The Berrow Fellows took part in the 2007 Mongol Rally. These are their journey notes and images taken on route.
Berrow fellows had a rule - we were not allowed to stop to take a picture, nor go back! Real Pressure!
July 20th 2007 Friday
Hey, this was a day of rain to remember!!!
We eventually managed to leave flooded Worcestershire at 10:00 pm.
Stayed at the standard issue Travelodge - but this was at 1:00am - so we missed the leaving party
July 21st 2007 Saturday
Saturday was a totally different day. We were all lined up in Hyde Park and left on time and went on a quick route round London, it was hilarious we didn’t know which way we were supposed to be going and it ended up like the Wacky races. Then we rushed down to Dover and caught the ferry within 20 minutes.
Over in France, we headed up to Belgium and decided to pop into Gent. Gent was holding day 8 of a 10 day festival. It was chaos - there must have been 20000 people there. There were market stores, shows and several large live pop bands. We walked around and had a meal watching some of them. After a couple of Lefe Belgian beers we found a campsite (OK a it was a suburban park) in a posh area of Gent (we were told next morning that the area was referred to as Millionaires rows - I will admit it was acceptably laid out !! ) and set up the “2 second to setup” tent at 1:00 am.
July 22nd 2007 Sunday
We were back on the road at 06:30am and storming through the rest of Belgium, Holland and Germany. There were several long traffic jams on the German autobahns which delayed us by a few hours. We rushed over the Czech border and on the Prague party in the evening.
July 23rd 2007 Monday
We left Prague early and immediate hit a huge traffic jam - some things don’t change.
Getting out of Prague we headed east. We reached Slovakia without problem. On leaving Slovakia to go into Hungary we were pulled over by the border guards at the check point along with 5 other Mongol Rally cars. The custom guard told us that were in trouble - we should have bought a Motorway ticket - vignette - for Slovakia. Now he wanted us to pay a fine of 10 times the yearly cost which was 350 Euro. Over 6 cars this would have been 1750 Euro. Team Berrow Fellows sent in Richard Hill and Brian from another team to negotiate. Eventually Richard was loosing the argument until Brian pulled out a Police Staff Id card. After a few words with his customs colleague all the teams were let off.
It is felt that Brian should have mentioned it was a Building Caretaker role card and it had expired!!!
Well done Brian!!!
We proceeded through Hungary to Budapest. Upon arrival we saw an Information Hut - so our accommodation is now in a school hostel - there is a cracking view over Budapest.
Went into Budapest City centre for food then had a Guinness in an English Pub – how daring are we!
July 24th 2007 Tuesday
Left Budapest at 6.45 am heading to Romania. Long, long day and 42 degrees C. Arrived Brasov at 20:00, after 435 miles of main road driving with lots of road works and mad drivers. Leave any size gap & suddenly an articulated truck and a bus will overtake you & fill it!
Again, keen to sample the local specialities, tea was courtesy of McDonalds!
Then time to seek a bed for the night. We end up following a chap thru the side streets trusting he is going to take us to somewhere to stay – fortunately a very comfortable pension is our reward!
July 25th 2007 Wednesday
Headed from Romania to Moldova, over the mountains and witness local villagers walking out their cows to graze. Meet up with Luc & Martin from Team Justy & convoy with them. Get to border & got into Moldova OK - only needed 2 bottles of water as a bribe.
Later on had real problems getting into TRansdienstr - they are a breakaway republic state - they were terrible - demanding money for anything - we had to pay $29 for our petrol. They even confiscated Richard’s binoculars as they thought he could use them to spy on them then shoot them!
When they then tried to charge us yet more we decided to turn back into Moldova proper and take the much longer southern route to Ukraine. A mad nights driving on tracks & roads under construction and going the wrong way down one of their ‘dual carriageways’!
We are finding it hard to find an internet café and realise that the text blog is a great way to sent our progress reports back to the UK
July 26th 2007 Thursday
Got to setup tent and sleep at 04:30am. This was after 22 hours on the road. However we are now in Ukraine. Set off for Odessa at10:30, the roads are long and undulating, but in quite good condition.
In Odessa we walked down the Potemkin steps which were used in a famous 1920/30’s film. Then went down to the edge of the Black Sea and had time to dip our feet in it.
Towards the evening we set off for an Ex-Soviet holiday camp. In Soviet times everyone that worked in factories were allowed 2 weeks holiday. Where we stayed was one of these. It was like a Soviet Butlins. It is now privately run, but makes Butlins look like Disney land!!
July 27th 2007 Friday
We are in the Ukraine, near Odessa.
Started breakfast with a huge 1/4 water melon that we had bought from the roadside earlier. We are now heading towards the Russian border. One part of the journey was a dead straight road that was about 40miles long. Met up with Jonny & Iain from Team"We’re Actuarily going to Mongolia" in Mauripol on the way to the border.
This is the second day trying to get used to the Russian Alphabet. It means we don’t understand any of the signs etc
We noted that the Harry Potter film is on, but this is Tarri Potter in Russian!!
We are using an iPod with FM transmitter to listen to music. This is working really well.
We arrived at the Russian border getting across involved talking to the guards and filling in Russian forms. This took about 10 hours.
July 28th 2007 Saturday
Now in Russia. After 10 hours at the border, Richard and I needed to perform mechanical surgery on OOA. This meant adjusting the tracking and the exhaust needed to be prised apart and adjusted. It had been banging on the holey roads. After 2 hours we set off for Volgograd to try to catch up the others.
We are both very tired and very dusty.
Arrived in Volgograd at about 19:30. Volgograd was formally Stalingrad. It was the area/city that stopped Hitler advancing in WW2. There is now a very impressive monument called “Mother Russia” to remember the city. This is situated on Hill 102 which was the scene of major battles between the Soviet and German armies.
Luc and Martin had found the Hotel Tourist which is a large impressive ex-Soviet hotel. It was very posh at one time. This is basic but functional- at for GBP 20.
The bed was much more comfortable than previous nights, but the décor and ambiance totally reflect the Soviet line of thinking. The furniture is totally practical but nothing else. The shower, for example, had lots of pipe work showing that was a real mess.
July 29th 2007 Sunday
Got up from the comfortable beds in Volgograd at about 10:00am.
This is the life!! – Now for a shower
We checked the tyres and found a faulty value on the back tyre. Driving round Volgograd we found a friendly chap at a Ford garage who took us to a tyre repairer. He fixed it for $2 cash!
We went on to a fantastic supermarket. There were loads of products in the store and many of these were different to those found in the UK.
We headed back to the Hotel Tourist for a lovely Sunday “Winston Clarke” dinner.
Locally produced Cadbury’s chocolate
Whilst eating the ‘meal’ we planned more of our impending journey.
It is still amazing to see the river Volga, the Hill 102 and the Industrial area and then try to image what it was like here in 1942!!
We looked for an internet café but couldn’t find one, but when we arrived back at the hotel to meet the other we found that the Actuaries have a bearing problem. Richard looked at it for ages but agreed that it needed to be replaced. The Actuaries decided to stay in Volgograd and get it fixed the next day.
We headed for Astrakhan with Team Justy and found a place to camp. We enjoyed a Pot Noodle and chatted until 01:30am.
July 30th 2007 Monday
Got up and had some muesli for breakfast. Packed the stuff and headed towards Astrakhan.
In Astrakhan we tried to find an internet café. We found one but in closed within 20 minutes, also Internet Explorer was in Russian. On leaving Astrakhan we stopped for an evening swim in the Volga River – not the cleanest but still refreshing!
We headed for the Kazakhstan border. We arrived at about 23:00 on the Russian side.
Then we waited for a ferry to take us over a very wide river to get into Kazakhstan, but this only opened at 06:00am!! Another night in the car.
July 31st 2007 Tuesday
Over on the ferry and then negotiated passing the Kazakhstan border guards. With this accomplished we were only about 2 miles down the road before we were stopped and check by local police.
The initial road is in fact tarmac and is not too bad.
The weather is very hot – approx 38C. The terrain is becoming more desert like. We have actually seen camels. Near most settlements we see concrete constructions. These are burial grounds.
There is also evidence of oil exploration, but no traffic on the road and no petrol stations. On the way we met the German Wartburg Tourists Team who joined our convoy. Siegfried is a Professor of Maths and Jonas has just finished studying in Berlin.
We managed to get to Atyrau. Here we found an air conditioned shopping complex.
We stopped for a meal here – it was great!!
Went off to find a hotel. We found a cheap hotel where you paid by the 12 hours or 24 hours. We decided to go out for a beer and be back by 22:00. We could then book the room for 12 hours!! Fantastic, drinking to save money!!
The plan worked well. We found a great tented bar near the Opera house. We had several beers here and then went to a restaurant to have a pizza.
We had a great night sleep.
August 1st 2007 Wednesday
Left the hotel at Atyrau and went back to the air conditioned shopping complex. Bought water and other stuff for the Kazakhstan part of the journey
Set off down what was expected to be a really bad track, but found it to be a brand new highway!!
At the end of the end of the highway we decided to camp. Cooked a couple of noodles – they were good.
August 2nd Thursday
Camping, up at 06:00am to get the kettle on. Left camp at 07:30.
Then began the nightmare 1/2 day. We were trying to head for Uzbekistan down a pretty bad road, but they are replacing the road surface, so in the meantime it is necessary to follow sand tracks to the side of the road works. The Berrow Fellows Fiesta became stuck several times in the sand. The Wartburg also bottomed out.
The normal problem was when the sump guard had sand under it caused the front wheels to leave the ground and spin.
Richard was getting quite lairy by this time. (Understatement!!!)
We also all became pretty split up. Team Justy because detached and headed to the next local town.
The Acturarists decided to go a different way.
After being towed by a lorry, the Wartburg Tourists and us decided to go a different way and managed to get on the main road – but then we had to wait for the others.
Bit of a waste of time – but taught us that we need to stick together and be aware of where the other teams are!!!
After we regrouped in the next town called Prorva, we bought some more water and had a pretty good run.
Stayed in a Lorry Park Transport café at Beyneu. The café had a dining area and an adjoining Turkish style eating room. A piece of netting was nailed over the entrance.
We also paid for a shower, but this involved a tin in an outhouse that was so iffy that we decided to do a sink wash.
There was a young boy who was quite funny, but really good with the camera, mobiles etc. We were getting tired of him later on in the evening – I suppose it was his school holidays, otherwise it would have been great if he had gone to bed.
We all enjoyed a meal in the café for 200 Teng i.e. £0.80
At about 12:00 the 8 of us managed to get to sleep on the floor.
August 3rd 2007 Friday
Great sleep on the Transport Café floor apart from the train noise and the TV going on next door at 06:00am.
Up at 07:00 off to the toilet outhouse in the field. Quick wash and tidy up of the car.
A cup of coffee for 20p and we were ready to set off.
The young lad was still asleep on a bench outside. [He definitely should have been sent to bed earlier last night … grrrr!!]
Left the café and headed to the local Bazaar in Beyneu. Bought the statutory additional water and Richard bought some flip flop type shoes.
Out of Beyneu we were heading for the Uzbekistan border. The road was shale but flat – expect where the contours made it like travelling on sheets of corrugated metal.
Arrived at the Kazakhstan / Uzbekistan border at 11:00 am. The border guards had us waiting for 6.5 hours – including a 2 hour lunch break.
The guards were friendly but it’s all just a bureaucratic exercise. We had to move from one unmarked shed to another and try to fill in forms in Russian for the car and ourselves.
Left the border control in the desert at 17:30. The road heading south in Uzbekistan is very bumpy.
The Acturists had ignition problems.
The Wartburg has had fuel problems.
We were trundling up a really bad track for hours. It had the typical corrugated effect. This is very hard on the suspension, but if we take the right line it’s not too bad for the exhaust.
Luc from Team Justy found another great camp site off the really awful track. Set up camp just as the sun went down.
We had top quality cuisine comprising one pack of boil in the bag sausage and beans, then the standard Noodles pack. Delicious.
August 4th 2007 Saturday
Steve woke during the night and explained to Richard that we should perhaps move the tent because the road builders had arrived early for work. [It was just a train with lots of slow carriages running nearby!]
Civil start to the day and packed the tent etc away. Realising how important it is to keep shovel and toilet paper to hand!
Set of back down the really bad road, but after about 50 miles it started to get better.
From the road we could see where the Aral Sea used to be. Over the last 50 years water that would have gone into the Aral Sea has been diverted for cotton production. The Aral Sea has reduced in size by 60%. It is now over 100 km from its original edge to its new edge.
New issue was that we needed local money and petrol. The banks had just closed for the weekend and there was no fuel in the petrol stations.
Every 30 km or so we get stopped at police checkpoints. At one checkpoint the guard desperately wanted some mosquito repellent. Still a bribe!!
We spend several hours looking for both money exchanges and fuel stations (that would take foreign currency). If we do find fuel it is only 80 octanes. This isn’t really enough to stop our cars from pinking.
We decided to find a hotel in Nukus. It was not a bad hotel. The toilet was smelly, but it had been a very grand hotel.
Tried to find a way to exchange money. In the end the lady managed to come up with shed loads of Uzbekistan money and exchange it for a few of our dollars.
We were the owners of 72,000 Sum (about $60)
We walked around Nukus. We saw a car crash – everyone was getting very animated.
Back at the hotel we enjoyed a very nice meal with a couple of cold beers. Most importantly we had a chance to wash our clothes and have a shower.
In a lovely bed by 11:30.
August 5th 2007 Sunday
Up early at 06:30 to have another shower and get the kit bag ready.
I was sharing a room with Martin and Luc or Team Justy. Richard shared with Iain and Jono of Team Actuaries and Siegfried and Jonas had a double.
Unfortunately, the air conditioning in our room didn’t work so the window was opened and the mosquitoes attacked – Richard may not be aware of this incident ;-)
On the move by 08:30 after swapping front tyres for the rear tyres.
We had problems getting out of Nukus. This is a common problem. The countries are so big that there isn’t a constraint on the size of the city, then because they assume everyone is a local they don’t bother with road signs.
Eventually we found the right route to Samarkand which is 500 miles away.
It is possible to see where the water from the Aral is being used. It is also possible to see the land which is nearly desert where it is not been used!!
Steve has shed loads of mosquito bites which are very itchy and cause swelling. More keep appearing all the time (Richard was obviously sympathetic to Steve’s well publicised suffering….!) The desert driving on hot dry days doesn’t seem to be helping. Not much was said about these!!
In the middle of the desert we stopped at an imposing café and enjoyed lunch. It was a really interesting place that had seen better times being on a major trading route.
After the desert is was great to stop for a few hours at Buhoro which is an Ancient town on the Silk route.
We saw a couple of other Mongol Ralliers with Suzuki SJs. These had broken down on the German Autobahns, Hungary and again in Buhoro. SJs are cool, but they don’t like being driven hard on tarmac roads.
Team Justy and the Actuaries went ahead and found a hotel in Samarkand. It is called Samarkand Central. It cost $60 per night per room. Great value!!
This had been a long day. We had travelled over 550 miles and we were out of the worst part of the Uzbekistan desert. We also had mobile phone connectivity. Luxury!!
August 6th 2007 Monday
Samarkand Central Hotel is great! Got up at about 10:00 and went to an internet café.
Started to browse using Internet Explorer in Russian. (There must be an easy way to change it to English). Couldn’t connect to out blog, but we could at least check emails. I starting typing a big email, just as I was about to send it I was shut off as my time was up – a little bit of a timeout warning would have been useful!
We walked around the many Samarkand monuments and bought a book on the area.
Left Samarkand at 15:15. Stopped at a petrol station on the outskirts where “the boss” bought and cut-up a water melon for us.
We drove down to Tashkent. Arrived at about 21:30. Eventually found the Shox hotel. It was good value and had great features. Walked about Tashkent and found a meal, it was only £5 a head.
Stomach still not feeling brilliant.
August 7th 2007 Tuesday
We were going to stay in Tashkent for a second night but realised that it’s a long way to Bishkek over the mountains, so we decided to leave in the afternoon.
In Tashkent we found an internet café and updated a couple of blog entries.
Richard put some O rings around the Fiesta exhaust.
Luc from Team Justy is feeling ill – he had a 39C temperature, but it’s back down now.
We left Tashkent at about 16:30 – which was really too late
From Tashkent we were heading towards Fergana Valley where there has been unrest over the past few years so we were reluctant to camp in an unsafe place.
We drove over the first range of mountains in Uzbekistan and then headed for
Qoqand, we arrived about 23:30.
We couldn’t find a hotel so we asked a market store holder. He started to explain, and then said in Russian ‘follow me’. He jumped in his car and drove at a fair rate of knots to a local hotel. It was full, so back in the car and off to another hotel. This was also full, but we persuaded the landlord to let us camp in his back yard. The landlord had caught on to capitalism and charged us $7, but it was worth it to get some sleep!!!
August 8th 2007 Wednesday
Iain (who had been sleeping during most of the car driving the previous evening) woke early at 06:00 this morning. We had been offered a shower but declined it. We quickly packed away the camping stuff and headed for Osh which is in Kyrgyzstan.
Making good time we arrived at the border at 11:00.
In Uzbekistan we have been continually passing police controls. These occur about every 20-30 km. At the start they were awkward events, but now they are quite jovial – generally they just wave us Anglyian (Russian for English) through.
Yet another ordeal to pass the Border controls, yet amazing we were through in about 2 hours!
Stopped at a road side stall. One litre of coke and some scones were 60p.
Kyrgyzstan seems a nice place. It is closely affiliated with Russia but there seem to be less police controls.
Stopped at Bazaar in a small village. I managed to barter a 10 litre water container that we did not need for 8 bottle of cherry pop. Richard was impressed!!
OK the Cherry pop tasted awful – it was the principle.
We then spent several hours going up into the mountains. There have been quite a few dams built mainly for hydro-electricity.
Jonas from Wartburg Tourists spotted a track to a beautiful lake where we could camp. Admittedly this was over 2 miles long and nearly took to bottom off the Fiesta, but it was worth it. After setting up the camping gear we had a swim.
Having stopped slightly earlier that other nights, we were able to have a good time round the camp fire. The stars are really bright out in the open. They can be seen right down to the horizon.
Siegfried from Wartburg Tourists told us how he started work as an apprentice mechanic, went back to college, get married (& had Jonas), went to prison after a car crash in DDR and became a Professor – good stuff
Got to bed at 10:00pm, but we later found that the clocks had gone forward 1 hour!
August 9th Thursday
Awoke after camping in the Kyrgyzstan Mountains next to a lovely lake and beautiful weather. I had another swim in the lake. The wind had dropped so it was possible to see through the clear water to the bottom of the lake.
Muesli for breakfast – with skimmed milk sprinkled on and water. Packed the camping stuff and headed back up the rough track to the road.
Continued to head into the Kyrgyzstan Mountains. They are big, beautiful and very high. The highest is about 4000m.
The Wartburg Tourists had a problem with its brakes on the way down one of the passes. By going down hill and coasting the Wartburg tended to get its spark plugs clogged up. Siegfried soon sorted these out.
We found a café at the foot of the last mountain. Bought a bottle of sprite and waited for the Wartburg.
Unfortunately we decided that there wasn’t time to visit Bishkek. After a discussion at the café it was decided that we should head for the Kyrgyzstan / Kazakhstan border and then head straight on for Almaty.
Arrived at the Kyrgyzstan / Kazakhstan border at 16:15. It is very hot. It was a manic event, there were 3 lanes going into 2 so there were lots of engines revving and horn blowing when the border guard lifted the barrier to allow about 5 vehicles through.
Despite this we were through by about 18:15. Being “Anglyia” (Russian for English) seemed to help. The guards are hoping to practice their English while filing in the forms. Two hours too get through the border – is this a record!
During the Border dash, the Wartburg Tourist car was hit by another vehicle. Neither party was bothered but the police became involved because they wanted to see the correct vehicle customs papers. None of the vehicles had these – it was just another attempt to get a bribe of 50 euros … sorry present! Siegfried refused to pay and they let them through.
After the border crossing we headed towards Almaty. We noticed that the battery indicator light was on. This indicated that the battery was not being charged. We drove as far as we could without headlights at quite a fair speed.
It looked like a policeman blew his whistle and wanted us to stop, but we carried on – ignorance is bliss – what policeman?
Getting closer to Almaty the light became brighter, and then the air bag light came on. This meant the battery was really low!
The engine started stalling about 14km from Almaty.
We had a spare alternator on board but decided to try to get to a hotel so we could fix it in the morning. We took the battery charge pack for starting dead batteries and tied it to the roof box and attached the black and red cables. This meant we were able to continue on our way. We hit the outskirts of Almaty but couldn’t see a hotel. As it was dark by now it was decided to stop in a garage and ask for directions – luckily at the point the Wartburg Tourists and other caught us up. They had been stopped by the policeman for a police check earlier.
We used the Wartburg to try to recharge the Fiesta battery. This meant that for each short charge we were able to travel for about 5 miles. Because we couldn’t get our bearings and find the hotel we needed to do the recharging process about 5 times.
At about 02:30 we eventually arrived at the hotel. Straight to bed – repairs would wait!
August 10th 2007 Friday
Staying in the hotel in Almaty, so we got up at 08:15 to replace the alternator. This involved initially taking off the sump guard. It was very hot, but would be getting hotter as the day progressed. Changing the alternator took about 2.5 hours, including changing tyres and tidying up the boot of the car which was covered in desert dust.
After a quick rest we went in search of the centre of town for a relax with a few drinks and lunch. Martin from Team Justy joined us. We went on to the Post Office to post the postcards we had carefully scribed. Remember even posting postcards is difficult if you don’t know what Post Office is in Russian!
We then progressed to the Almaty Bazaar. This is a huge market with hundreds of under cover stalls. Managed to find a couple of shawls and T-shirts.
Back to the hotel in preparation for the evening and then out again.
Richard stayed in – he wanted to watch TV.(Had to wash my hair actually!)
Martin’s girlfriend Christine from Switzerland joined us for the evening meal. After the meal we progressed to the bar where the other Mongol Ralliers were supposed to be situated – but no other teams were there!
Got to bed at about 00:15 am. Interestingly we have paid for the room a 24 hour timeslot and a 12 hour time slot at the hotel. It’s not by the day as in the UK.
August 11th 2007 Saturday
Still trotting to toilet (OK you are not interested…)
Up at 07:00am for 08:00 start. Rushed to supermarket to get more bottled water (pronounced wader niet gas in Russian) and bread.
Leaving Almaty and heading north through Kazakhstan desert.
It is cooler today – it even hints that it might rain.
We have a long way to go through Kazakhstan. The countryside changes but it is always dry and sometimes desert.
We did about 520 miles today. The Fiesta exhaust has dropped and is banging a lot. Luckily Siegfried from Wartburg Tourists has some welding wire that we can use.
We tried to do a roadside exhaust repair at about 20:00. It was very windy. Richard was under the car when the wind blew the door shut which hit his head – he now has a good hole in his head with blood showing – where would the nearest hospital happen to be if we needed it?
Started raining as we were putting up the tents at 22:00. Straight to sleep without supper – too tired and becoming wet!
We travelled a lot of miles today. Although Kazakhstan looked big on the map we are surprised just how huge the country is. The roads are Ok, but are potted with loads of bumps and humps that is stressing the Fiesta. The general feeling is that this is the first part of the trip that is becoming tedious, but it has to be done.
August 12th 2007 Sunday
Up at 06:00am to get the car jacked up and more wire put on the exhaust to hold it up.
Also need to look at the bracket on the front exhaust box which has broken off. This was repaired using Gum Gum (or something)
On the road by 08:30. It’s getting hotter again.
200 miles to the town Semey. Then 200 miles to the Russian border!
The roads to Semey were really bad for most of the journey – serious bumps and holes litter the way
From Semey to the Russian border we were able to make good progress as the roads were fine.
Arrived at the Kazakhstan / Russian border at 15:30. There are 7 Mongol Rally teams in the No Mans land between the border checks and another 5 in the initial queue.
Got past the Kazakhstan border guards at about 19:30, then over to the Russian side.
Loads of other Mongol Ralliers and the going is generally very, very slow.
I think the customs are processing the Mongol Rally cars 2 by 2 so they don’t clog up the whole of the customs site.
We eventually sot into the queue to be processed at about 21:00 and were completed by 23:00 – after having coffee and noodles in the queue. (Add 1 hour for time zone change) – So about 7.5 hours. Such a waste of time and so tedious!
It was dark by now, be we headed to a Border café in Russia and chatted with a Russian Customs officer. He was good fun and quite talkative for 01:00 in the morning! (Still not allowed to take photographs of him – they don’t want us to photocopy their inefficiencies).
It started to show sights of Thunder and lightening. It then poured with rain. This could be considered normal as we are now in the Russian Altai region of Siberia.
Looked for a campsite but it was so wet and populated that we couldn’t find one. Parked on an old demolished garage forecourt. The general consensus was to sleep in the car, but the Berrow Fellows with their 2 second tend decided not to sleep in their trusty Fiesta, instead out came the tent which luckily didn’t need pegs on the tarmac and the heroes were asleep within 15 minutes!
It’s great to be out of Kazakhstan and into the Russian Altai Mountain region. It is also amazing that it is raining after all the desert we have been through.
The teams in our convoy are bonding together well. We almost feel like a separate tribe when we see other Mongol Ralliers.
August 13th 2007 Monday
Back in the Russian Altai Mountain region. It was raining heavily most of the night, everything is wet. Rose at 05:30am (we are 6 hours a head of the UK).
We were the only team to put on the tent - but then it is a Flash 2 second tent ;-))
The 4 hours in the tent were certainly better than trying to sleep in the car. Got the kettle boiling and then away by 06:45am. Heading for Barnaul. Barnaul is a South Western Siberian City. We popped into a super market and changed some money. Met the same Mongol Ralliers we had seen at the Russian border.
The Altai region if Siberia stretches into Mongolia. It is much cooler than Southern Kazakhstan and also has a much higher rainfall. The fields are cultivated. Many seem to have short stemmed oats and barley – this may be due to the very hot weather over the past few months stunting the grains growth.
The roads seem ok and the traffic police don’t stop us either or if they do stop us they quickly let us carry on.
At 19:00 we decided to camp rather than hostel, so we rushed on to get ahead of the rain. Luc from Team Justy found a good camp site in the mountains (… he always does).We got the tent up and ready for supper, but then it started raining again. After supper we had a coffee and went to find the sleeping bag at 21:00. The rain just keeps coming down.
We can’t get over the beauty of the Altai Mountains – similar to the Alps but less populated and commercialised. We are getting weary of the rain and worried that our route though Mongolia may be affected by storm rain causing brooks and rivers to rise.
August 14th 2007 Tuesday
Got up at 06:00am after camping in the Altai Mountains. As expected it rained all night. Packed up the camping stuff. Decided to have a coffee, but not bother with breakfast.
In the Altai Mountains all of the roadside stalls just seem to be selling local honey.
The mountain road seems to be following a river to the Mongolian border. About 40 km before the border we went over a pass and suddenly the landscape changed from lush mountains to Kazakhstan style dry desert landscape.
Arrived at the Russian/Mongolian border at about 11:30. We left the Russian area at 16:45 and past the Mongolian side at 19:00.
The bureauocracy is truly staggering. The Russians make you go from 1 building to another to get bits of paper signed and countersigned. They may sure that the forms are in Russian and the building do not have signed to say what they what part of the process they are for.
The Mongolians also disappointingly were trying it on.
The exchange people in the 1st hut exchanged Roubles for Mongolian money, but it seems they were not legitimate exchangee’s!!
There was a chap demanding Insurance money to use a car in Mongolia, but he couldn’t say what the cover included (even in Russian!!)
There was confusion on the Mongolian side about which parts of the forms we needed to fill in.
Anyway, in Mongolia – main part of the mission accomplished!!!
We said to most people that we were going from Hyde Park, London to Mongolia. We didn’t mention Ulan Bataar the capital!
Within an hour of being in Mongolia we were travelling along tracks and were told by locals that there had been a landslide and the road was not passable.
We gave the children some pens and multicolour highlighters, the parents invited us into their Ger (movable tent style house). We are now with about 10 other Mongol Ralliers.
We saw the Canadian car that had packed up and its owners had left it.
It got dark quite quickly, but we managed to find a 2nd class campsite 100 metres from the track in the mountain bushes.
We put the kettle on which took about ½ hour to boil, made a coffee and then went to sleep.
I am perturbed about a mosquito bite on my hand and another on my foot. These have both swollen up a lot and itch.
We are really please to actually be in Mongolia, but its still a long way to go.
August 15th Wednesday
Camping in the Mongolian part of the Altai Mountains. We are over 2000m high.
We were up at 06:45, muesli for breakfast after a freezing cold no-sleep night.
The tracks look easier to negotiate in the daylight.
Hills that last night looked like slag heaps are infact hill mounds!
After about 15kn we came across the Welsh Micra with low suspension. They now have a hole in their fuel tank.
The next few things seemed to be worth recording chronologically:
At 08:30 we passed the Rabbit Chaser which the New Zealanders bought from Terry Clay in Inkberrow
We stopped on a hill to check a Corsa was Ok. It was a steep hill and the Wartburg, Polo and Justy needed a push up, but the Fiesta made its way up without help!!
Just before 10:00, the Wartburg has a coolant line split – they have a spare!
It is already evident that Mongolia is more remote than other places we have encountered.
The Polo’s report 2 flat tyres, they are going to town to try to get them sorted.
Also, the Wartburg has squashed their exhaust towards the rear, so they have cut it off
Eventually, the Polos found a garage to repair their tyres, but the owner only had a makeshift setup and there are still leaks
Polos realise that they have left their tyre brace back in the mountains where they had the puncture.
Polos now have tyres with tubes in them, We sort out shop, money and petrol and carry on. We have only done 40 miles today)
In the afternoon we stopped to eat water melon.
We met some Germans in the Microsoft Polo and donated some of our some tyre filler stuff.
In the mid afternoon we seemed to be heading off-track and found a water crossing. We checked it was OK and crossed over it.
Then we met another etc etc. Siegfried found a bigger ford to cross and went for it. Unfortunately it had big rocks in it. The Wartburg was in about 2ft of water when it was stopped about 5m from the other side by an underwater rock. Water started flooding in the car – especially when Siegfried opened the door. We all helped to push the Wartburg backwards out of the ford. It was very interesting to see the water pour out of the Wartburg when the door was opened over dry land! But when the spark plugs were cleaned off the Wartburg went – fair play!!!
We then went off high into the mountains and back down 2 steep slopes. We found a fast running stream with rocks on the other side. It was decided that we could not navigate this, so we turned round and went back the way we came.
It was hard work trying to get back up the 2 steep slopes. It involved taking a run at the slope with the car and getting as high as possible, then taking out the petrol, water and any heavy items. The car went back down the slope and had another run this was usually OK and the car was able to get to the top of the slope. We then had to go down the slope and pick up al the fuel, water and other stuff. It was hard work, but we were pleased to be back on the right track and put down the tents for the evening camp.
We setup camp at about 20:00 in the mountains at a height of about 2500m. This is higher than many of the Alpine ski resorts. Snow in fact covered the sloped not many metres above us.
It was a very frustrating day. We had not covered many miles, but it was exhilarating being totally lost in the mountains knowing that there was nobody around to help us.
August 16th Thursday
Being 2500m the camping was gain cold. This time, however, I had clean dry clothes to sleep in. I did infact have a good nights sleep.
Up at 06:30 and left by 06:45. We wanted to make up some of the lost time.
We were back on the normal Mongol track in 0.75 hour. The track is the main road from the Border to the capital Ulan Bataar, but it is still just a set of bad tracks with no directions. Bear in mind that we are taking about a mountain range the size of Wales.
We overtook the Micra again. We also tried to help the Italians with their Fiat 500 bubble cars after a fan belt packed up. The two Fiats have a Land Rover Support vehicle. They look very impressive with the new Land Rover and well ??????
As we leave the Altai mountain region the tracks are at least flatter and more visible,
Later in the morning we found a closed bridge over a swelled river. The bridge was closed because a lorry had damaged half of it. We decided that he other half would still take the weight of our small cars. We crossed successfully.
The Fiat 500’s came along. The Land Rover was towing 1 of the Fiats. The Land Rover headed for the river, then stopped, unfortunately the Fiat 500 didn’t seem to have brakes and crashed into the back of it crumpling the bonnet etc.
Mid-morning the Wartburg hit a rock and now has a problem with the gearbox.
The Polo has exhaust problems.
The countryside is changing, it is flatter and greener. The track has more sand in its composition.
The Fiesta had a hanging brake pipe, this has been re-attached.
We arrived in the Mongolian town of Hovd. We did the normal shopping for petrol, bread and then exchanged money. After 1 hour in Hovd we were back on the road.
OK the road is SH*TE!!
It is so corrugated and bumpy that we can only do about 20mph.
The Fiesta had a flat tyre.
The Wartburg had 2 flat tyres.
The Polo has lost its exhaust and its engine is running a bit erratically.
The Fiesta has another flat!
We were getting short of blown up tyres, on the side of the road we thought we had found a tyre hut, but instead it was a café. We went in the café for noodles and Mongolian Chai tea. This is a very salty milky tea. I personally didn’t like it.
The noodles, however, were very nasty and much better than we expected.
The noodles and tea cost $20 (£10) for the 7 of us.
Siegfried lent us more Welding wire and we tied up the exhaust again.
It was getting towards evening so we headed off from the café and set up camp in the desert at about 21:00. We had already eaten so went straight to sleep.
It has been amazing to see how much damage is being caused to the cars by the bad roads.
August 17th 2007 Friday
We arose from out desert camp about 160 miles from the Altai Mountains at about 06:00am – then the sun came up.
The going is really slow. Richard drove for the first couple of hours still only doing about 20mph.
We saw the Micra again, however, a tyre had blown and the car has rolled. We helped to put it on the back of a lorry to be taken to Ulan Bataar.
The Wartburg stopped to check the gear casing. Its head gasket may be playing up – added some more water and it seemed Ok.
Early afternoon and the Wartburg has a broken spring – likely Siegfried has a spare!
We arrived in the town of Altai. One of our punctures was fixed with an inner tube and gunk.
But, when adding petrol we found that we had a fuel tank leak.
We dropped the fuel tank, emptied all the fuel into Jerry cans and used some Metal Fix Stuff. It worked really well (We hope!)
The Justy has found that it has also broken a spring – it has a spare.
We bought water and bread, so at about 18:30 we were able to set off although there were slight concerns about the lack of spare tyres.
Driving is better than earlier today and yesterday, but still 20 mph stuff.
At 21:30 we stopped and setup camp. It had been a hard day so straight to sleep.
We have been surprised today how hard the track is, but at the same time we are please that our fixed fuel tank is holding up.
The Polo Boys have decided to try to go on ahead to get to Ulan Bataar quicker.
August 18th 2007 Saturday
We rose at 05:51 (Before the Sun!) and left the camp site at 05:45.
We are driving over mountain ranges which have pointed rocks sticking up in the road everywhere.
Generally its still 20mph, occasionally 30 mph – we have 400 miles to go today.
At 09:45 the Wartburg had problems with its rear brake calliper. We took the opportunity to have a coffee and allow the tents to dry out.
Starsky and Crutch in another Fiesta and a Trabant drove past. They said that they had spent 1½ hours going down the wrong track last night i.e. 3 hours wasted!
The Justys roof rack finally gave up when one of the supports broke. By 11:15 the Wartburg brakes had been fixed and we were off again.
In the early afternoon we saw some other Mongol Ralliers waiting by a fast flowing river. It seems that it had rained so much in the night that the river level had risen a lot.
The river looked deep to me, so I wanted to go 70km up north to cross a bridge, but we were not sure where the bridge was or even if it was actually standing,
Then a Toyota Land Cruiser started towing cars across the river so we quickly taped the bottoms of the doors.
The land Cruiser towed the Fiesta across the river. Despite the tape water still came in the car. This is probably not surprising as the water which was probably about 1 meter in places.
We used a plastic bottle and towels to get as much of the water out of the foot wells as possible.
After the river crossing the Wartburg had ignition problems.
Travelling along the track we were hailed down by a Mongolian chap in one of the Russian 4x4 mini buses. IT had a broken steering arm. Siegfried offered to take him to Bayenhongor
There were many problems occurring with the cars.
Soon after picking up the Mongolian chap, the Wartburg’s exhaust dropped off and became full of mud. The engine wouldn’t work until the mud was cleared from the exhaust pipe.
The Subaru Justy was beginning to run hot.
The Fiesta had a tyre that kept deflating.
More seriously it was noted that infact the Justy has broken 3 more springs and the welding around the bulkhead is breaking away. The Justy started to head for Bayenhongor to find a mechanic. By this time it was 16:00 on a Saturday afternoon.
The Fiesta seemed to be going well, when Richard noticed that the coolant indicator was showing hot. We checked and found that the fan had been rubbing on the radiator and we had some leaks. The Wartburg’s exhaust was now fixed, so they had caught us up.
As an aside a local Mongolian Goat herd with his friend had come over to see what we were up to. We had a chat with them. Siegfried then gave the lads his guitar, knowing that he couldn’t get it home. They were really pleased with it!
Back to the radiator, after try a bottle of RadWeld which did not fix the leaks, the radiator was taken out of the car. We than applied more of the fantastic Metal Weld it Stuff. This was possible because the leaks were from the small radiator piping which was easy to see and apply the Weld It Stuff over. By about 19:45 we had put the radiator back in the car and headed off to Bayenhongor.
We drove into Bayenhongor along with the Wartburg. The Just had found a mechanic at a garage and the mechanic was trying to fix the breaking weld on the wing. HE was also looking for other springs. At about 21:00 the mechanic called it a day, saying he would start again at 06:00 next morning (Sunday)
We decided to book into a hotel. We found a hotel with 1 room left so all 6 of us slept in the same room. Siegfried and Richard were kind enough to sleep on the floor.
Before bed we went don to the bar and had a couple of bottles of Russian beer each.
We have been surprised how many problems we have had with the car today, by at least the Justy is being seem to and the Fiestas radiator is still not leaking.
August 19th 2007 Sunday
This is the day of the party in Ulan Bataar!!!
We arose from out lovely but hard bed in Bayenhongor. Luc had already gone to see how the mechanic was getting on with the Justy.
We had a sink wash – this was great we had so much dust on us. We then looked around the town. We were especially short of money so needed to find a cash machine or bank. We couldn’t find either. We were OK because we had plenty of petrol, but we couldn’t buy water or bread.
The Justy was likely to be ready at about 14:30, so the Wartburg and the Fiesta decided to go out of town and wait.
We put some of the Gunk Stuff in the rear tyre to stop it going down.
Richard decided to wire up a switch to radiator so that we could switch he radiator on and off as required.
The Wartburg team checked and repaired their brakes.
At lunch time we were able to cook the noodle favourites. It was great to have a relaxed Sunday break.
The Italians in the Renault Twingo came past in the back of a lorry. This was however, to protect the car from further damage as they wanted to drive it back to Italy.
The Justy was fixed at about 14:00, so we were on our way again.
We headed down the road from Bayenhongor to Arvayheer. The roads are getting better but you still need to keep a look out for small spikes of rock sticking up that will puncture the tyres.
We arrived in Arvayheer at 20:00. This is when the party was due to start. It’s still several 100 km’s but we analyse whether we can still get to the party.
We head off to Ulan Bataar on tarmac roads and for about 200 miles it’s all going really well. Then at about 01:00am we find that they are doing major road works to the tarmac for the next 200 miles (i.e. all the way to Ulan Bataar).
There was a fantastic thunder and lightening display. When the lightening went off it lit the whole sky and seems to make it look as if it originates from the middle of the cloud and for a second you can see through the clouds.
We have missed the party, so we decide to camp for a few hours – our last desert camp!
We were impressed with the Mongolian mechanic who worked late into Saturday evening and then Sunday to repair the weld in the wing and weld some springs back together.
We are disappointed that we have missed the party but very happy that we are all still together in the convoy!!
August 20th 2007 Monday
We missed our initial deadline which was the party in Ulan Bataar, but we are really more relieved that all the cars are still going and we are only about 300 miles from the finish.
We climbed out of the Flash 2 second tent for the last time and hit the road at 06:00am
Considering the thunder and lightening it wasn’t too wet.
We were still on a track by the side of the original road which is closed while it is being re tarmaced. We are amazed that they can close 100miles of road for repair and just leave everyone on their own to find any old path or track that is passable!
We met up again with the Italians in the Renault Twingo. They had taken their car off the back of the truck and were slowly driving towards Ulan Bataar themselves.
We also saw the Polo with the broken axel on the back of a truck with 2 sheep for company.
Mid morning we stopped for coffee, the Italian Twingos joined us. We are nearly there!
We arrived in Ulan Bataar at 11:30. (Add 1 hour for clock changes = 12:30)
At the entrance we stopped to take photographs and celebrate.
8748miles & 30 days since leaving London! Average 290 miles per day
Martin’s Girlfriend, Christine had found a hostel on the edge of town. It was basic but very comfortable.
We went into Ulan Bataar and found a travel agent. We were lucky to book a flight from Ulan Bataar to Seoul and then from Seoul to London Heathrow.
We popped into Dave’s Place which is the official finish line for a beer and Cheese Burger.
We are all really excited that we completed the journey in the cars without resorting to tow trucks etc. Its was really an adventure going through different countries, different countryside and encountering different problems all the time.
August 21st 2007 Tuesday
We have completed our adventure. Now we have a few hours to look round Ulan Bataar. So we got up from a lovely hotel bed at 09:00 for breakfast which included an omelette.
We took OOA our blue Fiesta car to the compound ready for it to be auctioned for the local charities. All the equipment was also placed in a store for either auctioning or giving to the charities.
It’s very pleasant not having to drive today; instead we can sit in an Irish Bar having a coffee or a beer. We could get used to this!
After an evening meal with the other teams we headed to the Ulan Bataar Airport for the flight to Seoul. The food on the plane was excellent.
August 22nd 2007
After an 11 3/4 hour flight from Seoul to London we were home!
We were met by our family who whisked us home -