We all looked like crap when we reconvened in the refugee camp look-alike in no man’s land between Russia and Mongolia. The sleeping preferences of the team were as follows:
- Eugen and Matthias slept in a private barn. Advantages: no wind; slightly higher temperature; somehow soft underground – Disadvantages: waste of team money; they smelled like they cuddled with a goat all night.
- Sascha and Michel spent the night in the tent. Advantages: cheap; could stretch out fully – Disadvantages: cold as hell (it snowed the night before), hard underground (i.e. concrete); had to listen to the crappy music of British teenagers all night
- Philipp went for the passenger seat in one of the cars. Advantages: somehow warm, light to read a book; no snoaring – Disadvantages: uncomfortable as hell; just as cold as the tent after an hour; worst ventilation system of all options
When we woke up we had another great breakfeast: hot coffee (the water was sold at a local shack for 3 dollars for two liters – best practice monopoly pricing) and choco pops with actual cow milk. We then initiated attempt #15 to comvince the border people that Philipp was about to die within hours from a diabetic shock (yes, the next town past the Mongolian border was the only place since we left Austria that sold insuline), again with limited success. So we waited for another 4 hours until our car finally got cleared (pretty good considering some teams spent 3 nights at that border*). The customs check was relatively easy (actually the first time they cared about alcohol) and we were ready to leave in front of the last gate. Unfortunately the obese lady whose only job it is to check whether we got one stamp in our passports and then to open the gate accordingly, went on lunch break about 3 minutes before we got there. Imagine this: there were 20 cars lining up after about 3 locals crossed the border all day long. She sees how everyone is getting ready and just as the clock strikes 1 she gets up, locks the gate, and leaves for an hour. The funny thing is, it didn’t even upset us anymore (except for Eugen who already lost it earlier that day and looked like a five-year old whose favorite toy was taken away).
We started the driving on what were even decent dirt tracks until we hit an asphalt road that was probably the nicest since leaving Austria (and yes, dear Austrians, no one charged us half a month’s income for using this highway). Unfortunately this joy only lasted for 20 km. Then we hit the first town in Mongolia that consisted of: 25 gas stations, 15 karaoke places, 2 banks (they don’t exchange money here), several gers, and the most hectic/loud people on this planet.
After we stocked up on beers, chips, chocolate, and water (in order of importance), we continued to the next town. On roads that finally explain why the organizer of the rally explained: “About 90% of what decides whether your little joy machine makes it is down to how crap you are at driving. Fast speeds and big rocks mix really badly. About a quarter of you won’t make it through.” Here, a horse seems to be the superior mean of transportation.
On the other hand: the Western part of Mongolia (no desert yet) is about the most beautiful piece of earth we have ever seen. On a plateau about 2,500 meters above sea level (therefore not a single tree), the landscape constantly changes from rocky mountains to smooth hills, from huge deep-blue lakes to endless meadows in all shades of green. For hours, there is not a single living soul around. Without Sascha’s reckless driving (and the fact that we’re five guys unshowered for 3 days), this might well be the most romantic spot on this planet…
We finally got to the city of Khovd after what can only be described as a terrible drive until past midnight (yes, we did break three of the four rules for driving in Mongolia: don’t go fast – don’t drive by night – don’t cross rivers without help). The best hotel in this city has no shower. There is no food. Good night.
* Side note: the third night at the border apparently annoyed other teams so much that they decided to do the following (step-by-step):
- Be hungry and sick of Chinese noodles in styrofoam cups
- Try to steal a goat from a local shepherd
- Get caught doing so
- Buy the goat instead for 120 dollars
- Ask the border people to shoot it – have them refuse
- Get a knife that is not sharp enough to cut the goat’s throat – try it anyways (the goat was not impressed by then)
- Get another knife – still not sharp enough. The goat is bleeding but far from dead
- Get a bread knife and keep “sawing” the goat’s throat till it’s actually dead. All girls scream by then
- Cut out the meat and boil (!!!) it.
- Discover that the goat’s testicles and kidneys are the only parts that taste decent when boiled. And that you overpaid.