Well we are now sitting in Moscow airport, waiting for our connecting flight to Heathrow. Our adventure is almost over 🙁
Mongolia was amazing but very, very, hard work. As we approached the Russian / Mongolian border at Tashanta last Thursday we thought we were near the end, we were – but a whole new adventure was about to start.
We rolled out of the border post and on to an unpaved road that’d been built with bone shaking / car wrecking ruts running across – it was like driving over a ploughed field … the wrong way. Within 10 minutes the car was starting to fall to bits, we’d slowed to 10mph and all the vibrations caused it to stall, which took us another 10 minutes to get it going again.
Eventually we arrived at the first little town, Tsagaannuur, which was a smattering of buildings and no roads … you just drive wherever you wanted. We managed to find a bank and a lonely, hand powered, petrol pump, but the start of the road to the next town eluded us – we ended up following some locals in a 4×4. The dirt track wound its way around a lake and up a steep hill which the 4×4 breezed up. We on the other hand couldn’t, and ended up having to traverse back and forth across the side of the mountain, creating our own road.
A wee while later we got a flat tyre and then the car stalled again … and again, each time getting the car going again took us 10 minutes or so. Popping up the bonnet the engine looked very different … instead of the usual oily, greasy, mess, it was coated with a thick layer of dust. A quick change of the air filter had us back on the road, and although it didn’t fix the problem entirely, it did make a big improvement, only stalling once or twice a day from then on.
We passed through Olgi and then on up another mountain, past Gers, Horses, Yaks and a variety of other wildlife. Night fell and we camped out at the top of the mountain in the freezing cold. We were of course the star attraction of the evening and had various visitors: 2 boys on bikes, 3 guys on horses and a couple of Yaks.
Friday saw our first few river crossings, starting easily with a puddle like stream and each time getting a bit more involved. The third was quite a bit deeper than the rest so we stopped to ponder the best way across. After a while we found a point that was fairly shallow but with a small drop in. We put boulders into the water so the car could handle the drop and then proceeded to get the car stuck, half in the water and half out – the boulders just sank in to the riverbed under the weight of the car, and left it grounded on the bank, with the wheels spinning and spitting up water and mud. Half an hour of panic passed before a minibus came along and pulled us out. Crossing was still going to be a problem though, so we broke out the sand ladders that had been strapped under our roof rack for the last 9,000 miles, and used them to bridge the drop into the water … exactly what we should have done in the first place. A piece of cake when you know how.
Elated that we were back on the road again, we slowly covered the kms to the next town and got there early evening. Pushing on we drove until nightfall. In all we’d covered about 120 miles in 12 hours of driving. Just before we stopped for the night we got another flat, and then another. Exhausted from the bad roads and river fun we camped just off the road.
Saturday was a long sloooow full day drive to the next town 320kms away, and with all 3 of our spare tyres used couldn’t afford another flat.
Navigating the dirt tracks in Mongolia is a black art. One moment you will be on a fairly wide and well defined track, and next it will have split in two, then three, four and five. With umpteen tracks now winding their way through the valley or up a hill you quickly learn that they probably all go the same way, but once in a while one of the tracks will veer off in the opposite direction. So with a mixture of following telephone poles that run from town to town, asking locals or flagging down the odd land rover we made our way across Mongolia. Who needs road signs!
And Mongolia is gorgeous … the wilderness, high mountains, wide valleys, plains, the people, the wildlife and of course the roads … all make it an amazing place to visit – it’s impression is going to last a lifetime.
By Sunday we were absolutely filthy, dust was coming into the car everywhere, and there was a thick layer of dust and dirt on everything (including us). There was also a strong smell of petrol, but we couldn’t work out why, the petrol gauge looked fine so we just pushed on, bouncing our way over dirt and sand tracks, sometimes as smooth as a baby’s bottom, other times covered in boulders and huge holes. The car would occasionally bottom out on a huge boulder or ridge and everything would go flying. The sump guard on the engine took quite a battering, we would have certainly killed the engine if we hadn’t had it fitted. The front of the car was also slowly being reshaped from repeated impacts, as was the underside of the car.
Then disaster struck … all of a sudden our half tank of fuel disappeared, hoping it was just a dead fuel gauge I stuck my head under the car, only to find petrol pouring out of a snapped pipe. After about 20 minutes I managed to patch it up with a spare water hose and a few clips. Our predicament had drawn a couple of spectators though, including one chap smoking a cigarette, while I lay under the car with petrol pouring down my arms. The bodge job worked a treat though.
Another 400 km and another small town but time was really starting to run out so after another night on the hills we hit the road again, snapped the fuel line again, and got another flat.
One of our rims was totally dead now, bent beyond repair because we’d driven on it for a few miles without realising, that’s how bad the roads are. Another few miles down the road we hit another huge pothole and heard the wheel hissing away, not wanting another flat tyre I jumped out of the car with the hammer and beat the rim back into shape … it stopped it going flat and it lasted another 200 miles 🙂
Later that day, while pulling out of our last town, the car bumped over something and came to a sudden stop. Thinking I’d just grounded it on another boulder, I stuck it in reverse, but that only made matters worse … the wheels dug in and we got well and truly stuck. It turns out we’d managed to impale the car on an inch thick steel cable that was half buried in the ground. The steel cable had gone straight through the floor of the car, under Julie’s seat, and no amount of wheel spinning would budge it. By this time a small crowd had gathered and their only suggestion was to try and lift the car off with logs of wood. I was concerned this would snap the car in two, as the sills were rather weak (I’d tried jacking the car off the sill in Iran, but had to stop rather quickly). After much head scratching, I jacked the car up and the steel cable popped out but was too thick to bend or chop, so we put the sand ladders under the wheel to give the car a bit more height and put the spade over the top of the cable to stop it impaling again. Lowering the car off the jack, we drove off, snapping the cable in half as the back wheel went over it, luckily the tyre didn’t pop.
By this time it was Monday lunchtime and we’d covered over 1100km, with 400 to go, and we hit a good road … a very good road – silky smooth with white lines and road signs … it was bliss. We picked up speed and all of a sudden came across another rally car … the first we’d seen since Russia. They were limping along, but happy as Larry, and there was another car ahead of us. They’d both entered Mongolia last Tuesday and it’d taken them 2 days longer than us … and I thought we’d struggled.
The good roads held out and we picked up speed, 100 miles covered in the same time we’d done 30 the previous day. We were doing 60mph and I was just about to say to Julie that the road had changed a bit and the white lines had gone when she shouts “END OF ROAD, END OF ROAD”, I slammed my foot on the breaks and skidded to a stop at the edge of a car killing crater. The good roads didn’t return and the last 120 miles into UB was a mix of off road and pothole ridden tarmac.
After another flat tyre we eventually arrived in UB around midnight, eventually found a hotel … a big posh one – that ordered us take away pizza because their restaurant was shut. Got some shut eye and the next day we drove into Dave’s Bar to a round of applause from fellow beer drinking ralliers … BLISS.