Rally Day 37 – 41
Driving in Russia feels almost like home, the asphalt is smooth with almost no potholes, there are white markings and respectable speed limits. Of course the local drivers are maniacs doing crazy overtakes and you see your life flash before your eyes a few times a day, but still it is quite good. To drive from Kazakhstan to Mongolia you have to first drive north-east for 300 km before you can turn south as there is no direct route. Basically we drove in “the wrong” direction for half the day before the road turned south and we reached a city called Biysk.
It was almost midday before we started driving out of Biysk since we had a relaxed morning, Ben even did the ice bucket challenge pouring cold water over himself!
The landscape soon changed into thick Siberian forest with hills all around. Technically the road we were driving is right on the south-western edge of what you would normally call Siberia. The cars and trucks on the roads were far between and we felt more and more alone in the vastness of Russian Siberia. In the afternoon we stopped at a small river and Christian went fishing (he didn’t catch anything) while everyone else washed their bodies in the ice cold river.
At the end of the day we reached a place with mountain lodges and got a cheap place to stay. Here there were a few other tourists, including some Germans going hunting on horseback in the nearby Altai mountain range – amazing stuff!
Almost rejected at the border
The drive from the mountain lodges to the Mongolian border was relatively short, so we reached it before lunch time.
At the Kyrgyzstan – Kazakhstan border we had gotten a customs slip which we thought was only valid in Kazakhstan. We have crossed quite many borders and have gotten a huge amount of papers, naturally we have thrown some of them out when they are no longer needed. The day before we had thrown out the aforementioned Kazakh customs slip, well actually Christian had burned it… It turned out to be a bad move. When we entered Russia we had gotten new immigration slips, new vehicle insurance and everything but the customs guard wanted to see the slip we had burned. So basically he wanted a slip from a border between two countries we had left days ago. We tried telling him we didn’t have it but then he said we had to drive back, which was obviously not possible. We started to get quite nervous since neither the customs guard nor his superior had any solution or any interest in solving our problem. Apparently Kazakhstan and Russia are in some sort of a customs union meaning your have to keep all papers from entering Kazakhstan when exiting Russia – fuuuuu…. However their computer systems don’t work very well together and they were not willing to call someone in Kazakhstan. We tried “smoothing” things by offering to “pay” for a new slip but the guard denied and just pointed to his computer system saying “You give paper now!”. Meanwhile Team Rave Shoe had found their paper in the car and got everything stamped but they were nice enough to hang around and help solve our issues.
We discussed what we could do, maybe drive back to the city of Barnaul 400 km away and try to get things solved but that would take a lot of time. Then out of a sudden Ben realized the number on his customs slip and our number on the missing slip were probably almost the same, meaning Team Raven Shoe’s number was only different by the last digit since we entered at the same time from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan. We wrote down what we believed was our number and gave it to the guard and as a magic trick our details appeared on the screen. Everything got solved and we could drive away… PHEEEEW!
Relieved we drove into Mongolia in the afternoon, happy that we had now reached our final county.
Mongolia here we come
So the first bit of road from the border to the city of Elgii where we slept were decent enough. However, as we drove out of town on our second day in Mongolia we soon met the feared dirt tracks running all over the steppe. Our speed dropped to between 30 and 50 km/h depending on the conditions and the vehicle was taking a beating. On the positive side the landscape was pretty awesome with snow clad mountains in the background, wild horses on the grasslands and eagles in the sky. Driving along the road we met a guy with an eagle we could touch and hold on our hands and got a few pictures at the same time, a full grown eagle is surprisingly heavy by the way! It is an apex predator and it knows it…
Stuck in the mud
Sometimes the dirt tracks go over small rivers and even on our second day we had driven through a few small streams / rivers. At one point the ground really was muddy and we had no choice than to keep our speed high and hope we could cross the mud without getting stuck. Turns out our Micra doesn’t like the mud meaning suddenly we found ourselves stuck… Team Raven Shoe were fortunate enough to get past us and then we had to chance to use our winch at the front the car. We unrolled the wire and hooked it to the other car and pulled ourselves out of the mud, it was so awesome to see the winch at work and everything worked as it should. Cool stuff!
Destroyed plastic box
As the clock was close to six in the evening we found a place to camp and got all our gear out. After setting up the tents and so on, Christian decided to move our car a bit. The plastic box holding our drone and some of the car spare parts was on the right side of the vehicle and he decided to move this box a bit to avoid hitting it. Take a wild guess what happened next… Yes that happened, Christian backed up and then proceeded to run over that particular plastic box he himself had moved while everyone else was shouting and waving to get him to stop. The box was totally destroyed by our sump guard and parts of the expensive drone were bend, at the point of writing we don’t know if it still works or not. After that stunt Christian went to bed angry at himself, but apart from this the day had been totally awesome for us.
Cruising in Mongolia
We got up in the morning after a cold night. Due to the desert and altitude of 2000 meters the temperatures drop quite a lot in the night. We then drove along a newly build freeway with paved asphalt for some 150 km, a real surprise in Mongolia! In the middle of it all our fuel gauge started acting up so we thought we had a leak somewhere, fortunately we didn’t. For the time being we just have to trust Team Raven Shoe’s fuel gauge since we burn about the same amount of fuel when driving and we can’t trust our own.
Along the way we saw wild camels, nomads in the yurts and all that stuff. The paved road ended abruptly and soon we were driving on dirt roads again. It is probably hard to imagine how taxing it is to drive on these roads, both the driver and co-driver has to keep all eyes on the road at all times to spot all potholes, sand dunes and so on. Our Micra has so little engine power and so low ground clearance that every mistake is potentially fatal. Add to this that we are in the middle of nowhere with only a bit of spare fuel and water if things goes bad.
– Team Nyet Khan Do