Still amazed by the unbelievable quality of the roads in Russia, we quickly made it to Barnaul. There we used the last signs of civilization to stock up on delicious canned food, noodle soup, beer and water. Determined to make it to the Mongolian boarder before Thursday, we then decided to drove on for another 170 kms to the city of Biysk. When we arrived there, everybody was starving – so first thing we did is to look out for a place to eat. After we realized that there are no open restaurants to be found in the city’s ‘old town’ (read even crappier Soviet-style apartment building than in the rest of the really depressing city) we decided to go back to a place we passed when entering the city that looked pretty packed. There we found the most surreal scenery ever experienced even on this trip: garage-lit-with- neon-lamps atmosphere, music (or what Russians consider disco music) loud enough to permanently damage your ears, shit-faced russians in all age categories (however predominantly parents with their children) making the most uncoordinated dance moves ever observed, and some unmotivated waitresses serving food. Another soup and shishlik later it was time to find a place to stay over night. As we were clearly the main attraction there us asking for a hotel quickly resulted in our cars being surrounded by a huge mob of crazily drunk russians trying to enter our cars, talking to us in Russian, kissing and hugging us while loudly arguing about where we should stay. Finally, five of them jumped into a super-old Lada and made sure we found an adequate place to stay that fit into our budget (the suite of Gastiniza Vostock, a place that still looks like in good old Soviet times.
The next day we drove in pouring rain (the first time it rained since we left Europe) towards the Russian/Mongolian boarder. Our good old Alpenbock that bravely endured all the pain of the journey with us got completely soaked with water and started to gradually degrade.
After a 8-hour drive through supposedly very beautiful landscape (we did not see much of it due to all the fog, but what we saw reminded us of the alps at home) we reached an even more depressing town made up of a couple of provisorical houses right next to the boarder where we had to stay over night. Thanks to Matthias Russian capabilities we managed to find a family that agreed to rent out a room to the five of us for a couple of Rubels.
While we were having dinner (of course the usual soup that we ate for the last 50 consequtive meals) two other Mongol Rally teams joined us to stay in our place’s ‘living room’. With medium to severe diarrhea having joined our team as a sixth member (quote of one of our valued team members: “My ass feels like a gas container of a Soda Club machine”), the smell level in this room became quickly so intense that Eugen started penetrating us with a ueber-disgusting room deodorant.
The following day we, and especially our ‘master-machines’, were all ready for the ultimate test, the final boarder crossing into Mongolia. While we could easily mitigate some missing paperwork at the Russian side with some paperwork we had left from the Turkmenistan boarder crossing we were quite surprised to find around 40 other Mongol Rally teams camping right next to the Mongolian post. Apparently some teams have already waited there for three days before their documents got processed by the most inefficient and slowest customs office on this planet. As there was not much more we could do (neither our connections to the major of Ulaanbaatar, nor the nice words from a fellow mba graduate student from Mongolia, nor the suddenly diabetes-suffering imaginary team member who immediately needed a diabetes shot to prevent him from going into shock really impressed the officers), we put up our tent and started to prepare for a night with the temperature approaching zero degrees celsius. While part of the team already got in touch with the famous Mongolian dumplings, the rest enjoyed some delicious ‘Chaeshoernli’ (mac and cheese), shisha and rounds of playing cards.
Eventually half of the team stayed in the border crossing backyard over night in a tent at temperatures around 0 degrees (aka refugree camp). Eugen and Matthias snuck out and slept at a local family’s place for $3.5 per night which included breakfast (goat-tea and bread) and the host’s snoring.