Saturday, September 27, 2008

Beyond the Mongol Rally

While Lott is living vicariously by doing an excellent job of recounting some of our earlier adventures, it's time to start moving forward, so...

Tina, Theo and I arrived in Ulaan Baatar to complete the Mongol Rally some time in the pre-dawn hours of September 15th, and, at that point, my priorities included shaving, relaxing, and definitely not driving anywhere! A little bit of sight seeing around Ulaan Baatar could be nice as well... So we did just that for about a week:

The big square in UB is presided over by this imposing looking building. Parliament, I think?

Hey look, I got a hair cut and a shave! Looking almost human... oh, and we found a Predator statue in Ulaan Baatar. Not sure why...

The International Intellectual museum is also in UB. It's a fascinating place - more so because we got a tour by the guy who has actually designed all the puzzles there and is an absolutely, brilliantly fascinating guy! He greeted us by challenging us to place 12 nails on top of one... We failed - here's how you do it though.

Theo and Tina were actually on the way to Seattle by the time we went, so this is me, Dom and Laura (a couple driving around the world in a perfectly sensible Toyota Hilux), Hamish and Sara (fellow ralliers, who'd been hanging around UB for a while after finishing), and the guy who designed the whole place. I really need to find his name again, but the museum doesn't have much of a website, it seems...

Also, before Theo and Tina had left, we decided to immerse ourselves in a bit of true Mongolian culture, so off we were about 60km outside of UB (this time in a proper Russian UAZ, not some mini!) to sleep in a yurt (or a ger as all the English speaking tour guides in Mongolia call them... Odd because, the actuall Mongolians all call them yurts...) with a native, nomadic family and do some horse back riding.

The UAZ is a much more appropriate (but probably less challenging) way to cross Mongolian roads

The kids wanted piggy-back rides. We obliged. Tina learned Mongolian words for left, right, and straight... we think

Us, the family, and the yurt.

The horses in front of a rock formation that looks an awful lot like a turtle.

And then Saturday morning arrived and Theo and Tina left for Seattle at 4:30 in the morning... and then came back at 8:00AM. I'll let one of them explain the intricacies of Mongolian ticketing technicalities, but suffice to say that most of Saturday was spent at various ticketing office in UB (or on the phone to the US) and Monday morning they finally took off for the airport again, and this time did not come back a few hours later! In fact, I hear they even made it to Seattle...

Bye Theo, bye Tina

By now, I'd had about a week to decompress and regain some degree of sanity. The car had also been at a mechanic in town for the past four days, and he still hadn't found any serious issues he couldn't fix, so I finally decided that it made sense to keep driving to Vladivostok. Leaving UB took a few more days (maybe I was just reluctant to leave this oasis of civilization, what with my hotel with free internet and hot showers, as well as good Indian and Italian restaurants in town!), but by late Thursday night, I was on the road again!

One last little bit of welding before leaving UB... Erka (seond from the left) was in charge of the mini repairs, and he's a good man. And extremely thorough! The mechanics did all thoroughly enjoy driving the mini around the parking lot.

The roads north of UB may be paved, by they still have plenty of sheep, goats, horses, camels, etc. on them

The town of Darkhan greets you with this odd statue. I'm not sure what it is... The local high school's mascot perhaps?

Buddhism is also making a strong resurgence in Mongolia since the retreat of communism. An interesting Buddha statue in Darkhan. There's also a Texas-themed restaurant in town...

And I just can't leave Mongolia without posting this picture: mini vs. Mongolia. Advantage: Mongolia. Winner: mini by TKO for entering and leaving Mongolia, all under its own power!

And all of a sudden, I was at the border, about to go back into Russia! Leaving Mongolia was a surprisingly drawn out, bureacratic process (entry was quite straighforward, I thought). The Russian side was downright efficient and professional, on the other hand. At the border, I found some 25 stranded Mongol Rally (and Charity Rally) cars - apparently the Charity Rally organizers, who were running ahead of us, didn't quite have everything arranged with the Mongolian authorties, so the authorities got pissed off and just decided to detain all rally cars in no man's land between Russia and Mongolia.

At the border, I met another mini that had done the rally. But, somehow, they chose to avoid Western Mongolia - clearly lacking in masochistic adventure interests!

And a bunch of other rally cars stranded at the border. I also lost a bit of respect for the Chairty rally people - their cars included the much too sensible Jeep Cherokee seen above, and a much too comfortable Mercedes elsewhere in the lot...

Welcome to Russia! The blurry picture was taken through my windshield - paved roads allow you to go faster, which is apparently lethal for the bugs on the road!

And now, I'm spending a day relaxing in Ulan Ude, Russia, taking care of little errands like replacing the mini's battery and getting some warm clothing for myself. Also, there's a rather eery statue of a floating Lenin head in the center of the city...

And tomorrow morning, it's off to Chita - 660km of mostly well paved roads, I hear. Past Chita, the roads become a little less consistent shall we say... I've also heard the cops around Chita are somewhat unpleasant, so that's something to look forward to as well. So far, I've passed two police stations on the way to Ulan Ude - the first one was too busy with someone else to pull me over (but he did seem very curious as he followed me with his flashlight), the other guy did pull me over, but was quite nice - after hearing I was going from London to Vladivostok, he wished me luck and sent me on my way. All the cops in Ulan Ude so far, have shown bemused curiosity staring at the car, but not one of them has bothered to pull me over. I guess they might actually be a little busy here in the city.


Anonymous said...

All Mongolians call yurts as gers which means home. They do not call it yurts. I do not know where did you hear that all Mongolians call it yurt.

Alex said...

That is what I had assumed when I first started seeing the term 'ger,' but enough Mongolians speak some Russian that I'd been able to hold a conversation with a few people and they always referred to their homes as yurts. I suppose if ger actually means 'home,' then the two aren't mutually exclusive...

Anonymous said...

You say that "apparently the Charity Rally organizers, who were running ahead of us, didn't quite have everything arranged with the Mongolian authorties, so the authorities got pissed off and just decided to detain all rally cars in no man's land between Russia and Mongolia."

This is completely untrue and is what the Mongol Rally organisers told you to try and justify the fact that they have made a lot of money from your entry fee and failed to properly arrange import for their teams. The arrangements were properly in place for Charity Rallies long before the Mongol Rally had any agreement. In fact, they even approached our contacts in Mongolia in November 2007 to try and get help (they refused, not wishing to be associated with a profit making company that imports scrap into Mongolia behind the facade that they are a charity).

The border was closed because the Mongolian Government don't want hundreds of scrap Mongol Rally cars being dumped in their country. Until the Mongol Rally cars arrived we had no problems at the northern border for Charity Rally teams. Once the flood of Mongol Rally teams arrived everything changed, and we started hearing reports of our vehicles getting stuck in a backlog of Mongol Rally cars.

You also said: "I also lost a bit of respect for the Chairty rally people - their cars included the much too sensible Jeep Cherokee seen above, and a much too comfortable Mercedes elsewhere in the lot.."

A good quality vehicle is worth a lot more to a charity in Mongolia. Don't criticise those teams that choose to donate something useful and valuable to charity IN ADDITION to their charity fundraising. That Jeep Cherokee, or the fully kitted out ambulance or any of the other vehicles you might have seen, will raise a lot more money for charity than a worn out 1 litre banger.

It is shame that the propoganda from the profit making Mongol Rally organisers (the Adventurists) has made teams like you lose sight of the real reason for taking part in a charity rally to Mongolia: helping the people of Mongolia.

Stephen Edwards

Trustee - Go Help (the charity that organises the Mongolia Charity Rally)