From the Allgäu to the Orient in a S 124.
A 10,000-kilometre drive.
10,000 kilometres. That is the distance ahead of us when the starting shot is fired in Oberstaufen, marking the beginning of our big adventure, the Allgäu-Orient Rally. Our destination: Dalyan in Turkey. Our team: six friends from Bavaria, two women and four men. Our pride and joy: three Mercedes-Benz S 124 vehicles. We painted shark jaws on the wings so that no one could mistake us for someone else. We have a journey of almost three weeks ahead of us.
At the end of it we achieve fourth place out of 70 teams, entirely without a GPS which, just like expensive or brand-new vehicles, is forbidden on this rally. On our journey we travelled through Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey and Georgia, making friends with new people and cultures at the same time as gathering some of the most wonderful memories ever.
Memories of Istanbul, the first meeting place with the other teams. We start the engines early in the morning and head for the Hagia Sophia with a Turkish police escort. As we cross the Bosphorus Bridge, the girls are sitting on the roofs of our cars, the wind is in their hair and the muezzin is calling to prayer, and all against an unbelievable backdrop. We are in the middle of Istanbul, still just inside Europe, then seconds later we’re in Asia – in one of the most breathtaking moments of the rally.
The most beautiful place in the world to spend the night.
The natural scenery of Turkey is impressive too. After spending a day in the Georgian capital of Tiflis, we drive to the easternmost part of Turkey. We pitch our tents on a mountain top and gaze at the 5,137-metre-high holy Ararat volcano, with little mosques nestling amongst the rocks and the spectacular Ishak Pasha Palace in the centre. You don’t often find such a wonderful place to spend the night. No luxury suite in the world can compete with this.
Where strangers become friends.
The strangers we meet en route, and who become friends although we don’t have a common language, are at least as unforgettable as the scenery. For example, the young man who joins us early one morning by the Black Sea just as we are having our breakfast. He sings us Turkish folk songs and we dance and rejoice at the freshly caught fish he gives us. A short time later, the captain of a fishing boat brings us delicious salmon, so we sit down on the beach together and enjoy a second breakfast.
Later we pay the captain a visit, and his wife treats us to food and chai – we feel thoroughly at home.
Somewhere in nowhere.
In Göreme in Cappadocia, where there are spectacular rocks speckled with small caves, we get to know a group of young people. At night time they take us up a hill in the centre of the town, where we can look out over the whole town. At sunrise we drive up and down the mountain again and again until the dust we raise almost envelops our cars.
Every time we think we've just experienced the very best thing on this journey, the next location or the next event comes along to make us change our minds. Like the Salt Lake in Şereflikoçhisar. In the midst of high peaks, we drive into the salt lake basin in one of our S 124 cars and drift until the water starts foaming. The view of the lake and the warm evening sunlight are exactly how life should be.
The courage to open up.
At some stage we decide it’s time for a change. We find a garage and a mechanic who frees one of our cars of its roof. So one of our Mercedes-Benz S 124 models is transformed into a wonderful open-top car that the Mercedes-Benz film crew all fall in love with when they visit us the next day. Incidentally, this workshop is not the only one we visit on our trip.
After all, we cover several thousand kilometres, most of which is off-road and in cars that, according to the rally rules, have to be more than veteran: the only vehicles permitted on the Allgäu-Orient Rally have to be at least twenty years old and roadworthy. Newer cars are only admitted if their value is less than 1,111.11 euros.
Test of endurance for man and machine.
So it is more than understandable that the heavy braking in the mountains of Bosnia leaves its mark: our front right-hand brake line bursts. We are just about to disconnect the brakes completely when we discover an amateur garage. The S 124 is virtually the national car here, so spare parts are quickly found. We eat our breakfast sitting on the bonnet, then we say farewell to the mechanics who have fallen in love with our cars and would love to buy parts from us, such as the bench seat. No chance. Who knows if we’ll still need it.
When the drive shaft on one of our cars breaks one night, we push it into a parking space for the night. In the morning we are woken by a local reporter who has heard we’re in town and would like an interview with us. In return, she arranges for a garage to help us, and the problem is quickly solved. Later, in the middle of the Greek rush hour, we learn that a broken fan wheel can be quite simply replaced by the electric fan from the air conditioning and an earthed plug.
A destination in itself.
Almost three weeks later, as we reach the small town of Dalyan in the early evening, we climb up onto our cars just before the finish line banner and cheer as we cross the finishing line. Our S 124 cars have put up a very good show. It took us a long time to find them, fix them up, have them pass the German equivalent of an MOT and subsequently decorate them. Now we’ve grown really fond of them. We sprint to the sea and celebrate our trip, of which we can truly say, more than anything else: the journey was a destination in itself.
We look at the phenomenal beach as the sun is just going down and the air and water are as warm as a bath. At that moment, we know: we'll be doing it again!