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Old 01-12-2014, 10:46 PM   #16
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Subscribed. Let it fly brother, this should be great.
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Old 01-13-2014, 03:44 AM   #17
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The Odessa File
Four days off on the roads of Switzerland
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Old 01-13-2014, 02:12 PM   #18
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We were urged to stay a day or two longer by my charming friend Zuzanna, Given the fortitude of coincidence I had stumbled across in us being here at the same time I thought why not! Her family and extended family were simply wonderful people, clever and kind and who made me feel like I had known them for years.

We even stayed for Zuzanna's Aunts 40th Birthday, a night of Vodka, beer, acoustic guitar and a firepit, one relative telling the story of Macbeth in Polish to the assembled audience, of course I did not understand a word, and I loved every second of it

A day was spent at a remote spot with Zuz and her mother beside the lake once enjoyed by Pope John Paul II for kayaking when he wanted a bit of peace and quiet through the years, I could imagine this place would have afforded him a space for quiet contemplation and I spent several hours just cooling off in the waters watching shoals of fish passing around me as curious dragonflies darted across the surface seemingly to inspect this foreigner.







One uncle at the barbeque came to us the morning of our departure, he had been interested in our plans to travel to Mongolia and brought out some belongings he had inherited, old black and white photos of his father working in Mongolia, some buddhist script and a medal from that time, he assured us the Mongolian people would be good people but warned us to be cautious of the Russians 'They are bad people' he said

Not the first time we had heard that sentiment uttered in grave and serious tones in Poland, offered genuinely to try and guard us from harm and ensure our vigilance!

I was beginning to let a little seed of doubt foster in a corner of my mind, before I had left England a co-worker had asked me where I was going, not wanting to go into detail I casually said Russia,
Really, I'm from Russia originally? which part?
erm (picking a random city from the ether) Irkutsk
Wow, I'm from Irkutsk, Well Angarsk a few km away

This was another random coincidence, but as I don't know any Russian people, speak Russian or read Cyrillic and am about to drive across 7 time zones in Russia I took the opportunity to get a non work email address and ask if theres anything I should be aware of, I am told to be careful and to trust nobody!
Erm ok then!
I agreed in our exchange to meet an old school friend who is now the deputy editor of a newspaper there, apparently

They will be very interested in your experiences and perception of Russia if you make it
You Mean when I make it?
Matt, you must be careful, the road to Irkutsk is not safe and is controlled by the Mafia, not the Police, some men who have gone West to buy cars have simply disappeared along with those cars
Oh, err ok!

But there has been a lot of relaxing going on of late, and a little part of me is looking forward to this strange and scary place but first we need to get through Lithuania and Latvia
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Old 01-13-2014, 02:26 PM   #19
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Lithuania and Latvia

Lithuania was despatched in a single tank of gas, heavy policing, perfect asphalt and free wifi in every Statoil petrol station. Not much else to say except the women were seemingly all stunning to the point it was almost unnerving, I'd have provided you photos but I'm easily distracted by shiny things like this Fire engine




We planned to reach a Latvian campsite whose coordinates I entered into the GPS the day before, The website had promised we could have a fire and it was by a large lake, it sounded so good.

It was another beautiful day and as we crossed from Lithuania to Latvia the sun fell over the lake near the border




We had a little fun en-route to the campsite, away from the major roads the road surface looks like this





Quite good fun once you get the hang of it but Ed hasn't been riding so long and has much less experience off road than me, plus we are riding in the dark now. Essentially I lost him en-route so turning off the engine I waited, after a while I realise nobody walks that slowly!! let alone rides a motorcycle so slowly!!.
I turn around and ride back to find him with his hugely overburdened beast laying on its side, a car has stopped and some youths are helping him to right it, he had strayed into softer sand on the verges and it all went a bit wobbly, the car driver tells him to stay in the crown of the road and asks us if we are going to the campsite?

We are, and think its strange these guys are also going there so late? but after pressing on all becomes clear.

Theres a Rave/festival type thing going on here tonight, hundreds of drunken teens strolling around and so after finally reaching here we now had to move on and find somewhere else to rest. After following a confusing set of signs promising a parking place we actually ended up doing a 20 mile loop on tiny sand roads in the dark





Somewhere in the fun and games Ed drops his bike again, he can't lift it on his own, also his somewhat novel approach to loading a bike means he can't easily remove the bags on its tail. I don't have a larger sidestand foot so have some faffing about with a puck before I can go and assist and I aggravate my back injury helping him lift his leviathan of a bike to an upright position.

We get back on to the kidney jarring main road now desperate for sleep, the roads are basically graded gravel so you jolt over the ridges left by the bulldozer tracks until you reach the right speed at about 40mph + where it feels smoother




Frogs keep hopping across the road and I hope nothing bigger does the same in this forested area, it would take a while to stop should a deer or boar run out.

Exhausted we eventually just bed down in a lay-by, a Police car scoots past us twice, some boy racers pop up to smoke some weed and as Ed sleeps through all this as I keep watch, Two curious dogs (a GSD and Anatolian cross) stroll down and start eyeing Ed up until I chase them off, after this I succumb to sleep too.

In the morning Ed is still sleeping as an old lady wakes him to check if he is alive, I'm watching from what would have been a great sleeping spot across the road!




This boy sure can sleep





Later we drive the short distance towards the Russian border on now more enjoyable gravel roads






We stopped on a stretch of asphalt road just before the border crossing, This was is it, a little apprehensive as to coming into Russia, just to add to the mood I passed through a small village where literally thousand of crows were on the road, they swirled around me as I rode through like something from a cheesy horror movie.

Ed wandered off for his first ever truly outdoor poo, he came back beaming, that wasn't too bad actually, it would be the first of many, that was for sure!

The last road before Russia

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Old 01-14-2014, 08:42 AM   #20
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So we roll up to a quiet Border crossing on a Sunday afternoon, the sun is beating down on us and there is no escaping its gaze, somewhere in the high 30's as we queue the 100 metres or so between the EU and 'No Mans Land' Ed cannot get off his bike, the weight of his kit, perched so far back, is compressing his suspension to the extent that it falls off its sidestand if left unattended or not parked in a divot

Finally our bikes are side by side at the white line waiting to be called forward to the Latvian customs Booth, and overfed pig of an official calls us forward before shouting 'Stop!!!' 2 yards further on.

Go Back, one vehicle only, Protocol!!
Ed wheel his bike back
YOUR DOCUMENTS!!

He shouts at me, clearly he either thinks I have no sense of hearing or he is trying to unsettle me with his aggressive tones, I proceed to act with the the urgency of a sloth on diazepam smiling innocently all the while.

Ah yes, Documents, Hmmm let me see now, I guess maybe you would like my passport first, hmmmm jolly good, here we are and let me just have a little look I'm sure the V5 is somewhere in here.

YOU BROKE PROTOCOL, ONLY ONE VEHICLE CAN CROSS LINE!, THIS IS CUSTOMS NOT CIRCUS!!, THIS IS SERIOUS, FINE 100 LATS, YOU BREAK PROTOCOL ONE VEHICLE YOU UNDERSTAND!!
You called me forward and here I am, I am only one vehicle, so not my problem, maybe that guy broke protocol? (I pointed at Ed)

I am processed without further drama and a sneering contempt, unfortunately as I am waved through Ed's bike topples over, a sense of urgency and panic has overcome him and with some other people from the Queue (I now can't go back) he lifts it just before this vile little customs piggy spews forth his torrent of farcical infractions of non existent protocols.

I stand behind the barrier watching, Ed just needs to repeat that he is only one vehicle and label me as the villain as I'm already through but he is flustering, the guard repeats his demand that some fine be paid,

100 Lats!!
I don't have any Lats
How can you travel with no money? I DO NOT BELIEVE YOU!!
I have only a visa card and some dollars (I want to slap my forehead and say D'oh as I hear these words)
OK YOU PAY 100 Dollars


I shout back 'Don't be a f****n Idiot' at the customs guy and start to walk back towards him, he is really taking the piss and that is annoying me now

I don't have 100 Dollars (this is true)
OK, OK, 5 or 10 Dollars or you go back
Fine, I'll give you 5 then


So that was the Latvian side of the Border crossing, EU country and all that and now we proceed to the Russian side with our hearts in our mouths, we had after all been denied entry 3 years before, so this was crunch time for the trip.

The First Russian at Passport control looked at me sternly
Do You speak Russian?
No, only English, Sorry

You must learn, he says with the demeanour of a strict schoolteacher

Then he paused a second, his face burst out into a broad smile, he started laughing and as the barrier raised he said, Good luck in Russia!

Next was the more involved business of Customs control
This was manned by an absolutely beautiful woman wearing a very tight uniform that appeared to have been tailored, she was polite, professional, spoke excellent English and appeared to take these two hapless bikers under her wing like some very sweet primary school teacher looking after 5 year olds

You need to complete these two forms, I have marked a cross where you must write on one form and indicated you don't have more than $10,000 in cash and that you aren't travelling with Drugs, Firearms, or other banned substances, I assume this is correct?
(I nod)
Excellent, when you have completed one form bring it back to me and I will check there are no errors in your work before you copy the details to the second form.

She then took the time to explain the ins and outs of the immigration card and customs forms we needed to keep safe along with telling me where I could buy the necessary 'Green Card' insurance

So the First two Russians we met completely disarmed me, I was ready to do battle, stay on my toes, looking for the moment to pay the necessary bribe and I was instead met with charm, humour and kindness, clearly this was some sort of a trap!!

I proceeded to the first petrol station and filled up at less than a 10, A woman inside the station was selling the insurance and so I set to work getting my green card in spite of the language barrier, meanwhile someone had approached Ed on the forecourt and they were talking away.

I was at once suspicious and thus distracted, who was this guy? what was his angle? was he trying to do some black market currency exchange with Ed? a half hour later I strolled out with my insurance

Hey man shouted Ed, I'd like you to meet Elvis!

The stranger was in fact a British Trucker who had come over and introduced himself to Ed with the words

Fookin ell lads, you're a long way from home aren't ya?

He went on to tell us some stories from the road, put our minds at ease and gave us both a map and some directions to ignore the satnav and signs to avoid tolls to Moscow by going a slightly different way

A top bloke TBH, but of course he was cool, he was a roadie, he was waiting for some other trucks before heading out in convoy supporting a Madonna concert that was going on in Moscow and St Petersburg around that time, well travelled he had once done a Sting gig in Kazakhstan and assured us not to worry about language as we had the Universal magic pointy fingers and besides not knowing what you are ordering is sometimes part of the fun, He told us it had been a bit more lawless a decade ago when he had to drive with army escort and was once made to buy contaminated diesel from a farmer blocking the road with his tractor and bowser and negotiated a commitment to buy and a price whilst wielding a AK

We rode a short while until sleeping at the side of the main road in a dusty layby, it was dirty, smelt of piss and there was rubbish and broken glass everywhere you looked but we slept soundly knowing that we had actually done it, we had gotten into Russia





And Ed still slept in the next morning!!

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Old 01-25-2014, 06:23 PM   #21
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C'mon man! Your readers demand another chapter! This is too good a start to let languish!
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Old 02-18-2014, 11:05 PM   #22
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you motherflipper.

first you do the norge report. now this. Check my sig. Grrrrr.

Sorry to read about your loss in the NorgeReport.
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Old 02-19-2014, 12:31 PM   #23
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you motherflipper.

first you do the norge report. now this. Check my sig. Grrrrr.

Sorry to read about your loss in the NorgeReport.
Thank you for the sentiment, it's appreciated and my apologies to anyone else who might have been reading this thread to date, I had to have a little downtime to deal with a loss in the Family but I am back now and will try my best to do right by those of you sticking around
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Old 02-19-2014, 12:41 PM   #24
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We travel the few hundred miles towards Moscow, the roads surface varies from excellent to OMG as it simply disappears into the substrate.

At one stage there appears to be a man waving us down from the side of the road but we travel straight past him, later on, we ourselves have stopped in a layby to quaff a bit of water, I look up to find this man has now appeared from a Mazda CX7 and is walking towards us.

He asks if I am from the UK? Where am I travelling? and a little worryingly 'Do I know anyone in Russia?' (my mind imagines he is calculating how quickly we will be reported missing, certainly long enough to have us hijacked, killed and our bikes broken for parts!!)

He tells me he is a biker himself, rides a Japanese Cruiser, is a member of the Iron Butt Association, do I know 'xxxx' who is the UK chairman of the IBA? and then tells me he is building a Desert Rallye bike based on a KTM 690 enduro before we exchange thoughts on the benefits of the kit components he is sourcing for this from France, the UK etc etc

He gives me his telephone number and tells me he lives in Moscow, but if I have any trouble to call him because he knows people across Russia.

I don't think anything more of it at this stage and our journey is pretty uneventful until the traffic picks up a few gears outside Moscow

Soon we hit the Moscow Ring road, at rush hour this was really quite something, like being sucked into a Maelstrom of cars and lorries, there were cars everywhere, all travelling in a speed and manner that seemed contrary from a basic will to live, I don't remember how many lanes there were, maybe 4 or 5, it's irrelevant as there was no regard paid to the lane markings anyway, I saw powerful luxury saloons racing up the hard shoulder before jinking into the inside lane to avoid broken down trucks, a Youth on a Moped going the wrong way up the hard shoulder, and extra row of cars squeezed into the space as we all jostled for position and finally we figured out how a biker can stay alive in Moscow. There was a thin strip of guttering between a concrete central reservation and this is where the bikes ride, we had our own dangerous looking bike lane, if you dropped below 60mph you would get beeps from the bike behind but you needed eyes up front as occasionally you had to cut back in so as to avoid the steel posts holding up road signs and the like.

Heres a youtube of that road, I didn't stop to take photos

http://youtu.be/kvOaF27XOdo

I didn't have street level mapping of Russia on my GPS, actually I only had world basemap so I had to steer towards a saved waypoint for the Godzilla hostel in central Moscow, I had heard this had CCTV where you could park the bikes outside, and it did, but it was also full! it took me an hour or so walking around in circles until I found it as the GPS was a bit flakey in between the enormous buildings flanking the roads

The staff at the Godzilla directed me to another nearby hostel called the Chillax

The first thing we noticed outside the hostel was a British registered Skoda Fabia adorned with stickers for the Mongol Rally





Going inside I spoke to Reception and was told my bike would be fine out in the street, I asked about parking rules, was it permit parking? 'This is Moscow?' she said as if that was an answer in itself, basically the bike would be fine, and park where you like

The hostel itself was lovely as far as bunk beds in a shared dorm can be, it had good showers, laundry facilities, a beer fridge, a 70" flatscreen with X-box and a couple of internet PC's, The staff were charming and happy to call around and arrange things in the Russian language and so we quickly settled in before being met by the Brits from the Mongol Rally car.

Brits together you say?, abroad you say? well best get out for a quiet pint or two then....
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Old 02-20-2014, 12:42 AM   #25
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Good read. Keep it up!


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Old 02-20-2014, 03:32 AM   #26
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Great report so far! It looks like you are in for and up for a good time. Thank you for taking us along. Safe travels!
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Old 02-20-2014, 07:23 AM   #27
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Looking forward to more
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Old 02-20-2014, 10:26 AM   #28
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The 'Brits' we met comprised of two Mongol Rally teams, one team of 3 youngsters had to sell their Vauxhall Corsa in the Ukraine after splitting a piston, they hitched a ride back with the owner of the Fabia - Steve, who although a Brit, lived and worked in Perth Australia and was rallying with his friend and workmate, a Floridian actually called 'Forest' A larger than life character who walked around saying Placebo instead of Spasiba in his broad accent quite deliberately to confuse the locals!

Steve had his passport stolen, and Forest his Ipad, from the motel in Volgograd that they were staying in after getting hammered with Mr Jack Daniels for company, Volgograd has a certain reputation as I understand it, even in Russia, as being a lawless place, it seemed they learned that the hard way.

Steve had to go to Moscow and get an emergency passport from the Consulate, a bit of a pain to say the least, He'd been cooped up in the hostel for days and had gotten to know the area quite well.

So Steve told Ed that he knew of a bar where we could involve ourselves in a drinking game, in this game called 'Tequila Bang' the barman would apparently hit us in the head with a baseball bat

Ed's Response - AWESOME

He told me about this

My response - LETS GO!

So we stroll across town to a bar on a quiet Wednesday night, at first the owner/doorman doesn't want to let us in, but with a little gentle persuasion he realises we aren't a bunch of drunks about to turn barstools into splinters and we might actually spend a few roubles.

So on we go and explain to the barman we want the drink with this baseball bat, he grins knowingly and makes the preperations

OK so the recipe for the tequila bang is as follows
  • Take one WWII steel helmet, bereft of any webbing or straps
  • In the interests of Health and Safety place a half dozen paper serviettes into the upturned helmet before placing atop the victims recipients head
  • Pour a measure of tequila into a thick bottomed glass tumbler
  • Top off the glass with a cheap champagne substitute
  • Place a beermat over the glass
  • Bang it to the front of the helmet quite hard so that the drink fizzes violently
  • Victim Recipient downs the drink as the Barman shouts something loudly in Russian which clearly means 'down in one, and quickly'
  • As the glass touches down on the bar the Barman swings a wooden baseball bat he had hidden behind the counter quickly to the side of the helmet with enough force that everything went black for a moment
  • = Tequila + BANG
Tequila bang! Simple and effective, concussion or drunkedness? hard to tell, so I mulled it over a few pints of beer before setting off for home wondering whether or not it was safe to go to sleep tonight in the city that never sleeps in case one of us is concussed

I want to go to Red Square! shouts Ed with a carefree glee in his voice
We can go tomorrow Ed
Nope, we want to go now! referring to himself and a Mongol rallyist
Ed mate, bad idea We are going home, Steve and I stroll off in the opposite direction

After two minutes Steve turns to me and says, You know what? they are actually walking in the wrong direction for Red Square and have no idea where they are

So we went back for them, something about not leaving a man behind?

When we found them they were surrounded by 3 Ukranian guys, Yes Yes, they said, we go to Red square and make a party!!

Oh dear!!, initially everyone was concerned with 'Are they going to rob us?' and words were whispered about what secret phrase would mean we should all leg it back to the hostel to doing cossack dancing in Red square with them. Whilst the others were making elaborate and fanciful plans to escape I looked our new friends over, they seemed OK to me and one had a high end Canon SLR around his neck, so assuming he hadn't stolen that the chances were that they were comparatively better off than me :-) the Ukranians flagged down random cars to broker their services as taxi, paid them, bought us beers and food, they even tried to set us up with a nice pair of Russian ladies, though lord knows what they said because we got some fairly dirty looks before they marched off :-) and after all this they flatly refused to take a rouble from us

Ed tried to break into the middle of Red Square which was currently fenced off due to a concert, in order to 'take better pictures' I decided I would do no more than send him a file in a cake to whichever Gulag he was sent, luckily he'd gotten too chubby to slide under the fence and he gave up.

At 3 in the morning we left the Square whilst our new Ukraninan drinking buddies urged us to stay.

Ukranian drinking buddies




Ed failing to break into the Red Square




At the Red Square at night, Bikers delight

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Old 02-20-2014, 02:18 PM   #29
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The following morning I woke feeling strangely dehydrated, despite taking on lots of fluids the night before?? so Ed and I wandered to the nearby supermarket, now at this stage we were pooling funds, so we had been using the money I had taken out at the border, but later Ed would just take out the same amount until we burned through that, However we soon revised this approach, Ed had realised his bike was a little more economical than mine.. but not before I'd realised he was a loose cannon on deck with exchange rates

We bought a bottle of drink each and treated ourselves to an ice cream, My snickers choc-ice and bottle of citrus flavoured water came in at under 2.50, I knew Ed's would be a little more as he was insistent on having the ice cream that came in a tub shaped like a green monster because it was 'cool' and knowing it would appeal to him I had pointed it out knowing his reaction.

I was however a little distressed at the overall bill for these 4 items being 12, with the litre bottle of lemon and lime Schweppes he bought costing nearly 8 as I inspected the receipt!

I tried a sip, it wasn't supernaturally awesome, I would have wanted to have been taken on a magical mystery tour by powerful hallucinogenic agents leading me to believe I had actually petted a unicorn at that price, even if I had in fact just been licking a public bin in the park.

Oh well notch that one up to experience

Speaking with one of the Hostel receptionists later, she revealed that one of her dreams was to ride or be pillion on a bike, Something we were certainly in a position to accommodate and so I agreed to take her round the block for a few spins, we agreed to do so 3pm the next day.

After a 15 min spin she just said, 'Please.. can we go again?' So we did before I took her to a Metro station to meet her friend, she was beaming in the way that only a 'first time on a bike' person can and as she was about to be photographed she rather bravely kissed Ed's helmet.





I was starting to enjoy the cut and thrust of Moscow driving, basically throw away the rules and drive like a tool, but realise everyone else is armed with 6 litre engines and labels like Brabus and M-sport on their cars, I've never seen such a concentration of automotive wealth in my life!

We walked around the Red Square looking for a discount sports store that Ed had read was near here, I had been giving him a hard time about his luggage arrangements as it took him over an hour to unload the bike and repackage it, completely unacceptable when the chance of dropping it was so high.

We walked to the end of Red Square he thought it was, but found nothing

I asked Ed, Do you have the address?
No
Did you use the Google streetview so you will recognise it when we find it?
Err no
Feckin Magic

My temper was starting to fray somewhat, we spent hours walking around in circles, alright for Ed as He had packed his Nike Baseball boots, I had a pair of beach shoes primarily for future river crossings, I had no plans to go city hiking on this trip!
We went to the State Department store where even a Luddite like me recognised labels like Prada and Manolo Blanik so I suggested maybe it might be an idea to look elsewhere.

Eventually we found a slightly more low key shopping centre and he bought an overpriced Adidas holdall, 'discounted' to 40 as it was marked for the recently finished 2012 Euros

However walking around Moscow itself was quite nice, with amazing architecture and sights to stop me from losing my rag about it all



Inside the state department store











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Old 02-20-2014, 09:58 PM   #30
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Great report so far! It looks like you are in for and up for a good time. Thank you for taking us along. Safe travels!
Ha stick around and I'll tell you how it goes down when you P-A-R-T-Y Mongolia style :)
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