The bells were clanging and the barriers closing as we swerved out of the way of the queuing traffic. The foot brake had stopped working! I grabbed at the handbrake, coming to a stop in the soft sandy roadside. I jumped out of the Landrover ambulance and headed into the forest shouting through the adrenaline rush of fear from the near miss.
This was the Mongol Rally run by the Adventurists, a social enterprise. I was in team Mongol Mutiny, driving an ambulance from the UK to donate to a charity in Mongolia while raising funds for Amnesty International and the Christina Noble foundation. Our route from England took us across France, Germany, Czech-Republic, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan and into Mongolia.
Waiting for parts at our pit stop in Brasov, Romania, with Brasov’s Hollywood-style city sign high in the surrounding Carpathian mountains, I took the cable car and walked up to spend the night in the Postavarul Cabin at 1605m. Floating in the clouds, looking out of the cabin windows, I sipped at my well-earned hot chocolate.
In Prejmer near Brasov we stayed in wood cabins built by local biker Dan, who organised a night eating fish stew and drinking apple Polenka, a very strong local spirit. We visited the local gypsy village, with people milling about washing, building and chatting. I met the local Bulibasha (gypsy chief) in his castle-like house and shared a toast to the work Dan had done in building swings and seesaws for the village children.
The Landrover was fixed and we drove through Bulgaria with its mushroom sunsets and dark bear-like mountains en route to Istanbul. Mega-city Istanbul with its famous Mosques and the Basilica Cistern with medusa headed pillars was a complete contrast. I stayed with my friend Gul who was about to celebrate her son Salem’s circumcision ceremony. Salem excitedly showed us his white ceremonial crown, gown and staff similar to a military marching band outfit. I was quietly horrified about the impending operation.
We left to see Cappadocia, its fairy chimneys and houses cut out of soft rock formations creating amazing landscapes of pure fantasy. We took a tour of Derinkuyu caves where over 58,000 people once lived in the beehive labyrinth of tunnels layered thick with history.
At Olympus there is a sign ‘We are all the same, no matter what religion, language or race’. One night I drank tequila slammers sat on rocks in a dry riverbed with a group of Turkish IT specialists determined to get drunk. People come here to relax in wooden bungalows, play backgammon, party, enjoy the beach and see the turtle reserve. I found a Bear club which I thought was hilarious, imagining dancing bears, not being well versed with LGBT lingo.
I never made Mongolia. The Landrover was sold and the money split between the two charities. I had managed to satisfy my need for personal adventure and appease my altruistic aims. I will try for Mongolia again soon.