Day 37 – What do you mean ‘that’s China’? (#MongolRally)
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. . .