Lying in a hammock, in front of a beach shack in South Goa (India) as i write this . . . life can be hard sometimes. Flicking through the posts from the last few months brings back some awesome memories – man, what a MASSIVE adventure!
After a huge week in UB, Lockeridge and Ed went to Vietnam for a few weeks of silliness before heading home. From everything I have seen, Vietnam will probably never be the same. Both the boys are at home now, on two wheels as much as possible, and talking general rubbish about where to next (Something about Hungary to Morocco?).
I ended up sticking it out in Mongolia for 2 months. I bought a motorbike and rode it about 3,500km around the northern and far western states, tagging up with a rather loose band of travellers at different points along the road – ending up at the Golden Eagle Festival in Olgii. I’m in India at the moment. Leaving next week on a Royal Enfield to see how far I can get before heading home in late January.
This is just a final note to say a HUGE thankyou to our sponsors, donors, family and friends for having our backs in the leadup and throughout what has been one of the biggest and best adventures so far.
Thankyou to the team at Tweed Hyundai for your support of Australian Cancer Research. Goes without saying, the Hyundai was bulletproof. We purchased it for about $2,500 AUD in the UK. It was in such good shape when we arrived, that it fetched around $3,000 AUD at auction for charity – even after everything we put it through!
Goodyear Tweed Rubber, Tyres and Brakes
Thanks to Kevin, Sean and the whole team at Goodyear Tweed Rubber, Tyres and Brakes for your donation towards our parts and tools fund. Not only did having the right gear save us more than once, it has since been donated to local Mongolian families where it will be put to good use. Looking forward to a beer when we get back.
Castle Combe Race Circuit:
A huge thankyou to Rod Gooch and the team at Castle Combe Circuit for your support in buying / storing the car and giving us a home base. It’s more than likely that this little journey wouldn’t have made it out of Australia without your help, so really, thanks so much.
Hillside Garage (Burton):
Ian and Mike, the Hyundai purred all the way to Mongolia. Through sand dunes, rivers, 40 degree heat and sub zero cold – the little warrior just wouldn’t quit. Thanks for making sure she was in good shape before we left and loading us with spare parts. Such good blokes.
Rescue Tape Australia
Gerard, thankyou for your donation towards ACRF and for supplying us with enough Rescue Tape to get us to Mongolia. There are a few cars in Ulaanbaatar that have Rescue Tape to thank for getting them over the line. . . so thanks again.
Thanks to Breen Heydon for pulling together (and donating!) the decals for our car at the last minute. Car looked awesome!
To the band of crazies from across the world that we now call friends, thankyou for making our journey what it was. From what I can gather, it is likely that we will see each other again en-mass in the not to distant future. . . and I look forward to it.
If you are thinking about giving the Mongol Rally a nudge, stop thinking about it and sign up. It will be one of the best decisions of your life.
If you had any questions, feel free to drop us a line.
Rhys (and Ben – aka ‘The Blog Dodger’)
I opened my eyes this morning, expecting to be dead . . . (and after last night’s episode, pretty sure I would have a battle on my hands convincing the man upstairs I was worth letting in).
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that while I was not only alive, all three of us were in surprisingly good shape and ready to get stuck into the last ‘official’ day of the Mongol Rally!
(Chinggis vodka. . . the better way to describe it would be like giving a can of spinach to Popeye. It makes you stronger, better looking and able to rip karaoke like you too could be INXS’s next front man. . . . )
Once we came to, the three of us headed down to unpack the car and get it ready to be handed over to The Adventurists for auctioning.
With so much dust in the car, the whole process felt more like an archaeological dig than anything else. We found currency from just about all of the 16 countries we had visited and even though all 5kg of the coin we found probably amounted to less than $2USD, it was a nice reminder of what we had experienced over the past 6 weeks.
We packed our lives into our backpacks, gave our extra food to some of the locals in Gab’s block and arranged to donate our tools and gear to the NGO where she worked.
By around 2pm, we were on the road bound for the finish line!
As we rounded the bend near the State Department Store we could see more and more disheveled looking Ralliers lining the streets and the finish line banners in the distance. As we entered the compound we were pretty quickly told to get back out again and wait like normal people. . . . bit of a mood killer really.
We hadn’t parked for more than 2 minutes when we saw Paul from Team Phoenix! After we lost the lads in the desert for a second time (seems to be a bit of a theme here?) it was so good to see him again and hear that the boys had made it in great shape. As we walked into the finishing line compound, we were reunited with teams we hadn’t seen in weeks (some months), this was shaping up to be a most excellent afternoon.
When it was our turn for glory, we drove our car up onto the dubious looking finishing line ramp for our official photos. . .
After 16 countries, 17,012k and some of the BEST times of our lives we had ‘officially’ made it to Ulaabaatar!!!!
Ben headed upstairs to do the official paperwork (Tip for future ralliers – avoid being the registered owner of the car, only brings you pain) while I spent a bit of time downstairs with Ed catching up with some of the other teams as they rolled in. We went for a wander out the back to the graveyard, some of the cars there were in BAD shape. . . . but I guess you could expect a level of fallout after what we had come through.
We hadn’t been in the yard for 5 minutes then we met a potential buyer for our car – he loved the Hyundai’s so much he was negotiating to buy both of them. After travelling half way across the planet, the only problem with our car was that the suspension bump stops were destroyed. . .
One thing was for sure, whomever had the common sense to buy this car was getting a bloody gem!
Inside, we signed the official board of champions, picked up our certificates and proceeded to get hammered with our new family of crazies from across the planet who had made it to UB.
Later that night, we headed over to the official finish line party. The Adventurists had arranged for Altan Urag to play. Checkout their YouTube channel – they are this awesome fusion of traditional Mongolian instruments, throat singing and a little bit of Rammstein to boot. (*Addition – I would later see them live another 4 times during my stay in UB, they were that good! Check them out.).
More sillines ensued, stories were shared, good times were had. . . what a fantastic night and a great way to bring the official part of this journey to a close.
Signing off for now,
ULAANBAATAR BABY! – Gab’s house /Granville Pub / Trivia (from here, only the camera knows), Ulaanbaatar
It had been a long time since any of us slept on a bed, it had been a long time since any of us had had a shower, it had been a while since we ate anything other than instant noodles and I had lost count of the number of days since I last changed my jocks (it may have been Russia, I can’t be sure).
Safe to say, when we arrived in Ulaanbaatar last night, we probably looked (and smelled) like a long lost part of Ghengis Khan’s army that had been holed up in Europe for the past few years waiting for the orders to invade Hungary – and being generally pissed off that noone gave them the heads up that plans had changed
After a tub and some breakfast, Ed spoke to his mate Gabby – who just happened to be in Mongolia at the time for work (result?). She offered to let us crash at her place for a few days and help us acclimatise to Ulaanbaatar now that we had arrived at our final destination, what a legend.
UB traffic – what a bastard!
Ben and Gab drove the Hyundai, Ed and I headed to the main drag to flag down a taxi for our trip to Gab’s place. Mongolia is like Turkmenistan in that just about every car is a potential taxi -the idea is that you just stick your hand out and (if they like the cut of your jib) a friendly Mongolian will pull over and offer you a lift to wherever you are going for next to nothing.
20 minutes later, Ed and I were still in the same spot. Just as we were starting to think there might be something wrong with the cut of our jibs, a friendly Mongolian pulled over and offered to take us to Gab’s place for a staggering $2.80.Success!
It took us a while to get there, UB is famous for having some of the worst traffic on the planet. From what we saw, it seems to be the traffic equivalent of Tehran (i.e. Two lanes = 4 cars, empty pavement = extra lane, pedestrian crossing = fancy street graffiti, pedestrians = that annoying thing you need to hose off your car after you return from a trip to the shops. . . ).
Traffic in Ulaanbaatar is an interesting conundrum. The problem you have is that out of the 2.9 million or so people living in Mongolia, a little under half (1.4 million) live in the capital – the urban part of which you could just about fit into Tweed Heads / Coolangatta. This wouldn’t be a drama, except that just about every one of them has a car, loves to drive and couldn’t give two shits about road rules.
We dropped our gear at Gabs and headed out for some lunch. It mightn’t seem like much, but after what we had just come through over the past few weeks, sitting in a restaurant ordering a steakburger and chips from an English speaking waiter felt like we were in the bloody twilight zone.
On one hand it was magic, on the other it was a sign that a chapter of our Mongol Rally journey had come to a close. From here on in we wouldn’t be packing up and moving every day, we had no more border crossings to make, we wouldn’t see and experience changing faces / languages / cultures every few days – it was almost like life was returning to a state of normalcy* (I’ll put something up about ‘UB normalcy’, given that it seems to be so far removed from any other place I’ve ever been to).
Later that night we caught up with a few of Gab’s mates and went to Trivia at a local Irish pub. At this stage, we were reunited with Sebastien and Aruna – our Canadian mates from Canuck the Dots! We hadn’t seen them since I successfully managed to lose them in the desert somewhere near Bayankhongor, it was so good to catch up and share war stories that we forgot about trivia and ended up dead last. (Given my track record with trivia, I don’t think it was the war stories that did the damage. . . ).
Even a bonus round beer skulling domination from Ed couldn’t pull us off the bottom of the ladder. It was at this point I met a 7 year old Mongolian fortune teller. I know he was a fortune teller because just before the skulling comp started he put his hands over my ear and whispered – ‘the fat guys always win. . . . ‘
Enter Chinggis – conqueror of nations, destroyer of livers. . .
Throughout our dismal trivia performance, Gab had introduced us to (and was helping us to get gradually pole-axed on) a particular brand of Mongolian vodka called Chinggis. The best way to describe Mongolian Chinggis vodka can be found on their website:
‘Chinggis Gold is manufactured from high-quality, ecologically sound home-grown young wheat, and the purest Mongolian mountain spring water. Touting an extremely fine taste hinting of wild honey, it infatuates with a silky smooth palate, owing to a minimum of 8 distillations through quarz-sand and silver birch activated-carbon filtrations.’
I’m not sure if was that sneaky 8th distillation or the quarz-sand filtration that did the damage, but somewhere along the way things got unusually out of hand!
At 1am we found ourselves at an after hours karaoke bar with about 15 other mates who we met on the Rally. From what I can put together after viewing the various video clips taken throughout the night, the singing was atrocious (except for Seb who managed the best rendition of ‘More than a Feeling’ I have ever heard – hate that guy), dance moves even worse (a good solid table in the middle of a karaoke room is crying for attention isn’t it?) and to cap it all off – Ben was defending himself from the sexual advances of a random Mongolian bloke who had somehow managed to smuggle himself into our karaoke den.
We’re not sure how, but we arrived home at stupid o’clock, stupidly blind after what was an awesome night out.
Not sure what the word is to describe it, but amid all it’s craziness, UB was proving itself to be ‘an unexpectedly great place to be’. Suggestions welcome.
Near Bayankhongor, Mongolia – ULAANBAATAR BABY!
ODO: Start – 80,229, Finish – 81,576
Mileage –345 Miles (558 Km)
Cumulative Distance – 10,571 Miles (17,012 Km!)
By the time I climbed out of the back seat, Ed was surrounded by a pack of wolves playing ‘patty cake, patty cake’. These dogs were huge, but playful as puppies.
After a cup of tea, some porridge and a baby wipe shower we continued our journey – we had no idea that today would be the day we would reach Ulaanbaatar.
We came to a bridge that looked like it would fall apart given a slight breeze, after checking it our and realising it was even unfit for humans to walk on – we decided to take our chances with the water. When we pulled up, I jumped out and rolled up the jeans to find the shallowest part of the creek – just as I was about to walk in a Polish team in a Honda CRV (more cheaters) pulled up next to us.
Polish hero – ‘Are you going to go through?’
Me – ‘I’m going to walk it first, but you can give it a crack if you like’
With that the Poles launched into the water, getting about 2 metres before their 4WD met with death in the middle of the creek. After we stopped laughing, I walked past them on the right and found a shallow track – the Hyundai crossed with no dramas.
It seems even in the middle of nowhere, pride still takes a box seat.While this guy looked to have no idea what he was doing, he wasn’t going to accept any help from us. Water was spewing out of the spark plugs like a water feature from Backyard Blitz.
We watched the comedy show continue for another 10 minutes before we headed off in search of food.
We found a good place for lunch and managed to order ourselves something which wasn’t mutton dumplings, a very exciting prospect indeed. After lunch and a few beers we continued on in search of a place to camp for the night. By this point we were on a bitumen road (BITUMEN!), which didn’t help to be honest – it just meant the potholes hurt more when we hit them.
Night fell and we pushed on. Towns came and went and we couldn’t seem to find the right spot for us to throw the tents down. Eventually, we asked a truck stop the best place to sleep the night. ‘Ulaanbaatar, it’s only 70km away’. That was good enough for us, we continued on (very carefully) into the night until over the horizon we saw the shimmering lights of Ulaanbaatar. . . .
After 40 days and 17,012 KM we had finally made it to Ulaanbaatar!
Unfortunately, what we came upon as we entered town was enough for me to have a ‘turn around and let’s get the hell out of here’ moment. . . . .
The roads leading into the city were the WORST we had seen since Turkmenistan. It was 11pm and every man and his dog were on the road, and you would swear the dogs were doing the driving. It was chaos. At 11pm at night, after driving for 16 hours to get here, I had made my assessment within 10 minutes – Ulaanbaatar was a dog’s box. . .
It was such a contrast having come through some of the most beautiful scenery we have ever seen to be in a city like this. It’s that Paul Kelly song again I guess. We asked at about 5 hotels before we found one that would take us. Ben had 3 showers, he reckons each time more black stuff came off him. Ed swore it was just his ‘newness’. . .
We still weren’t at the finish line, but we were close enough to get the car there over the next few days. It felt strange after so long to be so close. . .
Altay, Mongolia – Near Bayankhongor, Mongolia
ODO: Start – 80,959, Finish – 81,229
Mileage – 270 Miles (435 Km)
Cumulative Distance – 10,224 Miles (16,454 Km)
We left Altay, but not before a quick visit to the Mongol Rally ‘Graveyard’. . . .
There are 4 key drop off points in major towns on the way to Ulaanbaatar. The idea being that should things go very pear shaped, you can either:
- Be towed to one of these drop-off points to have your broken car repaired using some of the most agricultural / bush mechanic like techniques you have ever seen) OR
- Drop your car off for good, should it be totally devoid of newness and unable to continue in the Rally
Around the back of the drop off point in Altay is what they call the graveyard – a whole stack of Mongol Rally cars from over the years that hadn’t made it to UB (either due to bad luck, owner stupidity or the fact they were made in France / Italy). What we saw when we rounded the corner was a depressing site indeed. . .
There were about 15 cars there, some from as far back as 2009. The most recent of which belonged to a young team of Scotts who we met at Goodwood – ‘The Petrol, The Beers, The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears’. When we last saw them, we were impressed that they were carrying a kayak on their roof through to Mongolia. 15,000km later, their journey had come to an end, here in Altay. They were missing a wheel, it looked like their front swing arm was in bad shape . . . . the kayak was sitting on the dirt next to their car.
It’s hard not to feel gutted when you see this kind of thing. We know how much planning goes into getting yourself to this point. For these guys, the great news is they made it all the way to Mongolia – from here their car could probably be fixed and still be auctioned at some stage.
The lady running the show wouldn’t let us take photos, but we got a couple in . . . .
After yesterday’s shenanigans, we heard that the Canucks might be waiting for us on the outskirts of town at around 8. It was 8, they weren’t there – we decided we had to push on, after the news last night we were sure they were safe and well.
We agreed we didn’t need to go as hard, given that we had covered a fair bit of ground yesterday (and opened up a few new angry sounding noises in the Hyundai). Even still, the bump stops (which were now a distant memory) and our new tyres copped a hammering. Ed’s GPS and tablet were telling two different stories about where in the world we were. The GPS indicated we were on the right road, the tablet said we were about 50km from the main drag. We pushed on and eventually came to a small village.
We were dangerously low on fuel at this point, so when a drunk dude clinging to the back of a motorbike for dear life offered to show us where the benzine was at we were pretty wrapped. After a quick bite to eat, Ed’s guts were less than impressed. We told Team Phoenix we would meet them over ‘that mountain’ when they were ready. They never came. . . .
Not sure if we pointed to the wrong mountain, but we had successfully managed to lose our convoy (who we genuinely liked) for the second time in two days. We pushed on in hopes that Ed’s GPS was leading us in the right direction, some locals confirmed this and we continued east.
We were pretty confident, the last bloke who followed this track was probably Marco Polo himself. . . .
The drive was beautiful, every mountain we would cross presented a valley of a 100 different tracks for us to choose from. The terrain today was back to golf course green, it really was a nice run. We followed a trail of dust off in the distance that we thought would be the highway and before you know it, we were back on the main drag to Bayahonogor (not that it was any different to the paddock, but still nice to know we were in the right place).
Bayanhongor came and went, we pushed on until around 10pm at night and found a place just off the road to crash.
The boot of the car was coated in a 1cm layer of dust, it was in everything except the inside of the Baked Beans cans – which we had for dinner. Given that we were sleeping in the car, this may have been a bad move. . . . .
Hovd, Mongolia – Altay, Mongolia
ODO: Start – 80,698, Finish – 80,959
Mileage – 261 Miles (420 Km)
Cumulative Distance – 9,954 Miles (16,019 Km)
Next morning, we woke and were packed to roll by 7.00am – bloody early as far as we were concerned! We had a big days drive to get under our belt today, the next town was near 450km away and from all reports the roads were going to be the worst yet.
I got behind the wheel and we headed off into the Nulla Nulla, bound for Altay. We hadn’t been on the road long before the Canucks did a wheel – their first real problem of the trip. Paul had it knocked back into shape within 10 minutes. The roads today were definitely looking worse than yesterday and the terrain was starting to resemble a real desert – alot or dirt, alot of rocks, alot of Hyundai sized potholes.
Eventually, we came to a Gerr camp where we ran into our mates from the UK (Mark, Freddie, Coups) and another team from the States. They informed us we had been heading in the wrong direction, with the main road about 50km to our left. All 5 cars tagged up and started making our way in the general direction of the main drag.
The roads at this point were really dusty, similar to the kinds of roads you would find on the way to Birdsville, QLD. This was exacerbated by the fact that there were 5 cars all in convoy, all going slowly, all nice and close together.
It was at this point that we made the stupidest decision of the trip. . .
(and considering I had just spend a couple of months with my old man and Brother in outback Australia – I’m going to wear this one.)
Ed and I noticed a fair bit of dust circulating through the cabin making it tough to breathe and see (which wasn’t surprising considering we were in the desert). We decided our best bet was to wind the windows down and let the dust ‘suck itself out of the car’. . . . .
Anyone who has driven in outback Australia (or any dusty road in fact) would know, this is generally considered the fastest way to turn your car into one big desert vacuum cleaner!
We didn’t notice it in the front, but in the back seat Ben was slowly being covered in a fine layer of Gobi Desert. By the time we stopped and saw that Ben looked like something that had just been dug out of Tutankhamen’s tomb, my beard had changed from red to grey and Ed looked like he actually was 42 years old. . . the damage had been done.
We were now driving on the inside of a vacuum cleaner bag. . .
The convoy was traveling pretty slowly; the dust was getting pretty unbearable. Even with windows up, we couldn’t escape it given how close the cars were to each other. I decided it was time for the Hyundai to stretch her legs and we shot off ahead in hopes the other teams would follow – stretching the convoy out and getting away from the cloud of dust we seemed to be swimming in.
We not only moved ahead, I think we set a new land speed record for a Hyundai Accent in the Gobi. Ben was nearly in tears in the back, probably a mix of the fact that the car was copping a hiding and that his spine was losing alot of it’s ‘newness’. Ed was the co-pilot of the year today, confirming we still had a convoy behind us and giving a yell whenever something unexpected came out of the horizon (camels / goats / crevasses etc).
About an hour into our Colin McRae-like rally drive we decided to pull over, check where we were and wait for the others to catch up. After 2 – 3 minutes, the car we thought were our Canadian mates pulled up next to us – turns out, the weren’t our Canadian mates at all. This was the team from the States who we had met with the eagle hunters yesterday:
Yanks – ‘Wow, we love your pace – you guys are flying’
Us – ‘Shit, where are the Canadian’s and the ‘Old Dudes’ (Team Phoenix)’
Yanks – ‘Ohhhh, they’re way back – we haven’t seen them for a long time’
They were right; there was no sign of the Kinari or Team Phoenix anywhere on the horizon. Not only had we managed to lose our convoy, a quick check of the GPS confirmed we had missed a turn off and were now on our way to a National Park – again more towards China than we wanted to be. . .
We pushed on through this track which seemed to have more bends than the old Pacific Highway (you would think in a land without fences roads would be mostly straight?). Even by Mongolian standards, this road was something else. In some instances, we found ourselves driving through dried up sandy creek beds for a couple of k’s at a time. The old girl earned it’s stripes today. After a couple of hours of this, we popped out at a service station. . . on a bitumen road!
We stopped to take some photos and reflect on our Paris Dakkar qualifying run through the desert. All of us were feeling a bit off that we had lost our mates. We knew Team Phoenix would be fine, Paul was a mechanic. But the Canadians were driving an automatic and knew as much about the insides of a car as I did (dangerously little). There wasn’t anything we could do now; we just hoped they didn’t end up as far off track as we did and managed to get back to the main drag.
The road to town was bitumen, but that didn’t help things – some of these potholes should have had their own post code. It was pitch black by this stage and my attempts to evade potholes were often jagging even bigger ones.
At around 10pm we rolled into Altay and found a hotel. We opened our car door and swore half of the Gobi desert fell out onto the driveway.
We walked into a hotel reception looking like all three of us had been on the losing end of a fight with a fire extinguisher. We met another two teams; they were enjoying a few beers, all perfectly clean. They took one look at us, laughed and said ‘Windows down ay boys?’ Bastards.
The room we were given had no shower, no lights and only two beds – but we didn’t care. Ed and I ducked to the shops for supplies, on the way back we saw something that made us smile – I light blue Hyundai was rolling down the main street, Team Phoenix had made it. They also confirmed that the Canucks were parked up camping just outside of town and all going well, should meet us on the outskirts of town tomorrow morning. It was great to know all were in good form.
We cooked some noodles and settled in for the night. It was cold, it was dusty, but after 15 hours on the road sleep came without any dramas at all.
Tolbo, Mongolia – Hovd, Mongolia
ODO: Start – 80,584, Finish – 80,698
Mileage – 114 Miles (183 Km)
Cumulative Distance – 9,693 Miles (15,599 Km)
First thing we heard when we woke up was Andrew yelling out ‘TEA, TEA - where’s the tea?!’ – as if he was a crack addict, starved of a fix. We assumed this was natural for an Englishman . . . .
We packed up the shed, payed our $1.15 US room charge and hit the road. We were bound for Hovd today and had a bit of a plan of attack – if you follow the telegraph poles, Hovd will come. . .
We drove on, passing fields of grassy nothing and the occasional cluster of Gerrs. The Gerrs were interesting; they all seemed to have solar panels and satellite dishes. This had to be the ultimate way to live, the middle of nowhere, miles from civilisation, not a care in the world . . . . with access to a working Xbox and Fox Sports.
About an hour along the journey, Paul pulled the convoy over. I’ll never forget what he said to us at that stage:
Paul – ‘Hey lads, you see that mountain there?’ (indicating to a hill about 70KM in the distance)
Us – ‘Yeah. . ‘
Paul – ‘Well, that’s China. . . we don’t want to go there’
He was right. We didn’t want to go to China . . .
Eventually the Canucks got wind that something was afoot and turned around to join us. We drove back to the Gerr camp we had passed, Aruna and I went to ask for directions.
Us – ‘Hovd?’ (Indicating toward the Chinese mountains in hopes we might havebeen right)
Farmers – ‘Nonono, Cheeena. . . . ‘ (Indicating towards the Chinese mountains, confirming we were in fact heading towards the land of the doped swimming team)
After some assistance from the map and the phrase book, we learned we had to go back to the town we stayed in last night and head a different direction. The lesson here, always (always!) ask the locals for directions if you’re not sure. Once we arrived back in Tolbo, I asked our landlord from last night the best way to roll:
‘Hovd? Yes – See mountain? No, not first mountain, second mountain. At second mountain, go middle past third mountain’
These had to be some of the most bizarre street directions I had ever heard, but sure enough, we ‘go middle past third mountain’ and we came across another Mongol Rally team – we were back on track! After pulling over to survey the scenery, these guys had met a local eagle hunter who had offered to show them his eagle.
Eagle hunting seems to be pretty popular here in Mongolia (as it is in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan). Mongolians raid an eagle’s nest for chicks and raise them from young. They train them to hunt small animals, foxes, marmots, Perodua Kinaris – you name it. The eagle will kill the animal and bring it back to it’s keeper, these guys had just bagged themselves a marmot and were on their way to Tolbo to sell it.
We had seen a couple of hunting eagles sitting on rocks near their master’s Gerrs on our way here, but this would be our first opportunity to hold one up close. They truly are an impressive animal. Even through a glove made out of a cow’s arse you can still feel the eagle’s claws on your fingers – what an amazing sight. The camera flash bulbs got a workout on this one.
We hit the road and after another (less interesting) water crossing we stopped for lunch. Within five minutes we were surrounded by the other teams who we had left at the border this morning (one of which was our mates who rolled their car in K-stan). It looked as though our little detour to China had cost us some time. . .
After sharing some war stories and a bite to eat, we pushed on. Quite soon, we were back to our convoy of three – with most other teams tearing off into the distance. It wasn’t long before we pulled over again. . . we had blown one of our tyres.
This wasn’t something that a plug could fix; it looked like someone had thrown it into a helicopter propeller. Luckily, we had 4 spares in the back seat that we had all been sandwiched against at different stages of the journey. Lockeridge and Paul had it changed within10 minutes and we were back on the ‘road’. Even though we had enough spares to sink a bathtub, this didn’t bode well for us. We knew we were on shit tyres; they were kind of an added bonus when we bought our steel wheels in Turkey. We had good tyres on our alloy rims, but alloys would be as useful as driving on balsa wood if we hit something decent. We would have to get new tyres. . . simple as that.
In the early afternoon we came to Hovd, both the Canucks and Team Phoenix went in search of a hotel – we headed off to find some new kicks for the Hyundai. After a few unsuccessful attempts, we found a guy who had just taken a delivery of some new tyres, he didn’t have the size we were after but he had a size that were a little bit wider. . . .they’d fit, right?
I’m about as handy around cars as a glue stick on a construction site, so I left Ed and Ben to finish the job and went in search of a Hotel for us. After I checked us in, I went back to the tyre shop to see how we were travelling.
When I arrived at the tyre shop, the new kicks had been fitted and looked magic. Ben and Ed had just jumped in for a test drive, I’ve never heard wheels hit guards more seriously in my life. They were clearly too wide for the car, but it was our only option – we needed these bad boys to fit. The car came back, Ben jumped out with his swiss army knife and to the horror of the local tyre fitters – started to cut pieces out of the guards to stop the tyres from rubbing.
They took it for another test drive (to the tune of more guard / tyre scraping carnage), at which point the tyre fitters (who were clearly distressed by this point) started on me. They were indicating that the tyres were hitting the guards / springs and seemed genuinely concerned by the whole scenario. In the end, they managed to spit out:
‘You. That car. . . desert – DEAD!!’
I left the boys to it and went in search of beer – I knew the situation was in good hands (any set of hands other than mine had to be considered good at this point). I would later learn that Lockeridge returned to the tyre shop, borrowed a sledgehammer and proceeded to bash the living s#@t out of the guards until the tyres only scraped 20% of the time. . . a great success!
Lockeridge and Ed returned to the hotel and the whole pack of us headed out for dinner. We circled town and finally found the restaurant that was recommended by lonely planet. The menu was beautiful, leather bound and full of pictures – just what we like.
After a process of elimination, we learned that everything on the menu was unavailable except for pasta and beer (like owning a seafood restaurant and ultimately stocking nothing but snickers – Ed). We did some damage to the Hovd pasta supply and headed back to the hotel for a few beers and bed.
You could knock on the beds like a front door, but by this point no one cared – we were shattered after another huge day on the treads. . .
Camp Hope, No Man’s Land – Tolbo, Mongolia
ODO: Start – 80,474, Finish – 80,584
Mileage – 110 Miles (177 Km)
Cumulative Distance – 9,579 Miles (15,416 Km)
When we woke up, it was hammering with rain and freezing cold. We dragged our tents over to the cover of the border control building to pack them up. The sight on the way to border control was pretty hairy.
Best way I can describe it: it looked like a whole herd of suicide bombing goats had snuck into the Camp Hope compound last night, got blind drunk and then blew themselves to smithereens in protest of this whole Mongol Rally caper – there were beer cans, vodka bottles and bits of goat everywhere!
I flashed back to last night and remembered a UK bloke hacking his way through the pile of goat on our picnic table, every time he came across a piece that he didn’t recognise (which were most of them) he would turn and peg it into the darkness. Now that darkness had faded and the compound was bathed in the cold (and wet) light of day we could see the results of what was one massive mutton and booze fuelled party – it was a bloody mess!
Just as we were in the throes of packing up for a speedy getaway, a border guard-ess (who was probably the reincarnation of Chingiss Khan himself) came over and explained that no one was leaving until the ‘goat and beer bomb’ had been cleaned up. It was like telling a five year old they needed to clean their room before they could go outside and play, we cleaned the joint at warp speed – making sure we left a good chunk of the mess for our goat slinging mates from last night.
We drove to the gate with Team Phoenix (the other, less pretty, Hyundai Accent). Mrs. Khan opened the gate and we were free to go. It was hard to believe that after over 15,000KM of driving, we had finally cleared our last Mongol Rally border control!
100 metres up the road, the Canucks (who had snuck out early and avoided the cleanup) flagged us down and showed us where we could buy Mongolian insurance – which was conveniently located right next to the restaurant that dealt in mutton dumplings by the shopping bag. After fuelling up on mutton, we hit the ‘road’.
Stretched out before us was some of the most beautiful landscape we had ever laid eyes on.
The grass steppe seemed to reach right to the toes of the snow covered mountains in the distance. It was mostly flat, save for a few rolling hills far off. Boulders were scattered all over the grass, which was short – as if it were the golf driving range of the gods. There were no real roads here, just dirt tracks that all seemed to be heading in the same direction.
Travelling with our new mates from Team Phoenix (Paul, Ades, Andrew), the Canucks (Seb and Aruna) and two of the best (and possibly ugliest) blokes I have ever come across – I couldn’t think of anywhere on the planet I would rather be. . . .
This is what we came for!
All three cars shot off at a modest pace that varied from between 5 – 45kph. The tracks were pretty unforgiving, this was one time when having a couple of overtly vocal backseat drivers might come in handy. We changed up between tracks pretty often. You could see the locals were having a great attempt at building a ‘highway’, every now and then we jumped onto it for 5 minutes before we found ourselves back in the paddocks of Mongolia.
I shouldn’t say paddocks, because that implies multiple fields divided by fences. Today, we didn’t see one fence – so far Mongolia looked to be one monstrous paddock where farmers basically shotgunned a patch for their herd of goats / horses / cows / yaks etc.
Late in the afternoon (after we had managed a monstrous 150km for the day), we met another team driving a Ford Transit. If you know what a Ford Transit is and understand the rules for the Mongol Rally, you can see why our first reaction was ‘cheating bastards. . . ‘. We convoyed in a troupe of 4 until we came to our first semi-serious water crossing.
The Transit pumped through the ‘puddle’ as if it had a 175hp outboard strapped to the back, the rest of us stopped and had a bit of a think about the best way to approach it (which was preferably wearing life jackets and in easy reach of emergency flares). Until this point, Lockeridge had talked the ‘captain sensible’ talk when it came to water. I.e. ‘If we come to some water, we’ll tape the exhaust up, wrap a tarp over the bonnet, switch the bloody thing off and get it towed across – I’m not taking any chances with the car and water’.
He looked at the crossing for 30 seconds and in true Lockeridge form said. . .
‘She’ll be right’. . .
Ed and I jumped out of the car to film the Hyundai’s maiden voyage – with fingers crossed this wouldn’t go down in history as the Mongol Rally equivalent of the Costa Concordia. She ploughed head long into the lake; water came up over the bonnet, touching the windscreen before it washed away. The car emerged from the other side having never looked cleaner since we left Goodwood. I couldn’t hear him properly – but from what I could tell Lockeridge was screaming for some ‘Duck Tea!’ (whatever that means . . . ).
The lads from Team Phoenix had no dramas getting across, even though their sump guard was starting to act more like a desert plough given it would hit the deck at the slightest bump. Because the Canucks were driving a tin of spam on wheels, Seb spent a couple of minutes surveying the way through – not before heading off track through uncharted waters and popping out to tell the tale (if Canada had an answer to Dukes of Hazard, this guy has to be a contender).
As the Ford Transit steamed off into the distance (cheating bastards. . . . ) we stopped at the town of Tolbo and asked for a place to camp. The woman at the local shop spoke bugger all English, but from what we understood she had bought a Fiat Punto from the Mongol Rally last year. She offered us her shed to setup in for $1.15 US each – what a champion.
We rolled out our gear in the mud brick shed and did our best to cover the smashed windows to keep the wind out. Aruna cooked up a wicked peanut sauce curry and we settled in for a chilly night in the shed – kept warm by a blanket made of vodka and pickles.
Just before bed, I ducked out to visit the amenities – which were conveniently located on the main street. Mid deed I was set upon by a curious cow, who came close enough for me to pat while I finished the job (there is a lesson here, don’t go anywhere without your camera!).
Ben and Paul slept in the cars and the rest of us crashed in the shed.
I was serenaded to sleep by a what sounded like a grizzly bear trying to fight it’s way out of a cellophane Christmas hamper. . . which was actually Ed, snoring his arse off, wrapped in a foil emergency blanket.
What an awesome day,
Tashanta, Russia – Bloody Mongolian Border, Mongolia
ODO: Start – 80,459, Finish – 80,474
Mileage – 15 Miles (24 bloody Km)
Cumulative Distance – 9,469 Miles (15,239 Km – a huge day on the treads!)
We awoke from our slumber at around 6am. To our surprise, all of us were still alive after having spent last night sleeping with three other plovd & shashlik fueled yobbos in a three door Hyundai gas chamber.
Today was always going to be an interesting day, just how interesting we were about to find out.
If the idea of staying in the Mongolian equivalent of Guantanamo Bay, running into some old friends who had rolled their car and still managed to push through or Ed nearly getting into an old school Mongolian punch up for alleged ‘goat-napping’ sounds interesting to you – read on. . . .
Crossing the Russian Border
When I got out of the car, I heard someone telling a story about Ed, how he had hitchhiked his way from London and they were wondering where he ended up. ‘You mean this guy?’ I said. As I pulled back the passenger seat, Ed emerged like a butterfly from a cocoon having slept like a baby in the back seat. None of us had become more beautiful for the cocooning process, but at least we were at the border first thing and ready to pounce.
Overnight, about 6 other cars had arrived and lined up behind us. 3 Rally teams and 3 local cars. The border opened at 9am, after walking back to get some stamps from a hut that looked less than official – we settled in to wait until our car was called through.
We spent about hour kicking the footy with some locals, before the Sherrin ended up on the wrong side of a 7ft high barbed wire fence. Just as Sebastien was about to throw a rope / bucket lasso combo over to get it, the border guard blew up (‘MILITARY ZONE! MILITARY ZONE!) but then radioed one of his mates to go and get it for us. What a legend.
After a pot of tea and a cup of porridge (hot tip for future Ralliers, these things are gold), we were called through to phase 1 of a 15 phase bloody border control. The Russian side was relatively painless, they checked the car and sent us on our way. We drove a massive 5 km before we came to the gate to Mongolia. We had our passports checked once more and the gates to Mongolia were opened. . . . we were now officially in no-mans land.
We drove another 5 km along a dirt road that was ringed by a huge barbed wire, dodging marmots the size of small dogs. It looked like the Russians had gone to alot of effort to put some distance between them and the Mongolians. I guess even though Ghengis Khan was long dead, it’s always best to be on the safe side – you never know when one of them might decide it’s time to go round 2 on the world domination thing.
When we arrived at the Mongolian border control, we pulled up out the front and were greeted by a couple of UK guys. . . . .
‘Welcome to Camp Hope’
What we saw sent our hearts through the floor, there were about 20 teams all camped out on a concrete slab at the Mongolian border waiting to cross. After we processed our paperwork, we met a guy from the US – I think his stay in this Mongolian Guantanamo had broken him:
Read with an American accent:
‘Do whatever it takes to get out. Try to bribe them, move your passport to the top of the pile, yell at them – WHATEVER IT TAKES! I’ve been here three days man, I can’t do another day. We’re out of here today, but it looks like you guys are here for the weekend – you do not want to be here for the weekend. This place is hell on Earth.’
With a warm welcome like that, we were expecting the worst. . .
We rolled over to where the other teams had set up and staked a slab of concrete for our very own. Before we started to set the tents up, we got the lowdown from some other teams on how the system works:
- A little man comes out when he has confirmed your car import tax has been paid. People follow him around and yell at him to let them through, it won’t do you any good. . . he has already processed your car by this point.
- Go with him into the office for phase 2 of your car import process – you will do some more paperwork here and be given the all
clear to leave. They will let you leave in a group when around 5 cars have been processed.
- Whatever you do, don’t try and push your team through first using any underhanded tactics – without order there is chaos, nobody likes chaos.
- Technically, you are allowed into Mongolia, it’s just your car that is yet to be cleared. You can wander into town where they sell shopping bags full of mutton dumplings, beer and vodkaGod speed!
We quickly availed of the shopping bag of mutton dumplings and set up our tents. Alot of the other teams that came before us were allowed out – leaving about 10 teams behind. At this point, Mark, Coops and Freddie arrived at Camp Hope, we had convoyed with them through parts of the journey – they were a great crew. As Mark came closer, we noticed his usual Travolta strut was looking more of a Franskenstein-like jerk – that and he was wearing a neck brace. . . .
The boys had rolled their car in Russia!
Freddie explained that by the time they all got out of their upside down car, a bus load of people arrived and helped flip the car right side up. Both Mark and Coops were taken to the hospital, leaving Freddie to figure out what the hell to do with a car that looked a bad souffle.
When the boys got back, they realised it was somehow driveable and took it to a local mechanic to see what could be done. The mechanic managed to pop the roof back out using a rope, a high tree branch and 40kph of Suzuki Swift muscle. Rather than replace the windows, they got some thick plastic and screwed it to the frame using a combo of packing tape and tap screws. To cap it all off, their axle was bent to the point that one of their wheels was now on a 75 degree angle.
Gentlemen, you are a testament to what this Rally is all about. We’ve seen teams give up for much less than this, should you make it from here – it will surely be one for the record books.
Meanwhile, the little car import man had payed us a visit and we (along with our mates the Canucks and Team Phoenix) were given the all clear to leave. We decided to stay the night regardless, we had heard stories that The Khangaroos (fellow Tweed Heads team) had managed to convince a local farmer to sell them a goat for dinner for $100USD. Not to be outdone, Ed and a few of the lads (including Mark with his bagpipes) went off in search of a farmer who could do us a similar deal.
What happens next will probably be on crimestoppers by the time you read this:
Ed had found a farmer who agreed to sell him a goat for $100 USD, a great result. While they were negotiating terms (the farmer wanted an extra $30 to kill and cook it), a man arrived on a motorbike – had the goat loaded onto the back and drove away.
Negotiations failed, the other guys didn’t pay any extra for cooking so neither would we. The farmer handed Ed back his $100 USD and then said ‘so where is my goat?’.
Naturally, Ed said that the farmers friend had taken it away on his motorbike – presumably to be made into our dinner. The farmer claimed he had never seen the man in his life and he assumed he was with us.
The goat had been kidnapped. . . .
Things got a little heated from this point, with the farmer slapping Ed and having to be restrained by his family – all the while Mark was still playing his bloody bagpipes.
Eventually, a farmer was found who was willing to play ball – one cooked goat for $100 USD. Unfortunately, what arrived at our campsite looked to be every part of the thing excluding the edible bits. By this stage we had consumed enough vodka not to care and hooked into the mountain of sheep bits that had been delivered to us.
It had been a massive day. At around 11pm I climbed into my sleeping bag wearing every piece of warm clothing I owned, wrapped myself again in Jared’s picnic blanket (which somehow managed to make it this far) and settled in for a cold night on the slab.
Barnaul, Russia – Tashanta, Russia
ODO: Start – 80,016, Finish – 80,459
Mileage – 443 Miles (713 Km)
Cumulative Distance – 9,454 Miles (15,215 Km)
Today was the day we had to ‘run the Russian gauntlet’, so to speak. From what we had spoken to the locals about, the stretch between Barnaul and the Mongolian border was a particularly dodgy piece of Russia that was best seen at speed.
Ed had also heard this stretch was particularly popular with those who liked to kill motorcycle tourists, with 7 dead so far this year.
Not ones to disregard advice that would reduce the risk of us getting stabbed, we decided to push through the 700km stretch in one hit – ideally camping on or near the border that night. The roads were really good, so it was looking like it shouldn’t be a problem.
The drive itself was beautiful. The road winds along next to a river where you can go white water rafting and fishing, there were some great camping spots there too. It would have been a great place to set up for the night but we needed to get cracking if we wanted to make the border tonight. If I ever get the chance, I’ll come back this way – the scenery through the Altai area really is awesome.
We stopped for lunch (2kg of shashlik and plovd), pumped the tyres up again (which at this point seemed only to go down on days ending in ‘Y’) and pushed on.
After another round of plovd (love the stuff) and a quick team conference at around 6pm we decided to push all the way through to the border, which was about another 300km away.
We arrived at the border at around 11pm, there were already 3 cars in line for the next day’s border crossing mayhem – one of which was Team Phoenix (who were probably enjoying their sleep until we showed up. . . ). We met Adrian, Andrew and Paul at the Goodwood launch, they are the only other Hyundai on the Rally. Our cars were identical except for that fact that their sump guard could probably withstand a couple of rounds from a Sherman tank.
By this point, it was only just on the nice side of freezing – war stories would have to wait until tomorrow, it was time for bed. Tomorrow was going to be an interesting day, we’d heard rumours of teams being stuck at this border for days while their car paperwork was processed.
The Canucks set up their tent just off the bitumen and Ed, Ben and I snuggled into the Accent for a night of sweet dreams and man musk.