My fourth day in Mongolia dawned cold and overcast, but at least the rain had stopped. The streets of Bayankhongor were still flooded, but the water was receding. With any luck, we would make Ulaanbataar (the spiritual finish line ofthe Mongol Rally) by 9pm and the drinking could begin. We had agreed to be up and on the road by 9am.
It didn’t happen.
One of the joys of traveling with a group is that there is support and comraderie. One of the downsides of traveling with a group is that everyone has their own needs and desires. Apparently several people in the group had a need to eat breakfast at the same restaurant we had supped at the night before. Breakfast did not begin until 9:30…
By 11 am we were all gassed up and ready to go. I had coasted in to Bayankhongor the night before after starting the day with a full tank of gas and 20 extra liters in the Jerrycan. I filled up the Rascal and put another 40 in the cans just to be safe.
Just outside of town there was a herd of yaks grazing by the side of the road. I had warned the convoy that the first herd of yaks I saw, I was making a detour. I pulled off down an an access road and stopped the Rascal. The yaks didn’t move. I got out f the van and started to slowly walk towards them. Th yaks didn’t move. I knew they were alive because they were blissfully eatingthe grass at their feet, but they did not seem too interested in me until I got writhin about ten feet.
Yaks are like large, hairy, square cows. Everything about them is angular. Even their teeth! I stood there for several minutes until I heard someone say, “So how are you going to get one on top of your van?” Seeing them up close made me realize just how accurate my team logo was!
After several photos the yaks got a little irritated (or maybe just bored with us) and they began to wander away. One with exceptionally long horns kept looking in our direction. I took that as our signal to leave. I don’t think the Rascal would have fared well against a yak attack!
We headed down the road for a few more kilometers until we got to a police checkpoint. There had been several of them along the route so far, all of them unmanned. Assuming this one was unmanned as well, I just rolled on through. Apparently it was manned and the police came out to talk with the rest of the convoy (I conveniently stopped a ways down the road where I could get a good head start if they decided to pursue me).
The other teams were taking a long time to catch up and I was worried that I had caused some sort of incident. I was about to turn around and apologize when the rest came up behind me. It turned out that the Dutch team had once again suffered some car problems and had stalled out at the police checkpoint.
We all pulled over and had a good look at the Samurai. Some bolts were tightened, some wires were twisted, and a few prayers were said. The Samurai spluttered back to life. It was alive, but just barely. We set out at a much slower pace.
Thirty minutes later we pulled over again. The Swedes’ Fiat was wobbling horribly. As they were cranking the wheel this way and that, trying to figure it out, I pointed out that there awas a significant difference in the direction the front two wheels were pointing. Everyone stood back, had a look, and agreed. The Swedes crawled under and started wrenching away. It turned out that the rubber bushings on their steering had completely disintegrated. They were now tightening everything down and it would be metal on metal for the remainder of the trip!
The Mongolia of day 4 was much different than the Mongolia of day 3. There were green hills and plains, and all of the livestock and life had returned. I enjoyed a pleasant conversation with Linus, one of the Swedes. He was in the Swedish Army but was looking to return to wind power generation. He lived on his own in an old house and collected antique books. His oldest was a Swedish history book that dated back to the mid 8th century! We talked about family, and travel, and our adventures on the Rally. I was beginning to enjoy having English speaking passengers again.
About 3pm I spotted a gleaming white and gold structure on the horizon. It was time for a stretch and bathroom break anyways. I signaled for us all to pull off and investigate. It was a massive monument to the great horses of Mongolian history! There was a huge statue of the Great Kahn’s horse and then there were smaller (but still larger than life sized) statues of other horses. There must have been over a dozen of them! Much like the monument I had visited in Croatia, this monument was in the middle of nowhere. It was not part of a town. It was just by the side of the road, a massive building celebrating historical horses!
We drove on, realizing that we were not going to make Ulaanbataar by 9pm..or 10pm...or maybe even 11. It was going to be another late night. About 6pm I pulled over to have a group discussion. We had talked about camping out that night, but the rain and wind were returning and it did not seem like the best idea. Part of the grou wanted to push on to Ulaanbataar, no matter what. The other part wanted to find someplace warm and dry for the night. It was at that time that the Dutch announced that they had no lights.
Up came the hood of the Samurai and Linus and James went to work. It turned out there was a bad connection and it would have to be replaced. The Swedes had a new connector, but not a thick enough gauge of wire. I reached into the Rascal and pulled out some spare wire the man had given me on my second day of the Pamir. It was heavy enough! The new connection was made and the lights came on! Now we could continue.
An hour later we were pulled over again.
This time the Ausies’ Fiat was having issues. The bolt that held the rear shock absorber to the wheel had come out and the back f the vehicle was unstable. No one had a spare bolt that would fit. It was unsafe to drive, but no one was willing to quit. A stainless steel rod was bent into a U-shape and secured with zip ties. It was in no way secure (or legal in most Western countries) but it got us back on the road. By now it was well after dark, the rain was coming down, and the road was deteriorating.
At 10pm I called “uncle”. There was no way we were going to make Ulaanbataar and it was getting dangerous. The lights, while working on all of our vehicles, were not powerful enough to see the contours of the road well enough to dodge potholes. We were trying to stay in a convoy, but cars were zipping in and out between us and soon we were separated. At the next gas station I called another meeting. There was a motel 5km up the road. I suggested we stay there, bet an early start, and be in Ulaanbataar by lunch. The last two holdouts were convinced when they saw there was a restaurant attached to the motel.
The restaurant was a 24hour affair. There was another family there who was enjoying their dinner when we came in looking a little worse for wear. We settled in and were soon conversing with a young woman who had been in the United States for six years but was home to help take over her family's bakery in Ulaanbataar. She listened in disbelief at all of our stories. While, yes, her family was also driving across Mongolia, they were doing it in a Land Cruiser and thought we were crazy!
She went outside and came back with a 2liter Sprite bottle. It was filled with a white liquid. “This is horse milk wine,” she explained. It was fermented horse milk. Cups were procured and most of us downed it with ease. It was milder in flavor than the camel milk I had drunk back in Tajikistan. In fact, before I knew it my cup was being refilled and we were toasting again. By the end of the night, we were all feeling fine and the bottle was empty.
While I had been wary of the bed (it bore a striking resemblance to the one from the night before) it was comfortable enough and I was a sleep a little after 2am. Maybe it was the long day. Maybe it was the fermented horse milk. No matter the reason, I slept soundly. The next day I would see the Great Khan.