The excitement was tantamount as we approached the border. This would be our first step into the country plastered across the side of the car. A place where we could say we completed our mission. We could return proud.
But first, of course, there was customs.
When we reached the Russian side, our Scottish friends who helped fix Tina in Turkey were there, in the queue with all the other cars for the border.
This was good news. On top of being sound geezers, Richard is probably the best mechanic anyone could wish for on such a trip. They had changed their drive shaft at the side of the road, and I’m sure half the rally teams wouldn’t be going without him.
We arrived at midday, and settled in for the wait. It wasn’t until 5pm we were allowed through, and the border closed at 6. This was the same for the Mongolian side, and that was 25km away. If we didn’t get through in time, there was a risk we would have to camp in no man’s land, in the rain. Fun.
All the customs business was taking time and we only got to the bag checking part at 5:40 PM. As we raced to assure the Russians we had no bombs, guns or drugs time was ticking. Eventually with a disgruntled nod the guard waved us through and we raced through the mountain path to the Mongolian checkpoint. We were so close now.
When we arrived there was a friendly army chap who gave us a ticket and asked for money. Unsure of the legitimacy, we asked the Scots. They said it was real so we forked out the 1000 Mongolian money (30p). He was happy.
All of the customs officials asked if we were doing the Mongol rally. We said yes (although we are not) just because otherwise you can be made to pay large fines. They seemed to have no official way of checking and so, like that, we were out the other side and into Mongolia.
We drove until just before darkness and set the tents up. It was only a few hours in Mongolia but already it had been beautiful:
First full day
Without question, Mongolia is the most beautiful country I have ever seen. We linked up with some Irish guys travelling in a polo and convoyed the day with them, and it was truly phenomenal.
It didn’t take long though before the battering began, and Tina started suffering. She developed a shudder, and Harry has perfectly destroyed the right jacking point on a rock. Our Irish friends however had worse problems than a shudder. Their fan belt exploded, which in itself isn’t too bad. But some of the strands seem to have embedded themselves in the electrics and it just wouldn’t start. They were far more tech savvy than us, but whatever was wrong was beyond their control, and Tina’s attempts to jump them.
Luckily another rally team in a Suzuki turned up, and they exhausted their mechanical know-how. As the sun was lowering the decision to tow the car was made. 58km to the next town. Tina’s automatic nature meant towing was a last resort, but luckily the guys in the Suzuki stepped forward.
During the drive to the town, we couldn’t help but continue to be breathtaken by the landscape.
Eventually we made it, got them to a mechanic and then transported them in Tina to the hotel we would all stay at, Hotel Minj.
The 9 of us sat together and chatted over beers late into the night. Food came in the most excellent fashion; a hotpot with a stove which you added uncooked meats to and took out when you thought they were done.
Probably the best day of the trip so far.