Sunday, January 08, 2012

And still they look!

We have got a few blogs and look at the stats now and again. It amazes us to see that people still find and read our blog. This rally and our successful rally in 2006 are still the greatest thing we have ever done.Recently we have had visitors from Russia China and Thailand amongst the more usual Europe and US. So if you come across us, post a reply saying where you are from, and how you found the blog.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

2006 and off we go again

Well having failed last year we have to try again so we have another Marvin and 22 July off we go again. Check our progress on the Squires on Safari website

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Homeword Bound!

Next morning with still no sight of Nurken, who has our car paperwork and both our driving licenses and international driving permits, we get a taxi to the airport. It’s far from Heathrow or Gatwick – a long room with closed kiosks and a dozen people wandering around doing nothing, until they all decide to queue up at a door in the far corner. We join the queue and hope we are heading in the right direction, our passports and luggage are checked and we are handed boarding cards and file through into the next room, a coach soon arrives and takes us to the plane – it was a free for all trying to get seats – why we were given seat numbers on the boarding cards is still a mystery to us. One woman refuses to take her handbag off the seats for us to sit down so we have to look for more, Neil ends up sitting right at the back with a shelf over his head and his knees up to his ears. The plane is an Aeroflot castoff and the smell of aviation fuel is a little worrying! The plane taxis for so long we decide that he is going to drive to Moscow instead but eventually the plane lumbers into the air. We are fed and watered and shocked to find it was pretty decent. Once we get into Russian air space the plane lands and we are taken off to an old building on what appears to be a military base, where we go through a customs check. Jan gets the YTS border guard and it takes her half an hour for them to decide that she can enter Russia. We head off to a room to wait until we know what to do next. We re-board the same plane and take off once again to fly to Moscow, this time making a rush for it and getting seats together.

On arriving in Moscow we head to a kiosk displaying a ‘hotel and accommodation’ sign and ask if they can recommend a hotel – they say they don’t deal with hotels or accommodation and they point us into the departure lounge where we find a kiosk displaying a ‘hotel and accommodation’ sign and ask if they can help – they say they don’t deal with hotels or accommodation and point us back into the arrivals lounge and the kiosk we had already been to. We head back over there and are pointed back again to the departure lounge, where we are told the same story again – we end up taking the woman with us back to the arrival lounge where, after being told we are a 20 minute bus journey from Moscow, the two women decide that they can’t help us at all. Eventually a taxi driver wanders over to us and asks if we need a hotel – we climb into the taxi and off we go to Moscow – the 20 minute bus journey is really a 45 minute taxi ride and we pull up outside the largest hotel in Moscow, the Rossija, which is just opposite Red Square. Thinking we could never afford to stay there for the two nights we have to wait until we can fly off to London, we are taken to reception by the taxi driver. Luckily the hotel costs us just £40 a night and we are pleasantly surprised at our room. Although we are overlooking the internal courtyard the room is huge with cable TV and air-conditioning.... luxury! The bath is so big Jan needs a chair to climb into it and can swim laps! Neil decides to catch up on some sleep and misses a huge storm that swept in from nowhere. A couple of hours later we decide to do a bit of exploring, get some Roubles and some food. After comparing rates we descend into a basement Bureau de Change... a glass window to a tiny room, protected by a huge steel door. Then out to gawp at St Basils and the Kremlin before wandering off in search of food. After a while we find the food district and decide what is required is a curry. Neil hasn’t been this long without a curry since he moved to Bradford. A very posh Indian is located and we fill up on lovely food and Baltica beer. Refreshed we explore a bit more of the surroundings and find a beautiful Orthodox church just beside the Rossija. This hotel is BIG.... 3100 rooms, restaurants, shops, gym, go-kart track, plastic surgeons... its never ending! Not wanting to go back to our room yet, we stop at an open-air bar just by the hotel, and enjoy some more refreshments while watching the world go by. Eventually the day catches up on us and we wobble back to our room. The newly installed computerised entry system to the rooms still isn’t working so the receptionist rings ahead so the floor lady can let us in. And so to sleep........

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Aug 9th to 11th - Our Final Aktobe Days

Our friendly kidnappers turn up at the arranged time and take us back to Marvin. We notice that various things have gone missing from the car overnight but a quick word gets the radio put back! Unfortunately the opinion of our bush mechanic is Marvin is dead. Not wanting to let us down, Marvin is hitched up to the Lada again and towed to another garage but after much discussion, poking and prodding they shake their heads and walk away. The engine has little or no compression, and made the last few miles into Aktobe with next to no oil. Bitterly disappointed we decide to call it a day. One of the ‘captors’, Nurken by name, who can hardly speak any English keeps repeating ‘beautiful car, beautiful car’ and we decide he is to be Marvins new owner. We have never seen anyone so happy to be given a dead car! The next trip is to a compound surrounded by 10ft high chain link fence with a tower that’s home to a man with a big gun! We all take pictures of each other with Marvin and then with a tear in our eyes we leave him for the last time. Back at the hotel Nurken explains through Nurgul, our interpreter for the day that he wants the handover of ownership to be done legally and above board so we arrange to spend the following day sorting it out. The following day is spent trawling around official building that would have been marked for demolition if they had been in England. Nurken takes us back to our hotel and we arrange to meet him again the next morning to continue the process. He turns up with a friend who drives us around to various places to get Marvin signed over. They take us out for a meal and then back to our hotel after a tiring day and once again arrange to see us the next day. We spend much of the next day being driven around Aktobe to sort out more paperwork – it seems never ending. We go to lots more dilapidated buildings and we stand around a lot while the paperwork is being sorted and they need us to sign Marvin away. Our last visit that day is to Aktobes equivalent of Scotland Yard and we wait until the Chief of Police finishes his business lunch and returns to the office, in a new modern building, there is more paperwork to sign and we head back to the hotel. Later we go to a local travel agency and book flights back to Moscow and then onto London.

We have a few days to wait so we book into the hotel and have our laundry done and relax for the rest of the day. As we walk around Aktobe with nowhere to go, we just take in the sights and it seems the locals are doing the same, everywhere we go the locals stop to look at us, it takes a while to work out that we must look pretty strange to them, Neil is 6’ 3” with long hair and a beard, dressed in striped baggies and Jan is almost 5’ – we look a bit like a mop and bucket, whilst the local men are clean shaven with short hair, no wonder we draw attention. That evening we head to a pizzeria we had spotted and all through the meal people are watching us and pointing, children come to stand at our table to look at ‘the strange foreigners’, a BIG man with long hair and a beard seems to be more interesting than their meals. Back at the hotel, we have a couple of drinks and head to bed early, we seem to have spent a lot of time sleeping, which isn’t surprising because of the heat.

We spend the following morning wandering around and doing a little shopping then later that afternoon Nurken turns up with friends, Clara speaks English, and we share a drink and a laugh in the bar opposite the hotel. Clara is determined she will meet and marry a Frenchman ‘because they look good and have money too’ she explains. She also tells us that they only see one English person a year in the bank where she works, again we realise why we have drawn so much attention. While we are there a security guard comes over to inform us that another rally team has turned up at the hotel so we wander over to say hello. We catch up with each other’s news and they head on their way. Another drink with Nurken and his friends and they head off until the next day, we head to our room and spend the rest of the day drinking and watching television, then after a meal, made from things on our shopping trip, we retire for the night. The next morning we set off again to complete the legalities of leaving Marvin and with only one more office to visit, Nurken takes us back to the hotel and takes all our paperwork with him to get the final signature needed. He arranges to be back at 9pm that night to hand all our paperwork back to us – but he doesn’t turn up. We spend a couple of hours trying to phone his friend who is at work and whose family can’t understand English, then worried and tired we head off to bed for our last nights sleep in Aktobe.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Aug 8th Mort de Marvin

Breakfast isn’t so inviting today so we are soon out checking Marvin over and loading up ready to go. Neil is pleased to see he only used 250mls of oil since topping it up last. We head out past the garage we met the other teams at yesterday and settle down for another long day only to find Marvins problem returning. The engine loses more and more power and then after two hours or so the oil light flickers on. On investigation the oil level is almost off the bottom of the dipstick. Neil tops him up but we then have to wait half an hour for the engine to cool down and get him to start. But the signs are not good and after a while the engine starts rattling alarmingly, the light flickers on again and we shudder to a halt. To bring the oil back on the stick uses about a litre of oil. We now only have about 3litres of oil left from the new 5 litres opened this morning. We have covered 100kms and another 100kms will only get us further into the middle of nowhere so with heavy hearts we decide to turn round and return to Aktobe. But Marvin has other ideas and refuses to start. After a long wait a family in a UAZ (think VW camper but about 2 foot off the ground and with 4x4) pull up and offer their help. The driver decided the problem is with the carburetor so he and Neil strip, clean and rebuild it at the side of the road. Meanwhile Jan explains to one of the passengers where we are going and he continuously shakes his head. Eventually we realise we have spent half a day heading 100km in the wrong direction. Marvin still refuses to start so the towrope is brandished and after a quick tow he bursts into life. We turn back towards Aktobe as Marvin gets sicker and sicker. Hills reduce us to first gear and the smell of hot oil is overpowering. To add to the fun we are running low on fuel so we pull to the side of the road and as Neil jumps out Jan slides across to keep the engine running. A jerry can of fuel sees us full again and we head onwards ever slower.

Night falls as we drive back to the city and as we pull up at a railway crossing Marvin decides he has had enough, he stops and refuses to move. We can see the city lights not far up the road and we are approached by a group of young men from the lada in front. We try to explain that we need to get back to the city centre and they kindly offer to tow us, but as we set off they take us in the opposite direction and the area is getting further and further into the lonely outskirts. Jan gets in a panic and decides that we are going to be murdered and insists that Neil rescues us – of course he can’t as we are tied to the car in front. We are taken to a large compound in the middle of nowhere where all the young men get out of the lada and start banging on the 8 foot high gates to be let in, guard dogs are furiously barking as Jan texts Damian and Julia (team Yakity Yak) to inform them that we have been kidnapped and we fear for our lives. Quite what they can do, when we are on the northern route and they are on the southern, we don’t know but Jan keeps texting anyway – getting no reply as they must have been in an area with no mobile signal. When the gates are eventually opened we are towed into a large forecourt and then pushed into a small lockup garage. Neil gets out to speak to our ‘captors’ while Jan tries to decide on her last request before we are killed. Neil asks Jan for paper and pen to try and draw/write our problems, she hands over a compliment slip from the hotel in Aktobe, and relaxes a little when our ‘captors’ phone the hotel and make us a reservation for the night They carry our luggage to their car for us and drive us to the hotel where they insist on taking our luggage inside and to reception. They leave us there after saying they will collect us at 11am the next morning before they start work on Marvin for us – we never realised kidnappers could be so helpful!!!!

Once again we brave reception then take our belongings to our room .A quick wash and brush up and we head for the bar for a much needed drink. Tonight there is a different barmaid so Neil asks for a beer, a bottle of sprite and indicates two vodkas as he had the night before. Unknown to us vodka is sold in 100ml ‘shots’ so Jan ends up with a half pint of vodka to drown her sorrow ......and the round costs about £1.75!! A few phone calls were made and afterwards Neil kept Jan company drinking then we head unsteadily to bed.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Aug 7th A Day of Rest

Could get used to these bed things... even more comfortable than a reclining seat in a 2CV! Go down to breakfast and find stew and potatoes palatable if a bit of a shock. While we are eating we get a text from team ‘Plane Broke’ who have met up with team ‘Baron Von Ungern – Sternburg’s Revenge’. They had spent most of the previous night in the casino in our hotel and were now with them at a garage on the outskirts of the city and ready to leave. Luckily Marvin starts first time and we go and meet up with them. It's good to swap stories with them but its soon time for them to leave and us to return to see to our jobs!

We attempt to get our visas stamped at the hotel reception, only to be told they are forbidden from doing this and we must go to the local immigration office. They hire us a taxi and we are taken to the customs building. After much waving of hands and attempts to explain what we need, and several long waits in different rooms, we complete a form to the best of our ability and are taken to another office where soon the deed is done. Surprisingly our taxi driver is still waiting outside for us and he takes us back to the hotel.

We then take Marvin to a garage to find out if anything can be done for him. The mechanic drops what he is doing and willingly attends to Marvin with a small crowd looking on at the strange little car. After Neil explains in mime how to grease the king pins, the job is soon done. Marvin refuses to start, so up with the bonnet and soon everyone is offering their advice. Plugs are changed and checked, wires wiggled, heads scratched and next time we try he starts straight away. When we offer them money they won’t accept any payment. Then they see a packet of red Marlboro and accept 20 as way of payment.

Most of the day is gone and so after a trip round the supermarket to get some food we retire to our room for a picnic! Neil has worked out that last nights drinks were so expensive because they have to import the brandy Jan had had so we head down to the bar in the lobby to test the theory Jan’s drink is a double vodka and sprite and Neil's a pint of the Baltica beer which is much easier on the pocket. More texts are sent and families phoned and after a couple of drinks we retire to bed.

Aug 6th Next Stop Aktobe

We wake early next morning and carry out the normal routine of Neil checking over Marvin's engine and cleaning the windows while Jan does the ‘housework’ and prepares breakfast, simple enough – ham sandwich! Leo and Elizabeth soon emerge and when everyone is ready – we set off to the next city – Aktobe. Kazakhstan is in the midst of a huge road building project to link the major cities. Unfortunately at the moment this consists of stretches of pristine tarmac a few miles long separated by many miles of rutted mud made worse by the passage of hundreds of trucks carrying building supplies! The road is also raised 10-20ft above the steppe so getting on and off it is a challenge. Marvin doesn’t seem to have woken up and plods along spluttering and falling to sleep every time we drop below 20mph or so. The ‘roads’ are rough as we cross over ruts and drive through fields, its slow progress but we manage to keep going, taking runs at the muddy hills and sometimes bumping, sometimes flying we get over them. Leo is ahead and we try to keep up, bumping along. Once again Marvin get stuck in a deep rut and after a few attempts to get him on his way a lorry appears and 2 men alight to give us a hand – Jan moves into the driving seat, selects 2nd gear and gets bumped along the track – Marvin starts and Jan keeps driving – not daring to slow down as there is a big hill right in front of her – she picks up speed and flies up the hill, leaving Neil behind running to catch up. Leo and Elizabeth are just over the hill and Leo jokingly asks if we have had an argument and if Jan has left Neil to make his own way to Mongolia. Neil soon catches up and off we go again. We carefully drive for miles along the rutted road, sometimes on a tarmac road that lasts for a mile or so, but then back to the ruts. We come to a sharp hill on a bend and when we have cleared them we come across a wedding party in the middle of nowhere, where they have left the minibus and are lining up for photographs, we are included in the photos and are invited to the celebration, which seems to have already started as all the men in the party are waving bottles of vodka at us. Its with regret we decline their offer as Leo and Elizabeth prefer to drive on.

Soon Leo and Elizabeth drive on ahead and we limp behind at a slower pace. We approach Aktobe and almost at once receive a text from Leo as they have seen us pass the garage they are parked in. We arrange to see them a little further down the road and when they arrive they are ready to continue straight away, but we need to get some money, food and fuel and as we will be in Kazakhstan longer than the permitted 5 days we also need to get our visas stamped. Also a day in Aktobe will give us a chance to find a garage see if we can get Marvin looked at. Seeing an ATM machine Jan and Elizabeth head off and to her amazement Jan's bankcard works in it. There are even instructions in English so our money problems are sorted. Leo and Elizabeth decide not to get their visas stamped at the moment so we wave them on their way.

We decide to stay in Aktobe for the night and book into the biggest hotel there. It costs us a whopping £16. There is secure parking behind the hotel so we leave Marvin there and are lucky to find a receptionist who speaks some English so we are soon sorted! After a much needed shower we make our way to the hotel bar on the 7th floor and discover its just an converted bedroom with a tv, 3 or 4 tables a bar in the corner and a big fridge with lovely cold beer in it! We order drinks from the girl who seems very surprised as we sit to enjoy them and tell her she can carry on watching tv – not much else for her to do as we are the only patrons. A well deserved large brandy and sprite for Jan and a couple of beers for Neil land us with a surprisingly large bill ... almost as much as the room! But they are much needed and we wobble back to the room, wish Marvin goodnight from the window and enjoy sleeping in a real bed!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Aug 5th Stuck on a rut

Morning dawns and the main thing on our mind is Marvin’s health. While Neil delves under the bonnet Jan prepares us a little breakfast. Both of us are quite subdued with the realisation that we might not be able to get much further, let alone complete the rally.
Surprisingly Marvin has used very little oil since we left Moscow and starts up first time and settles to a steady tick over, this raises our spirits a little and we head off to the border and somehow get right to the front of the queue.

While waiting for the border crossing to open we decide to remove the money we have stashed in Marvin and hide it on our persons incase the car is searched. The first form we are given is all in Russian but we realise that it is the same as the last one we had to fill out coming into Russia so we copy the information across and nervously hand it back to the official, after an agonizing wait he raises the barrier and we drive out of Russia.

Now for Kazakhstan!!

At the first set of buildings (sheds) we are greeted by half a dozen officials who seem more interested in the strange car than their duties. Eventually some papers are produced which to our relief are much the same to the ones we have already seen, so Neil fills them in leaving a couple of sections blank and hands them back to the official. When he points to the blank sections, Neil just shrugs again so the official takes pity and fills them in for us. They were checked and stamped but before we could go all 11 people there came out to look at the Marvin and the bonnet was opened once again for inspection. When one of them has the temerity to laugh at the engine he is told off in no uncertain terms by one of his colleagues. Having seen all they want hands are shaken all round and we are waved to the next shed. We are invited into the office and told to sit down as one of them takes our papers and attempts to fill the details in on his computer. Unfortunately he speaks no English and so after many attempts to help, and much laughter, he got on the phone and we were told to wait again until the chief of customs was summoned to help. A few minutes later a man in a black suit comes in shakes our hands and in what seems like the first time in ages someone speaks to us in English. Quite quickly all the paperwork is dealt with and we are issued with our Kazak registration document. We go outside where they decide a full search of Marvin is in order so we unload our bags. Opening our bags one the guard pulls out a bottle of Russian champagne we have bought to celebrate Jan’s birthday the following week, and turns to question Neil – saying ‘one bottle?’ Neil replies ‘No, two bottles’ and the second bottle appears from the bottom of the bag. Minutes later a half bottle of vodka is discovered in the side pocket of the bag. With a serious face the guard turns to Neil and says ‘Problem!’ Looking apologetic – Neil says ‘Problem?’ and the guard breaks into a smile, puts the bottle back and says ‘No problem’. Luckily they didn’t search our cooler box, because there they would have discovered another four half bottles of vodka! After a quick look at our other bags they seem satisfied and our things are loaded back into the car. Neil remembers the word ‘strakofka’ and is directed to yet another hut and we buy our insurance for a matter of a few pounds. We are then waved through to the third and final shed for the final stamping of our documents. The Kazak customs is far more relaxed than the Russian customs – with the official sitting outside in the sun, hat pushed back, shoes off while chatting with a friend. Jan ducks under the barrier to take our paperwork to him and after more form filling the barrier is raised and we are on our way – after a mere four hours!

Less than a mile up the road we discover than Jan has lost the money she had hidden on her person – we are now about £250 lighter, such is life! We are stopped a mile or so later by the Kazak traffic police who look at our documents and after reminding us to get our visas stamped send us on our way. So far the Kazak roads appear tarmaced and pretty good, maybe Toms information that there is a tarmac road through Kazakhstan is correct after all. There is very little traffic and with spirits lifting we set off towards Oral – the first big city.

We soon received a text from Leo and Elizabeth. Somehow we have managed to get ahead of them on the road, and so we arrange to meet them on the outskirts of Oral. While waiting for them to arrive, a wedding procession passes and to our surprise the bride and groom do a U-turn to have their picture taken with us and Marvin, then turn around to drive off to the celebrations.

Leo and Elizabeth arrive and after a quick chat, we drive into the city. Our first priority is to get some Kazak currency, but unfortunately it is the weekend and the banks are closed. While trying to work out what to do, a car pulls up and a young man gets out and introduces himself in perfect English as Muslin, and offers us his help. We drive to a bank where a friend of his works but even after much pleading they refuse to open so we then follow him to the black market area where he has a contact, soon the deed is done.

One 2cv draws much attention, but two together soon brings the road to a total halt as people park their cars anywhere and make their way to marvel at this probably unique sight. Muslin then takes us to get fuel, Leo is insistent we need grade 95 but Muslin explains this is in very short supply and is reserved for special customers, undeterred he takes us to the first filling station where we get 10 litres each, but Leo wanted to fill his jerry cans and so off we set to another garage where Leo compromised and bought 40 litres of grade 93 fuel. After swapping email addresses and thanking Muslin and his friends we headed out of the city and into the unknown.

As we head east the roads deteriorate quickly. Jan takes over the driving and to relieve the pain of a long standing back problem decides to sit on a rolled up sleeping bag and is amazed to find Marvin had a bonnet! Encouraged by this she drives even faster reaching 30 mph over the rutted mud that constitutes a road in these parts. Seeing a filling station Neil decides to fill the Jerry cans. As we stop the family all come out to see us and 40 litres of fuel are purchased and pumped into the two Jerry cans. The amazement on their faces when having lined up for Neil to take their picture, he showed them the result on the screen… the wonders of digital photography. After driving for a couple of hours we swap drivers and Leo take the lead and sets off at an even faster pace. Misreading the ruts in one place Neil launches Marvin into the air….. silence followed by a huge BANG as everything grounds out! The boot flies open and our belongings are thrown around but Marvin handles it well. We get out to inspect the damage and other than the roof rack, loaded with 40 litres of fuel and our two spare wheels, having twisted and slipped forward everything thing else seemed undamaged. Driving a little more carefully we meet up with Leo and Elizabeth just outside the next village. First stop is for fuel and having paid for 18 litres Neil fills Marvin up. Again there is no dial on the pump and when we turn the ignition on we are well short of full. Neil goes back to argue but is fobbed off, till Jan steams in and the owner 'remembers' that there are 5 litres left to come! We are then directed to the local transport café, which consists of half a caravan and a large tarpaulin! While Neil strips off the roofrack and starts hammering the brackets straight with a rock against a concrete pillar Jan goes in search of food and returns with the local delicacy, like a slightly spicy Cornish pasty but in dough rather than pastry A young girl approaches and introduces herself as the local English teacher, having studied for two years at university. Within minutes it seemed half the village had lined up for her to translate their questions to us. Leo and Elizabeth decide for reasons of their own to drive a little further then stop to wait for us. Eventually, with shims made from red bull cans the brackets for the roofrack pass inspection and everything is loaded back up and we set off to catch up with them

The road out of the village is in the process of being built and consists of a bed of inch diameter rocks. This is like driving on Marbles and Marvin gets dragged in deeper and deeper until he is beached. Leo runs back to give Neil a hand trying to pull Marvin out with Jan driving but have no success until a passing lorry stops and two men join in the effort. We are soon back on the rutted mud road with the light fading and although Elizabeth doesn’t like sleeping in the car, we decide it is too dangerous to drive in the dark with all the ruts and potholes. We soon find a secluded service road screened from the main track by trees. Exhausted again we hit the minibar and after a couple of drinks turned in for the night

Aug 4th We got to get out of this place!

Thursday dawns bright and sunny. Looking forward to a decent breakfast, but there is nothing that looks appealing so we decide to make an earlier start. A quick check over Marvin looks encouraging, no oil dropped over night and only about 250ml of oil used since yesterday morning. However the accelerator pump has come loose again and so Neil decides to remove it and see if it makes any difference to the engine. On starting there is no difference to the performance of the engine and a quick examination shows the airways to it in the carb are completely blocked so it is consigned to the spares box

The plan is to head straight out to the M5 towards Kazakhstan, but no more than a few hundred yards from the hotel we find Red Square! For once luck is on our side and we come across an underground car park. We decide it’s too good an opportunity to miss so we decide to stay for an hour for a whistle stop tour of Red Square.

Getting out of the car park however proves challenging, we walk along a corridor following what we thing are signs for the lift and we push through a door that closes behind us only to find ourselves locked in a 4 x 6 foot space. Neither door will open, on the wall there is a electronic box, we put our ticket in, expecting the door to open but nothing happens – are we really here for the remainder of the rally???

Eventually after pressing various buttons and hammering on the door and shouting, a security guard opens the door and we find ourselves in a Russian shopping centre. Heading out we find a cordon of security men preventing anyone from entering the shopping centre – most odd!

We spend the next hour wandering around Red Square gawping at the awesome sight, taking photographs of all we see – after all – this is our one and only visit to Red Square. Then we make our way back to the car park to continue our journey.

Driving out of Moscow we stop at traffic lights and are targeted by a group of street urchins who try to reach into the car and steal things from the glove box. A polite word (well Neil growing) soon sends them on their way and off we go looking for the M5.

This proves problematical to say the least as all roads seem to lead to nowhere. We occasionally see the M5 in the distance but all our attempts to reach it are doomed to fail. Stopped in a residential area looking at our maps, some local children come over and after much waving and pointing, we are directed back to a main road. We soon find a petrol station and fill up before asking for directions. After being laughed at by the local drunks – the garage worker eventually emerges and gives us a copy of a Moscow road map and points us in the right direction. Unsurprisingly half an hour later we are totally lost again so we pull into a garage for directions, after what appears to be a heated discussion between the garage man and a customer, we are waved to follow the customer and he leads us through a maze of back streets to the M5 and off we go.

As we get 10 miles or so out of Moscow, we get a text from Leo and Elizabeth suggesting a meal in Moscow, which would have been lovely but not wanting to risk getting lost there again, we text back and say will hopefully meet them further down the road.

The M5 is the main route south-east from Moscow, it is also no bigger or better than an English B road and 75% of the traffic are huge Kamaz trucks and trailers, belching thick black diesel smoke which becomes an enduring memory of driving in Russia, that and Russian drivers. Russian drivers respect no rules, they drive fast and furious, not using signals or even seeming to notice any other road users.

At one time while Neil is sleeping, Jan is driving, there are lorries in front and behind, two decide to turn left in front, so the ones behind overtake on the inside surrounding Jan on all four sides. Taking a deep breath and closing her eyes Jan puts her foot down and hopes for the best – so far this seems to work! A little while later, the lorry behind Jan indicates to the right and flashes his headlights, thinking she is doing something wrong – Jan pulls over, only to be followed by the lorry, still flashing his lights but indicating left, pulling back onto the road, Jan is amazed to see the lorry pull along beside us with the driver hanging out of the window videoing us with his camera ‘phone.

Refueling becomes a nightmare, as Marvin will not start when the engine is hot so we have to sit and wait for him to cool down, or hope for someone to give us a bump start. Also we are losing power. Things aren’t looking good for reaching Mongolia.

Although this is the main route, in some places there are houses only yards away from the road, many of which have tables on the roadside selling fruit and vegetables grown in their gardens. Huge piles of watermelons, apples, oranges, plums, potatoes and more.

We pass another area selling, dried fish hanging on wooden frames, another area selling carpets. Probably the most bizarre sight was a field full of bright mutli-coloured plastic inflatables, swimming pools, animals – you name it – they probably had it!!

As it gets dark – Neil takes over the driving and we see lights in the distance, on getting closer we see a row of shacks, strung with multi-coloured lights, on the balcony of each burns a barbeque, these are the famed shashlik houses and from the number of trucks parked up they were doing very good business.

As the night wears on we start looking for somewhere to pull over to sleep but there are no laybys to be seen so we press further and further across Russia. A series of three police stops in an hour doesn’t lighten the mood. At the last one Neil gets out and after the now familiar showing of documents and cigarette break is told to go into the large traffic police building at the side of the road. Here he meets Uri, a large man with much scrambled egg on his shoulders. The documents are taken, along with another Marlboro and Uri copies down all the details into a huge ledger. Although speaking little English, and Neil even less Russian, children and families are discussed, Tony Blair mentioned (by Uri!) and eventually the documents are returned. Then Uri, looking very serious thinks long and hard and says…. ADMIN. Neil takes this to mean bribe time and returns to get his wallet.
Meanwhile Jan is sitting in the car only able to see the top of Neil’s head as the young traffic cop walks round and round Marvin. Feeling a bit foolish Jan opens the door and gestures him to have a closer look eventually inviting him to sit in the drivers seat. After looking closely at the instruments and playing with the gear lever he gets hold of the steering wheel and starts making BRRM BRRM noises!!!.

Getting the wallet Neil returns to see how much this is going to cost us. Uri puts away his ledger and takes another book out and finding an empty page writes a euro sign. Looking in the wallet Neil finds €40 and hands it over. Taking it Uri write €40 in the book and turns it round. Not knowing what is wanted Neil signs next to it but Uri shakes his head then takes out his wallet and shows a wodge of rouble notes. Ah! He wants to know how much €40 is in roubles. Have you ever tried to work out how much €40 is in roubles when you only know that there are 50 roubles to a pound? And a € is about 60p? At 3am?
After a couple of attempts Neil arrives at a figure of 1200 roubles. Uri looks at this and this time nods his head and proceeds to count out 1200 roubles and hand them over! (Thinking about this later we realized he was converting roubles into hard currency… probably for his retirement fund!). Hand shakes all round and to our relief Marvin starts and we drive off. Maybe an hour and a few wrong turnings later we see more lights and are amazed to discover we have reached the Kazak border. Marvin is running rougher and rougher and seems way down on power, stalling several times as we try to turn round and as we are exhausted from the days driving we decide to find somewhere to park up for what remains of the night and get some sleep before we have to decide whether Marvin is well enough to continue.

Settling down in the car with a drink each from the cool box all we can hear is the humming from the power cables above us and very soon we are asleep

(P.S. Total russian traffic police stops: 13. Total fines 100 roubles... or £2!)

Aug 3rd Onwards to Mokba!

We wake in the morning after a night undisturbed by squeegee merchants, refreshed and ready for today’s challenge.

While we get organized, team Plane Broke drive past beeping their horn and waving, already on their way.

A check of the car shows no more oil leaks but, a piece falling off the carburetor. Neil steals a screw from ‘elsewhere’ and tightens it down again and off we go.

Not that many miles down the road we encounter our first Russian police stop. This consists of a man in a hat pointing a white stick at you and waving to the side of the road. Neil gets out of the car taking all our documents fearing the worst after what we have been told about Russian traffic police. Without so much as a look at our paperwork he waves his arm and walks away. Not totally sure whether we are free to go Neil drives away very carefully as the Russian traffic police are legally entitled to shoot people who fail to stop.

With Neil settling back into driving, we have not covered more than 30 miles when coming down a hill we are pulled over by traffic police who were concealed by a bend, one of who has what appears to be a radar gun (or a very large hair dryer). Prepared with all our documents Neil gets out of the car and shakes hands with the younger of the policemen who introduces himself as Serge. After a quick flick through the documents, Neil is waved over to the police Lada where Serge’s boss is sitting waiting. Once sitting next to him all our documents are scrutinised, then leaning back the boss utters the immortal word ‘money’. Neil returns to the car to get his wallet and a packet of red Marlboro to ease the negotiations. Once back in the Lada Neil asks how much the ‘speeding fine’ is. The boss just shrugs and opens the glove box revealing a pile of rouble notes. Not knowing where to start Neil puts 2 x 50 rouble notes into the glove box and to his surprise, after a short pause, the boss nods and closes the box. Lighting himself a cigarette, Neil offers the boss one and leaves the packet on the dashboard, and then they both walk over to examine Marvin. For the first of many times the bonnet is opened to the amusement of the Russian police, who seem amazed that what they are looking at is an engine. After handshakes all round, we attempt to drive off, but Marvin has other ideas and refuses to start. Jan moves over to the driving seat as Neil AND the police prepare to bump start us. Neil tells Jan to put the car into second gear but confused by Citroens idiosyncratic gear layout Jan inadvertently selects first gear and on dropping the clutch at a good speed, Marvin shudders to a halt! Neil comes to check what went wrong as Serge looks in the passenger side window and growls at Jan, repeating Neil’s words…… ‘SECOND GEAR’!! This time the bump start is successful and after Neil jumps back in, off we go leaving two waving policemen in our wake.

Miles and miles of wooded hilly roads pass by. We stop somewhere to pick up some food, as we head towards tonight’s destination – Moscow.

With the accelerator pump(?) determined to make a bid for freedom Neil is kept busy under the bonnet as the miles, uneventful police stops and subsequent bump starts continue.Marvin is becoming more and more difficult to start and we often have to stop for half an hour to let the engine cool down before we can continue. This probably confuses the trafffic police because everytime we stop the first thing we do is prop the bonnet up to let the engine cool down. However this does give them the oppurtunity to marvel at the awsome sight of the engine!
By the time we are approaching Moscow it is getting dark and we head for the centre aiming to meet up with Plane Broke and any other teams that have made it to the second check point, a restaurant called Holki Polki, close to Red Square. The three lane road into the centre is a nightmare, as it has no road marking and apparently five lanes of traffic!! This is made worse by the fact Marvin now wants to stall everytime the speed drops below 20mph, requiring some deft left foot braking to keep the right foot blipping the throttle. The fact that people are continuously beeping their horns worries us, until we realise they are merely trying to attract our attention to take photos of us and give us ‘the thumbs up’. After several laps, we admit defeat and head or the first hotel we see. Neil stops in the next door casino car park while Jan runs inside to see if they have a room available and secure parking! While waiting, Neil is approached by three armed security men from the casino, but is relieved to find all they want is to have their photos taken alongside our exotic car. Meanwhile Jan rejoins Neil and directs us to the parking area, secured by a uniformed guard wielding an AK47 (ARGH!!), and we book in, handing our passports over for immigration control registration. The room was expensive by Russian standards at around £40, but in the state we were in we would have happily have paid more. After taking our travelling kit to our room, which consisted of bedroom, en suite bathroom and sitting room, we head to the bar for a few well deserved drinks and after texting all and sundry we retire for another nights sleep.

Aug 2/3rd The Border Nightmare

Having joined the queue, we have a 2 hour wait until we get to the Latvian border and the fun begins

Stage 1 – Collect immigration forms and return to the car, fill them in, then back to the booth and wait…..

Stage 2 – Reach the REAL control! Here we get a full document check, fill in more paperwork and wait. While we are waiting for the forms to be processed one of the border guards waves Neil over and writes 300 in the dust on Marvin’s wing. Confused as usual Neil just shrugs and waits. The guard then adds $ in front of the 300 and we realize he wants to buy Marvin off us! Neil shakes his head and holds out for $500! A second guard tries to broker a compromise at $400, but neither of them would agree. After another lengthy wait we are waved through, 2 hours and we think we are doing really well. Then Neil approaches the guards again and tries out his new Russian word… STRAKOFKAH!! Big smiles and much shaking of hands and we are shown where buy Russian insurance. But first we need to change some money which is when we realize we are not in Russia – we are just out of Latvia as our money is changed to Latvian lats and then into roubles. We seem to get the more helpful of the very confused women in the office and the price of the insurance seems to drop between the quote and the payment! Team Plane Broke are with us all the way as we try to understand what’s happening and try to keep each other sane.

Stage 3 – Go to a booth and we are given what looks like a 2” square of toilet paper, with our registration number written on it. Drive 100 yards to….

Stage 4 – The Russian Border, wait an hour to get to the first booth, present all our paperwork, passports are scanned electronically (very efficient!), fill out more forms and then after another hour we move onto…..

Stage 5 – The REAL Russian Border……. and wait and wait and wait until we are waved through to the next set of booths. The person in charge appears to be around 16 years of age with a comically large ‘flying saucer’ official hat on, and even the girls in the office fail to take him seriously. While we are waiting, Plane Broke show off their talking Homer Simpson doll glued to the bonnet of their car, which seems to cause amusement to all and sundry. We take great pleasure in Homer calling them ‘Moron’ especially as they don’t understand any English. We then we have to present all our paperwork again, including our passports as the 2 booths don’t seem to be linked. Our papers are scrutinized and all our details have to be written down in long hand, we are then waved forward to…..

Stage 6 – The REAL REAL Russian Border. We even have the barrier in front of us and can see freedom beckoning in the distance!! Out of the cars yet again to be presented with more paperwork – this time in Russian. We work out these are customs documents but are lost until team Plane Broke find a friendly border guard, who completes one copy for them. However, seeing as carbon paper never made it to Russia they have to write the duplicate themselves, and them pass them over for us to copy. We now take these to what we hope is the last official who is the most bad tempered arrogant guard we have had the displeasure to meet. His technique seems to be pointing at random items of paperwork and shouting very loudly, not much fun at around midnight after a full days driving and 5 or 6 hours dealing with foreign beaurocracy. Team Plane Broke went first and Neil picked up some idea of what he was shouting about, so when Jan came to push her way to the front of the queue, the procedure takes a mere half an hour. After which time we are presented with a very impressive Russian temporary registration document.
Then we are waved to a small booth where they try to sell us insurance again! Both teams return to their cars and wait for the barriers to rise and after a mere half an hour they barriers lift and we are waved through! Accelerating into the distance we round a corner only to see…..

Stage 7 – A barrier and a wooden hut with a window about 5 feet off the ground. Jan gets out to be shouted at by yet another guard. We have no idea what he means – until he waves what seems to be a 2” piece of toilet paper at us (sounds familiar). A quick scrabble through the ever increasing pile of paperwork and our matching piece is retrieved and passed to the guard, who raises the barrier and waves us on to….


We are actually in Russia – free to drive the next stage of our journey – if only we had fuel.

Luckily there is a fuel stop a few hundred yards ahead and we pull in ready to fuel Marvin up. We wave team Plane Broke off into the night, then try to work out how to get fuel in Russia. Placing the nozzle in the tank in the normal way doesn’t seem to activate the pump, so Neil wanders over to the kiosk to see if he can pick up any tips – it seems that you have to pass your money over and then they switch the pump on. When the tank is full – you return to the kiosk and retrieve your change!

Absolutely exhausted, we drive on a few miles until we find a layby where we park up and fall into a deep sleep.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Nurken Tashkenbaev

We have just received such sad news. Nurken, our saviour in Kazakhstan, who towed us round garages trying to get the car fixed, spend a whole day sorting customs clearance for leaving Marvin, and even took us out for a meal, died in a tragic accident days after us leaving Aktobe. We had given Marvin to Nurken because even though he had little English, he kept saying "Beautiful car!". Odd how someone you know for such a short time can leave such memories.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

August 2nd A rude awakening

Woken up at 4am by a local squeegee merchant cleaning Marvins windows and demanding money. Having just arrived in Lithuania we didn't have any litas so Neil gave him a handful of zlotys which didnt go down very well, but eventually after a quick lesson in English expletives he left us in peace. Tried to get back to sleep without much success so we decided to get back on the road. Not much to see, just mile after mile of undulating tree lined roads.
Keeping an eye on the fuel we decide to refuel with about 1/4 of a tank left and pull into the first petrol station in a nameless village. Unfortunately they dont take Visa, Amex or American dollars. Our decision not to buy any litas at the border starts to look like a bad one, so we drive on with fingers crossed and just as the fuel situation is looking critical we find another petrol station that takes Visa so we fill Marvin to the brim and buy something alcoholic to take back to our friend Trace, whose family come from Lithuania
We are making good time and soon find ourselves at the Latvian Border and are met by two women border guards, one of whom (bad cop) seems intent on making us suffer, asking endless questions in a language we don't understand, and asking the other woman (good cop questions while waving her hand at all the rubbish piled up in the back of the car. Jan gets good cop on our side and after showing our passports and telling them where we were going, and passing off an MOT certificate as a registration document, we are thro and its only a (comparatively) short drive across Latvia to the Russian border.
About 20 miles short of the border, team 'Plane Broke'(who we had met in a layby earlier for a quick chat), overtake us but we catch them back up and get ready for the border. The first sign of the problems about to face us is the 7km queue of double parked trucks! Driving on we find ourselves at the back of a queue of about 30 cars.
A chat with Hobbsy and Richy of Plane Broke tell us they've heard from a team ahead of us that they took 6 hours to get thro. Jan phones home to update everyone of our progress. Meanwhile the problems with the in car entertainment are sorted and we move forward a few cars at a time to the accompaniment of the Kaiser Chiefs... 'I Predict a Riot' seeming particularly apt.
The description of what happens at the border deserves to have its own post so stay tuned!

Monday, November 07, 2005

August 1st Its Monday so it must be Poland

Up at 8am suitably refreshed and after a shower we are on the road for 9.15. Jan takes first shift as I update the diary. With the job done I decide on another snooze and wake up to Jan saying ‘what do I do now?’ As my eyes focus I see we are at the Polish border. We pull over and get our passports checked and then we are through. We come across lines of little huts doing exchange but can’t be bothered haggling about it so grab some zloty (5.5 to £) and go. Jan’s drawn the short straw (again) as its all built up areas, no chance to give Marvin his head. First city is Wroclaw and so having ensured we are on the right road I inspect the inside of my eyelids (again) When I wake we are parked somewhere with a man waving a ticket machine at us. We are in the middle of the city and with some quick map work we plan a route out to Warsaw and after a scenic tour we say goodbye to Wroclaw.

More and more miles of slow roads and we discover that although the Polish petrol stations are full of beer, wine and a wonderful array of car parts they don’t do sandwiches which up until now have been our staple diet! We try every petrol station we pass but apart from some unidentifiable lumps there is nothing and we get hungrier, we search for food but if we see a shop there’s no way to park and the signs for Tescos seem to be just that – signs! There are loads of Ikeas stores though so if we needed a futon called Sven we would have been ok. Now we are so hungry even the ranks of McDonalds start to seem attractive (well ok maybe not). Warsaw arrived and still no food!!! Just as we start to drive through we get a text from Andy and Mark telling us that the road to Lonza is closed so go via Bialystok and as if by magic we see a sign for it!. We head off but food becomes our main purpose and eventually we see a little deli, bread cheese ham and mayo and a big bag of crisps make a great meal when your ravenous.

The weather was getting hotter – the sun was beating down but without hats we didn’t think having the roof back wasa good idea.

Our Archos MP3 player plays one album then locks and no amount of button pressing will get it to work so we let the battery run down and on restarting it seems to be ok, so we play another album, then the transmitter goes on the blink so we decide to leave it till another day and listen to the local radio... pop rock and the odd bit of classical!

Our first fuel stop is at about 4pm ,we are making really slow progress. Neil takes over the driving and we finally hit the clear roads, mile after mile of tree lined roads roll past and by 8.30 it’s time for yet another fuel stop. We get straight back into it and we set Bialystock as our target but Neil was still feeling ok so when we got there we decided to push on to Augustow. It’s still a lovely warm night, we drive with the windows open and the radio wound up high as Jan tries to get some sleep.
Next town Augustow comes and goes and Neil start to feel drowsy so we pull over and have a snack and then drive on through very twisty roads ... it’s real fun! We then head for Suwalki and decide it time to stop for the night but can we find anywhere to park up? No way! So another town passed and we see a petrol station with parking. We fill up and grab a beer, but the parking is too open being in the town centre, so we head on towards Latvia looking for a place to sleep. To find that the road is all dug up, with contraflows and a concrete slab infill and we are down to 20 mph at most, which we could really do without
When it finally clears Marvin opens up and next thing we see is the border. A very easy crossing and a few miles further there’s a petrol station with a huge car park. So we park up for the night and have beer and at 2am turn in for a good nights sleep.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

July 31st Now to do some serious driving

We drive through the night and Marvin sits at a comfortable 60mph on the flat lands of Belgium, but as we start hitting the mountain ranges of Germany the speed drops to 45mph in 3rd on the upgrades, and then swooping downhill and building up speed for the next climb. 4am and its time for more fuel and Neil takes over the driving after a double espresso while Jan washes down her medication with a hot chocolate. It turns out to have been a bad move. As Jan sleeps Neil drives through the endless ranges of hills, in and out of banks of fog giving the drive an eerie feel. An hour or so into the drive the sky starts to lighten, with occasional sights of pink streamers of cloud, only to be blanked out by the next bank of fog, but by about 7am the sun broke through and we enjoyed our favorite time of day. 8am and time for yet more fuel and a change of driver. Neil remembered that there was a hundred pound fine if you run out of petrol on the autoban so we got a 1 gallon can just in case. We also check tyres and oil, and are pleased to see we aren’t using too much oil. Neil is totally wasted and falls asleep almost immediately. Then wakes up a short while later to find us heading into a petrol station. Jan’s tablets haven’t worn off and she has almost fallen to sleep twice at the wheel so sensibly decides is time for a one hour sleep break.
It’s 10am and Neil gently wakes Jan up to see how she is feeling. Fully recovered - Jan sets off behind the wheel and Neil goes back to sleep! He wakes up to see a junction looming and Jan asking which way we should go, apparently she had been trying to wake me for a while.
Without a second thought I decide on a road... the wrong one as it happens! But after a quick bit of map reading we were back on the road to Prague. With half a tank of gas I tell Jan not to bother pulling in at a station to fuel up. Mile followed mile, new roads appeared to connect the German network to the Czech one, but it seems when they did the route no one remembered to build petrol stations. 80 miles later and there is still no sign of petrol and the gas gauge has been sitting on empty for a while.

Spotting a bus stop we pull in and untie the recently purchased jerry can and pour 5 litres of petrol into Marvin. Just then we are joined by Matt and Andrew (Baron Von Ungen Sternberg’s Revenge) who are the first car we have seen since we set off. They are also going north and after a chat we set off soon to be overtaken.
Oh and they tell us that Mongol mini were 200 miles from Prague at 8am!

At the border they take our passports and ask us to pull over and wait..... We wonder what’s wrong but he soon comes over with them and we are on our way. Need to buy carnet to use motorway but in typical comecon style there are half a dozen places offering them as well as currency. Eventually we get it for 200 cz and with some funny money in our pockets we set off (39 cz to pound).

50 miles out of Prague we get phone call from Leonard. They have arrived at The Bohemian Bagel (our first check-point) and the staff there have no idea what he’s on about but will wait for us.

We get into Prague centre and find Malokowska park. Looking at the map we must be close to the checkpoint but can we find it? We stop locals and with much waving of arms get directions it’s only a couple of minutes away and one more accosted cabby gets us to The Bohemian Bagel and Leonard is parked outside!

Just then Paula the Panda and two other teams arrived – we enjoy a beer and a chat then head back to our car.

We spot Gassed up Geysers arguing with a local about parking and they still think we going to Tashkent as the third checkpoint whereas the rest of us think its Samerkand.. time alone will tell!

Before we set off we decide to fix our charging set up only to find Neil has left the pliers in that bus stop. So we stop in every petrol station we pass looking for replacements. We also investigate the stereo and work out how to get the front speakers working... giving us real surround sound, we can hear over the engine! We end up buying a leatherman copy which is a rip off for 195kr (less than a fiver). 15 minutes work and we have a charging system and the phone can go back on! Jan celebrates by texting many people. We will leave the sound system set up till later. We spend the rest of our currency on 200 Malboro for bribing police, and some food for us.

When we come to a little town called Hradek Kralove we spend half an hour trying to get away from it, at one point every direction leads to it even though we are driving away from it! Then we see a sign for a motel and decide we will stop for to the night 30 miles from Polish border. It has the most miserable receptionist but a lovely room facing the main road for £17. We nip to the petrol station to fill up and buy some beer and wine to celebrate. We must have been tired because one of Neil’s beers turns out to be alcohol free. We realize we have no bottle opener so we drench ourselves in wine opening it! And then to bed!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

July 30th The Launch!

We wake at 7am..... and then again at 8. We go for breakfast but find neither of us are very hungry. Neil brings Marvin from the car park and we pack up and drive him half a mile to Hyde Park and the start of the launch party.
Met by Didi and Alan (Neil’s sister and brother in-law) who have come across to see us off. Soon more cars start arriving and we are encouraged to find most are as unprepared as us and just as nervous! Mark is there but has last seen his dad in their plastic pig ( a Reliant Robin 3 wheeler for those not in the know!) driving round and round Trafalgar Square.He arrives an hour or so later, driving across the Queens grass to reach us!
Tom starts his briefing..... no paperwork, no Mongolian import duty wavers, no lists of team mobile numbers and no lists of check-points - “I’ll email them to you” seems to be his solution to everything. We wander around catching up with people we met at the launch party.
Time for us to get dressed up in the top hats and tails (fashion essentials for the Squires... Neil's motorcycle club) which seem to go down well and we are pleased to find Marvin has enough headroom inside to wear them while driving! We meet Leonard (LeoJC) and wife Elizabeth and are pleased to find they are doing northern route too in their 2CV so we swap mobile numbers. We search for Damian and Julia (team Yakety Yak) but no one has seen them, so Jan phones Damian and we are told the dreadful news – they have no electrics on their 2CV Moo Moo. We can’t help them as we are not the ‘2cv experts’ people seem to think we are, so we pass on a couple of phone numbers and wish them luck but they are determined to join the rally even if it means starting later. It's a real downer to the start of the rally.
And suddenly its time to go... Justin leads the convoy as he seems to be the only person that has any knowledge of London. We all line up and then leave through a corridor of cheering onlookers. Absolute mayhem as we try to visit Buck House, Trafalgar Square and Westminster... We cause total grid lock by Trafalgar Square as we drive around the roundabout numerous times in order to line all the teams together, it takes half an hour to clear. Tourists gawp clap and video us all. Then eventually we make a break for freedom and Dover.

We arrive in Dover and make a last trip to Halfords to pick up a few bits. The manager comments ” You must be mad... it’s Brilliant!” We join the others at the docks and make last minute repairs in the queue to get on the ferry.

At this point we discover that our in car charging system is defunct - out of 4 sockets only one works. We open it up and find broken wires inside. A race to the shop gets us a single socket to wire in when we get time.

The ferry is half an hour late but then we are loaded. Next stop Boulogne.

While waiting to board we discover Mark (Team Reliant)has charging problems with his Pig, so we decide to head out on our own. Our plan to go through France is scrapped as we realise it is all toll roads - so with full tank of gas we set off up the coast to Belgium - midnight finds us around Brussels - time to gas up again and Jan to take the wheel!!!!

PS a new laptop and an old Hardrive... and we are back to our story!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Normal(?) service will be resumed........

Sorry about the delay but the laptop with all our notes on has gone and died! So keep visiting and as soon as we can we will carry on the tale of Marvins glory days!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

July 29th Under Starters Orders!!

2am.... Neil goes to bed!!! Having worked all Thursday we still don't have any sounds in the car, although we do have spot lights and a second battery, split charge system and 4 sockets to plug in all the electrical gizmos we are taking.
Jan comes over about 9 to find me still asleep! We go to the garage to see what can be done. As soon as Jan tells Carl that our radio isn't working he drags Billy away from what he was doing to fit a new hifi to the car... what we would do without these people god only knows!! We leave Marvin there and race around doing all the last minute things, water container, money etc. A quick trip to Abbey signs and Steve has done us proud with stickers for the our sponsors Geordie Broon MCC, Penguins MCC and The Squires. Back to the garage for 12 and we have working sounds!!! Round to Neil's and Marvin gets stickered up and Neil throws all his rubbish in Marvin, as well as Gizzy the cat who is staying with Neil's folks when we are away, while Jan returns to Barnsley to get her stuff ready. On arrival in Barnsley half the stuff Jan has packed is rejected on grounds of space and we finally leave Yorkshire for London at 6pm with Jan driving to get the hang of Marvin! Arriving at Neil's parents we deliver Gizzy cat to her holiday home. After a short visit we head for our hotel,a mere 5 miles away, getting lost on the way - what chance do we stand of reaching Mongolia! With Jan hanging out of Marvin's window asking taxi drivers for directions we finally find the hotel, what luck it is just a couple of hundred yards from the launch station in Hyde Park. So after a couple of well deserved drinks we crawl into bed...........

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Back to reality

Well thats the Mongol Rally over for us for this year, though we are still avidly following the other teams through the web site.Thanks to Tim and Maggie for keeping you up to date while we were gone. Such a sense of anti-climax but we wouldnt have missed it for anything. We never knew you could cram in so many sights, smells and experiences into so few days. Give us a week or so and we should have our diary ready to upload here (if we can read our scribbles)and sort out the pictures we took so dont stop visiting!!!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

All over for Marvin

The rally is over for us. Marvin is dead!
First flight to Moscow - Friday, London - Monday. Given car away, really upset.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Stuck in Kazakhstan

Back in Aktobe, Marvin very ill and in hospital ... 5 litres of oil in 200km. Drowning our sorrows. But at least we get 2 more nights with a real toilet.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Sunday in Aktobe

Sunday is at an end. It's slow going on the tracks we've been on. Treated ourselves to a night in the Aktobe hotel in Kazakhstan. Tomorrow it's get more fuel money. Planning to do bandit country in a day on Tuesday.

Neil and Jan say hello to everyone ... texts are hard to send so keep watching this page. xx


Now in Kazakhstan, first time they've had a signal for a while. Very, very hard work. Police stop anyone whenever they want to ... 13 times in Russia.

Friday, August 05, 2005


Jan: 5/8/05 11:35 "All the toilets now are just holes in the ground, which is ok but you can't stay in long enough to do anything because of the smell. I walk in and straight back out."

I'm not sure I was meant to publish this - Tim

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Ploughing through Russia

Red Square today ... wonderful! Ploughing through Russia now. Just pulled by Police again - Neil with them now!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Nearly in Moscow

Have had a speeding fine of 100 roubles (£2) then the police gave us a push start. Marvin doesn't want to start, Neil has just fixed it. Driving 9 hours and done 350 miles across Russia, about 80 to go to Moscow. Not eaten a meal since Saturday breakfast!

2130 UK Time - now in a hotel in Moscow and getting drunk.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Latest - now in Latvia

received in UK 1521 2/8/05

Just crossed the border into Latvia from Lithuania. A little off road driving ... the car loved it!! Should arrive at the Russian border today but don't know how many hours we will have to queue to cross it.

STOP PRESS - 1830 UK time - now in a queue on the Russian border

Sunday, July 31, 2005

First checkpoint reached!

Just received news from Neil and Jan that they reached the first checkpoint at 5pm today after travelling through France, Belgium, Germany and the Chez Republic!!?? (I assume Jan meant Czech Republic). Having a short break before continuing on to Poland. Apparently Marvin is going really well.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Updates from Afar!!

If at all possible we will update the blog while we are away, even if it's by sending texts to a friend who will then update for us - Many thanks to Tim for being volunteered.

The rally organisers are trying to enable us to send texts to our team page on the rally site, so please look there too - the address is - our team name is 'Squires on Safari'

Hopefully someone somewhere will receive updates from us.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Rally Is Almost Upon Us

Is it really so long since we updated this site? Time has flown by and it's just 3 days to go til we head off to London the day before launch day! If anyone would like to join us at the launch party get yourself to Hyde Park around 10am on Saturday 30th of July - everyone's welcome!

We have been working hard preparing for the trip and of course we still haven't finished, although we're getting there - Neil is working very hard and Marvin finally got his seats fitted today and tomorrow he will be wired for sound and insulated, hopefully he will have a paint job before we go, but that's the last of things on the agenda. The dvla at Swansea haven't processed our much needed V5c and I am frantically trying to get it sorted via the Sheffield office, then all the paperwork will be complete at last.

Big thank yous to Stephen at Abbey signs for producing our sponsor stickers at such short notice and to everyone at the bike rally last weekend - we raised £95 towards our sponsorship, thanks also to voluntary and admin staff at Barnsley hospital who raised another £120 and to The Geordie Broon MCC for their donation of £70. More thanks to The Squires MCC for their sponsorship of £100 and to The Penguins MCC for their pledge too - thank you also to family and friends who have helped the total amount rise even more!

Fear not if you haven't donated yet - there's plenty of time left - just because we will be away on the rally doesn't stop you donating to the site -

We are hoping to update this site while we are away and thank you to Tim who is going to do the postings for us - provided of course that we can send text messages - we were hoping to manage it ourselves but none of the companies we tried (and there were many) were willing to loan us a satellite phone for a month. So keep reading and hopefully you will be able to follow our progress.

Thursday, June 30, 2005


Anyone wishing to sponsor us can now do so by visiting our donation site all donations are gratefully received.

All sponsor money will be given to the charity 'Send a Cow' . Other expenses will be paid for by us.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


I have been in Marvin once, as a passenger on a short - 10 minute - journey.

Yesterday I did my maiden drive.................

OMG - was I shocked or what - I couldn't reach the handbrake because it's under the dash somewhere on the passenger side, I could hardly see through the 2 foot high windscreen because the wipers lay diagonally across it and the steering wheel must surely be from a double decker bus. I am convinced I went around all the 'corners' (was going to say bends but anyone who knows me knows I have been round the bend for years) on two wheels. Apologies to the man stood on the first corner, he looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights as I screeched round, screaming, as I was convinced Marvin was going onto his side.

Neil howled with laughter at my attempt throughout the short ride - to the booze shop - and he ended up driving back, both of us in need of the booze we had just purchased.

I'm not sure who I sympathise with the most, pedestrians, other road users or Neil - having to put up with me, and operate the handbrake, all the way to Mongolia.

I loved it!!!!!!!!!! Look out Mongolia!!!!!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Third time lucky... we hope.....

After grieving over Marvin I and Marvin II, we pulled ourselves together and searched for Marvin III .... this weekend we drove down to Shrivenham to collect him, After doing the deal Neil took the wheel and we set off to Chippenham to meet a couple of other teams (or likewise lunatics) a journey of 30 miles or so and Marvin III was well behaved - apart from the headlights not working all seemed to be well. Trust us to choose the hottest weekend of the year so far, it meant we had to stop for a quick beer before finding somewhere to stay for the night. We eventually found the pub we had arranged to meet in - The Old Road Tavern (real ale of course) and were very lucky to find a B&B just across the road. The other teams - Team Reliant and Paula the Panda joined us in the beer garden for the evening, but being sarfys they we on soft drinks, which didnt really deter us from having a few drinks and a very enjoyable evening. After breakfast we set off back to Yorkshire - Neil once again behind the wheel of Marvin and me spending most of the journey making sure he didn't fall behind because of any problems... aprroximately 250 miles and a couple of pit stops later we arrived home mid afternoon. Marvin did the journey without a hitch and Neil and I are feeling exhausted but much more confident that we finally might manage to make some progress. Not much work needs to be done to make Marvin III ready for his journey, which means we can concentrate on trying to find much needed sponsorship... fingers crossed - watch this space!!!!

Anyone who would like to ease our suffering in raising sponsorship - please feel free to sponsor us at

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

If it wasn't for bad luck.......

Looks like we spoke too soon in our last post. We have been putting a lot of work into Marvin, but to be honest we seem to be getting nowhere. The king pins that had been replaced less than 5000 miles ago, hadn't been done right so needed replacing. Front wheel bearings..... the same story. And the body got worse and worse the more we have cut into it. On the sponsorship front we have been contacting companies left right and centre and I don't think more than one has had the decency to even say no. O2 kept us hanging round for ages with Jan emailing and ringing endlessly, for them to eventually decide they wouldn't give us a satellite phone for the month. And with a few exceptions ( special thanks to Didi and Alan, MARK, and Tony and Julie) sponsors are hiding somewhere.To be honest the pair of us are running on empty now. All the delays we have had have left us unable to go rallying to collect the sponsor money we desperately need.
While I've been increasing the pile of rust in the garage Jan has been busy sorting out and here at least we are making progress. But with time running short we have had to come to a difficult decision. To get Marvin on the road, MOTd and then bedded down before we leave on the 30th July has become beyond us and with offers of help disappearing we don't see to have any other option. So this is the official obituary of Marvin, our poor old 2CV. We are really upset about this but the 3 months or so we lost while trying to source a new chassis have left us no real options.
So watch this space for news of Marvin the Third..........

And if anyone out there can help us with a satellite phone for the rally PLEASE PLEASE contact us. Or if your company would like to buy advertising space on Marvin III we are waiting for your call

Monday, May 16, 2005

All Systems Go!!

At last - what seems like a very long agonizing wait, things are starting to happen!!

The rebuild on Marvin has begun, thanks to Neil, I haven't been there for a couple of weeks so he had no labourer.

Neil has sent for his full driving license, I have sent for my International Driving Permit and we have posted the application for our Russian visas. We planned on applying for a multiple entry visas but the price shot up from £95.25 to £350.00 we thought better of it. I have been dealing with Nina at Asla travel who has helped so much, she suggested applying for another visa once we get to Mongolia, which will allow us to travel on the Trans Siberian Express from Ulan Bataar to Moscow, then we will fly home from Moscow.

Only one problem we can foresee and that is when our passport/visa photos are seen by the powers that be, we could be thrown in prison for cruelty to others - ARGH!!!!!

If anyone would like to sponsor us please form an orderly queue at the door marked

Friday, May 13, 2005

At last.. a chassis

Marvin 2 has landed

After an agonising three week wait due to unforeseen circumstances we got the call we were waiting for on Thursday morning... Marvin 2 had arrived in Bradford. OK so Marvin 2 looks even worse than Marvin but we knew the body would be scrap, what we were interested in was the chassis. And after a few hours work the body was rolled off and to our great relief the chassis is 100% solid. So now the race is on to get Marvin road worthy.
In case we haven't got enough on with the car, we have the Visas to sort out... well Jan has! We both went and got our passport/visa photos taken last weekend and now its just a matter of printing off the forms, filling them in, getting the letters of invitation, pleading with embassies to return our passports to be repeated many times between now and when we leave. Sometimes a normal holiday looks SO inviting!!!

Marvin 2

Saturday, April 30, 2005

One step forward

Despite having ridden motorbikes and driven plastic pigs ( Reliant 3 wheelers for those of you looking baffled... like in Only Fools and Horses... got it?) for thirty years or so I (Neil that is) have never got round to getting a license to drive a proper four wheel car! Having looked at Marvin it slowly dawned on me that , yup, he did have a wheel at each corner and unless I could convince Jan to drive all the way I better get something done about it and pretty quick! A quick scan of the internet found me which sounded just what I needed. A few emails later I was booked for 16 hours tuition followed by the dreaded test. So this Tuesday I drove down to Newcastle under Lyme and booked into a great B&B recommended by Steve at the driving school and after a night spent reading "How to pass your driving test"... ok 5 minutes looking at the pictures.. it was time for my first stint in the car. 8am straight into the rush hour traffic...lovely!!! But after my first 5 hours Steve had got me to slow down to somewhere near the speed limit, look in the mirrors now and again etc and I was feeling more confident. As the time wound down towards my test my driving swung between the almost perfect to the down right laughable and on my mock test I managed to drive straight past a 50mph sign at 60, reverse round a corner straight up the curb, change from 3rd gear to 5th... then 1st and parkup across two bays at the test centre. But Steve got me back on track and after a problem free test I emerged the proud owner of a full UK driving license!
so if any of you need to learn to drive you could do a lot worse than contacting Steve Bradshaw at . Oh and a big thanks to John and Hazel at the Graythwaite Guest House try them out.. best breakfast ever!!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Disappointed again... then maybe just maybe

Before we went to the pre-rally meet we had bid on and won another 2CV. A bit more than £20 this time but we hoped it would be the solution to all our problems. It was in Derbyshire so we went to see it on our way back to Yorkshire. First signs were hopeful... until we looked under the floor mat and found the floor had been very badly welded up and there was a large plate riveted onto the chassis. So Marvin II was not to be and we left downhearted again.
Then Marvin received an email, from a very kind reader of our blog who offered us 'a rolling chassis with 4 wheels and a rough 2CV body attached 'free of charge!' Step forward Jonathan Hardie and take a bow! The only problem was that the chassis was 200 odd miles away. But yet again Carl from H&H autos came to our rescue and has offered to collect it for us. We are now waiting with baited breath for it to be delivered at the weekend. So rumours of Marvin's death appear to have been exaggerated!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pre-rally Meet

Last weekend to cheer ourselves up a bit took a trip to the pre-rally meet at the Fat Cat Bar in London. Some teams attended in their rally cars but because Marvin has drawn his last breath we went by bike. We booked into the hotel to be told we had to pay £20 to park the bike outside overnight! A quick phone call to the bar confirmed they had secure parking there, and even better FREE secure parking so we used our usual ever decreasing circles approach to navigation and soon found ourselves at the Fat Cat.
We walked into the bar and soon spotted a group of like minded idiots - oops sorry ralliers who were watching a video being shown by the 'Send a Cow' charity. We didn't get a chance to introduce ourselves as it seems we were recognised by most people there - our reputation must have preceded us. As the day wore on and the beer kept flowing we chatted to many of the teams there, with great names such as Team Orca, Paula the Panda, Two Men went to Mowgolia and The Mongol Mini amongst many others! It was good to put faces to people we know from the Mongol Rally Forum. Stories were swapped, routes discussed and a great time was had by all. It looks like there are five 2CV rally teams signed up so far. We missed meeting Leo from Madrid and we wont see the Red Rats till the rally... a bit far to fly from Australia just for a meeting, but it was good to find the other teams were no better organised than us! In fact I seem to remember us volunteering to give them advice!!! Somehow they all seem to think we are really organised! All too soon we had to leave and staggered our way hotel-wards,luckily finding a cab fairly quickly.
Morning came and after a great breakfast we grabbed a cab back to the bar and set off back north. On the way back we were hoping to solve our transport problems, but things are never that easy...............

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The clock is ticking............

The blog hasn't been updated for a couple of weeks mainly because we have been hoping to have some good news to report. But despite a lot of chasing round we are no closer to getting Marvin on the road than we were last month. We did have the offer of another 2CV at a very advantageous price but unfortunately we couldn't agree to the conditions the seller attatched to it so we had to say no. Another 2CV we saw had been in an accident and although it had a galvanised chassis it was not a viable proposition. And despite all our hard work the grand total of sponsorship has risen to a dizzying £35 and a few pence! But are we downhearted? Are we dispirited?? Well yeah we are a bit.... but there's no way we are not going, so we are gonna keep on keeping on! This weekend is the pre-rally team meeting in London so we can meet some of the other teams and see how they are doing. Maybe pick up a few tips on getting sponsorship!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Marvin pictures

For those of you interested heres an album of pictures of Marvin in various stages of disassembly!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Another weekend spent in the garage and we have come across the worst news for any 2CV. With the help of the lads at H&H we took the body off and had a good look at the chassis. The side under the rotted floor panel was ok but the other side... well. The last bill we have for it shows quite a bit of money spent on welding on the chassis to get it through the MOT. Unfortunately this appears to have consisted of welding metal on at random, including plating over the heads of the bolts holding the front suspension on one side of the chassis. So setting to with a sharp cold chisel and hammer this plate was cut away and the rust it revealed was horrendous. Basically the front half of that side if the chassis is rusted out, probably beyond repair. So unless our local expert can come up with a solution we are looking at finding a good chassis to rebuild Marvin on. Oh well that's what happens when you pay £20 for a car!!! So anyone out there got a 2CV chassis lying about cos if you do we would be eternally grateful.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Barnsley Chronicle 18.3.2005

Monday, March 14, 2005

A weekend away

Not every weekend is to be spent on Marvin so this weekend we went to one of Neil's favourite bike rallies the Ides of March. So Saturday morning found us packing Tony up with tent and sleeping bags, and after sticking on as many layers as possible we set off for the Shepherds Rest near Todmorden ( was it Mankinholes or Lubnutts... Wonderful names anyway!). Despite a slight navigational error we arrived at the site to see snow on the hilltops and it was to say the least bracing. First job was to put up the tent a job enlivened by the arrival of Squires Alan and Sue ( two of Neil's clubmates) After catching up on the news and a quick gossip we headed to the pub. And what a fine pub it was! Good beer served by lovely staff, great food and even better company. Loads of old mates to catch up with and new ones to meet. But Marvin had not been forgotten cos we had the best part of 200 stickers advertising this site with us. So with the help of some friends we went to work and soon most of the rallyists,the pub staff and a few bemused locals were wearing Marvin stickers! We got loads of interest and quite a few volunteers if either of us have to drop out! Hopefully it mite even get us a bit of sponsorship! Closing time ( whenever it was) came round too quick as always and we wobbled our way back to the tent.
Morning dawned colder than ever and we were glad to get to the pub for a full english breakfast and a gallon of coffee. Then the worst bit of every rally.... packing everything back onto the bike to go home! Goodbyes were said and not that long after we were back in the warm in Barnsley. Thanks goes to the Salford Centurions for another blinding weekend... and can we have our badges please?
And next weekend.....back to Marvin

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Fun Has Begun

Two weekends ago we met a local 2CVer by the name of Chris Isles. His 2CV is a little different to ours... well how does 4WD sound to you? His Mum had sent him the article from the T&A and he has offered to help us with any work we need to do. Neil went for a ride in his off-roader to 2CV City in Sowerby Bridge, and we dropped off some details of the rally and sponsorship forms to see if we can drum up some money there. Chris also said he would have a word with a man who builds 2CV engines for race and raid cars for any advice on running Marvin on the rubbish petrol we are likely to find on our travels.

After spending five years parked up in his previous owners drive, we didn’t really expect the engine to run without some work, but to our amazement Neil recieved a call from Carl at H&H Autos to tell him the engine was running like a dream.... it even ticked over! All they had done was put some petrol in the tank and used some easy start. So thats one less worry.

So last weekend we got down to doing some real work on him – we spent the weekend stripping him down to his birthday suit or chassis as he prefers to call it. The engine is now out, all his body parts piled up in a corner of the garage.The task took us about 10 hours in all and was pretty easy and very successful.

He has a little more rust than we first thought so we will probably be replacing the right hand side floor pan, sill and repair the B post, but there isn’t much more work to do on him. Which is extremely pleasing, especially to me, a newly qualified welder (HA HA) who is terrified of doing any welding on him in case I burn my way through his INCREDIBLY thin shell. However if we run into problems there is a classic car restorer on the premises who has said he will help us.

Next weekend we are going to a rally, (not in Marvin it’s motor-bike rally), where we aim to get a number of sponsors, so the work will have to wait until the weekend after, when we will start to clean up his engine and replace any parts that are required.

Neil has renewed his passport, which is a relief, not because it is out of date but because he looked like an active Arab terrorist on the old one – now he just looks like a retired terrorist. He still has to take his driving test as he is only licensed to drive up-to a 3 wheeled vehicle, and I refuse to do ALL the driving, then again – I think that’s preferable to going in his pig.

I am waiting to start my next welding course, I’ll be doing Oxy Acetylene this time and while typing this update I got a call from my poor suffering tutor, telling me that it starts next week and that the rumours I have heard about the college increasing it’s insurance cover in preparation for the beginning of the course are all true!!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

One we missed!

Posted by Hello

Monday, February 14, 2005

Is there anybody out there?????

We have only had one comment on our blog. If any one is looking at this we would love to have some comments!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Team Yorkshire meeting

Well we are just back from the first meeting of the Yorkshire Mongol Rallyists! It doesn't bode well for our chances of finding Ulan Bataar when we couldn't even find a pub in Leeds! But with some frantic phone calls the six of us met in the Lord Darcy on the A61. Good to meet Dan and Ben, who are taking a Suzuki samurai, and Charlie and Giles who are going on a skateboard if they cant make their minds up! Over a beer or three we discussed everything from press coverage to food supplies and the best way to bribe Russian policemen. Nice to find out we aren't the only loonies doing the Mongol. We are going to meet once a month at the same pub...... well we know where it is now and swap info