After the wallet drain that was our one night in Odessa, Dillion and I were keen to continue driving through Ukraine with as few setbacks as possible and planned the most direct route to Russia possible. This entailed driving through agricultural and industrial southern Ukraine while skipping over the peninsula, Crimea. Little did we know at the time though, we had passed up a wonderful opportunity to see one of the more visually pleasant sides of Ukraine in favor of a faster journey.
The road quality presented to us for the drive from Odessa onwards was much higher than the previous day’s introduction to the country and for that, I’m sure I heard both Dillion’s shoulder joints and Money Pit breathing huge sighs of relief. The roads still could use some touch-ups here and there, but the need for swerving was dramatically decreased. This meant more time for enjoying the scenery, which was nothing but endless fields of sunflowers, and reflection on the journey.
Up until this point, there had been no time for writing blog posts or even enjoying the sights in the places we’ve passed. As envious as some people were of our adventure, I’m hesitant to lodge any complaints or hint at any notion that this road trip might not be the greatest adventure ever. Truthfully though, the Mongol Rally does leave much to be desired in terms of travel experiences and actually felt like a job itself. Mine and Dillion’s frustrations understandably grew as the days bore on because of our monotonous daily routine. Each day up to this point more or less followed a schedule: wake up, cook breakfast, pack up the tent, record starting mileage, plot our route, get gas, drive, find food, find the next night’s lodging, set up tent, cook dinner, sleep. We lamented that it was the world’s least fun scavenger hunt as each day, we had to find the basic necessities for the day’s survival.
We’d normally cut ourselves off before indulging in too much self-pity as we did realize there were worse situations we could be in. It helped too to remind myself of my guiding travel mantra: it’s all about the journey. For this particular adventure however, it would have to be about the destination more so than the journey due to the financial responsibility of transporting a car to Mongolia intact, but I still had the hope that each new day of this trek would bring some pleasant surprises.
Before I could get too lost in romantic thoughts about journeying on the open road, we had already started our approach into the first city I had marked on this day’s route, Melitopol. While still having access to the luxury of wifi at the hotel in Odessa, I tried to look up Melitopol on Wikitravel in hopes that the website would reveal some hidden sightseeing treasure but had no luck. In fact, I don’t think there even was a wikitravel page. I quickly discovered why. Melitopol was a city of the bare necessities. We found the one major supermarket and that was about all the fun we’d be having at this lunchtime stop. The one highlight here was Dillion’s brilliant new dinner idea. Normally, we had been purchasing chicken or beef to sauté in one of our many Indian sauces, but today, Dillion spotted frozen shrimp and we both said, “Why not?” Our thinking was that the shrimp would thaw by the time we were ready to stop for dinner and then we could cook ourselves one posh camping dinner.
Now we were excited to get to our final destination for the day, Prymorsk, a small city on the Sea of Azov, and set up camp for the evening. We had grand visions of eating our posh dinner on the beach and falling asleep to the sounds of an aquatic environment. We arrived in Prymorsk around what was becoming our no fail stopping time, 7:30pm and began doing reconnaissance on the beach. The sea itself was a lovely blue color matching Dillion’s shirt that day, but was a bit too chilly for us to jump in at the time. Nothing of note seemed to be going on at this beach; it was fairly deserted. Along with people though, the location was also devoid of any advantageous spots to set up camp.
Slightly disappointed, we got back in the car and decided to drive around town looking for our first wild camping adventure. We had read from other blogs about the rally that finding camping spots on off-shoots on the sides of roads was standard operating procedure. At the beginning of the rally, I was excited about this prospect, but that was at a time when I took for granted that we’d be traveling in convoy with other cars the entire time. The reality of that idea is, it’s actually quite hard to form a convoy at this point in the trip because there are many different routes that teams can take and every team ultimately has different places they want to visit. So at this point, we were still by ourselves and sleeping on our own in the wild didn’t feel so comfortable of an idea. Even though I was with Dillion, I still felt extremely vulnerable and had fears of being attacked by a group of bored townsmen. Was this a rational fear? Maybe, maybe not, but given that I had already been mugged by a group of men once in my life, I wasn’t about to apologize to anyone for having this fear or try overly hard to suppress it. It was what it was, and for that, I stand by my recommendation to women to not do this rally alone in spite of some negative backlash I received over that advice. Even though, nothing did happen to us while camping, the fear I felt, which wasn’t even assuaged by sleeping with a mallet next to me, made it unpleasant enough and I don’t think I really gained any “character” or street cred as a backpacker by doing this. That said, it wasn’t the most horrible experience of the entire trip and we did enjoy a colorful sunset and delicious dinner of pesto shrimp with rice.