4th of October, 2015
I'm sure the hairy Yak winked at me as we approached the boarder, if there was one country on the planet to let us in with expired visas its Mongolia. So with expired visas & photocopied vehicle documents, we rolled up to the boarder. It must have been our day, just goes to show anything goes, as long as you give it a crack. With confusion of vehicle papers & visas, smiles & welcomes followed. The Mongol Rally will be that, look out Yak here we come.
Mongolia lives up to its name, the trip starts here. Roads? What roads, tracks heading in every direction. Local advice, don't leave the main road, you will get lost. 1700 km is all that lies between us and Ulaan Bataar the capital and roads will return. Another piece of info from the locals, 1000km of good roads (tracks), 700km bad. With a very basic road map and a blue dot on google maps, navigating this maze is going to be interesting to say the least.
The moon like landscape stretches out in a haze, as your eyes slowly focuses on the distant mountains like stars in the night sky & the beaten trail disappears in a spiderwebbed maze. Within the first hour one car has been stuck in the loose terrain, the sump guard was working like a ski, river crossings were testing the tiny wheeled Yaris's, we took wrong trails, even asking local Mongolians that only ride horses where the road went. After five hours of driving through 100km of wild mountain trails, we realised what we are going to be in for, let the epicness of Mongolia begin.
Yurts scattered the landscape & our first encounter with the locals showed us their generous hospitality, bearing gifts of chalk cheese and fermented yais/camels milk!! Their isolation definitely showed up in their taste. Relieved we hit the first Mongolian town, realising we were on the right trail. Town house yurts without the horse, seemed to be the accommodation of choice, as the concrete jungle here looked more like a concrete swamp. Mongolians definitely suit the nomadic lifestyle rather than city life.
Venturing back into the wildness we we're excited to hit "apparently" the worst roads. But as we headed out of town a new road paved our path, still unable to drive on certain parts, we decided it was a brand spanker. The worst road the locals had told us about was a thing of the past, luck was on our side as the little Yaris's unleashed and rocketed through the mountainous landscape. One of those moments, we went for it without a second thought, until...... 200km in the wrong direction, we were nearly in China, two hours we would have been at the boarder. Great photo opportunity, however time wasn't on our side and the crew didn't really feel like seasing the opportunity. Frustratingly we turned the little beasts around. The worst roads were waiting.
The roads lived up to there name as being nasty, they were more like dust & dirt trails, if you didn't like one choose another. At some stages we couldn't see the back car due to dust, then times we lost the other car in the distance following alternative tracks. There were even moments it was faster avoiding the roads all together and busting through a new trail. Dust became part of us, as it enveloped our cars. Butterfly's played havoc in my belly as the little beasts were put to the test, one big hit or hole, game over.
Mongolia definitely put it on for us, long demanding days were rewarded by magnificent mountain views, roaming camels, wild horses, soaring eagles, yaks, nomadic Mongols tending to their livestock and scattered yurts. An evening camping with a Mongol family gave us a slice of their lifestyle. Living from the land in such a harsh environment, their diet consists of milk products in the summer and meat in the winter, heating & cooking fuelled by dried Yak shit, their drink of choice fermented camel milk. After sharing their delights, I understand it takes a unique breed of people to live this life as their food is as harsh as the land they live off.
Again time was chasing us, to get our cars trained out of Ulaan Ude or to drive back through Russia. Either plan we were running a fine line, leaving our vehicles in Mongolia or Russia has a heavy fine US$5000 per car. Our visas in Russia will expire soon, everything is finally catching up. Six days we drove from sunrise to sunset through wild trails, breathing & eating dust. We even had a first encounter with another rally team, parked up in the middle of nowhere, their car missing it's back suspension.
The feeling of accomplishment as on the sixth day Bayankhongor appeared in the dust haze, there in front of us lay the last 600km of new fully sealed road to the capital Ulaan Bataar. Our little Yaris beasts had made these horrendous roads, unbelievable what we put them through, 998cc of absolute machine, better than a 4x4, from now on in its all plain sailing....... You think soooo
A day of celebration in Ulaan Bataar, hotel, shower, great food and a drink or two. For here is the destination that dreams and fantasies built the Mongol Rally. Excitement was short lived as the clock was ticking and our train had left without us, the decision was made. We have eight days to go 6000km racing across Russia, the epic just got blown out of the water. Our first mission was to hit it hard nonstop drive for two days, of coarse nothing is easy. Living up to the boarder crossings Mongolia wouldn't let us out as we broke all the rules coming in two days late, 6 hours latter, a new visa costing US$90 Mongolia frees us upon Russia.
Mongolia what a country what an epic.........