En route to our lakeside camping spot for the night, Anton left us to get to the finish line at an earlier date than we planned. This left the four of us searching down some sandy tracks to find somewhere nice for the evening. When we reached our destination for the night, it truly was a nice spot. That night, the sky turned from blue to orange to red as the sun dipped below the horizon. The snowy mountain tops of Kyrgyzstan still in sight over the lake and a campfire burning created a beautiful evening.
After having European-standard dual carriageways up to our campsite, the road conditions deteriorated quickly as it got. For hundreds of kilometers, the roads were a combination of potholes and bumps often avoiding one only to hit another. We happened to bump into Team Bullseye from Denmark and their Aygo who had been driving night and day to get to Mongolia before their visas expired. The state of the roads took its toll on the Lada whose body started sliding left and right catching on the wheels taking them by surprise. After attempting to fix it with ratchet straps but having them snap, the guys managed to find a mechanic a few kilometers up the road where they carefully drove at snail pace speeds. Soon, the car was over a pit with multiple people inspecting it. A price was agreed and the car became a hive of activity. A man also took it upon himself to start rebuilding their brake cylinder for the fun of it at no cost. It was presumed that the job was going to take some time so we decided that us and the Danish would go and set up camp in the light then direct them back to us when the fix was completed. It was advantageous to do this as the man was about to start welding next to the fuel tank so we were eager to be as far away as possible. The fix was applied relatively quickly however the celebratory vodka drinking that took place afterwards with a Russian onlooker delayed them. In the end, the Norwegians weren’t seen for quite some hours. This was no problem as we’d set up camp next to a river, eaten and got a fire burning creating another idyllic evening.
As day broke, the Ladateers and ourselves needed to hunt parts and tools as well as food so not much distance was covered in the morning. This delay meant that our plan to be in Semey that day became a tough target. The Ladateers and Team Bullseye didn’t make it as there was a nice wild camping area en route which they stayed at as the sun put on another spectacular show. Caroline and myself drove into the night in order to allow a spare day without much driving before the border. We stayed in the less than grand ‘Grand Hotel’ and spent the next day doing work waiting for our visas to start at midnight. We saw the Norwegians one last time for drinks before our convoy disbanded for good to embark on our journey to Russia then Mongolia.
Getting into Russia was our worst border of the rally so far. After arriving at the border at 1125 and finding out that the car we had arrived at the queue behind was in fact behind a broken down lorry, we jumped in front and started making progress. Well, calling it progress would be an exaggeration. We sat and waited, then waited more before waiting some more. Once every so often the gate would rise allowing a couple more cars into the Kazakh side of the border. Hours after we arrived and a couple of honks from people behind after falling asleep, it was our turn and despite an unhelpful lack of signs or direction from anyone we stumbled our way out of Kazakhstan and into a holding pen where we waited, then waited more before waiting some more. It was almost like they were trying to weed out the weak and impatient from entering Russia. After another nap at 4 o’clock in the morning the traffic light in the holding pen went green and we raced through into the Russian border before it had a chance to go red again. We bumbled our way out of our car and into the building with our documents to queue, then queue more before queuing some more. The Russian border guard appeared to be attempting to achieve a new world record for the slowest processing of people in human history. Once the passports were finally stamped, it wasn’t over yet. Over an hour after entering the Russia side of the border, customs wanted all our bags out of the car. We reluctantly removed our things for them to poke their nose into before being waved onward into Russia. The whole saga had costed a full night of sleep as the time had now reached 0650 due to a time zone shift.
Fortunately, Caroline was still functioning despite the lack of sleep and was able to drive to Barnaul. This was our final pit stop before the 700 kilometer drive the next day to enter Mongolia. On the way to Barnaul, with no full jerry cans as we had used them instead of going to a petrol station and no Russian Ruble, we found ourselves with no fuel. There were some very unhelpful petrol stations simply didn’t fancy serving petrol so a trip through rural Russian villages was needed. This was fast going to become a major inconvenience should the Micra die but by the skin of our teeth, we made it and filled everything up to the brim to avoid being in a similar situation ever again. Finally after a long night and morning, we reached Barnaul and a hostel where we stayed all day fast asleep.
The next day, we set off for the pinnacle of the trip: Mongolia. It was 700km away but we needed to be at the border in the morning so the aim was to get to the border town and find somewhere to stay. The roads were fun and full of bends whilst the scenery was sublime. This is an area that we could’ve happily camped every 10 minutes if it weren’t for time pressure. There were snow capped mountains on the skyline with a river parallel to the road carving through the valley. Not only this but the roads of Russia were smooth the whole way. No wonder they had been dubbed “the marble roads of Russia” after what we’d been driving on up to this point. There was plenty to do in the Altai Republic which appeared to be a holiday destination for many people with many tents and wooden huts dotted along the river. With activities such as white water rafting, the area has left us clamouring to come back. The long day behind the wheel took its toll on us both so a hotel we happened to pass was taken as refuge from the bitterly cold night. As our latitude had moved further north, the temperature at night had significantly decreased leaving us unsure of whether to complain about being cold or be grateful for not being hot. Typical Brits.
After much anticipation and a lot of driving, we could sense Mongolia over the hills. At the Russian border, we met Team Rainbow Dash and The Yorkshire Nomads who had been convoying together for most of the rally. We entered the border together and waited, then waited more before waiting some more as the border guards took their time mixing up paperwork and generally getting confused but soon, the Russian visas were stamped and we drove on towards the Mongolian border. Russia may have good roads but certainly not good borders. Two hours after be admitted to the border and we had reached the gate to Mongolia. Immediately beyond the gate, the road swiftly turned to track. Tarmac ended and the final chapter to our rally began.