TO THE BOSPORUS AND BEYOND
EXCLUSIVE FOR : MB MAGAZINE
There’s barely 60cm of vertical space to squeeze into through the boot and poke my head out between the driver seats of Öcher-Safari team’s Orient car, a 1988 Mercedes-Benz 124 series. Allgäu (1988 MB 230 HP) takes the lead and Rallye (1989 MB 200 HP) aptly brings up the vanguard to this triage of custom-graffiti cars in the eponymous Allgäu-Orient-Rallye stretching from Germany to Jordan. The boot slams closed behind me, the keys are thrust into the ignition, and I am now temporarily joining the race for the day.
Going 8000km East
The competing 111 teams (3 cars per team) left Oberstaufen on the 27th of April, each travelling varying routes to conjoin here in Istanbul, the mid-way point where East embraces West across the glittering Bosporus Strait. While the scenery is certainly romantic, this journey isn’t for the faint of heart desiring luxury, plush bedding and room service. At the preceding evening of Turkish BBQ and story telling under the shadow of the golden Sultanahmet minarets piercing up into a sunset blushing pastel pink, 27-year-old Max Holodynski recalls “At first we thought it’d be nice to be in Mallorca. But then, we said: that’s boring!” His fellow teammate Lotte Jens drapes his frame languidly across a lawn chair in obvious pleasure and needed relaxation. He chimes in with a wide grin: “Aaaaa yeah, but now THIS, is one hundred percent adventure!”
A Gift Through Thick And Thin
For Öcher-Safari, their route so far through Austria, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria has seen a barrage of obstacles – physical roadblocks, double backs, a near plunge into a river in darkness, and highway robbery from “helpful locals.” The team also explains that all competitors have specific tasks to accomplish along their journey. One of the more culturally weighted, being the requirement to carry a small tree gifted from their homeland, to be planted on Anatolian soil.
So to accomplish this symbolic task, to the blare of horns, a strange compilation of Turkish and Bavarian music, and cheering crowds, driver Jenny Mehring slams down on the clutch and jerks the wheel around, rocketing us down the hill from the Sultanahmet plaza into the heart of Istanbul with navigator Max doing his best with a tourist map. Trussed up between rumpled covers, pillows, bags, and travel gear, I lay prone in their sleeping quarters with my camera poised at the windshield to grab as much of the action as possible.
It takes a ferryboat ride across the Bosporus, a million detours, road bumps, and a friendly police guide, but the planting site destination finally comes to view through the mud and bug stained window shield. Öcher-Safari’s Lorbeer tree (laurel) is at long last at journey’s end, to be planted here in its new home overlooking the Asian side of Istanbul. The Bavarian green leaves, hold a deeper and darker luster from the sun kissed olive colors of the hillside above the dense city; a physical symbolism of East befriending West.
Into The Unknown
I part ways here with the Lorbeer and the team, wishing them well through the rest of Turkey, Israel, and into Jordan. No one has any inkling of what awaits; the journey turning increasingly exotic. How could they know that they would enjoy snowball fights high up in the mountains, go night swimming in the Black Sea, pick wild oranges along the route, and spend a night at a Turkish castle? Or that they would go on to become famous on Turkish television, drink tea in a secret canyon, and see a camel race? But that’d be too easy of a story!
A traveler himself, Hemingway believed “the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” So it is that not all would be pleasant for Öcher-Safari. The countryside outside of Kars will see the spinning crash of “Orient,” though without any damage. And “Rallye” will silently rest in peace in Erzurum, unable to continue from the extraneous journey. Yet, they will push on through passport problems, drenching rain, military escorts, and sand dunes.
Many days later, we meet up with Öcher-Safari again to greet them at the finish line. The rally ends at Jabal Rum, a Bedouin camp in the Jordanian desert where surreal stone formations rise up to the sky from an endless sea of sand. The rumor is that the winnings – a camel, yes, a real live one! – will be prized in Amman. However, since the camel is forbidden to leave Jordanian borders (international export regulations), the Allgäu-Orient is ultimately not about the stakes. Rather, it represents the glory of the journey itself, harking back to the Golden Age of Travel when risks and uncertainties were weighted and dared against the possibilities.
Sand And Stone
Please remember these teams are not elite Formula One drivers, nor Louis-Vuitton carrying globetrotters. “We’re just engineers and business majors from Aachen” says Max sheepishly. But I’d stop to inquire: are they not the true journeymen, bound across international borders with a taste for the unknown? Yes, slightly roughed about from three weeks sleeping in cars, dining on whatever resources may be found, and encountering bandits.
But true to Hemingway’s words, Öcher-Safari survived with emboldened spirits, claiming: “we miss the stones and sand between all the stone and the sand.” As cryptic as Max sounds, his tone resonates with my own desire for adventure. All journeymen accept that there is an art to travelling, and to tell the glory tales of chance encounters and endless horizons, one needs to celebrate the details of the journey – the stones and sand – and not only the destination. As the Allgäu-Orient journeymen well know, the space between a traveler and the horizon secrets endless opportunities. Do you dare explore?
FULL FEATURE HERE: MB.MERCEDESBENZ.COM/BOSPORUS