Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ghengis Would Be Proud

And the Texan team rolls across the border, much less triumphantly than we expected, having already celebrated our arrival into Mongolia without realizing that there are a good 20 kilometers between the borders....
But first, we catch up because while less has transpired than one might expect between the Romanian-Ukrainian and Russian-Mongolian border, our adventurous selves have encountered quite a bit. After waiting in Romania, and waiting, we managed to track down our package (who's ever heard of TNT shipping?) and jumped for joy (literally) when the package was delivered via an orange hatchback VW as promised. We then sped off as quickly as possible, now down to two weeks to arrive at Ulan Bataar, hoping that we could gun it to the border and take 8 days to cross the slowly developing mountains and deserts of Mongolia. We said goodbye to the incredibly helpful Peace Corps Volunteer, Jack, to whom we owe immense gratitude for the help, hospitality and opportunity to shower, and made it to the Ukrainian border by nightfall, stopping to argue only a little about the validity of our note, giving us privelege to drive a car in someone else's name, since it was not in Russian, or English, but rather Spanish. The border guards asked us if we had narcotics, inquired when the last time we were in Paraguay was, chuckled and waved us by, without any need to bribe them, as every local had done, or the need to strip search our car.
Upon crossing the border, we immediately stopped to ask about car taxes or vignettes or whatever they wanted to call them, and the first gas station attendant we found
directed us to a police officer, the last person we wanted to speak with, and his response? No, no need if you'll only be here for two days, but if a cop stops you, and here he pointed directly at his own badge, just pay them off with a little bit of money, he said. Very surprising indeed, but we didn't question his authority, and drove on, reaching the nearest town, an ATM and a gas station for directions and a map. There, already nearing 11 pm, one attendant was drunk and we got along well in Russian, while the other kind woman, a linguist, kept James and Chris conversationally engaged for nearly an hour. We parted ways, having gained one map, three sodas, and directions on our map to the border.
One night's rest later, having slept in our ever comfortable car to avoid dogs and drunks, we began the longest trip of our lives, to continue for nearly 100 hours. We hit the highway to Kiev and spotted the Mongol Rally travellers with drivers on the wrong side of the car and large stickers touting their adventure. We stopped with them for a few minutes, telling our story and hearing about misadventures and plans - pretty exciting for us, who are somewhat of Mongol Rally lackies, never getting into the race but being all about the spirit of it. People planned to stay in Kiev and we planned to drive on through the night into Russian and wherever the highways took us, so we pushed on and said our goodbyes, reaching the border around 12 am, after a stop for dinner and another interactions with more ralliers.

Other Ralliers, originally uploaded by wanders.

The border went more smoothly than we imagined, with a cute and kind passport inspector laughing at James' moustache and waving us on, but alas we reached the car customs sections where the first response to our Spanish note was "No, back to Ukraine" which we continued to hear for 45 minutes as I stood there and asked every question I could possibly think of to postpone that trip back across the border. Finally, somehow, miraculously, when all the correct stars had aligned, and I looked more pathetic than one of those cats in a jar, the officer more sincerely considered our note, asked me to translate a bit, which was hard with such rusty Russian still spewing out of my mouth. Then, despite all odds and rational thoughts, he says OK, he says we can pass, he says he shall spare us our lives, on the condition that we get a translation in Russia, otherwise the police will arrest us.
We pass, we cross, we cheer, we roar, we are pulled over for speeding. Here-in lies the smooth talking and the swindling they do because it took an hour to agree that 500 dollars was a ridiculous fee and that we should be allowed to go for $50, an ipod nano, and a digital compass. Little did he know, despite his attempts to scare me with the threat of taking my licence, he could easily have arrested me for not having a car in my name, so I personally think we did alright, considering all the factors at play there.
This, however, scared the bejeezuz out of all of us, and inspired the following three day straight drive across Russia. We saw a few cities, but only when we couldn't go around them and got lost inside, almost feinted every time we saw a police officer, and ate whatever junk food the gas stations sold, luckily open 24 hours, so we needn't stop to wait for gas ever.

Russian Gas, originally uploaded by wanders.

We got to the border of Mongolia Monday at 6:30, only to discover that the border closed at 6pm and that lines were long and slow. We finally stopped, slowed down, and even ate some food at the local shack/restaurant, hanging out with an incredibly cool Swiss couple who were first in line. Well, to shorten the story for now, we crossed the Russian border at 11am on Tuesday, waited again for four hours at the Mongolian border, and managed to clear customs without a single snag around 5pm, hauling ass towards the nearest town where we could refuel on gas and food. The roads, or not-roads as we might as well call them, proved too much for poor Leo, who had already taken a beating when we sped down bumpy asphault in eastern Russia. Suspension did not make it. I drove the first 50 kilometers, averaging around 12 miles an hour, meanwhile Chris and James climbed on top of the car, finally discovering that our suspension was shot and it would be impressive to make it to Olgii, 100 km past the border, without the back axle falling off. We drove slow, stumbled upon some young men hunting on their day off, and after they somehow borrowed our battery to start their car, we rolled off with them and the possibility to ditch our car with them. Since then we have worked out a deal for a ride to Ulan Bataar on Saturday, and tentatively planned to stick around here til we see the reported solar eclipse that should occur Friday night, something we didn't expect but don't plan on missing - once you pass the mountains east of is, you can't see it, so we don't want to head off to the capital of Mongolia too soon, but still soon enough for Chris and James to catch their flight on Wednesday.
For now, we have been invited into the home of an older brother, who has helped and fed us, Chris is sick, James and I just tried some Mongolian Marmot meat, and everything is new and amazing, at least until I get those stomach pangs myself. Cheers from the over-hospitable world of Mongolia.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Russian Flight

Last you heard we were stuck in Romania? No longer, my friends. The epic team, Iberian Jalopy Seeks Mongolia, does as it promised and seeks Mongolia. Two borders have been crossed. The Russian Bear has been breached. The car cannot be stopped (that's why we are replacing the break pads as we speak - it got too dangerous).

Celebrating our package, originally uploaded by wanders.

A long conversation at the border about the validity of a Spanish letter allowing us to drive someone else's car in Russia, we cross, we get stopped, we get searched, we get blackmailed. I pay up.
Conclusion - we don't want to be in Russia, so we are driving, nonstop, through this place, stopping simply to pee and switch drivers (back seat nappers hate moving taking the wheel) and eating tuna fish sandwiches and prianiki (Russian pastries) as we pass city after city and avoid cop after cop, hoping to escape the inevitable drain such interactions will bring on our bank accounts. So we press on, attempting to cross, unscathed, though overstressed, into Mongolia tomorrow (Monday, but maybe Tuesday - we are now 12 hours ahead of Texas), skipping Kazakhstan and any potential for border disputes. Ukraine held the first nine Mongol Rally cars that we encountered, followed, confused and passed, but that's a story for another time. Chris awaits, trying to understand the Russians fixing our car.
Bumpy, washed out dirt roads of Mongolia here we come!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Orlando among Transylvanian Peaks

At Plaiu Foii, our second campsite among the peaks of Piatra Crailui, near Zarnesti (thanks John)

Not Afraid of Transylvania

Leaving Piatra-Neamt again, this time very sure that our envelope/key to Ukraine was not coming to bail us out until after the weekend (5 days), we scoured the Transylvanian countryside for adventure and found some, including more roads leading to campfires and mountains. We found an NGO for Jono (YAY!) and I talked to an American Peace Corps Volunteer about his work in Transylvania, meaning he had to use both the romantic Romanian and more often the cryptic Hungarian tongue to communicate. He had done a lot of work with ecotourism, even getting a grant to build small Nepalese Biogas Plants which harness farm waste to heat houses. I was impressed and inspired by the work being done there, getting the itch to keep talking to people along the way, particularly as our coming countries could use plent of help. With his recommendation of Transylvanian pizza ("not great, but they make a lot of it") backing our decision, we drove off to the next town past Odorhei Secuiesc (don't ask how to spell the names in Hungarian unless you want to faint) and sat in a restaurant (Thats right!), ate some delicious pizza and tried to finish the local alcoholic beverage, Tuica: a so-called plum brandy that no one could stomach without the addition of seltzer water and some lemon.

Continuing on, we wound up the most beautiful road in... Romania? Europe? Planet Earth? It was awe-inspiring, designed to allow troops to escape a potential German infiltration, but for us serving primarily to get us half way up the mountain before we started trekking toward the tallest peak in Romania: Mount Moldeavu. Intense hiking, with ropes and no shortage of hand-holds, was interrupted once for the best lunch we had ever had on a windy ridge. We ran out of water before reaching what James' watch reported to be a higher peak than Moldeavu and turned around, but not before Chris extended the invitation for me to go at it alone, up that high peak, still three hours out, returning to Chris and James, who would wait back at the car with dinner ready. I grabbed a water bottle (already empty) and fought the rational thoughts holding me back only to crap out on account of my two friends who would be lost without my wit and eating abilities. We turned back and at the car watched jealously as one chubby kid zipped down a wire line at least five times, hoping our Romanian Nutella (too much sugar) was sweeter than the wind blowing past his ears while he descended. Finetti (chocolate-hazelnut spread) finished, we drove through the mountain tunnel, finding it ugly but scary, turned around and after driving through it again, descended the mountain, apalled that bikers would attempt the same windy road powered by zero petroleum products (unless, what was that in their water bottles?). We camped that night with a medium fire, collected in the poopy woods behind the campsite (Romanians use pink toilet paper, making it easier to spot, thankfully).
Next day found us wandering Brasov in the rain, grabbing a few needed items (groceries, postcards) and heading out before we knew it, towards Zarnesti, a fine national park of rocky mountains. We stayed there, met some Austians (who shared their extra bratwurst - perfect dessert for a rice and beans dinner) and, as I speed through the last of our adventures, losing steam as I go, hiked up some more steep steep mountains, guided by cables and our hands as we lugged salami, cheese, and bread up to an incredible view of the town and plateaued mountain peaks. Before returning to Piatra-Neamt to wait, with hope, upon our car registration and letter to allow our entry into Ukraine, we stopped at a river, bathed, washed some clothes, and made a tremendous fire late into the night (that means 10:15 these days), sleeping incredibly well in the warmth of lower atmospheres. Driving in to town this morning, we all almost died instantly of fear when our road turned from paved to pot-holey gravel despite our 80 km/hr velocity. We survived, got back on a paved road, and learned how nice it is to have asphault, something we can only really count on until our last 2,000 kilometers or so in Mongolia. And with that, and the overshortened story that we got pulled over but only with a warning that we were going too fast(on paper) and a warning that we hadn't paid the road tax (wagged finger), we are (should be) off, aspring to the heights of 1,000 kilometers a day, getting us into our destination country with enough time to lose, break, eat, and see something before the ever foreboding Kelly-Lieb bros' flight back draws the last chapter of this adventure to a close.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Attempting the Why

I have come up with an answer to the question "Why are you driving to Mongolia?" while pondering in our car, as Romanian showers fell on our metal roof: excerpt as follows.
Answer? "In seek of adventure!" We have hit countless European countries by storm, flying through them at 120 kmh. The garden of Europe and we're romping right through, not appreciating every bug, but seeing the flowers we pass, allowing a detour to climb a tree; as our bang before we fizzle off our restless carbonation we want a romp. We do not feel like sauntering through museums, we'd rather climb on the sculptures. Europe has been our playground and we seek the jungle gyms of Eurasia, the tangled web of Post-Soviet borders and on to the Gobi Sandbox, to play with horses and desert bears. We care not for reservations or train tickets. On a whim we enter Romania detouring a mere 50 kilometers (more of the border guard's whim than our own to be honest). Our car is the ticket to vast countrysides, gorges, rivers, traffic, gas taxes, and mountaintop views. And so we seek Mongolia, but not simply the destination, more the journey and possibly the ride of our lives.

Romania Continues

While waiting til Monday to actually enter civilization again, we uncovered a website leading us to the Transylvania climbing in the Cheile Turzii (Turzi Gorge?), which was hard to find but even harder to fathom - disgustingly beautiful gorge filled to the brim with Romanian tourists, one woman even hiking the trail in her high heels, and crawling with climbers.
Cheile Turzii
We stumbled upon two local boys, Steve and Constantine, quick to offer their climbing guidance, grabbed the bit of gear we had and headed off to touch some rock. They belayed Chris up an easy climb, told us about the Romanian countryside, paused to consider my request to lead a climb myself, and then let me scale the wall, carrying my rope us as I went, risking life and limb and eventually forgetting (as always) to turn around at the top to take in the view before being lowered back down. These guys hooked us up, offering to show us everything and let us climb whatever we wanted, but we were all tuckered out already. That night we said our goodbyes, escaping a potential night at a bar to eat our rice and beans with a rigged up mini-pot support system and a free campsite, with permission even!
Beer advertisement? No, dinner.
The next morning, we grabbed two bags of water bottles and cameras, trekking back onto the well beaten trail in search of the Hungarian Cave, the largest cave in Romania, so Constantine said. We got lost, clambered up a rock slide, gave up and headed down the nearest trail, only to begin climbing uphill- what's this? - and on to - could it be? - the HUNGARIAN CAVE! Score! It was beautiful and provided cool shade from the sun, which beat down on our dehydrated necks as we brought bottles but planned to get water from a spring we had not reached before turning off the trail. We each downed 500 mL (yeah, that's right - metric system) and then headed back uphill for a view Constantine had also recommended. Tired again, we headed downhill, just fast enough for Chris to fall, scrape, slide, bounce and land on his feet, looking down at a large clump of hair and skin left on the outjutting rock. Gross. We got help from a first aid carrying climber, meanwhile I tried to inquire about where climbing was near the Hungarian Cave only to be scolded for trying to climb without proper equipment (I hadn't even done anything yet). I think that when you roll up with one team member already bloody, people doubt your responsibility.
We ate some lunch in the shade of a fine tree, wolfed down some ice cream and then attempted a dip in the river, which was only half a meter deep (metric!). I promptly sat in the water and rinsed a bit of my four day stench off, while Chris and James sauntered slowly back and forth along the edge of the water, hesitating a bit. We left, much, well a little cleaner, all shirtless as our clothes hung out the car to dry in the Romanian sun. A mega-super-ultra-store later and James had the tackiest sandals ever and I got excited to try Romania's version of Nutella - Finetti. When Monday rolled around, we headed to the nearest city to find an address for this car registration and permission letter to be mailed to. The post office was quick to shut their window as soon as our postcards had stamps, not interested in any other questions from us, so we headed to information. A very very kind Iona, who spoke terrific English, said we could have our things mailed to her, but that overnight would take at least two days. We are passing a week here now, awaiting a package that has yet to be airmailed from the Basque Country, but holds the tickets to the rest of our trip. Its looking like an optimistic Friday or realistic Monday departure from Romania towards the vast Soviet countryside and I still don't know a single word in this language. We met a Peace Corp volunteer here, Jack, and after two days (one very eventful, one rainy) we have returned to Piatreneamt (our post-worthy city) to take him up on his couch offer - maybe even a shower and some cleaned pants?
The area of our two day detour was another gorge, recommended by an Austrian we camped by before hitting up this city, and full of interactions with the Germans we met at the gorge. We sat around a campfire (finally!!) and shared stories with the kind hearted chaps from near Leipzig only to wake up to a rainy Sunday where they had missed their bus. Yours truly took one for the team and wound around these wet mountainous roads, scared of risking not only mine and Leao's life, but also that of the four Germans recklessly bestowing me with their safety as well. We made it to town, one liter of petrol left in the car (~1/3.8 gallons) and I made $15! "Youll need it," the Germans assured me, and I wound back down the twisty roads toward my Kelly-Lieb brothers, realizing on my way that these 40 kilometers were the furthest we had been apart in three weeks.So here we sit, fully detoured and domesticated, hoping for the phone call to tell us our papers are in the trustworthy hands of a Spanish postal worker. Six thousand kilometers does not yet sound like enough for the trip to stop here, so rest assured fair reader, we shall find a way to continue and triumph over the seemingly unconquerable Ukrainian road.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

eger winery

eger winery, originally uploaded by wanders.

Hungary for Romanian Countryside

Departing from Croatia, we reentered the European Union with much less hassle than expected - first guard simply confirmed the US insignia on the front of our passports and the second set of guards laughed to eachother about this new American dream of driving to Mongolia - and into Hungary! We stopped just inside our new haven and without a non-Euro penny to our names proceeded to try to find housing around the intimidatingly large Balaton Lake, but failed to actually find swimmable waters and after rejecting the idea of camping next to a small oil rig, found a plot to set up camp on. The next morning we headed into Budapest, again rising somewhere around 5:30 due to the rising sun insisting on poking its head up earlier and earlier as we headed West, no one yet interested in changing time zones.
Budapest signs directed us toward an information hub - travelling again with simply the map in our European Road Atlas - which only offered hotel info, but did guide us to a bank so we could load up on kuna and fuel. After discovering the conversion rate and starting to heavy our tank, we were appalled at a one hundred dollar gas bill and stopped the tap early. Turns out a 65 euro bill was just as hefty only we had never paused to calculate its dollar value.
Full of gas, we parked by the Parliament, wandered around, found a bookstore to replace my recently lost moleskin journal (and credit card which I promptly cancelled four days later - don't worry no charges yet) and check on the info about our couchsurfing host that night, and generous Italian who allowed us to shower AND wash our clothes! Budapest was beautiful and reaching our budget in prices, and following a morning romp up to a castle, we departed for the Hungarian countryside and some sites we had found in our host's Lonely Planet guide (yes, we caved).

new plans in romania, originally uploaded by wanders.

Egger was an amazing town with some old castle remnants we walked around but not into and some amazing wine stored in a cellar so oldly constructed and anciently named that noone can date either occurrence. This proved perfect in providing us with an enormous 2L bottle of red wine that was actually tasty which later soothed our wounds when upon reaching the Ukrainian border we found them unwilling to accept our temporary registration for the car. New plan - wander the Romanian countryside and maybe even Transylvania while we pass the weekend and await paperwork being sent from the ever helpful Elias Uria family in the Basque Country.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

croatian caving site

croatian caving site, originally uploaded by wanders.

Iberian Jalopy Seeks Mongolia

Stolen from slate's four word anthology, we have a slogan and a team name, I confidently report from the slowest internet cafe in Croatia (pronounced from the back of the throat). I last left from Switzerland, headed toward the fine country of Czech Republic with its romantic architecture and people. Many drives filled with laughs, naps, Hercules Theme, and I'm Yours beats have covered a third of our trip already. Peaking around 28 miles per gallon (all calculations done by hand from kilometers and liters), the 1990 Renault has proven itself already, and we intend to push it further than it ever imagined travelling in six weeks. Recent bets have been made as to the final final odometer reading upon entering Ulan Bataar, Mongolia, where someone will pay dearly for losing (more news when the bet is done).
Leaving some of the most hospitable hosts anyone had ever encountered, we crossed the Swiss-Austrian border with not only three days of water, but a universal power adapter, Switzerland's finest version of a leatherman, and full bellies from the kindess of Thomas and Antonia Kuettel. Our disguises, however did not relieve us from the duty of sharing our passports. No insurance check yet though. We entered Munich around lunchtime, found free parking at a broken lot, and wandered into the old town.
We left the old town, a little lost due to my poor sense of direction which walked us through a construction site, but a little rich due to my directing us to a free parking garage. Olympic park!!! We wandered through this historic landmark not sure why it was still there, amazed by the buildings and structures. We meandered over to the map of the area, considered a few things to see and realized that it was 3pm and we had another 200 km to cover before Prague, our evening destination. Skipping Dachau, we floored it for Prague, seeing a few gas stations and finally the border, where we loaded up on the honeyest, grossest cookies I've ever eaten nutella on. Still delicious when hungry. We met up with my friend Rachel Pole, saw a bar and then called it a night.
The next day, waking up outside Prague at a campsite where everyone had paid much more than we had, we rolled back into the city and the same parking spot - free on weekends. We ran through the city, seeing every site, and pausing only briefly for lunch at the sculpture garden near the Charles Bridge. I learned the lesson of guiding us too quickly when we ended the day exhausted and overwhelmed with memories of buildings, statues and couples wandering through squares. Rachel drank a beer with us atop the hill, looking down on the city, meanwhile we broke the news that we were ready to leave Prague and the city life to head for the country and some free camping. Fondest memory of Prague? The statues at the castle of a man beating another with a huge club. Awesome!
Free camping rarely exists, but we find it nonetheless, this time in a field outside Benesov and a crumbling castle we aspired to climb around, but lost interest in. The next day we woke up frozen, regretting the plan to sleep outside - my bivy sac is not as luxurious as I once thought, filling with condensation when the outside temperature drops below the inside temperature and dew point causes a change of state... thermodynamics in short.
Crossing the Austrian border, loaded up with duty free mini Snickers and Gummie Bears, we visited Eggenburg, purely for the name, drove by various humous sounding names and concluded that one day we would all return and found Burgerschlong, the ultimate Austrian city, full of tall beers and free camping, again lacking in this country. Vienna proved the opposite of everything we were looking for in a city, in terms of affordability, weather and convenience. We got lost, spent half our budget on parking, and got rained on. The buildings were architectural beauties, but we wasted no focus, energy, or money on museums, cruising instead through the courtyards and posing near statues. After an encounter with an internet cafe, I led the troops to a non-profit, more specifically the International Community of Sustainable Development. When we finished getting lost and eating lunch to give me courage, an older man opened the door to his apartment, and in moderate English informed me that his daughter was the organizer but was not in. I guess I found the non-physical organization. Something else to note. I'm still proud to have knocked, even if I have little to show for it.
From there we searched out the Pol Tollau National Park, visited our fourth church and camped pretty conspicuously on the top of hill while a pastor drove his smart car by a few times. When it started raining, we set a record for erecting the tent and recorded our stories from the previous nights on James' voice recorder. The next day embarking for Croatia proved rainy again, but successful. We drove down to the Plitvice Waterfalls, but didnt spend for the entrance ticket. Today we headed back to Zagreb, discovered we couldn't meet up with my friend Jon and now Ive run out of minutes. Pictures are at flickr.com/photos/jsanders. Couldnt post them. More to come.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

First Leg

Our sturdy Renault 21, now named Leo by his three fearless conductors, has hurled us over 2,000 kilometers to just outside of Zurich, Switzerland. As soon as our boy, Kerry, with Geico insurance emailed us our contract, we slammed it through the printer and took off without a second thought. Those second thoughts arose as Maite, my host sister, dropped us off at the car, quizzing us on European road signs. We hopped in, however, and after finding ourselves going the wrong direction, we turned the jalopy and headed south, toward Barcelona.
green shade, originally uploaded by wanders.
After a bit of car trouble, we cleared things up, bought a European road atlas - Google Maps directions in Spanish are confusing - filled the tank at nearly seven dollars a gallon, and sped off, paying toll after toll after toll. As the sun set on the wind turbine littered horizon, we decided not to pull into Barcelona, where we knew of no couches or hostels, and instead pulled off the side of the toll road and slept in the car, near two other people on the ground in sleeping bags. Worst night of sleep ever. We have checked that off the to-do list and plan on strictly camping in our future.
Barcelona without a map or guide book was impressive, bustling with tourists and markets (this was a Saturday) and we left our free parking space at the end of the day loaded with groceries and pictures of the city and its many McDonalds (we managed to find every three of the Gaudy pieces in the city on accident). This time we asked around for sleep arrangements, only to find that the Spanish definition of camping, is a field to park and sleep in, accessorized with a pool, tennis court, gazeebos and French maids (maybe a little exaggerated) which exceeded our financial constraints (due to our car costs, living expenses must remain below 23€ a day). Finally we landed at the Alberg, asking about rooms, and eventually pleading to let us stay on their land. The woman at the desk eventually took us as her illigetimate children, letting us eat dinner, breakfast, and stay for free. I guess dishevelled is not always a bad look?
The next day we wound through the Pyrenees some more, stopping once to get an intense speedy video shot of us barelling back down the mountain at 25 mph. We crossed into Andorra, a made up country between Spain and France designed exclusively for cheap commerce in the summer (and skiing in the winter) and loaded up on Nutella, winning a free Simpsons watch in the process. After getting stuck with a flooded engine at a weird pull off full of friendly horses (we still have horse drool on our window) we rolled downhill, roared Leo up and started coasting back down these Pyrenees and out of Andorra. A sketchier night in France included avoiding camping costs by hiking up a trail and pitching our Walmart tent a kilometer from town.

On a fine Monday morning, our jalopy roared down non-toll roads, averaging around 40 mph, but saving us oodles of money. We arrived in Grenoble, a climbing hub we heard about in the Basque Country, and found a parking spot, while I bet James that by the third person I asked, I could discern the location of a climbing store. As soon as I placed our payed parking ticket in the windshield, I turned to find a man walking with climbing shoes hanging off his backpack. Who knew he'd speak wonderful English and direct us to the store, internet, and a grocery store? This town was full of beautiful and friendly people. Are you entitled to be mean if you're French and attractive? Grenoble say "NO MONSIEUR!" We eventually found the store, with a little more help, got directions to some bouldering nearby, overheated Leo for a sec and were off, cruising the countryside of the French Alps, looking for our gravel road turn off. An amazing waterfall, some boulders and one jug of wine later, we left Grenoble rejuvenated and ready to conquer the Swiss autobahns. Story shortened, we ate lunch in Geneva, jumped on the highway, and pushed Leo up to 120 kmh to find Fabio outside of Zurich in his house with electricity, water, television, internet and cold beer. A gracious gracious host, including his father Thomas and his incredible help with the car and terrific meals, and his mother Antonia, baking and driving us around with Italian gusto.
Two police confrontations, seat-belt-less in the car, sorted out by Fabio's smooth talking, and crossing the Swiss-German border to see a beautiful lake at Konstanz, and we found our gruff appearance disadvantageous. New plan - shave to mislead the officials into believing we might just be upstanding European citizens. We all took different approaches to this facial hair conundrum, all arriving at a solution involving a moustache, much to eachother's amusement. The result, as you see is an unstoppable set of disguises that should allow us to sneak across to Eastern Europe.
Next stop: Praga and the fourth of July!!