My trusty steed
Updated: Apr 27, 2019
It seemed sensible to think about what vehicle to take.
Part of me wanted to go for the grand luxe option of a massive Discovery or Land Cruiser. Seeing the world somewhat imperiously from the vast cockpit in extraordinary comfort was very tempting. My forays into YouTube and blogs of similar trips to the region made me realise that a 4x4 was definitely needed. But 'real ones' are fearfully expensive to buy and Land Rovers are allegedly not at all hot on the reliability front. Also, most of them are diesel powered and in the 'Stans', being largely oil producers, petrol is the favourite tipple for non-commercial vehicles. I read that diesel is not widely available and in places, bribing truck drivers for some fuel from their tank is not unusual. So, a good start to my spec... Petrol engine. I'll also be hundreds of miles from any kind of dealership network able to diagnose and fix the technological bells and whistles in most modern SUVs. The simpler the car is, the more likely it'll be that someone locally can sort some kind of a mend. Ideally then, the car shouldn't be too complicated, electronically.
I have an old Hyundai Sante Fe in France. Registered in 2003 and bought in 2006. It has 200,000kms on the clock, which is more than I would like (to say the least!) but most of it has been thundering down perfectly smooth motorways with very little urban stop/start nonsense. Obviously it will need a proper preparation but the car has been remarkably reliable, despite having to endure so much time in an airport car park where temperatures range from 40 deg in Summer to -15 in Winter. It also has a normally aspirated 2.7L V6 engine. So big and unstressed, although sadly, a bit pig ugly. It's a left hand drive too which makes things easier. All of this justification for the Hyundai gives the impression that I know what I'm about mechanically. Nope! I can change a tyre, check fluids and whack something with a hammer but that's just about it. The car is not worth much money so, if the worst happens, it will be on a single ticket to oblivion.
As well as a proper service including cambelt change, the car has new disc brakes all round and a check for bits that might fall off. There are butch bull bars on the front with oh-so-vital additional spot lamps and new tyres including the spare and another tyre, just in case.. Why, it even has a recent MOT (CT in France). The Aircon will be re-gassed just before leaving. For other comfort items, I fitted a new bluetooth/SD radio/media player to enable music-on-the-go plus a handsfree phone mic. With a new re-spray, the car looks pretty good (at least for a 16 year old Santa Fe!). For the essential expedition look, and to provide extra space inside, I have a cage thingie fitted to the roof. Getting a snorkel (an extended air intake running up the side of the car) seemed a little over the top and I didn't want to get laughed at by proper offroadie folk. I bought a GPS though it may be a bit of a technological challenge to load and convert ex-soviet military maps so Garmin can understand them. It takes videos whenever the car jolts (as in an accident) and beeps loudly when you nod off a bit, supposedly. I think I may turn off that function!
Insurance is compulsory in Europe of course. I'll need an extension for Turkey. In other countries it seems you buy insurance on each border but its mostly third party only with very low liability cover, often of only a few thousand pounds worth.
Driving will be done in daylight hours. Driving standards are pretty low at most times of the day apparently but at night, the dreaded booze takes over and running into a camel, horse or goat is best avoided. There's an additional worry, particularly in Kazakhstan, of the offspring of mega-rich oil oligarchs zooming about with nil regard for others at great speed in super-luxury vehicles. Since they enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the Police, they are best avoided.
I have packed some toys and games for selected kids on the roadsides. Firstly because in some regions there is considerable poverty and secondly, they might keep watch on the car! It is meant to be fairly safe in the 'Stans as far as car theft is concerned but I have fitted locking wheel nuts to avoid being stranded up on bricks! I suspect some parts of eastern Europe may be more prone to that sort of thing so the shortlist of possible accommodation contains only those with private parking.
I wish I could say that I was 100% confident in the car but I'm hopeful. Watch this space!