It all started on June 9th. An improbable journey began with an improbable team, composed of an Indian, Italian, and a Portuguese—aptly named “The Improbables.” Their mission was to take a yellow ambulance from Spain to Mongolia in order to donate it to the Mongolian health system through an NGO named “GO HELP” as part their participation in the Mongolia Charity Rally of 2012, the longest charity rally in the world at about 14,000 km.
This off started very smoothly with pleasant stops in Barcelona and San Remo and continued on to Ljubliana and Budapest. Estevam drove, while Dhruv served as the P.R. manager and installed the “Foneras” (internet routers provided by one of their sponsors), and Jonathan was in charge of photography.
They knew their “good, easy times” would start to change once they entered the Ukraine. When they

first arrived at the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, all the guards stared and asked if they were carrying weapons. After two hours of paper work and questions, the Improbables were finally in Ukrainian territory with the Euro cup at full blast. They then passed through a medieval city called Lviv, the capital Kiev, and Poltava—where the Russian Empire began after the defeat of the Swedes. Their last Ukrainian stop—or so they thought—was the industrial city of Donetsk.
They hit the Russian border of Veselo-Voznesenka on June 21—day 13 of their voyage. Things were flowing well and there was no sign of any complications which people had warned them about regarding Russians. However, this all changed when Inspector Alexander saw the ambulance. His eyes flashed, mustache contorted, brow furrowed, while his mouth moved in funny ways. Apparently there was a problem with the ambulance; it could not pass into Russian territory because it was considered a “special car” and also a “medical car”. At first, the Improbables thought this was a scam in order to get a bribe. However, after negotiating for hours and talking to the Portuguese consulate, they started to realize that it was an actual law. This was a law that no one had told them about and one that the rally’s organization was unaware of.
This event unfortunately forced the team to split up. Dhruv was unable to return to the Ukraine as he had already used up his single entry and exit visa, which was all he was allowed being an Indian citizen. So he took as much of his luggage as he could on foot and then made his way by taxi into the wilds of southern Russia. His first stop was the city of Taganrog, where he immediately became a celebrity and everyone wanted to take pictures with him. Jonathan and Estevam were meanwhile stuck with each other and forced to cross the border again the other way. The Ukrainian border guards were of course suspicious of an ambulance that had crossed the same border twice in the same day. Therefore the ambulance was searched from front to back. Finally back into the Ukraine, they made their way to the nearest city of Mariupol, and checked into the Spartac Hotel, which had many peculiarities such as room keys able to open up more than one room and also an in-house strip club.
The next morning Dhruv tried to go to Kazakhstan to fulfill some of the team’s sponsor commitments. They have 12 sponsors of the likes such as Freixenet and Nokia. Meanwhile Jonathan and Estevam tried cross another border at Uspenka, hoping they would have better luck. However the same problem occurred there as well. The border inspectors at Uspenka tried to find a way to legally get the ambulance into Russia but after a few hours they were forced to say the now-familiar phrase of “go home.” One soldier even said “mission impossible”. They turned back once again, forced to return to the Spartac Hotel in Mariupol and re-formulate their strategy. However, they now had another problem. After hitting a giant pot-hole that day, they had perforated their radiator and were forced to remain in Mariupol an extra four days. In the meantime, Dhruv was already in Astana, Kazakstan. During his arduous bus and train rides through Russia, he made friends with housewives and soldiers along the way, with vodka as a constant companion.
After evaluating all the options, Jonathan and Estevam decided to make their way back to where they had come from to try to donate the ambulance through their contacts either in Kiev or Budapest to local NGOs. In the end, they drove all the way back to Budapest, where they donated the ambulance to an NGO called “Never Give Up”, which runs a 24 hour transport service for handicapped people. The NGO was thrilled with the “ambulance that fell from the sky” and so were the Improbables, who had managed to donate their ambulance to those who needed it most. With the first part of the “mission” complete—which was donating the ambulance, the second part was reaching Mongolia.
Dhruv already had his plane ticket booked to Mongolia and was set to arrive one day before Jonathan and Estevam but he was almost arrested at the Astana airport for failing to register with the Kazak authorities.
After one day of rest in the beautiful Budapest and seeing the Euro cup final, Jonathan and Estevam booked their flight to Ulaanbaatar, with a one day stopover in Moscow. The Uspenka border guards had canceled their visa stamp, so they could enter Russia without the ambulance if they wanted—nice guys. Landing at 12:30 am in Moscow, Jonathan and Estevam were unable to find their hostel or the other two options they had, as for some reason these hostels have no signs. After hours of roaming Moscow by night with their hand luggage, they finally checked in at 4 am. Russia has always seemed to be a problem for the Improbables.
The other team member, Dhruv, had already arrived in Ulaanbaatar and had the important task of finding “comfortable accommodation” for everyone. Unfortunately, he failed. When Jonathan and Estevam arrived, they went directly to the hotel, which Dhruv had booked for the three of them. The hotel had no hot water and the wood floor was warped with trash under it. The sheets were stained, which was easily explained by the fact that each room had a complimentary condom and that it also had an in-house strip club. These problems seemed to follow the team wherever they went.
The next day they finally checked into a nice hotel where they could rest and get ready for their Mongolian commitments. This included meetings at Olonlog Tuv School, the National University of Mongolia, and an additional organization that held a painting contest for underprivileged children with the support of the “GO HELP” NGO. This was where their journey ended.
This is a brief summary of the adventures and misadventures of the Improbables, who managed to adapt to extreme changing circumstances in order to fulfill their goal of donating their ambulance to those in need and reach Mongolia. Though they never imagined it would turn out this way, many times in life this is the case.
You can visit their website at www.madridtomongolia.com to learn more and also “like” them on Facebook. They will have an exhibition at the National Geographic Store in Madrid, Spain on September 11th, if you happen to be in town.

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Posted by on Aug 15 2012. Filed under Community. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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