Friday, July 13, 2012

Prologue, Part 1 : Passports, Bureaucracy, and Brits, Oh My!

Greetings from the Old Empire to all fans, followers, and donors!

We apologize profusely for the lack of updates since our automotive purchases, but things have been hectic to say the least! Stories of the pre-trip logistics are best left for personal conversations, or possibly an addendum to the book of Revelations, so we will skip ahead to the first day of the trip itself.

After Byron and Nick spent a great night in NYC (podcast can be found here), and Alex took his (cheapskate) red-eye flight and a lovely visit with some friends in Brooklyn the following morning, the first wave of The Bear/Bare Boxers were set to converge on JFK for the two-legged flight to London..

Nick and Byron managed to glide swiftly and gently through the city, ticketing, and security minus with rush-hour subway shenanigans. They were about to get onto the plane to another layover in Iceland, but 20 minutes before boarding they were called to he desk at the gate with some bad news. Alex had left his passport with a baggage attendant. At this point it seems prudent to mention that Alex elected not to bring his cell phone on the trip. However, the was not the primary issue. Apparently, and this is a general warning to all London-bound travelers, US passport holders are required to show proof of exit from the UK before they can be issued a ticket into the country. This was unbeknownst to any of us, and our travel service sites failed to mention anything about it. This presented a particularly complex problem for us because, although we were planning on leaving the country, we had no proof because we BOUGHT the cars and the registration documents were at the UK address the cars were residing at (as required by the laws of the country). Quite the catch 22. Eventually, we were able to convince them that it was good enough to have flights out of Mongolia as long as we have proof of departure from the UK at the UK customs office. After a bit of Google-fu and other internet wizardry by Joyce we had ferry reservations to France and all was well.

Unfortunately, wrestling with this calamity put Alex well past the deadline for his scheduled flight. Fortunately, Icelandair is AWESOME and, after he retrieved his passport, rebooked him on an identical flight later that night (at no charge) that allowed him to keep his connection to London and meet Byron and Nick in the airport in Reykjavik, and we were back to a full crew!

Flights to Iceland, though long and far between, were uneventful. However, the layover between Iceland and London was made merry by fellow US travelers afflicted by a gratuitous lack of information and a fellow US Mongol Rally team (the name of which we don't know, but the members are Matt and Patrick from Brooklyn, NY).

Nick catching several hard-earned Z's in Spence's driveway in Shaftesbury while Byron tests the car.
Then, after 7 hours of dicking around in the London Underground, King's Cross station, and Waterloo station we made an 11th-hour Skype call from our departing train to coordinate a pick up with the owners of our first car, the Hyundai Getz. The car looked great! No major issues.

The Getz at the  first "camp" site in Horsely (30 min SW of London).
After a crash-course in British driving from the previous owners, a healthy dose of American ignorance and several failures of navigating the “anything goes” British road system, we finally made it to our campsite...8 hours after the office closed. We decided to sleep in the car, which is surprisingly comfortable, but that may have been the scant 5 or so hours of sleep in the 40 or so it took to get from the US to London. Further more, British “camping” is about as rugged as a Motel 6. Hot water, showers, and a pub within walking distance are par for the course. The closest American analogue is tailgating, but with a distinct lack of barbeque and fun.

That concludes the Prologue, Part I of our Mongol Rally adventure. Stay tuned for more!

Here is a list of fun facts that we will try to update/add to as often as possible:

Miles driven since last update : 74
Total miles driven : 74
Places visited : London, Shaftesbury, Horsely
Tickets : 0
Average fuel economy : 43 mpg
Frantic last-minute skype calls made : 1

PS : despite all the hullabaloo made by the Icelandair ticket mongers, we sailed through UK customs without so much as a peep regarding our exit strategy. Thanks Big Brother...ahem, DHS.

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