Ever since my brother and I were young, we’ve both loved traveling and going on adventures. From spelunking in the caves of Vermont to scuba diving in the Caribbean, zip-lining over the Costa Rican cloud forest to horseback riding through the jungles of Belize, we’ve always had a desire to seek out new places and experiences.
After graduating college, Drew landed a job as first assistant to renowned photographer Joe McNally, where he got to travel the world, logging over half a million airline miles over the course of five years. Meanwhile, I embarked on trips of my own to visit friends and file radio stories from places like Haiti, Mexico, Germany, and South Africa.
Over the past few years, we’ve also made a habit of taking a big, international trip every Christmas and New Years. We’ve attended the annual Junkanoo Festival in the Bahamas, walked across ancient lava fields in the Galapagos Islands, and ridden Cambodia’s infamous bamboo railway.
While traveling across Cuba in December of 2014, we met our friend Rosi from Australia, who told us about a crazy road trip she was planning with her best friend Jane to drive from London to Mongolia -- a quarter of the way around the planet -- to raise money for charity as part of the annual Mongol Rally.
We kept in touch, and one day eight months later, she sent us a note on Facebook asking if we’d consider joining her on her journey. It didn’t take long to think about it. We were in! We paid our entry fee to the rally organizers, chose a team name (Team Donundestan, with apologies to Garrison Keillor) and began the long and complicated process of planning the logistics of driving a farcically ill-suited vehicle a quarter of the way around the earth.
Please visit our team website for more information, follow us on our journey, and wish us luck!
the story unfolds IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER, SO IT'S BEST TO START AT THE BEGINNING
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We'd been looking forward to Mongolia since the day we first decided to embark on the Mongol Rally, but we knew it was going to be one heck of a challenge. When we finally arrive, it lives up to our expectations in some ways and disappoints us in others, but whatever each of us thinks, we all agree that the next few days will likely be some of the hardest of our entire journey so far!
Kazakhstan: A land where horse meat is a delicacy, where marijuana grows wild along the roadsides, and it's not uncommon to hire a "ladyboy" to perform at your wedding. This was a country that constantly fascinated and surprised us!
We were in an extremely remote section of eastern Tajikistan, and we’d just received news that our car’s engine might not last much longer. Left with few options, the best we could do was to keep going, keeping our fingers crossed that our luck would hold out. In the midst of it all, our route was about to take us over a mountain pass that was nearly 3 miles high. Then we end up getting horribly lost on a rocky dirt road with dozens of switchbacks, and we have no idea where we'll spend the night!
As we continue climbing through the Pamir Mountains, our car's temperature gauge also continues to rise, and that's only the start of our problems. We camp out at 13,000 feet, suffering from altitude sickness and frigid temperatures, and then the car refuses to start. Add in a broken tow rope and getting stranded in the middle of nowhere, and we've got quite a story to tell!
We'd just spent a week and close to $1000 getting our head gasket replaced, but our mechanical issues were far from over. We didn't have any more time to spare, however, so we had no choice but to continue on. The problem was, the next leg of our journey was going to be the most challenging yet.
When we first learned that it would take a week for our car to get repaired, we figured we'd have some time to relax and explore the historic city of Bukhara, Uzbekistan. But instead we're hit with a variety of unforeseen challenges: Rosi and Jane's visas are about to expire, the four of us contract some sort of nasty stomach bug, and we learn that we might not be able to enter Mongolia after all.
After towing our car across the border into Uzbekistan, we bring it to a repair garage where we finally get a proper mechanical diagnosis, and it's bad news. We re-trace what went wrong and how our earlier attempts to fix our radiator issues actually ended up making things far worse. And we discuss a variety of options for what to do now.
When it comes to welcoming foreign tourists, Turkmenistan is close to the bottom of the list. It was hard enough to get visas in the first place, and when we did, they were only good for 5 days. Now broken down with serious car problems, we had to try to convince officials to give us more time. Alternately, we could throw in the towel and tow the car all the way to the border to try to get it fixed on the Uzbekistan side, but would the border guards even let us in with a car that wouldn’t start? Suddenly, our little road trip had turned into an international bureaucratic dilemma, and the next 24 hours were sure to be interesting as we sorted this one out.
After getting a hole in our radiator while driving across eastern Turkmenistan, we get towed to a garage where they scold us for our stupidity and repair the leak, but the car still won't start. It appears that our mechanical problems are even worse than we thought.
On this episode of Far From Home, we visit the hermit kingdom of Turkmenistan -- one of the most reclusive and authoritarian nations in the world -- and we see why some visitors describe its capital city of Ashgabat as a cross between Las Vegas and Pyongyang. Paranoia sets in as we get the feeling we're constantly being watched. And we take a side trip to a giant fire pit in the desert that's been burning for 40 years!
As we drive across Iran, we realize it's a place where things are rarely black and white. Everywhere we turn, we see a tension between sticking to the old way of doing things and forging a new path.
We travel across Iran and have enlightening conversations with average Iranians that make us see the country in a new light.
After all the anticipation and hand-wringing about driving through Turkey a few days after an attempted coup, we finally cross the border and are surprised by what we see.
The first few days on our trip across Europe were mostly smooth sailing and uneventful, but things were about to change. As we enter Eastern Europe, the roads get noticeably rougher, the journey becomes more interesting, and we experience our first mechanical difficulties.
We leave southern England and set out on our road trip, overcoming some of our fears and throwing our plans out the window while we drive across Europe on the first leg of our journey.
After nearly a year of planning, we descend upon the Goodwood Raceway in southern England to begin our journey. I chat with other rally teams from around the world to hear their stories, and we discuss our concerns about traveling through Turkey in the aftermath of the recent political unrest.
Our road trip from London to Mongolia is sure to be a fun and crazy adventure, but we’re also doing it for a good cause. On this episode of the podcast, we visit Port-au-Prince, Haiti to learn about the main charity my brother and I are supporting on our journey.
UPDATE: We are no longer accepting donations as part of the rally, but you can give directly to our charities by visiting the support page on our team website.
I fly to London to make final preparations before we hit the road and find myself dealing with one bureaucratic nightmare after another. We also take a basic car repair class and pick up some essential supplies for our trip. Plus, things heat up in Turkey at the last minute, leaving us scrambling to figure out our route.
What do two pescatarians eat in the meat-loving countries of Central Asia? In preparation for our journey, my brother and I take a field trip to Cheburechnaya — an Uzbeki restaurant in Queens, NY — to find out. We also give updates on some of the many things we’ve been up to since the last episode, like getting more visas and vaccinations, and taking a class to learn emergency first aid.
Read Tim Wu's hilarious article at Slate about the "culinary horrors of Mongolia."
When my brother and I told our friends and family that we were planning an 11,000 mile road trip across Europe and Asia, one of the first questions they often asked was, "What kind of car?" In this episode, we seek advice on what kind of vehicle to buy, we go car shopping in London, and we learn to drive stick.
An excerpt of a recent interview I did about my trip on my friend and colleague Paul Brubaker’s show, The Backgrounder podcast. Recorded live on stage in Montclair, NJ and used with the permission of The Backgrounder and Direct Audio Media.
To listen to the full interview, check out episode 68 at BackgrounderPod.com
My friend Rosi from Australia contacts my brother and me to invite us to join her on an 11,000 mile road trip this summer across Europe and Asia. I also speak with an organizer and past participant in the Mongol Rally to learn how it works, and we weigh the potential challenges, risks, and rewards of driving through 19 countries in a mysterious, rugged, and often unpredictable part of the world.
I've decided to drive a quarter of the way around the earth from London to Mongolia, and I'm launching a podcast to document my journey. Over the past nine months, my brother and I have been finalizing our route, getting our vaccinations, and shuffling between foreign embassies and consulates to apply for visas, so in the coming episodes, you'll get to hear some of the many challenges we've had to tackle to make this trip a reality. As I'm producing this, I'm still in the middle of everything, so I have no idea how it will end.
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