The Drama of Llama - Hitchhiking the Rally from Russia to Ulaanbaatar

Stephen and the Cads at UB

It s important to never, ever quit; even if it's all gone to shit and is progressively getting worse. Usually at this point we quote Churchill; today Mr Joolz's words sum it up fairly succinctly; "Only losers quit; and nobody likes fucking losers". Mr Joolz might be a miserable sod but he does have a point. To elaborate on that point this story is from Norbert Figueroa and Stephen Schrek of 2013 Mongol Rally team "The Drama of Llama". Norbert and his team-mates didn't let a minor thing like no longer having a car stop them from getting to Mongolia, which is exactly the sort of attitude we applaud.

"Nothing adds more adventure to your rally than crashing your car in Russia. Our team, The Drama of Llama, suddenly found itself with a severely crippled vehicle and no way to repair it cheaply or in time.  We were clueless on how we would finish the rally, but more importantly, we had no idea if we could actually leave Russia without our car! But, let’s rewind a bit.

It all started the day after we crossed the Russian border from Georgia. We woke up quite early after a now-usual sleep in the car, and headed towards Volgograd. Or so we thought. After about 30 minutes of driving, we took a sharp 90-degree turn a bit too fast and slammed into a truck. The high-pitched screeching sound of our tires was only surpassed by the intense grinding of two metal objects colliding at high speed. Luckily, we were all ok; the vehicles weren’t. 

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After dealing with the truck driver and giving him some US dollars to pay for the damages, we went on to deal with the police. We needed the police to take our car and declare it “unusable” in order for us to be able to leave the country. When you enter Russia with a car; you leave Russia with a car (or with an official document stating why you don’t have a car). We wanted that document, otherwise, we’d have to pay $5000+ in import taxes, which we didn’t have. And after a ridiculously long day at the police station, we got the document!

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The next order of business was to figure out a way to reach Mongolia. The crash gave us a new found determination to finish; giving up just wasn’t an option.  We thought of buying a new car, using public transportation, or hitchhiking with other teams. The latter won. We immediately took a bus to Astrakhan, where we knew various teams would pass through, and got ready to beg for mercy. 

Once there, not a lot of begging was needed. In fact, none was needed. Various teams gave us a hand by sparing some space in their cars for our bags and us. We knew that all three llamas would not fit in one car, so we agreed to split and hope for the best. Stephen went to join The Cads and Bounders, Alex joined The Great Danes (slightly later in Kazakhstan), and Norbert joined The Thunderyaks.

Luckily, the teams we split on had plans to convoy together for most parts of Kazakhstan and Mongolia. There were moments where all three of us were together in convoy but in different cars, others where some of us shared one car, and others where we were all in completely different routes and even in different countries. But every now and then our path would intertwine, letting us share our recent misadventures and look forward to experience together a few more challenges on the non-roads ahead – until different paths split us again to repeat the process.  

So crashing might have sucked in one part, but it heightened our experience in many other ways. It gave us a ridiculous and somewhat surreal rally experience."

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Norbert and Stephen are both travel bloggers, you can catch Norbert's blog at Globotreks and Stephens at A Backpackers Tale.