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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thank you!

The Mongol Rally was the craziest, most intense, amazing, energizing, frustrating, fascinating thing we’ve done and we are still trying to process it! It’s impossible to remember every moment, but we are so thankful for all of the people that supported us before we left and along the way. We discovered a lot about an area of the world that was a mystery to us and we learned and reaffirmed things about ourselves (yes, we are both cranky when hungry). We are truly grateful for the friendship, hospitality and positive energy all along the way. 

An extra big thank you to our friends and family who tirelessly helped us with all of our fundraising efforts and organization for the trip, and to all of our sponsors - check them out below!

Secret Level Films - an awesome Toronto-based production company.

Central Dental - if you need a dentist in Ottawa - check out Dr. Eid, he's awesome!

Ruze - Clean and simple feel-good products for environmentally-conscious customers.

Loudmouth Printhouse - Ottawa based artist-inspired graphic design and printhouse.

David and Sarita - Thank you for your generous support of our car. Your family picture made us many friends along the way!

At last count, we had raised over $8,000 for our two charities - The Stephen Lewis Foundation and the Lotus Children's Centre and that's not including the money that will be raised from the sale of our car! (You can still donate to our charities via the links at the top left if you feel so inclined).

We are still waiting to hear back from the organizers on how much our car sells for, but we are sure it will make a pretty penny.

We'll post more pictures from the trip once we have a chance to sort through all of them.

Thanks again!

Last Days in Ulaanbaatar

We left the ger camp in the morning, and arrived back into Ulaanbaatar in the afternoon. 

Ed and Ben chilling on our spacious bus ride back to Ulaanbaatar

Sebastien was feeling worse at this point, so he decided to relax in the hotel while I convinced John and Kevin that we should go to the market, a decision which I am sure they regretted after they had to wait for me to try on multiple pairs of leather boots!

The Naran Tuul market, or the black market, is a huge market in Ulaanbaatar where you can buy pretty much anything – except for apparently a souvenir t-shirt, which I found out the hard way! We wandered the stalls, bought traditional Mongolian hats, leather goods, and random odds and ends. After a few hours, we were pretty tired and headed back, though I did have three pairs of cute boots to show for it, so I considered it a successful excursion. 

We made it an early night, and then the day arrived – the day we were finally flying home. While we were happy at the prospect of getting home to see our friends and family, sleep in our comfy beds and finally get all the dust and dirt out of our belongings, it was also bittersweet to say bye to our friends. Not to mention that I was totally jealous of the rest of our friends who were still traveling to exotic locations like Vietnam and Bali.

Sebastien was still not feeling 100% so he stayed in the hotel while I ran a few errands. I went to see the Roos at Gaby’s house so we could exchange our thousands of photos of each other and say our last “see you laters”.

After a heartfelt goodbye with the Roos, I headed to lunch with the Canadian Ambassador to Mongolia. My friend Brian was friends with him, so he connected us and the Ambassador was kind enough to provide us with some beer and pizza. He was very friendly and interested in our trip! The other Ottawa team – Five Crew Canoe as well a team of crazy boys from Saskatchewan were both there.

We had a nice lunch and I rushed back to the hotel to pick up Sebastien and head to the airport. We were a little concerned because it took a lot longer than we expected to get to the airport, but it’s so small it didn’t actually matter that we were only there an hour before our international flight! We ran into Sandy (from 2 Vagabonds and a Yak) who was on the same flights with us until Frankfurt, as well as Mark from the Rollover team who was on our flight to Beijing. Since Mark had hurt his neck in the accident in Russia, he managed to get his travel insurance to pay for an upgrade to first class! He’s a smart man.

Seb and I at the start of our trip home

Our flight path was long – Ulaanbaatar to Beijing to Frankfurt to London to Ottawa – but thanks to the comforts of lounge access it wasn’t quite as bad as we thought it would be. 

Watching really weird Asian music videos with Sandy in the Air China lounge in Beijing - this is the VIP room ;)

Air Canada has also stepped up their movie selection, which was much appreciated! We made it back to Ottawa safe and sound – though tired! Meena, Adam and Lise met us at the airport and gave us a great welcome home.

The Ger-eat Outdoors

Gabby (Aussie friend of the Roos and also our friend now!) was working in Ulaanbaatar and had organized a weekend away a few hours out of the capital in a national park with a bunch of other Aussies. They were kind enough to invite us along to relax, spend some time in nature and sleep in a ger camp which we thought was a fitting way to spend one of our last days in Mongolia.

After a two hour bus ride - where one person got his ipod stolen, another got pickpocketed and I fell asleep on the shoulder of a random Mongolian lady while holding her baby's diaper bag - we arrived here!

Our ger camp - called Heaven's Envoy - which sounds culty but was cool

Our ger!

We went to the Ger camp and it was awesome! We were all so tired that it gave us a good chance to relax and be lazy. We spent time napping and lazing on the grass while some of the others went geocaching (like hunting for treasure using GPS). I had never heard of this, but apparently it is popular and they found two caches!
Relaxing at the ger camp

Sebastien and I, along with one of the girls went horse-back riding. There are horses everywhere in Mongolia, so it’s one of those things we figured we had to do. Sebastien was a regular Genghis Khan, tromping all over the hills while I had the guide lead me, and spent most of the time remembering why I don’t like horseback riding. Nonetheless it was still fun!

At the end of our ride

Enjoying a beer after a long day ;)

The ger camp had organized a huge bonfire for us, so we sat around and talked smack until it died down a bit. 

It was a big fire! Photo courtesy of Rhys

Sebastien, Ben and I were out for the count so we headed back to our ger while the others hit the Chinggis Khan vodka like champs. The boys got the wood fireplace in the ger going so it was nice and toasty, and we slept like babies –until about 3am when the fire died and we ran out of firewood.

Men make good fire

All in all, it was another lovely day in Mongolia.

The End of the Road

The next morning, the time had finally come for us to part ways with the Mighty Perodua. It was time to go to the Mongol Rally finish line! We rolled into the finish line parking lot and took our obligatory triumphant pictures. It was great to catch up with some other ralliers, and that feeling of accomplishing our 10,000 mile journey was truly amazing.

Yup, the dots on the map are finally connected! We made it!

I wanted to take pictures on the car the entire trip but Sebastien only let me at the end. I swear the roof was made of plastic and kept puckering in, which is why I look nervous.


We had a sad and heartfelt good-bye with our lovely car. We highly recommend the Perodua for any future Ralliers. Or anyone in general, it is nearly impossible to stop this beast of a car. After all that we put the car through, 3 flat tires and a change of fuses were the only things that went wrong!

We were so sad to leave our car, and we hope a nice Mongolian gets good use out of it!

Last shot of Tweety in the car parking lot - which was filled with cars in a lot worse shape than ours!!

After saying goodbye to Tweety we headed inside to chat with the other Ralliers and to open our Finish line kit! My sister Meena and her husband Adam had given us a finish line kit that we couldn’t open got it.... we got to the finish line. It was a Styrofoam cube that had gotten us into a few prickly patches with border guards wondering what was in it. Through sign language and actions we managed convey that it was a gift and a surprise and managed to get it through all of the border crossings. We were excited to see what was inside. We weren’t the only ones! A bunch of ralliers stood around for the unveiling.

Opening the finish line kit

The assortment of goodies were perfect (though the chocolate had melted and re-shaped  a few times), Sebastien was excited to have a great cigar and the beers were even still cold from sitting in the car the night before (Mongolia is cold at night!). We shared the wealth with our friends and relaxed.

Thanks Meena and Adam!

The day that we dropped the car off was also the day of the final finish line party. We went for dinner with a few people – to a restaurant that ended up giving most people a slight case of food poisoning (oops!). 

Sebastien had managed to stay more or less healthy the entire trip only to fall victim during the last few days!

He felt wonky at the beginning of the party, and after saying hi to most friends left to go relax at the hotel room. I stuck around to catch up with the other teams and get the gossip on the trip. 

There was a lot! Some interesting team dynamics (read: fights and friendships potentially ruined), Mongol Rally romances, and more. It was interesting to hear all the stories and revel in the shared glory of finishing our adventure! There was an interesting finish to the night when one of the other Canadians got punched in the nose by a random dude, and that point was an opportune time to make my exit!

Party time

Friday, September 28, 2012

UB or Bust!

The next morning we started on our way to Arvaikheer. On the way we stopped at temple devoted to horses – an essential animal for most rural Mongolians. The temple had a number of stupas, horse carvings and horse bones as homage and was an interesting stop.

Sebastien imitates a statue at the horse temple

horse bones

stupas and prayer offerings
It was at this temple that we were also informed that it was only 400km to Ulaanbaatar and it was all on paved roads! That energized us, although we realized later that sometimes no roads are better than paved roads that are poorly maintained!

Mongolian pigeons
We stopped in the town of Arvaikheer and ate at a Korean karaoke bar restaurant. Of all the restaurants in that town, we found out it was the same restaurant the Roos had eaten in the day before. We saw their clever entry when we signed the guestbook.

Reliable way to transport horses
At this point, we knew that we could get to Ulaanbaatar that day and were excited by the prospect of a hot shower and a decent bed. There had been talk of taking it slow and camping close to Ulaanbaatar, but we were not interested in that once we realized it was possible to reach Ulaanbaatar before it was dark.

 Solar powered ger

The realization that this was truly our last day of driving was a surreal feeling. After driving for so long, and so far, it was really hard to comprehend that our time on the road was so close to ending. We were sad, but at the same time we were excited to actually accomplish our goal. And shower – did I mention that?
A road sign! Very novel!

During this last day on the road, Sebastien and I spent time debriefing about our trip. Despite the hours we had ahead of us for discussion, it was impossible to remember everything, everyone we met or to even really process the trip as a whole.

 Horses out for a swim

Our car was also ready for a break -  during the last 100km we noticed that every time we went over a big bump there was a weird smell like the tires were burning and figured the back shocks were giving out. But, our car made it! And so did we.

Herding by motorbike!

After roughly 10,000 miles we rolled into Ulaanbaatar thinking we were going to make a triumphant entrance. We were soon confronted with the realities of Ulaanbaatar. Not very pretty and a TON of traffic. It took us over an hour to go the last 10km.

We made our way to “downtown” Ulaanbaatar and stopped at the Ramada to see if there were rooms available or if they could recommend other hotels. There was a conference in town, so many of the hotels were booked up. The other teams were looking forward to some 5 star action, which we were not quite ready to pay for, so Sebastien and I found a perfectly adequate and well-priced hotel down the road from the Ramada and basked in the luxury.

We called the Roos and made plans to meet them at a bar where they were at a trivia night with their friend Gaby and some of her other Aussie expat buddies. At this point we were pretty exhausted, but felt like we needed to still go out for a bit and more than anything really wanted to hear how the Roos had gotten on for the last few days of their trip.

We traveled to the Irish pub for a joyful reunion with the boys. It was so great to see them, and hear about their crazy journey which ended up taking them really off the beaten path (because they listened to Ed’s directions). Sebastien and I were planning to go home after a drink or two, but were convinced that we should hit the town. During our search for the next bar, we ran into a bunch of other Ralliers – including some of our favourite people from the trip! Many hugs ensued and we realized that Pat from Australia was freakishly strong when he picked me up with one arm and Sebastien with the other one. 

We ended up going out to a bar that had private karaoke rooms and really got into it. Rhys showed his prowess as a crooner, and Sebastien put on two exceedingly spectacular performances of his karaoke go-to songs. The boys were in awe and kept wondering aloud where the hell Sebastien had come from. They then kept telling me how lucky I was that I got to marry him! It was hilarious. Sebastien pretty much had the most hardcore fan club ever that night and the bromances that were already strong reached another level that night. Sebastien’s singing talent was a recurring topic of conversation for the next few days! 

Bayankhonger and Beyond

The next day we set off to Bayankhonger. We hit some rough spots right at the beginning when we got stuck in sneaky sand pits multiple times. We were driving in the middle of nowhere, through a desert with brush that looked like it was hard ground. But sometimes, out of nowhere, there were sections of sand that would victimize our cars. Out of the blue we would just get stuck! Luckily we had Dave and his Suzuki Jimny, plus all of our combined muscles to get us out of these situations!

Thanks for the tow Dave!

We kept going, through this remote, vast terrain with barely any vehicles in sight. We followed the GPS directions and found ourselves in a small village with a number of gers, tractors and rivers. We asked where the bridge was, only to be told there was no bridge. This was what we had been told about – the place where there are rivers you need to get towed across. Four rivers in fact! Deep rivers.

Peter asks for directions

We struck a deal with the tractor drivers, and watched a few people cross before us. The ubiquitous Toyota Land Rovers roared through like nobody’s business. People towed before us made it across without capsizing. But, one car (local – not a rallier) decided to go at it without a tow and nearly made it when he inexplicably turned the wheel as he was coming up on the riverbank. He ended up floating downriver, submerging his car and STILL needing to pay for a tow.

The river!

Sebastien and I rearranged the car to move stuff off of the floor and put the electronics where they would not be affected. Finally, it was time for us to go across the river. It was a bit nerve-wracking since we had heard so many stories about tow-wires snapping, cars submerging and things just going completely wrong. I don’t know why we ever doubted our little Perodua. There was slight leaking through the door at one point (the water was up to the windows) and that was it! No problems at all! In fact, our mats got cleaner so that was a bonus!

Saw some camels hanging out

When we got to the other side we were excited and kept on to Bayankhonger. Team Two Vagabonds and a Yak needed to get their tires fixed, so we grabbed some food and perused the market while they did that. We were all itching to hit the road and make up some time so we could make it to Ulaanbaatar the next day.

Mongolian scenery - lots of pretty purple brush that gave me crazy allergies!

Just hanging out

After a few hours, we were on our way and back into some awesome scenery. There were amazing, surreal rock formations surrounding us for kilometres. As the sun started to set we stopped to set up camp in the middle of some majestic mountains of rock. 

Off to climb some rocks

Everyone was eager to stretch their legs and the adventurous ones among us climbed to the tops of these formations and were greeted with an awesome view of the sun setting through the peaks.

Man on a rock (Sebastien)

I conquered one of the taller ones and Sebastien was impressed that I managed to get to the top in flip-flops.

Peter chilling on some rocks

Invigorated by our climb and starving from a day of driving, Sebastien and I made red curry for everyone for dinner. We chatted, drank some vodka (some more than others!) and called it a night.  

Another beautiful sunset!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

New kids on the block

The next morning we set off, keen to meet up with the Roos and be on our way. As we drove, we were relieved we had stopped driving when we did. The road was windy and kind of treacherous and it would have taken us twice as long to travel it in the dark. We saw the town of Altai approach, checked our watch and realized we were completely late to meet the other teams. We went to get gas and cash when we ran into the team Two Vagabonds and Yak. We agreed to meet at the “Mongol Rally Auto Service” on the way out of town and convoy together, along with another vehicle driven by Dave, who was driving solo.

A truly classy place - Mongol Rally Auto Service

The Mongol Rally Auto Service was a totally happening place! We saw a ton of teams there and were milling waiting for people to fix random parts of their car. We were chatting with people about how all the electrical stuff was starting to fail on our car (radio, horn, lights) when someone pointed out that all of those things are connected to the fuse box. This wasn’t some totally hopeless problem – it was, in fact, quite a simple fix! Well, except we didn’t even know where our fuse box was or how to change a fuse. BUT we were lucky enough to chat with a super friendly Rallier named Matt who is also a mechanic! He fixed our car in a jiffy and Sebastien and I were elated. Not that we don’t love talking to each other for 10 hours a day, but we were in a really good part of our audiobook that we were looking forward to finishing. 

Dorky, I know.

This was the nice guy that fixed our fuses. Sadly, his car needed a much more complicated fix!

Once everyone had their car stuff sorted, we headed off.  There were five or six teams that set off around the same time, and soon after we left Altai we came across the others stopped on the side of the road. One of the cars had driven over a sharp rock that had pierced their sump guard and their fuel line. Their car was leaking all over the place. One of the guys in the affected convoy was Peter, a Norwegian who had hooked up with the team when his car was totalled in Kyrgyzstan.  Peter had a bit of an issue because he had to be in Ulaanbaatar by Saturday because he had to be back in Norway for work on Monday. At this point it was Wednesday, and they had no idea how long it would take to fix the car, or if the car could be salvaged. Since Dave was traveling alone in a compact SUV with plenty of space, Peter decided to hop in with him. He was pretty choked because at that point he was really close with the other dudes, but his options were limited.

Supa stupa!

Glad that we hadn’t hit any of those issues, we continued on with a few stops here and there – to admire a stupa and have lunch.
Two Vagabonds and a Yak ended up having some tire problems, but other than that, the day was pretty smooth. 

Horse grave

Off-roading....because there are no roads

We had also found ourselves in good company again – since the teams had maps and GPS! Despite both of these things, we ended up off-course on our way to the next town – Bayankhonger. It was a blessing in disguise though, as we came across a really pretty lake that was our campsite for the night. Sebastien and I had supplied part of the lunch (leftover chilli – warm this time!) so we were treated and didn’t have to cook anything for dinner! We made a small appetizer – fried goat cheese (donated by our Mongolian friend the day before), but that was it. While everyone else was working hard, Sebastien and I got our feet wet in the lake (much too cold and murky for full submersion). It was refreshing to wash off some of the caked in dust, but there really was not much that could be done.

Scenic Mongolian lake

Dave, Renata and Sandy set to work on the stew which ended up pretty much being a work of art. Sebastien and I agreed it was one of the top five soups or stews we had ever tasted. And not just because we were starving. Dave is a bit of a foodie and had concocted just the right combination of spices to accentuate all of the ingredients. It was amazing.

Dave works on his masterpiece of a stew

We set our chairs in a semicircle to face the sunset and were treated to both a sunset and a moonset as we dined. Seriously, the moon sets in the horizon. It’s wild. There was much discussion amongst everyone on why that happens. It was refreshing to have a discussion that relied on our knowledge (or lack thereof), speculation and a sense of wonder, rather than having instant access to the answer via Google. I think that Sebastien had a good explanation, but at this point I can’t remember what it was! 

Sunset on the lake

Admiring the view and enjoying dinner

The moonset