Getting beyond borders... Mongolia
As we arrive at the Mongolian border town we have seen big signposts for since Barnaul, we are unsure if the small village can be really be it, but it is. The border is closed, but we have been told and seen on the internet that it does open on Sunday, the next day. We make camp nearby and are up early and into the queue first thing. A few cars start arriving: a Kazak family visiting relatives in Mongolia, and some Russian jeeps heading to fish over the border. We watch some soldiers coming in from night patrol on horseback and the morning guard shift arrive at the border.
We get bad news the border doesn’t open in Sundays after all. The Russian jeeps head off saying they’ll camp outside of town and see us on Monday. We are trying to decide what to do when a bunch of other ralliers start pulling up. After giving them the bad news we decide to make the best of it and I start cooking up a big breakfast for them all from our supplier and a great tray of eggs the Brazilians manage to get in the village shop. We have sausages and eggs, bread and blueberry pancakes and the french arrive with some wine which we decide to save until later.
We hang out swapping stories of the roads, the borders, the food and people we have met with Germans, French, English, Australian, New Zealand, and Brazilian ralliers most are from the other rally the Mongol Rally but we are delighted to meet up again with some lads we met at the launch the Bearded Dragons. They BBQ in the evening and we add some fried spud then the beers come out and we open the french wine.
It turns out that one french group are not on any rally they just decided to drive to Mongolia. They have 5 weeks and were planning to drive back but are now trying to figure out a way to fly home. However, unless you import your car legally, apparently you may have trouble flying out as they don’t want dumped cars. They take advice from others and discover if the car is broken down they can leave it. We have heard that a rally team ahead of us Stop Yakking killed their car in a river crossing getting water in the engine and the french start thinking. These french are Parisians and stand out as the coolest cleanest of us all in black jeans and t-shirts and and combed slick hair but they take a slagging and are very funny. We think they have been existing on coke and cigarettes for weeks and are delighted by the communal meals.
We also enjoy our attempts at communication with our photos and point book with the Kazak family: a very old man, a mother, father and son who to us looks like a teenager but is at college and is a breakdancer. We give them hot water for tea and the father spends a lot of time walking around us all closely inspecting us and shaking his head in bemused interest and disbelief. He joins us at the fire after the BBQ and accepts the offered beers.
Next morning when the border begins to open the chaos begins. Apparently, we need to go through passport control back in a hut the village. We are now in the front of the now large vehicle queue. The Russians have returned and cut back into their “place” in the queue upsetting on of the German’s greatly. One of them speaks English and I’ve been chatting to him as he is an archeologist and is telling me about the cave painting and stone monuments in the area. He cannot understand the German’s anger as he told us he would be back. Mike explains that place holding is normal in a country that has a history of queues for everything. The queue at the hut is a mad thing with Mongolians with big gring and laughter trying hard to skip in pushing and manovering. The Ralliers form a tight group at the door and foil their attempts then its back to the cars to wait our turn for Russian customs. This doesn’t take too long and we drive the 20km of no-man’s-land to the Mongolian side past some people scything hay who wave to us. There is further delay to enter the Mongolia border area as their is a foot and mouth outbreak over the border and so we have to have the vehicle drive through disinfectant and the attendant is just leaving for lunch. Eventually, we get through, and begin the passport control very slow because the female official is texting a friend between typing our passports details into her computer. The speed slows further once we start the vehicle import process. There is a big group of Mongol ralliers too and their process is different than ours as the don’t have some of the charity exempt vehicles and there are 300 coming through that their organization must pay tax on. Our German friends are very frustrated. One is able to joke about it and says yes I know I am German and I want rules where are the rules, but the other is getting very stressed. He hassles officals and calls their organizers who also phone and talk to officals eventually the officials get fed up and through all the Mongol Ralliers out and take work on us and the other charity ralliers. They tell us Charity Rally good Mongol Rally bad and tell us that they have had trouble with partying ralliers overnighting in their compound. Apparently people can get stuck at the border a few days. Our offical works late past their 6pm closing time but his bosses make him stop so we must camp again. We chat to our now tired neighbours. I have a walk consisting of loops of the compound with one of the Aussi women. There are tensions in the Mongol Rally camp as the Germans seem to be responsible for the delay and we joke about the possiblity of an internation incident at the border.
We make a shared meal with the Bearded Dragons and have a drink with them before bed toasting our getting this far with beer and (Balvinie (sp) Whiskey) One of their team is now very anxious as is leaving early to get home to England to a wedding and his flight is 350km over the border to connect to a homeward one in Ulaanbaater. He think he may not make it. Locals come to his aid and arrange a jeep taxi for him in the morning.
Earlier in the evening we are told that passengers who have been cleared can cross into the town. Rosa and I walk into town and as I cross over the border I realize I have reached Mongolia.
We have some dumplings in a cafe, shop, and walk around the town. We are invited into a Gher by a grandmother and young mother. We smile alot and do some sign language communication about our families. They give us sweets and yak cheese while the mother cleans the gher. Its lovely, warm and welcoming.