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‘Our dumbest idea became our best idea ever’

Luca Germani and Abel Spithorst will be cruising from Great Britain to Mongolia in a tiny Fiat Panda. The two international relations master students are participating in the Mongol Rally. ‘We hope it won’t be too easy.’

‘This summer, we’ll be driving a crappy car from Great Britain to Mongolia. We don’t know anything about cars and we won’t have any help. What can go wrong?’ This is how Luca Germani and Abel Spithorst introduce themselves on the Facebook page of their project. The boys from ‘A Cruise of Qings’ are all smiles when it comes to the adventure.

‘We have absolutely no mechanical know-how’
Approximately a year and a half ago, they started talking about potentially joining the Mongol Rally. ‘Luca came up with the idea in the pub. I immediately told him it was the dumbest idea ever’, says Spithorst. ‘But as we thought more about it, it became our best idea ever. But last year, we only had four months left to pull it all together. That was not enough time. So we decided to go a year later.’

For charity

Germani, who is from Rome, explains the principle behind the Mongol Rally: ‘300 teams will be driving to Mongolia starting on 17 July. You have to reach the finish line between 15 August and 15 September. You pay for registration, and part of the money goes to a charity named Cool Earth. That way, we’re giving something back to offset the fact that we’re racing around in old cars. Most of the cars will only have two-wheel drive, and there are other conditions that have to be met as well.’

‘We’re also collecting funds for our trip. This will primarily be to cover our costs: (car) insurance, the costs of the car, our visas. But everything that’s left over will be going to the MS Research Foundation. We both know someone suffering from this disease.’ Spithorst adds: ‘Right now, we’re already about 3,000 euros ahead, but charities can always use more. In exchange, we have a few perks on our website.’

The car that will make it all happen, a Fiat Panda, will be picked up in Italy somewhere over the next few days. ‘It needed a lot of work, and it has been pimped out’, says Germani. ‘The guys at the garage where it is right now participate in rallies themselves. They know exactly what’s needed. Which is good, because we have absolutely no mechanical know-how. We really don’t know much beyond changing a tire. So we need to make friends with the other drivers!’

Bullshit

Getting visas will be the largest job of preparing for the race. ‘It just takes months’, Spithorst laughs. ‘For Turkmenistan, for instance, I have to pay 70 euros to a company with a business location in the Cayman Islands and a bank account in Latvia.’ Germani: ‘When you call for an appointment for a visa for Uzbekistan, for instance, they’ll tell you that they’re open. And when you ask if that means they’ll be able to help you, they’ll tell you, again, that they’re open. So then you still don’t know what’s what.’

‘We’re taking into account that we’ll have to bribe border guards’
The duo is not afraid of ‘dangerous countries’. ‘A lot of people will say that Iran is dangerous, for example’, says Spithorst. Germani: ‘All those worries are bullshit. There are war zones and there are safe zones. We checked out the government travel advice, and all the regions we’ll be travelling through are safe. I don’t believe in the concept of the ‘Clash of Civilisations’. I’m sure 99.9 percent of people will want to help us and get to know us better.’

The pair does realise they will be confronted with strange cultures: ‘We are taking into account that we’ll have to bribe border guards. We might have to wait to cross the border for a really long time, or we’ll arrive on the wrong day. It’s normal there. We’ve made a bribe fund. We won’t keep it all in the same place though, so people don’t ask for all our money at once.’

Sick of each other

Ultimately, Spithorst and Germani hope to travel 500 kilometres a day, which would place them at the finish line in 35 to 40 days. ‘We’re going to get very tired, and sick of each other, too’, says Spithorst. ‘But it won’t be a good story without adversity. Our plan is not to plan everything. We can plan until Turkey, but after that, there are too many unpredictable factors.’

‘My grandparents are typical Italians’, jokes Germani. ‘Very risk averse and caring. Just like my parents, they asked me if I was sure. But they’ve become really enthusiastic.’ Spithorst recognises the attitude: ‘They really like it. Or they might just be great liars.’ Germani: ‘The message is clear. This trip is an amazing adventure. We’re looking forward to it!’

22-06-2016