Mongolia

We made it! The whole reason we had crossed continents, climbed mountains and traversed deserts was in front of us: Mongolia. Known for its off-roading, soaring eagles and sheer emptiness left a feeling of excitement in the air. Setting off 6 weeks prior, no one knew if we would make it out of England let alone 16000km to this point. Despite questioning our decision to enter the madness that is the Mongol Rally at times, we’d made it to Mongolia and knew the finish line was nearing.

The final hurdle of getting through the border was easy and not long after driving away from customs, we busy were being scammed out of insurance and road tax. There was a menacing sign stating it was illegal to not insure your car in Mongolia and a man shouting stop at us so we stopped. I got out of the car and he showed me through to his little office where he was more than happy to take my $20 and insure me. From here we drove another 10 feet and another person stopped us. This time for road tax. The women conveniently forgot to tell us that the road tax we were paying was not mandatory, nor the fact that Mongolia has a distinct lack of roads. Nonetheless, we made it into the country only $27.50 down which compared to many of the other countries we’d visited was a good deal.

There was an attempt at a road which was simply like driving on a washboard so soon we followed the Yorkshire Nomads off road. There were a lot of tracks criss-crossing over the landscape parallel to official road where others had done the same. The tracks slowly led back to the road which turned back to tarmac and led us to Ulgii. The convoy had their first puncture of Mongolia after the off road affair leaving The Yorkshire Nomads changing their tire soon after entering the country. This was all just a taster of what was to come. We stopped for lunch before continuing out of Ulgii however the tarmac did not leave with us. It was time to off road all the way to the next city called Khovd. Off-roading was the most fun we’d had driving. Whilst the Micra is not designed for taking off road, it is more than capable. As we drove along the Mongolian steppe, there was unfathomable amounts of dust kicked up by vehicles in front of us. The route that we were driving was the main route from Ulaanbataar in the east and the west border with Russia so there were buses and lorries which powered through the dirt tracks without any qualms showing us how it’s done. At points, it was simply impossible to see anything in front of us. Somewhere in the midst of all the dust we lost The Yorkshire Nomads from our rear view mirror. After heading back to investigate, it turned out that they’d overheated and needed to reconnect their fan but were ready to continue when we got there meaning they didn’t discover that we’d be totally useless in a situation where they needed a mechanic. As the convoy climbed over the mountains, the weather changed from sunny skies to rain with huge water droplets hammering down on the windscreen. This soon passed over us and returned to blue skies but showed the speed at which Mongolian weather can change.

Although the area we were driving through had very little grass as there wasn’t much water, we stumbled upon a river flowing through a valley which gave us a chance to set up a camp. Mongolia lacked trees and grass so this was some nice relief from the sand and dust. There was just enough wood to keep a fire going through the evening and the others taught us about the hot rock trick. This is where you heat a rock in the fire then take it to bed with you. The heat is retained by the rock for many hours so it acts like a hot water bottle. Later on, with our hot rocks, we climbed into the tent for bed.

Morning broke and two deer wandered through the campsite looking bewildered as to why there were humans on their morning rounds before marching on. After breakfast we set our sights for Khovd. As it inched closer, some camels were alongside the tracks. This was our first camel sighting of the trip and first double-humped camels we’d seen ever. We edged towards them for a photo staying at a distance that we were hoping they weren’t able to spit before speeding off across the dirt trying to figure out which direction we should be going in. A compass might have been a useful addition to our packing list!

Once in Khovd, it was time for Korean food and parts hunting. A man appeared at lunch who knew all about the rally and provided help in finding the parts for the Mazda Demio. He took us to a market full of people with all sorts of different parts and customisations for cars. As much as a nice furry steering would’ve been, once the ball joint for Rainbow Dash was bought, we set back off again. From Khovd to Altai, there is freshly laid tarmac on an immaculate road with very little traffic. This was a prime opportunity for empty road photos with the sun setting over the horizon. Caroline also experienced her first time horse riding as a local darted towards us from herding goats wanting to say hello when we had stopped and allowed us to sit on their horse. This shepherd couldn’t have been older than 12 and didn’t say a word but was independently riding horses across the steppe and herding animals. Not something that you could picture children from the suburbs of Britain doing!

As night fell, the Demio started overheating so speed of the convoy dramatically dropped but the town shone through the darkness not long after this problem arose so a bed for the night in a chilly hotel was found. We had a quiet night in whilst the others attempted to find somewhere to eat. This didn’t go as well as planned as the taxi took them to a bar which ended up with a karaoke session where they were forced to sing without music as Mongolians watched eagerly. We dodged a bullet there.

After a slow morning fixing the overheating issue and nursing hangovers, the final stretch of off-roading was left to tackle. Whilst waiting for the fix, we managed to finally get some new music on the WiFi where we were rescuing another team’s laptop. This gave us some much needed relief from the same 30 songs that we’d been listening on repeat since the start of the rally. Later in the morning, everyone was set and ready to go.

Leaving Altai was pleasant as the road extends further beyond the city stretching 120km out onto the steppe. The next stage of driving was when the challenge began. 270km of complete off-roading sat in front of us. This meant more dust, more drifting and more danger of doing damage. It didn’t take long until our fuel gauge had broken. From now on, the amount of fuel we had left was complete guess work. To add to the list of incidents, our first puncture of rally occurred as a tire burst irreparably and we got stuck in deep sand. These were easy issues to alleviate but now we had realised that taking it slightly slower would be wise as something more vital would break sooner of later. The convoy kept trundling along but didn’t make it to the tarmac in the town of Bayankongor. Another wild camp next to a river was found. Yet another gorgeous spot with surprisingly warm (aka not freezing) water. After removing all the dust from the car that we could and making food, we retreated for the night leaving some of the others by the campfire who had decided to sleep outside. This was a decision they may have regretted come morning as later that night we lay in our tent listening to the rain howl down on the walls.

Come morning, a long day awaited us. Ulaanbaatar was the goal and it was imperative that we made it so that Rainbow Dash could make their flights. The convoy drove up and down over the hills and across the dirt tracks without issue. By lunchtime we were making good progress as we found a real road once again. Despite paying road tax, a toll was also needed for this road.

Upon arrival into UB, the lateness and number of us meant that every hostel tried rejected us. Everyone gave in and ended up in a hotel where they couldn’t have been more accommodating. The Yorkshire Nomads were particularly happy to have made it as the bearing in their wheel had given in and the car was now limping along. They needed a mechanic or their car wouldn’t cross the finish line so it was good to be in the capital city where they could source help.

After taking 1 hour and 20 minutes to get 5km in UB traffic to the VW garage and back, Caroline and I left for the border. The delays meant that the great statue of Genghis Khan had to be left for our next visit. It took another hour to get out of UB, but eventually, on the open road, we headed to the border. The border didn’t take long and soon we were in Russia careering towards to Ulan-Ude. The silky smooth roads of Russia treated us well until they disappeared. They were intermingled with construction work leaving no road but we were accustomed to these conditions and soon we’d arrived. By 0230, it was all over. The Mongol Rally had been completed. Sightseers came 129th out of the 290 teams that had left Goodwood almost 7 weeks ago. As everyone had gone to bed, our entrance was somewhat underwhelming but the celebrations were saved for the next day.

The next day was full of cleaning of cars and bodies, finally eating some good food and sharing war stories that everyone had accumulated from the road.

Mission accomplished… now how do we get home?

3 thoughts on “Mongolia

  1. Many congratulations!! How long til I see you at home again ? No, wait, it’s me that’s not there – have you arrived back yet… ? 🙂

  2. Congratulations, Josh! What an amazing adventure. Amazing blog – when you got to the umpteenth bribe I realized the extraordinary was your ordinary and this was going to be unique! Glad your back safely.

Leave a Reply to Mike Corne Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.