Counting down to the start…

Less than 3 weeks to go till we arrive at Goodwood for the leaving party. Apprehensive – yes, but still hugely excited.

A lot has happened since the last blog post.

The paperwork marathon is nearly over. The Persian Gates are open to us. But not before the nerves were truly tested. To get an Iranian visa stamp in our passport, there were a number of hurdles we had to jump through. I needed to employ an Iranian government approved guide for the length of our stay in Iran. I had to book hotels for each night of our stay, and then had to get an “authorisation number” from Tehran. I approached a company called iRun2Iran, who had really good reviews from past ralliers, and they kindly sorted out the guide and hotel bookings for us. And then queued and queued in Tehran on our behalf to get the authorisation number. There were celebrations when it came through. I’m lucky – a couple of weeks beforehand, the Iranian Consulate in London re-opened due to the lifting of sanctions. Otherwise it would have meant a costly trip to either Dublin or Berlin to get the stamp. The visa section was only open for 3 hours, 3 times a week, so I arrived early and queued. And queued and queued. I queued to get my fingerprints taken, queued to pay for the visa, queued to hand in the paperwork, then queued to pick up my passport with the visa stamp.

For the Russian stamp, I’ve gone for a “Humanitarian Visa” – the standard tourist visa for Russia is only valid for a month, and, as we’ve got to first enter Russia from Kazakhstan before crossing the border to Mongolia, the month starts ticking from the first entry, and as we’re planning on driving 7,500 miles through Russia back to the UK after the rally, I didn’t want to have to panic and run out of time. The Humanitarian visa is valid for 3 months, so gives me a lot of extra breathing room – I’ve just got to think of how the rally trip could be classed as a humanitarian cause – maybe handing out Jägermeister to the needy would count?

Turkmenistan is by far the hardest visa to get hold of. The visa is only valid for 5 days, and if we encountered any holdups on the way to the Turkmenistan border, there’s a good chance we could miss our 5-day window and be stranded in Iran. Not a situation I’d be too keen on. 40% of all visas to Turkmenistan are refused with no good reason, and this was a critical one for us – without the Turkmen visa, we couldn’t complete the trip.

Because of this, we’ve used a company called The Visa Machine to provide us with a golden ticket – the so called Turkmenistan Transit LOI (Letter of Invitation). This glorious bit of paper gives us the flexibility to arrive at the Turkmenistan border, and get a visa on arrival. It’s not date specific, so if we do get held up, there’s no dramas. With the LOI, there’s also no worries about getting the visa refused. But it takes months and months to process. We applied at the end of March, and have got our fingers crossed that it arrives before we set off. Luckily it comes through by email, so worst case scenario is finding somewhere on route to print it off.

As well as visas of ourselves, in Iran we also need to get a visa for Bertha – the Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD). These act as an insurance policy that we’re only temporarily importing the car, and will take it out of the country with us when we leave. The CPD used to be issued by the RAC, and you either paid an insurance based on the value of the car, or the equivalent of the import tax (£5,000) up front which is refunded with proof of an exit stamp on the CPD when we return to the UK. Sadly, on 1st January this year the RAC stopped issuing them. We were left with 2 options – approach the ADAC (The German equivalent of the RAC) and pay a whopping €5,000 deposit, or find an Iranian fixer who will meet us at the border and get an Iranian certificate of temporary importation. iRun2Iran who helped us out with our visas recommended a company in Tehran – OverlandToIran, and we’ve sorted out a fixer to meet us at the border – it’s an extra 4-hour wait, and a chunk f extra paperwork we’ve got to complete at the border, but a lot easier on our wallet.

In the meantime, our glorious chariot Bertha has been having a tantrum over the thought of the trip.

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We knew early on that she had some health issues.

The first mechanic in Frome charged us £1,000 to MOT and service her. 50 miles later the timing chains started badly ratting which lightened the wallet by a further £500. Since then, the coil pack failed causing a bad misfire, which luckily was an easy and inexpensive fix. The rear springs both snapped in a test run up to Scotland loaded down with computers going to a charity up in Edinburgh. The throw-out bearing in the clutch packed in, and the rear wheel bearings were badly worn, which have both now been sorted. She went back to the mechanics who had her for a month sorting out a new head gasket and water pump, and we were advised that the front wheel bearings were knackered.

Feeling a bit fed up at this time, I took Bertha to a different mechanic in Frome for the front wheel bearings to be changed. An hour later I got a call to tell me that the wheel bearings were absolutely fine. The whining, grating and clunking was actually a knackered gearbox. And a further £1,000 bill. Time for another opinion – this time from a gearbox specialist in Bristol who confirmed my worst fears – the gearbox wouldn’t get us to the channel tunnel, let alone Mongolia. By this time, the total bill of getting Bertha rally ready was already over £3,500, so had no option but to bite the bullet and get a reconditioned gearbox fitted. I am eternally grateful to Ange Hodgkinson and the fabulous awesomely kind donors via GoFundMe who stomped up the whole cost of the gearbox replacement. Thank you!

Our rough route plan is also now complete so we know roughly were we are going to be heading most evenings. We’ve chosen a mixture of camping, hostels, and where it’s required in a country, hotels. There are also a couple of destinations on the way where all 800 fellow ralliers meet up for a chat and beer, which should be great fun when we’ve all started to experience life on the road. So Heidelberg in Germany, Budapest in Hungary and a beach party in Romania much anticipated!

As soon as we hit the road, we’ll work out the best way of keeping everyone updated while we’re on the adventure – be it this website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or a mixture of all of them – I’ll keep you posted!

Marcus.x

p.s. If you want to donate towards the spiraling cost of the trip, we’d be really grateful. The link is here: http://www.gofundme.com/jagerbattalion

And, the main point of the adventure is raising as much money as possible to the awesome Matthew Elvidge Trust – the donation link is here: http://virginmoneygiving.com/Jagermeister

THANK YOU!

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