"You are free to sneak, bribe, cheat, connive and generally out-wit the world to get yourselves to the end. In fact you will probably have to.
" So reads an online Mongol disclaimer for participants. This year, instead of out-witting the world, one rally team briefly claimed a small piece of it. In mid-August three stranded members of Team DesertTaxi—two UCL students and a retired American journalist traveling in a black British cab—temporarily established their own country.
Different dates on team members’ visas denied them access to Russia or re-entry to Kazakhstan as a group, trapping them between the two countries. They asked border authorities what to do. "They said, well you can set up your tent here," team member Edward Monckton recalled. "Right on the border."
An art student back in England, for the next few days Monckton’s life resembled an episode from The Man Who Would be King. "We roped off our territory with a sign saying the ‘People’s Autocratic Republic of Taxistan,’" Monckton said. "Then we set up passport control—taking
the bonnet off a ford transit van abandoned in no-man’s land and putting
it up on bricks to make a desk."
Many locals as well as fellow ralliers visited the booth requesting Monckton and his colleagues issue them visas for passing through. Taxistan, however, was not an ideal place to spend an extended vacation. Near a nuclear testing site and a railway that shuttled 60 car trains every 40 minutes, the new country offered no food or sanitation.
Landlocked and unrecognized by other nations, ‘Taxistan,’ required external aide to maintain its three residents. "We basically relied on other Mongol rally teams
to push things through the barbed wire to keep us alive," Monckton said. Despite the hardships, the country’s population—Mockton, his university friend Max Firman, and former ABC reporter Jimmy Walker—swelled with national pride.
"We realized after the first day we were in neutral territory and border authorities
couldn’t do anything to stop us," Monckton said. "We would wake up every morning and play ‘God Save the Queen,’ followed by the ‘Great Escape,’ until the Russian guard came out in his ridiculously oversized hat and start waving his baton and blowing his whistle."
Each morning the team would take a Union Jack hubcap from the cab and put it on a flagpole. Then, Monckton said, "we played cricket in our boxer shorts." The trio spent the remainder of most its days preventing Russian cars from cutting off ralliers at the border crossing.
‘Taxistan,’ established its first diplomatic relations when Walker became violently ill. After receiving minimal help from local authorities, Monckton called a university friend from Kazakhstan who contacted everyone she knew in the area. Eventually, the mayor of a nearby town came to ensure Walker received treatment.
After nearly a week, Monckton’s, Firman’s, and Walker’s visas all became valid and ‘Taxistan’ dissolved. The team traveled through Russia to Mongolia where the cab itself suffered its worst punishment on the country’s roads.
Beat up and dusty, the team Desert Taxi arrived safely in Ulaanbaatar after a month, a week and a day of travel. Together the members raised about US$ 25,000 for charity, none of which will go to aide ‘Taxistan,’ but with the rally concluded, that country’s former residents are self sufficient once again.
THE UB POST