Mongolia at last! Part 1

Finally, a wifi connection but unable to post photos, sorry!
For some reason we cannot link the photo computer to the internet. This is being typed on the ipad. We will try again later.

Let us try to recollect was has happened over the last few days. Leaving Russia and entering Mongolia
We arrived at the Russian border post 30 minutes before opening time as there is a 2 hour time difference between Russia and Mongolia, and we have been told that the Mongolian side can take time because we are leaving our vehicle in Mongolia and the import tax, valuation, all other paperwork can be tedious, so we wanted time up our sleeve.
All went smoothly at the Russian side and we then drove the 20 kms across no-mans land, to the Mongolian border post at Tsaangunnuur.
Passport checking and stamping went easily and we went on to Customs. There the fun began. We lodged all our documents, including the ones supplied by the Mongolian Charity organisation and we sat down to wait. As we did so, we could see that the Quokkavan’s owner, Pete, was having trouble with customs. They were assuming he would be leaving the car in Mongolia and demanded he pay around US$9000 in import tax, which they said he would receive back once he left the country. Pete explained that he was not leaving his car and showed all the relevant Australian customs forms showing he was re-importing the car back into Australia. They were not prepared to accept that and were demanding payment. The charity in Ulaanbataar was contacted and after MUCH negotiation, the border customs officials said they would accept a special document from the charity acknowledging Quokkavan was not being donated to the charity. This document arrived 2 hours later but was not detailed enough so it had to be resubmitted. Pete and Mark left the border post at 5.30pm, after arriving at the Russian side at 8.30am.
Meanwhile, Jeff and Andrew were the meat in the sandwich as negotiations between the Customs and the Charity as to the value of the vehicle for taxation was determined. The customs were doing internet searches for similar vehicles to value. The charity was arguing it was worth much less than that. Finally, at 7pm, a value was agreed upon, documents were sent and at 7.30pm, C-YA left the border.
Meanwhile, the Quokkavan was in town changing their first flat tire, a nail spike!
We met them just at the edge of town and set off east to find a spot to camp for the night.
The road was rough and we wound our way through a narrow pass to a vast open plane stretching out as far as we could see, containing nothing but ROCKS and dust.
The sun was getting low and we could see anywhere to stop. Then finally in the distance some green bushes appeared and some gers were seen.
We found a spot without rocks amongst the bushes and set up camp. We had only been there a few minutes when the first of many groups of nomadic Mongolians dropped in on us. They came on horses, motorbikes, trucks and just sat and watched us, smiled, walked around and looked in our cars and around our tents and left.
This was their territory, and we were the odd ones out. They roam the steppes, set up their gers, graze their animals, then move on.
We cooked ourselves dinner, it was getting to be very cold, so we climbed into our tents and sleeping bags. In the night we could hear the animals around us in the distance. Dogs barking, cows mooing, horses neighing, never silent around the nomads.
It was a crisp cold morning when we awoke. Beanies on, hot teas, and a good breakfast of fruit and cereal and we were off. The stony desert continued. We only had our GPS maps to guide us and there were tracks everywhere, all deserted. We soon learnt that the idea is to pick a track going in the right direction and continue until it veers off and find another. This went on for mile after mile.
Soon we came to a river crossing, the first of a number that day. The first few were minor and easily handled. Shallow and narrow. Then we came to a fast flowing wider one.
Pete of Quokkavan waded across to check it out. It was do-able. As we were getting ready to cross we heard the sound of a small engined car with a broken muffler arriving. It was 3 young Korean guys in a VW Polo taking part in the other Mongol Rally, coming up behind us. They quickly became bogged just reaching the banks of the river. There was much soft sand on the approach. They watched us cross. The water was knee high. We waved them off. There was no way their struggling little car could make it. We are not sure what happened to them. We told them to take the rougher, but water-free southern route around Mongolia. We hope they make it. They have guts to even get this far in that wreck of a little car.
As we drove on, the vast expanse of Mongolia opened up before us. The vistas were incredible, a vast open country stretching as far as the eye could see with often no sign of anyone. Sometimes white dust and rocks, other times smooth green velvet like hills, and now and then rugged steep rocky hills with views at the peak to take your breathe away. Sometimes we just stood at the top of these hills and looked around in wonder.
Many of the peaks had teepee like wooden structures adorned with multiple blue ribbons called Oodos. Some of these were 10 metres or more high. Many had little shrines inside them. Many Mongols are Buddhists or Shamanist and these hilltops are sacred areas. You are supposed to circle these 3 times to continue safely. If you are in a hurry, you can just toot your horn and carry on.
Finally as night approached some large lakes appeared. We drove along until we saw a quite cove beside the road. We drove straight across country for 2 kms to the edge of the lake and set up camp.
It was a warm night and the lake was freshwater, so we all went off to wash and clean ourselves in the lake. The water was cold but not freezing, and, as we had not showered for a few days, the clean was refreshing.
Wine, beer and dinner followed. It was a warm clear night and the stars were amazing. The lake was still and the bugs kept away. All was good with the world. To be continued.

Andrew Bochenek
Mongolia Charity Rally 2015

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