One surprise after another

One surprise after another

When my brother and I told friends we'd be driving across Kazakhstan, we got plenty of jokes referencing the cartoonishly backwards image they had of the country after watching Sacha Baron Cohen's 2006 mockumentary Borat. But we were about to find out that the real-life nation of Kazakhstan was almost nothing like what was portrayed on the screen!

Wrong way

Wrong way

We'd just received more bad news about our car. Ever since we replaced its faulty head gasket back in Uzbekistan, it had been acting a bit funny, and although we survived our latest breakdown, the mechanic was now telling us we'd probably only be able to make it another hundred miles. Our options were limited, so after mulling it over, we decided that the best we could do was to keep going for as long as our engine would last.

Stranded

Stranded

The mountainous Pamir Highway was precisely the type of terrain that our 1-liter Nissan Micra hatchback was not suited to handle. One of our friends had described it as a car "that you would expect a 60-year-old woman to drive to the supermarket twice a week," and now we were pushing it to ever-greater extremes, keeping our fingers crossed that it would somehow persevere. So we weren't totally surprised when our luck eventually ran out.

The road gets rougher

The road gets rougher

Our car was running once again, but now we faced a handful of new mechanical issues, just as we were about to embark on the roughest part of our journey yet: a 600 mile stretch of mostly unpaved and mountainous road along the Tajik-Afghan border that's considered one of the most spectacular and potentially dangerous routes in the world.

Whatever it takes

Whatever it takes

We'd been on the road for three weeks and had driven more than 5000 miles across all of Europe and the western half of Asia. While the journey so far had been enjoyable and we'd gotten to see a lot, it was also incredibly tiring. So when we learned we'd be stuck in Bukhara, Uzbekistan for a week, waiting for our car to get repaired, we were actually thrilled at the opportunity to finally relax and get some much-needed rest. But things didn't go according to plan.

From bad to worse

From bad to worse

In the three weeks since we started our journey, we'd broken down about four times, been to half a dozen mechanics, and tried all sorts of stop-gap measures to solve our car issues, but there was still some sort of big, underlying problem whose name we didn't yet know. Finally we were about to find out.

Breaking down

Breaking down

Driving a small, crappy car was a prerequisite for anyone participating in the Mongol Rally. The point was to make the journey more exciting and adventurous. We liked the idea at first, but now we'd broken down yet again, and our mechanical issues this time were worse than ever.

Culture clash

Culture clash

"Honestly, most Americans -- when they think of Iran -- probably think of 3 things," my brother said. "Desert, oil, and nuclear capabilities." And it was true. Before our road trip across Europe and Asia last summer, we didn't really have much of an idea what to expect.