#MBPOLARSUN Roadtrip of a lifetime
London to Munich
After the usual queue at Heathrow, it’s my turn to show my passport at the customs gate :
“ Where are you going sir? “
“ Well, do you have 30 minutes, because this could take a while”
As he looks at my passport thoroughly and proceeds to destroy his keyboard as if he had made the catch of his day he asked :
“ Well, I would like to know what a man born in Colombia with an Irish passport living in London and heading to Germany is going to do”
“ I’m going to Cape North in Norway by crossing 8 countries in less than 10 days”
This is where I usually get in the red queue and explain my unusual profile. But this time, the police officer just handed my passport back with a big smile as if he didn’t believe me.
“ Cheers ! ”
I was finally on my way to meet 20 international drivers for a road trip organised by Mercedes Benz to drive up to Cape North in their new SUV’s.
First step, understanding the new GLE’s hidden off-road talent
Most of our driving will happen on paved road indicated by a very polite GPS, but Mercedes team was fully prepared to teach the rebels of this group and myself how to take the brand new GLE’s on beaten tracks. You know… Just in case.
I wasn’t expecting such off-road capabilities from a car that looks so elegant at first glance. Some of the features of the GLE, like the Self Levelling Suspension and the Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR) settings meant we could basically take any exit, road, or — what looks like a road — without concern of damaging the car or worse, getting stuck. On any road trip, this makes the difference between having a great time or just a boring drive on highways.
Fly back in time with the AMG GLE 63s on the German Autobahn
In our fleet of 8 cars, 3 aggressive looking AMG coupés helped us storm through Germany. We were late to Leipzig, or so did the polite GPS think until my co-driver floored the accelerator to take us on a 245km/h cruise on the legendary german Autobahn.
We flew back in time and the GPS almost apologised when we arrived with 45 minutes of advance from our initial ETA.
Visiting abandoned industrial buildings of Germany
Even those who are not particularly interested with the subject were contaminated with the “exploring virus” of abandoned buildings. Olympic stadiums, airports, swimming pools, factories, military bunkers. If you ever come to Germany, this is your Disneyland.
Leipzig is an interesting area for this unusual occupation. The industrial area was recently converted into artist studios, restaurants and even an open air cinema. Like many emerging cities in the East european region, these buildings are part of the history and citizens are against destroying them.
The next day, we left early to head north and decided to detour through Berlin and check out more abandoned places like this haunted conference centre parking.
After all, it was only another excuse to hit the red zone on the Autobahn again before experiencing the agonising speed limits in the Northern countries.
Poland, a land of many contrasts
As soon as you enter Poland, you notice a difference. That is, many truckers. Some gas stations attracted almost hundreds of them with some unusual techniques. For example, restaurants are not just simple buildings, but castles, pyramids or even day clubs with waitresses wearing costumes and happy music playing all day long.
Although my co-driver and I were both curious, we felt we wouldn’t be welcomed inside as earlier on, prostitutes sitting under their Coca-Cola umbrellas along the road were not impressed by our somehow “small” truck of 585 hp.
The drive was also a battle of titans with sometimes 3 trucks overpassing at the same time. Insane, but very entertaining to watch.
Having diner and a few drinks at our destination in Poznan was a fantastic reward. The area called Stary Browar used to be a huge brewery recently converted into a chic place for young polish to spend a nice evening after work. This is definitely a place I want to visit again.
During the next days, we kept going north going through the equally beautiful Warsaw before arriving in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius.
Skinny dipping in Riga
At this point of the trip, we reached the traveling feeling of being far from our comfort zone. Faces were changing, fewer people understood english and our euros wouldn’t pay for gas. For must of us, it was also the right time to spend some time alone and enjoy this chapter of the road trip with some solitude.
Naturally, I went for the beach, but not exactly a popular one. How did I find it? Well… My friends hate it when I do that, but I open google maps, go for Satellite View and spot the most out of reach place near the sea. Then I just tag it and try to reach it wherever there is a road or not. After driving for an hour into sand, mud, rocks and a whole lot of trees I arrived on a desert beach. I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to make it and I was deeply thankful to the German engineers for including the self-levelling suspension that clears + 50mm of height to the car. It saved me from some stressful sweats. But there I was. In Latvia, under 37°C, with no bathing suit and a couple hours to kill. Boy was that swim a treat.
Now, I think that I wasn’t supposed to be there as I noticed some hand made signs on the way out with angry faces drawn on them. But dude, I don’t read Latvian so how was I supposed to know? A couple minutes later, I crossed a guy driving a Lada with a national flag floating on his radio antenna. His face had seen a ghost when I passed him and immediately (with the lightning speed of a Lada) made a U-Turn to chase me. This was probably a spot for locals to chill out and I think I surely made his day when he told his friends he scared away a guy in a very powerful car. Fair enough!
Race to catch the Ferry
On the day we left Riga, it seems our fleet of cars looked suspicious and apparently word had spread around we were heading North because we weren’t expecting a police car every 10km.
Some of us got arrested and it took the young Russians almost an hour to explain the situation. Nevertheless, the authorities looked more interested in the GLE’s and let everyone go after a quick glance at the interiors.
I probably passed through the radar because my favourite ride of the fleet was the white 350d (258hp) which for me combined the best effectiveness and agility for a SUV and offered a discreet elegance on the road. The coupé was my second favorite when we got into town, you know, to make sure everybody knew a band of hungry foreigners had arrived.
The Ferry to Finland
When we boarded the Ferry, I expected to see most of the passengers on deck to admire the beautiful view and enjoy the fresh air. Boy was I wrong.
Because alcohol is so expensive in the North, people buy all they can at the duty free shops of the boat. Some bringing their own trolley to bring home almost 100 litres of booze. As you would expect, they are very organised and fast so they can hit the dance floor of the huge karaoke surpassing the size of most clubs in London.
I was amused the first hour, but after the second (and probably the 4th beer for some of them), I was realising these guys were going to be on the road with us afterwards.
Just as I thought, when driving out to our local hotel, we made it at an average of 4,5km/h but without a scratch.
Lakes… And more lakes.
Crossing Finland is quite a visual experience with hundreds of lakes just waiting for you to jump in them. The drive was very smooth and we mainly used the Distronic Plus feature of the GLE to automatically keep a safe distance with the car in front us at the speed we desired. My other favourite feature was Stearing Assist which corrects your trajectory when you go off the lines. These small accumulations of constant helps keeps your focus energy up and makes the long driving days less painful.
I was surprised to see that Finish delicacy on the road is… burgers and hot dogs! And good ones! Most of the team loved to stop at gas stations to try them with hundreds of topping combinations. Everyone was incredibly smiling and kind with us and we decided to fill up the car tank when it was half-full just to get a dose of happiness again.
PART #3 : In the last part of the trip from Finland to Cape North in Norway, I try to stay focused on the road listening to her favorite songs, we run into the most beautiful scenic roads of our lives and touch one tip of the world.
Jason Derulo and the incredible golden skies of Norway
– “Do you guys know the song from Jason Derulo, want to want me!!?”
– “Euh, no we don’t, but let’s hear it !”
After the song kicked in, my co-driver decided to dive into another car of the group for the rest of the trip. He knew he wouldn’t resist to the next songs of her playlist.
Clara was wearing her smile. I knew I was in trouble. For my playlist as well.
Our goal that day was to reach Alta in Norway and that was only a couple hours away. We didn’t need any drinks as the view was already inebriating to get us talking about our lives. Some things should stay forever on the road and I intend to keep it that way.
The drive could have obviously been way longer but she proved to be an excellent driver with a typical german love for punctuality and we sadly made it on time.
Our final destination, Cape North
After a short night in Alta due to an improvised parking rooftop party to witness one last time the unique golden sky of Norway, we disappeared in the misty morning to our final destination, Cape North.
That 3 hour stretch was one of the most beautiful rides in my life. Every minute was a candy to the eye.
We reached Cape North under a heavy fog that made the arrival a lunar experience. Touching the tip of the world never felt so real and we all agreed on this incredible opportunity that was offered to us. More than 5 000km and 65 hours of consecutive driving made this moment even stronger.
I will keep an eternal souvenir of my trip in the Mercedes GLE’s that I tried soooo hard to get dirty but their elegance was too strong for my dynamic off-road skills.
The logistic and human skills to create this expedition are beyond imagination and I would like to thank anyone involved in the #MBPolarSun program at Mercedes-Benz for this invitation.
In a more personal note:
I think Zaid Hamid from GT Spirit also deserves a special thanks for helping me with a professional imperative at a very unsociable hour.
My first co-driver, Gareth Pon, thank you for helping me “not” read the forbidden signs and capture great moments.
My second co-driver Konrad for sharing on the road his unique photography skill. It looks so easy on his feed but in reality, this guy could run 8km just to get the right angle.
Jule Marie, Victoria Flato, it seems nothing is impossible for you and your work was amazing. We all looked like 20 clueless teenagers when you were in charge.
Wolfgang, thank you for believing on my new project and inviting me to this expedition. Clara, thank you for staying focused and professional on this very valuable fleet of cars and making sure everyday, under any circumstance, we could keep going North in safety.