"Goooooooooooood morning Ralliers!" is what we woke up to being blasted over a megaphone. The emcee of the rally was riding around in his white suit on a monkey bike forcing everyone to wake up at 7am. It was here. The launch of the 2017 Mongol Rally had finally arrived.
A lot of teams headed out to the race circuit (a 2 min drive away) quite early. We packed our tents, rearranged our roof box then had a breakfast burger. Teams were getting ushered out of the field to the race circuit to be part of the 2017 group photo. We drove out and entered into the tunnel for Goodwood Circuit. Quite a moment. Parking ushers were everywhere directing cars into bays where we'd wait until we could go out onto the race track for our celebratory lap. Our Panda, with her growth spurt, was a bit too high to be parked under the awning so we were asked to park in the middle. We jumped out of the car to get a view of the circuit from the spectators platform. Quite nice to see a massive bunch of mums and dads who had come to see their kids commence the dumbest road trip of their lives. Bit of a distance for our parents to travel! The big group photo followed quite quickly. The emcee bloke in his white suit gathered us all and had the professional rally photographer snap us. Fortunately we were down the front so can just make out our tiny faces among 500 others.
Next up came the rally awards ceremony. Every year a team is awarded the 'most pimped out vehicle' award. This years honour went to a team of Scotsmen who'd made their fine tin can into a Scottish Highland cow. She's furry and fine. A bunch of 'grandmas' were hanging around congratulating the winners in the ceremony and giving them all slobbery kisses (we assume they were hired by the Adventurists to add some life to the launch). The next award was for the the most inappropriate vehicle, and therefore the most suitable for the rally. This was for the team that truly embraced the spirit of the Mongol rally, that is, a completely shite car they most likely won't make it. The award went to two UK teams who are travelling as a convoy. They're driving Morris Minors! As they collected their awards they explained that they'd already broken down five times on the way to the rally. May the odds be ever in their favour! The next award was for the team that had raised the most money for Cool Earth. Two older gentleman received this one having raised over 1,600 pounds. They were quite well dressed. The emcee joked that the money had probably come from their own pockets. Finally, the last award was given to the team that hadn't embraced the spirit of the mongol rally and had bought a car larger than 1.2litre. This went to two young guys who could barely speak any English. They were asked to make their way down to the front. The crowd unanimously started chanting "shame, shame, shame" as they made their way down. It was revealed they'd bought a 1.6litre car for the rally, for shame! These two young blokes are going to have a very hard time getting to Mongolia after breaking the rules. They are now required to take a full sized exercise bike with them that's painted gold. God speed to these young guys! That's what happens when you cheat folks!
Finally, the time had come to jump into our cars and do our lap of Goodwood Circuit. We jumped into our noble steed and drove toward the traffic ushers. We passed Matt and Will, a puppy at the race track! Matts family had brought with them their little nine week old puppy! Natalie and Haylee were all over him before hopping back into the car. We turned the corner and there she was, the starting line of Goodwood Circuit. Not many people can say they've done a lap of Goodwood. We'd finally made it! Our little Panda was ready to go, covered in junk with four Aussies cramped inside. We waited in line until the traffic usher called us forward. Everyone was on their car horns causing a fantastic racket. Off we went! Driving a slow 60kms around a race track! Team members were hanging out their windows taking footage and photos, others were literally sitting in the roof trays of their cars. One team we passed literally had their windscreen smashed in. Equipment that had flown off cars lay littered all over the road including a Canadian neck pillow. An all male team promptly brown eyed us as we drove past them towards the end. Our lap was over too quickly and we pulled up next to a Belgian team. Quite surprising though, they were all young women! They explained to us they're the first all girl Belgian team to do the rally. Girl power! James asked them if they had any tools and spanners with them, they replied "yes of course, but we do not know how to use them".
We made our way out of the race track waving to countless parents and granny's. We drove all but five minutes before pulling into a Halfords (car store) to pick up some stuff. Funnily enough four other teams including Miranda's team from Adelaide had also elected to do a little shopping in the first ten minutes of their drive to Asia. Following our little shopping expedition we drove to Dover to catch our ferry across to France. Every other team was heading to the same destination, which of course meant a highway full of incredibly slow ridiculous looking vehicles. We arrived at Dover around 2:30pm, despite having a flexible ticket we were allocated to the 4pm ferry to Dunkirque which was the ticket we'd booked. Several other Rally teams were also lined up for the same ferry. As we had time to kill we ate a late lunch at the ferry terminal then returned to the car. A UK team behind us explained that our car and theirs have been told to wait at boarding until they load the trucks and caravans as both our vehicles were too high. We entered with all the camper vans and parked.
Two hours of sitting around in the ferry followed until we arrived at Dunkirque, France, at 7pm. Belgium bound we started our two hour journey on the French highways, we were now driving in a right hand vehicle on the wrong side of the road. The best part about driving a crazy tiny small with a shitload of stuff on it is that you get a lot of thumbs up from random drivers. They most likely were saying behind closed doors, "they think they're going to get that car to Mongolia?" We eventually had to pull over to get petrol. This is where we met our first little frustrating speed bump. The weird thing about French servos is that they're not attended by any staff. You simply pre pay by credit card and fill up. We pulled into one that continually declined all five of our credit cards. We were very low on fuel and couldn't afford to go any further. Luckily there was another around the bend so we drove there. Same deal! Five credit cards declined. A man was nearby with his girlfriend filling up so we explained to him our troubles, he watched our cards get declined. We asked him if he could use his card then reimburse him. Super fortunate that he agreed to this.
Tank full we continued on to Charleroi where Cedric, our legend of a homestay host was waiting for us. One of our straps got loose on the roof tray and was flying in the wind so we had to pull over and fix it up. The next two hours was quite uneventful save for the fact that we could barely get past 100kms which meant we arrived in Charleroi around 10pm. We felt terrible making poor Cedric wait up for us all night. He was a legend of a bloke. He let us park in his little secure driveway and explained that his car will be gone in the morning as he leaves for work at 5am. We told him we hadn't had any dinner so he told us of a Maccas and a place called Quick nearby. He then offered to drive us there as it's a 2km walk. Legend! We all ordered take away and Cedric then drove us back to his house. His house is three levels so we dug into our very late dinner on the bottom level in his dining room. We must have looked ravenous, shoving the burgers in our mouths. Mostly we just wanted to get to bed and let poor Cedric finally rest up after waiting for us for so long (we'd originally estimated to get there at 9pm). Cedric gave us all a bottle of Belgian beer and also gave Haylee some Belgian chocolate liquor. Yummo! He then showed us all the second level of his home which would be our sleeping area. Cedric pumped up a large double bed and gave us two couches to sleep on. Once again, legend! He even trusted us enough to leave the keys and explain how to lock up the house in the morning as he'd already be gone to work. Couldn't have asked for a better set up in beautiful Belgium! We plugged in all our electronics to get some juice in them then jumped into bed ready for an eight hour drive to a small town on the border of Germany and Austria tomorrow.