The Blue Eyed Grizzly Clan is a group of 4 Champlain College graduates participating in the 2013 Mongol Rally.

 

MONGOLIA | PART 1

After making it through the Russian border we spent nearly 24 hours at the Mongolian border. Not too bad considering a few days earlier we had heard a convoy of teams spent 3 days at the border. So we all expected to spend a fair amount of time waiting around. It wasn’t all that bad as their were a total of 5 teams waiting so we all bundled up made some food and played some games. I must say though the weather is quite interesting in Mongolia. Within the first 2 hours at the border we experienced 3 or 4 different weather patterns. One minute it was blistering hot, the next it was cold and windy, and before you knew it it was pouring rain, and of course followed by a hail storm. Definitely made for an interesting stay to say the least.

After making it through the border the following day we proceeded with the convoy to the first major city of Ulgii where we would fuel up and grab some cash. But not without loosing a team of Swiss guys first. They were leaking a fair amount of oil, but they seemed to be aware of the matter and tackled it quickly. Problems for us occurred not long after as well. We heard somewhat of a popping sound followed by a rattling on the front left side. We noticed the the CV boot had been jarred from the axle so we proceeded to zip tie the boot back in place. Which only wound up holding for a short amount of time, but enough for us to reach Ulgii for further inspection.

After grabbing some food and fuel we proceeded on with the convoy skeptical about the condition of the car. About 5 miles outside of the city we heard an even louder popping sound, worse than the previous one. We popped the hood for to check out and see what was going on. I drove the car slowly as the others looked in. As we did so the engine dropped nearly 6 or 7 inches down into the engine block area. It sounded and looked completely awful. At that point we made a group consensus that we would leave the car in Ulgii. (The city of Ulgii was an official Adventurist drop point in Mongolia in case your car didn’t make it to the finish line)

It was somewhat of a bittersweet ending, but we all agreed that having made it to Mongolia was a finish line in its own. We all were fairly surprised we made it as far as we did, and at that point we would find another way via bus or plane to make it to the finish line in Ulaanbaatar. 

After getting receiving our five day check-in for Kazakhstan we pushed on for our second entry into Russia. The Kazak roads proved to push our car to the limit and by before we knew it all of our rims were bent to shit and we had a serious leak in one of the back tires. We stopped to use an air compressor at a small tire shop along the way and the locals were once again very amused by our presence. We traded a few things snapped a few photos and kept on trucking. But before we knew it the tire was again very low, so we had a to find a permanent solution. 

As we approached the small town of Aleysk, Russia we stopped at the first auto shop we saw. Man were these guys nice. We showed them the slow leak and the broken rim/tire that we blew in Kaz. This one big guy immediately took Wilson and I to a local welding shop where he grabbed the rim and proceeded to start hammering, welding, and grinding at the rim. 20 minutes later it was as good as new and we were back on our way to the auto shop. By the time we got back Alex and Nick were drinking beers and eating food with all the mechanics. Wilson and I quickly jumped in on the festivities with them. They had grilled a ton of meat for us over an open fire which was inside of a used rim, and damn was that meat tasty!

By the time we had to leave they had fixed the slow leak, put our tire back on the newly welded rim, and replaced a blown fuse which went to our cigarette outlet (AKA our power source for music and all things electronic for the trip).

Honestly our best experiences and people we have met on this trip have been at the places we have broken down. Every single time the people have been so friendly and helpful, and most of the time have barely even charged us for the work they did. I’d say in most instances breaking down is never something to look forward to, but they have made this trip that much more interesting.

After leaving Aleysk we pushed on to Barnaul, which is the last major city before hitting the Mongolian border. That day we drove for nearly 18 hours and covered over 800 miles. It was a haul, but by the time we got to the border in the early morning we finally had met up with some other teams. It was the first time that we really got to chill out and chat with some other teams about their travels and experiences thus far on the rally.

Kazakhstan proved to be one of the most intense countries of the trip. The road quality, by far the worst and not to mention we had a ton of ground to cover. In order for us to be on schedule we had to drive at least 500 miles a day through dust, dirt, rain, swamps and potholes that would straight up eat your car. If you don’t believe me look at the one photo above….yeah that’s a rally ender right there. Not to mention the northern route through Kaz is not a desert or even close to one. Almost every night we camped was freezing cold and windy as shit. And the mosquitoes were straight up killers!

But again we were lucky enough to meet some incredibly nice people and see some amazing views. Beautiful sunsets, double rainbows and ripoff McDonald’s were among a few of the great sights along the way.

We got our first flat tire of the trip at about midnight one night and we started loosing pieces off the car. Some sections of the road we couldn’t go more than 20mph and others were just one giant rumble strip. It proved to be the most difficult driving hands down.

So one fun thing about Kazakhstan is that even if you have a visa for the country you have to check in at a local police station after being in the country for 5 days. On our fourth day we realized we had to get it done and while stopped at a rest area, a man and his wife helped us sort everything out. We wanted to drive straight through the night to avoid having to do the check in, but they told us that the police would arrest us if anything happened and we hadn’t checked in. We didn’t want to risk it and since we were only 30 minutes from the capital (Astana) we decided it would be a good idea just to get it out of the way. So we kicked it in the parking lot with them for a while and drank some beers. We wound up pitching tent their for the night and he paid for our site fee, which wasn’t much maybe $5 dollars, but we had no complaints. 

Russia was quite an amazing country I have to admit. All of us were very skeptical of the area we had to pass through (Chechnya) and the people, but it was the exact opposite. After we knew we had passed through the danger zone their was an overall sense of relief.

All of the maps we had for the trip ended in Europe except for Wilson’s map of Kazakhstan, which at this point was still of no use to us. Wilson had a tablet device with real time GPS updates, but that didn’t help us with navigating the road signs which were all in Russian and almost impossible to decipher. We pulled over at a gas station to get directions from someone and somehow wound up following this guy to the big city that would put us going the right way. We followed him for almost 2 hours before we broke off, but before we did we had to give him a Beau Tie and snap a few photos. Super nice guy who didn’t speak or understand a word of English, but managed to get us where we needed to go.

The next big city we passed through was Elista where we stopped to grab some internet and food. We found a Cinnabon to mooch some wifi off of and as we were leaving we were approached by a gentleman and his girlfriend. He asked us if we needed help with anything and at this point we just wanted a decent meal. He brought us to a small local restaurant that we believe his girlfriend or family friend owned because he quickly hopped in the kitchen and started ordering us food and drinks. He was the nicest guy we have met on this entire trip and almost as generous, if not more, than Brian back in Folkstone. We gave him and his daughter some Beau Ties and another kid a hat. We sat and shot the shit for a while and talked about the trip with him. After we were done eating we asked him if he knew of any good places to camp in the area. He told us of a place that we interpreted as tent city, but was actually called Chess City. A small gated community dedicated to the sport of Chess. The President of Elista poured tons of money into this small area devoted entirely to chess and to house ambassadors and diplomats when they visited. We were blown away and knew that we would not have the money to stay here. We told Nik (the gentleman we met) that we couldn’t afford to stay here, but again he insisted that he would pay for our stay for the night. So we wound up with a 4 bed guest house with a full kitchen and living room with two, count ‘em, two balconies. It was unreal. It felt like we left the rally for a night and entered a dream world. Hot showers and a comfortable bed will turn your day right around.

We woke up the next morning rejuvenated and ready to push on to Astrakhan. 

Georgia was probably one of the more interesting countries we visited along the way. Quite sketchy as well in a few places, and the most insane drivers of the entire trip so far. Seriously I think everyone in the country has a death wish. We saw nearly 20 accidents occur one of which I thought for sure this guy was going to die.

After trying to find a campsite for a few hours late at night in the pouring rain, we gave up and found the nearest hotel that looked suitable. It was good to get inside as all of our gear had gotten completely soaked through from the rain. The next morning we drove up the coast of the Black Sea only to find out that we had somehow stumbled upon a small country called Abkhazia. Abkhazia is a small independent country within the borders of Georgia, that is only recognized as a country by a select few. We had no idea that this country even existed and of course we were denied entry immediately. So we turned around and headed for the border near Tbilisi. 

Along the way we stopped at a small road side food stand to grab a bit to eat. We were all very impressed by the food. We had an amazing fried trout with some pork and beef kebabs with grilled mushrooms and bread. It was a very pleasant surprise and gave us enough energy to push onto the border town.

We found a small local guest house where we spent the night and woke up to this amazing view of the mountains in the morning. The first sighting of snow on the trip and it made me personally very excited. Next stop we push onto Russia for a few days.

-C