The Penultimate Post – Mongolia!

 

 

Well, shit, this has been a long time coming. And for that we apologise. But, since the next Mongol Rally is about to start, we figured it’s time to draw this one to a close!

So, here goes. The penultimate post :)*

Ah, Mongolia. What to say?

With the benefit of almost a year’s worth of hindsight, I’m going to keep this pretty short. I hope the pictures (see bottom of post) will tell at least some of the story…

From border to Ulaanbataar

Well, we got through the border, having camped just before it on the Russian side the night before. To remind you, we were coming in from the western side, at Tsaganuur, and then attempting to undertake the ~2,000km trek through the steppes to UB (Ulaanbataar, Mongolia’s capital).

Now, we’d done bloody well time-wise. It had taken us less time to get across Russia than we’d imagined, so there wasn’t exactly a stack of other Ralliers at the border with us. Thankfully, though, there was another team – the Bumpstart Bandits. With whom we proceeded to travel to UB (well, kinda, and except for the very final bit, and the bastards beat us by a matter of _minutes_, heh).

Lovely chaps, these two. Top blokes. And, very happily, not muppets  at all, making travelling them a far less perilous experience :)

So! For 2,000km we travelled, over grassland and through desert. We got stuck in a big pond (Dane’s fault), and wrapped comms cable around the read axle on a roadworks site after driving through a pool of semi-solid bitumen (mine). We learned to get over our fears of pooping on incredibly flat landscapes (it certainly doesn’t bother the locals) with, for some reason, cars popping up whenever it was…time.

We learned just how dangerous unpasteurized beer can be (to our stomachs and, in Dane’s case, for weeks until our return to NZ).

We learned that Mongolian nomadic peoples’ famed hospitality has changed. If they invite you into their Ger to share their hospitality, absolutely enjoy yourself, but expect to be charged the rate one would pay for a hotel room, the next day. Also, hold on to your things – they’re seen as common property, and might go walkabout.

We learned we’d made entirely the right choice in bringing along some downloaded maps and a GPS-capable device when we took one of the meandering tracks which, in aggregation, form the ‘main road’ and ended up many, many kilometres off course. Cue bundu-bashing across the steps to try rejoin the road :P

Personally, I learned just how bloody unfunny a small, high, shortwheelbase car with road tyres is to drive across sand which, basically, acts like glass. On the other hand, I also learned the art of what I now call ‘approximate driving’, where as long as the car is heading in the approximate direction one had meant it to go, everything’s fine, and one should certainly not do anything sudden with the steering wheel lest the car flip (I’m one of the few drivers of  Jimny not to do just that, apparently).

We learned that as one gets closer to UB, the short, green plants which form the vegetation have the most beautiful, fragrant smell when stepped on that I’ve ever come across.

Ulaanbataar

We learned that UB is, from what we can tell, doomed. It’s drinking through its aquifers (i.e. its source of water for the city) at an alarming rate – we heard that it would likely be gone within a decade. It has some of the worst air quality on earth, killing a helluva lot of people. And culturally, things have Gone Wrong. The 1 million-strong population is primarily unemployed, and extremely drunk much of the time. We watched with horror as locals, many of whom are nomads who’ve flooded in over the last few years as record winters and other factors have wiped out their herds, will watch but not stop someone about to walk out in front of traffic, or impale themselves on a fence. The huge money flooding into the country for mining – the steppes are going to rapidly begin looking very, very different – is of course not trickling downwards at all. And there’s more, but that should give one an idea of the scope of the problem.

Oh, and the traffic? This is what happens when nomadic peoples encounter roads, traffic lights and, well, things like the necessity of keeping to one’s own side of the road for the first time. i.e. Utter Chaos :P We had intended to keep our car for the two weeks that we were going to be in UB, but ended up giving it in the very next morning after the night that we got in (it was by then too late to give the car in), after utter terror in UB’s streets. However, getting in that night and finding hostels closed DID mean we ended up coughing up for a room at the Ramada, one of UB’s best hotels. And far out but it was awesome. Not just for itself, but after spending 3 solid weeks tired, dirty and stinky. Although I doubt they would have approved of us using their complimentary toothbrushes to scrub our feet :P I know Dane certainly enjoyed pressing the buttons on the uber-modern loo!

We also learned that sitting for two weeks in a bar drinking crappy beer and chain smoking can leave on with quite a cough, but some great new friends, and some fascinating stories of theirs which, of course, we are absolutely not going to share :)

We also learned how very unsympathetic AirNZ/the AirNZ fairy can be to people marooned** in a foreign city after raising a bunch of money for charity.

How long did it take us, in the end? Three weeks of driving, over a distance of about 11,000km, at an average speed of 50 km/hr (this dropped hugely once we hit Mongolia, of course). And then two weeks in UB itself :) We recommend Zaya’s hostel, by the way, to future travellers to UB!

Overall? I think we enjoyed Russia most. The whole trip was, however, well…a trip. We thoroughly recommend it to everyone!

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Curious about the Grand Maitreya complex noted in the images? Check out this…The thought behind it here.

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* Our final post? Our timelapse video of our trip through Mongolia with a special surprise – a _soundtrack_ :)

** We decided that being charged the price of two full single fares to get back to NZ early, as we’d got into UB early, was more than we could pay to change our tickets.

 

Photos from Mongolia

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