Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Getting to the Finish Line... of Stage 1


We have conquered the 2013 Mongol Rally! Five weeks and 1 day after leaving Bodiam Castle we are here in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Passing through 15 countries, and over 10,000 miles, it has been both exhilarating and exhausting but we are both pretty proud of ourselves for what we have achieved so far.

So, here is how we got from Altay to Ulaanbaatar...

We woke up feeling pretty happy with ourselves but knew there was still a long way to go, so we were up early and on the road as soon as possible. Our hopes of a single piece of tarmac all the way to the capital were slashed in dramatic Mongolian fashion, as the main road ended and all that continued in its place was a single dirt track. Unfazed, and not surprised, we continued on.

After a few hours the road split into a fork. There were no signs, but one went south-east-east, the other went south-east. Now we had been going east for a long time, so it was a no brainer which route we should take right? That split-second decision took us over one of the toughest mountain passes / roads yet. 

The dirt trails would just end and rocks would be in their place, so with Jess at the wheel, I would run ahead to find out which route to take. We were basically rock hopping over a Mongolian mountain in a Renault Clio.

After over an hour and a half of slowly edging ourselves forward trying to avoid destroying our gear box again by bashing it against one of the hundreds of hidden rocks/boulders, we finally made it back to the main road. Slightly dejected by the experience we sat down by the side of the road, to catch a breather and compose ourselves.

Grumpy Jessica
It was then that a lovely Mongolian guy and his family stopped their car next to ours to see if we were ok. Then he handed us some local cheese, saying it is good for your stomach and gives you energy for a long journey. The smell alone could wake the dead, so no wonder they say eating it will help keep you awake on a long journey. It tasted a little like a very sour parmesan, but we said thank you for the lovely gesture and wished them well on their drive.

As we set off again we noticed the gear box had taken a small hit and was feeling stiff again. So at the next town, Bayankhongor, we stopped at a garage and got the gear box bashed back into shape. I helped the mechanic out whilst Jess played with guys cute kids. I think if we don't get to China soon, Jess is going to adopt one of these cuties.

Once the car was sorted we set off again to find a place to camp. Another cold and wet night by the side of the road was had but we woke up ready to get to Ulaanbaatar. We were sick of being cold and wet now, and with only 450km to go, and 400km of that supposedly all tarmac, we were determined to get to the capital.

The following day was actually pretty uneventful. The roads were all tarmac, except for a small river crossing, which we were such pro's at now, we were able to help out a local family who had fallen victim to the Mongolian mud.

The car's odometer clicked past 10,000 miles for our trip, (95,000 of which were done during this trip), which is a big milestone! By 5pm we had Ulaanbaatar on the horizon but traffic was getting busier and busier. Why is it that we always enter these cities around rush hour!?

We inched ourselves past the busy Mongolian commuters, asking for directions to the Chinggis Khaan Hotel along the way. Ulaanbaatar like most Mongolian cities are deceptively big. The city centers themselves are pretty compact and easy to navigate but the sprawl entering Ulaanbaatar in particular goes on for a few kilometers.

However, with the realisation of what we had accomplished starting to sink in, we let ourselves start to feel excited. Then as we saw the big Mongol Rally "Congratulations You Made It" signs hanging over the entrance to the hotel we really couldn't believe it!

We pulled the car up just outside the front door of the hotel and were happy to see a few familiar faces of those we'd met along the way. Some had made it. Some unfortunately were in a car that just couldn't go on any further.

Getting a car with a 1.1 liter engine from London to Ulaanbaatar in 5 weeks is no easy feat, and it felt great being able to say we were one of the lucky ones whose car didn't give up on us.

For now we will rest up, hose ourselves down and get ourselves sorted for the next stage of our epic adventure to Sydney.

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