The Finality of Mongolia

The morning after our night in Khovd was relaxed. We gave our Irish pals a lift to their mechanic, where their car was still undergoing repairs.

While this was happening we decided to go and get Tina checked out. We were going to try and fix the shudder and stop the gearbox from getting smashed up by the sump guard.

The mechanic was a friendly Mongolian who drove us to his brothers back yard, where they both worked on the car. While they were doing this we kept ourselves entertained.

Eventually they finished the job, and although the shudder was less it was still there. They then asked for 12000 tugrug, about £30, which was a tad steep. We later learnt the Irish had their whole engine taken apart and reassembled for the same price. Ah well, the job was done and those problems were more or less fixed.

From Khovd we drove to Altai town, which was a stunning route on fresh new tarmac.

Along the way, there were some weird things. Very weird things. A whole pile of camel legs, for one.

Lacking a rear bumper, we decided to take things into our own hands.

There was also a very effective bridge across a river, which the Mongolians had left to fix itself:

We also managed to find an upgrade from our skull on the bumper. Well, upgrade might be an understatement.

That night we drove just past Altai and camped on just the other side with some ralliers. They went and bought some wood and camel crap and built a nice fire, and we chatted around the flames until late.

The next morning we rose fairly early and headed for the next destination, 1 stop before Ulaanbaatar. It was close.

The first 125km were pristine tarmac and we got through in about an hour and half.

But then, as always in these countries, it abruptly became a shit show.

The above was one of the finer bits of road, and we soon had to swerve off road. It only took about 2km before disaster struck.

A deep trench, in a sort of ‘v’ shape, was in the middle of the road, going across it. It was like a long, extended pothole. And it was deep. Very deep. It came out of nowhere and at the last second Russell noticed it and slammed on the brakes, but too late. We smashed into it, the front of the car twanging off the ground and the rear flying into the air, throwing the passengers at the ceiling. It was the biggest smash yet, and the car revved pathetically in the few seconds after. There was no power. We got out to have a look.

The mounting point that holds the engine to the car had completely sheered, meaning the engine was about 30cm lower than it should be on one side. This had screwed a lot of the connections, in a really bad way. We would need help. There was only sand and hills nearby, and not a car in sight.

Time seemed to be dragging in the heat, and we were trying not to picture what this meant.

When the first car headed towards us, we instantly tried to flag it down. They stopped, a Mongolian family came out and the men instantly set about fixing the engine.

Needless to say, they could not. They then flagged down more cars, and a lorry. They all looked at the engine, no one providing a fix.

More and more people came out of cars, and soon we had a crowd.

It was clear they thought the car was screwed by their speedy assesment of our towing equipment.

After some time, and having drained the battery trying to start the car, the decision to tow was made. The lorry driver hooked us up.

We didn’t know where we were going but it couldn’t be worse than the desert. About 1km into the tow he pulled over by some yurts. He said he could take us no further and deposited our beaten up cab by the yurts. We would have to fend for ourselves from here. We made the decision that going back to Altai would be better as the roads were so good, and we could more easily get a tow.

After about an hour of trying, a lorry driver said he would take us to Altai for some money. It was the best we had so we eagerly accepted. He said he would have lunch first, which was fair enough, and disappeared into the yurt.

About 2 hours later he emerged, and then set about fixing his lorry tyres for another 3 hours. We waited, patiently strapped to his car.

The following description is graphic, skip over to where you next see italics

During this time, a man turned up in a car. He went to the boot, opened it, and pulled a live goat out, tied at the legs. It was a big one, white. The man pulled it over onto some tarpaulin, where another goats head lay. Knowing what was about to happen, Harry went back to the car while I sat and watched. Russell came from the car once Harry said what was happening.

Yes it was sick, but as a meat eater I think I should be able to watch slaughter happen. There’s something disgustingly intriguing about it…

But anyway, the man pulled this squirming goat out and lay it down on the tarp. He got out a knife, cleaned it. The poor goat had little choice. I expected the man to cut the goats throat, but what happened next was far far worse.

He made a vertical slit down its centre, and plunged his hand in. He began pulling out the insides while the fella was kicking. About 20s later, it was over and the goat was dead. It was shocking and has burnt into my memory… It was definitely an experience though.

The squeamish may begin reading below here again.

We waited around a bit longer and some kids came on motorbikes.

We were friendly with them and I asked to ride their motorbike, which the kid reluctantly agreed to. I got to whizz around for a bit which passed the best part of 5 minutes.

Eventually the driver was done changing tyres and we set off to do 130km at about 45km an hour. It was long and boring, down a route we had already done.

Eventually we arrived back in Altai, and got the driver to drop us off at a mechanic.

Lo and behold, the Irish we had left in Khovd were there, getting their shock absorbers changed. We waited to put the car into the garage for a few hours (it was about 10pm) before the Irish gave us a lift to a hotel we all stayed at.

The night then became a mission to find a restaurant, drink lots of beer and forget out sorrows.

The next morning

Smith and I turned up at the garage at the agreed time of 10am.

To our surprise, the engine had been perfectly welded back into the place where it started. There was hope yet.

The Mongolians seemed very chuffed, but we knew there were problems beyond just the engine mount. As we stuck the keys in and turned, the expected lack of anything happening occurred.

The mechanics then began the painstaking fault diagnosis, but they were quicker than any British mechanic could ever be.

We waited as they tried and tried. Needless to say, nothing worked. Eventually the mechanic approached me and said the fuel pump didn’t work. I’m sure this wasn’t the only problem, but it was the first. He went about searching Altai city for a pump. An LTI TX1 taxi pump. Probably not going to happen.

About an hour later he came and said that they hadn’t found one, and that without a spare Tina would be moving nowhere of her own volition. The reality sank in, we were going to have to pay lots of money to stick her on the back of a truck and get her out of Mongolia. F*CK.

And then, after we waited for the truck, the best possible thing happened. As I sat by the boss of the garage, we began have a hand gesture conversation. There were three key gestures in the conversation: money (rubbing fingers) engine exploded (clapping hands and then opening them wide) and a stamp. The word Kaput was also repeatedly mentioned. As time drew on I got the gist.

She wanted to buy the car, she would register it as a write off and she had a stamp to get us through customs. An absolute rally dream, getting out of Mongolia without the car.

We eagerly said, have the car for free, and the stuff. To which she said thank you, she would pay for us to get to Ulaanbaatar. It was the best outcome we could have wished for.

We had to wait for the documents until the morning, so it was to be another night in Altai city.

The next morning I sat in the boss’s kitchen with about 12 of her Mongolian family eating their notorious dumplings and rice in yaks milk. It was fantastic.

Eventually some people came and we obtained a document saying the car is kaput and we were free to go. She booked us a minibus to Mongolia, which turned up 4 hours later. In the meantime we nabbed some great snaps of the family and of us unloading the car.

Not long later, the bus arrived, a tad worse for ware.

The family waved us off and we continued our expedition.

But not long later, about 100km to be precise, the bus broke. Smoke poured into the cab and all around it.

The driver pulled over to take a look, and so did we. The radiator was gone.

No one spoke English, and 2 hours at the side of the road later I had had enough. No one seemed to be doing anything and the driver seemed to have no idea about cars.

I stood by the road and started flagging down cars, until 1 car stopped.

Nowhere near enough space for our 9 bags, he began emptying his belongings onto the side of the road and putting ours in.

Shortly after, we were off again, on our way to Ulaanbaatar, 4 in the back of a relatively small car.

That night we stopped at a yurt to sleep, before going for the big leg to UB.

Our hosts were incredibly kind and treated us regularly to their food. 26 cramped hours after leaving Altai in a bus, we arrived in Ulaanbaatar. The feeling was fantastic.

So here our journey concludes. Many miles, and many more fantastic experiences. I’m convinced that Tina no longer ran on diesel at the end, but on the love of every person that set eyes on her. She was a magnificent beast, and more than capable of making it there and back. One small piece of misfortune was her undoing.

Que será, será. There are no regrets for a single bit of this trip, and especially not the decision and commitment it took to make it happen. Our eyes have opened to the wider world, and there’s certainly much more of it to explore.

This trip started as a dream of mine, a wild, ludicrous idea to buy a taxi and do something outrageous with it. And now I write this from a bed in a guest house somewhere in Ulaanbaatar, 7 time zones away, with a beaming smile on my face.

There’s so much cliché about following dreams, but I can’t help saying: I followed mine, and it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done.

2 thoughts on “The Finality of Mongolia”

  1. What an amazing experienece Peter, I have enjoyed a lot reading your trip and in a way envious of you. Me has enseñado que claro que hay que perseguir los sueños. Gracias

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