An awesome interview by our incredible friends of Hooniverse.
An awesome interview by our incredible friends of Hooniverse.
There are two sides to every story, for us what started as a long four hour wait and hassle on behalf of the Russian border police between Ukraine and Russia ended in one of the most bizarre, strange and unexpected moments of our lives. Here’s our side:
As we reached the Ukraine-Russian border a Bourne Identity moment was about to happen; we had to hide our American passport and enter Russia as citizens of Colombia and Venezuela (who do not require a visa to enter Russian territory). The switch went ok, but the border guards were not too fond of us, or the fact we were wearing matching shirts, had a Spanish registered car full of stickers and were from South America, so they decided to make us wait, for four hours as they reviewed the legality of our passports.
Two hours went by, and due to the lack of English on behalf of these Russian guards that two random Russian civilians came to help as impromptu English-Russian translators between the guards and ourselves. The first question they asked us was “where are you from?” to which we answered “Colombia and Venezuela”, their faces lit up, and one of them asked a vitally important question, which started the most bizarre moment of our lives “Do you know how to dance salsa?” “Bachata?!!?” “Merengue!?!?” to which we answered with the cockiness that is so very characteristic of a Latin men in a foreign distant country “Of course” (lifting our chests and looking up towards the west, where many years ago, probably at a Christmas party with our family, or a wedding of an uncle or a quince with the teenage girl we had a crush on, we learned the basic salsa steps which made us such exotic animals in these far away lands)
The ladies told us they will wait for us on the other side, that they didn’t care how long it took for the guards to let us through, they were eager to learn salsa, merengue, bachata and kizomba (whatever that is) from real South Americans. It was 2am when we crossed the border, and there they were, waiting for us. We followed them and arrived to a house, with barracks and latrines (holes in the ground) for bathrooms, with beds of questionable sanitary standards which became our home for two nights, where we experienced extreme globalization first hand.
We woke up to the sound of loud salsa, and we walked out to meet our new friends, an incredible group of young and not so young Russians, eager to talk to us, learn about our culture and tell us about them and about salsa.
Throughout the day we were treated like honorary guests, we were well fed, drank local moonshine and went to the beach, waiting for the sun to go down and show our hosts what we could do on the dance floor.
The night arrived and the party started, we walked towards the dance floor (adorned by a Cuban flag in the middle of it) full of confidence, only to be surprised one more time, these wonderful group of people were almost professional salsa dancers, the kind of dancers you’d expect to see in a Marc Anthony music video, or on stage with Chayanne; they had choreographed moves, switched dance partners and had better rhythm than most second generation Cubans we’ve seen in Miami’s calle ocho, and yet they were eagerly waiting for us to teach them to dance.
We had nothing, they fed us and gave us a place to sleep in exchange for real salsa lessons from real South Americans and we had nothing to teach them, all we had said the night before, all of the “we are really good salsa dancers” just became a big lie, as we realized they were the ones who could teach us how to dance, but if there’s something our culture has provided us with is the ability to improvise (and lie) and that’s what we did.
We told them we knew how to dance “street salsa”, which is danced from the heart, without any choreographed moves, just feeling the music and the vibe of two bodies moving to a Caribbean rhythm. And that we did, we danced the night away like the background dancers in one of the scenes from “Dance with Me”. They taught us how to dance in the most choreographed and structured manner, and we taught them how to have fun while dancing and to let go of the moves they dedicate so much time perfecting for a minute, just to enjoy the moment.
Hours went by until we finally went to sleep, tired from the dancing, happy for the new friends we made, shocked by what we just experienced, but most of all thankful to all of those wonderful musicians who put together Cuban son montuno, guaracha, chachachá, mambo and bolero to create that wonderful musical concoction which gave us food, shelter and a night we will never forget.
De facto state: an unrecognized region with de facto autonomy. A nation not recognized by other nations or by international bodies, even though it has its own government and military which exercises absolute control over its claimed territory.
You might be a little disconcerted after reading the definition above, but you’ll find it useful as you read through the next chapter of our adventure.
Our last report was on our way out of Romania, when we left Dracula’s southernmost castle to make our way towards Moldova. We decided to leave very early as we were a long drive to the Romanian-Moldovan border and we wanted to spend the night at the only camping ground in Moldova, which was outside of Chisinau (Moldova’s capital) more than 9 hours from where we started. We drove for close to 8 hours and made it all the way to the border, where a Romanian officer informed us that this precise border was for Romanian citizens only. The sun was beginning to set and we just learned we had to drive several kilometers north to the border where non Romanians could cross into Moldova.
We arrived at the correct border at around 9pm, and made the decision to cross into Moldova and drive throughout the 600km country all through the night in order to make it in Ukraine early the next morning; granted this might have not been the best decision, but at the time it seemed a lot better to get through Europe’s poorest and least safe country in the least possible time and Juancho seemed confident and happy to drive by night.
At the Moldovan border after paying the immigration fee the car owner (Carlitos in our case) is provided with a white paper with several stamps and signatures, as the paper is handed the authorities tell you “You can not loose this paper, you loose this paper and you will not be able to leave Moldova, this paper is the only record of you entering Moldova. Do not loose this paper”
We entered Moldova late at night, surprisingly Moldova has lots of gas stations and the roads are not as bad as we anticipated. We drove all the way to Chisinau and kept on going south east towards the Ukraine border when we reached a dead end with military tanks in the middle of the main highway. We stopped and asked where should we go and were told to turn right, into a very small one way road where a police checkpoint was.
As we drove slowly into the checkpoint a fairly young police officer came out and asked us for our passports and the white paper which was given to us at the border. We very politely gave the officer what he asked for and waited inside the car. About 10 minutes went by when he walked out very slowly and gave us back our passports but not the white paper. After asking him a couple of times for the paper the officer became somewhat hostile and ordered us to keep on going without the precious white paper. We tried to explain to the officer what we were told when we entered his country, but all efforts were in vain, as he held strong to his position and made us go forward into the dark street, without the all mighty white paper.
As soon as we left the checkpoint the roads became what looked like a recently blown mine field, craters all over the place, virtually impossible to drive through, but Juancho got us through without any flat tires or broken shock absorbers. Just when we thought the bad roads were over we arrived at yet another police checkpoint, this one with a very aggressive officer “welcoming” the oncoming vehicles. He ordered for us to get out of the car and for the driver to walk into a small shack of an office to fill out some papers.we had to wait a two hour period and pay an $11 USD fee for a transit permit, which we had no idea why it was necessary to obtain in the middle of a country, but we played along and continued on our way towards Ukraine.
Right after we left the second checkpoint a feeling of time traveling took over our car, we were suddenly in a mid 1970’s communist city; the wide roads with no signaling, the communist monuments, concrete buildings and dim lighting made us feel the furthest away from home we had felt until that moment. The tension was building at the same speed as our amazement was growing when it was all hailed to a sudden stop by a police officer, this time he asked for the driver and co-pilot to step out of the car and go into a small office on the side of the road. As Carlitos and Juancho steped into the office the policeman asked to see the license and began to aggressively stomp the table, talk loudly in his language and shake his head in a negative manner. He took the license and placed it in his shirt pocket, made a visible threat to keep it and in a very strong Russian accent said the magic word “Pay” which he made sure we understood by circling the numbers 100 and 200 in what we assumed to be a laws and citations book in Moldovan.
This event started the battle of patience, acting and determination; on our side Juancho and Carlitos fought not to pay and used the classic approach of sitting down, speaking English as fast as one can and repeat as many times as possible “no money, no money”. On the policeman side him and his partner used a more violent, threatening and aggressive approach to intimidate us, claiming in sign language and poor English that the owner of the car is not allowed to drive and that it is a very serious crime, for which the only solution is to pay. After close to 15 minutes one of the officers broke down into some sort of a smile and gave us permission to leave, victoriously and without paying a single dollar.
The anger that we had from experiencing with such corruption first hand was diminished by the feeling of accomplishment of not giving in and keeping our composure through what just happened. We felt like there was nothing else to go through, as Ukraine was less than 80km away.
The line of cars waiting to cross into the Ukraine border was not too long, we waited less than one hour, presented our American passports and were told to park and wait to be called. After about 10 minutes a person yelled out “Americans!” we looked at each other and Juancho said “it’s not over yet”. We were escorted into some sort of control tower, where a high ranked officer had our three passports on top of a table, he proceeded to explain in perfect English that we were no longer in Moldova, and had not been in Moldova since the first police officer took the white paper from us a couple of hours before.
He asked us for a map and showed us what he called Transnistria, a breakaway territory which according to him was similar to Kosovo, which hates Moldova and was in war until 1992 and that we should have never crossed into his country. He closed his speech on politics of eastern Moldova by saying “Ukraine is 200 meters from this border, but you cannot go through this border, you will have to drive 200km in order to get to a border which you can cross” and pointing at each of the passports he said “If you pay $63 dollars, $63 dollars and $63 dollars I can let you go through this border, 200 meters to Ukraine” we contemplated the option of paying up until the moment he said “now, if you pay cash you only pay half price, if not you have to wait three hours until the bank opens” that’s when we knew he was looking for fast cash and we decided to let him know that we had no rush, even though we’ve been driving for over 14 hours we would wait for the bank to open and pay the $63 dollars for each passport.
He was shocked and saw his possibility of making a quick buck out of these American tourists slipping away, so as a desperate measure and to make our Moldovan experience much more interesting he asked with a serious face “do you have American souvenirs?” we busted in a laugh and offered him candy and t-shirts, he denied the candy but asked us for three of our team’s shirts, which we quickly gave to him before he changed his mind and said goodbye, he wished us luck and went on with a big smile on his face to show his co-workers his jackpot; three 100% cotton screen printed t-shirts.
After more than 14 hours, several encounters with the not-so-legal Moldovan law, entering one of the world’s last standing breakaway territories, being threatened, not eating or sleeping and learning that American souvenirs are greatly appreciated even in a place described by its own police force as “part of the Soviet Union, a great communist state” we were safe and sound with the same amount of cash we entered, on our way to Ukraine, the country with the most beautiful women per capita in the world.
Since we haven’t given many details lately due the lack of constant internet connection, we will give you two weekly reports, so grab some coffee or tea and enjoy the incredible experiences we have gone through.
Our last weekly report left us at the ferry station between France and England at 11pm. The trip was nothing special, and we arrived way to early to the Rally Kick Off (due to the time change) we didn’t have enough time to spend a night in London so we decided to meet and greet the few early birds on the track and leave for Belgium in order to celebrate Juancho’s birthday. We drove on the other side of the road for a few hours and made it back to Europe by Ferry again, drove through the north of France and Belgium to arrive at Zepperen where the Cosemans family was waiting for us, they took us into their house, gave us a comfy bed, hot shower and fed us (mussels mit frittes), we got to celebrate Juancho’s birthday in family (singing happy birthday in many different languages).
The next morning we left very early (with an awesome picnic prepared by the Cosemans) for Germany, we drove and drove arriving at a camping site very close to Wurzburg, where we met our neighbors (The Tschimmel Family) thanks to a Soccer ball and a wonderful kid who had the courage to ask us if he could play with us, and just like that we made our new friends. We had a wonderful night talking about everything and anything and got to experience a little bit of the great German culture.
The next morning we received a ticket for carrying illegal weapons in German territory (one pocket knife and two pepper sprays), we weren’t aware of its illegality and we had to pay $100 each (which was a lot better than the $300 the cops initially asked for) and we went on our way to the Czech border, where we spent a night at a beautiful camping site next to a lake at Steimberg am see.
We arrived at Prague on a Tuesday, where we did lots of tourism, saw the city and walked through the rain in the city center, amazed with its beauty and tourist filled streets. We spent two nights here so we could see the city and enjoy the wonderful opportunity to be here, eat goulash and enjoy a unique place, so far away from home.
After two nights in Prague it was time to head South, we spent one night at Bratislava, at a campsite that looked like a set from a horror movie (there was a thunderstorm which almost brought our tent down but our Coleman held on like a champ), we slept next to a group of 4 Harley bikers which strangely enough slept all together in an extremely small tent. We Left Bratislava after a small sight of the center and headed for Vienna, where again we were surprised by the hospitality of young Austrians. After walking around the city (rainy again) we tried to look for a place to have a beer and relax for the night, where all of the sudden a Metal Rocker looking guy (Dario) turned to us and asked us if we were looking for a place to have a beer, and he invited us to the bar where he went with his friends (the greatest Austrians we’ve ever met). We had a great night, talking about our differences and similarities, experiences and got some great tips about Mongolia.
Budapest was next on our route, we spent one night at a camping site near the center, saw the bridge and center by day and night and enjoyed some tasty goulash, went to bed early ready to go into the Balkan countries.
We left Budapest early in order to make a small daytrip into Croatia (Osijek specifically) where we saw the town and headed straight for Apatin in Serbia. We arrived at a camping site where no other campers were, just Sasha, the owner of the camp and his family welcomed us and fed us catfish and bread, showed us their heritage in a 100 year old pear tree (yes 100 years old) which kept on dropping pears every minute or so, we talked through signs and exchanged words in Spanish and Serbian, learned that Michael Schumacher goes hunting there and that family is the most important thing in life. We said goodbye in the Serbian way (three kisses) and went to bed.
We went through northern Serbia (great roads, great people, beautiful sights) and entered Romania, where we would meet a group of Ralliers at our campsite, owned by a Romanian man married to a Dutch woman, who sold wine to an Italian company which sells it to people as Italian wine (cheaper to make it in Romania than in Italy, and people can’t tell the difference), we had dinner at a truck stop and felt right at home eating a soup and chicken. Romania wasn’t too difference from our home countries; the language, the roads, the people, the food and even the flags are strangely similar which was a very nice surprise.
Our second day in Romania took us to Sighisoara (Count Dracula’s southern most castle), an incredible town, with a beautiful castle and very friendly and funny people. We camped right next to the community pool (where we swam) and met two Lithuanian hitch hikers, who arrived to Romania and were going back to Lithuania in order to see the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, all of it hitch hiking. We had a good night sleep and were ready to head towards Moldova, where one of the most unbelievable experiences of our lives will take place.
Stay tuned to for the third weekly report, where things start to get extraordinarily weird and uniquely strange.
Weekly Report #1
As our trip begins we would like to share some of the highlights and lowlights (if that is a real word) of what we have seen and done during the first 10 days of this adventure.
The first six days in Barcelona can be summarized in very few words; lots of paperwork, car shops and waiting rooms at government entities during the day, and meeting up with old friends during the night.
On Sunday July 8th we departed from Barcelona, making our way north, towards Pamplona for the San Fermines. During this long 8 hour trip we slept at the foot of the Pyrenees, drank a beer in a town of 700 inhabitants called Val D’Echo where the median age was 78 and drove accross some of the most beautiful scenery we have ever seen.
We arrived in Pamplona at 8pm, it was a lot colder than we expected and we realized we had no white pants so we headed to El Corte Ingles (Spain’s Bloomingdales) and bought ourselves full white uniforms to blend in with the crowd. We spent the night dancing and singing with thousands of strangers (fun times!). We slept in the car and woke up around 9am and started to drive towards France, where after six hours we arrived at our home for the night, the camping site at Angouleme.
The next morning we woke up refreshed and ready to drive further north, to Normandy Bay, we were feeling very happy and Juancho was driving just like he does back home, until we got pulled over (pictures on the way), after a nice chat with the French law we arrived at Omaha Beach, where we would spend the night remembering the fallen heroes of WWII, drinking French Merlot out of a box and sharing our knowledge of Dutch Football with our Dutch neighbors in the tent next to us. It rained a lot, and our tent held up like a champ, no leaks, no breakings, we hope it keeps up its performance.
And here we are today Friday the 13th, waiting for a Ferry in Caen, waiting to board at 11:30pm so we can be in London tomorrow for the official departure of our adventure, together with 600 fellow ralliers. So far we have experienced more than we expected in such a short time, so here are the two morals of our weekly report:
1. Do not drink wine out of a box when trapped by the rain in a tent.
2. En Europa las Colombianadas se pagan en Euros (ask a friend for translation)
Until next time.
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Last week we came back to Autos 0-60 on Cristina Radio Sirius XM 1460 for a Live on Air interview. Here it is…enjoy!
Here’s a short recap of our trip to Barcelona, where we bought the car that’ll take us all the way to Mongolia this July. Enjoy!
Music by Orishas Feat. Tony Touch - Represent (Remix Instrumental)
The final visa. Thanks to the Consulate of Kyrgyzstan we have in our hands all of the visas we need for our trip. Thanks to the wonderful Consulate Staff who sent our passports back within 3 business days, no need for a Visa agency (which charge over $200 for “processing fees”), we can already feel the Kyrgyz hospitality!!
Now we put all of our efforts towards fundraising and more fundraising for Save the Children!!
Cheers and keep on supporting!
We got into Barcelona, with three days to find a car fit to take us from Barcelona to Mongolia. We went to Barcelona because we spent a couple of wonderful years studying there, we knew the city and have many friends still there, who proved to be vital to our first adventure within this adventure. Here’s a recount of what happened during these three crazy days…
After we settled in our rented apartment (great cheap rental from Oh Barcelona.com) and we got acquainted with the feeling of being back in a city where we spent some of the most wonderful times of our lives, but this time we weren’t here to study or to party, we were here to work with a very strict time restraint (72 hours to find and register a car), we got right to it by making some confirmation calls so we could start our hunt for our car. After browsing loquo.com, autoescout24.es and many local newspapers we got in touch with Marc, who was selling a blue 2001 Peugot 206, we met up with him right in front of a basketball court at the Vila Olimpica, where a couple of talentless Spaniards wearing jeans were playing hoops.
Marc showed up, and we started to check what could be our future car, took it for a test drive and try to see if we could find something wrong with it, to keep us from purchasing it right then. We decided to play it cool and tell Marc we would call him the following afternoon, we rushed onto the subway to Ronda San Antoni where we had another appointment set up to take a look at a 2008 Chevrolet Aveo.
We arrived at the subway station where we were suppose to meet Antoine, who wasn’t answering his phone anymore, after many calls he finally answered saying that he was waiting for us right where we were standing, which was an obvious lie, we argued over the phone about the fact he wasn’t where he said he was because we were there, and he finally accepted that he was in fact not completely honest and was standing a couple of blocks away from where we were.
We walked over to where he was, where we met him, he looked like an eastern European mafia bodyguard. We took a look at the car and realized it was a 2008 piece of junk , very rusted, with an engine that smelled like burnt rubber but it had a nice radio with DVD (his reason why we should purchase it) as we asked why he was selling the car (we figured this was a good way to spot if someone is lying) he answered that he had four other cars, and he really didn’t needed this car, so he decided to sell. After being ten minutes around the sketchy man we decided to politely shake hands and told him we weren’t interested.
Our first day on the hunt was over and we went back to our temporary headquarters, where we met up with Aida, Gigi and Catalina to have some beers, remember good old times and get ready for another full day of car hunting.
(Our temporary headquarters)
Stay tuned for day two of our mini-adventure.