I signed for the Mongol Rally at the beginning of 2019 and started the adventure in mid July. It took me a total of 70 days to go to Mongolia and come back to Spain. I crossed 27 countries and did about 30,000 km in a 125cc motorcycle.
I chose a 2004 Honda Varadero 125 cc as this was the main requirement of the rally. This is a solid bike over engineered in every facet. Mine was a carburatted version which featured a larger fuel deposit and at least to me easier to fix with fewer resources.
The bike came with some goodies like crash bars, auxiliary LED lights, central stand, plastic top box and a 12 volt input. I added USB charging, custom made skid plate, spare sprocket to be changed without cutting chain, custom made ignition switch, additional mudguard and saddle bags supports from a Transalp.
This little Honda did not dissapoint me in my whole trip. The only problems I had was the front brake disc which deformed due to overheating and the rear brake cylinder which had to be repaired in Russia. I changed the chain and sprockets also on my way back in Moscow just to be safe. If I had to highlight something it would be how resistant it proved to be with bad quality 80 octane fuel while undergoing the Pamirs at 4000 meters of altitude. The engine made funny noises but kept going and never had any problem other than poor performance. I did not even get a puncture in the whole 30,000 Km.
What is even funnier is how people along the way reacted along the way when I told them this was a 125 cc bike. In Mongolia I found a Japanese shop whose owner just couldn’t believe it. It seems that this bike was only intended for Europe due to license restrictions and nobody passed the EU have ever heard of it.
If you go to Mongolia and you are planning on saving money in accomodation come prepared. I managed to fit a big tent for me and the bike, sleeping bag, sleeping mattress, cooking set and utensils, spare parts including tires and a small jerry can, few clothes, food, water and spare parts for the bike. Oh yes, also some tools including a small air compressor, chain cutter, spark plug socket and all needed tools to perform maintenance and electrical diagnostics. I tried to keep this to a minimum though due to weight reasons. For the rider, I brought the typical adventure jacket, trousers and boots plus rain clothing.
Because of the nature of the rally I could only visit few landmarks. Everyday regardless of weather or stamina I had to cover a minimum distance of 250 km on average. Most of days the distance was much more. Only in countries with poor infrastructure I covered less being these mainly Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. I was however, able to experience each location I was in at a human level. All locals were incredibly hospitable and helpful every time I stopped and showed great interest on my trip and my wellbeing. This being said these were the main attractions I was visiting on my trip:
- Pyrenees via D118 road
- Carcasonne Castle
- Crossed Alps from Gap to Turin
- Prague’s oldtown
- Budapest’s Fisherman’s Bastion
- Forts and ruins on the road bordering Bulgaria
- Vlasina lake
- D915 road towards Rize
- Akhaltsikhe castle
- Lake Goygol
- Gobustan mud volcanoes
- Darvaza crater
- Aral Sea from Muynak side
- Samarkand’s Registan
- Pamir highway from Korog to Murghab
- Kolivanskoye lake
- Altai mountains Russian side
- Gobi dessert (Gobi Gurvan Saikhan)
- Lake Baikal
Where did I sleep?
While in Europe I was able to stay at some of my friends living in different countries. Passing Germany I started to go to camping locations. In Prague I did couch surfing for the first time. In Serbia I stayed in a hostel and also wild camped. In Greece and most of Turkey I also wild camped for the exception of Istambul and Ankara which I visited staying in a hostel and also couchsurfing. In Azerbiajan I stayed in a guest house I booked in Booking. In Turkmenistan I was able to find the only 15 dollar place available in Ashgabat as all hotels are 5 star complexes. I also camped one night in Darvaza to see the Gates of Hell crater. In Uzbekistan I got food poisoned and had to stay in probably on of the best hostels I have been in the trip in Nukus. I also had to camp one night on my way to Samarkand where I stayed another couple of nights to solve my Tajikistan visa. In Tajikistan I was offered shelter two nights at random locations one being a petrol station and the other a restaurant. In Kirguizstan I camped at 3000 metres of altitude and reached bellow zero temperatures. The next day to that I had to stay at a hostel due to rains. Crossing into Russia I camped one day at a lake next to a guy’s house who offered me his shotgun so we coud go hunting next day in his zodiac. In Russia again I found hospitality in a rural area when it was too dark to continue. A family offered me their place and a good dinner when they found me desperately knocking at their property. Mongolia was perhaps the place in which I camped the most. It took me about 8 days to cross the country and it was the first time I stayed in a hotel just before entering the Gobi desert. The remaining days were spent somewhere out there. When I found out I had to go back to Spain again I decided to do it via Siberia but it was already starting to get cold. The only camping day was done at lake Baikal and it was a cold one. The remaining days I stayed at hostels and guest houses until I reached Europe. The weather was getting worse specially in Poland and it really made me fall behind schedule due to strong winds and rains. Only in France was I able to pitch my tent back again and for the last time.
What did I eat?
In every country I got to taste their local cuisine one way or the other. I did bring with me some dehydrated food plus more I bought while on the road. I did also got sick several times for which I strongly recommend to bring some tablets to bring down the effects. One thing that got stuck in my head was Lonely Planet’s catch phrase about Central Asia’s cuisine. Do not go to Central Asia because of food. Cannot agree more. Passing Azerbaijan there is hardly something you will call a favourite. In Uzbekistan I got to taste some nice Borscht but this was only in Nukus and Samarkand. In the remaining countries I went for safe options like chicken and rice but even going safe I got sick. Survival food and isotonic powder is a must for a trip like this. Dehydration is very likely specially in the month of August. I always carried a camel back with 2 litres of water plus a container if I was to camp.
Would I do it again?
Yes but with a big but. Riding a 125 cc has both pros and cons. Because it cannot go fast, you are forced to appreciate the landscape and the people in a country much more than with any other bike. I would not say you are keener to interact with locals but its related. I would not do it again in a 125 due to limitations on where you can go in terms of bad terrain and the lack of power. This was specially noticeable while undertaking the Pamir’s where the bike (and me) suffered the most. Having a bigger bike would have allowed me to try taking the detour via Vanj, to see an alternative side of the Pamirs. The rally has been the adventure of a lifetime and it is important to bear in mind that if you have the willingness to do it, any bike will do!
List of countries I visited in chronological order