Casey’s No-Turning-Back Moment

Report #3 from the Road: The Mongol Rally

In the third installment from Middlebury senior Casey Peterson, the 2Big2Fail team and its 1998 yellow school bus are crossing the Caspian Sea on a ferry in hope of reaching their final destination, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, sometime within the next three weeks.

Creature comforts like a hot shower, a warm meal, or a comfortable bed are behind them now, as Casey and the members of her group face the most challenging phase of their trip to raise funds for underprivileged children and women in Asia: driving across Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and into Mongolia.

Casey’s latest post follows. Her two previous reports from the road can be viewed here.

“The reality of this trip has finally sunk in after nearly three weeks on the road. And ironically enough, we were actually on the sea when I had my ‘there’s no turning back’ moment. We were warned by previous Mongol Ralliers that the ferry crossing from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan, was quite the debacle, and my oh my, did it live up to its reputation. We arrived in Baku on Saturday and immediately went to the port. We were told to come back later that night, and then the next morning, and then that afternoon, and so on and so forth until Monday morning when we showed up at 9 AM and were finally informed that the ferry was indeed leaving that day. A customs charade ensued, which involved several bribes, many false endings, and a generous Polish man who spoke great Russian and could communicate with the guards. Finally at 7:30 that evening we left port on a massive cargo ship destined to cross the Caspian Sea in 15 hours. Considering we had heard that the ferry was full of cockroaches, had an overflowing toilet, and has been known to take up to 50 hours, our ride was extremely smooth in comparison. The part about the toilets was true, but everything else worked in our favor, and we celebrated with a game of croquet on the top deck as the sun went down over Baku, the city we were desperately ready to leave by that point.

“It was in that moment as I tried to knock my yellow croquet ball through the wicket on the rocking, smooth deck that I realized this trip was about to get crazier and crazier, and there’s no turning back. This feeling was reinforced when we pulled into the Turkmenbashi port the next morning. We waited four hours to disembark and another eight to get through customs; and we were the lucky ones. The other Mongol Rally teams on the same ferry had to sleep in customs that night, because their cars were still stuck on the boat, blocked behind a train carrying illegal shipments of cigarettes.

“I hope this doesn’t read as a complaint. I never felt overwhelmed or disgruntled during the whole 50 hour process; merely amazed at how differently matters like efficiency, customer service, and security are approached over here. And I can assure you that getting into Turkmenistan was well worth the effort. This afternoon we enjoyed a swim in an underwater sulfur lake, followed by an authentic kebab feast, and this evening we marveled over the ostentatiously wonderful monuments and buildings in Ashgabat. Imagine Las Vegas’ Venetian hotel meets Istanbul meets Disney World meets Big Brother, and that will give you some idea of what it’s like here.”

After they reached Turkmenistan and cleared customs, Casey Peterson’s brother Griffin uploaded this photo to their website with just the one-word caption, “Deserted.”

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