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Friday, June 29, 2012

The Clock is Ticking....

And the Rally is fast approaching!

For those of you that wanted an update, here’s where we stand:
  • Still missing 2 visas – but our passports are in the Azeri embassy and we are getting our Mongolian visa rushed (thanks to Visa Machine invite letter screwups, we don’t have quite as much time as we would have liked). We are 99% sure we will be good to go by our flight out on July 10.
  • We have a car! Yay! Apparently it runs. We are waiting to hear back from someone on getting a sump guard installed so we actually make it to Mongolia. Looking forward to getting acquainted with our car soon! Thanks to my cousin Nithya for keeping an eye on it.
  • Car Decals are going to be printed next week – we are really excited and grateful that the Loudmouth Printhouse has agreed to do our decals for us! Very kind of them. More on Loudmouth Printhouse in a post to come. My cousin Nandini also designed some of our decals so our car looks extra cool!
  • Sebastien and I have started looking at our route more closely, but it’s still pretty fluid. We’ve figured out the way we want to go until we hit Istanbul. Now we just have to figure out how long and where we want to go in Central Asia.  This place is definitely on the list! Any suggestions for Turkey and the 'stans are appreciated!
  • Another important thing – we’ve made sure to schedule some socializing for the first week and try to meet up with friends we love but don’t get the chance to see much! We’re excited to meet up with friends in London, Antwerp and Prague, in addition to making new friends at the official Mongol Rally parties at Goodwood and Klenova Castle.
  • No, we still haven’t learned any Russian. But we have downloaded a “Learn Russian in the Car” cd, so hopefully we’ll be fluent by the time we get to the former Soviet Republics. Or big goal is to learn the Cyrillic alphabet before we leave so we can read road signs. Clearly, we’ll still get lost, but hopefully slightly LESS lost.
  • Shotskis – all components have been purchased, now I just need to put them together. They will be awesome!
  • Ensuring excellent hair on the road: My friend Nat is going to attempt to Japanese hair straighten my hair on Monday in the comfort of her home. This will ensure that I don’t have a massive unruly mane during the Rally. I did this once in Thailand before travelling in India, and it was awesome! Saved so much time getting ready and looked better in pictures ;) Think…reverse perm. Will report back on the outcome of this endeavour for vanity.
  • Our kit list – we’ve put together a bunch of the essentials: first aid kit, tent, sleeping bag, superglue, pepto, headlamps and wet ones (for those long stretches on dirt roads without a shower for 1,000km). I think we have a pretty good collection of stuff, but if you have any advice on what we definitely should not forget, please feel free to suggest!
  • Sponsors: We are super grateful to our sponsors so far, and are still accepting more! If anyone is interested, let us know and you will get some sweet advertising on our car, blog and Facebook page!
  • Fundraising update: We’ve raised a bit over $7,800 for our charities so far! We’re excited by the progress and hope to hit $10,000 by the end of the trip!

And now – it’s Canada Day long weekend and we are off to a beautiful cottage to celebrate and relax!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thanks to Secret Level Films!

We would like to give a massive thank you to Secret Level Films for their generous support of our Mongol Rally team! 

Secret Level Films is a nimble Toronto-based production company. At its core are Will Cyr [Director/Editor] and Renée de Sousa [Producer].

Will Cyr has edited commercial projects for clients such as Sony, McDonald’s and SubaruHis music video portfolio includes work for Grammy-winning artist SkrillexAs a director, he has collaborated with Juno-nominated band The Midway State.

Renée de Sousa‘s most recent credits include a 10-part documentary series for Radio-Canada and ARTV. She collaborates regularly with the National Film Board of Canada on interactive projects.

Their latest production, ERUPT – Art of Beat Making has been selected by the 2012 Los Angeles Music Video Awards. Check it out, it's pretty awesome!

They have also made this really amazing Ottawa - Summer in 30,000 frames video, which I love to show to my out-of-town friends to convince them to come visit me! 

Besides being two bilingual, creative, intelligent and good-looking people who are ridiculously talented at what they do, they are also good friends of ours. 

Will and Renée were originally planning to come on the Mongol Rally with us, but sadly, work called. As you can imagine...they are in high demand!

In addition to their sponsorship funds, they also provided us with a GoPro camera for the road! Sebastien and I are super excited to experiment with the camera and share the footage with you afterwards of the crazy roads, places and people we encounter. Will and Renée have agreed to help us edit some of the footage, so we are pretty pumped.

Once again, a HUGE HUGE thank you to Secret Level Films and Will and Renée. If any of you have the need for production and post-production services, I highly recommend you check them out!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Big smiles thanks to Central Dental!

We would like to thank Dr. Roland Eid and Central Dental Centre for sponsoring our Rally adventure!!

Dr. Eid is our dentist (and friend), and he is awesome. If you live in Ottawa, Central Dental is conveniently located downtown at 220 Laurier Ave.

Dr. Eid is very friendly, competent and efficient. I've had a number of friends switch to him from their old dentists and they are all 100% satisfied. Central Dental offers basic dental care to the latest techniques in dental aesthetics and progressive technology, such as laser whitening, implants, Invisalign®, and Lumineers®, for optimal dental health and a beautiful smile!

The dental hygienists are also amazing and personable. They really make you feel comfortable. They also process your claims for you so that you only have to pay the difference. So convenient.

I would highly recommend Central Dental to anyone, and hope some of you make the switch! Here's their information:

Central Dental Centre
220 Laurier Ave W.Suite 102
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 6L5
T: 613-563-2000   

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Weekend Update

It's crazy to think that in 4 weeks, we will already be on the Rally!

We've been pretty busy this weekend, and everything is starting to fall into place.

Yesterday thanks to our excellent location at the Minto Park sale and the support of our friends we sold $300 worth of earrings and artwork! Another chunk of change to support the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

In BIG news - we got a new (used) car!

You may have seen my previous blog post, about the beautiful, butterfly adorned Suzuki Wagon we had bought.

Little did we know that we were going to experience some serious car drama with it!

The dealer we bought the car from sent it in for a special check-up, and found out the engine was a "little smoky". Naturally, we were alarmed by this turn of events, since we didn't even have the car yet and it was already giving us trouble! 

Clearly I knew that at some point of this journey we were going to experience issues with our car, but in my mind I was imagining we might have engine problems trying to navigate the mountains of the Pamir Highway.

The dealer assured us there would be no problem, and he would sort it out. He also said he would find us another car with the same specs even if he wasn't able to fix the Wagon, so I tried to ignore my inner control freak and trusted that he would follow through.

Fast forward to Wednesday of this past week - 2 days before the deadline to get all of our vehicle details in, as well as pay the vehicle deposit - and lo and behold they HAVE NOT found us a car! 

As you can imagine, this was pretty last minute and we were quite pressed for time to find a car that seemed like it would be suitable for the Rally. There were not that many small cars in good shape available online and I was kicking myself for trusting some random dude to follow through on his word. 

On Thursday morning, Sebastien came across a 2007 Perodua Kenari on Autotrader that had only 19,000 miles on it. He immediately got in contact with the guy (a lovely fellow named Tai) and they agreed on a price. The only catch was that someone needed to pick up the car with the cold, hard cash in the next few days.

Thankfully, my awesome cousin Nithya lives in London and will do things for me even though she is extremely busy working hard in addition to being a social butterfly! After a few phone calls, we managed to sort out the logistical details, and Nithya arranged a time to meet up with Tai for our car.

We were happy to hear from Nithya on Saturday that her and her friend Polina had picked up our car and it was now safely parked at their building. HUGE RELIEF! Would have been impossible to do the Rally otherwise, and we're happy to find a car that is better than the original one we purchased. Here's a picture of Nithya getting the keys to the car we are going to get to know very well! Thumbs up is right!

Coming from Canada, where we have tons of space and people love to drive big vehicles, I'd never seen...never even HEARD of a Perodua Kenari before starting to research for the Mongol Rally. 

Here are some fun facts about the Perodua Kenari:

  • Perodua is a Malaysian car manufacturer - I love Malaysian food, so I will assume the cars are also good.
  • Kenari means canary in Malay. I am trying to think of a positive way to interpret the canary in a coal mine allusion. Umm....this car will guide us to Mongolia and hopefully not die on the way?
  • Top speed is 155 km/h. I can assure you we will not be hitting that.
  • The Kenari has a 1.0L Daihatsu engine. That sounds impressive to me.
  • One review notes: A deeply embarrassing car to be seen in, or near for that matter, but in truth the weird looking and weirdly named Perodua Kenari is actually quite capable and an undeniable bargain to boot. I am sure that this car will be an excellent conversation starter. All those people we meet on the Rally will go from pointing and laughing at our car to becoming our BFFs. Awesome!
  • A number of Mongol Rally teams have completed the Rally in a Kenari, so there is a precedent. Can't wait to be one of them!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Minto Park Craft Sale - Saturday, June 16!

We will be selling earrings and some original artwork by my sister Meena at the Minto Park Sale on Saturday!

Minto Park is located at Elgin and Gilmour. There will be a ton of tables set up selling a variety of goodies, so wander around until you find us! 

The sale runs from 8am-2pm (early, I know!!). Hope we have a good turnout, we made A LOT of earrings!  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fundraising Update

ONE MONTH until we leave for London, and the Mongol Rally! 

Just wanted to give everyone an update on our fundraising so far.

We've raised $5,016 for the Stephen Lewis Foundation and £1,325 for the Lotus Children's Centre. In total, that's around $7,120 CAD for our charities! This comes from a combination of a few fundraisers, a garage sale and generous donations from friends and family.

We're hoping to hit $10,000 raised for our charities by the end of our journey.

Please feel free to donate to our charities using these links:

Donate to the Stephen Lewis Foundation

Donate to the Lotus Children's Centre

Meena and I are also selling more earrings and some art at the Minto Park Sale  on Saturday, June 16 - more details to come!

Top 3 Reasons Why VisaHQ Is Awesome!

Part of the whole Mongol Rally experience is getting the visas! (Un)surprisingly this can be quite the process in many of the countries we are visiting. You often need to get invitation letters before you can even apply for visas, and all of these can  take a lot of time. Especially when companies tell you invitation letters will take 2 weeks and they take 6 weeks. And then when you get the letters you've waited 6 weeks for they are incorrect and you have to wait another week. And especially when you need to get 8 visas before you can even leave the country (not counting the ones we have to get on arrival). 

Through this process we have used 3 different services for letters of invitation, visas and other permits - the Adventurist's Visa Machine, Stantours and VisaHQ. 

We're lucky because we can apply for a bunch of the visas ourselves since they have embassies in Ottawa, but there are 3 countries (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) that only have embassies in the US. That's where VisaHQ came in. Rather than trying to Fedex our passports to DC and back multiple times and cross our fingers that everything would work out, we decided to just pay a visa service to make sure it got done with the least amount of stress possible.

I can not even begin to tell you how impressed I was when I went into VisaHQ in Ottawa. I've walked by it a bunch of times, but had no idea what was waiting inside this hidden gem.

Here are the Top 3 Reasons Why VisaHQ is Awesome

3. Friendly, knowledgeable staff 

I went into VisaHQ to apply for the visas for Sebastien and I, and was honestly in and out in 15 minutes. It took me way longer than that to fill out the forms!

The person who helped me was very friendly, double-checked all my paperwork, answered all of my questions and was very competent and efficient. When I went in there I was stressed out because it took so long to get my invitation letters from the other visa services that we were a bit tight on time. The staff at VisaHQ gave me great advice on how long the visas took, and whether or not I should get some of them expedited. I was immediately reassured after I left!

VisaHQ had to follow up because the other visa service I used had issued incorrect invite letters (they were in Uzbek, so we didn't realize that at first), and they were very professional and helpful.

2. Great prices!

Most people that know me know that I am cheap smart with my money. VisaHQ has great prices for their services. I think the fees were cheaper than paying to Fedex our documents back and forth from DC. This whole visa thing is expensive overall, but if we had gotten our visas from any other service in Ottawa, it would probably would have been almost three times more expensive. I know this because I did get a quote from another agency (IVPSC) and I almost had a heart attack.

I wish I had known that VisaHQ also does passport/passport-sized photos because I think they are the CHEAPEST place in Ottawa to get them done. I believe they were $7.99 for a set of two. ALSO, if you are getting these pictures to apply for visas through VisaHQ you don't even have to pay for them. Which is pretty awesome, and would have saved me and Sebastien about $40. Guess we know for next time!

1. Easy and Efficient Service

I think the best part about VisaHQ is that they made everything so easy. It probably would have been even easier if I had used their convenient online application form. 

They process their visas when they say they will, they follow up as necessary and they keep us informed of every step of the process by sending us emails when our documents are submitted and visas are issued. We can also log-in to our account on the VisaHQ website to check the status of our visas at anytime. We're just waiting on one more visa before we get our passports sent back to us! 

This was a stark contrast to some of the other services, where I had to repeatedly follow-up to find out the status of our requests and could never even get a hold of a person half of the time. They really do try to help travelers navigate the bureaucratic maze of visa processing, and I highly recommend them!

Monday, June 4, 2012

We love love!

Thanks to my amazing sister Meena, we raised $1120 last week at speed-dating! This money is going towards our car and associated expenses. 

We had a lot of very good-looking, interesting and entertaining singles who were ready to mingle last week and their participation was essential to make the event a success. Apologies to them for the fact that I had no microphone and had to aggressively yell at them to SWITCH to their next date at the 3 minute mark!

HUGE thanks to our volunteers, who were happy to herd along the couples to their next dates, help explain the rules of the game, and assist Meena with matching at the end of the night. Lesley, CherBear and Julie were all awesome (and hot!).

We have some big success stories from past speed-dating events (marriages, move-ins, long relationships etc), so we hope to hear more happy times from this batch of speed-daters. But... NO PRESSURE, it was for charity! As long as all enjoyed themselves (which they said they did) we are happy.

We also want to give a big thanks to Shanghai Restaurant - this family-owned restaurant has been a Centretown hotspot since 1971 and they are always lovely and accommodating. Shanghai has been voted the #1 place in Ottawa for a first date in the past, so it's a fitting venue for our speed-dating events. My fave time at Shanghai is on Saturday nights - to eat some delicious noodles and dumplings and croon along with the one and only China Doll at karaoke. Highly recommended, awesome Ottawa night out!