ever looking for the perfect snaps and having lacked good driving shots through the boring Iranian landscapes, Mikey mounts the 360 camera and the Kooks ride with their bodies half out the car acting like the idiots they are. Andy loses a hat. Mikey breaks a camera. Shenanigans over. Onward to Ashgabat.

Few instances along the road have left these hardened world travellers lost for words. Ashgabat; however, successfully forced their jaws agape in utter bewilderment. An unexpected Atlantis emerged in front of them out of seemingly nowhere. A metropolis built entirely of Italian marble and Gold. Every intersection adorned with a monument fit to be featured in the centre of an ancient Greek plaza. The grandeur left the Kooks speechless and has left this Kook struggling to put words to ink to properly describe it.  It there is a quintessential artist’s rendering of what Utopia should look like, Ashgabat is it.

Driving the beautiful roads could not distract the Kooks for too long though as they had problems to fix. Namely, Millie’s wheel bearing which was quickly on its way out and John had accordingly moved it to the top of the ever-growing ‘things to be fixed’ list. The Kooks wasted little time and beelined it to the Skoda dealer where they met Tamir the helpful Skoda dealer. He navigated the language barrier and found them the correct part in no time. Only problem? $200 to an already strapped Kook team. Ah well, money spent on safety is money well spent and the Kooks pulled the trigger. With no credit cards accepted and cash hard to come by, the Kooks would need to return in the morning to finish the wheel bearing business.

Next item of business, a place to lay their heads for the evening. The Grand Turk was a Rally favourite but at $60 per head, the Kooks could not justify it with their car parts bill looming over them. They decided to find some nearby WiFi and research their options. Along the drive that ensued, the Utopia of Ashgabat was beginning to seem a bit…odd. Lone women garmented from head to toe in the sweltering hear were sweeping the streets and seemed to be the only people on the street at second glance. Where were the cars? Where were the people? How could such a grand spectacle of a city not be bustling with activity? Geej aptly described the scene as a, “movie set where everyone is waiting to hear the word ‘Action!’”. The Kooks were on the Truman Show.

Still dazed from this city which was beginning to light up like the Vegas Strip, the Kooks found a Starbucks and plugged in to the outside world via WiFi. Andy set about trying to rescue his money from the thieves at Citibank while the other Kooks caught up with home and set about getting food for the evening and trying to find a place to wold camp. Five lattes were ordered to fuel the Kooks for their upcoming camp spot search and were greeted with a surprise when the employees offered them the coffees for free in return for a small photoshoot on their cars. Being the people pleasers they are, the Kooks happily obliged and went to the parking lot to adorn their Shinesty gear and pose on the cars. The Starbucks employees correctly noted that the Kooks had clearly, ‘done this before’. Damn right. Every chance they have.

Side note: The Kooks encountered another oddity of Ashgabat at this point when one of the friendly Starbucks employee gently tapped Mikey on his phone and said he was approached by a security guard earlier who wanted Mike to delete a phot he had taken earlier. Mike looked through his phone and sure enough, there was a video taken of a government building with military personnel in front which was to be deleted. Little resistance given, the Kooks were left to ponder, who was this security guard, why did he approach the Starbucks kids to tell Mike instead of approach himself, how did he know Mike had the video, who was watching them? The city was becoming stranger by the second and the Kooks needed to make their exit.

The sun now completely set, the Kooks went on the search for the perfect camp spot. They had done this before in the middle of the night so dusk seemed like an easy task. They were wrong. Hours searching proved fruitless. They quickly abandoned their plans and went back to town to find a hotel. Unfortunately, this was equally as fruitless and YACKS decided to set off back out to find a camp spot with giving up not an option. Andy and his trusty phone mistakenly navigated the Kooks down a dicey alley and Millie quickly passed to warn that ‘somebody was following’ and sped off ahead leaving YACKS eating dust. After 10 minutes, they finally found the main road and waited for the mysterious stalker to show themselves. Turns out, he was just a friendly local who was worried about the Kooks and wanted to point them in the right direction. The mistrust of this crew has been engraved from their environments growing up but they are realising that the world is filled with more nice people than is portrayed and they should give people the benefit of the doubt out here. A happy lesson learned.

Passing a police check point on a quiet stretch of road outside the city and en route to the President’s residence, the Kooks finally found a spot to wild camp and assumed they’d be safe given the amount of security in this area. The logic may have been flawed, but it worked. End Transmission.

Day 30 - Part 1 - Iran to Turkmenistan

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 30 - August 14, 2017 - Part 1
Bojnord, Iran to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Countries: 24 KMs/Miles: 12227/7598
Breakdowns: 10 Time @ Borders: 40h 53m

The 5:30am wake up time was rough. No more late starts and early ends to the day. Rally life was upon them once again. But at least they weren't hung over, those days would return soon I'm sure. It was their last day in Iran. And although they loved the people, having a guide, a defined schedule, and no real ability to explore, the Kooks were okay leaving. The last two days had been a pretty much the same and a bit repetitive. They wished they could have gone south...on their own. Gone to the homes of the many people that invited them over. And gotten into a bit of trouble. The misinformation given to them by their guide time and again had gotten on their nerves. They longed to kiss their chaperone khodahafez. Maybe they just needed a beer.

Once Andy was back from the post office, they took off towards the Iranian/Turkmen boarder passing a billboard with complete with the Supreme Leader, a hand shooting missiles, and "Down with USA" painted across it. The first one they've seen. All the Iranian people they had met were actually happy to see the Kooks' American counterparts. But you can't always escape government and media propaganda. Without reading the news, it's doubtful any energy on hating the other side would even be spent. It's pretty sad honestly. Tis the world we live in.

Stopping to get a few snacks on the way out, they found a black market money changer giving a better rate then what they could find on their currency exchange apps. A bit skeptical this time, in the future, they would find these exchanges to be lucrative and useful. Just don't accept any small heads! (Old American bill's presidents have small heads compared to the new ones and are hard to get rid of.) They said goodbye and thanks to Reza, their guide. Not a bad guy but just not the right one for this group.

The Iran side was super easy and the guards were nice. Getting to the first Uzbekistan checkpoint, a one man booth, you could already see a complete switch in the appearance and dress of the local people. The women especially with their beautiful traditional dresses, colourful head garments, and gold chompers. And their facial features more East Asian looking. It was a bit of a jostle to get to the front of the line, one lady whipping her passport into the booth over the huge shoulders of the Kooks. Not her first rodeo.

Once through, they spotting pair of motorcycles with Mongol Rally stickers parked near the main building. The Aussie couple were doing the Rally in old Australian postal bikes. Quite the feat. They had been having a little trouble leaving Iran, once forgetting their passports back at the hotel a ways away. The other time accidentally entering a military zone near the border. On their knees with machine guns pointed at their backs cursing Google maps the whole time. But leaving Iran may be the easy part for them. Entering Turkmenistan, one of the hardest countries to get into in the world, could be the real challenge. Luckily, the Mongol Rally helps facilitate transit visas in to this heavily secretive land.

Entering the big building, the team knew they were in for a long haul. Rushing to a passport control window only to have it closed in their faces. The local people were all seated with their bags of fruit and boxes of tin and faces that looked like they'd already been there for awhile. Finally, passports checked, they were directed to the "bank" where they had to pay an array of fees to enter. When the lady who worked there finally showed up, she did her duties "Soup Nazi" style leaving the Kooks wondering if they should hire her as their new CFO. She gets things done! After, another long stretch of waiting, they entered the hubbub of people and sat in the middle of the floor hopefully securing their place in line and offering their border crossing candies to the old thick ladies around them. The ladies giving offerings of their own - healthy apples like only a mother would. They laughed at the boys sharing their golden smiles with the crew.

Another hour of waiting and Andy, Joshy, and Geej were finally sent into the X-ray area while John and Mikey brought the cars over to their vehicle security check. Emptying their pockets, Andy pulled out "Bertie." A little stuffed animal that he takes pictures of around the world for his GF. The guard laughing and making him put it all by itself on the conveyer belt to be X-rayed. The tiny toy, not heavy enough to make it through the hanging belts, stalls, needing Andy to give it a little push. All the guards now cracking up over the ridiculousness of it.

Meanwhile, the two registered drivers are having their own fun. They're told to go to a different "bank" to pay some car import fees. And while seated and waiting, the "banker' pulls out a bottle of vodka and fills their cups. A glass of Fanta to chase. And then another cup. Speaking a little English he chatted with the two and showed pictures of his family. And then another cup of vodka was poured. After six days alcohol free, the two were now three sheets to the wind. And they still had a thorough car check to do. Feeling no pain, they emptied the cars. Andy had hidden the drone under the dash the night before so that was okay before but not the drone's controller joy stick. He was just going to say that it was for a video game but forgot to tell John or Mikey.The two scrambled to find answers. Luckily, being inebriated, the excuses came fast and furious. Just try not to slur your words yo!

But alas they were out of Iran and in to Turkmenistan. Out of the land of the not free and in to the land of the also not free. Who knows what this country will bring. Find some beers tonight or more likely this afternoon. Then head to the Gates of Hell tomorrow. The Devil has them on the guest list. VIPs. End transmission.

Day 29 - Bojnurd, Iran

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 29 - August 13, 2017
Seman, Iran to Bojnord, Iran
Countries: 23 KMs/Miles: 11878/7381
Breakdowns: 10 Time @ Borders: 35h 53m

The boys all awoke hoping to leave the Seman they went to bed in far behind. Another long drive to the next town to the boarder. Boring but beautiful! And today would be the day of Geej's long awaited chance to get behind the wheel and hit the open road. With John sitting shotgun he ground those gears like a pro. Third to first to fifth giving Millie fits and leaving John in need of a drink. The desert mountains surrounded them and the roads stretched beyond the horizon. Nice and relaxed.

To break up the drive the fellas stopped on the side of the road to buy pistachios and grapes that grew in the area. And when they stopped for petrol, these impulse shoppers made one of the most important purchases that any car needs when driving 500km in one stretch. A portable shisha pipe! John wasting no time grabbing the camping stove and trying to heat up the coals in passenger seat while Geej tried to steady the car. How could this possibly go wrong?! The last thing you want to hear when learning to drive a manual is, "F**k, F**k, F**k, the car is on fire!"

And down the highway they went pulling in to town for lunch and giving Geej throwing Geej into the lions den of chaotic city driving and roundabouts. A filling kabab lunch was followed by a trip to the post office which had eluded them thus far. Not a whole lot of people buy postcards here so trying to even buy stamps felt more like trying to take out a bank loan, even with Reza's "help". And not even finding cards anywhere, friend's and family would have to settle with ones from another country. A Chernobyl postcard mailed from Iran. Who wouldn't want that?

Back on the open road, their guide now sequestered to the back seat, the boys filled their time climbing out the out their windows at top speed. Andy and John peacocking for all the passing cars and trying to get the perfect shot. The honking and waving continued throughout and another snack stop allowed the kids working the till to get photos with these adventures. These pics almost becoming collector items when half the team almost kicked the bucket as Geej played chicken with the oncoming traffic. Still undefeated! My Kook, my Kook, my Kook!

In to the busy town they came finding their hotel with relative ease this time. Across the street a nice green space complete with a small amusement park. So many of these towns had had Ferris wheels in them. A groupie on a motorbike followed them in to the parking lot and as the fellas checked in, Andy chatted him up. He turned out to be a mechanic and had saw their Mongol Rally sticker. Speaking perfect English, he said he'd helped a lot Rally teams in the past and had shop across the street. Just what the doctor ordered. They could get YACKS alignment and possibly a wheel bearing replaced.

They settled in and spent a bit of time researching their next boarder crossing into Turkmenistan. Then off the Mohsen Qomi's auto repair shop a couple blocks away smack in the middle of a bunch of small mechanic garages. He called over his alignment expert buddy and under the light of a street lamp In the end, they didn't have the proper equipment to fix it up to John's standards. The boys had to make their border crossing tomorrow no matter what and couldn't take any chances. After clearing up a misunderstanding Reza had caused, Mohsen invited the in for coffee, tea, and local sweets. Hell of a nice guy and tries of help any tourist coming through the city.

His recommendation of a kabab shop a couple hundred meters away was perfect. Cheap and cheerful. That's all the Kooks ever need in a place. A round of non-alcoholic beers were ordered. The last they'd have on this trip. They'd be back on the piss soon enough. Another attempt to light their shisha pipe back at their penthouse quite ended in failure but no worries. Tomorrow the shackles will be off. And dad will be out of their hair. Free at last. End transmission.

Day 28 - Semen, Iran

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 28 - August 12, 2017
Tehran, Iran to Seman, Iran
Countries: 23 KMs/Miles: 11353/7055
Breakdowns: 10 Time @ Borders: 35h 53m

The boys woke up early hoping to knock off as many Tehran sites before having to return to the hotel to see Joel off. They were also hoping to buy a few souvenirs, do some printing, search for a Volkswagen dealership, and get some numbers to some car parts that were badly needed. Their ability to communicate though FB and other social media sites censored, they had to take turns with Andy's computer that had a vpn blocker on it. But with the internet being so slow, they struggled to get anything done.

After waiting for John to rise once again, the team finally got on their way. Reza suggesting taking a taxi instead of walking 15min to their first site. After sitting in a car day after day, walking is exactly what they needed. And what a better way to see the city. This was all lost on their guide. And after taking them down a wrong way path, Andy took control by using a map and getting the team there in no time.

The unassuming outside of the National Museum continued inside. The few floors of artifacts were a bit underwhelming for the boys. On a long trip, after seeing so many amazing things already, it's sometimes hard for the later attractions to impress. They didn't end up spending a whole lot of time there and it was pretty apparent that they weren't interesting in being babysat so at the next stop, a grand palace of sorts, their guide went back to the hotel and they were free to do whatever they wanted.

The exterior walls of the palace were dressed in beautiful tiles and the courtyards displayed exquisite empty fountains. Inside left a bit to be desired as the odd placed furniture and campy mirrored walls were unimpressive as though someone had gone to a craft store and did it over the weekend. It's hard to know what the gents were expecting, but the consensus was that it wasn't this. Though a small sample size of sites, they had hoped for something more regal from this historic land. The people so far were the draw so that's where they went, back out into the chaos.

And what a better place to get in the middle of the action than a bazaar. Their first entry into the market was more of a shopping mall. Definitely not what they were looking for. After forcing their way through the crowed, they emerged into the musky indoor streets of shoe shops, carpets, and textiles. Emersing themselves in the hubbub all around them constantly avoiding being run over by men pulling carts full of goods. It was more a business market than for tourists. There probably aren't a ton of tourists coming to Iran and the thought they had of trying to compare it to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or something was just plain silly. No necklaces or postcards on display here but the business was exciting none the less. A glimpse of another world. And had they wanted to buy a whole roll of Gucci or Adidas clothing tags and make there own knock off gear, this was the place to do it.

Some misinformation about Joel's departure time brought them back to the hotel later than their guide had wanted. A taxi would take him to an airport hotel where he'd be sequestered under lock and key overnight before his early morning flight. A round of complimentary coffee was ordered by Reza only to have to pay for it when they left. WTF. (The boys had to pay for their guide's meals which made the team think he'd just order something so he could have some. This list of annoyances was growing.) Big hugs for Joel as they departed. See you soon buddy. Once a Kook, always a Kook!

Once out of the city, long open highways cut across the open desert landscape. The wind was cool and comfortable. As they drove towards their next stop, Seman, they entered a mountainous region of windswept rock formations and small brick towns. This was the scenery was more what they thought Iran would be. A calm feeling came over them as cruised through the expanse like a Skoda in the wind.

They found the out of the way hotel and another dinner schedule was given to them. We'll meet at this time and go to an empty restaurant for Kababs. Yawn. The couple hours in between were used to write diaries, take long showers, and do the dishes that had been rotting on top of the car for a week. They also noticed that the hotel they'd stayed in in Tehran had written their name all over the car giving them blisters trying to scrub the marker off. Geej also took the opportunity to get some driving practice under his belt. Mikey sitting shotgun they ripped around the abandoned parking lot. This ain't so hard. Not sure why it's taken this long. Time to stop bitching about being tired boys and let the old kid in town take his shift.

They went out for dinner passing a well maintained camping area within the city people often used when travelling on pilgrimages around the country. Amid the neatly spaced trees lay cement tent pads and sitting areas where family's ate and children played. The outdoor restaurant was once again empty except for one table. But as almost all of the Iranians the Kooks had met so far, they were warm and welcoming bringing over and sharing tea and cake from their table. On departing, the Kooks used all the Persian they could muster to show their appreciation for the nice gesture. Always wishing they could repay their sisters and brothers in this big world more for the generosity given to them. Being genuinely thankful and appreciative will have to do for now. They'll surely have their chance soon. End transmission.

Oh one more thing...To Hotel Parasto in Tehran. The ones who tagged are car nine times without our permission. That honour is reserved for those amazing people who have donated to our charities, who have supported us, who have helped us along the way, and for those cool people we met on our journey. Not for some random hotel that we paid to stay at trying to use us as their advertising platform and who's coffee we didn't order cost us more than our entire lunch. Hotel Parasto, you can suck a bag of dicks. End transmission.

Day 27 - Tehran, Iran

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 27 - August 11, 2017
Masuleh, Iran to Tehran, Iran
Countries: 23 KMs/Miles: 11120/6910
Breakdowns: 10 Time @ Borders: 35h 53m

Another early rise after a great sober sleep, the Kooks were out the door by 8am and on their way to Tehran today. Joel's last night before flying back to Barcelona where he now resides. He has no visa for Turkmenistan and has some work to do in Spain so he'll meet back up with them somewhere down the road before the finish line. But, like a broken record, it takes them over 2hrs to finally get out of town after breakfast, looking for a camping store and finally resolving the laundry which was negotiated down to 170,000. It's done and sorted but still a waste of money and more importantly time.

On route, they stopped at a shrine and a pilgrimage hot spot said to be where Mohammed's grandson is buried, complete with a small tomb behind glass and decorative bars. The walls and ceiling completely covered in a mosaic of mirror designs. An entirely different look then what they had encountered before. The lads wanted more of this kind of thing but their guide seemed to only want to get from point A to B and stop for two hour lunches. Hotel to restaurant to hotel to restaurant. Pretty boring, the fellas wanted to see some shit! And his navigation left he drivers in fits, getting lost and giving them only seconds of warning before they had to turn or take an exit. That just can't be done when you're convoying.

The day was cool and cloudy to start. Only 29C. Time for a jumper! Its funny how the body can acclimatize to different temperatures so quickly. They were flying on the semi-smooth highways and only a couple of hours from Tehran when Mikey noticed a problem with YACKS. The wheels seem out of alignment and when John jacked her up on the side of the road, he confirmed it. Shit. He wonders how they made it this far. Nearly snapped apart, it would have taken the front half of the car off. This is a now problem and needs to be fixed asap. Every time is seems like easy sailing and they'll be a city early enough to explore and relax, something happens to ruin it. #rallylife

They consider towing her to a shop when a local stops and tells them they are only 8km from a town where he knows some mechanics. Unfortunately in Iran, Friday is when most things are closed but its worth a try. He then goes to his car and grabs a bag full of boxed lunches giving them to this group of adventurers free of charge. The lunches were meant for some factory workers down the road. I guess they'll go hungry as the Kooks get fatter! Seems fair.

They carefully roll into town and find the mechanic willing to stay open across from a nice park overlooking a reservoir and surrounded by mountains, an elevated freeway, and some wind turbines. As strange site in oil rich Iran. John, happy to finally get under the car, trades shifts in the inspection pit with the Iranian mechanic where they tinker around. Taking apart the undercarriage, they discounter the wishbone is corroded to shit. An uncommon site for a car only ten years old. There's no way they're going to get a part here. They haven't even seen any VWs or Skodas at all driving around in Iran. Pugeots are the car of choice here. John is devastated.

The mechanic then grabs the parts and starts hammering away at it and with the help of their free lunch friend, find a welder a few blocks away willing to come in on his day off and take a look. He takes YACKS' chicken wing and driving away only to return awhile later with a reinforced part. John is completely amazed! There is no way that anyone in Scotland would even think of repairing something like this or in any of the countries the Kooks come from. This definitely wont pass and serious inspection but it will get them on the road and moving again. Until the next breakdown that is. Thankfully everyone they meet is super friendly and goes out of their way to help. A great country for that. What the Rally is all about.

About 10km out of Tehran the traffic really started to get heavy. Joel behind the wheel in the silver car weaving his way in an out of traffic hoping Reza will give him enough time to cross a six lane highway in time to take an exit. Mikey driving the red car trying to stay in position to follow, a near impossible task as the congestion became wall to wall traffic. No real lanes to follow and everyone jostling for position. He would fall two cars behind to 20 in a matter of seconds. Other drivers on the road continually cutting in and surrounding the teams to get a better look but unknowingly hindering their ability to form a unit. The passengers having to climb out the window to get a view on where their teammates were as their walkie talkies not longer functioned. A valiant effort by both drivers indeed.

What fun it was! Every car honking at them and taking pictures with the Kook kars returning the greetings. Gotta give them what they want! A very festive mood was about and everyone was enjoying it. One Iranian guy handing a bunch of bananas to the lead car. Hanging out the window, Geej ripped off and tossed a couple to Andy a few cars back also hanging off the side like a monkey. John whipping his peels on the windshield of teammates. HAHA! The locals around them laughed and joined in the fun waving what appeared to be a sports team's scarves and flags. There must be a football match happening somewhere! Let's go!

Girls blow kisses at the team as people loose their minds when they sound the horns. It was the closest they'd get to going to a busy bar! Mingling though the tightly packed cars, enjoying the interactions with all around them. More and more football revellers passed either cheering for a blue team or a red team. "Let's do this!" The lads were excited to maybe join this cavalcade of fans so they asked Reza who replied that the game had ended and were going home. Damn. Wait, how does he know, where is he getting this information. Soon after, they found out from another car that it hadn't started yet and they were on their way there; their guide once again misinforming them pissing off the crew. Whenever he didn't know something, he would seemingly just make something up. Annoying.

They missed the jammed up turn off the the soccer match so they decided to go check into the hotel first, get settled, and figure out if they could get tickets. This took them quite a bit longer than they thought as the traffic in the centre of Tehran was just as hectic and chaotic as the roads coming in. By the time they checked in to their unimpressive hotel, the dream of heading back was deflating. John, the only who didn't really want to go as he isn't a fan of football, would have no doubt been swept up in the excitement of being with tens of thousands of wild cheering fans. The y all knew it wasn't the game they wanted, it was the atmosphere.

And as the internet was highly regulated, the hopes of finding some underground club or speakeasy were also kiboshed. They settled for a restaurant mere blocks from their hotel. Their big night in the big city of Tehran a bit of a bust, their guide first choosing a empty place void of any stimulation with anyone other than themselves. The next place was a bit better but the monotony of just going to restaurants was beginning to set in. Kababs again were good and the shisha was strong. The Kooks wanted to give Joel a going away party for the ages but tea and candy would suffice. Maybe he'd stay and marry here. The boys would collect coins and attend his wedding. But if it's gonna be a dry wedding, expect a few less RSVPs my friend.

As Andy stayed up to trying to get some admin done, Geej and John snuck out at night to walk the streets to find anything to rattle their feathers. But no dice. The police didn't even give these foreigners a second look. Hopefully, they'll find it tomorrow, though their guide told them that there was nothing do do at the next town they'd visit. Sounds fun. Can't wait. Way to jack this crew up. End transmission.

Day 26 - Masuleh, Iran

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 26 - August 10, 2017
Astara, Iran to Masuleh, Iran
Countries: 23 KMs/Miles: 10694/6645
Breakdowns: 9 Time @ Borders: 35h 53m

After a restful night, the boys convened in the hotel for breakfast. Some deciding to sleep later than others. But no worries. They were on vacation now. With hotels already booked for another four nights and a guide, maybe they could relax and enjoy themselves. A beautiful mountain view and pond filled with swans were just out the window. They just had to pay for the treats from the alcohol-free mini bar they had last night. Just remember that when anyone quotes a price, they will drop a zero from what on the currency. Not sure why but it's damn confusing.

Millie now seated four including their older guide. A nice enough guy who could speak English sat upfront. He was a bit of a contrast to Hussein. Probably chosen for this group because he would be a safe bet. Tow the company line so to speak. His taste in music was eclectic. One song would be a bit traditional, next would be some American bubble gum pop song, the fellas unsure if he's trying to impress or be "hip". The two car convoy cruised along the dirty highway as they passed fruits stands selling a weird bong looking fruits. Their guide didn't like using maps for some reason and would rather stop and ask for directions. This didn't impress drivers who continually had to make u-turns and double back or get a motorcycle escort to get back on track.

They were on their way to take a quick dip in the sea to cool off. Both cars almost empty, they stopped at a benzine station to fill up. "Sorry, there must be a mistake. 25USD for both cars?!" The cheapest gas they've encountered so far, by far. Once again the beach was segregated so the lads headed to their area unable to take off their flip flops as the sand was scorching. Bronzing time. Not exactly what they had expected in their time in Iran but a welcome stop on the route. Cool water on a hot day. The Kooks threw around the rugby ball and were joined by locals in no time. Sometimes travelling, you get sick of answering the same questions all the time but here, they still got a kick out of it. With so few "western" tourist coming through, you could feel Iranians excitement when they meet you. Their curiosity priceless.

Off to lunch in a small town on the way to a lagoon boat ride (which seemed like another odd thing to do here.) The small town was busy with onlookers stopping the crew to chat and take pictures. The lunch itself was massive. Way too food bunch to eat and in the extreme heat, one isn't as hungry as usual. Fish, kebabs, rice, bread, yoghurt, and vegetables. The guide taking control with the ordering but not really asking everyone what they wanted. A bit of a waste of food and over their budget, especially for a lunch.

The way to the lagoon ride was long and hot and the big meal had made them a bit sluggish. Once at the sea, the unmotivated bunch grabbed their life jackets and headed to the big wooden motor boats. A cruise through the harbour and into some reeds. Nothing crazy, just a boat ride. The fellas were unimpressed wanting to see history and culture and left with the feeling that they could just as easily do this kind of thing at home or at least somewhere with wildlife. And when the 70US price tag came, the collective sigh went through the team. This isn't what they signed up for. Disappointed, they doubled back to their hotel for the night a bit deflated.

The countryside turned to mountainous covered in trees and rice fields reminding the crew of parts of South East Asia and less of what they though Iran would look like. Shop after shop of round pasty looking items lined the streets. 30 of the exact same store in a row. How does one choose which one to go to?! Once checked in, a few of the boys arranged for some laundry to be done before heading out for dinner in a touristy mountain town again. It would be nice to have clean clothes again. On the road, you just continually wear the same things over and over.

Up the mountain they drove until trees gave way buildings that crawled up the mountainside. Rooves of one row of homes becoming the floors of the others. All interconnecting. Parking was tricky as tourists jostled for every space and clamoured around the Kook kars trying to take pictures. The boys were celebrities once again.

They explored the maze of pathways up and down through the homes and shops that made up this unique place. Lots of cushioned restaurants selling tea and shisha. Bags of fresh colourful fruit roll up style treats. Photo shops were you could dress up in traditional clothing were everywhere. And a disappointing number stores selling knock off junk. Nothing artisanal. Too bad, the fellas were in the mood to buy some hand made trinkets or souvenirs. After losing Geej a couple of times, they convened at a lookout for a photo opp. That's when the call about their laundry came in. It was going to be 70USD. For two small bags of laundry. The Kooks were quite livid. None had ever paid that amount in their lives and they would have never got it done, had they known.

Reza, tried to negotiate a better price on the phone but their clothes were in essence being held hostage. The second time they've been burned with laundry on this trip. With nothing they could do until the morning, they stayed in the town and went for dinner. This time having a small traditional soup followed by some shisha, tea, and dessert. Just the right amount. The assaulted Reza with questions about censorship, religion, sex, drugs, and music. Their guide being a bit reserved visibly uncomfortable when the topics like gay marriage came up. The Kooks, being a liberal bunch, don't think twice acceptance of anyone. But when you've grown up in a repressed culture of sorts, six guys hammering your beliefs can be a bit overwhelming I'm sure.

A few more pastries for the road and the they headed back to their cars swarmed by onlookers who crowded around them. Among them a group of attractive ladies they had seen earlier wanting more pictures. Accompanied by their dad and others, they seemed to be in awe of the group. Joel, as per usual, making sure they had Kook business cards handy and contact information. More and more people joining the frenzy, one roughly handing Geej his small child so the family could take a picture. Funny and weird at same time.

When they were finally allowed to leave, the party didn't stop as the group of girls, driven by their dad, dangerously circled the two cars all the way down the mountain at times almost getting into head on collisions. The SUV weaving between traffic and bursting ahead, then falling behind in order the give his groupie daughters another glimpse, whooping and hollering the entire time. The Kooks were in stitches, loving the attention, especially from ladies and climbing out their windows to return the girl's crazed excitement. The Kooks boy band at it's finest. The were the Beatles if not for a moment.

Back at the hotel, the lads were tired but wired. A fun ending to the day. Tomorrow they would deal have to with their laundry situation. And head to Tehran. But tonight they dream of beautiful Iranian women. They would dream about being rockstars. They would dream about Cotton Eyed Joe. End Transmission.

Day 25 - Azerbaijan to Iran

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 25 - August 9, 2017 - Part 1
Lankaran, Azerbaijan to Astara, Iran
Countries: 23 KMs/Miles: 10337/6423
Breakdowns: 9 Time @ Borders: 35h 53m

The boys woke up early in be at the boarder by 9am to meet Hussein, the fixer who was to arrange their carnet de passage into Iran. His job to help facilitate the entry of their cars and provide customs help which can be a long bureaucratic mess. They ate another huge hotel breakfast and packed up the cars and headed out driving the wrong way down one way streets to get more USD for those who somehow forgot at the last stop. They wouldn't be able to use any credit cards in Iran and needed to still pay for their large entry fees and guide in cash.

Already 33C by this point, they knew they would need plenty of water and snacks for what they anticipated as a long hot wait in line. The got to the Azerbaijani side a bit late and without a clue where to go to get in. Finally finding the entrance, they were waved in to the car check area, driving over an inspection pit. An easy search was given and Andy's baby was returned to him. His drone would live to see another day. The guard's there commenting how international our team was and giving a hard time to Joel and Andy, the Kooks' token Americans, about to try to enter enemy territory.

Entering the forbidden land was quite exciting as the boys crossed the river border bridge and straight into the car queue. It didn't seem too long but with the temperatures rising, getting some extra sleep in the car was not an option and they would have to find some shade soon. Right off the bat everyone was interested in them. A tv reported parked behind them peppering the team with questions. After the reporter yelled something at the guards, they made some joking gestures and everyone laughed. The mood was light.

With no real understanding of how this border was to work, Andy did some recon to go an find Hussein and on return told the rest of the Kooks that everything was sorted and that their fixer spoke good English. They'd just have to wait in line until they got to the next gate where he would help them. The queue still hadn't moved an inch so they set up shop by a building where they could rest in the shade when the next group of curious Iranian onlookers showed up.Cycling to Turkey and back in the last month, these guys were adventurers themselves. Quite impressive considering how far the distance they had gone, in the heat they had done it in, and the fact that their track suits were all black. Talk about sweating!

The conversation was flowing between the Kooks and the four from cycle club www.fariman.org. A great show of hospitality was given, that would continue with so many people they met. The Kooks were invited to cyclists home town, given some of their food while they waited, and had their water bottles with cold filtered water that was available at the border. Pictures and stories were traded and a welcoming feeling was about. A when a couple of blankets were laid down, they offered the Kooks a place to rest. With many people interested in their cars and their trip, the Kooks often showed printed route maps and gave out business cards with all of their contact information. A very useful way to communicate and break the language barrier.

Now reaching five hours with no end in sight, the Kooks settled in for the long haul. Kindles and backgammon were brought out while others took quick naps. And although there are no photographs at any borders are allowed, locals had no problem pulling out their cameras and taking selfies with the gang. Then, after a bit longer, the line starting to move, of course, right when a toilet break was needed!

Now, the line moved quick towards the first check-stop. (Later they would find that the line was stalled due to a computer issue, no fun for anyone waiting there on that day.) At the gates, they all met Hussein. A wirey Larry David looking guy with the personality to match. You could tell he didn't always play by the rules and could get things done when he wanted to. He explained how this all worked and it was now just a waiting game. And wait they did, the hours passed but still, the excitement of being there overpowered the boredom. Everyone was interested in the team and where they were from and all the questions made the time pass faster.

Everyone was friendly except for one guard who kept eyeballing Andy after learning he was American. Maybe it was Andy's moustache, who knows Reza, but none the less, it was uncomfortable. At this point they also met their tour guide. He was to be with them for their whole time in Iran. Joshy (Australia) was the only one who didn't require a guide. Those travelling on Canadian, US, and U.K. passports required one in order to even get a visa. Hopefully it wouldn't be too much of an issue for six independent travellers who are used to doing their own thing.

After a while longer, the two Americans, Joel and Andy, were sequestered away from the group. They would have to get finger printed. No real issue as it happens to many people when entering many countries. But still, this was Iran, and left them feeling a little weirded out. The other four cowered behind a truck's shade waiting for the next move. An hour later, Andy came out from behind the corner and revealed they hadn't done anything yet. They've just been shooting the shit with Hussein,eating peaches, and chatting with some of the guards. Hussein tells the boys that there are a lot of young people who struggle in Iran. If you are not ultra religious and tow the line, you can have a tough time finding a job and opportunities are taken away from you. With not a lot for youth to do, with the ban of alcohol, and other forms of entertainment, kids will often turn to drugs, mainly heroin, as it is cheap and readily available from neighbouring Afganistán.

Finally some movement as they are all brought in to another holding area in a different building, Hussein visibly frustrated at the whole process. He constantly badgers officials to try to get something going. Without him, the fellas probably would just be sitting there and forgotten about. Pictures of the supremes leader are all over the wall as well was a pictures of the proper hijab attire for women. A different world the Kooks are entering. Then, after another wait, the Americans and U.K.ers are brought to a different room, all to be finger printed leaving just Joshy and Geej waiting.

Sometime later, they all came out, smiling, passports in hand running after their fixer to the next hurdle. "HUSSEIN!" Geej yells. In all the commotion the old man had forgotten to grab his and Josh's passport. They might need those 'eh?! As the unassuming boarder guard checks their cars,he admits that he'd have let them trough with no fanfare had there not been cameras watching. They then drove to the next spot to do some car paperwork with the sun still beating down on them and repacked the cars as they would have to make room for their guide.

All in all, this boarder crossing was their longest yet at 9 hours and 22 minutes. But even at that long, being a tourist going into a foreign land for the first time was fun! Wouldn't want to do it every day or even again for that matter. But with all the people they met and the interest in their trip, the team relished in this experience. They were half way to their goal in terms of kilometres but this country was a big one. They had made it in to Iran! End transmission.

Day 24 - Southern Azerbaijan

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 24 - August 8, 2017
Azerbaijan to Azerbaijan
Countries: 22 KMs/Miles:
Breakdowns: 9 Time @ Borders: 26h 31m

Andy hears a rustling in the trees. 'WTF is out there?" Then voices in a language he doesn't understand. All others are asleep or at the very least sweating in their tents. Springing up, he peers though the brush to find a sea of sheep coming towards them. Followed by a herd of water buffalo. "Time to get up lads, weez got company!" This would be the fastest this entire crew had ever assemble the the morning as they packed up and got in there cars. The old farmers amused at their presence and the animals keeping their distance.

On the road they searched for a petrol station. In these parts it wasn't always easy to find as many cars are converted to gas in which a thin tube is connected to this contraption in the boot of the car. (Not really sure how it works, ask John, this writer is still a little sick from the homemade rice wine he was forced to drink last night.) When they did find one, they realized that cash is king here and credit card use would be minimal. And that US currency is widely used, even at a gas station, they would have to be savvy as the exchange rate is negotiable. Just make sure you do it before they start pumping or you will get pumped.

At the gas stop the group of eleven also found breakfast. They entered the huge open air roofed structure that could be described as a banquete facility and were welcomed with open arms. They were celebrities now and they loved it. The service was impecable as they brought out dish after dish of sweet treats, heavily buttered eggs, white stuff, and cherry juice. Their lead server tended to there every need and the manager made a special appearance. The convoy gorged as they prepared to part ways hoping to meet each other again sometime down the road.

At the next fork in the road, Jake would transfer in the U.K. car and they would head to Baku to hopefully take the ferry over the Caspian Sea into Turkmenistan. Hopefully being the key term as many Rally teams have been stuck there for up to eight days as the schedule is irregular and ships have been know to bump these travellers over locals while jacking-up the price. The Kooks just might beat them there by detouring through Iran.

The team headed to the border town of Lankaran where they would spend the night. The Azerbaijani landscape was flat and non descript. Roads spitting up dust at every turn. A pit stop in a small town allowed them to find some car parts and get some much needed cold water. The temperature reached 44C and any water in the car became hot enough to make coffee with in no time flat. Putting your arm outside to redirect air in just made it worse. A/C was non existent at this point so the fellas just had to suffer through it windows open and trudge on.

Pulling into town and off the highway, the noise level in the car quieted enough to notice the noise level on the outside of the car getting worse. Millie was getting sick again and had developed a bad horse cough. Shit. The last thing the boys need before their organized border crossing into Iran the following day was a breakdown. It was 4:30pm when they arrived at their hotel. John went straight to work playing doctor while the others checked in. Taking apart the exhaust manifold, Dr. Souter found it had snapped apart leaving Millie in critical care. There was no way she could make it any further than this. F**K! And being the end of the day, could they even get help?

The guys grilled the thankfully ultra helpful hotel front desk guys for information on where they could find a welder good enough to even want to try to repair this awkward break. With the odds stacked against them but with a hot lead, John and Mikey took off in YACKS, broken part in hand and one of the hotel staff in tow. They drove away with no idea what lay ahead. The rest of the team, feeling useless, helped out by thinking up plan-b scenarios and well, hitting the nearby beach. Not much more they could do at the moment except make use of the bronzing time and cool off.

A garbage truck must have come here to unloaded here was the first thought that ran thought that ran through their heads. One of the dirtiest beaches in memory yet families by the dozens frolicked about seemingly unaware of the filth that lay around them. They headed down as some random dude yelled something or other at them from afar. Ya ya ya, we're from Canada, Australia, US.....and so on and so forth. They were well versed in these questions. On the sand Andy and Joshy geared down quick and raced to the water. Geej and Joel stalling a bit getting the sense that something was a little off. Then off in the distance they saw a cloth barrier and some kind of other area and vaguely make out.....men? Shit, there's only women and children here!This beach is segregated. We're in Muslim country! Stupid gringos.

They scurried out as that guy continued to yell at them. Oh, thats what he's saying... They made there way over the the male only beach and had a very short lived unrefreshing dip. Cutting their feet on the large cement chunks that were hidden under the water. On the return they found John, drenched in sweat but with a smile on his face. With the help of their hotel friend, Hasanli, they found a welder that could do the job. Nice! But he had lost Mikey in the process. No worries mate, he was wandering around looking for the necessary bolt to secure the part back into place and in the meantime he was found by another helpful character who went out of his way to help the Kooks. Azerbaijanis are giving the Turkish a run for their money.

With the sun going down, Joshy and Mikey helped John get Millie up to running speed, Andy fixing the horns, and Joel and Geej doing what they do best, source out chippies and beers, the Kooks we're feeling a sigh of relief. Night fell and they had a late night feast of leftover wedding food at the restaurant next door. Hasanli still by their side. Azerbaijan had been good to them. In the morning they'll head south to Iran. Media has taught them to be scared of this place. But the Kooks? The Kooks ain't scared of nuthin'. End transmission.

Day 23 - Georgia to Azerbaijan

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 23 - August 7, 2017
Tbilisi, Georgia to Azerbaijan
Countries: 22 KMs/Miles: 9822/6103
Breakdowns: 8 Time @ Borders: 26h 31m

Ahhh, the heat again! The Kooks were cooked. The lack of airflow combined with the sweat of eleven hungry hippos plus the lack of adult supervision made the Air BnB seem more like a college frat house. Complete with clothes strewn about, empty liquor bottles everywhere, the bathroom a virtual flood zone, and dirty curry dishes from two days ago starting to attract flies. Only a couple days in civilization and they couldn't handle it. Maybe they all needed mom to step in a crack the whip. Somebody had to, today was the day to get shit done!

John and Mikey spearheaded the car repair brigade. The others shared duties of adminning, cleaning the house, printing visas, changing money, and repacking the car. They would need to too, Team Kooks and Team Stumped But Never Walking were going to help out a fellow rallier who was in need of a lift. Jake the Aussie's team had split and he was left carless. The convoy stepped in and would split duties giving him a lift to Baku at the very least. Gotta help a fellow rallier out! But first Mackers. The fellas had forgotten to eat last night and their liquid dinner was starting to churn.

As per usual, their ability to get things done was thwarted by their ability to get things done. Not with a lack of effort though as John's and Mikey's two hour search for mechanic that can help them ended in defeat. Not all changed money or understood they had to for Iran. On a positive note, Jake had extra gear from his car that he could barter with a ride with. A badly needed roof rack for the U.K. team and a spare off-road tire for the Kooks plus various extra parts and some food. On the way out of town, the convoy stopped at a tire shop of re-rim Millie's flat spare with a replacement tire where the teams all enjoyed ice cream. The temperature had climbed to 42C and the heat wave continued. The seemingly lack of urgency only got them out of town at 4:30pm with a border crossing and a lot of driving still ahead of them.

Dusty roads and the dry country side brought them an hour to the Georgian/Azerbaijani border. No problems on the Georgian side as per usual. The Azerbaijan side would be a bit of a wait. Trying to stay in the shade they inched every closer playing the logo game and eating candles. Once at the gate, a game of bumper cars ensued as John plowed into Mikey from behind, as he does at every border, giving the guards there a good laugh and much to the chagrin of the lead car. Though maybe it will help getting the teams through borders, making the guards laugh.

Once up to passport control, the first thing that was asked was, "Drone?" Andy's ears sprung to attention. He was a little jumpy as he was pulled into another booth to register it. The lack of English made the process scattered with Andy being pulled in different directions. Its illegal for locals to have drones but tourists can transport them in transit if they are registered and placed in a locked bag until they exit the country. The "locked" bag turned out to be a half closed potato sack ridden with holes and tied with a wire. Not exactly secure.

The other boarder guard was very nice and could communicate in English. He loved the cars and wanted a KK sticker which Joshy still couldn't find. What ever happened to them? He helped us out and even signed our car in the end. Over all, everyone was happy not to lose the drone though the team knows this situation will happen again in the future. Talk of finding a hiding spot under to dash has come up. Smugglers. Bad Ass. They were through but not before the last gate when the whole U.K. team drove into Mikey's rear and followed by John who took quite delight in being the caboose in this train pile up.. All the boarder guards were laughing again.

A wonky road-side money changing scenario, followed but a wonky salmonela chicken dish and into the night they drove. Extra bags in the red Kook kar and Jake in the silver. The next water stop was a shop owners dream. Eleven sweaty thirsty guys walk into your shop and you have 33 cold beers. Easy sale. Scrambling to have enough local currency, they managed to pool their money and buy out the store. Barely remembering to buy water. This would change the mood of the crew as they went on a search for some wild camping.

Using offline maps, the teams found some "green spaces" by a reservoir. Knowing that the last time they searched like this, they found themselves in cow pie territory, they did a little recon. This took them across a guarded bridge lined with razor wire. "Hmmm, should we be here?" The drove on until they found a suitable area to set up their tents. With chairs out, music playing, and some cards on hand, the campsite had become a jovial party atmosphere. Hungry, the teams joined forces to make a feast by mixing rice with a wide array of canned items. Hotdogs in a tin? Throw it in!

The U.K.'s culinary skills were not on par as they lacked the the necessary common sense to understand that balancing a giant pot of sludge on a tall burner on the top of an unstable camping table won't last long. All the tell tale signs were there. Advanced warnings were given but the chef is the boss and makes the decisions. Even when he's wrong. T minus two minutes to destruction. Aaaaaaaaaand........ TIIIIIIIIIIIMBEEEEEER! On the the dirt it went. "Don't worry, the top layer is okay. Scrape it off and open more cans."

The meal turned out delicious enough and a little game of geographical trivia was played. Loser laps up a bowl full of vodka an rice like a pooch. John vs Geej. Young blood vs the veteran. Grease Monkey vs the Lizard King. Who says you can't teach an old dawg new tricks. Roof. End transmission.

Day 22 - Tbilisi, Georgia

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 22 - August 6, 2017
Tbilisi, Georgia to Tbilisi, Georgia
Countries: 22 KMs/Miles: 497/5901
Breakdowns: 8 Time @ Borders: 24h 22m

A fun night of clubbing left everyone feeling a bit rough. So did the house which was a literal sauna by early morning. Only a few rooms had A/C and those lucky enough to notice that when they checked in had a good sleep. The heat wasn't they only thing that awoke the team as a few loose cabooses made a log jam at the baño. Even in this oven, it was hard to get people moving and head our to see what Tbilisi has to offer.

Off to the old center they went. Splitting up in different cabs is alway a good idea, especially when the taxi drivers don't know where they're going. Lunch and a cold beer would be the perfect thing to cool them down and make them feel better. And mist, the restaurant must have mist! The typical Georgian dish of four cheese pizza was ordered by Joel and eaten by the rest while Mikey's pistachio "dip" was a hit with the crew. John's youth advantage didn't seem to be working unable to drink his way out of this hang over. Suck it up buttercup, the fellas got some sight seeing to do before meeting the Dutchies for beers. As well as another rallier whose team is breaking apart leaving him in limbo.

As much as the Kooks lacked real exercise, most of the team couldn't bear the 15min walk uphill to see the historic church. Taxi vans were hired and the A/C was cranked. Another group shot taken by a stranger who doesn't seem to grasp the fact that boys would like the monument they are standing in front of, as well as the themselves, in the picture. They do always seem to get about 15 feet of forground in though. So that's great. The church was quite impressive and different from the others they've seen. Georgian Orthodox. Large and cavernous on the inside with little or no decoration. Bare. Cold even. Definitely not warm and inviting like the Blue Mosque.

The price of the gondola and the thought of being enclosed in one in the heat settled the deal, they wouldn't go to the castle today and go in the morning with the cars. Ya right. Same old song and dance. The went on a mission to find some shade and a chilled Georgian cerveza. A quick nap while Geej searched for an escape plan. Its never fun travelling when things are moving so to speak. One pint there then off to the kitschy outdoor venue that felt more like a beer gardens.

Joining the Kooks were the Dutchies, another one of their friends and his dad who were on a hiking trip in Georgia, the Australian who was looking for a new rally team to join or at least get a ride to Baku, and the U.K. team. The table grew to 16 all exchanging round after round of Georgian beer. Everyone had had late nights before but there's always time for one more while you're putting your jacket on. The conversation was interesting a varied, and for the Kooks, a nice little break from only rally talk. So much for a low key night.

New friends. New brimmers. New adventures. Hopefully they can make that party invitation in Amsterdam in September, that would be a happy ending to the trip. Just hope there isn't a $50 cover to leave. End transmission.

Day 21 - Armenia to Georgia

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 21 - August 5, 2017
Yerevan, Armenia to Tbilisi, Georgia
Countries: 21 KMs/Miles: 9497/5901
Breakdowns: 8 Time @ Borders: 24h 22m

Wow what a good sleep can do to change the mood. The cool dark room was heaven sent and the shut-eye was welcomed with open arms. Now don't get me wrong, put any Kook under a lie detector test and he wouldn't be able to deny that he'd of slept all day if given the choice but duty calls. And today's duties, eat an awesome breakfast at the hostel and rush around Yerevan to feel like you've seen it. Kooks mechanic, John, on the other hand, needed to give the car's some TLC so he stayed behind.

A couple of hours was all they had here so they charged to the central square passing countless restaurants and logos of which they were intrigued. It was the perfect place to challenge themselves with the logo app game that has occupied a lot of their time, especially at border crossings. And this was the perfect place as there were many high end stores about. They just needed a woman's help soon. Hell, there was just a lack of women in their lives in general.

They walked up the the Cascade Complex, an impressive modern art filled set of stairs that reaches the height of the city. Well almost. Something happened ten years ago that left it unfinished and three quarters of the way up with cranes rusting and rebar protruding everywhere. A beautiful day none the less so the boys, shirts off in the blazing sun, strutted down giving the Armenian capital a show for the ages. A cold drink or two were in order to cool off. And what would a morning detox juice be without a little gin in it! Back to cars to have a quick photo opp with some Swiss fans, who were mostly swooning over the Scotsman, and they were off to visit a monastery.

Rumbling down the uneven roads passing stand after stand of vendors selling water toys and blow up floaties. They must be going in the right direction. The lakeside stop was a good spot for Josh to treat the team to a lunch of Kabab flavoured chips and pink mystery meat. What is that? Horse? Sounds espensive. Joel, on the other hand, ever in search for the next Grammable shot, led the way up the hill to the old building overlooking the big Armenian lake. Then off again to Georgia only making one more stop on the way. John's need for speed gave the police reason to pull him over for going 70 in a school zone, though it was a little suspect as Millie struggles to get to that speed at any time and it was 5:30pm, well after school ends. Lucky for the fuzz, John was in a good mood and let the cop go with just a warning.

Leaving the land of Ladas and going back over the boarder was super easy but the stress the heat was putting on the cars was not. Reaching high 30sC made YACKS quite uncomfortable and Millie, well she was running hot so the fellas had to blast the heater to cool her down. Some aggressive driving brought them to Tbilisi and the search for their Air BnB which they were sharing with the U.K team, Stumped But Never Walking made up of Harry, Charlie, Matt, and Craig. They just needed wifi to try to contact them so they ducked into the first hostel they saw. Going down the stairs, they came across three scantily clan females...wait, what kind of hostel is this?!

The house turned out to be pretty cool with three levels and a roof top patio overlooking the city. And quite affordable when sharing between ten ralliers. Beers, wine, vodka, whiskey, and, unfortunately, cha cha (a type of vodka made from grapes) were all consumed into the evening in the open air. Then an almost delicious curry was almost enjoyed by all. Time to get gussied-up princesses, there's clubbing to be done! Rated as one of the top clubs in the world, the teams were jacked up. Needing to expend a little energy before hand, a round of Lizard Kings was in order. Geej reining supreme.

The club, strict on it'e entrance policy, made you sign up, give your personal Facebook link, and be accepted before you could enter (which they all did on the previous days.) No problems for most except Matt and Geej who didn't get confirmation. Worry about it at the door I guess. On arrival, the others shuffled in, Matt was allowed in soon after, and Geej, well, he got a a hard NO. "Face Control". What the hell does that mean? The non-English speaking bouncer was not budging either. 20 min pass and Geej ready to leave, the fellas pulled together with a "never leave a man behind" attitude and bullied his way in. Nice job sticking together lads. "I'm sawy, I'm sawy, I though this was God damn..."

The club was rocking, but not unreal, as the partiers kicked it to house music. Mikey and John off their rockers. Even Andy was raving in the middle of the crowd. Ever on the search for a better time, the fellas flip flopped between seedy corners and seedier toilets but would have to settle for drunkily dancing on smoke filled dance floors. This is Georgia after all not London, Berlin, or Ibiza...unfortunately. Little did they know that there was a techno festival on the Black Sea that weekend that took a lot of the crowd away from the city. And they could have made it there too! But still, definitely not the number one club in the world even...by a long shot. At least they got to get some exercise after being cooped up in a car for three weeks. No stress on getting up early tomorrow. They were staying another night. Plus, it was already early tomorrow before they crashed that night. End transmission.

Day 20 - Turkey to Armenia

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 20 - August 4, 2017
East Turkey to Georgia to Yerevan, Armenia
Countries: 20 KMs/Miles: 9205/5720
Breakdowns: 7 Time @ Borders: 23h 46m

The Kooks and the U.K. team - Stumped But Never Walking - arose amist the cow pies and dirty dishes the "forgot" to do the night before. Washing isn't so easy in a putrid lazy river but it must be done. There was only time for cereal this morning as the team had a long drive to the Armenia capital of Yerevan. There were some thoughts of skipping Armenia as it was quite out of the way and they were going to only be there for a matter of hours plus the costs of getting across the boarder. But that's kind of what this trip was all about. Not taking the easy route. And trying to stick to the game plan no matter how tired they were or how seemingly irrational the plan was at times.

They parted ways with the Brits planning on meeting them again soon again on the Rally. Bowel problems were starting to affect more of the team now. And in squatter country, going to the toilet can be an adventure in itself. John definitely needing a lesson. "Do you take your pants off or keep them on?" And although Geej has had a bit of experience in the matter, his aim was a little off. Mikey, the Kooks pharmacist, was a busy man, doling out Imodium like it was candy.

Life without data is starting to make the team a little jumpy. What were they supposed to do? Talk to each other? With Mikey the only one still with some megabytes left, the other five had to hotspot off of him at gas stops, draining his battery quickly. But all this was for important things like booking accommodation, checking on visas, and trying to buy tickets for a club they were going to hit the following night.

Back on the highway, they were once again treated to more unbelievable views though their windshields. The mountains turned red and while most of it was dry and barren, the valleys were lush and green and reminded some of home. What didn't remind one of home was the common practice of driving in the middle of the road or trucks so piled so high and wide, you'd think that they would topple over with the slightest wind.

The Skoda could use a little wind push too, as car after car would pass them on the uphills including a black checkered station wagon that could pass for a Mongol Rally. Rolling down the window, they found that they were from Holland going mountain climbing in Georgia. Its always fun to meet other travellers going on adventures. "Catch up to them!" yelled Mikey, wanting to give them a KK business card but only if he could do the handoff Fast and Furious style.

Do to construction, the boys got detoured though the heart of a small town near the Turkish/Georgian boarder. Garnering stares, which they all loved of course, they were able to do a little small town exploring. Little run down shops lined the streets with fruit and vegetable stands at every corner. Seeing the four Dutchies parked up ahead, they decided to make a pit stop and say hi. They had some unfinished business with a mountain they tried to climb a few years back so they decided to do a little road trip themselves. Mutually interested in what each other was doing, they decided to meet up for beers the following evening in Tbilisi. Some grapes for the road and they were off to the boarder but not before a final nice gesture by a Turkish man who went out of his way to find them ice. Nicest people they've so far. Thanks Turkey!

Vast plains now guided them towards Georgia. And they would have to step on it. Two boarder crossings and a ton of driving were on the agenda. And when time is a factor, sometimes teams have to resort to time saving measures. Though not ideal, MURs (mobile urine receptacles), commonly known the in trucker universe as "piss jugs", are a decades old proven method of shaving minutes off road trips. Just don't forget to dump them before boarder crossings!

After getting stamped out by the police in Turkey, the Kooks entered the Georgian side expecting the worst. They couldn't have been more wrong with the guards quipping jokes and interested in the rally. Too easy! And then Mikey got to the window. Shit. Being a duel citizen of New Zealand and the U.K, he was travelling with two passports for this tour. Using whichever one didn't need visas or were cheaper for any given country. For Georgia, he opted for the British one. The problem came when he was asked to provide a drivers license, which is from Australia (where he lives now.) The license, not being front he same country as his passport, This could prove to be a major issue in the future for other countries.

Once again the scenery changed and proved to be the best they have seen so far. Georgia was gorgeous. Green and lush. Raging rivers. The winding roads up and down the mountains gave them a chance to have a little fun. John took full advantage pushing Millie to her brink. He has in true rally car mode, skidding around corners at top speed while Geej and Joshy silently prayed and made out their wills. Rally car style! The narrow roads made passing a true test of courage and stupidity.

Leaving Georgia at sunset was quite spectacular. But it was also a little depressing. Passing though some poor run down areas, its hard to see sometimes. Its also a reminder of how lucky they are to do something as ridiculous as this rally. Yes, they are raising money for charity and spreading some good will, and had to quit jobs, be away from loved ones and spend money they don't have but the reality is they have the option to do this. And for that, they are truly grateful.

There was a fair amount of research that went in to the next border crossing. Georgia/Armenia. Mostly coming from other people's blogs. It's always hit and miss when you use these blogs for important information. They're often from years ago. And like TripAdvisor or Yelp, it's only a certain type of person who takes the time to write them. How accurate are they? Are they just having a bad day? How do they have time to write these things...probably not driving or something. Anyhoo, aside from the cost, the Kooks were really only hoping for one thing, Mikey being able to do the old passport switcharoo between the borders.

And with with his power of persuasion, he did it! Not only that, he scored the team a large bag of potatoes from the boarder guard. He was on quite a roll!

Now with only three different border payments to go, they were home free. Except for Josh, who trusted Andy's "No mate, you don't need a visa for Armenia" advice and had to sprint through no man's land waving cash around to get things sorted. Everything looked good to go but they still had to be careful, there was no way they could out run the Lada police cars...maybe the flashing cardboard cut out ones, as long as it wasn't uphill.

Now dark and late, and with the worst roads since Ukraine, they slowly - very slowly - made their way towards Yerevan. Potholes crept up out of nowhere and their exhaustion made them see shadows throwing themselves in front the the car. Josh's face as close to the windscreen as humanly possible, knuckles white in process. Bottom out after bottom out. John, grinding his teeth in back unable to sleep, hoped his babies weren't getting beaten up too bad. Slow the f**k down! Yet it was hard to go slower than what they were doing.

They pulled into Yerevan after 1am not being able to appreciate the city. Happy to check into a nice hostel and hit the sack. Some were grumpy. Some were sick. Some were hungry. All were shattered. Have your six minutes of silence. Have your magic pill. Have your dessert for dinner. Whatever it takes to feel better. There's always tomorrow. The new Kooks motto. End transmission.

Day 19 - Eastern Turkey

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 19 - August 3, 2017
Cappidoccia, Turkey to East Turkey
Countries: 19 KMs/Miles: 8572/5327
Breakdowns: 7 Time @ Borders: 21h 25m

4am wake up times usually put people in a good mood but today was a little different as six surly Kooks rolled out of their tents and one from the car. But if you want to hot air balloon at sunrise, you have to tough it out. The boys were given a very specific pick up time of 4:10-4:15 the day before. But it was closer to five when the bus came leaving the team a little nervous that they'd given the he wrong meeting point. The shuttle then picked them up, drove 350 meters and dropped them off. WTF. Why didn't the company just tell them it was next door. That 45min extra sleep would have been a dream.

As the arrived, dozens of balloons were being filled in different states of readiness. Still dark, the roaring fire lit up these canvas bulbs up like Christmas lights in sync with their Shinesty jackets they were sporting for this occasion. Coffee and cake was waiting for them and helped brighten the mood...slightly. The baskets were large and took up to twenty passengers. The the loud burn of the fire heating up the air right beside them. As the balloon fill, the boys start to forget how tired they are watching as other ones light up and climb into the air off in the distance. Then they start to rise slowly and are now flying, like God damn superheroes.

Like the previous day, its hard not to pull out your camera every ten seconds. Just enjoy the moment, then oh shit, thats amazing, I need it on film! Climbing higher and higher the amazing landscape is relieved to them. All the unique rock formations are what bring people here in the first place. They used to be the homes of generations carving their dwellings in the stone. Much unliveable due to earthquakes, you can still find hotels made out of them.

So peaceful up there, cept for the clicking of the cameras. Creeping through valleys and up over trees exploring hidden caves. The pilot has optimal control of this air craft as well as radioing his coordinates, working on his computer, taking pictures, and downloading on USB to sell later. The ultimate multitasker. Once way up in the sky, the 360 view of the horizon was stunning and being surrounded by heaps of other fellow fliers was pretty special.

A minor crash landing brought them back to Earth and their wariness returned. Back at the campsite some went straight back to bed before the sweltering sun would turn their tents into ovens. Others decided to take advantage of the refreshing pool right away. They were to meet up with the U.K. team for lunch and then convoy as far as they could get towards the Georgian border. First they would explore some caves. Up the went through the labyrinth of interconnecting rooms slowing making their way to the top via stairs and and wall ladders. Super cool. The drone joining the fun records a spectacularly rare sight, triple full moons over a bunch of cock rocks.

Only a restaurant with cold beer would do so the Kooks searched the main drag to find one. Once found, they ordered an array of Turkish treats. The other team arrived and they all made a plan of attack for the long drive. The six Kooks always has trouble getting out of town, now at ten people, it would prove to be no different. It won't be because of the traffic, hardly a car on the street. Weird for a big tourist town in high season. The restaurant owner said its due to all the political unrest the country has seen in the past few years.

The three cars barrelled down the highways and wide open landscapes. The passed through vast unpopulated sections and large apartment block infested cities they had never heard of. No one in the group had ever been east of Turkey or west of India so this would be foreign territory for all. EXCITING! After a couple of time wasting stops they agreed to drive into the night to get as far as possible and find some wild camping. They haven't exactly been roughing it lately and should probably get budgeting again. The airfield covered in cow pies should do the trick!

Pitch black, they set up their tents tables and got cooking dinner. A nice Spanish omelette. Andy went to bed early, allowing the bugs in his stomach to rest up for tomorrow. The days have now caught up to the countries visited. They were fed and comfortable. A with Joel strumming guitar, a little whiskey to keep them warm, and the sweet stench of manure, they all though about how wonderful life can be sometimes. Good times, good company, good night. End transmission.

Day 18 - Cappadoccia, Turkey

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 18 - August 2, 2017
Istanbul, Turkey Cappadoccia , Turkey
Countries: 19 KMs/Miles: 7874/4893
Breakdowns: 7 Time @ Borders: 21h 25m

Last night was the longest sleep they had this whole trip! So great to feel rested and ready to take on the day. The rooftop terrace was the setting for typical Turkish breakfast spread of meats, cheeses, hard boiled eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and bread. The coffee was instant but drinkable and better mixed with milk than tea. The cars were packed and ready. Instanbul is an amazing city from the ground but let's see from the air. Grab the drone!

Now, drone law and regulations are constantly being rewritten in every country and the Kooks certainty do the best they can to keep up but sometimes saying sorry is easier than asking permission. And after seeing the kind of high quality footage it captures, it's going to be hard not to pull it out at every stop. They constantly check for reports of other team's progress crossing boarders with their drones. In Uzbekistan, one team had to smash their's in front of the border patrol. Do they hide it? Courier it? Try to fly it over? In the end, its Andy's bird and he is, somewhat, prepared to have to scuttle it on this trip. I would be a shame though, a big loss financially and he was becoming a good pilot. A damn good pilot. Finally.

Getting from their hostel to the Iranian embassy wasn't easy, a maze of cobble stone streets lined with cars on either side made things tight. With just enough room to squeeze through, unless a car was coming in the opposite direction. At the Iranian consulate, the guy helping them the day before handed all over their approved passports over without fuss, even if you weren't there in person. They were going to Iran! Number one on every Kook's list of countries to visit on this adventure. They were all stoked to jump this hurdle, now they just have to get there.

The city is gigantic so going through takes awhile but when there is congestion, it can feel like forever. The teams spirits were high though so they enjoyed the scenic city views, more mosques, huge Turkey fags, and the cranes and ships down by the harbour. A long jam over on the bridge in sweltering heat made the boys sweat. It was the perfect scenario for YACKS A/C to go down. The Kooks in that car would be driving with window down rocking skins until it can get fixed. The bridge would take them to Asia, John's second first time there.

Once out of the city, the roads really opened up and the team was flying. Mountainous tree covered hills interrupted by red roofed towns and farmers fields. And although the Skodas took a big hit when going uphill, on the downhills with the winds at the backs, they hit their tops speeds of 99 for YACKS and 101 for Millie. Not to bad for these little beauties.

Hour after hour of driving lay ahead only stoping for gas, a quick meal, or to get their PPT. A sticker that pays for toll roads and bridges. Trying to leave the country without one could lead to a huge penalty they've read. As they crouched around their roadside table finishing lunch, a random old man came over, not speaking English, and gave them all plums. At a gas station earlier, John tried to buy a chocolate treat and the guy said "Just take it." This kind of thing keeps happening in Turkey. People just being nice to them just to be nice. The Kooks wondered if they would ever just walk up to a group of foreign strangers on the side of the road and just offer them food. Hmmmm.

Temperatures were hitting 38C out there but the boys were cool as cucumbers on these fast highways. Beautiful arid landscapes spanning as far as the eye can see. Heat waves created mirages in the distance. Is that water? Is that a lake? Getting closer they discovered a huge salt flat. But as so common on this trip, they would only see it from their car. No time to stop. Got to get from point A to point B. Annoying sometimes but necessary when you're on a schedule.

It was night before they got to Goreme, the main town in Cappadoccia. Old cave dwellings and buildings lit up in different colours. A few more supplies are needed before hitting the campsite. Some Efes are in order and a little bit of ice courtesy of the shop owner. No more warm beers! Once again, the fellas are coming up Milhouse on the hospitality. It would be the first ice they've had this whole trip. And a couple of cubes would be perfect in the whiskey Mikey had purchased in Scotland just before the trip when visiting John and picking up the cars. Saving it for a special occasion. Tonight would be as good as any. And they wouldn't be able to take it into Iran so they would have to finish it soon.

They settled in to the nice campsite complete with pool and waterside. But that kind of fun would have to wait until tomorrow. It was after 11pm and they still needed to have dinner, a delicious spaghetti bolognese prepared by chef Josh. Andy called it quits early, his stomach acting up. The rest carrying on, joking around, having a couple of nips, and playing a few games of shithead, the classic backpacker game. Their early wake up time would come quick. Now 1am, they've given themselves only three hours sleep after a long day. Like a bunch of shitheads. End transmission.

Day 17 - Istanbul, Turkey

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 17 - August 1, 2017
Istanbul, Turkey to Istanbul, Turkey
Countries: 19 KMs/Miles: 7095/4409
Breakdowns: 7 Time @ Borders: 21h 25m

The cool dark room provided the Kooks with a good slumber but all could have used a few more hours. The long days and hot weather the day before made them a little sluggish off the bat. The wanted to get to the Iran consulate at their 8:30am open so they could be first in line. Already having their approval codes, the team was hoping to expedite their visas in order to get them that afternoon and head out on the road again.

The consulate proved to be a pretty easy experience, with a nice security securing their phones, and a nicer counter attendant. He was happy to rush it and take their money but said it couldn't be processed until the following morning which means they would have to spend another night in Istanbul. Though disappointed, there was an internal sigh of relief that they wouldn't have to drive that day, probably nodding asleep at the wheel. Plus, no they could explore without being rushed.

The only thing that held them up that morning was more disorganization. Not enough pens to full out applications, not having their info printed to full out forms (as there phones were locked up), not everyone having passport pictures, and not having the right amount of currency to pay. The biggest losers were Mikey and John whose U.K. visas cost the most but far. Not sure what the U.K. did but whatever it was, Iran didn't like it. At least Mikey got to share tea with the bank representative. You'll often see people drinking apple tea on a small plate in a little glass cup with a small spoon and a couple of sugar cubes. And you'll be offered it in a variety of situations, even buying shoes!

They missed breakfast at the hostel so they dumped their gear and headed out. They had to change, it was HOT, reaching mid to high 30s by midday. The hottest they've experienced so far. So whats the best way to cure the body on a hot day? A hot breakfast of Menemen, a Turkish egg dish, and hot Turkish coffee, a sweet unfiltered treat that you have to let settle and leaves you with mud at the bottom of your glass. And of course white bread. At every meal. Gluten free is not a thing here. The boys loved it, a little dirty bulking never hurt anyone. The Blue Mosque was next on their list and it didn't disappoint.

There are mosques all over Turkey sporting multiple domes and towers. To the unfamiliar eye, they look like they are right out of Star Wars. Beautiful structures and a nice architectural change from all of the cathedrals they saw in Europe. The Blue Mosque may be the most famous site in Istanbul. Unbelievable from both outdoors and in. The courtyard offered a lot of informative about Islam and Muslim culture. Well layed out and easy to follow, it was a great way to debunk a lot of uneducated information many people have in their minds. On entry, you had take off your shoes and cover up. If in shorts, they gave you a dress like garnet to wear. Inside, the ceiling were spectacular and the carpet plush on your bare feet. All in all, a great spot to take a billion pictures. And you will.

The Mikey tour was on and to the Grand Bazaar they followed. Kooks be shopeeen' !!They be shoppen'! This covered maze of shops all selling the same things spans kilometres and needs street signs to navigate. Better put a leash on Geej! The fella promised their Iranian carnet de passage provider that they would bring him blue Nikes for his son and some toothpaste. An odd request but one the team would make good on. And this was the place to do it. They also purchased a backgammon/chess board for boarder waits and a lucky eyeball to hang from the rear view mirror. The Turkish people may be the best sales people they have ever encountered but their also friendly and a cup of tea goes a long way to making a sale. Andy continued hit tap water kick and Joel is baklava addiction. One would need an intervention.

They lads were baking and needed something to quench their thirst. Back to the hostel roof top and enjoy the views. "What, you don't open until three? DUR, wait a sec. I'm sorry, I thought this was God damn America!" Bagged, the retreated to their basement dungeon room for a quick power nap. Joel snoring before his head hit the pillow. Shortly after, they headed back up for a cold one and a few warm ones playing backgammon, doing some admin and just chilling. No pressure to leave that day.

Hunger set in but before doing that, they arranged their air ballooning trip two mornings from now. If they get their Iran visas first thing tomorrow and book it to Cappadocia, they could catch a couple of winks for the 5am flight. They took a hostel recommendation of a restaurant near the hostel and feasted on a local delicacy of a lamb or chicken stew in a clay pot they crack open on the table. Yummy. Another Efes and shisha laughing session followed. That's when Joel dropped a bombshell. "I hate to break it to you. Kooks, we're bankrupt."

If you are a company or individual that would like to help the Kooks get out of receivership by sponsoring our car with your name or logo go to: http://www.gofundme.com/kublai-kooks-mongol-rally-2017

The night ended by walking around the square and taking even more pictures of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Full of people yet peaceful. The smells of sweet corn and chestnuts filled the air. The call to prayer echoing from the towers. Soothing. Back to the rooftop for a few last brims and beers and off to bed early. Good night Kooks. I hope your dreams are filled with abergine. End transmission.

Day 16 - Bulgaria to Turkey

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 16 - July 31, 2017
Sunny Beach, Bulgaria to Istanbul, Turkey
Countries: 19 KMs/Miles: 7095/4409
Breakdowns: 7 Time @ Borders: 21h 25m

Wanting to spend as much time in the sun as possible, Geej and Andy hit the beach early surfboard and drone in hand. Perfect morning so catch some waves and dive bomb some beach goers. Why not a breakfast daiquiri?! Whether it be on the table or in your mouth, it was damn refreshing. The rest of the Kooks followed suit, some feeling rougher than others after a big night. It was hot as stink already but they only had an hour or so to soak up the rays and strut their bronzed buff beach bods. Luckily they had taken steroids that very morning and were jacked.

After failing to get the drone up for a flight - got to remember to charge those batteries! - the men hit the water. Geej and Mikey sporting the team buggies. The latter grabbing the board and hitting the surf. This trip had got him in the best shape of his life hardly breaking a sweat ears pinned back as he paddling way out to catch the big dogs. Roof roof! After hitting some gnarly tubes that wow'd the crowd, he handed the board over to Andy who hit the sickest set 360ing one last time before riding to shore. J3 (Joel, Josh, and John) whipped a rugby ball making unreal diving catches and all catching the eyes of the many beautiful bikini clad ladies about. Geej, standing in a foot of water, unveiling a posing routine not seen since Ed Corny hit the stage to the delight of all beachgoers. The Kooks were peacocking. Or peakooking. And peakooking good. B-CAW!

It was nice to be in, possibly, the only beach resort town they would see on the quest, but under the gun, they made a hasty two hour get away. Plato typico for this group. Too bad they couldn't have another night but Turkey called and they were excited to go somewhere culturally different. They loaded up on food at a near boarder town and crossed their fingers. They had read of other teams having troubles and long waits and just didn't feel like it today. The short line the Bulgarian side gave them hope.

They were becoming pros at these crossings. Not stressing out and expecting the wait. The weather was nice enough for Head Chef Josh to set up a road side sandwich stand which the team, and a gimpy border dog, enjoyed. Easy exit and with another short line on the Turkish side awaited them. With John suntanning between cars and the line moving, Geej, ceasing his opportunity, jumped behind the wheel and perfectly eased the Skodas forward. Nailed it again! Soon enough Geej, soon enough. Now get back to blogging!

Entry into Turkey was pretty quick too which was nice. The 95US per car entry fee was not. The Kooks were starting to hemorrhage money, bleeding their bank accounts faster than expected. Not seeing the green card kiosk in advance, they wasted their chance to beat their boarder time record. But now in, and beautiful city of Istanbul only hours away, the lads sped down the smooth highways catching their first glimpses of the mosque towers and massive flags that span this huge country; never allowing you to forget where you are.

Rolling hills are warmed by the falling sun bringing Millie and YACKS to the outskirts of the capital city. The Mediterranean Sea hugging the horizon. This place is MASSIVE! It seemed never ending. Shiny cars and shiny buildings everywhere. 747s buzzing their towers. Geej and Mikey had been here before but had flown in and never saw all this. The traffic was moving better than expected as they had heard many horror stories about major congestion. Getting in late as the sun went down was a bonus. Their procrastination paying off.

A missed turn allowed them to take, and pay for, the 5km tunnel under the Bosporus straight. Without an exit until the other side, they had to take it back. Another missed turn. Damn! Who's navigating this ship? These freeways weren't exactly the easiest to figure out but the eventually they got to the old town and their home for the night, hostel Bahaus. The owner Toogie greeting them and the door, finding them parking, and rear ending Mille with his car! Haha. No harm done, and it was worth a free beer each.

With Aussies on Toogie's hit list, Joshy was forced to pay the rent. The room was nice and cool and would provide them with some good rest but not before heading to the rooftop patio for a few bottles of Efes. They had to get up early to get to the Iran consulate for opening bell so they didn't have much time here. Not wanting to waste a minute of it, they hit the streets where they noticed some other Mongol Ralliers. Their first sightings since opening day! Were they catching up to the pack?

One team was waiting their for a late joiner fly in. The U.K. four man team was running behind schedule due to some major mechanical issues. After totally replacing their engine in Bulgaria, the new one was rendered tits-up in a matter of days. Not wanting to quit, two of them fly back to the U.K. bought a new one and high tailed it back to Bulgaria to pick their teammates. That commitment. Good job lads!

Joining forces, the ten hit the streets looking for something to eat and looking for a cold beer. Although a touristy area, alcohol isn't always easy to find and is usually relatively expensive. Being a muslim country, bars are not the norm. And there are restrictions selling such things around mosques. They would have to walk a lot further happy to swap stories along the way. The sites sounds and smells of Istanbul all around them. Walking though the main square of the old town, they got to see the Blue Mosque all lit up at night. Pretty amazing!

Passing shop after shop of Turkish delights, they all settled on a kabab restaurant, of course. It was pretty lively in the area for a Sunday night. Off to find some suds, they headed toward the bridge to Asia that connects both sides of Istanbul. A nice spot overlooking the water made their beers taste even better. And it was good to catch up with another Rally team and hear their experiences. After a few, they headed back enjoying the hot night. They had an early planned getting visas, seeing some sites, and then heading east. Serefe! End transmission.

Day 15 - Romania to Bulgaria

Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 15 - July 30, 2017
Bucharest, Romania to Sunny Beach, Bulgaria
Countries: 18 KMs/Miles: 6680/4151
Breakdowns: 7 Time @ Borders: 19h 28m

The Kooks had their earliest start yet looking forward to day ending in sand and sun. They also wanted to have time to spend some time exploring Bucharest. Only John had been here before so as per Kook kustom, he was voted tour guide. Wicked architecture surrounded them. Restaurant and bar filled streets made them wish they were staying another night. You could tell this place would be fun. With Joshy back in the mix, this six planned their next moves over breakfast.

They stop for a quick photo opp at the palace. John claims its the heaviest building in the world. His information seems untrustworthy. Everyone is always making up untrue facts about the places they're in. Andy leading the way in that. But, as per usual, it's time to leave. At least they are back in the EU and don't have to worry about a boarder crossing today. Oops, spoke too soon!

Although Romania and Bulgaria are both EU, they do have some boarder control. Mostly for making sure cars have their registrations, insurance, and have vignettes that allow you to drive on that country's roads. The team didn't have one (and was never told they needed one when entering.) The not so understanding boarder guard took for their registration papers charged them 6 Euros each. Not really sure why but they paid anyways. Then she said they owed 250Euro for a fine for not having the vignette. For each car. This fine was for a piece of paper that costs 3Euro. You have to be f'n kidding me! C-word! You had one job Andy!

Not wanting to pay and in turn causing a bit of a log jam behind, the Kooks were waved into a holding area. "Damn, why did we give her our papers and we got no receipt for the money we gave her already?!" Thinking they could have just ripped through into a new country on the lamb if they still help them. What could Romania do then? After a quick trip into the booth, the boys convened back to the parking lot to weigh there options and play frisbee to cool off. Their non-border crossing was no more and was eating up time, important beach time.

They didn't even have the cash to pay the fine if they wanted to. They decided to try to buy the new vignettes online and see if that would work. After an hour, a different boarder guard waved at them and John ran back. Now, in broken English, the woman now said she would settle for 100Euro for each car and some chocolate. John said we had neither and now there was a stalemate. But when opportunity strikes, you gotta take it. When she turned around to help another driver, John grabbed both registrations and took off. "GO! GO! GO!" Understanding the situation immediately, the Kooks jumped in the kars, and sped away. Fugitives on the run! Bad ass!

The managed to get the right stickers for the Bulgarian side roared away from the boarder up and down the winding roads barefoot at top speed. Feels great! Time to throw on some Beach Boys and Bob Marley. Feel good music. And time to start this party early. With scenic views all the and 2.59L filling their tanks, the mates rolled into Sunny Beach, a proper East Europe beach town, and couldn't be happier. It didn't happen if it isn't on film right?!...so the boys grabbed their jackets, jumped on the roofs, and rolled across the bridge drone following the whole way.

"Just give us any bed in any room in any room, we're losing daylight!" After some confusion sorted beds at the hostel, they hit the streets. Suns out guns out! Off the the playa they walked taking note of the entertainment finally feeling the sand beneath their toes and enjoying the fact the the Kooks have hit 18 countries since the opening horn sounded just over two weeks ago.

Picking pretty much the first beach bar they saw, the ganged plopped into bean bag chairs and total relaxation hit them all at once. After days of early mornings, late nights, tons of driving, and little sleep, this was a welcome treat. Beers, LITS, watermelon raki shots, and shisha was in order. And order they did. Everyone laughing and joking and adrenaline junkie Mikey, tried to slingshot himself to the moon.

The night only got more hectic from there. The degenerates made their way down the strip making frequent stops to reload or dance in a circle. Two for one. Yes please! The Kiwi and Scotsman had another shot of adrenaline, while the others continued to take in the action. The new baby faced John was not done changing his look either. And from the kitty, his new corn rolls were born. Only the essentials. Charging down the street, he picked up some German techno glasses and sprocketed up and down the boulevard joined by his merry crew of revellers spilling the drinks at every turn. Too funny!

The shenanigans went into early the morning and some Kooks had trouble finding their rooms when they went home. Others got invited to a private party in an apartment nearby. And though the party was raging, they were all asked to leave soon after they arrived. It was a fun night anyways. And in a weird way, new friends became closer friends. Uncomfortably closer at times. The last solo Kook decided to risk it. 50/50. So close! Oh well, they were better odds than trying to ride a water buffalo. End transmission.

Day 14 - Moldova to Romania

Kublai Kooks - Mogol Rally 2017
Day 14 - July 29, 2017
Chisinau, Moldova to Bucharest, Romania
Countries: 17 KMs/Miles: 6287/3907
Breakdowns: 7 Time @ Borders: 18h 25m

Although tired when waking, the lads had a great sleep. Being constantly tired is now the norm and 5-6hrs of uninterrupted sleep is a dream. Downstairs for a great breakfast spread and good internet, Andy and Geej started a solid morning admin sesh. Websites, blogging, fundraising, research all needed to get done and when you're moving so fast without really being able to get much done in the cars, they had to take the opportunity.

Joel worked the social media and attracted groupies for the team and for himself. He was also the CFO for the teams kitty (which is a pool of money the team pays for everything with.) The six man kitty going to a four man kitty and two man kitty when the team broke up and when Josh detoured, he had to start a four man kitty then a five man kitty when the they met back up in Chernobyl then back up to a six man when they picked up Josh. Whew! Then factor in changing currencies every day and everyone paying here and there, it can be a nightmare and super confusing. But his skills at creative accounting seemed to be working.

But first things first, Millie needs a doctor so John and Mikey took her to the Skoda hospital. Not too far from where they were staying but enough time to get pulled over by the police. With the cop not speaking English, the pair decided to play dumb. It wasn't a big stretch for either of them. The other three spent their time back at the hotel sorting out visas and finances while Joel set up a model shoot on the remaining Kook kar. Not hearing from the two in a while, they jumped in YACKS and headed to Skoda dealership, also getting stopped by the fuzz in the process.

YACKS still stinks inside. Bad. The 5L water jug had sprung while storing it in the back seat for the night, a few days back, and the stench has yet to subside. At the Skoda shop, Mikey and John's second place in the queue turned into a 45min wait for service. Moldova was losing ground in the amount of love the Kooks had for them and the fellas were once again falling behind schedule. But a new coolant temperature sensor was purchased and installed. Mille was alive again!

After that was all sorted, team found some parking and fired around the town square before settling down for lunch a Czech restaurant. A tasty lunch and a beer awarded them a bit more internet time, aka swiping left or right. Another hour and a half delay. Arrrgh, they should just give up on trying to make it out on the route on time. The roads were great though and they winding roads provided some fun driving. They hit the boarder which had free wifi. The love for Moldova was back! An uneventful crossing getting out, the Bulgarian side greeted them with a pot hole ridden roads at its entrance. Uh oh.

This time they were a bit more prepared; a few snacks and some games. FYI, when you play frisbee at a boarder, there is a 100% chance you will hit other cars! No real issues on the Bulgarian side either. Using their printed route maps and saying were on a car rally for charity seems to help a bit. 1h 50m. A new boarder record! Except for the border area, the roads became perfect and well marked. The Kooks are flying though the rolling hills and country side being careful not to hit anyone taking their bull for a stroll . What a beautiful place. And the eye candy is pretty sweet.

With getting in so late all the time, the party sometimes has to start in the car for the passengers. 1.7L for 50 cents. Grab a couple. And use the squatter, or not. But what goes in, must come out and there is a definite art to the bleeding the weasel while mobile. Some prefer to hang off the side washing the car in the meantime. While others shaky hands create a need for laundry and a near bubble. No worries though, the Kooks have been bubbling before bubbling was kool. The sun is shining and the fellas are singing and Davo is being handed off at 80kph like a relay race all the way to Bucharest.

What a awesome city! After dark now, the boys weave their way through the city with packs of high end cars. Old and new architecture blend together seamlessly. "Why didn't we get here earlier?!" Feeling loose and jugs full, they pulled into their hostel. " "Joshy!!! Get up and have some beers." "Naaaa, I'm knackered." After a long journey from Warsaw, Josh had already settled in for some hibernating. But the Kooks were back together! Thoughts of turning Bucharest into Amsterdam were thrown out and then thrown out. The potential for a beach day tomorrow overpowered any thoughts of clubbing was put to bed. They would settle for crushing a few more beers, talking to some fellow, and watching a weird light formation in the sky. What was that? Maybe they did go back to Amsterdam after all... End transmission.