We went pretty quicky through the rest of Russia in order to have plenty of time in Mongolia. Russia has a lot of empty nothingness, really a lot, and the roads are pretty unpredictable: there are three different kinds of main road surface, the high-quality new surface, the terrible quality old surface, and the 10+ km stretches of roadworks and queues, where you drive on whatever random rubble and rocks was beneath the road, very slowly. We set off early and finished late, which was the only way to ensure we didn’t spend most of the days waiting in 2 hour queues at traffic lights.
Anyway all that seems like a pretty sensible decision now. We crossed the Mongolian border near Tashanta on the 5th of August. Today we reached Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia and the spiritual finish line of the Mongol Rally (although no longer the offial finish line). It turns out that on the 8th of August the rules for the Mongolian border were changed, and since then if your car is over 10 years old, you need to pay a $4000 to $6000 deposit on entering the country. Bad times! Made even better by the fact that you need to pay in Mongolian togrogs ($4000 is around 9,000,000 togrogs) and the nearest ATM to the border in Mongolia is hours away.
So we were pretty lucky to have been able to drive across this country, even though it was by no means easy. I guess at some point I’ll post photos and whatever else but it gives a good idea what we went through just listing how each day ended. There’s a 20km gap between the Russian side of the border and the Mongolian side; 10km in you actually cross the threshold, and the road instantly changes from smooth Russian tarmac to dusty Mongolian gravel / soil / mud. There is more tarmac in Mongolia than we expected, but still a fair amount of dirt, water, mud and rivers that reach over the bonnet of the car. Anyway here’s what happened…
day 1: having crossed the border, we aimed for Olgii but were stopped by a guy on a motorbike who offered us to stay with his family in a ger (yurt) for about $5 each. So the day ended with an infinite variety of dairy products (camel curd, sheep cheese, goat yoghurt, and the famous fermented horse milk alcohol), playing stupid games with children, trying to talk across pretty thick language barriers, and a nice warm ger to sleep in.
day 2: having been lost on a mountain for hours, on hills that were actually too steep for our cars to go up at one point, we then broke one car by trying to change the fuel filter in the dark, and leaving rubber bungs on the end of some of the hoses. (The next day we towed the car until a couple of road workers came and looked at it and spotted the dumb mistake).
day 3: camping in beautiful mountains by a clean river, but on totally the wrong road and headed almost to the border with China
day 4: both cars stuck in mud in the Gobi desert. (A guy in a truck stopped the next morning, and he couldn’t tow us out either but he did manage to convince a nearby digger driver to give us a tow in the end).
day 5: one car stuck firmly in mud on a patch of steppe. This time Tim & Mike managed to dig it out and tow using the other, which was handy because we were a long way from any kind of road or any other people.
day 6: aiming for Ulaanbaatar, but we didn’t quite make it and camped near a road. Two guys on a motorbike showed up just as I was about to go to sleep, and shone their headlight directly into my face. It took a while to work out what they wanted and whether we were breaking some camping law (improbable in Mongolia), but it turned out they mainly wanted to drink vodka with us. Had they arrived a couple of hours earlier than we would have done so but being nearly asleep already we just waited them out and eventually they left.
day 7: here we are in a nice hotel in Ulaanbaatar! Things are not yet in the bag; we still need to make a long winded border crossing back into Russia to get flights & car shipping from Ulan Ude, on a pretty tight deadline to avoid anyone getting fired from their jobs back in England. But anyway we’ve shown that the guy in Volgograd underestimated us!
Lots more happened that maybe i’ll post words about perhaps even pictures of, but right now the bizarre city of Ulaanbaatar awaits us!