August 12, Ulaanbaatar, final destination
We made it. We just arrived at a hotel in Ulaanbaatar. 16 countries and over 10,000 miles of road are now behind us. After driving into the night on Wednesday we pitched the tent alongside a dirt road just off of the highway. When we woke up in the morning a convoy of military vehicles was rumbling by and as we crawled out of the tent we saw that we were right next to the gates and barbed wire of a military installation. There was a large sign in Cyrillic that looked like a warning sign so we packed up in a hurry and went looking for the border. It turned out we were only about a kilometre from the border so we were in the lineup within minutes. Once we joined the line of cars that had been waiting there all night I fired up the camp stove and started cooking up some roisti and boiled water for coffee, Just like everywhere else we go we started attracting curious onlookers so I started offering roisti and coffee to anyone that came close. After an hour and a half we had served breakfast to about a dozen people and it was time to go through the Russian exit process. This process which included a vehicle search and plenty of stamps in the passport and on various other documents that border guards are so fond of took just about 2 hours and off we went to the Mongolian side.
Soon after we started the entry procedure on the Mongolian side we were told that the Adventurists had not paid the necessary duty to allow our vehicle to enter and besides there are problems with the description of the vehicle so we would not be allowed to enter Mongolia. It turned out that the vehicle make and model number, the licence number, and the chassis number were all correct but the vehicle was listed as being red when it was very obviously blue. A red car is not a blue car so this might not be the same car that was on the list. Hour after hour dragged on until it looked like this would be the end of the road for us. We decided that we would have to unload everything that we needed to take with us, leave the car at the border and let the Adventurists figure it out.
I gave one of the customs ladies the name and phone number of our contact at Emergency Medical Services of Mongolia, the organization that we want to donate the vehicle to and she called him to explain our situation. They agreed to send a car to pick us up and drive us to Ulaanbaatar. While we were waiting I struck up a conversation with one of the border guys who spoke English. He said he would like to visit Canada and I told him he would be welcome to come and stay at our house in London. He and his friend are avid fishermen and like camping and they asked if we had a tent that we could give them. Calen gave them the tent, camp stove and dishes. I figured we wouldn’t be needing them anymore considering we were about to abandon the car. A couple more hours went by and I asked Otgo, our new border control friend if I could use his cell phone to call London, England and see if I could get some help from the Adventurists. When I called them I was given a local number for the people helping out in Mongolia. I explained the situation to them and they said they would make some calls and try to get the situation resolved. Shortly after this Dr Luvandash showed up from Emergency Medical Services and agreed to take us to a local hotel for the night. It was 7:30 when we left, we had been at the border for 12 hours and we were exhausted. After a 20 minute drive we were at a hotel, had a delicious Mongolian dinned of mutton and rice and headed up to our room.
In the morning I took a walk around the town and climbed a small mountain peak to get a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside. Mongolia is a beautiful country of rolling green hills and valleys with small settlements scattered about and lots and lots of horses, cows, sheep and goats.
Dr Luvandash picked us up around 9:30 the next morning and we went back to the border to try to get customs clearance once again. By now the customs duties had been paid and we began the clearance process. With Dr Luvandash translating on our behalf the whole process went much smoother and we cleared customs in about 4 hours. By 2:00 we were on our way. The first order of business was to stop at a tire repair place to have the right front rim straightened. Somewhere in Russia we must have hit a monster pothole on that side hard enough to bend the rim. We got this taken care of and continued on towards UB. Along the way we detoured off of the main road to visit a bow and arrow maker in a small town 6 km off of the main road. This secondary road was another example of what happens to roads that are never looked after or repaired. The whole 6 km was a series of potholes and washouts some the size of the car. It was very slow going and the car started to overheat to the point of steam escaping from under the hood. I had a look and discovered that the fan is not working so at slow speed the heat builds up with no fan to cool the radiator.
We did make it to the shop of the bow maker and we were very glad that we did. The shop looks like it has been in use for hundreds of years and the bow making technology is probably even older. They build the bows out of the tendons from a horse. The process must use the fibrous tendons combined with glue to make what almost appears to be a fibreglass material. The bows are then covered in birch bark to give them a nice look and feel and then are ready for use. He strung one of the bows and let us get the feel of them. Very impressive but also very expensive. He wanted $300 for the bow with 3 arrows and if we had the money I would have liked to purchase one. The craftsmanship and history that goes with these bows would be well worth the money. After all this was the weapon that allowed Genghis Kahn and the Mongols to conquer most of the known world 800 years ago. We did however purchase one of their arrows as a memento.
Our overheating troubles continued as we headed back towards the main road and we had to stop 5 or 6 times to allow the engine to cool off. Once we got back to the main road though the highway speed seemed to be enough to keep the engine cool as we headed to Ulaanbaatar. We arrived around 10:30 found a hotel and settled in for the night.
And we have finallly been able to add some more pictures: http://picasaweb.google.com/teamcangolia/Aug916#